I love to travel. It is an essential part of what makes me who I am today. Travel is how I learned a language. Travel is how I met my husband. Travel is how I bonded with family. Travel forced me to reexamine my sense of normality and manners so greatly shaped by the culture that raised me. Whether I travel to a new part of town or a new country, I crave to grow through new experiences and new interactions. And then I became a mom.
I had one child. And then had another child. I wondered how I would travel. It was a challenge just to get to the grocery store and back with two kids. I suddenly craved routine and repeat experiences so I knew how to navigate with two kids in toe, where to change diapers, who smiled at kids and who grimaced and so on. I wanted the security of being close to home and close to the pediatrician and hospital just in case. I wondered how I would travel and who I would become if I always lived in a small bubble.
Fortunately, life necessitated that I pop the bubble early on. My husband is from a foreign country with relatives overseas that want to see their grand babies/nephews. My husband also travels for work and we want the family to enjoy those experiences together. Both of my kids flew internationally before age one. I even flew them both to Japan by myself once. Some parents are envious, others think I am crazy and think traveling with kids is no fun at all. Many people ask how I do it. So here comes the big secret…
Just do it! If you have kids, explore with them. Decide today is the day, pack up some snacks, wipes, sneakers for everyone, and a mode of transport (baby carrier, stroller, and/or backpack with a leash- don’t judge this last option unless you have at least two children you regularly care for without an extra adult to help you). Try a new restaurant, go to the museum you always wondered about, and if you can, hop on a bus, train, plane, or car to somewhere new. You will bond with your kids. You will both grow from new experiences. You will make memories you actually remember. You will be surprised at what you can see and share with your kids in tow.
I have been in Japan for almost a month. During that month, I have stayed in a ten mile radius, except for the trip to Tokyo with my sister-in-law. I decided it was time to explore. I am comfortable driving now and I can fully pronounce the name of my town in case I get lost. So, the baby and I went on an impromptu road trip. I heard a mountain town nearby was a popular destination, with vistas, parks, hot springs, and delicious fried pork (tonkotsu don). I simply followed the signs on the major roads until I reached the mountain town.
The ride alone was worth the trip. There were rolling green hills, vibrant wild flowers, and old Japanese homes. Little shrines and temples were sprinkled throughout rice paddies and old country roads. As the town neared, suddenly gigantic mountains appeared. They towered high above the smaller, green mountains. The rocky summits dwarfed the rest of the landscape and still have snow tops in July.
While there was a rope way to climb higher up, the baby and I were perfectly serene with an impromptu picnic near the visitor center. We ate between a babbling brook and a giant river chock full of boulders. A pedestrian only bridge crossed the river to a lush park. Lush trees and wildflowers were everywhere, providing ample shade and scenery. We crawled and walked around the forest by the riverbed.
Afterwards, we retreated to air conditioning. We had the local dish of breaded pork with special sauce, tonkagetsu don, a cross between terriyaki sauce and a citrus vinaigrette. We sat on traditional tatami mats overlooking another mountain spring. The baby devoured the rice and also showered the tatami with rice. Like a good and courteous Japanese woman, I diligently cleaned it up. The accompanying miso soup had chunks of mochi-a delicious surprise.
Then it was nap time for the little guy. I drove through the mountain roads in peaceful silence. Any mom knows how precious it is to have quiet solitude! And with a mountain view- glorious! I even stopped at a local bakery and snacked on cream-filled French bread and freshly squeezed blueberry juice. This weekend I am branching out further and taking a road trip with both boys!
Before I left, there were a thousand fears running through my head. I thought about retreating to the security of home. I thought about doing more research and planning before taking the plunge. But you can’t make a great play sitting on the bench no matter how hard you strategize in your head. Some of the best travel moments are completely unscripted and I want my kids to have that adventurous spirit. So, if you’re a parent afraid to explore with your kids, or no kids but afraid of the unknown, don’t let fear hold you back. Grab a bag and just do it!