I’m going to touch a bit of a raw nerve here and write about traveling. This year we had planned to go to Switzerland; not actual Switzerland, but Saxon Switzerland, in Germany. After all, Switzerland is Switzerland, we thought. Saxon Switzerland has mountains too, and beautiful forests, plus we wouldn’t have to drive too far or pay tolls or grumble about the restaurants, where a coffee costs as much as three lunches in Berlin. You win in every way if you go to Saxon Switzerland. Also, autumn there is so golden and gorgeous. But then along came what is now commonly referred to as “the current situation” and its ban on overnight stays. Saxon Switzerland would have to wait.
In the “current situation”, publishing a book with the title Family Adventures, a book about traveling with kids might seem a bit risky. After all, this book awakens yearnings that, given the “current situation”, might best be left dormant. But for me, these yearnings were already wide awake. I long to hit the road. And if we’re not allowed to travel right now, at least we can pick up a book and take a little fantasy trip to distract us from the “current situation”.
I love travel writing that resists the empty, toxic positivity trend. Writing that is honest about life and the realities of traveling with kids. There will be good times and, inevitably, times when you feel as if you’re being stretched beyond your mental and physical limits.
In one chapter, for example, Hannah Carpenter describes how she, her husband, and their four children traveled from Arkansas to Italy. When Hannah’s husband, a university professor, participated in a study-abroad program, the family of six seized the opportunity to live in Florence for three months and then travel through Europe. “Traveling with your Family is incredible, and, at times, it’s also incredibly awful. There is no way around it, you will hate each other periodically Just like at home. When you travel, you’re still you, and your spouse is still your spouse, your kids are your kids. There’s not a magic travel dust that turns you all into the best versions of yourselves as you cross the Atlantic Ocean. You will fight and cry and fantasize about getting off one stop ahead of them on your train rides.“
That’s the emotional side of things. Travelling has a whole other dimension though: discovery, experiencing new things together, and creating shared memories as a family. Hannah describes her life in Italy so vividly and so honestly that it feels as if you have joined her on una passaggiata, as the Italians call a meandering stroll.
Another story that really moved me comes from the photographer Marta Greber. Marta flew to New Zealand, rented a camper van, and set off on a three-week mother-daughter trip with her one-year-old daughter, Mia. Martha’s breath-taking pictures are filled with love for her daughter and nature, and her story is both honest and inspiring. She describes the spectacular flora and fauna, the sea lions and penguins. “Animals have an incredibly powerful effect on kids’ imaginations,” she writes. “For me too, there’s nothing better than experiencing an animal in its natural environment.”
But Martha and Mia’s trip wasn’t easy, at least not at first: “I tried to work, to cook all our meals myself, (…) to visit a new place every day and to play with Mia. It was just too much, and I couldn’t manage it all at first.” Martha writes convincingly and authentically about the challenges of traveling and about how she had to adjust her expectations and daily plans to the realities of traveling with her little daughter.
Speaking of challenges, Family Adventures is chock-full of tips on how to prepare for trips with children of all ages. The various stories are especially encouraging for anyone who hasn’t yet dared pack their suitcase, grab their kids and avoid the usual tourist traps.
You don’t necessarily need to fly to the other side of the world to have a special experience though. I am passionate about forests, and in the book, I describe foraging mushrooms during a little family adventure in the forests of Brandenburg. You can share your love of nature and respect for all living things just by stepping outside the door and heading for the great outdoors. And so we can’t wait until we’re allowed to venture out again: Saxon Switzerland, here we come.
Photo Credit Header Image: Quartier Collective, Family Adventures, gestalten 2020