For way too long after we had kids, we were vacation-less. Unless you count staying a few days with the grandparents at their timeshare (an anti-vacation if there ever was one) or a long weekend drive to a neighboring state, we were either too broke, too tired, or too short on vacation days to consider a “real” trip. Eventually, we did start taking family vacations—the beach, Washington D.C., the Smoky Mountains, and last year, a fabulous time in Orlando visiting everything Harry Potter at Universal Studios.
This year we decided to step waaaaaay out of our comfort zone and take an international trip with our children. All five of us packed our (small, carry-on approved) bags and headed to London for ten days. It was more wonderful than I could have hoped. If you haven’t taken a grand adventure with your kids, I’d like to encourage you – it can be fun and totally worthwhile. Like any family vacation, we had fun, made memories, and enjoyed being together. But what else did we—and especially my kids—gain from this trip more than our others? Plenty.
PATIENCE. You can’t enjoy traveling without a good dose of patience. There’s always waiting to get to the good stuff, whether it’s waiting to get on the plane, get into a museum, get a seat at a restaurant, or get to use the bathroom when five people share one. I consider all of that waiting part of what makes a vacation great. It’s during the waiting that there’s time to relax, look around, people watch, talk to each other, and just think. I want my kids to know that good things are worth waiting for, and we did lots of it on this trip, but I also want them to know that there’s joy in the waiting itself. Between the long process of saving and planning and then the actual traveling, they got to do that too.
DIVERSITY My kids got to experience diversity on a whole new level on our trip. Just sitting on the subway, they got to hear people talking in a staggering number of languages. The street market with food tents offered Indian dumplings, Ethiopian dishes, Greek treats of all sorts, venison burgers, lamb wraps, endless cheeses with unfamiliar names, jars filled with truffles (not the chocolate kind), traditional English pastries that my kids thought only existed in Harry Potter novels, and so much more. At many of the sights we visited, we heard history from a whole new perspective. I was so happy to see the world open up before them and watch them soak it all in.
CONSIDERATION. With five of us, it is guaranteed that not everyone will be excited about everything that we do. At some point, someone will be bored, tired, hot, cold, hungry, or cranky. Someone is going to want to spend HOURS at one sight while everyone else just wants to get something to eat and rest their feet. I was thrilled to see the amount of consideration my children showed to me, my husband, each other, and strangers, even when we were not doing exactly what they wanted to be doing. Of course, it wasn’t magical. We had done our best to talk about expectations for their behavior and attitude. We included the top two things each person wanted to do in our itinerary so everyone had something to look forward to. Still, I was thrilled to see it actually happen, to see them being their best selves.
NEW EVERYTHING. I know, we went to London, which in a lot of ways is easier than traveling to a place where the language and culture are vastly different than ours. Even so, there were plenty of new things to experience, and this was one of the most wonderful things for me to watch my kids experience. Order water with your meal? It will arrive in a bottle, and be prepared to specify whether you want you want still or sparkling. Want a Sprite? Ask for lemonade, and enjoy it because you won’t be getting a refill. And it tastes a little different than you’re used to. So does the ketchup. Even more than amazing sights, history and architecture, these things are what adventure is made of when you’re a kid. It is so fun to see the world through their eyes.
APPRECIATION. For what we have and what we don’t. I’m not sure appreciation is exactly the word I am looking for, but my kids definitely noticed how much excess we have. For ten days, the five of us lived in one room, with one bathroom, using only what we had brought with us in our five small suitcases. It was thought-provoking for all of us. Even if most of our friends have bigger houses than we do, we have a lot of stuff and a lot of space at home. We may not need it all, we can certainly weed out some of the excess, but we are grateful for it nonetheless.
Traveling can remind us of other treasures we are overlooking at home as well. We spent an afternoon enjoying the street performances in Convent Garden, a morning browsing the art displayed along a corner of Hyde park, and indulged in two delicious visits to Borough Market. Are there delights such as these closer to home? Probably. Findlay Market comes to mind—a wonderful, local, historic market that I can visit any time I want to, but I usually don’t. I will now. Now, to find some street performers…
We also gained some appreciation for things we don’t have. After traveling easily and quickly on the Underground back and forth across the city for days, one of my kids wondered how cool it would be to have a subway in Cincinnati. How cool indeed. We also visited lots of historic sights that made us think beyond our own country’s history. Our American history is a fascinating one, but what it isn’t is old. When you see a sign on a building in London that says, “Built in 657,” they did not leave off the 1. And they have taken such care to preserve it for all of us to enjoy.
It is a huge and wonderful world we live in. It is a great privilege to explore it, and even more so, to see my children experience it. We learned a lot from our family vacation this year, including what a passion we all have for travel. We just have to decide where to go next. Where will your adventure begin?