Usually I travel solo, or with a very small group. In July I crossed another few bucket list locations off my list: Sapa, Vietnam and Halong Bay. And I did so by joining a group of friends on their family vacation to Northern Vietnam.
Now don’t let those two words, “family vacation,” conjure visions drinking wine while watching kiddos (though we did,) hours of playing in the pool (this happened too,) and hundreds of repetitions of “Let It Go.” (Alas, this also happened.) No, we were trekking through rice fields and mountains in Sapa, cruising Halong Bay, and completed a walking food tour in the center of Hanoi Old Quarter on a Saturday night. With 4 kids under 9 years old, including an 18 month old.
So let me say first that I know some amazing parents. And while I have always sworn that I will be a parent who just keeps traveling with the baby on my back like nothing else has changed…. I’m now less confident of that than I once was. It was good for me to see the reality of foreign travel with young children first hand I think. Impressively, these guys really pulled it off. But I’m less sure of my own potential abilities suddenly. I think we will cross that bridge when we come to it.
Solo travel offers time to think and deeply reflect on the culture, landscape, architecture, cuisine, etc of a place. It allows me to process what I’m experiencing as slowly as I want to, and skip as many things as I want. Traveling with a family is entirely different. There are fewer lazy mornings, dinner is much louder, and while wandering aimlessly through a city to photograph is off the menu (unless “Aunt Kate” goes rogue one morning,) traveling as a family brought us to other experiences. Ones I wouldn’t have seen on my own. Like watching small people interact well without sharing a language. And enjoying the faces the kids made when trying new foods. Or enjoying having a child take my hand in trust to cross a street, or cling to me while I had her on my hip.
I didn’t have any major cultural epiphanies on this trip. I didn’t lose myself into the exotic, or foreignness, or have any stunning minutes filled with sonder. (One of my new favorite names for an emotion.) There was a little too much distraction, a little too much noise, a little too much company.
And it was exactly what I needed.
Cheers to all my friends who continue to travel with their children, even if just to the beach (or to nearby campgrounds as my family once did.) And cheers to those families who go even farther abroad. This was a fantastic trip filled with stunning scenery. fantastic food, and wonderful company.
As always, more photos are available on my Instagram account.