Without even realizing it, I have picked up right where I left off before heading to Motherhood Prison, a little over 20 years ago.
For the first 30-something years of my life, I knew I would not have kids. Honestly, I didn’t see the point. And for the first fifteen years of our marriage, my husband and I stayed unencumbered by offspring. Opting to revel in a DINK (dual income/no kids) situation, we lived large. With no one sucking up our financial and time resources, we treated ourselves often. Dinners out, long weekend getaways, savings and investment accounts. Life was pretty good, not going to lie.
For years, both sets of our own parents hinted, intimated, and not so subtly suggested that we might not want to wait that much longer to start a family. Randomly, I would receive newspaper articles clipped out with stories about how women regret waiting too long to start families, how it’s not necessarily a great idea to focus on a career first, etc. …
I am of the opinion that one can locate supporting evidence for any belief. Both my mother and mother-in-law proved me right for years.
I recall a particular incident where we met my cousin’s brand new baby. Before I knew what hit me, my mother placed the baby girl in my arms, looked at my husband, and asked: “What do you think, Tom?” To which, my very clever-witted husband retorted: “I think she wishes it was a puppy.”
He was not wrong. Until, he was.
What does all this baby/no-baby talk have to do with traveling?
Right around age 35, an alarm went off for me. Would I regret not having a child later in life? Well, who was to predict that? On the other hand, would I regret having a baby – ever? Knowing myself, I knew with 100% certainty that I would never regret bringing a human into this world. So, one regular afternoon whilst lunching at our favorite restaurant, The Slanted Door, I said out loud to my husband: “I’ve changed my mind. I want to have a baby.”
Remember the quick wit? His immediate response: “Why don’t we take that trip around the world you’ve been harping about?”
And just like that, I traded the idea of maternity clothes for quick dry travel pants, a pair of hiking shoes, a backpack, and a barrage of inoculations large enough to take down a horse. I did pre-negotiate before accepting this alternative option: “We will get pregnant when we get back,” was the deal we made.
After almost a full year of travel, we returned home. As planned I got pregnant right away upon our return — like, within two weeks. Willingly entering the trappings of motherhood and parenting, I spent the next 19 or so years creating travel experiences to fit my son’s needs and desires. Yes, that meant a lot of Disney World and beach weeks with other kids his age. Once I felt he was old enough, I began introducing him to what I consider real travel as opposed to vacationing.
A Traveler’s Beginning:
Call me a Stage Mom, but it was very important to me to create a resourceful, sturdy traveler. Assuming that’s even possible. To that end, I took my son to Cuba at 14 and Morocco at 16. Mildly complaining that other parents took their kids to London or Paris, he took to the discomfort that comes with navigating less-developed countries.
Not sure if the term “third world country” is widely used anymore. The designation was coined during the Cold War, and was used to distinguish from the West (“First World”) and the Communist bloc (“Second World”). From what I can see, today that moniker is used to describe the developing countries of Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Oceania. Suffice it to say that travel to these countries offers up a world of wonders and experiences more difficult to find in the Madrids of the world.
But can you make a traveler out of someone?
I guess it can go either way. Yes, I enabled opportunities for off-the-beaten-track experiences for my teen. However, how he internalized the adventure — whether or not he felt it was something positive and worth repeating…well, that’s entirely up to him.
I do know that this young man made independent plans with three friends to backpack in Europe a bit this past summer. At 20 my son already has 10 countries under his belt. And while that is a tiny percentage of the 193 UN-recognized countries, let alone all the “extra” designations of territories, countries, states, provinces, and island groups, it sure shows promise. And, yes, I’m ridiculously proud.
Pretty Kuel Travelers:
P.S. If you’re curious as to whether anyone has visited all 193 UN-recognized countries (and some are super, super dangerous), the answer is yes. Mitsidis, considered by many as one of the most comprehensive record-keepers in the realm of travel, indicates OR “guesses” OR “believes” that there are only 199 people documented to have ever accomplished this task. Knowing that many people aren’t looking for attention, he doubles his estimate for the true number. Still, that leaves us with around 400 people – from the beginning of time. And, to add credibility to the “it’s really a small world” idiom, I happen to know the individual who visited every UN-recognized country AND space. Jim Kitchen is a friend of a friend. He was part of the civilian crew on Blue Origin’s rocket. How KUEL is that?