This is part of a series on travel. To read more, click here.
“I have found out that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.” -Mark Twain, Tom Sawyer Abroad
When we took our first family trip at the beginning of last year, we had a talk with the boys about the prospect of travel and what it meant.
Nathan and I had already been doing some serious soul searching about the amount of stuff we had, and the amount of stuff the boys had accumulated over the years.
We were coming into the holidays and birthdays immediately following the holidays and feeling at a loss at what to give them. We have never been extravagant gift givers to the kids. Even still, it felt like every gift we had given them, even if something they wanted or needed, elicited immediate excitement and smiles, but was quickly forgotten.
In a few weeks I’d be asking them to pick the beloved gift off of the floor.
So we sat the boys down and told them of our opportunity to travel. But what it would mean for them. If they wanted to go places and see things, it would mean sacrifice. It would mean a super minimalist Christmas. And no birthday presents from us.
It would mean replacing gifts under the tree with memories that would last.
It would mean tough decisions. It would mean making the choice of going out to lunch after church, or going home for leftovers (leftovers it is). It would mean declining movies in theaters because we needed to save the money (hello, Redbox). It would mean sacrifice.
A deal was struck: we, the parents would do the heavy lifting, but the kids would have to support and contribute. No big Christmas, no birthday gifts, and they had to pitch in and help pay for the trip. Their profits from their weekly mowing job for a friend wouldn’t be spent on toys, it would be spent to pay for their passports. Perhaps any other money they were gifted from family would need to be saved for their trip spending money instead of Pokemon cards.
They agreed, I think, not really because they fully understood, but because a vacation sounded fun.
Christmas was a fun day without gifts (no shocker there, but just in case you were wondering). We had a great day and it’s one of the Christmas days that that stands out to me the most. We played games, ate cinnamon rolls, and just relaxed with Nathan’s brother and sister-in-law.
After the hustle and bustle of the holidays were over, we left for our first international adventure.
We took Berlin by storm and then headed on to Africa. There were great memories, there were meltdowns. There were fun activities and there were moments that they were not loving it.
But we came. We saw. We made it home in one piece.
And we were hooked. More travel ensued.
We may not have a lot of material gifts to speak of in 2018, but boy, oh boy, do we have memories.
Watching my kiddo have his first Nutella Crepe.
Feeling the silent shock as we stood over the spot where Hitler’s underground bunker lays.
Seeing the discomfort as we drove through some of the poverty in Africa.
Letting them help navigate through subway stations.
Watching the glee on their face as they jumped into the Indian ocean for the first time.
Biking through olive groves and taking breaks to jump into Adriatic in Croatia.
Seeing history jump off the pages at Corrie Ten Boom’s home where she hid Jews in Haarlem, Amsterdam.
Dealing with jet lag, nausea from driving & flying, meltdowns from no sleep or weird food.
The good and the bad, they are all part of the package. They are shared memories that we’ll never forget.
There is something about traveling as a family unit that is somewhat of what Nathan describes as a “pressure cooker” experience. You are with each other constantly. The intensity is higher because you are all in a new place together. Often the minority. Often you don’t know the language. You get hangry with each other while you are simultaneously lost. You almost miss flights. But with all the stress and adventure, you grow closer. You make rich memories that are worth more than any gift under the tree. Some things, like 2.5 hour traffic jams in Bangkok, become things you can laugh about later over the dinner table back at home.
It’s time with your kiddos with no distractions. When we take these trips together we work hard in advance to get all of our to-do lists accomplished. I’m not distracted by my bills, my jobs, or by social media. We are together, seeing things together, learning things together, trying new things together. It’s time with my family that I’ll always remember and cherish.
But with these amazing experiences comes sacrifice. I began to be concerned that the kids were going to feel like they were missing out on normal gifts, normal spending that a parent would spend on their child. Year one of no gifts, okay. But year two? I was afraid they’d tire of the new deal and begin to want again. I mean, after all, they are kids.
A few days ago the boys and I were in the car and the subject of how we’d celebrate their birthdays came up (we’re a spring birthday family around here–January, March, March, April, & May). I was waiting for them to tell me the new video game they wanted or whatever was the newest thing/toy that they desired. But instead, my March baby, for his golden birthday said, “Mom, we’ve got another trip coming up. I don’t really need anything for my birthday. A schnitzel in Germany is all I need!” Then the other (April birthday) piped in, “For our birthdays can we go camping? I really want to go camping!”
My heart swelled. They get it. They realize that things don’t last.
To end, I’m quoting my son, who concluded in a presentation to his class about his travels,
“They say traveling is the only thing you buy that makes you richer. It’s not the traveling that makes you rich, it’s the memories.”
Whether your next adventures take you to Azerbaijan or Atlanta, enjoy your people. Make memories that will last beyond the next gifting season.