There’s a huge difference between traveling and going on vacation.
We’ve been on vacations before, and although there is certainly a good argument to be made that traveling with kids is almost never a vacation, we have taken trips that were about relaxation and fun far more than they were about experiencing a new place. I like those trips just fine and can always do with a little downtime.
But I’ve come to learn that, given the choice, I far prefer traveling to vacationing.
Traveling is not about lying on a sunny beach and baking to a golden tan, a fruity drink in hand and a dip in the pool your only concerns. That is a vacation. Vacations are fun.
But I want to travel.
Traveling is going to a new place and learning about what makes that place worth visiting. It’s finding the landmarks, learning the history, trying the local food, and at least attempting to speak the language. It’s hard work more often than not. But that, I believe, is what makes it worthwhile.
When I successfully communicate with a cab driver in Rome who speaks no English but wants to tell us all about the amazing sites we’re driving by, and I’m then able to turn around and explain what he’s saying to my kids, that is traveling. When we navigate the metro in Paris even though none of us read French anything like fluently and none of the maps or signs are in English, that is traveling. When Matt drives a right-hand drive, stick shift, 7-passenger van through morning rush hour in London to get us to our new home in the English countryside, that is traveling. When we try the haggis, that is traveling.
There are so many places to see and paths to walk, so many languages to learn and foods to try. When I travel, I make my world a little bigger. I make my kids’ worlds a little bigger. We know what it looks like to eat breakfast in the sun on a porch overlooking the Mediterranean. And we know what it smells like to walk through the Black Forest in the autumn. We know what it feels like on top of the Eiffel Tower in the wind and drizzling rain, and how long it takes to walk up the long hill to Edinburgh Castle.
Because we know those things, it makes it easier to imagine other things, even less like what we’re used to in our normal lives.
We’ve stretched our understanding, and with it, our imaginations.
There have been moments, more than just a few, when we’ve been lugging bags through train stations and airports and convincing tired children that if they can just hold on a little longer, we’ll find a place to eat and sit and relax, when I’ve wondered if all the hard work and exhaustion and confusion is worth it. There have been many times when I stood, uncertain, before someone whose language I didn’t speak and who didn’t speak my language in return, and wondered how I would communicate. But we find a way to make it work. We learn something new, we smash down the walls of our comfort zones, and every time we do it, we grow. In the end, every hard moment is worth it.
It’s worth it when your 10-yr old son makes a comparison between the architecture in Germany and the architecture in Italy. When your 12-yr old daughter reads and translates the signs in French. When your 8-yr old son declares that the curry wurst in Germany is one of his favorite foods. When your 6-yr old son sees a picture of Il Duomo on a magazine and exclaims with excitement that he’s been there, it’s in Florence, and he had the best gelato ever sitting in the square beside that dome. Every long walk, delayed flight, argument with an overtired child (or an overtired spouse), they’re all worth it when you see how much it’s changed your understanding of the world.
Travel — real travel — is hard. But it is worth it. And I will take it over a vacation every day of the year.
Also, a trip doesn’t have to be far to be meaningful.