Eight years ago my husband Paul and I traveled around the world. We traveled for almost six months to places like the war-torn nowhere land of Nagorno-Karabakh (a disputed territory sandwiched between Azerbaijan and Armenia) to tidy and organized Austria (a country where I actually saw a man on a ladder cleaning the street lights). We were uncomfortable and euphoric, sometimes in the same moment, and most importantly in my mind, we were changed in the process. Travel shifted my perspective. That trip was a gift, a privilege and an opportunity. I regularly revisit those places and people in my mind when I need a little escape from the present. So when we left the United States a few days ago to travel for five and a half weeks with our four year old son in Europe, I was filled with excitement, nostalgia and a couple of butterflies flying around in my stomach.
We're back on the road again! This time around our travels will take us from Belgium to Sicily. The places are much different and the travel experience is a radical departure from adventuring days of the past. For starters, we've got Finnegan in tow, or really leading the way, and now we make reservations. Other big differences that I'm noticing are in the stuff we brought, the activities that we do and how we spend our time.
For example, meet the 45 pound workhorse "Poco Loco." He's a big ol' wheeled suitcase filled to the brim with stuff. It was a hard reality to face, but we've become wheeled-bag travelers. In years past, we traveled fast and light carrying everything that we needed on our backs (and our fronts- can't forget the day pack). We still fight it a bit, I think it's kind of like buying a mini-van, but the reality is a) our backs don't permit it so much anymore and b) we carry a lot more stuff when there's a little man involved. I've got about 10 books, arts and crafts supplies, some tiny toys, what seems like a month's worth of snacks, ample amounts of hand disinfectant and wipes, pull-ups, a bag of children's remedies, five pairs of little person clothing etc. I'll share more about this scintillating topic of traveling with kiddos in another post.
This is a picture of us riding in a boat on the canals of Bruges Belgium. This is how we roll now. Before, being the globe-trotting citizens of the world that we thought we were, we regarded these things as highly touristy. We did not consider ourselves tourists, we were world travelers. Or something like that. Really we just couldn't afford it, but we probably would have really enjoyed the occasional horse-carriage or boat ride (just look at the smile on Paul's face). Another great discovery about our travels now days is travel by way of the playground. We went to Spain when Finn was two and realized that the best way to create a sense of adventure and keep him happily entertained was to find a park with a playground. The same is true now at four. Hanging out at the playground actually turns out to be a door opener into the culture of a place. You get to see kids being kids regardless of where they are from, observe the parenting norms of a different place and bond with other parents over just being parents. The other thing we do now is look for dragons because, you know, they live in castles and old buildings of course. It's a strategy that buys us some time in churches, monuments and occasionally a museum, so long as you can "smell" the dragons!
One other big difference about this trip is the amount of time that we get to spend alone. Traveling was one of the ways that I got to know myself. Long hours on hot buses, meeting new people in a different language and sleeping in places that seem uninhabitable gives you a sense of your own adaptability and shows you what you're capable of. Traveling as a family with a four year old does this but in a different way. We get very little or no "self-time" to be introspective, observant and process these new experiences. Rather I spend my time chasing, laughing, feeding, and caring for my curious little cat Finn. And that's ok. In fact I love it, it's just different. I've found that traveling with Finn actually makes people want to interact with us and show us their culture. I mean who doesn't want to squeeze a cute little bambino's chubby cheek and give him a sweet treat?!
On our last night in Bruges I put Finn to bed and slipped out for a walk by myself.
Walking down the narrow cobblestone road towards the Markt square, I was conscious of the loud sound that my boots made and things felt strangely quiet around me. I slowly became aware of a feeling that I can best describe as bravery. I needed to find my way, in the dark, in a different place, safely. It was that old feeling- simultaneously thrilling and scary. I had stepped out of the comfort zone! I did a walking version of the "super woman pose," taught to me by my wise friend Michelle, and walked on, trying to soak these gleefully unique and concurrently familiar feelings. I made it to the square and watched the teenagers in the city center laugh and joke with each other. I thought of my old self doing something similar many years ago in a Venetian plaza with two of my best travel friends Kiera and Julie. Then I gave my older, wiser, more wrinkly and far less agile self a mental hug and turned around to join my family in our cozy little airbnb.
In the next weeks I hope to share our adventures with you. I may even be able to convince Paul to make a guest blogging appearance (he's a master travel writer!). But I want to end this post in gratitude for the incredible opportunity to have this experience with my family and to urge you, friends, family and strangers, to take and make any opportunity you can to experience the unfamiliar. Especially the kind that comes from being in a foreign place. I know firsthand that it can take a little bit of bravery, but in my experience the leap of faith is always worth it! Au revoir for now!! Up next, street art, beer and boats in Belgium...