It's simply a matter of where and when. I'll explain.
I love to travel. I try new foods, walk new terrain, gasp over new vistas.
I do all of the above in new cities so that I can absorb their architecture, history, theater, restaurants, and museums. I do these things also in wide-open spaces so that I can wander new beaches and mountains, kayak new waters, show-shoe on new snow.
I could wax lyrical about so many places I've been, but for now here are the highlights of a few.
I fell in love with London when I went there on a three-week course to study Victorian architecture. There, magnificent, fading edifices such as the Midland Railway Terminus Hotel stand testament to an older, slower pace of life. Juxtaposed with the hustle of honking cabs (always ask the cabbies where to get your fish-and-chips; you will never be disappointed), and the thrill of last-minute theater ticket bargains, London is a walking traveler's dream. You can walk just about anywhere from anywhere if you have some fortitude and time. And if you choose to stay near the British Library, you will be rewarded by people watching, and fascinating peeps into Victorian home renovations, if you give yourself the opportunity for a casual ramble down to the theater district to take in whatever show will delight you. I saw four fabulous (and completely different from one another) productions in three weeks, and had I had more money, I would happily have seen twice that.
Tulum, the blip of a town on the coast of the Yucatan Penninsula in Mexico, home to fantastic Mayan ruins standing sentinel over impossibly clear waters that are the home to teeming rainbows of tropical fish. You can snorkle straight from the beach at points near Tulum, and if you tire of salt sea air (though I don't see how you can), it's a simple matter to turn your back to the ocean and dive into a fresh-water cenote -- a hollow formed in the limestone bedrock of the area -- cool and mysterious as cave-diving but without all the danger.
Florence I adored for its central market. Every morning there, I got my cappucino from the same wonderful 50-something barristo who liked to practice his English on me. By day four, he and I were old friends, and when he learned I was going biking in the Tuscan hills that day, he passed me the most wonderful of sandwiches over the counter as he handed me my morning coffee. "Something for now, and something for later," he said, as his hands eloquently refused payment for the little panini. Fresh bread, with a thick chewy crust, lined with the sheerest pinkest meltingest proscuitto to be had anywhere on that sunny summer morning. I packed the sandwich, and his good wishes for a lovely picnic in the hills, into my bag and rode off with a lilting heart.
New Zealand was all about vistas on a grand scale. Milford Sound, with its mile-high mountains rising over mile-deep waters, slowly awakening in the morning -- a rare vision for a human to witness, as we were two of only a hundred odd people lucky enough to sleep overnight anchored in the middle of the Sound on a boat... Abel Tasman National Park, with its glorious golden sands, green-tinted waters, a sea kayaker's dream... Hiking above Queen Charlotte Sound, looking out across mountains, and down through forests at the glittering water... Hokitika, the tiny town on the South Island's northern coast where a cave of glowworms glittered as brightly as the stars in the Southern sky.
I have been fortunate enough to go many more places than these...Scotland, Kuaui, Greece, Paris, Madrid, Acadia National Park, and Yosemite...yet no matter how many places I go, there are so many more on my list of adventures still to have. These are not places I have gone with lots of money; they are opportunities I have seized because travel to me is more important than brand-name clothes or brand-new cars. Most of these are places I went while still in college or graduate school, countries I visited clutching 2nd class train tickets or holding reservations to simple, faded B&Bs. On our honeymoon to New Zealand, for example, Husband and I stayed two different nights in youth hostels, and none of our hotels cost more than $50 per night. We both preferred to spend our money on a guided glacier hike than on a fancy hotel; after all, we weren't there for the sleeping but for the seeing.
And now that I have children, I fantasize about introducing them to the wonder that is stepping outside one's comfort zone. We have done that on a small scale, taking Son to Hawaii when he was 18 months old, still portable in a hiking backpack. And while we had to forgo sea kayaking on that trip, we did hike along Waimea Canyon and snorkel with sea turtles. To bob rhythmically in the waves above a shallow reef, feeling the current from a 200-pound turtle propel her way past your body, listening to the scraping crunch of turtles grazing on the reef's produce is nothing short of magnificent. While it might be even better with a snorkeling buddy -- the one currently land-locked keeping an eye on the toddler so you can have your turn with the turtles -- the fact remains that short of telepathy, talking about the experience while it is occurring simply won't happen underwater. And so individual diving in the name of a family vacation is a more-than-worthwhile trade-off.
But now, with two children, I find myself more hesitant. Do we risk a 6-hour flight anywhere? Especially since six hours of flying time means a 9-10 hour travel day, what with getting to the airport early, parking, security, reclaiming luggage, and so on. And so we plan travels to more local destinations -- the fabulous sand dunes in Saugatuck, a mere three-hour car drive away, where we can recline and swim and hike and dig, and still come back to the comforts of a big bag full of home's toys which are so easy to schlepp on a car trip.
And yet, even with my hesitations over airport delays, a fractious toddler in a cramped airplane seat, the fears that my children do not yet have restaurant manners suitable to unknown restaurants that may not be as child-friendly as I'd hoped, the stomach-cramping urgency of not speaking the language when the preschooler needs "the potty NOW, Mama!" -- even with all of these doubts, I find myself hankering for another serious trip. I want to expose my children to difference, to wonder, to accents, and languages, and "funny" foods, and art that will make their eyes open wide. I want them to walk on cool trails that nonetheless smell of the heavy heat of sunshine on evergreens. I want them to practice with snorkels in the bathtub so that they don't choke on their own delight when a wrasse brushes past their ankles.
It may simply be just a summer or two too early for this in our family. Perhaps having everyone potty trained, everyone more-or-less verbal, everyone sleeping through the night is a prerequisite for such travels. And certainly such travels will require a different sort of planning. Less "new hotel every other night" as we car-tour a country and more "plant ourselves in this suite with a mini-kitchen and have day adventures." It will cost more, with the extra tickets, extra food, slowed-down pace.
But, oh, won't it be worth it, if my children grow up with a treasure-trove of memories and a legacy of embracing what is new?
And so, the only question now is: when to go? At what ages will they be ready to embark on the first smaller versions of this? What are your parameters for deciding when, how, and where to travel with your children?
Friday, May 9, 2008
It's simply a matter of where and when. I'll explain.