Monday, August 17, 2009

Have we graduated?

As I stared at the collection of books, train toys, wipes, clothing and snacks overflowing from our backpacks, I had to ask the question: Have we, like most of our thirtysomething friends, graduated from traveling with backpacks? Most of my one-time-backpacker peers now sport those trendy black rolling suitcases, with cute little luggage tags. Eddie and I, however, have yet to ascent to those heights.

Often I find myself wishing for more space to bring more crap--I mean wouldn't my life in Bangkok be better with a cotton pantsuit scored at an Egyptian market??? But inevitably, I always end up piling heaps of clothing back in the closet and only bringing what fits in my trusty circa 1994 blue backpack.

You wouldn't know it by the looks of me, but my travel tastes have shifted. Take, for example, our upcoming trip to Thailand: We plan to stay in the luxe Dusit Thani hotel in Bangkok (a steal for under a hundred bones), and then fly to Phuket to enjoy a one-bedroom beachfront villa at the Indigo Pearl Hotel (another steal we found on Agoda) and finally,we'll wrap up the "adventure" with another plush villa at Railay Bay Resort. I always have this feeling of being the kid sneaking into a casino when I approach these lovely hotels wearing a dirty backpack that has seen better days.

Yet, I can't bring myself to retire the old gal. Sure, it can be said that I have long relationships with the various "things" that mean a lot to me. My first car "Me Amiga" lasted a decade; I tend to fashion the same clothes way longer than I should; and I have sported the same combat boots for longer than I will ever admit. But can I let go of my backpack? She and I have traveled to over thirty countries together, with her guarding my belongings from dusty deserts, torrential tropical storms, aggro baggage handlers--she even lived to tell of a small tear in her zipper during a month-long trek through Brazil (you've got to love Eagle Creek's lifetime warranty). She joined me on my first solo transcontinental trip, when I circumnavigated the globe on a ship, when I got married, and even when I gave birth.

But as I look at her now, bursting at the seams, carrying goods for myself and little Kai, I wonder if this will be her last major journey. And if so, does this mean I am all grown up?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

An adventure in vacationing

I have heard stories about children growing up to be different than their parents. I happen to be a Republican-raised brat turned tofu-eating liberal; which is why soon after giving birth, I wondered how Kai would be dramatically different than me. He’s two and I have already set up a plan with my dear high school friend TJ, who is now a union organizer/LGBT rights activist, that if Kai becomes a gun toting right winger, he would go to boot camp at TJ’s house until we convince him that Ronald Reagan was not the God of American politics. My vegan friends are ready to step in when he wants a Happy Meal. A mentor who lives off the grid is already schooling him on composting and living within his means. But I never imagined that I would squeeze out a homebody, who 24 hours into a trip, cries to return to “Kai’s house.”
Now for most people this would not be anything to lose sleep over, but I am a travel addict. A bratty J.A.P. who whines, No, I do not want to go to Mexico again and forces her husband to join her in garnering a new passport stamp at least twice a year. To make matters worse (or better, for me), I also happen to be a travel writer, who gets paid to explore the secret swimming holes of Northern California, surf spots in Kauai, the best elephant treks in Thailand and finest fish tacos in Mexico. In essence I have set myself up in a career that fuels my addiction. Making me a real happy camper. Yet, my kid can’t be bothered. Midway into an airplane ride, he is asking to get outside. When sleeping in a tent cabin in Yosemite, he tosses and turns like an achy-spine-having old coot. When presented with miles of Honolulu’s finest strands, he clings to my leg, uninspired by sandcastle building, waves or swimming. And it’s not for lack of practice. Kai has spent many a night in hotels—from Napa Valley’s celebrity hideout Auberge du Soleil to a paper-thinned walled party pad in San Diego’s Ocean Beach. Still, the little dude would rather be at home.
I am sure child psychologists would have a heyday with all this, citing stability and routine. But I prefer to cite the Wheelers (creators of the Lonely Planet travel series) who claimed in a San Francisco Chronicle article that though your toddler cannot remember his travels, lugging him into the jungles of Sri Lanka is sure to create a more flexible, patient young person. I would take this even further and say that it actually creates a more patient and flexible mom and dad.
And in this bendiness, I have had to alter the way I travel. I have been known to arrive in Tulum, Mexico at dusk on New Years Eve and walk the beach for hours searching for a place to sleep; and maybe it wasn’t the best idea to crash out in a drug dealer’s shed with another couple, sharing a very tattered hammock with my husband, but we survived. In the same vein, I have accepted the offer of Venezuelan villagers to stay in their house, share their arepas and dance late into the evening.
But both of these examples are moments I probably won’t encounter with my son. In preparing for an upcoming trip to Thailand, I have actually (gulp) made reservations. At hotels. Nice ones. With pools. And room service. Between patting myself on the back for my savvy travel research (fancy one bedroom beachfront suites for under a hundred bucks!), I have actually mourned the way I typically travel, wondering: how can I have adventure and spontaneity this way? But my very patient husband will quickly remind me that with a kid who doesn’t love to travel, we have to accommodate him on our adventures.
I often wonder if this is adios to Brazilian Carnivale, impromptu invitations to imbibe yak butter tea with a family in Lhasa, dune buggy trips on walls of sand, hitching a ride with a Kenyan safari group to camp in the bush, hopping in the back of a Bedouin’s flatbed truck to cross the Sahara, dancing on bars in Mykonos, motorbike trips in Vietnam, fire festivals in southern China, hitchhiking through Japan and all night dance parties.
Whenever I am feeling particularly morose, gazing all too long at my navel, I check myself. The reason I had a child is to experience all there is to living; and never before have I experienced such a blissful adventure. One that surely trumps scuba diving in Moorea, being blessed at Lhasa’s Potala Palace, experiencing eco-village living in India, showering while howler monkeys swung overhead in Costa Rica, swimming with dolphins in Praia di Pipa, Brazil, landing on a glacier in Alaska, or singing Beatles songs with kids from across the globe on the steps of the Duomo in Florence. Traveling with Kai is my new adventure. Call it an adventure in vacationing. And let’s hope I don’t like vacationing so much that I forget that travel is more than going to a place and living it up. It is experiencing the destination, the people, the food, language and culture. And returning home with altered eyes, not just a bag full of new clothes.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Pad See Ew There

As most of you know, we are getting ready to head off to Thailand for Kai's first Asian adventure. We leave on Monday night at 1am and get to enjoy a 25 hour travel day (UGH). But once we arrive, we are all stoked to see elephants, beaches, and of course, grub on Kai's favorite food pad see ew.

Since Kai is already a travel pro, I also wanted to post a link to some of our travel photos taken over the past 2 years. Just click Kai Travels to view them.

Please check on this blog as we will be updating it from Bangkok, Phuket and Railay.

Michele, Eddie and Kai