from Conde Nast Traveler, May 2015
Starting your kids’ wanderlust early is beneficial for everyone in your family.
My sons still talk about the family trip we took down the Salmon River in Idaho one summer. The scenery was gorgeous and the rapids were rough—and the guide let my oldest, Zach, negotiate one wild pass alone in a rubber canoe. He was 7 at the time. His little brother Matt, then 5, paddled excitedly along with my husband. Were they too young for that adventure? Absolutely not. The best time to start traveling with kids is as soon as you possibly can. Having experiences and seeing new parts of the world allows children to appreciate their own lives in a completely new way.
Writing my new book The Gratitude Diaries (out in August), I realized how many of my own grateful memories involve travel with my kids. In one of my favorite photos, the boys are standing in the gardens outside the Borghese Gallery in Rome, squinting into the sun. A few minutes later, we went inside—and I had the thrill of seeing Matt mesmerized at the sight of his first Titian. On that trip, the locals we met seemed determined to prove how much Italians love kids. Restaurants welcomed us, and after I told one waiter that we didn’t need dessert, he winked at the boys and brought over a platter of spumoni.
Travel puts everyone on an equal footing. And one advantage of traveling with kids when they’re young is that as they get older, they want to continue. I was relatively young and untraveled when my kids were born, so many of the places we explored were firsts for all of us. As we drove Zach to his first day of college, he kept up a calm and mature veneer until a thought struck him. “Do I still get to go on family trips?” he asked in a small voice. We promised that of course he did—and crossed our fingers that he’d still want to join us.
When school and work schedules got complicated, travel became a chance for one-on-one time. My husband and Zach went ATV-ing in Oman and Matt and I learned scuba diving in the British Virgin Islands. To keep them interested as they grew older, we sought out even more exotic destinations. Hiking on a live volcano in Guatamela might not have been our safest adventure—but we bonded at the thrill of toasting marshmallows over the lava running underfoot.
On that same trip, we went to Tikal, the extraordinary Mayan city unearthed in the Guatemalan rainforest. Owing to its location off the beaten path, it’s much emptier than similar sites found in Mexico and, as we climbed to the top of a temple late in the afternoon, the singularity of the moment set in. At one point I stopped, and my eyes filled with tears.
“You okay, mom?” Matt asked.
“I’m just so lucky to be here with you. I’m so grateful for this moment.”
I suppose they could have groaned or rolled their eyes. Instead, they put their arms around me and we looked out together at the lost city, a reminder of how quickly life changes. The boys were growing up, and it occurred to me that we might never have a moment like this again. But it didn’t matter. When you have it once, you have it forever—which is reason enough to be grateful.