This summer my entire family traveled out of the country, to Paris, for the first time. And it quickly became the summer of many firsts.
It was the first time my husband and I were brave enough to take our two sons, four and seven years old, on an eight-hour flight.
It was the first time our sons bid goodbye to the creature comforts of home for an extended period of time.
It was the first time our sons would be in a country where English wasn't the primary language.
And, it was the first time we were going to spend three whole weeks together without anyone else or any other interruption.
Despite these often anxiety-causing firsts, we came to realize the new experiences only made the trip more special, more unforgettable, and so much more worth it.
New Firsts to Remember... and Repeat
For my husband and I, we took our last trip to Europe right before our first son was born. Even though it was only eight years ago, it felt like an eternity to us. We missed the months spent planning where to go, what to see and what to eat. We missed pouring over travel books, websites and online forums trying to glean any and all possible insider tips. We missed the thrill of getting to the airport with your bag (my husband's always much smaller than mine...). And, we missed the feeling of discovering new places, trying new foods and meeting new people - together. But, would it be the same, could it be the same with kids? No. It was even better.
Together, as a family, we learned new things, saw new sites and and gained new insights.
For my husband and I, we learned to slow down, savor the little things and adapt to European travel - with kids. We traded our previous wine-fueled dinners for al fresco picnics in the park - with Perrier! We swapped leisurely strolls through city streets, shops and markets for action-packed trips to playgrounds and amusement parks. We bid farewell to the need to travel from city to city and hotel to hotel, often traveling for several hours by train or car all to do it again the next day, and instead, learned to savor an extended visit in one city.
In the end, we were converts. We enjoyed the slow pace, walks through local parks, picnics set against the backdrop of some of the world's most famous landmarks, and we began to see Paris more like locals than harried tourists.
For our sons, they learned to make friends at the park without speaking the same language. They became more open to trying new foods, sports and activities. They understood that not everyone is the same, does identical things or lives the American way. And, they began to savor the joy in finding local treasures like a vintage carousel, a pétanque court or a Roman arena just perfect for playing soccer.
In the end, they learned to adapt to new experiences, go with the flow and feel comfortable in new situations, surrounded by new people.
Building on Our Travel Experiences at Home
On previous trips abroad, my husband and I would always find an English bookstore to visit so we could browse through the travel books and plot our next destination. In Europe with kids, our new tradition became capturing the little things, the little lessons, the little firsts that we wanted to savor forever, and trying to note things to do at home to keep the travel bug alive (and lend additional content for this blog! ;)).
Since coming home, we try to incorporate the new foods we sampled into our regular meals. We're on the hunt for macarons, baquettes, crepes and unusual sorbets (like black licorice, pistachio and fig). We continue to be on the hunt for a place to play pétanque court, and can't wait to check out an upcoming tournament in the suburbs. We look back through our photos, maps and guidebooks to relive our favorite moments. We talk about the benefits of learning new languages and meeting new people, and are excited that our sons get to do both at the international school they started at this fall. We look for cultural exhibits, events and places to help us build our love for France and travel overall. We try to approach our hometown like a traveler, seeking out hidden sights and experiences and trying to make new friends.
I do believe that you can open your children's eyes to the world without leaving Chicago, which is what I plan to do this year with my sons and document on this blog. I am just grateful that we were able to get the time and have the opportunity to add the additional learning layer of a trip to Paris.
Our first trip abroad is the first of what we hope to be many more wonderful cultural experiences - both at home and abroad.
Here's to world citizens!