The author's kids photographed on a hike near their home.
It’s a particularly cold day in my small city in southwestern Ontario. The snow is falling in thick flakes, and a 30-centimetre-deep blanket of snow is already covering the ground. I pull up my Instagram feed and see that a friend is escaping the snow by soaking up the sun in Florida, with her son digging his chubby fingers into the soft South Beach sand. I scroll a little further and see that another friend has posted a swoon-worthy shot of her three kids smiling in front of the Trevi Fountain in Rome. I feel a pang of jealousy and look around at the scattered Barbie dolls in my living room and the dried-up Cheerios on the kitchen table. It’s hardly an Instagram-worthy moment, much like most moments spent raising three busy and active kids. Then I ask myself: Do I really want to be trekking through Europe or driving to Florida with my three kids right now? The answer is an easy “No, thank you.”
Going on extravagant faraway vacations isn’t a reality for our family. For one, it’s expensive to fly a family of five to any location. Then there’s the logistics of travelling with three kids—my daughters are seven, five and two—and one of them has special needs. Even the thought of a budget-friendly trip in our car makes me shudder—the endless driving, tantrums and inevitable motion sickness. Though I don’t think any parent would argue that travelling with kids is easy, many at least find the experience enjoyable and consider it worthwhile. But that’s just not the case for our family—the effort and stress involved to travel are overwhelming at best.
I grew up in the ’90s, long before Instagram and the endless comparison trap of social media. My mom raised me as a single parent, and we couldn’t afford expensive trips. Growing up, I didn’t feel like I missed out on fun and adventure, although I did get jealous when my friends shared their March break adventures at school. When I entered early adulthood and had my own money, I opted out of travelling and decided to pay off school debt instead. I guess I’ve always had different priorities, and travelling just never entered the picture.
My first tropical vacation was my honeymoon to the Mayan Riviera in Mexico. My husband and I explored the surrounding beaches, ate lobster while a mariachi band serenaded us and gorged on an endless supply of fresh mangoes delivered to our room. For the first time, I understood the magic of travel. But then, a few months later, I was pregnant and the reality of flying overseas with a young kid set in. I haven’t been on a plane since that trip to Mexico, and the last time I crossed the border into the United States was 2013. Our family of five doesn’t even have passports.
One of the most irritating things about being a family that doesn't travel is the conversations I have with families who do travel. I feel the judgment and the pity. Are my kids really missing out because they’ve never gone swimming in the ocean? Am I missing out because I am in my 30s and have barely seen the world? I believe the answer to both of these questions is no. Travelling is a lifestyle choice and, though I would never tell others that they shouldn’t travel with their kids, I would appreciate it if others would respect our choice to not travel—at least not right now.
Travelling isn’t the only option available if you want to give your kids fun and adventurous experiences. We enjoy hiking as a family and visiting nearby museums, attractions, parks and festivals. Many of our friends and family members comment that we are always out doing something—a testament to the fact that our kids are getting plenty of exposure to new and exciting experiences. Though we may not get far, we manage to find fun right where we are. When we have a hankering for an overnight trip, we’ll find inexpensive deals to nearby attractions, like Niagara Falls. When we feel a bit more extravagant, we’ll head to a nearby kid-centric resort, like Great Wolf Lodge (my kids’ happy place). For these mini-trips, the drive is short, we can pack all of our homemade foods (and skip out on the expensive meal plan) and it’s a familiar place to our kids—routine and familiarity are especially important with young kids and kids with special needs.
Every summer, we drive three hours to Muskoka and spend a week in a rented trailer, where we explore nearby trails and beaches and see the sights. One year, when our then-two-month-old daughter spiked a fever and we had to rush her to a hospital, we were thankful to be close to home.
When I scroll through my newsfeed and see photos of sunny Cuba, fashionable Paris and adventure-filled Kenya, I wonder what it would be like to explore these places with my family. But then I think about what really matters: making memories, family bonding and exploring together. And for us, there’s plenty of that right at our doorstep.