I (in that soon-to-be-parent way) swore that we weren’t going to be “those” parents. You know, the parents that hole themselves up in their house with their kids, refusing even dinner party invitations.
In that soon-to-be-parent way, I had my head a little up my keister.
I get it now. I respect a parent’s preference to not travel much. Why reach into chaos like a bowl of slimy eyeballs in a haunted house on Halloween?
Yet, here are a couple of my reasons for enthusiastically grabbing those mucousy fistfuls of peeled grapes.
Traveling inspires you to shake up grooved mindsets
In his essay “Why We Travel,” Pico Iyers notes, “…for me the first great joy of traveling is simply the luxury of leaving all my beliefs and certainties at home, and seeing everything I thought I knew in a different light, and from a crooked angle…the sovereign freedom of traveling comes from the fact that it whirls you around and turns you upside down, and stands everything you took for granted on its head.” This is still true while travelling with a toddler. Travelling is a process of leaving your center while simultaneously coming back to center. I’m stoked Ruby gets to settle into her traveling shoes at a young age because, most of the time, travelling makes people better people.
You realize how little you need besides each other
We pedaled into rural Idaho with only the essentials, except three books and Ruby’s favorite stuffed animals, Puppy and Stradivarius Eggplant. Sticks, rocks, and Tupperware made for excellent fill-in toys. We relaxed into the moment of a pine cone hunt. We relished seeing Ruby run into a lake for the first time. With teamwork, we created a strategy around making a meal out of a box of mac and cheese and part of a turkey sandwich. And we laughed at all the ridiculous places our daughter took naps, from hotel bathrooms to the shade of Walmart landscaping. Without all of our stuff and routines and conveniences, we were left with each other and the Idaho landscape as we bonded around our daily plan. I say “plan” but really it was just a “general concept” buffeted by toddler whims, twisted by the weather, and guided by hunger and a need to reach shelter at the end of the day.
You have the opportunity to reconnect to your best and truest self
Day-to-day life tends to pinball me around, frantically dinging and hurling me towards the next thing. Rolling down the road on a bike tour, I had the space to reconnect to my travelling self, my best self, the self that pops to the surface when the trappings of daily routine are taken away. Different parts of Ruby also popped up when she was away from the daily grind: she dug hanging out just in her diaper; she liked to spend a protracted amount of time staring off patios at a lake; she could still fall asleep in my arms. What a cool thing to experience together.
As Joe and I pedaled down the flat Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes and Ruby snoozed, we passed moose and great herons and got to chat about silly dreams retrieved from dusty boxes in the back of our heads. It was fun to watch Joe’s calf muscles all the time. Every day felt healthy and strong as we luxuriated in the endorphin buzz of exercise. Not to say the open road doesn’t throw elbows, especially with a toddler. (Hello, surprise 50-mile day, instead of 35, with a restless toddler who you entertain in the last 10 miles by riding next to the chariot making fart noises so she will laugh-cry instead of just cry; note that making fart noises while climbing is hard…well, at least if you want to make the good wet, upset stomach-sounding ones.)
Kids will surprise you with their travel skills
Bike travel with a toddler is work: lots of planning, balancing on the precarious backbone of naps, and dashing for food. The route planning has to be immaculate; the “we’ll just see what happens” approach doesn’t pan out anymore in the cost/benefit analysis. But, it was quite surprising and impressive how Ruby took to traveling. She would fall asleep in the chariot along a wooded river and loved waking up on a sandy beach next to a lake. It didn’t seem to bother her that she slept in random and assorted nooks and crannies at night. She loved giving strangers her bent-wrist, four-finger wave. She made many friends. My husband Joe, the professional emergency manager, started the trip with an ever-present energetic furrowed brow, expecting to have to make a running catch of a flaming poo from a bike travel shit storm. But, he trusted me, even when I led us down a road that turned to single track, and eventually he saw that Ruby rolled with the punches as adeptly as any weathered traveler, even better than he himself.
There is no other family vacation I would choose over bike travel with a toddler (being without other adult family members or friends)
Especially when you are embarking on a trip with just the immediate family (read: no grandparents or other couple with whom to tag out), it seems like going out of town is just going somewhere else to do the usual routine of playing with toys, reading books, changing diapers, cleaning up spilled water, etc., EXCEPT you don’t have all of the things in your house that make that meltdown a little shorter, that blowout less gory, that mealtime less of a picnic site flayed by the eye of a tornado. Oh, but you get to go to a swimming pool for 36 minutes, or whatever the highlight activity is that you’re so excited for your itty bitty to experience while traveling. On a bike tour, we got to spend her chariot napping hours cycling together. Yes, we spent hours each day cycling together! Awesome. Plus, when Ruby woke and was restless in the chariot, we could just pull over, and she could play in whatever amazing spot we happened to be passing through (thanks to beauty of the Idaho Panhandle trail system). The point: we were refreshed at the end of our bike tour (from exercise, forest time, lake swimming, and even sleep), not exhausted as has been the case in other kinds of vacations.
I wanted to share these insights from our bike travel experience for those contemplating bike travel with a toddler or, more generally, those contemplating how having kids will affect a travel addiction. Traveling by bike with a toddler is a very different experience that takes lots of work. But it’s an experience that produces moments that will make your heart explode whenever you think back on them. It’s an experience that is worth it. At least, that’s how it was for me. ox
I’m going to do a post soon on tips for bike travel with a little person and cycling the Idaho Panhandle, so stick around. You can subscribe to my blog at the bottom of my page here.
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