Let’s be honest… traveling with kids can suck.
It can be painful.
Sure, you love them–they are your kids after all– but they can be… challenging to say the least. Just stop for a second and think back to how difficult it is to take them to the grocery store most days.
In your home town.
I’m talking about globe-trotting. To a foreign country. Fourteen hour flights and jet-lag to make you mental.
With your kids!
(Yes… Olivia is holding a poop emoji pillow… don’t ask)
It’s not like you can just ditch ’em when they get fussy. And trust me, they will get fussy.
They may not like the local food, the local weather, the local traditions, or in extreme cases, the locals themselves. Each kid is different and knowing how they might react when suddenly thrust into a new world is a crapshoot.
Because of this uncertainty and the probable discomfort that comes with lighting out to exotic locales (not to mention the cost), I’ve known numerous families who opt out of adventure each year and instead opt into more comfortable, staid and “guaranteed” vacation spots.
Yes, I’m talking to you Disneyland. Not that I have anything against you… I don’t! In fact, our family LOVES you.
No matter how many times Disney injects the very word into the titles of their lands and rides (California Adventure Park, Indiana Jones Adventure, The Little Mermaid-Ariel’s Undersea Adventure, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Snow White’s Scary Adventures and Star Tours-the Adventures Continue), there really isn’t much authentic “adventure” to be had. In fact, the most dangerous thing at Disneyland is the sugar content in the snack choices.
I have become convinced that humans need real (not necessarily extreme) adventure to feel normal. We need to be in the presence of nature and feel it’s majestic heft. And I’m not talking about putting yourself in actual danger. I’m not advocating that you knowingly jump into Great White Shark infested waters and try picking one’s teeth with your selfie stick.
What I am saying is… there is nothing like being in the open ocean, face down, breathing through a snorkel and knowing at any second a shark could swim from the blackness. Simply existing for a few moments in this kind of reality rewires places in our brain that have become tangled from too many hours spent in the office, surfing the Facebooks or vegging in front of the television.
Direct experience is important for adults, but I’ll argue it’s absolutely essential for children. Seeking true adventure with your kids is a soul-building necessity. You MUST strike out to parts unknown.
And you MUST take your kiddos.
For their health.
And, as it turns out, for your health as well.
(Olivia, in the background, not getting the fact you need to buckle up at takeoff… and the little Swedish kid in the window seat saying.. “Ya! YOU NEED TO SVEAT DOWN!”)
Sometimes, We All Need a Little Push…
My wife and I have been married for nearly fifteen years and as the dedicated introvert-partypooper-scardycat portion of this blessed union, I am the one who worries and frets about our kid’s safety. I’m the one who double checks the seat belts, the one who reminds them to chew their food fully so as not to choke, the one who can’t relax when they are in any body of water. Even while in a bathtub.
Paranoia is my friend and has been for a very long time. It has served me well.
My wife isn’t reckless per say, but she’s definitely… adventurous.
That word again…
She pushes me to do things I’d rather not and I’ve probably pulled her back from immenent death on more than one occasion. Left to my own, I’d curl up on a sofa with a good book or movie, allowing Matt Damon,The Rock or some other CG protected actor to get into mortal danger for me.
Even though my natural inclination is to chill at home, I’ve lived a somewhat adventurous life. I’ve travelled consistently since in my early twenties, have been to Thailand (five times), Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Hong Kong and lived and worked in both Vietnam and China. I’ve hiked mountains, hunted snakes in a Malaysian river, taken a three day van trip through the jungle from Malaysia to Thailand, rode elephants, saved a captive endangered Malaysian Sun Bear, singlehandedly stopped a Vietnamese labor strike with buckets of KFC, co-founded a clothing company based in Vietnam, narrowly avoided a robbery or kidnapping (or worse) attempt in Bali, and ate a ginormous grasshopper on the banks of the Chao Praya river in Bangkok.
And those are just the things I can remember…
See, since early adulthood, I’ve begrudgingly gravitated toward adventure at the behest of a significant other bent on pushing me off the sofa of life. My wife is merely the latest (and greatest, obviously) loved one to suffer the burden of dusting off the fuddy-duddy that is more or less always liberally applied to my hibernating gumption.
Let’s be clear. I can be a bore.
Yet, once committed, I usually love the experience and wonder why and how and why the holy hell it took me so long. Getting to this place regularly has been a challenge for me and yet I fully know and appreciate the need for this in my life.
Going to Thailand this past November with my three lovelies reminded me of this… there is just something about Thailand.
It’s been THE destination for hippy backpacker types for decades and for good reason. It offers the strange with such intense flavor that you imbibe freely with nary a question, let alone a protest. The air smells better, the heat feels luxurious (even at its most oppressive), the green and red and yellow curries delight at first scent and the taste, well… forget about it. Your senses hover at near overload levels from dusk till dawn. Desensitization never takes hold; even the tranquil seashore on Koh Lanta inspires jags of magnanimous revelry that makes one feel more connected and more… MORE than any of us ever do in the B.F.E. we came from. Thailand makes you want to be a better, more motivated person.
That’s why this place was the world’s number one travel destination in 2016. Over a million tourists came to Thailand hoping to rekindle that spark of “me” that dims as we slog through the misadventure that is adulthood.
But is it for kids?
Hell yes it is!
Direct Experience: Why we need it now more than ever!
My wife flew with the kids to Bangkok five days before I could join them. They needed to get out of the country, make a visa run (I hadn’t yet converted their tourist visa to a resident permit in China) and Thailand seemed like a great place to do this.
Unfortunately, my wife suffered from some sort of a flu bug at the beginning of the trip and pretty much stayed in the hotel while in Bangkok. After a few days of being cooped up in the Grand Hyatt (which ain’t a bad place to be sequestered) we flew to Krabi, without much of a plan.
We had a hotel booked there, for two nights, but after that the next ten days or so would be all improv. I’d traveled this way most of my life; I usually just booked the time off and decided the particulars, buy the tickets and reserve the hotels a day or two before departure. I don’t know why I do this, (other than the fact that this is how I was trained to travel in my early twenties–but that’s another story, for another time). It creates a certain pressure for sure. Some times it works out. Sometimes it doesn’t.
Once in Krabi, we checked into the hotel and hired a boat to take us to Railay Beach. The boat ride took about thirty minutes and once there we took some pics, Mommy and Daddy got drinks and the girls ran straight into the calm ocean. It was gorgeous, of course, but crowded and I couldn’t help but notice the cloudy water from all the boats dropping toursists on the sand all day, everyday.
And yes, I realize I was one of those filthy tourists, so it didn’t bother me much, but seeing as how I’d been to the more popular islands like Phuket and Samuii in the past, I assumed Krabi would be quieter. Perhaps it is, comparatively, but we had to walk for a quarter mile down the beach before we found a somewhat depopulataed patch of sand wide enough to spread out four beach towels.
And then it began to rain.
At first, the girls loved being in the ocean while the cold rain fell on us. My wife had run for cover with our drinks while I bobbed and floated in the chest-high water, mindful of the girl’s whereabouts, a mere arm reach to my right and left. The rain felt good and as most tourists scooped up their belongings to take shelter from the downpour, the three of us laughed and soaked in the moment.
It’s not everyday you get to swim in the ocean, in the rain, in Thailand. This moment sparked something in me that had been dormant for awhile– a need for direct communion with the natural world.
For fear of sounding too metaphysical I’ll just say it plain…
We need NATURE. Need it like oxygen and protein. And I felt the deficiency in my own body that day, as I floated there watching my girls. Much of our modern life is insualated against the inconveniences of the natural world. We are the only living beings who have decided the laws of nature do not apply to us. “No thank you, that shit looks dangerous and difficult… and dirty… I’ll be over here with my latte.”
Humans ARE animals. We forget this to our own detriment and one only needs to jump into the ocean, in Thailand, with your daughters, while pelted with cold rain to understand this. There is an expansion of soul that happens when we are in direct contact with nature, if we allow ourselves to feel it.
I felt it that day and when I looked at my girls, smiling and undulating in the tranquil sea, I knew they felt it too.
It’s Not Too Late.
During our two weeks in Thailand we had adventure after adventure, saw and interacted with wildlife (hermit crabs at the dinner table anyone?), swam in beautiful pools and the crystal clear ocean and just generally allowed the wonder of living life to surround us. It was magical…
Since this is real life we are talking about, there were fits, there were fights, there were frustrations and a F@$K OFF! or two (spat in my direction by my lovely wife, on the beach one night after too many gin and sodas… I am after all, tough to be around some days…).
But the kids were bliss. They really were.
Sure they moaned about a few things and pouted when we finally cut the nightly desserts (after a 10+ day streak), but for the most part, they were chill. It was the adults who struggled to fully relax and relent and that’s why I say, get out there.
We NEED this!
Even two weeks in a tropical paradise, literally eating mangos every morning on a teak deck overlooking the ocean couldn’t fully scrub the adult off me. I had moments… in the ocean, the day with the elephants, dinner on the sand, but there was always some hum in the distance that reminded me this was make believe and soon to end.
My challenge for myself (and for anyone reading this) is to increase the situations in my life that give me this feeling, this direct experience; to expand the duration of that feeling of aliveness until it fills every waking second.
Taking your kids to Thailand (or anywhere really) is a step in the right direction…