When people learn that I travel with my son fairly often, they always ask, “How does he do on airplanes? How does he handle airports and train stations?” And I can safely answer that he’s good as gold. The fact that so many people ask always catches me off guard – he transitions so well that it takes a minute for me to remember that for many people, traveling with children is stressful, difficult and nightmare-inducing.
My son made his first international trip when he was five months old. Arthur has been abroad six more times since then, with a generous amount of domestic travel, as well. Airports for him are a place to find snacks and overly expensive toys, cupcake vending machines and yet another opportunity to be carried while I also wrangle all the luggage. We’ve been in the metro stations of Barcelona, London and Naples. He’s no stranger to buses in Southern Italy and trams in Amsterdam. For him, trains are a special favorite and taxis are endlessly fascinating.
We often find ourselves on transportation, Arthur and I, and a baby or small child seated somewhere nearby will begin crying, screaming, acting up. Arthur is always confused by this. “Mama, that baby is sad. Does that baby miss his mommy?” Because adventures have always been a part of his life, he is completely comfortable in the air, on the sea, or racing along a train track.
That isn’t to say he is perfectly behaved, by any means. He is just as annoyed by delays as the adults that experience them, he becomes frustrated on long-haul flights, uncomfortable on packed metro cars and hates waiting in line for the bathroom after the fasten seatbelt light goes off. But all in all, Arthur’s a trooper. He rolls with missed connections, sits quietly during layovers and helps unpack when we arrive at the hotel. My four-year-old definitely adds a lot of stress and work to vacations, but he’s as lovely a traveling companion as any seasoned adventurer.
It isn’t as if he came by it naturally, though; Arthur’s attitude and behavior is the product of many prior not-so-wonderful experiences. Lots of tantrums on the plane, crawling down the aisles, a lot of nursing him for hours on end until I thought I would scream. We endured a lot of discomfort to get him to this level of good behavior. The more flights we booked, the more skilled a tiny traveler he became.
And it was worth it. All the stress, headaches, tears and money spent. To have a child experience other cultures, meet people all over the world, be exposed to different languages, food and customs. To hear Arthur explain to our family and friends what he likes best about Italy or a museum he visited in Spain. He asks about Amsterdam and recalls “the cold beach” in Cornwall. He’s been in castles and cathedrals, seen the “Hollywood” sign and eaten beignets on Royal St. in New Orleans. And even though he might not fully appreciate the significance of the Roman Coliseum, he does remember how much he loved “all the big trains” in the National Railway Museum in York and “having a tea party” in the Cotswolds.
Arthur will definitely not remember every trip, or even some of the ones we take in the next few years; but to me, travel is an essential part of his education. Not just the arrival in a new, exciting place, but also the patience and discomfort of getting there, the ability to adjust to new situations, people and places and the willingness to step into the unknown and explore. What greater gift can we give our children than the world?