International travel is a passion for me; long-term international travel, even more so. I’m so enamored by it. In the past, my experiences as a solo traveler throughout Africa, South America, Central America, Asia, and Oceania have been memorable and powerful. Those were some of the best times of my life. I must’ve been a gypsy in another life (or a sailor). So when I first envisioned this journey for me and the boys, I imagined we’d immediately be enraptured by the wonders of the intercultural experience, replete with its inherent teachings, its excitement and inspiration, and the lure of the unknown. I wasn’t naïve to any of its challenges however, particularly in view of traveling with children. Sinking deeply into foreign settings, resetting expectations, re-evaluating cultural norms, and pushing the boundaries of comfort both physical and culturally are what can be thrilling about it. I invited the highs and lows of travel as on old friend, accepting and tolerating the differences. And, I made a tacit assumption that my boys would attach to the succulent benefits and settle into the travel rhythm as quickly and easily as me. Compromised position, number one.
The double-edged sword of intercultural travel is that, at once, you can be on its blade of both uncertainty and conviction. Uncertainty tends to promote trepidation and anxiety. Conviction can deliver excitement, fun, and connection to spirit. You can be minced into slivers of disappointment and frustration one moment, and lopped into thrilling chunks of the unexpected surprise the next. From all my years of travel, I know and understand this; I’m comfortable with it. I enjoy the dance between the unknown and the certain. For my kids, travel is a terrifying proposition no matter how it’s sliced. They’re creatures of habit. They demand certainty and schedules; they expect things to work as they have grown accustomed to. They want consistency, routine, and regularity. Travel is none of that! Compromised position, number two.
Extended budget travel is demanding. One must keep track of belongings; pack, unpack, and repack; coordinate transportation; find balance between cost and convenience; attend to safety and security; know what you need at any given moment and address those needs; find something to eat when food may not be convenient or appealing; put up with the occasionally uncomfortable or physically demanding situation (think, overnight bus rides). I’ve developed a tolerance for the demands of the travel experience. To me, they’re an essential element of its adventurous nature. I feel alive and stimulated by them. All my senses are on fire. And they bring me closer to and connected with the local culture. So far, my boys have shown very little tolerance for these sorts of things. They’ve regarded them as nuisances and hindrances to their well-being. And, they’ve blamed me for their discomfort, of course. Compromised position, number three.
Traveling alone can be hard enough, yet solo travelers actually have it good! For those fortunate beings, spontaneity is not only entirely possible, but abundant. Your whims are the only whims to be satisfied; your needs are the only ones to be met; your desires are the only ones to be pursued. Traveling with kids is unequivocally different. Spontaneity becomes hopeful, at best. Your whims are subject to the scrutiny of your progeny. Your needs move off the top of the priority list the minute you voice them; and your desires are now something to be discussed and put before the family tribunal. Travel with young children demands considerably more attention – there are many more dynamics at play. And, when responsibility beckons, it cannot be ignored. The needs of the children are of primary importance such that all other activities must cease. Matters at hand must be attended to immediately. Or so it goes with my kids. When the boys are hungry, at times, they become ‘hangry’ – hungry and angry. When the blood sugar drops across the blood-brain barrier they turn stock-raving mad, bludgeon me with insults, and wear me down thread bear. When there is discontent, I must put on the mediator hat. When there are emotions, I must hold space for them to feel. When they have to go pee, I must find a toilet. Compromised position, number four.
Between feedings, coordinating travel plans, keeping track of our stuff, and multitudinous other parental duties, there’s been very little room left for taking care of myself. It was hard enough for me to take care of my boys in the comfort and convenience of our own home. My time as a single parent over these last four and a half years has been severely compromised. Now, on the road, parenting has become so much more intense and exaggerated. And I’m handicapped (being out of my element as well)! I’ve been in a constant state of managing expectations, holding space for tremendous waves of anxiety, and catering to their every need. It’s been demanding thus far! I’ve been feeling disappointed and deflated. And tossed slightly off-course. I’ve been second-guessing myself a bit as well. This isn’t the experience I signed on for! What was I thinking, traveling around the world with two young boys?!
Aha!!! But I did in fact sign on for this. And, I’m game for it, dammit! I have to remind myself of that often. I never thought it’d be easy. I knew we’d go through difficult times. I’ve entered this experience eyes wide open, intentionally and purposefully, welcoming the challenges that would test our limits and provide us with opportunities to learn about each other as we immerse ourselves in the unknown. I admit that my romantic notions of international travel distracted me from considering what it would be like to parent on the road. Having said that, I’m not sure I could have ever really imagined – or prepared for – what it would be like to take my two sons traveling for nearly a year. For some adults, it’s not too much unlike the decision to have children– if we knew the challenges and the hardships involved as well as the amount of personal freedom we’d be asked to relinquish, we’d seriously consider having them! Fortunately, there’s so much beauty to be had in all of it! I find myself on every wavelength of the parenting spectrum, from the utter joy and profound love, to the disparaging realities of having to face the worst of myself when my children push me to/over my edges.
And here we are, me and the boys. We’ve ventured forth into the unknown and the uncertain. We’re in unchartered territory – new and unfamiliar. As I reflect on what has transpired over the first month of our journey, I believe we’re actually still in the process of dissolving; evaporating from one reality, transforming into another. Metamorphosis. We’ve been shedding the layers that defined the fabric of our lives back home. Where we once had a life revolving around Arlington, MA – a home, a community, an au pair to help us (thank you Alex!), routines, and familiar stomping grounds – the ever-changing road is now our milieu. However, we’re still in the pupa stage; not yet formed in our new reality. A new set of norms for relating to one another has not yet developed. We’ve been removing the constructs and definitions of ourselves that governed our previous existence. We’ve stepped into a new reality that we’re still coming to grips with and so we’re forced to take off the behavioral and emotional garments that no longer fit us. We’re working towards finding ourselves, again, and creating a new relationship to each other and to ourselves in this experience. This is exactly what I envisioned for us. I just never could have imagined how the process would go, what it would look like, or how it would feel. But this is it – we’re doing it. I’m confident we’re on our way!