Back in 2001 my wife bought me a new camera. It was just after we were married and shortly before we were about to depart on a RTW trip. It was a good camera — a far better camera than I’d had before. It wasn’t high end but it looked and functioned like a serious camera.
I was really stoked to take lots of pictures, find great shots, and come home with a library of great photos to show friends and family. To brag, to boast, and just generally leave people in a sense of awe for my photographic vision.
And I did all that. And that was fine. But what really surprised me was how much having the camera, and looking for shots, and peering around this corner, and that corner, and taking a 2nd look, and a 3rd look, and just always making a little more effort to discover things – how much more that allowed me to see. How much more it demanded I see.
Always hunting for a shot, stuff would pop out at me — street signs and stray dogs; men eating lunch and maids doing laundry; boats, bicycles, and bar signs. Stuff that I never would have taken note of — was suddenly right there in front of my eyes. Flashing. And pulsing. And insisting that I look, that I take note, and ultimately, that I remember.
And now — jumping ahead 9 years — it’s a similar feeling traveling with my kids. Perhaps daily life with children, regardless of where you are, brings out a new or different level of detail. But especially on the road. They make you look, really look.
On our first trip with both children we went to Bali, a popular island in Indonesia. I wanted a destination a little more off the beaten track. My wife wanted a place where we could still buy diapers and visit a functioning emergency room if we needed. So Bali was a bit of a compromise. I was excited for the trip, without a doubt, but there was still a little voice in the back of my head saying, “Bali? No serious traveler goes to BALI!”
But what really blew me away, was how being there with a three and a half year old, completely opened my eyes to things that would have sailed right by on my own. To him, there was so much that was different, so much that my jaded eyes scanned over, barely acknowledged, then dismissed.
The clothes. The cars. The gas stations. The way the women held their babies and the men held their cigarettes. He just picked up on everything. My mind wanted to recognize and catalog all that was similar. To take information and form a pattern. And his was alive to every little detail that didn’t agree with what he’d seen in his 42 months on earth.
And that’s why traveling with children is so special for the parents. They — the young, the naive, the unworldly — look at something that adults have encountered time and again, and they strip away everything we take for granted. They see what’s new, what’s unusual, what’s unique, what has some feature worthy of a story.
And I think that’s their contribution. We pay for the tickets, book the hotels, and carry the bags. And they stand on the side of the road and say, “Hey Papa! — They’re playing soccer with a coconut.”