A big reason we travel so much is I work for an international organization that has offices around the globe. And, when I travel on business, I can take family along. It’s at our expense of course, but we save on the hotels and my airfare. Most importantly, they encourage family travel. (Well, not to Afghanistan, of course.) We are lucky to have such an arrangement – it’s not everyone’s good fortune to have this deal.
But sometimes I have to travel alone, most frequently to northern California. But I’ve also been to Afghanistan, Thailand, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Paris, Kiev and Pakistan. This November, I’ll head to Beijing, China for a week. It’s a first for me and I’m excited.
Traveling alone sucks after you’ve done it with kids and wifey. God, how I miss them when I go to a new place. I imagine that I see their faces reflected on the airplane window. I think I hear them at night getting water in the hotel bathroom. And of course, I wish that they could see what I’m seeing.
My solo trips are almost all business, so I stay busy and there isn’t a great deal of time for sightseeing. They double nicely, however, as ‘scouting’ missions for future travel. We hope to get to China, Thailand and Japan for 5 weeks next summer. I’ll learn what I can before we go.
So what do I scout? I check out hotels and the tourist sights a bit, but the guidebooks are pretty accurate about that stuff. You really don’t need to be there for that stuff. The more difficult, but important, things to know in advance of traveling with kids are:
- Surface travel: Can you get cabs? Public transportation? How long does it take to get from place to place? Can you walk?
- Food: What can kids eat? Are restaurants accommodating? What might my picky child eat?
- Culture: Is it crowded? Will the kids feel safe? Are there parks – playgrounds? Do people like kids?
In the end, it’s the subtle things that make a trip seem easy or hard and those are the things you don’t read in a book. For example, we stayed a month in Paris in 2007. We had such a terrible time getting food. I know, I know, that seems crazy. But my kids, especially my older daughter, like ultra-boring food. Even ‘plain’ pizza would often come with parsley sprinkled on it, and would go uneaten. We ate bread and fast food a lot. The girls did come away with an appetite for good bread, but Paris is an ‘adult’ food scene they have yet to appreciate.
Who would have imagined that Paris is also the best city on the planet for playgrounds. There are (small) amusement rides all over the place. The parks all have elaborate playgrounds and there are swings and sandboxes tucked around every corner. We had some of our most memorable experiences at Paris playgrounds – including a baseball-sized shiner Emma got when she and I played too rough on a see-saw.
The fun really helped break up the otherwise ‘adult’ features of the City of Lights. (Here is another traveling family‘s musings on European playgrounds including their favorite: the one near Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. )
I scouted Cairo too – and it really helped. Cairo is a very friendly city but mortally dangerous for pedestrians. Knowing that, we wasted no time trying to walk from place to place – something we love to do. Kid food is also a little tough in Egypt, so we dined close to the hotel most of the time.
Without a doubt, the ‘scouting’ trip is a luxury. But it can help so much. I’ll let you know what I discover in Beijing.