We have to confess to you (in case you aren’t personally acquainted with us) that we are not that adventurous when it comes to, well, anything really. If you hold to the idea that birth order plays a factor in behaviors then you should know that both parents in this household are firstborns with all of the strong “quirks” attached to that. We’re driven. We’re ambitious. We have high standards and goals, are willing to work hard on a chosen project, and each of us tends to like things to be “just so.” We have plans and we stick to them (most of the time).
One life event in particular that has never felt very steady, predictable or noticeably productive to us, is the idea of a “vacation.” When we first got married we went on a sum total of two trips (and one was a rained-out honeymoon).
By the end of three days away from home to anywhere, we were usually feeling restless and ready to get back home. Neither of us had grown up in households where vacations were the norm and so we were uneducated as to how to go about this whole business. Vacations were nice in theory, but really, what are people supposed to do with themselves on such things? (What we didn’t realize is that B.C. – that is, before children – pretty much every day is a vacation. If anyone out there wishes to argue this point, we’ll assume you don’t have children.)
Shortly after we were married we started talking about going to Europe but then we discovered that a little person was going to be joining us, making us a threesome. We put all thoughts of travel on the shelf and assumed that we’d pick that idea back up after we’d finished raising the child(ren). Travel was a nice thought while it lasted. But no matter – we both wanted to be parents and this was better than a trip to Europe. (No, really.)
Glancing a few more years down the road and we found ourselves in circumstances which required these two Firstborns With a Plan to travel to Korea and it was there that all of our preconceived notions of travel were put on trial. Suddenly we were in a country where we couldn’t speak the language and, despite happy and very kind claims to the contrary, most of the local people couldn’t speak our language to us. Hardly a single food item was identifiable and we had no idea how to navigate ourselves around this huge capital city. We will not deny that we found this situation rather stressful for a day or so, having no ability to control a single, solitary thing. We were left to simply relax with each other and drink in new experiences and it was the most glorious, thrilling thing!
Going to Korea was not a vacation in that we didn’t exactly choose it. We didn’t know how to relax and we can’t even say that we ever really did learn that aspect. What we feel like we did learn how to do, though, was travel. We learned how to have an adventure. Many days were available to us to explore the city in whatever manner we wished. We had days to ourselves to hunt up fun things to see and to do. (Being fidgety first borns, we weren’t about to sit still in a hotel room and do nothing.) We discovered that small, narrow side streets hid restaurants with the best food and that neighborhoods built on hills housed children who liked to play soccer in the streets. We slowly learned some basic phrases so that we could greet others respectfully, and thank them for their many kindnesses. We learned that walking was better that driving or taking the subway because it allowed us to get up close and personal with the city. We walked long distances, through art districts and street markets and parks. We enjoyed browsing at stores and tent markets. It’s an understatement to say that we learned to love Korean food. We met people and were invited out to eat with locals who tried to speak our language and were excited to share a meal with us.
Our trip was unpredictable, unstructured, unscheduled, unhurried, and fun. We had the time of our lives! Unexpectedly to us, we were bit by the travel bug. The idea of travel became so exciting to us that we would no longer dream of travel post-kids. We’d be waiting too long for that! Instead we decided to find a way to make family travel a possibility. We’re ten years into marriage and four children (who all sleep through the night) and we’re ready to see the (more predictable areas of the) world!
Like good first borns, we’ve been devoting ourselves to learning how to travel. (There’s an education to it, right? Right?) First, we begin preparing for a trip with a lot of thoughtful planning as to what we most want to see, when and where. But we also understand the joys of making time for unexpected stops. Second, we learned in Korea something that is applicable everywhere: do not eat at chain restaurants but find places which are popular with locals. Third, we learned to involve the kids early on in the dreaming process so that their level of excitement about a trip grows with ours. And lastly we firstborns take turns reminding each other that we’ll have to play a lot of our travel by ear or else we’ll end up frustrated when things aren’t “just so.”
Travel is slowly becoming a part of who we are as a family. We read guide books and watch tourism videos on Youtube for fun. We’ve made a list of the places we most want to visit all together as a family. We’ve all sketched out a 4 year plan and are excited about the truly endless list of possibilities.
The other day our son was looking at a book which had a cartoon drawing of the moai statues on Easter Island and he thought it was a cartoon joke. When told that it was a real place he responded without hesitation in a very matter-of-fact way, “Oh, we should go there.” Because, in his mind, it’s possible to go. It’s a culture of travel and exploring the world that we’re instilling in our kids and involving them in.
We can’t predict the future (clearly. look at us now.) but we can say that it’s great fun to think about adventures and plan and enjoy them with one’s children. There isn’t a day that goes by that our family doesn’t talk about some aspect of a trip past or a trip future. We get to do this together and that just makes the journey all the sweeter.