I have always been a traveler. Since I can remember I have been on the road every time I got a chance to escape, so it was only natural for me to keep doing that once I had a child.
My daughter trekked Norway with me at the age of 18 months, went to Sri Lanka at the age of three and has been living with me in Nepal for the last four years. She loves travelling, already speaks three languages fluently and is a true global citizen.
When I talk to other people about our life, I always focus on the benefits she has gained from travelling and what she has learned on the road. The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized that I learn as much from her as she learns from me. The way we travel now is very different from when I travelled alone, but not in the way you would think. Instead of seeing and doing less, I actually feel like we do more, learn more and engage more deeply with the culture of every country we visit. As much as I taught her about travelling, she has taught me.
Here are eight of the most important lessons I learned:
Trust your gut.
My daughter always trusts her gut when we travel. She does not like a restaurant? She won’t go there. Someone seems nice? She will accept an invitation and have a cup of tea. When she follows her instincts, we normally end up in the nicest locations and have the greatest experiences on the trip.
I tend to try to stick to plans I made, sometimes settling for things that are not perfect and dismissing my instinct way too many times. In the past, that led to many nights in awful hotels, with bad company or in an ugly town. The eye-opener with her was a trip to a small Nepali village. I had chosen a hotel, but when we got there, it was very disappointing. No view, hard beds, leaking shower in the bathroom. I was ready to settle, but Miriam said no. I tried to convince her, but her opinion was set: She would not stay in that hotel. Finally, I had to give in and we found ourselves on the road again. She pointed in one direction and said: “Let’s just go there.” Once we turned the corner, we saw a beautiful hotel, overlooking the valley, got a room there and spent two beautiful days.
If it’s nice—stay.
As mentioned above, I tend to want to stick to plans I made. When I travelled alone, that sometimes led to me leaving a beautiful place, just because I had planned to, when it would have been much more fun to stay a couple of days longer. When Miriam enjoys herself somewhere, she wants to stay and enjoy a bit longer, and the more I learn to give in to that, the better times we have.
Always ask why.
Children have the gift of curiosity. They always ask why things are happening or why something is set in a particular way. When I started travelling as a youth, I was the same way, but I lost that the longer I was on the road. At some point, I even lived under the stupid and naïve assumption that I had seen it all and nothing would surprise me anymore. Oh boy, was I wrong.
Travelling with Miriam makes it clear to me everyday how little I know. If I can answer half of her questions in a day, it was a very good day, and she gives me so much food for thought. Even when I think I know something for certain, she shows me a new angle to look at it. The best example for me is still our visit to New York and the 9/11 Memorial. While I was able to tell her a lot about the facts, I was not able to answer her questions about the why. Why did they actually do it? What exactly did they want? Why would anybody do something so horrible? I don’t know, but I had not even noticed that I had stopped asking myself these questions until Miriam did again. I have definitely learned as much as she did that day, and if it only was about my own shortcomings.
Make connections with people.
Of course, travelling is not only about seeing places, but also about meeting people. I always thought I was good at that, and I certainly have made many friends along the way. But Miriam connects on a different level. Particularly with children, she makes friends instantly. One look, one gesture, and she can start playing with someone for hours, even if they don’t speak a single word in the same language. Often my encounters were brief and superficial, but Miriam goes deep. She is able to establish a strong connection with other children, which often also leads to connections for me, as her friends have parents who naturally start talking to me. We have been invited to many homes and have experienced cultures on a different level, thanks to her ability to connect.
Go with the flow.
Sometimes, you get up in the morning and just know that this is not your day. It would be smart to just accept that, stay at home and make the best of it. When I was travelling alone before, I seldom allowed myself these days. If it was a day on a trip, I had to do something. Of course, those days are the ones I remember as the worst, the ones I fell down stairs and twisted my ankle or lost my jacket on the bus.
Miriam gives into these days and forces me to do so, too. Sometimes she does not want to leave the hotel and just wants to watch a movie or read a book. In the beginning I fought against that, trying to convince her at all costs. It never played out. The experience that made me stop trying was at Niagara Falls. We only had one day there, so I was super eager to see the falls, but the weather was awful. It was cold, raining and snow was melting everywhere. Miriam wanted to stay and swim in the pool, but I forced her out (and bribed her with chocolate…). We made it to the falls, but could barely see them, as the clouds were hanging so low. We both were soaking wet and miserable and just ran back to the hotel, where we had a nap and took a long time to get dry again. In the afternoon we went to have a late lunch, and suddenly the clouds opened and the sun came out. It was gorgeous, and we rushed back to the falls. In the evening Miriam said to me: “See, I told you we should have gone to the pool in the morning.” And what can I say, she was right…
Take off pressure.
Again, I have a tendency to make big plans. When they have fallen through, I have become disappointed and have blamed myself, which is counterproductive, because most of the time the reasons why they fell through were beyond my control. Miriam taught me to take off the pressure and just accept what we could do. We went to New York and did not walk over the Brooklyn Bridge, so what? We did not see downtown Portland? It does not matter, because we had two great days at the park and will cherish those memories forever. Since I now allow myself to travel without pressure, I can truly relax.
Always look forward.
In the past when I traveled alone I would sometimes hang onto the memory and feelings of an unpleasant experience for days. Even goodbyes and some pleasant experiences have triggered feelings of melancholia. Leaving a friend behind has at times seriously tainted my experience of my remaining holidays. Miriam is very different in this regard. For her, the past is the past, and once she has slept on it, she is over it, whatever it is. A new day begins, and she starts it with new positive energy. Of course she misses friends and family that we had to leave behind, but never in way that gets in between her and new experiences. She does not dwell on the past; she only looks forward and always makes the best of everything life throws her way. I know I have a long way to go, and I am learning that from her every day.
Miriam is growing up in different cultures with different languages and is exposed to different religions. She would never judge someone based on their customs, appearances or manners. Even though I would always say I am an open and accepting person, I don’t think I will ever reach her level of tolerance, as my world was small for the first 18 years of my life, while hers is limitless. She is always open to new things and bravely maneuvers the unknown, which is sometimes scary for me. I admire her way of always focusing on the things we have in common with other people rather than the differences, and her ability to bridge any disparities there might be. And by experiencing these things together, I also learn from her.
Before I started traveling with Miriam I had never even noticed that with time passing, my travels had become less worthwhile. Miriam showed me, once again, what is important and why I fell in love with travelling in the first place.
I always thought travelling with my daughter would be harder and less rewarding for me personally, but the absolute opposite is the reality. I cherish every day, and am so thankful that we can travel this road together!
Author: Eva Wieners
Editor: Emily Bartran
Photo: Author’s Own