I’ve always been a passionate traveller; almost desperate to take off and look for the greener pastures. Looking back, I suppose I was looking to experience something that was going to change my life and give it a greater purpose. A purpose I felt in my bones had to exist, and I was convinced it was just around the corner, waiting for me to find it.
I enjoy travelling, but now realise it had been a form of escapism too. Friends could start a sentence with “Hey, do you want to go to…” and I’d have said ‘yes’ even before knowing the destination. It didn’t matter at the time, every new place was potentially a new beginning, simply because I felt that my life was lacking a purpose greater than a career, the next party and pops of bubbly.
The travels were always similar – suitcases packed to the brim with makeup, hair paraphernalia and matching shoes for every outfit. Each ‘holiday’ a flurry of sightseeing, checking out the ‘in’ restaurants and bars, attending parties by world-famous DJs, and starting to plan the next escapade before the one I was on had even ended.
It sounds a tad sad from this perspective, but back then it was fun. Loads of fun even if a tad unfulfilling. Because you don’t know what you don’t know, right? You don’t know what’s missing.
My son, now a three-year-old toddler, has changed all that. He came unannounced and unceremoniously plonked himself in the centre of my life, expecting without any hesitation that I bend my ways to his. And you know what? It was for the best. He might not be my only purpose in this life, but he certainly is a major one. As I parent him, I parent myself. After all, we teach best by example.
I might be more tired and sleepy these days, but I am immensely more fulfilled. I’ve learned so much about life from him and I still do. Travel, my most favourite way to spend money, has undergone a major shift too. I don’t travel anymore to escape anything and now love my life and our home. There is warmth in it now. We still travel a lot, and my kid has flown on an ‘airpane’ (as he calls it) six times in his three years of life but a lot has changed too as I learn from him.
1. I’ve become more selective as to where we go, carefully choosing destinations that enrich our lives. We go to visit family in Bosnia, where my son runs barefoot, breathes fresh air and plucks tomatoes from the vines as we bond with the family. Or, we go camping where we experience being closer to nature and not entitled. He taught me that when you are not rushing to leave where you currently are, you tend to pick the next destination much better.
2. With toddlers, a hectic schedule is a recipe for disaster. By slowing down to accommodate him, I’ve discovered I enjoy that reprieve too. I get to really take in the surroundings, have a conversation with the locals and discover new things. It made me realise that people are genuinely friendly and want others to show interest in them. Before, I had always thought that locals, with their lives in full swing and a thousand things to do, thought us idle tourists to be a nuisance to be dealt with quickly. This is likely a reflection of my own former beliefs, facilitated by my old life of being constantly on-the-go, but all that’s changed.
3. I no longer plan holidays down to the second. Only a toddler can show you that fun is in the journey and not the destination. You can plan a wonderful day in the water park, but if your mind-set is that the fun is going to start when you get there, oh boy, are you in for a lot of frustration. Planning a fun day with a toddler is a parallel to life – that it hardly ever goes according to plan. He stops a million times on the way to the park to open and close a gate that draws his attention. To pet someone’s dog. To throw rocks into the water or trace circles on the ground. You might never even make it to the water park, so I learned to relax and just enjoy these little unexpected moments.
4. Kids truly don’t care for luxury. They care about spending quality time with their parents. Especially ones who are present, involved and in a good mood. I see my child happier when splashing around in a bucket of water on his grandma’s balcony than on the private beach of a six-star hotel. Because unlike in the hotel, at grandma’s house I’m disconnected from the internet and therefore pretty much all external life. It’s just us, and it’s eye-opening on so many levels.
5. I pack a lot lighter nowadays too, so we can take a bare minimum with us and return with a lot more fun stuff from our travels. With him in tow, I don’t get to go to crazy fancy restaurants (yet!), parties and bars, so there’s no need for the extras that usually go with it. And I welcome the break from a hectic social life. I get to be just me, and have no qualms being barefaced or flat-heeled.
I write this as we plan our next trip – this time to Sabah, because he is crazy about choo-choo trains and there is a ride there. But don’t tell him about it yet or I’ll need to spend the next two months being asked every five minutes, “We pack now mama?!”