IMG_6076-001After flying our twin toddlers half way around the world four months ago, and taking three trips within a month recently, I was certain that I would have some ingenious insights to share on traveling with children. I thought that in addition to the universe of tips out there…from how many diapers to pack, kinds of toys to bring, useful apps to download, to reminders about extra clothes for yourself, and the triumvirate panacea of patience, sense of humor and a thick skin… that I would have new pearls of wisdom to add. Yet I do not because there is a lot of good advice out there that really covers it all.

The insight that is new to me about traveling with children has more to do with traveling as a mom – the mom herself as a traveler, the pre-kids adventurous, curious individual, and how she must now navigate the pursuit of travel, mentally and logistically, with young children in tow.

The need to know:

I have always loved to travel. For business or pleasure, I had no fear of the unknown. Language barriers did not intimidate me from taking a four-month work assignment in Tokyo. Checking community ride boards each day to determine my next destination while traveling in Africa did not make me anxious. There was never a second thought to exploring on foot the crowded streets of Istanbul or Hong Kong or Barcelona for the entire day.

I traveled with the freedom and openness to whatever I might find along the way.  Well not anymore.

Having responsibility for the well-being and safety of my children weighs heavily upon me to predict and pre-plan every aspect of our journeys. And when that planning fails, like not having a taxi readily available when we returned from Hanoi, I often react as if it was a failed mission to the moon. Why? Because the thought of something not working out would lead to chaos with the kids. Did it ever? Not really.

The only effect from slight travel glitches had on anything was me realizing that I was no longer that easy-going, take it as it comes, traveler. I’ve changed.

As a mom-traveler, I plan a lot so we we can enjoy our time together. Our kids thrive on routine. Whether we’re at home or on the road, we religiously stick to meal-times and sleep schedules. This helps the kids when they’re over tired and over stimulated, especially in a strange new place. They can trust that we will eat when hungry, and have down-time when tired. Where I sacrifice as a traveler by ending a tour early or missing out on scheduled events, I gain in happy children who enjoy doing the things we can do together — rather than forcing activities when they are tired and hungry. Unhappy children = unhappy mom-travelers.

The rushed pace:

Two toddlers do not amble through an ethnology museum reading every placard about the rural tribes of Laos. They do not sit still at a cafe on Hoan Kiem Lake to soak in the peaceful atmosphere. We tend to walk fast when sightseeing to keep pace with the kinetic curiosity of three-year olds. And in that chasing around, there is very little time to soak in sights or for photography.

I used to get frustrated feeling like I missed out on our experiences, but I’ve learned to take advantage of the kids’ routine to make my own time for proper sightseeing and photography.

Now when we are rushing around, I take note of where I want to return, or things I want to photograph when the kids are taking their nap or they’re happy swimming with dad for an hour. I use these predictable chunks of time to satisfy my personal interests, and with limited time, I hone in on the experiences most important to me.

The learner becomes the teacher:

Where I previously researched as much as I could prior to traveling, now I only have enough time to book our flight and hotel, and I reserve the more academic learning for after I arrive or even after returning home – thank you Wikipedia! I am not learning as much during my travels but I have shifted from learning to satisfying the kids’ inquisitiveness. I enjoy pointing out things they should see and explaining what they are experiencing.

Traveling with children gives me a blank slate in which to view the world, transforming me into a teacher. I may not know everything, but the little I do know is a good enough start for filling in their little blank slates. It’s fun to answer their endless questions and watch their expressions of understanding or wonder or even confusion. I’ve traded in my wanderlust curiosity and keen observation for theirs. That amazing bundle of interaction between seeing the world through their eyes while showing them the world through mine is pretty priceless.

As a parent we shift and change in many ways, and I’ve struggled with how it’s changed me as a traveler. I still do and I’m still shifting my perspective with each trip we take. But just like everything that changes us as parents, we have to find what works and recognize the added dimension to all our experiences that raising children brings — most of which is pretty amazing and I wouldn’t change a thing.

In what ways have becoming a mother changed how you experience your most treasured pastime?

This is an original post to World Moms Blog by our mother of twins writer, Dee Harlow in Vientiane, Laos. You can always find her writing on her blog, Wanderlustress.

The photograph used in this post is attributed to the author.

Dee Harlow (Laos)

One of Dee’s earliest memories was flying on a trans-Pacific flight from her birthplace in Bangkok, Thailand, to the United States when she was six years old. Ever since then, it has always felt natural for her to criss-cross the globe. So after growing up in the northeast of the US, her life, her work and her curiosity have taken her to over 32 countries. And it was in the 30th country while serving in the Peace Corps in Uzbekistan that she met her husband. Together they embarked on a career in international humanitarian aid working in refugee camps in Darfur, Sudan, and the tsunami torn coast of Aceh, Indonesia. Dee is now a full-time mother of three-year old twins and continues to criss-cross the globe every two years with her husband who is in the US Foreign Service. They currently live in Vientiane, Laos, and are loving it! You can read about their adventures at Wanderlustress.

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