I’m headed out for a big trip today to celebrate a big birthday. As I plan out my summer after that, I’m forced to face the reality that I have completely derailed my normal “Moments of the Month” routine because I never shared photos from the last big trip we took as a family — in DECEMBER. (I’ve read somewhere that you should never start a blog post apologizing for how long it’s been since you’ve blogged, but whatever. I am who I am and I need to get that off my chest before I move on).
It’s not a dearth of photos that has kept me from sharing about this trip; it’s that I had some big thoughts about what family travel means to me that I knew would take some time to find the right words for. Here are a few of the photos (and scroll to the end to read the words I found):
As for the words…
I read a book by Maggie O’Farrel right around the time of this trip called “I Am, I Am, I Am.” It’s a collection of short autobiographical stories/essays. In one, she talks about her fascination with travel and the feeling she gets when she travels, both alone and with her kids. I took photos of some of the pages that I found most interesting on this subject, and they’ve been on my mind a lot. A few excerpts:
“After he had sailed around the Mediterranean in 1869, Mark Twain said that travel was ‘fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.’ ”
“Neuroscientists have been trying for years to pin down what it is about travel that alters us, how it effects mental change. Neural pathways become ingrained, automatic, if they only operate out of habit. They are highly attuned to alterations, to novelty. New sights, sounds, languages, tastes and smells stimulate different synapses in the brain, different message routes, different webs of connection, increasing our neuroplasticity.”
“Professor Adam Galinsky, an American social psychologist who has studied the connection between creativity and international travel, says that “Foreign experiences increase both cognitive flexibility and depth and integrativeness of thought, the ability to make deep connections between disparate forms.’ (Brent Crane, ‘For a more creative brain, travel,” The Atlantic, March 31 2015.
“It’s the only thing, besides writing, that can meet and relieve my ever simmering, ever-present restlessness. If I have been too long at home, stuck in the routine of school runs, packed lunches, swimming lessons, laundry, tidying, I begin to pace the house in the evenings. …”
“I wanted to bring up my children to be travelers, to be curious about the world to experience other cultures, other places, other sights.”
All of this makes a lot of sense to me, and I was thrilled to find that someone had spent so much time thinking about WHY travel is so exciting for some people. What IS wanderlust, anyway? Turns out it’s like many other hobbies and interests shared by other people – the search for endorphins, for change that ignites new pathways.
We’ve been traveling with our kids since many would say they were too young to appreciate it. “They won’t remember,” people would sometimes say, “don’t you want to wait until they’re older and can get more out of it?” The quick response was always that I wanted to travel and that taking the kids made traveling possible when it otherwise wouldn’t be. If I had more time and felt that my listener was receptive, though, I’d explain that it’s always been more than that. I’ve always felt that experiencing different people, places and cultures showed our children how much there was outside of their little day-to-day bubble. Even if they weren’t consciously aware, they were seeing that the world was a bigger place than they could possibly appreciate within the confines of their normal routines. That’s a big thing, I think.
In the last few years, I’ve started to recognize another benefit that, in this stage of our life as a family, has begun to to trump all the others (for me, anyway). We’re a family of six, and most of the time we live in the same house. We’re not the same giant indivisible and self-contained unit, though, that we used to be. Each of us has a job or school and friends and responsibilities, interests and pursuits that take up a big part of our brain space and have little to do with our identity as a family. Beyond the ‘real’ things that take up our time and energy, there are the constant distractions of the online world that are always tugging our attention away from the here and now. We do make an effort to connect regularly as a family in day to day life, and every once in a while there’s a family dinner or outing that’s unmarred by a sibling squabble or logistical realities and distractions and time crunches. Those feel like a harkening back to a past time. They feel like tiny little nostalgic successes.
But. When we travel ….
It’s just us.
All looking from the same new and exciting angle at a view we’ve never experienced before. Taking it in, figuring it out, learning. The kids have the bug now, too. They’re receptive to the lessons Matt always has at the ready from decades of reading about a place or a historical time. They’re much more tolerant of my ever-present camera. We’re a unit again. Isolated into our own little family bubble again, kept together by language barriers and shared wonder at everything that’s new and different around us and without distractions. Navigating the unknown together.
On New Year’s Eve 2018, the six of us shuffled, conga-style, through swarms of people in Old Town Square in Prague. I don’t know how many people were in that little square, but it felt like millions to me. During a pause in our movement, I shared the thoughts I was having with Kate, my oldest. It’s crazy, I said, that even in the midst of this enormous crowd, it felt like the six of us were alone. And with that alone-ness came a sense of togetherness. It was just the six of us again, each if us with a hand on the shoulder of the person in front of us. Taking in all the chaos and excitement while making sure our little conga line remained unbroken and no one split off into the crowd. An extreme example, maybe, but a great analogy of the biggest value that travel with my family brings now.
“Mom,” Kate said, “You should write a blog post about that.”
Thanks for looking,
PS Vienna and Prague were awesome, by the way. I saved lots of fun little iPhone photos and videos in an Instagram Story Highlight if you’d like to see more (@jayemcl) They still have me chuckling when I visit them myself. I’d go back in a heartbeat (to either city, but especially Prague), if there wasn’t so much more of the world I still needed to see.