A Family Afar: Traveling With Just One Kid
Our travel blogger dad discovers the differences during a recent trip across the pond
We’ve traveled quite a lot, our little family of four. At last count, our kids have visited 18 countries and some 74 cities across the globe, with more destinations on the way. For each of these trips, we’ve traveled as a family unit, a pack, a small herd of Bailey-Klughs navigating major airports, Ubers, hotels, museums, and parks in two ever-changing pairs. Until recently.
For a business-mixed-with-pleasure trip to Scotland and England, our family tried something new. Triton had work deadlines and Sophia couldn’t miss important classes in high school, so neither could break away. And just like that our travel foursome became a twosome. It was Ava and me—and I was a little worried.
Ever since we’d begun traveling, when the girls were very little, my and Triton’s routine had been to divide and conquer. Each parent was matched with one girl to attend to her needs and mind her belongings. But one-on-one across the pond to explore the UK? This was new territory.
Traveling for 10 days with a 13-year-old could have been challenging, but my experience with Ava came nothing near. She was absolutely lovely on this trip—predictably grouchy from lack of sleep on long flights, but wonderfully engaged when visiting cool new places. She was talkative, engaging, interested, and polite, even holding her own with a bevy of my business colleagues who were all at least 30 years her senior. She proved capable of speaking more than two sentences at a time without a single grunt thrown in—a major accomplishment for any teen, let alone one in unfamiliar surroundings.
We were both a little relieved and a lot delighted. We had—dare I say—fun together!
Part of our success was asking Ava what she wanted to see, then making sure we saw it. And I wound up enjoying her choices, too. By taking the train to medieval relics like Stirling Castle in the green Scottish countryside, we appeased Ava’s knights-and-maidens curiosity and my Game of Thrones fix at once. By visiting Warner Bros. Studio Tour London: The Making of Harry Potter, we fed her insane fixation on all things Hermione Granger while I geeked out on the actual soundstages from the movies. We both tried butter beer, laughing in our foam mustaches and agreeing on its too-sweet flavor. We marveled together at the British crown jewels displayed at the Tower of London, wondering how heavy that crown must feel on one’s royal head.
As it turned out, the one-on-one time was a fantastic way to deepen our relationship, allowing me to really know my daughter better. Focused on the shared experience of seeing something together for the first time, we both broke down the walls of parent/child, older/younger, mentor/student.
In the daily heat of managing four people’s needs, desires, activities, appetites, and drama, going deep on any one person’s individuality can be challenging. Being in a foreign land discovering new things together allows for a different kind of bond, built on more honest and complex conversations apart from our daily grinds. Taking time to contemplate gorgeous green vistas beyond a train window allows for uninterrupted conversation as well as quiet reflection together, both of which are equally important.
We exchanged more in those 10 days together than we’ve had the chance to at home. Ever. Now I can’t wait to have this same experience with Sophia, and allow Triton his turn with each of them. A family of four can be an amazingly tight unit, but even then, the individuals need time and space to know each other as, well, individuals.
Jon Bailey writes the travel blog 2dadswithbaggage.com.