From the moment Lara was about nine months old and I started having a bit of a confidence that she wouldn't die on me, I also started saying “Once she turns 4-5, I'll grab her and travel the world.”
Then, when she was two, I read a Trans-Siberian article and I knew I had to do that one day too. And that I would continue on my way once I started. (I don't like returning the same way. Also, I see the world as a whole. You don't travel 1/4 of the way around the world and turn back, you do a round ;)
When I researched a bit, I saw that the Trans-Siberian train was free for children under four years of age. (We had gone to Mauritius before she had turned two because after that we would have to pay full-price for her. Of course, this is just an excuse to do something, an incentive.) So in the end we did a 99 Days Around the World tour starting with the Trans-Siberian when Lara was 3.5 year-old.
In one of our flights, we had met an Italian-Russian couple who have a daughter same age as our daughter. When we told them of our Trans-Siberian plans they both went “Are you crazy?!” They said the trains were horrible, the ride boring, there was no way they'd ride that train. Especially with a kid. “Ekaterina would bring the train down,” they remarked.
That gave me a pause. I questioned myself, was I really attempting something so stupid? Was even the thought of it silly? After thinking it over long and hard with my husband, we decided we'd still do it. I wanted to do it so much. Trans-Siberian is the dream of travellers and it had been at the back of my mind for a long time.
We had not known each other much with this couple. The second time we met, only the father came to visit us in Rome. When he saw Lara he commented “Of course you'd go with this.” Lara is a pretty calm child.
Then we went and saw them in Kaş, where they live. When I saw Ekaterina, I thought to myself but did not tell it to them: “Of course you cannot travel with this.” Ekaterina was an agitated, restless child, like most kids her age, running around, with constant need of stimulation. I have to say I was critical of the way she was being raised, they had all these toys that make sounds, with lights blinking; Ekaterina was constantly pressing a button, making noise. I don't want to paint a wrong picture of my child. Lara seeks constant attention sometimes and can really be a nuisance. Yet, she is calm and knows how to entertain herself quietly too.
Especially at that age she was into Donald Duck comics of her father. Give her one of those books and she could spend an hour or more carefully scrutinizing all the drawings. I thought I'd put one in the bag for the trip and that would keep her busy on the 6 day long Trans-Siberian train without any stops. Lo and behold, I forgot the book! To my amazement, it turned out fine. Lara had us, her parents to herself and was fine talking with us and playing word games. A 6.5 day travel in a closed box was a breeze with my 3.5 year-old.
That being said, when we got to Los Angeles after a long-haul Pacific flight, things were different. We were all exhausted from the trip, add the jetlag. To top it off, my husband left his backpack which had all his important documents, money and computer inside the airport. He realized it only after we came out of immigration and exited the airport. Luckily, this being LA, they had spotted the backpack and given it to the airline. That delayed us more than an hour and a half. Finding the AirBnb, putting our stuff in, I was so crashed. To top it off, Lara was throwing a tantrum for I don't remember what now. I seriously felt like holding her by the arms and throwing her out of the window! It was that unbearable.
We were on the first-floor, so that would have been just putting her out of the window, and of course there's no way I'd do such a thing, but the impulse was definitely there. I wanted her out, shut up. Mind you, she is the most valuable creature in the world for me; she is the one for whom I would let all other children of the world die. Yet, at that moment, my nerves could not bear her existence. That's motherhood.
The bottom line is... Sure, I believe it's important children are exposed to the differences of the world at a young age. I am proud of my daughter's social skills, being comfortable with anybody. It's so nice to see her interact with children of other worlds. In Madagascar, it was so nice to hear that she played with children and animals when we left her with the tour-guide while we went trekking in the Tsingy. She was 6.5 then. I know some of her 8 year-old friends do not even sleep at their grandmother's. Lara was 3.5 when on one of our cruises an elderly lady offered to babysit her and put her to sleep in her cabin so that we could have some alone time with my husband. We had our doubts of course. Leaving her with a stranger... Something to note is that I've never left her with a baby-sitter, the few times I ever had someone to come look after her, I was always there in the house together. Anyway... Considering we knew the lady a bit, this being a long and expensive cruise the passengers were sort of elite or at least had a different quality than your ordinary cruise, we decided to give it a go. Of course we were curious to know if everything was alright and called on to check. Then we went and picked up a sound asleep baby.
A similar thing happened while visiting the islands in the Pacific. We were in Rangiroa by the sea, putting Lara's feet into the water. Children quickly surrounded her; they wanted to take her out swimming. Well, Lara didn't know how to swim, I sure wasn't going to leave her in the hands of these tiny children! We did not have our swimsuits as we weren't planning to swim. What if anything happened to her?
Then I put things into perspective... These children grow up by the sea, they are also given responsibilities to look after young siblings when they are basically babies themselves, they are perfectly proficient and capable of handling other children. So much that they could even be better than me in handling Lara at sea!
I figured we would go in with our clothes anyway if an emergency arose. I decided to trust them. We were there, keeping an eye of course. What we saw was children being children, it was so nice to see them interacting without prejudices. Unfortunately, in some other parts of the world, in poor countries which are more touristic, or I don't know... It depends on the place perhaps... Children see “white” children and start begging, start asking for their clothes, their bracelets etc.
Anyway... What I'm trying to say is this:
Whatever value there is in travel, it is not a must. Thou shalt know your child and yourself. Thou need not travel unless you feel you are ready. I did not take my first foreign trip until I was 22, I don't feel I lack anything. Now there is a girl who has been to every country before she turned 22. I'm sure she has developed skills and knowledge that I did not possess at that age. However, she still lacks the wisdom to process her experience. As Seneca said, your having been tossed around a lot doesn't mean you've gained wisdom. In fact, most of the travel community today lack any wisdom. They are just travelling the world looking at themselves. No need to add one more to the numbers of such people. One can improve himself/herself just as well by sitting at home, observing, reading and thinking.
If you insist on travel, just be ready to make whatever experience you have as valuable as possible. Be it as a lesson, or knowledge of your and/or your child's limits. Also, just know that it will not be, can not be as enjoyable as when you were travelling kid-free. Yet, there are the the joys of having your child witness some spectacular sites, savor those moments to the fullest.
Ahh... And if you see an article named “The Ultimate Guide to Travel With Kids” or similar, just know it is the Ultimate Bullshit.
Please please please... I'm begging you... Please... Don't buy into any of the glorious photos of families travelling together. Sure, they have their happy moments; then again, sure, they have the crappy moments -which are generally a much higher percentage- that they do not show to you!
They are just ego-boosting or trying to get credit for themselves by boosting an industry.