WHEN I WAS ABOUT 11, a neighborhood kid stopped over while we were packing our car for another vacation. “Are you guys going somewhere again?” she asked. “Yeah, we’re going to Hawaii,” my dad said.
“That’s so unfair,” she said, “we never get to go on trips.”
“Well,” my dad replied, “your dad’s a dentist, so you have great teeth. I run a travel business, so my kids get to travel a lot.”
And it was a lot of travel. In the years before the internet and September 11th made travel agencies a lot more difficult to run, we were going somewhere what seemed like every few months. Hawaii, Costa Rica, Yellowstone, Boston, Seattle, D.C., Spain, Alaska — all five of us piled into a car while my dad forced us to enjoy all of the wonders the world had to offer.
It was an expected part of life. You didn’t stay in one place. One place was nonsense. We lived in Cincinnati, and Cincinnati was nice, but Cincinnati didn’t have an ocean. It didn’t have mountains. It didn’t have clam chowdah. So we left, usually willingly, sometimes grumbling, and we saw the world.
The “don’t travel with your kids” movement.
People who don’t have kids don’t like it when they are forced to deal with kids while they travel. Or really at any time, for that matter. People who do travel with kids often feel judged. In Expedia’s Airplane Etiquette Study, they found that plane passengers found “inattentive parents” to be the second most annoying passengers in the air, behind “seat kickers.” And these annoyed passengers are not quiet about it. A separate Expedia survey, focusing on the parents themselves, found that 76% of parents had received “annoying parenting advice” from strangers while traveling.
But in the parenting survey, 70% of parents said that some of their fondest childhood memories were during family vacations. This was true of me, too: When we went on that trip to Hawaii, we were put up in a musty hotel room that knocked me into a full-blown asthma attack. At 3 in the morning, my dad realized the best thing for me was to get out of the room and out into the fresh air. He found two beach chairs and walked me out to a Maui beach, where we looked up at the stars, picked out constellations, talked about Michigan football, and recounted our favorite Far Side comics until the sun rose. It was a simple enough night — just talking on the beach with my Dad — but it’s remains in my memory as one of those perfect moments, when everything felt just fine, and nothing outside the moment mattered.
But when I got into my 20s and was traveling constantly, the way me and my friends talked about our nomadic lifestyle was as if this all needed to be done before we settled down, got married, bought houses, and had kids.
I’ve reached the settling down stage. I’m 29, and in three weeks, I’m going to get married. But it has been years since I’ve gone more than a month without traveling somewhere, even if it’s just to the next state over. Wanderlust is often described as an addiction by travelers, but it’s not that insidious: travel is a habit, and if your parents get you into the habit of traveling young — just like the habit of brushing your teeth — you’ll do it dutifully for the rest of your life.
There’s a growing body of evidence that travel makes you more psychologically healthy, increases your openness to new experiences, makes you feel younger, makes you more productive, makes you smarter, and makes you more empathetic. Similarly, acts associated like travel, like learning a second language or reconsidering things from a new perspective have been shown to have hugely beneficial effects from a neuroscience standpoint.
Travel agencies have become harder to get into in the 2010s, but I still decided to follow my dad into the travel business, albeit in a different way: I’m a professional travel writer now, and my kids will get to go places. They may have shitty teeth, but they will go places.