I originally thought people would want to know why. Why we did it. Why we took two small children traveling around Europe for three months. I find it fascinating that not a single person has asked me this question. Instead, folks seem more curious as to HOW we survived. How we managed to stay alive and well on the road, constantly in motion without the comforts of home and the security of a routine.
The truth is, that is exactly how we made it work. By not forcing ourselves to adhere to a specific schedule or succumb to the typical day-to-day pressures of parenthood we held a golden ticket to wing it.
For the first time as parents, we had the freedom to do the best we could with what we had and embrace uncertainty in a way that is often difficult at home. We had the permission to make things work to the best of our ability and to actually feel good about it.
For better or worse, I have always felt tremendous tension to be organized, to be on time, to be consistently bright eyed and bushy tailed with well behaved, well dressed, well rested and well fed children. I am not sure where this comes from specifically but it seems to be something we as a society like to propagate.
Guess what? I learned that life can be a lot more fun when you relax a bit and take things in stride. Being on an extended holiday affords you this precious opportunity without explanation. What an incredible gift! It really just goes to show that, despite our best intentions to consistently intervene, kids will eat when they are hungry and sleep when they are tired. Amazing.
We were challenged to be creative and imaginative with our children and use whatever life put in front of us to not only survive a given situation but to find pleasure and enjoyment through the experience. In any case, if things did go wrong, we were still in France (or England, or Spain or Sweden). Seriously, how bad can it be?
I am starting to feel like that motivational speaker that gets you all pumped up and excited ... and just when you raise your hands to clap enthusiastically you knock a full glass of water onto your lap. Don't get me wrong. There were definitely moments of stress and frustration. It isn't easy to completely throw caution to the wind and let it all hang out.
We all had our tantrums (each and every one of us) and we lived through more than a few larger than life dramatic moments, but overall, there was more happiness than not. I believe with all my heart this experience has made us a stronger, richer family. I am grateful for having had the opportunity to teach my children to "explore, dream and discover" at such a young age. I am hopeful a tiny piece of this mentality can carry over to reality, aka real life back at home.
The L words of advice
(for traveling with kids)
Before you go ...
Less is lovelier.
1. Lay out everything you think you want to bring in separate piles for each person traveling (clothes, toiletries, toys, etc.)
2. Now, reduce each person's pile by 50% (Yep, that means cut it in half.)
I know this sounds difficult but it is mission critical. You really don't want to be weighted down with unnecessary stuff. You'll be surprised how fun it is acquiring new things along the way. As long as you aren't traveling to a third world country you will be able to buy diapers and infant Advil and colouring books, and new favourite toys. The kids will be fine, trust me. In fact, everyone will be better off traveling with less.
Limit the last minute.
The most stressful parts of our trip were when we had to make plans on the road. It may seem like overkill to arrange nearly everything in advance but we found our time more enjoyable when we weren't worrying about where we were going to sleep the next evening and/or how we were going to get there. Traveling with kids is much different than our footloose and fancy free days in college.
Read travel books, search online and talk to people who have been where you're going to find out the best options for communication. For me personally, language is a big deal. Meeting and sharing experiences with others while traveling is one of my greatest pleasures. I truly enjoy small talk with strangers and prefer to memorize a few fun phrases to help break the "Do you speak English?" awkwardness. There are numerous apps out there to help with this. The most important thing is to be prepared and have some idea what to expect. For a parent traveling with children it sucks to find yourself suddenly isolated by the inability to communicate.
Once in motion ...
Last one on.
When traveling via plane we found it helpful for one of us to stay behind with the kids while the other went on early to "set up" our seats, store bags, pull out the toys, etc. The gate agent would let us know to bring the kids on for the final boarding call. Before doing this it always seemed like the first twenty minutes prior to departure were the worst, mostly because I myself am typically stressed and the kids can sense this better than anyone.
Do everyone a favour and don't order a beverage while traveling on a plane or a train. I know it may seem like the right thing to do at the time (the kids are miraculously quiet, one just fell asleep, life is good and would only be better with a plastic glass full of Chardonnay, etc) but just don't. It will inevitably end poorly. Even water should be purchased before you board in an "easy squeeze" bottle with a pop top.
Let it Lie.
Just lie. It feels a bit awkward at first but I promise it gets easier with each go. This is an essential magic trick you can pull out of your pocket as often as needed. A little white lie can save time, heartache and embarrassing breakdowns like nothing else. Tell them you're almost there, nod your head enthusiastically tell them they can have whatever it is they want when you get there and, for goodness sake, yes, the ice cream is on its way.
"Lead, follow, or get out of the way." -Paine
We found it helpful to pick one person to lead during transitions from Point A to Point B. While one person is in charge of guiding the group the second falls back to keep everyone following. You likely still get lost but on average things should run slightly more smoothly.
Leave it to a local.
Hiring a local nanny was brilliant. Not only did it give Darrin and I the opportunity to take breaks and experience some of the local nightlife, it was a huge blessing for us to reduce the stress for Darrin to get set-up to work in a city (internet, SIM card, phone card, etc), knowing how to get places, where to go, etc. Often I would have the nanny go with the kids and I to museums, etc. Everywhere we traveled the apartment rental agency or hotel was able to refer us to a well-known, trusted nanny agent or a private list of certified babysitters. We had amazing luck and felt so fortunate to have the advice and recommendations of someone who lives there and knows the city.
Learn to Laugh.
When things start to get stressful find a reason to laugh. Look for the silliness, it will be there somewhere. It helped me to think about You may not be able to control what happens on the road but you can sure control how you react to it.
Lastly, Love Life.
The instant you stop loving life on the road the trip might as well be over. As soon as you start to feel it fade make a change, take a break, quickly eat something delicious or find a few hours to nap. Whatever you need to do, JUST DO IT and do it quickly. Each and every moment is simply too precious to waste feeling stressed. You are on holiday damn it.