This past weekend, I finally made it to the nearest passport photo location with my husband, almost four-year old and two year old. I’ve been planning to get us all passports since my youngest was born. That afternoon while filling out passport applications and booking passport appointments, I found myself reminiscing on my past travels and wondering how it was possible that it’s been seven years since my passport expired!
The last vacation I took as a single woman was my tour of Italy back in 2014, the year before I met my husband. Before then, I had been bitten by the travel bug on my first solo trip to Washington, D.C. for a Senate internship fresh out of high school that gave me the confidence to go on my first solo international trip to Malawi, Africa that next year. After that, I traveled and studied abroad in Australia and England and then my last trip as a single woman to Italy. I met so many interesting people and had many unique experiences that shaped me as an individual on these solo trips.
Leaving my comfort zone allowed me to push my boundaries, broaden my horizons, and think outside my box. One thing I loved about independent travel is that even though I am a classic introvert, it gave me the opportunities I needed to connect with people I met on my travels and the quiet time to process and reflect on everything I had learned and experienced.
During my travels and relocations with my husband before having kids, it didn’t feel necessary to create opportunities to connect with other people because traveling with someone familiar, sharing experiences and making memories changes the meaning of travel.
Since we’ve had children, we have relocated twice and traveled back and forth to see family (only one time have I gone alone with my toddler daughter and never again…) and traveling with infants and toddlers has been completely different in so many ways with its own set of challenges. I’ve been contemplating how traveling alone is different from traveling with a family of little ones and have asked myself if the benefits are worth the challenges and decided to share with you why I feel it is definitely worth it.
Challenges. The first challenge that came to my mind was money, especially since our youngest recently no longer qualifies as a lap infant; we are now required to purchase four airplane tickets for our next family trip. Also, like I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I have scheduled our passport appointments for all four of us, which, turns out, is quite the investment with photos at $15.99 each, $35 each for acceptance fees, and $130 each for the application fee for me and my husband, and the kids’ application fees of $100 each. You get your money’s worth, though, since adult passports are valid for 10 years after issue date and children under 16 years of age are valid for 5 years, but still hurts the wallet a little upfront.
The costs of vacations vary of course, but it is indisputable that money is easier to spend when away from home. I found this out firsthand while I studied in England, I found myself spending the £1 coins like they were American quarters! Food is also always a major expense and after throwing in a couple of picky eaters that will only eat macaroni and cheese, things can get expensive quickly. Accommodations and rental vehicles for more people are also expensive since space is at a premium anywhere you travel in the world.
In addition to expenses, having children while traveling can present unexpected challenges when planning for something as basic as a place to stay. I didn’t realize this until recently, I was looking at house rentals for pricing for a possible summer staycation only to find that some rentals allowed pets but not children! Obviously, this is their right as owner and manager of the property but don’t let this discourage you. There are also rentals that cater to families with kids and even provide amenities like cribs, toys, or equipment such as high chairs. Another thing to keep in mind when planning a family getaway will be the amount of prior planning that may be needed for a more pleasant trip. As someone who enjoys planning and organizing, the planning and anticipation of a vacation is part of the fun, but I also realize as a parent that trying to plan, prepare, and pack for every situation that may arise is very stressful and doesn’t leave much room for spontaneity.
Benefits. Hopefully you’re still reading because this is when I tell you why I enjoy traveling as a family with my little ones despite the challenges. My favorite thing to see while we’re traveling and the number one thing I enjoy as a parent, is watching them learn. Seeing my little children see, feel, taste, and hear new things and watching their response is the highlight of parenthood for me. Whether we’re visiting family, a new state, or just a new playground, it’s always fun to explore with them. I feel like I’m getting to know them better. Traveling is an excellent opportunity for kids to learn about themselves and their surroundings while figuring out their place in the world as they get older. It’s been my experience that seeing life lived in a different way than I am accustomed to changes the way that I look at daily life and provides perspective on things I’ve never even questioned.
For instance, while in Florence, Italy, I was surprised when I was not able to find an electronics store within walking distance in the city center that was open from the hours of 1 pm to 3 pm but completely respected the importance behind prioritizing a riposo in the middle of the day to rest and share a meal with friends and family over the possibility of making more money. It was a valuable lesson for me to learn how proud the Italians are to work to live la dolce vita full of excellent food, wine, music, art, architecture, and history instead of prioritizing work over quality of life.
I hope I’ve demonstrated through my own travel experiences what an important part family travel can play in your life as a parent and your little children in their most formative years. You’ve probably noticed that the benefits were all intangible things like creating memories, learning about the world and growing as a person, while the challenges were material things that are replaceable like money and manageable things like stress and prior planning. All the challenges are simply inconveniences that can be viewed as investments in the future of children’s lives by spending time learning and growing together. Even if you don’t have an elaborate family vacation planned, any new experience with your children can encourage their love of learning and teach them to look for adventure in any situation. My love of travel and how it’s shaped me over the years is what drives me in my mission to make traveling as a family not such a hassle by giving parents convenient options and helpful resources.