Traveling for Growth Instead of Escape

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Travel can be an escape. Travel can be your life. Travel can change your life.

It can be all of those things at different points within a lifetime, but it can’t serve all of those purposes simultaneously.

We’ve spent a few years, maybe more than a few years, often skimming the surface of what travel can offer. The reason isn’t surprising; we’ve had more than enough on our plates at home. Having our girls was hard. Caring for them as infants drove us right up to the edge. There was a morning after our second daughter was just a few weeks old, screaming through the night, when Josh was found by my parents with his head in his hands, tears on his cheeks, sitting on their porch by himself just two streets away from our home. I doubt that was his intended destination when he walked out of the house needing just a few minutes of silence, but that is where his feet took him. It was a captured moment in time that represents how we were so very tired we couldn’t think, and we were realizing that we were reliving the trauma of screams and exhaustion from our first daughter’s first year all over again. Everyone said it would be easier the second time, and everyone was wrong. So very wrong.

 

There are far worst tragedies in the world than having infants who simply do not sleep and who cry and cry and cry despite all of your efforts, but there are far easier ways to live, too. Being unable to console your baby, not sleeping nearly enough for weeks or months, and the isolation, blame, doubt, frustration, and despair that can absolutely accompany that situation makes the world feel dark. Our indoctrination into the world of parenthood was trial by fire, and just as that fire was under control and the trees were growing back from the ashes, we decided to have our second beautiful daughter and lit the flames up even larger than before. I had my own low moments that looked much like Josh’s, or perhaps even more desperate for anything that resembled normal rest and balance.

Add in job changes, economic uncertainty, real health scares, and life’s bouquet of other challenges and surprises, and travel didn’t need to be something hard, stressful, challenging, or trying. No, for us, travel needed to be comfortable, rejuvenating, comfortable, restful, and essentially an escape. Miles and points made that easy. There was attainable first class seats, pampering, resorts we otherwise couldn’t have afforded, lounges, suites, and beautiful places to see and experience while simply breathing from one breath to the next. That’s really all we had to give at times, just breath.

There’s nothing wrong with that. That is what we needed travel to be for ourselves and also our kids. I imagine that is what a lot of people need from travel, especially at the more stressful points that life inevitably brings. You can love your life and your family at home and still need a beautiful spot to escape from it all. Not everyone has that luxury, of course, but if that is an option on the table, I think it is more than reasonable to take it.

But as I fly home from another beautiful brief escape to a resort island paradise, I’m watching a documentary on Steven Spielberg thanks to the magic of in-flight entertainment. As that documentary tells the story of him transitioning from telling somewhat lighter stories such as ET and Indiana Jones to deeper films such as Schindlers’s List, Saving Private Ryan, and Munich, I realize that we’re approaching a turning point in our travel, too. I’m clearly no Spielberg, but that sort of transition is one that I think translates to lots of people and situations.

Life is not always easy at home, but we aren’t currently living in the midst of fear, chaos, and sleep deprivation in the way we were in some previous years…at least not most days. We aren’t walking as tight of a tightrope dangling over an endless pit of exhaustion with trips serving as the platforms to reach between high wire sprints. Simultaneously, our oldest daughter is already halfway through second grade, devouring books that I thought we wouldn’t get to for a few more years, and only getting more and more aware of herself, the world, and her inherent privileges and responsibilities in it.

To serve its full purpose, I think at some point travel needs to challenge us. I don’t mean in the way that tight connections, flying with squirmy toddlers, or jetlag can be a challenge. I mean in the way that you see, smell, feel, and taste things that make you uncomfortable and open your eyes. I love opening my eyes to high-quality sheets, a perfect view, included breakfast as far as the eye can see, and an awaiting infinity pool, but there’s a time and a place for that sort of travel, and for also for the kind of travel that teaches us in ways that a resort or theme park never could.

In the coming years, our oldest daughter will be studying the horrors described in Schindler’s List, in slavery, of world wars, colonization and the dark side that comes along with all of that and so much more.

I don’t want her to go to places and see, touch, and smell things related to these events simply to have a deeper understanding of them or have a photo for a school project, though that is part of it as history can teach a more relevant lesson if you understand it isn’t just something that happened in a book. Instead, I also want her to also learn about the resilience from the horrors, to smell the flowers that now grow where death once prevailed, hear the people that still sing, experience the ways life found a way to proceed, and see first-hand how good can win in so many different ways and in so many different places and faces.

The lessons of how people are the same more than they are different, and how a continent or two away isn’t really all that far can be touched on with all types of travel, but those lessons can be imprinted when travel goes a little bit deeper than just surface exploration.

Let’s be real, we still have a two year old and won’t be making a dramatic shift in how we travel overnight, or ever completely turn our backs on comfortable travel that serves as an escape and creates a communally shared smile and happy memory, but I feel the time coming soon that our travel will sometimes start to take on a deeper purpose with a little more meaning. I’m excited for when that day dawns. I’m excited for my girls, and my family, but also for myself. For good reason, I’ve put that side of travel on hold for many years, but I want it back. I want to travel more for growth than escape.

I love sharing our stories and helping families find the resorts, cities, activities, and hotels that will serve as a good base for building happy memories, but if I can take that a step further and also tell stories that might inspire others to take a trip that will challenge or even change their lives, then that is a direction I can’t wait to explore, too.

I know I’m not the first parent to live through the cycle of life with small children and experience all of the highs and lows that came along with it, so I’d love to hear the story of how the purpose of travel has evolved as your family grew.

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Comments

  1. oh I loved this! my daughter is 5 and reading this takes me back to all the raw emotion of the first year, and how I can feel the winds of change starting to blow, as well. I really enjoy your blog!

  2. I really enjoyed this post and also look forward to how my family’s travel will change once our kids (almost 3 and almost 1) get older. Do you have ideas of what those trips will look like for your family? Any destinations or experiences in mind?

  3. In 2015, when Darius and Emily from MMS split, it jolted me. Two years after that, my own marriage broke down. I even invested in SW companion pass that was never used. Guess we’ll live, but my resolve to travel has only gone strong. So much to learn and experience.

    • Sam, I’m sorry to hear about your divorce. Having an unused Companion Pass can’t have made the situation easier. I’m glad that travel has remained a positive experience for you and hope that only continues in the coming years.

  4. Thanks for sharing – great write up, couldn’t agree more. We’re not quite there with the traveling overseas like you all with our kiddos, 5/5/3, but we’ll get there maybe beginning in 2019.

  5. This is a beautiful post! Thank you for sharing. I couldn’t agree more– the need to do whatever is necessary to keep yourself (moderately) sane, the privilege it is to be able to share beautiful places with your children and have them appreciate how fortunate they are, and then to transition (or mix in) travel and live experiences that teach them that in a different way– whether volunteering at the local food pantry or a trip to a former concentration camp or to a small town marked by poverty. There is nothing wrong with doing what you need to do to be strong, and nothing wrong with enjoying life, but it is also a special privilege to be able to share the WHOLE world with our children (and for ourselves too of course).

  6. Great post. I think kids really absorb so much more when they learn about historic events by travel. We used to just take the escape vacations you mentioned when life of homework, sports, etc was too much. A few years ago, we shifted gears to homeschooling and turned our trips into educational experiences. We are currently studying US History and will read about something then visit the sites. My 5 kids are 15 down to 4 and each one gets something out of the experience. I do these trips alone with the kids (usually 2 weeks at a time to make the most of them) and we still do fun trips like Hawaii or FL where my husband joins us. It works really well for our family.

  7. Great post. As a dad with 10 year old twins, your post has similar thoughts of what we are trying to do with our kids as they grow. So many people travel to get away which is great, but it can also be a great learning tool to teach children culture and experiences you can only get by visiting places the places directly. We are not rich by any means, and by being able to use points and credit card offers, we are able to travel 3-5 times a year with our kids. Having the SW companion pass also helps! Right now, our kids are learning about the Southeast US, so may plan April trip to Charleston or Savannah. In the past, we have been fortunate to visit many cities based on what the kids were learning such as Key West for marine life, White House Easter Egg Roll and numerous visits to San Diego, NYC for zoos and museum visits. We balance this out with resort visits for equal fun and education purposes. February vacation is Maui, cannot wait.

    I am proud to say we have never done Disney World! So many other great places to take the kids and from cost perspective, I can go to almost anywhere in the world on points cheaper than Disney. Sure, flights and hotels are cheap/free with points but paying for park passes and food inside the park for a family of four will cost us a fortune. Glad, I can put that money towards other trips. Good luck Summer in your future travels with the kids, looking forward to reading your experiences as your children grow.

  8. Amen….Yes, passing that incredibly difficult threshold of having small babies threw us into a tragic spin that closely parallels what you wrote. My husband and older son began travelling as a duo as I would stay home with our incredibly difficult baby girl. We fit in a few parents only trips to simply come up for air, however the ease of International travel was no longer as available or present with my daughter making 4! I did a ton of domestic travel with her but it was always filled with random crying fits, a sweaty-anxiety filled mama, and I would travel alone with her and my son which was an awful lot for one woman! Thankfully, a few years later, we are bridging the toddler years and will finally take all 4 of us on some international travel. I’m sure it will be far from perfect and there will likely be a few face-plant crying fits in the middle of Charles De Gaulle. Lol. But I just keep dreaming of those days ahead where my daughter will be old enough to truly take in her surroundings, appreciate them, and adore the journey. I know these toddler days are fleeting so i try to appreciate even the simple trips with her….but travel is such a huge part of who we are as a family that I feel like I lost a tiny bit of that identity when she was a baby. So when you write about your vomit-filled plane rides and other fiascos, I know them all too well and it reminds me that we are not alone! 🙂

  9. This is really great. As a single person, I sometimes don’t always resonate with your blog, but I definitely did with this post. Thanks for having your unique voice in the blogging world.

  10. I’m in a similar stage with two girls ages 7 and 3. Before our girls we traveled with the goal of being active and experiencing the outdoors (Alaska, Wyoming, Montana, Kauai, etc…). After our first child it turned to beaches, but still mildly exotic (Oahu, Saint Kitts, Grand Cayman, etc…). Since number 2 it has mostly been florida beaches and Disney World. This trend was partially because of the kids and partially for budget reasons. We are entering a new chapter with the girls getting a bit older and my wife starting a job after a long stint at home with the kids and in school. Our oldest loves all things animals so we are planning a trip to Costa Rica. I imagine similar trips will follow that pursue the kids interests beyond a day at the beach. And hopefully one day we’ll get back to travelling to alaska, wyoming, and the outdoors. Also, I appreciate your candid description of the breakdowns that occur when parenting the very young. Social media is supposed to bring us all closer together, but too often it is all through rose colored glasses making our own struggles seem uncommon and lonely.

  11. My good friend became a grandmother today. It seems like yesterday her daughter was a teen and mine were little. Now, mine are teens and tween. There is nothing quite like the sleepless exhaustion of having a newborn, but it goes fast.

  12. No need to say you are my favorite travel blogger. In our house every moment we spend traveling with our two boys is supposed to be an experience and a moment they will remember their entire lives. For us traveling is building memories.

    • Oh I hear you and agree. There was an article out there about travel with family being happiness anchors for children, and I agree. PS. Thank you!

  13. Summer, I’ve shared similar thoughts on more than one occasion, but THIS is what sets you apart from the other travel bloggers. It’s the stories about humanity and your travel-related experiences with Josh and the girls which make reading your blog such a pleasure.

    Our J (now 22 and an MBA student) was very colicky at birth. There were times my wife and I would forgo eating because J had fallen asleep as we were holding him and we didn’t dare risk waking him. As the days and weeks passed, we came to discover his little stomach was very sensitive and through trial and error, the only formula which seemed to work was also the most expensive formula on the face of the earth. Long story short, we wanted another child and J2 joined our family of three and completed us – a boy and a girl.

    I was a global road warrior and a mileage runner before there was even such a term but like you, couldn’t wait to get back home to my family.

    • Henry, thank you. These are often also my favorite posts to write, so thrilled you enjoy them. Yes, we had two colic babies with insanely sensitive stomachs. I had to cut out dairy, eggs, soy, nuts, and more to keep nursing, and even then we would hit an inexplicably bad day. They were both also on reflux meds, but ultimately that made the second daughter’s situation much worse. Thankfully, that phase is behind us. Whew. Sounds like you have a lovely family and thanks for sharing!

  14. Just read your AMAZING post, Summer. It is my favorite to date. I hope you will submit the writing to the New York Times or some other newspaper, which gives attention and space to travel writers. The article deserves to be read by even more people than those of us, who follow you regularly and appreciate your wisdom, travel tips, and generosity in helping fellow travelers. Again, kudos on such a meaningful and heartfelt piece of journalism!

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