travelling with kids: planes, restaurants and automobiles

“A ship in harbor is safe. But is that what it was meant for?”

Travelling certainly has its risks, but the scales weigh heavier on the ‘just go’ side because new experiences educate our senses and our understanding of others and the world.

What do the kids think of this travelling thing?

My nine year old Rachel says, “You could get sick because you have to get used to different illnesses“. She knows how I’m prepping with long sleeves, pesticidal mosquito nets and searching for the highest Deet concentrations available to a North American. Hopefully we won’t become familiar with malaria, or cholera.

You learn different languages and see how people really live in Africa, not what people just tell you“,  says eleven year old Madelyn. Seemed to me, we walked right into a World Vision commercial when we travelled to the Great Rift Valley two years ago. Curiously, television tells us the truth sometimes. And through the mouth of many who have travelled to the third world, “it changes your life“.

You miss extracurricular stuff“, say Madelyn and Hannah. Yup, can’t deny that. Continuity at home is interrupted. Dance, gymnastics, piano, guitar and choir are put on hold till November. But not studies, cause we’ll just call this a protracted field trip where all manner of lessons will take place. As Rachel says, “You don’t have to do school. It’s a one month field trip“. Yup.

You can see that not everyone gets boxed cereals and cheese“, says Madelyn. “A disadvantage is you only get two options, rice and beans, or rice and beans and spinach“. Where we’ve been in Africa anyway. Oh, and there was that ugali porridge–not a big hit.

When Hannah was told by a friend’s mom that Africa was on her bucket list, thirteen year old Hannah responded: “Oh you can get that here–just eat beans and rice and go to church for three hours“. She told me too, “Oh, and we meet a lot of people! We talk to a lot of random people“. All the world is filled with wonderful people. The clichés of Canadians being pushover nice, the Italians being flirts, the Americans being loudmouthed, the British being proper, or the Parisians being snobby, well, you can always find a handful to affirm your preconceptions. But the world is made up of a lot of interesting people that have lived some incredible lives. And if you listen with eager ears, wisdom abounds. I might have something to share, but I have more to learn. This, by far, is my favourite reason to travel.

Planes

Travelling internationally with children is a gargantuan effort, yes. Think moving continuously. Our minds cue to scanning for safety. Counting off children. Remembering flight numbers and airport wings. Photocopying passports. Buying UV water zappers and universal adapters and checking vaccination schedules. Ordering masks and gloves and creating a transportable tropical pharmacy. Then there’s the kid stuff: expecting hours of customs lines with antsy kiddos, teaching them to zip their belts off on cue and present their hands to the agent for drug swabbing, being full body scanned, again, and while mom is undressing publicly, receiving her little brother on the other side of the security monitor.

For the first time recently, my children were chatting with kids their age who will soon be travelling internationally. These kids had done it before, it was clear.

So what do you do when you’re on the plane? one of my kids asked.

Watch tv. What do you do?

Watch tv. But when we were travelling Alitalia, there was no tv. There was that one plane we flew on that played the same movie over and over. And mom let us watch it. Four times.

A general rule for travelling long, boring stretches. Don’t pull out the exciting dollar store toys, or new games, until the kids have suggested, ‘we’re bored‘, more than twice. Yes, twice. Ya, I know you’re not in the mood to teach patience and fortitude RIGHT now, when you’re also bored out of your mind. But this is one of the best character traits kids can learn while travelling: patience. Patience standing in the customs lines waiting for the French train agents to attach and reattach daddy’s gym bands and rods–apparently, Monsieur French Custom Dude thought they looked an awful lot like a sawed off shotgun (we missed that train, Merci!–it was gym equipment!!) Patience as we play running games on the escalators at my bedtime in Heathrow waiting for the London plane. Four extra hours in the airport with four kids at bedtime, thank you kindly! Patience as we are scattered around the British Airways to Nairobi flight. Yes, you can try to pacify your sweet ones with more plastic paraphernalia or sugary substances. Sometimes it’s necessary. Still, sometimes they can sit a little bit longer, bored.

We play a lot of games when travelling. We’ve thrown our backpacks on the dirty airport floor for an extra three hours waiting for the near-striking Alitalia flight to board, and grabbed that pack of 52 cards for a few rounds of Poker, Dupa, or Gin Rummy until they called us back up, to stand up and then sit down again for another hour (and exactly 52 I might add…the hubby has a penchant for card-playing perfection…ack, I say, 42 Pick-up is just as effective with a five year old).

Restaurants

A disadvantage to travelling is food“, spoken from a child-traveler. For those with a penchant for Kraft Dinner and Campbell’s Mushroom Soup, travelling is stretching. There is just so much to sample: wild game–muskox or ostrich, or sea creatures–octopus and squid, farm friends–goats and sheep. Though monkey and bat meat will not be on my ‘must-try’ list, I think trying local food  is cool, knowing I’ve tried something new.

A brief visit to Vancouver with my newly minted thirteen year old allowed us a thrilling time to share a new experience for her: a fine dining restaurant. An amuse bouche of foie gras cream with anise star and pistaccio. A triple vase of smoked salmon crème fraiche and squid ink crème breadsticks. And enough bloody red meat to make her contemplate vegetarianism. But not enough meat to justify the price, she suggested.

This time we’re packing snacks. I’ve previously been willing to overspend on Starbucks yoghurt parfaits and lone apples in baskets at convenience stores. But we’re going rural third world, where boxed foods are rare, and added sugar doesn’t exist. Where lollipops and sweet chai are the treats of the village. Our luggage is half packed with chocolate instant pudding mix, chocolate chip granola bars, beef jerky, and Luna bars.

Automobiles

We’ve learned that an untapped, unconventional automobile travel strategy is to pick up hitchhikers…yah, I hear you…not safe. And actually I haven’t done it, yet. When we were searching for land, we had long stretches where we were sitting with the real estate agent in our minivan. The kids were entirely silent, for hours. Since there are many gutsy twenty-somethings jamming their thumbs into the roads where I live, I am sure the opportunity to avail itself will occur soon. Besides travel-accompanying strangers, I can only provide classic auto travel advice.

When first purchasing vehicles when our third child was coming, I had notions of NEVER OWNING A MINIVAN. Yes, I am sure I’m not the only one with that fantasy. No one wants to own THAT vehicle when they’re aspiring to purchase their first new vehicle.

When we started our search for snazzy SUVs, I discovered what all parents of more than two kids have learned: minivans have a lot of room! A LOT OF FOOT SPACE. A LOT OF STORAGE SPACE. A LOT OF FEATURES. AND A LOT OF QUIET (with the help of a DVD player). (Someone should be paying me for this ad).

Even trucks don’t have that. Travel with six in a crew cab for any distance and you’ll feel like you have your kids’ voice on magnaphone. Yes, there’s room in the back to transport furniture and garbage to the dump, but this vehicle was not intended for happy parents.

Stuff to Buy. Travel anywhere and there’s always stuff to bring back home–stuff we’ve found on tour….like that twenty one foot tree limb. Zach wanted help bringing it into the minivan so we could return home. “What’s it for?” I asked. “To tickle the girls“.  Okay, then. But it was a cheap keepsake. (No, we didn’t bring it home;)

Though I enjoy collecting bookmarks and truffle oil or hot sauces, coffees or cloudberry tea–really, any usable items from travel desinations, I know we’ll always bring home memories, the best keepsake. I don’t remember each kids’ birthday I’ve planned, a whopping 38 in total. But, I certainly do remember my daughter’s seventh in Paris and my son’s fifth in Las Vegas. I remember the first time we looked out at the window at Africa and cried, I’d finally done it. I got to Africa. And I remember looking out the window with the kiddos at Italy and my kids yelling, “It looks like Africa!”

Memories.

I remember our most remote experience ever: the flat tire on the Dempster Highway in North West Territories or possibly also that few hours walk, without water, from the edge of the Great Rift Valley back to our rural Kenyan town of Kapsowar.

I remember our most decadent meal in Banff, consuming a flight of wine with a four hour evening meal with seven glasses of wine (no I didn’t drink it all).

Possibly the most anxiety-producing memory:  vacationing with my husband on the eastern coast of Mexico with no phone service as my daughter was hospitalized in Canada that day. Definitely the most scary so far: our vehicle being searched for el Shabab at a Nairobi shopping mall in June 2012 (a year before another mall was shot to smithereens). And almost just as terrifying, I remember the first time we dined with our first, and colicky, baby.

When I once thought a clever blog name title would be thewanderingwiedricks, I decided you could just followthewiedricks instead. Because as Ghandolf wisely quipped, “Not all those who wander are lost“. As we travel through Amsterdam to volunteer with Samaritan’s Purse into Ghana (west Africa) for the next month, find us here at followthewiedricks.wordpress.com

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