Children vs travel: One woman’s dilemma
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What does parenthood mean for the traveling lifestyle?
I was never completely sold on the idea of motherhood. Even as a kid, while other girls would lovingly rock their baby dolls to sleep or feed them tea, I’d throw mine out the window. “Run!” I’d holler at my little brother as we tore barefoot down the muddy path behind our house, frantic to put as much distance between ourselves and the evil cabbage patch kids that lay in crumpled heaps across the backyard. “They’re gonna kill us!”
Now, more than 20 years later, I’m still running from babies; only this time it’s the thought of growing one inside of me. Although I like kids, I love travel. And try as I might, I just can’t imagine how those two things could ever go together.
Because travel to me is about 2am skinnydips and shots of strange, fizzy cocktails. It’s about hitching rides in the backs of pickup trucks and buses crammed with sweaty bodies and noisy livestock. It’s about quiet sunsets and long train rides with a good book. It’s about setting off each morning without a plan and then getting hopelessly, exhilaratingly lost. Travel is about freedom.
Babies, on the other hand, are anything but. Babies are like that high-maintenance friend you make the mistake of inviting to Bangkok, who spends the trip whining about the food and crying about the heat, only she’s your kid, so you can’t just abandon her in a Starbucks for the afternoon. Babies require routines and regular sleep cycles and nourishment not found in beer and unidentified street food. In short, babies are a total travel buzz kill.
And yet, I’ve always assumed I’d one day have one. I figured that eventually the day would come when I’d want a baby so bad I’d be willing to give up my freedom and trade climbs up Machu Picchu and Kilimanjaro for trips to Legoland and Cinderella’s castle. But I just turned 30 and have hit the age when there’s no more pushing motherhood off into “someday,” as in, “I’ll have kids someday when I’m done traveling.” Someday is here (or darn close), and I’m not ready to give it all up. So now what?
A few weeks ago, I was discussing my dilemma with my friend Tom. We were driving to Area 51 to go camping for the weekend when I said something to the effect of, “Why do I keep agonizing over this? For everyone else the decision to have kids just seems so easy.” What he said surprised me.
“For you it’s a bigger sacrifice. You’re like, .01% of the population.” He went on to explain that if I chose to have kids, l would be giving up a lot more than the average person. “Their lives don’t change that much after they have kids. They’ll still be living in the same town, working in the same job, hanging out with mostly the same friends that they’ve had for years. If anything, a baby will add to their life, not take away. ”
I’d never thought of it that way, but he was right. If I chose to have kids, life as I knew it would be over. I’d have to put off moving to China to study Mandarin, and I’d need to postpone joining the Peace Corps. And my plan to save up for a ride on the Trans-Siberian Railway would likely take a backseat to saving for sleep-away camp and swimming lessons.
So while it would seem that the obvious choice would be to take the path not strewn with dirty diapers and mushed animal crackers, a part of me wonders if maybe I’d be wrong to do that. One of the things I love most about travel is that when you’re on the road, every day brims with the possibility of adventure. What if, by abstaining from parenthood, I end up missing out on the greatest adventure of all?