My husband Josh and I are big fans of the international wander. We’ve spent months in foreign countries with no set destination, no agenda, and no luggage but a daypack. We haven’t traveled like that in years, however, mostly because we got totally overwhelmed, sleep deprived and just generally knocked sideways by having kids (have you heard that controversial bedtime story read by Samuel L. Jackson? That was the story of our lives for SIX YEARS). Also, unless you are traveling with points and miles, family trips are prohibitively expensive. Plus, it’s not really feasible (or fair to anyone!) to walk for miles with a whiny toddler (or even a little kid) in tow.
Needless to say, our kids haven’t traveled much…yet. However, at 8 and 10, they are finally old enough to sleep through the night (only exaggerating a little bit here), they no longer need crayons and paper at restaurants, and they can walk for miles and miles. Add that to the fact that we are now armed with an arsenal of points and miles, and all signs point to yes: it’s time. Which is why we are going on a big trip to Europe and Asia this summer.
So, we’re trying to prep our kids for the experience. Aside from the obvious (looking at maps, watching videos, reading excerpts of guidebooks), we are also embracing the not-so-obvious. I will cover a few more of our unorthodox methods in later posts, but today I will focus on our latest adventure.
It was accidental. We had decided to sign our kids up for Global Entry (Josh and I already have it, thanks to our Amex Platinum cards), so we had taken BART to the San Francisco airport. By the time we were headed back, it was dinnertime, and it just felt like one of those spontaneous nights: we decided to live large and go out to dinner in San Francisco. This might have been fine, but in a moment of temporary insanity, we thought it would be fun to go to the Cheesecake Factory at the top of Macy’s in Union Square. This might have even worked out okay, except it was 7 pm on January 30th.
Bad timing and worse decision-making. This sunk in fully when we walked out of the elevator and people were stacked five deep at the counter, waiting to check in. But we blazed valiantly on. When the hostess informed us that it would be an hour and a half before we were seated, we took the challenge. “Great!” I told her, smiling. (Actually, Josh says I bared my teeth at her, but I think I was trying to smile.)
My son Bear had never been to the Cheesecake Factory before, and he was equal parts excited and overwhelmed by this whirlwind of events. My daughter Bird had been three times, as she announced at every opportunity, so she knew exactly what the best things on the menu were. By the time we squeezed our way out of the crowd, Josh and I were already regretting our decision. But then I smiled (bared my teeth?) at him and said, “Remember the bus in Morocco?”
Josh’s eyes lit up. All of a sudden this was an adventure in our eyes. “Kids!” I announced. “It’s time to find the best sofa in the store.” My kids stared at me. Had their mom finally lost her mind? I just sprinted to the escalator. “No time to lose!” I told them. “We’ve only got an hour and a half!”
It was so much fun. Since the store was almost empty, the furniture floor was almost deserted. We ran from sofa to sofa, plopping down like the Simpsons in their opening credits and giving our seats a few exploratory bounces before rating the comfort level. After testing out every single sofa (67 of them), we determined that this one was the absolute best, the ultimate in comfort:
But I digress. After a full hour and a half of speed sofa surfing, our buzzer finally went off and we charged back into the melee of the Cheesecake Factory. And then the real wait began. Our server was so slow that we began to wonder if we were on candid camera. He was so slow that we thought he must have abandoned his job. He was so slow that instead of being annoyed, we had to laugh about it. We placed dollar bets on when he would return to the general area of our table again (average time was 12.5 minutes, longest stretch was 25 minutes).
And we just went with it. We enjoyed our time together. And we talked about how this was great practice for traveling. Because you just never know when you’re going to experience hiccups, delays, crowds, or unfamiliar behavior. Sometimes you just need to go with the flow, be patient, and try to be as resourceful as you can with the resources that you have.
Just like the bus in Morocco. I can’t even remember everything we did, but I do remember that when the bus broke down and we were stranded for nine hours, it ended up being a highlight…or at least a kooky memory that we remember happily.
And for me, that is the essence of a good trip, and a skill that I want to teach my kids.
What have been your most resourceful travel moments?