So, we went to India. We took our kids to India, and so far I haven’t been able to decide if my official position on this is more, “Oh, world travel, pssssh! No big deal; I’ll hop on another plane tomorrow, y’all!” or, “I should consider a psych evaluation, because I just dreamed that I flew halfway around the world with three kids under the age of 10, and when I woke up two weeks had passed.” Wait, I do know: it’s THE SECOND ONE, OMG.
The day before we left, Robin and I were eating our lunch together at work (Right. Dammit. It’s been so long since I posted anything to this blog. Um, we work together now.), and he started listing all the things he was worried about. “What if our flight to Amsterdam is delayed and we miss the connection to Delhi? What if we get to Delhi and the tour guide isn’t there to meet us? What if the whole tour arrangement is a scam and we have nowhere to stay in Delhi at all?”
“No, no, no,” I said. “Don’t start telling me all the things YOU are worried about! I have my own list!”
“Go ahead,” he replied, “maybe we’ll both feel better.”
“What if Riya and Ben get so excited that they forget they have to stay close to us and get lost in an airport or train station? What if Karina is so overwhelmed that she will never ever let go of my hand and I can’t hold her and my suitcase and keep up with you and you don’t see us lagging behind and I can’t find you again? What if they don’t like any of the food and they are really rude about it and we offend your family?”
When we got to “What if the US government shuts down because of the debt ceiling deadline and we can’t re-enter the country?” and “What if nobody likes the gifts we bring back?” we realized we had probably covered the basics, and we called it quits.
Through a combination of prayer*, obsessive planning, more prayer, more planning, and a lot of amazing people who helped us out, none of our fears materialized. I therefore feel qualified to offer the following advice** to anyone else travelling internationally with kids, because I am obviously now an expert.
- Know yourself, your partner, and your kids. Travel is a weird combination of planning ahead (getting the passports/visas/plane tickets) and going with the flow (your driver decides he’s a better tour guide than the tour guide and makes an unexpected stop along the way), and it’s good to think in advance about how you will all deal with that. I don’t necessarily recommend our worry game because a) it’s crazy, b) even we couldn’t cover everything that happened, and c) even if we could, what fun would a trip be if nothing unexpected happened? I do recommend some kind of exercise where you visualize possible scenarios, however.
- When in doubt, pack it. Probably, wherever you are going, you will be able to find at least a facsimile of whatever you are missing, but it is not easy to run to the store if you don’t know where the store is, you don’t speak the language, and your kids are exhausted. Research where you are going and what you’re likely to need, of course, so that you don’t end up with a suitcase full of sunscreen during the rainy season, but just – don’t be that person who thinks they can bypass a line or two by squeezing everything into their carry-on. Unless you are on The Amazing Race, you shouldn’t be in that much of a hurry.
- Watch The Amazing Race. Seriously. Not only is it an awesome show, but the teams’ experiences can be a wonderful crash course in what to do and what not to do while traveling abroad. (Do: learn what you can of the language before you go. Even saying “thank you” in a cab driver’s native tongue can go a long way toward getting better service. Don’t: Shout in English when things don’t go your way. Loud English≠German, or Hindi, or Swahili.) Also, it’s usually pretty kid-friendly, and it might give you a chance to talk to your kids about what to expect.
- Talk to your kids about what to expect. You know your kids better than anybody else, so if too much talk is just going to give them more to worry about, then so be it. But in my family, at least, the more we talked about the trip, the better they felt. In India, for example, one thing I wanted them to be prepared for was the beggars. In Minneapolis, we run across the occasional pan-handler, but not generally a group of children who will follow an obviously (relatively) wealthy family across the whole train station. So, we talked to our kids about what our response should be. We talked about the sad reality that we couldn’t help all of those children, and that many of them likely wouldn’t be allowed to keep any money we gave them, since frequently they have to turn it over to a kind of “boss.” We talked about our family’s contributions to organizations like Feed My Starving Children and Kiva, and how we hope giving money there will help keep those kids more than 10 Rupees from a random stranger. If you haven’t been to your destination before, either, research with your kids so that you all have some idea what you are getting into.
- Take some smaller trips first. Go to Canada, or just to Kansas, or even just downtown to try a new restaurant. Let your kids see what it’s like to handle different money, or to fly on a plane, or ride a train, or eat different food – anything that they can try on a smaller scale first can only help later.
- Try to relax, slow down, and see things through their eyes. This was the hardest thing for me, and for Robin. But we kept reminding ourselves that no matter how worried we were about making it to the next stop on time, or keeping everyone together, the real point was that WE WERE IN INDIA. It could very well be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Don’t miss a moment.
*I’m not sure quite how to explain this, but this trip changed my view of prayer in a major way. It might be a blog post all on its own, if I can figure out how to put it into words, because it was so profound to me the way that God took care of us throughout the entire experience.
**Also, this trip was so huge that I don’t even really know where to start writing about it, so this gives me a chance to ease into it a little.