They say you are the average of the five people you hang out with most. Growing up, that meant I was my parents and my sister. We were a close-knit middle-class family living in the crazy, chaotic city of Mumbai, India. My dad worked in the city, which on any given day would be an average commute of 1.5 hours each way from home. My mom worked in the opposite direction and had a similar commute.
Needless to say, travel was not something that either of them wanted to do with any frequency. In fact, sleep and rest were highly valued commodities in our household. Fast forward many decades later and I found myself married to someone who was the complete opposite of me. My husband introduced me to this crazy thing called travel. You pack your bags, your family, and just hit the road. Or get to the airport and fly off to places you didn’t even know existed. I camped for the first time when I was 26 and it was as if I had entered a magical new world only found in REI and L.L. Bean catalogs.
Pretty soon the kids came along and, sure enough, our travels only increased. Diaper bags, screaming babies, car camping, and long-haul flights all became second nature. I often joke with my husband, asking him what he has done to make this Karthika so different from the Karthika of my youth.
But travel for me had always been in a group, either with my husband or his extended family who are just as crazy about adventure as he is. Sure, I have traveled back home to my parents’ place, but that typically means only handling my kids for the duration of the 22-hours it takes to fly halfway around the world. In most instances, many pairs of helping hands are waiting for me at the airport and the handoff of the grandkids to the grandparents is a comical and welcome sight.
This past summer I was presented with the travel opportunity of a lifetime, but the problem was I had my kids with me for the entire summer. I had always wanted to visit Australia; it was one of those bucket-list journeys, and my husband also had some work to do in Sydney.
The plan was that the kids and I would travel first to Melbourne, hang out there for a few days, then meet dad over in Sydney. Not a bad deal, right? Unfortunately, as is common with corporate jobs, things changed last minute and my husband’s project in Sydney fell through. Of course, three tickets were already booked and could not be canceled during the peak summer travel months. So, with a heavy heart (yes, I know I might be overdramatizing here) I agreed to travel alone with my children to Australia for more than six weeks.
Now before you get the wrong idea -- or think of me as being a really bad parent, which I hope I am not -- let me just lay down some facts: My kids were 13 and 10 at this point in time. Yes, dealing with a teen is a challenge in itself. Add a rambunctious 10-year-old to the mix and trouble is brewing. Little did I know I would be mom, referee, punching bag, chauffeur, ticket agent, shopping assistant, chef, storyteller, and more all rolled into one for such an extended period of time in a place that was completely new and unfamiliar.
In the end, though this trip surpassed all my expectations and there are so many wonderful (and a few not-so-wonderful lessons) to be learned when traveling with your children. I wouldn’t trade in this experience for the world. Here’s what I learned.
1. Multitasking Is A Beautiful Thing
Moms are known to be great at multitasking, right? You know the ads that we see where they are holding a baby in one hand, making breakfast, packing lunches, folding laundry, and many other things in between? Well, I was never any good with that! I always burned breakfast and missed packing essentials in the lunch boxes. I quickly realized how important multitasking is, especially when you are traveling alone with your kids. I worked hard on my multitasking skills. Pretty soon I was arranging breakfast, mapping our day’s activities, and looking for good deals on things like museum tickets, whale watching trips, and even a concert at Sydney’s opera house.
2. Downtime Is Very Underrated
In the past, all our family trips were jam packed with activities. There was always so much to do but not enough time, no matter where we went. Of course, this was when I had a co-parent, not when I was flying solo. Pretty soon I realized that downtime is very important, not just for the kids but for this tired mom as well.
Travel, especially to a country like Australia, can be such a sensory overload -- in sights, sounds, smells, and adorable koala bears. Having a lot of downtime built in ensured we enjoyed all the things we experienced. We may have not seen everything that there is to see in Australia, but the places we did visit, we gave our full attention.
3. Kids Of All Ages Can Be Given Responsibilities
There are a lot of things this trip taught me. But perhaps the best thing I learned was that my kids -- both my teen and my tween -- were really responsible. I gave them small things to do like collecting brochures from places we wanted to visit, figuring out the schedule for the day, and finding good places to eat. I started small but slowly increased the kind of responsibility I gave my teen. I found that her confidence improved day by day and she took her job of taking care of her mom and brother very seriously. And the people she interacted with also treated her with respect. They asked questions and she was able to have meaningful conversations with adults from outside her family.
It has been about three months since we got back from Australia, but I have to tell you, my kids and I still talk about the trip every chance we get. It is something we have very fond memories of -- not only the things we saw and experienced but also the memories we made. Time really does fly by when you are having fun. This is something I kept telling myself over and over again throughout the trip.
Initially I couldn’t wait for the trip to be over. Planning logistics, planning meals, planning activities: It was quite a handful. I would get tired before breakfast was even over. My mantra was “It will be over before you know it.” But as the trip progressed, I started to realize this statement was actually sad. I adopted a different approach and focused less on the planning and more on enjoying my time with my kids. The moral of my story is this: No matter what you are doing, enjoy the time with your kids whenever you travel together.
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