Owl is a little over three now, and we’ve been on many trips together, from short jaunts to friends’ homes, to more challenging journeys to Asia or Europe.
Each trip has been worthwhile, but also draining — too often in a disconcertingly permanent-feeling way, like how your phone battery degrades so that a full charge means less and less over time. It isn’t just travel; every time I do something new and big and exciting in this new parent life, it takes from me. It gives back too, which is why I do it, but I don’t think I’m refilling my well fast enough to make up for the depletions. I have actually wondered whether we need to stop traveling altogether.
However! We recently went to Alaska with my family (parents, sisters, brother-in-law and nephews), where we took day trips from a shared house in Anchorage, and I did not come home more tired than I’d started! I didn’t even know that was possible! (Of course, I should check with Erik to make sure he feels the same way, as he took on a lot of Owl-duty while we were there.)
What made this trip easier? A smaller time change (only an hour). Shorter flights. No language barrier, no currency conversion, no customs lines. Alaska has a low population density; I hadn’t realized we’d gotten so used to crowds and traffic until we arrived and found none. We arrived later and departed earlier than my parents, so we didn’t have to do the check-in/setup or final cleanup of the house (we helped, of course). We took turns on dinner duty, which made grocery shopping simpler and minimized stalemates over what to eat (a real concern with my opinionated, food-centric family). Maybe the biggest thing for me, though, was that Owl got to be with her favorite cousin. Instead of constantly talking, singing, chanting, and questioning at me, she could direct that energy at someone her own age. Oh my god, it was great. Her brain runs miles a minute and while it’s fascinating in small doses, jumping up and down shrieking the name of a favorite cartoon for five minutes? That’s a game for a fellow toddler. Not Mama.
In Barcelona earlier this year, I was dismayed at the transition from baby to toddler travel. Babies are harder in a lot of ways, but they’ll go where you take them. I had never understood family-centric travel (why spend a day at the aquarium when the Miró museum beckons?) until I experienced firsthand the misery of trying to take Owl where she didn’t want to be. Being in a large group, in Anchorage, mitigated that greatly. There was always someone to take the kids to the playground or the science center when they needed to run off some steam; being with her cousins made everything more appealing and gave the adults a chance to focus on each other, even if only briefly. I don’t know if we just got lucky or if this travel plan can apply to future trips too, but for now, I’m simply happy to feel like I had a real vacation in a gorgeous place.