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.

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