Why we travel with our toddler

There is something to be said for what we give our children when we adventure with them, and what they give us in return. Even if all we can manage at times is an excursion to the next town.

Why we travel with our toddler

One of the most vivid memories of my postpartum days is our first road trip with our son. He was 6 weeks old, cluster feeding and screamed for dear life every time he was buckled into the car. It took us over six hours to make what was normally a three-hour drive into the mountains, stopping constantly on the side of the road to soothe him, change him and try to nurse him to sleep.

My love of travel lies at the core of my being. And sure, children fundamentally change our adventures. We lose spontaneity and instead focus on safety and nap times and packing an ever-growing pile of gear beside our luggage. But, for me, it's still worth it.

It was a simple weekend excursion. And yet, during our return, I felt a sense of magic wash over me. It was late in the night and we were in motion over a black, winding road. In our flight through space, I was pummeled with a lost, familiar sort of ecstasy, one I had chased so fervently in my former years spent wandering the globe. A route that had become so routine I could drive it in my sleep began to sparkle; I breathed in mountains I had never before noticed.

The song playing through our speakers penetrated my being as I gazed in both exhaustion and gratitude toward the night sky, wondering how I had landed where I had, of all the corners of the world. I wondered how I had gotten so lucky.

It was the sacred awe of traveling, back to find me in my rooted years. There it was, stopped on the side of the road, no more than a half-hour from my home. This tiny, wrinkly being had brought adventure to all that had been taken for granted.

Our son had made me weary but full, as though having trekked through the night, my life on my back, ready to collapse in the wilderness so remote from my roots. To connect with others whose lives are so radically different than my own. To taste a new spice in an old recipe—to see the magic everywhere.

There are things we miss out on with littler ones: ice caves or zip-lines or high mountain summits. It takes us longer to plan for shorter trips and costs us more to do less. I certainly see the time and place for leaving the kids at Grandma's; recharging with space is also important.

But there is something to be said for what we give our children when we adventure with them, and what they give us in return. Even if all we can manage at times is an excursion to the next town.

Though our daily routine is grounding and essential, magical things seem to happen when my 3-year-old son is gently taken out of this comfort zone. He asks new questions. He takes new risks. He brings his new experiences into his play for months after our trip, processing their meaning.

Little details color his memory of our adventures: the different salad dressing a dinner host used, the texture of the bark on sea-level trees, the sounds of a different language.

I see his eyes glimmer as they drink in a new sight or experience—that first waterfall, that first campfire smell, the soothing yet unsettling expanse of the ocean. Seeing how different people live and how different plants grow.

A few of these details may make it into his long-term memory, but many won't. Regardless, he was there.

He was there, basking in the glowy exhaustion we all shared, snuggled up after a soul-shifting exploration together.

He was there for the reconnection these experiences inevitably brought, there for the divine presence we all felt in those mystical places so far from our everyday lives.

We were there together, sharing a piece of the human experience that will become a part of us forever.

In those times we take our children along, we give them that. And in return, they show us all the little details we may otherwise overlook.

They turn the more ordinary parts of traveling into an adventure in its own right. They add a layer of meaning to what we do: We get to experience something beautiful and bring it into their lives. We get to raise them to love exploration and show them that it can reach far beyond childhood. That curiosity and wonder never have to die with age.

And maybe, one day, they'll bring their own children along on an adventure, too.

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