Traveling Without Kids

Traveling without your children seems as though it should be 100% spectacular. A gift from the heavens. And it is. Before kids I never understood why mothers would hesitate to take advantage of a kid-free trip. Your children are still there when you get back- what a great break! Enjoy what I have- freedom!

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But once your children enter your life, that’s it. I’ve heard many people say that having children is like having your heart outside your body. It’s wonderful with all that extra room to expand, with so much more capacity to love and be loved but it is now exposed, vulnerable, hard to protect.

Last week I was in Vancouver to see one of my best friends get married. I declared Anita my platonic soulmate when we first met (perhaps to her dismay or discomfort!) 12 years ago and to see her marry her romantic soulmate is not an occasion I would miss. It was my 4th time away from Austin overnight and I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been away from Haines. While I’ve had to turn down both work trips and fun trips because of the babies (or the lack of money also due to the babies- pricey!) I don’t avoid traveling altogether. The time away resets and refreshes me. The infrequent work trips are valuable, and I try not to miss milestone moments with friends, just as I try not to miss them with my family.

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But the reality is it’s a struggle. It’s tears (mine) putting the babies down for bed and tears (mine again) before my first flight has even taken off, the anticipation of missing them already strong. It’s constantly wondering what they’re doing. When will I get an update, a photo, a Facetime? It’s wanting to hold every baby in the airport to smell their little heads and talk about my own cuties. It’s draining my phone battery looking at their photos.

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Travel does mean reading uninterrupted!

Travel is where Kat and Mama face-off. Part of me wants to go everywhere and do everything. Spend the money! Take the time off! Experience freedom and adventure! Tyler will hold down the fort at home- you deserve it. But the part of me that answers to Mama (or more often “What doin’ Mama?”) just wants to be at home reading Does a Kangaroo Have a Mother Too?” on repeat and feeling the tug on my pant leg as a baby pulls himself up to greet me.

And so it’s both. It is the occasional trip to a bachelorette or a wedding or a work conference that I try to squeeze every last drop out of before I go home and return to the world of both the routine and the sweet. Cuddles and chaos, diapers and bath time, playgrounds and teething, I miss you too.

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Becoming My Parents

Growing up I couldn’t have been more embarrassed by my parents. It sounds silly but I know we can all relate to this feeling. It wasn’t my dad’s spandex bike shorts that really got to me or my mom’s cheesiness. It was the small talk. My parents are small-talkers. It didn’t matter where we were they would strike up a conversation with the nearest stranger. In line for the grocery store my mom couldn’t resist commenting on a cute baby or an usual food in their cart. My dad would always ask the server where they were from or talk to store owners about their business. Every time I would duck my head down low trying to hide from the strangers they were talking as well as possible onlookers. I did not want to be associated with these crazy, over-friendly people.

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Don’t be fooled- they’re very friendly. 

As luck would have it now I’m a dang small-talker myself. I should have known it would happen eventually, but I spent so much time being afraid of strangers that I hadn’t even noticed the change. Before I studied abroad my junior year of college my mother secretly got her passport because she was convinced I wouldn’t make it a whole semester away. In her defense, it did seem pretty unlikely. Raising my hand in class made my heart race. Walking a different path around the school filled me with anxiety. I went out of my way to never have to initiate conversations with people I didn’t know. Honestly I preferred not to initiate conversations altogether.

My semester abroad ended up being a wonderful experience but I was surrounded by people in the same situation, looking for friends. It wasn’t until I backpacked alone for a year that I truly put my fear of strangers to the test. This was hard. This was lonely. Some days I had to admit I didn’t have the energy to introduce myself to someone new. I didn’t want to ask them the standard backpacking questions (where are you from, where are you going, how long are you here, are you alone, are you working here, blah), but most days I got over it. If you want conversation over dinner or someone to explore a beach with you have to introduce yourself when you travel alone.

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These are total strangers I traveled New Zealand with. 

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It’s important to have these people to travel with otherwise you have to ask random people to take ridiculous photos of you.

Still it’s not backpacking that I have to credit my small-talking abilities to. It’s the traveling that gave me the practice but my parents showed me how it’s done. As the saying goes, they’ve never met a stranger. At my last Toastmasters meeting I was asked to give a short, “impromptu” speech on whether or not I was the type to talk on an elevator ride. The answer was pretty obvious and the club did not hesitate to tell me so after I spoke. That’s a wonderful feeling to know that I’ve come far from my social anxiety but also that others see it too.

Small-talking is sometimes painful and I just can’t handle it. Sometimes I still struggle when I have do a networking event or introduce myself to others. But I can’t deny that being a small-talker has gotten me travel tips, free drinks, friends and even the occasional job. For all those opposed, I highly recommend you give it a try.

Alone in Australia

When I graduated college I didn’t have a clue what I was going to do. I had faint dreams of moving to New York City and becoming an editor but when it came down to it, my internship at a children’s publishing house hadn’t gone all that well. It had been pretty boring and although I couldn’t have articulated it at the time, I needed more human interaction than reading a slush pile offered. Since this was my only idea for the future, it didn’t bode well.

I lined up a summer camp position so that I was at least employed leaving college, if only for three months. I spent every day of those three months of the verge of panic with no sense of what I wanted from my life. After the summer I moved back home with a barely formed plan to save money and travel. After considerable research and six months of waitressing I made my way to Australia.

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My first day in Melbourne, Australia.

It was the first or second year the 12 month working holiday visa was available for Americans. For a small fee (it’s much more expensive now) I could go to Australia and work for any employer for up to six months and stay in the country for twelve consecutive months. I was twenty-two when I left the US alone and I knew only three people in my destination: two people in Melbourne and one in Perth.

Today is Australia Day. I left for Australia almost exactly seven years ago. I arrived in the midst of a heatwave that was so powerful it damaged the new Melbourne Star Observation Wheel (it’s like the London Eye) and led to the devastating bush fires known as Black Saturday that killed 173 people. I woke up every day before 6 am and went to bed shortly after the sun. It took a couple weeks before I could stay up late enough for beers.

My trip feels so far away now. It was an incredible journey full of discovery where I would spend long afternoons walking alone, observing each new place. I was free. There’s no other way to put it. For most of my year of backpacking I traveled the coastline working in Melbourne, Western Australia and Cairns. I took tours, traveled with friends, worked in pubs and restaurants, swam with sea turtles, watched emus and kangaroos walk down the street, and even stood up once while surfing. Every day was new. Every place a discovery. Every experience an adventure.

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There’s two things I took from my experience (okay, I took a lot more than that but I’m trying to condense it).

  1. Backpacking alone is incredibly freeing but it is not all sunshine and beaches. In fact, it can be pretty lonely. When moving around regularly, you are constantly trying to make new friends. You end up with many friends, none of whom you know very well. Many of whom are moving around too, leaving before or after you, going in the same or opposite direction. Some you stay in touch with. Others you never hear from again. This happens regardless of how fun your time together was. The other negative of backpacking is the money. Backpackers are poor. It can’t be helped. While I had always been careful and strategic with money I had never had to count my dollars and cents quite so carefully. In my notebook that I carried everywhere, I wrote down every purchase over $.50. I spent much of my time figuring out where I would find work next and how much I needed to save before I could leave again. With hindsight I could have made better choices and stressed less but at twenty-two what are you going to do?
  2. The other thing you should know is when that if you’re going to Australia, you really need to go to Western Australia. It’s entirely worth the journey. It was in WA that I drank the best wine, laid on the best beaches, saw the most interesting terrain and truly learned about Australian culture. The Great Barrier Reef was beautiful but it was the Ningaloo Reef that took my breath away. It was in Exmouth that I walked through a park only to pass an emu and later kangaroos. Most importantly, it was in Perth that I drank the best beer. Priorities, you know? Backpackers and tourists alike often skip Western Australia as it is too far away, too expensive to get to. You could spend a year in WA alone. There’s more to see than you will ever have time for.
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One of the magnificent views along the Great Ocean Road

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An evening view of Perth

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This the appropriate express to have when feeding a dolphin.

I’ve written about Australia Day before when I still missed being in the country almost every day. Now it’s only a few things I really want to experience again: a meat pie, a Little Creatures beer, a swim over the Ningaloo, and a drive along the Great Ocean Road trying to peer into the trees to spot a koala beer. Happy Australia Day everyone! Cheers to adventures and the great unknown!

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