We hear a lot about how much kids can change your life. Your fun times are over, you swap out your miniskirts for mom jeans, and you might as well throw your passport in the diaper pail.
When you’re in your twenties (with no kids), you don’t mind sacrificing convenience and time for money…you’re willing to take a four-day train trip through Myanmar, sitting up in badly upholstered seats the entire way, because it’s cheaper than a 45-minute plane ride. You’re willing to buy all your food from street vendors and damn the potential intestinal consequences. You go without travel insurance since the chances of your needing it are likely pretty low. You’re also only responsible for yourself and your personal experience; you can inconvenience, injure, or bore yourself to tears without having to worry about doing permanent damage to someone’s tender growing psyche.
Depending on your child, though, you can be a lot more flexible than you think. The younger the kid, the easier it is to haul them around with you wherever you go; they won’t have attached themselves to friends or schoolmates yet, and if they grow up learning that you just travel around and stay in hostels and visit temples and get hugged up by total strangers, then that’s their normal. When they get older, they have more opinions and should have more say in your decision-making process…but that might also be a great time to allow them the opportunity to participate in unschooling or pick destinations that could change their lives.
Many families travel with their children from early ages. Vagabond Family is a database of these families, some of whom have been traveling nonstop for years. These families buy RVs or boats, teach their toddlers about food safety in Indian street markets, and manage their long-distance jobs so they can see their kids grow up every day.
When I was 8 and again when I was 12, my mom took me on weeks-long trips to Europe. Seeing and interacting with different cultures gave me a wider perspective on the world and my place in it, and was probably largely responsible for my choice to travel extensively after graduating from high school instead of going directly to university.
You don’t have to put your personal growth and experiences on hold just because you have a kid. Popular parenting podcast The Longest Shortest Time has an episode about two parents who work as makeup and set designers for the touring show of Wicked, and their son has gone with them since he was 28 days old. Kids go to Burning Man every year; my usual camp is right across the street from Kidsville, and you can see eight-year-olds enthusiastically pounding in rebar stakes right next to their parents.
Having children doesn’t stop you from doing enjoyable, interesting, fun things like traveling. It won’t be the same as traveling solo, or traveling as a couple, but no one experience is exactly the same as any other experience. That’s kind of the point of having different experiences; that they’re different. As a commenter on the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree points out, “Perhaps the most important change that happens with kids is that your ideas will change, your priorities and what you want to get out of a trip.” You won’t be the same person, having the same experiences, but you will have entirely different, exciting, and fun experiences…and so will your kid.