Have Toddler, Will Travel

Kate shares how she's kept an important part of her identity alive while juggling the responsibilities of work and parenthood. 

Travel has always been an important part of my identity. When I got pregnant with my son, I worried about how I’d be able to maintain that part of me while also being a good parent. I found a blog post about how to travel with a young child, and realized, oh yeah, they have babies everywhere. That did a great deal towards reminding me that if babies could live everywhere, they could certainly travel anywhere (maybe with a bit of extra planning).

I also found inspiration in my parents. My mother and father both traveled frequently for work, and would bring me along. I still admire how my mother braved airports armed with peanut butter, crackers, and a deck of cards, and she always found kid-appropriate activities wherever we were to hold my interest.

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I remember using my crayons to circle places I wanted to go on my three foot cardboard atlas – there were far more circles on its pages than unmarked space. I got a similar book of maps for my son, so we could look through it together and dream about all the places we could go. Although we did travel some, for the first two years, we didn’t really scratch the itch I had for travel. I missed it acutely.

This year, when we moved to North Carolina, we were excited to realize how much closer we’d be to Europe. We started to plan a vague trip to somewhere European as a getaway, and I was adamant that our son come too. We decided we’d also bring my mom with us to help us figure out how to best explore with our toddler, while also giving us all an opportunity for adult-only time.  

We chose to go to Copenhagen, because of the city’s reputation for being wonderfully family friendly. We started talking about how Legos come from Copenhagen, and we read the Little Mermaid and talked about how we’d take a plane to Copenhagen. (Hearing a two year old say Copenhagen and then repeat to you the sanitized Little Mermaid plot is pretty cute.) We talked about how we’d take a really fast train to the town in Sweden where his Brio trains are made. We talked about ebelskivers, or the delicious Danish pancakes that he’d only ever had from Trader Joe’s. And at night, I researched my heart out, circling attractions that he’d find accessible as well as ones we’d like to see, while planning days around nap time.

All of that build up was more worth it than I could have possibly imagined. He played in a viking ship, rode a Ferris Wheel at Tivoli Gardens, took the high speed train to Malmö, watched a polar bear swim at the Copenhagen Zoo, took a boat through the canals to see the Little Mermaid statue, and jumped on trampolines built into the sidewalks. Today, if you ask him where any plane flying overhead is going, he says excitedly, “Copenhagen!”

To help him remember this trip years from now, I kept a travel journal. Each night I’d ask him what he’d done that day, and I’d transcribe his thoughts. After he’d fall asleep, I’d write down my version of the day’s events. When we got home, I printed out our pictures and pasted them to the backs of our journal entries. And no, I don’t expect that he’ll remember this trip himself, but we’ll remember it. We’ll remember what it was like to explore as a family, and to watch his face in wonderment as he experienced something new – like his first hot chocolate. And we have the opportunity to instill in him the same love of travel and curiosity about the world that we have ourselves.  I can’t wait to take him somewhere new, all over again.