I took my first cross-country road trip when I was six-weeks-old. My parents loaded me up in an old Ford Wagoneer and drove me home from my dad's hometown of Pittsburgh, PA, to my hometown of Ojai, CA. After that, we traveled back and forth between the East Coast and the West Coast every summer of my life. A few times we flew, but most years we loaded up the car with the suitcases, the dogs, and the children and drove 3,000 miles across the country. This early exposure to travel instilled within me a joy of seeing the world, and since that first trip I have visited 34 states and 14 countries. And I hope to share that same joy with my own little ones.
Traveling with children can be hard--it disrupts their nap schedules, may involve crossing timelines, and definitely pushes everyone beyond their comfort zones. But seeing different countries and different parts of our country as children gives them a greater appreciation for cultural and regional differences, and it widens their experiences and background knowledge, which will only help them later on in life. Traveling builds not only flexibility of the mind, but also of the body, as one has to acclimate to different climates and overcome the inevitable challenges that arise during travel--missed flights, missed exits, miss translations.
Following in my footsteps, both of my children also made their first cross-country travels as infants. When Maya was six-months-old, my dad was hospitalized and my sister and I had to make an emergency last-minute flight to California to be at his bedside. Since I was exclusively nursing, guess which little traveler had to come, too? After a harrowing flight, we spent every day with my dad, until we knew he was going to make it through. In the hospital. With an infant. This was before the pandemic, but even then Clorox wipes were indispensable, and Maya just about lived tied to my front in my Maya wrap.
Exactly two years later, my dad had to move, and enlisted my sister and my help once again. At that time I was nursing six-month-old Mateo, so he and I took his first cross-country flight to California. They might not have the memories of their early travels, but taking my babies to my hometown and walking them along the trails I used to walk on, taking them to the church I attended growing up, and introducing them to some of the influential people in my own childhood was an important pilgrimage for them.
Although traveling with babies can be challenging, that is no reason not to travel. Nurslings make the best travel companions because their flights are free, their sustenance is free, and hopefully nursing puts them to sleep, so they also will nap often. Taking your babies around the world can be a beautiful bonding and memory-making experience. Traveling with toddlers presented its own unique challenges, but also special moments.
Francisco took Maya to Guatemala when she was 18-months-old, because our pediatrician recommended she not travel internationally until she had received her first round of all of her vaccines. Francisco couldn't wait for his daughter to meet his home country, and all of the family and friends he has there. Life in Guatemala is very different from our life in the US, and we believe it is important for our children as bilingual and bicultural kids to know both countries intimately. Mateo hasn’t had a chance to visit Guatemala yet, but I hope to send him soon.
This past spring break, my mom and I took the little ones to Portland, Maine. It wasn’t a far journey, but it was a special one. It was a chance for us to spend three inter-generational days together. My mom had never been to Portland, so it was her first travel experience there along with Maya and Mateo, and it gave them a chance to make new memories together. We saw lighthouses, ate delicious seafood, walked along the coast and even dined in the harbor on a retired ferry boat. Yes, there were tense moments as I had two overtired toddlers whose days weren’t quite aligned to their normal schedule, but they were able to see and do things they had never done before, and those experiences are just the beginning of them opening their minds and their hearts to the world beyond their comfort zone.