Most adults have a clichéd view of children as some kind of hindrance to traveling. They picture crying babies on a plane, kids whining, “when are we going to get there?” etc. These people actually have it backwards. Not just about the kids but about the whole notion of what travel can be. They’re not really seeking to travel but take a vacation from reality.
The truth is kids are naturally better travelers than adults. They have the ability to simply inhabit wherever they are — the ultimate mark of a traveler who is in the flow — an ability most of us as adults have either lost, or need snowboards, kayaks, yoga classes, or new “destinations” to regain.
As you look at each of these portraits, consider how the moments we experience as travelers — both before and after having kids — all have the possibility to add, to build something so that one day — old and slow — we may finally get back to that level of travel we had as kids, where there was no separation between the terrain and our imagination.
1. As kids: You see potential where nobody else can.
If travel is an act of realizing one’s curiosity about a place, then nobody travels like kids. No matter where they go they’ll discover every possibility for play, exploration, mastery. Whereas an adult sees a hillside and a picnic table in their most utilitarian terms, a child creates whole worlds and games out of this simple landscape. This is why children can pick up languages quickly whereas adults struggle: They simply embody wherever they are and whatever conditions are present.
2. As adolescents: Your first solo travels shape your identity.
For some of us it’s going to a summer camp, traveling for that first time alone, unpacking our gear, setting up in a bunk with other kids our age. For others it might be a week abroad on a student field trip. No matter what form it takes, adolescence is a period of spending time away from our home base, figuring things out about ourselves, and returning.
3. As college-age students: You’re seeking community.
Whether it’s a semester abroad program, taking a gap year, or simply working after high school and traveling, this time is all about relationships, finding others with whom we share an onda. For some of us this can be a time when we meet our eventual long-term partner.
4. As newlyweds: You re-enter a childlike love of the world.
Or not. It all depends on the relationship and how it proceeds. But with the right conditions (say, a 4-week camping / road trip from Buenos Aires to southern Brazil), it can feel as if this very adult act of marriage is a kind of return to innocence at everything around you.
5. As young parents: You take on something harder than you ever could’ve imagined.
It isn’t the diapers or the crying or car seat or the going out to eat or the navigating through airports or any of the things you’d think of. These are trivialities. What’s hard is that you want your child to experience it all. You want them to camp with you, to paddle, to surf, to speak 3 languages better than you ever could. And it comes down to time, not theirs, but yours. How much can you give of yourself, your partner? How can you set up your lives so that you’re all still progressing as travelers?
6. As a young parent traveling alone: You begin to realize how many selves you’ve created.
Some of the strangest moments as a traveler are when you leave home—on a business trip, to meet up with friends, whatever the case is—soon after becoming a parent. There’s often a new sense of poignancy, of vulnerability, of introspection. You realize in the most concrete terms that people are counting on you, and the risks you might’ve taken earlier seem to belong to some other version of yourself that you don’t necessarily miss.
7. As your kids grow: You relive your travels all over again.
All of the firsts: The first time at the beach, the first time camping, the first time seeing different animals—these moments are almost better the second time around.
8. When you’re older.
I don’t know for sure. I’m still in the ‘growing children’ phase. What I’ve observed, though, especially in the surf and paddle communities where there are still “seniors” with enough health and stoke to stay out there in the realm, is that travel might just be the best of all when you’re old. There’s nothing left to prove anymore. And there’s an appreciation for each little move. Of course that said, there’s no guarantees, and if there’s any takeaway from this essay, it should be: Travel now. Get out there with your family, alone, old or young. You don’t get any of the time back.