Even seasoned travelers make big, costly mistakes. Family travel can teach so many lessons as we model being in the larger world for our kids, but what happens we model bad behavior facing family travel fails? What happens when we freak out? What do we teach our kids when we are stranded on the way to Disney World?
My niche for Traveling Mom is Mindful Travel. People may wonder what that means. Does it mean that we frequent yoga retreats? No. Does it mean we meditate as a family? No. I don’t think being a mindful parent means that we spend our days as calm as the Dali Lama.
Last time I checked, the Dali Lama didn’t have kids.
Mindful parenting is certainly not something I am qualified to explain quickly and easily, but in the middle of our family’s chaotic moments, my husband and I strive to reach a present state free from the injury of our past and fear of the future. That means we try, but we don’t, of course, always get there.
Being a Mindful Parent While Traveling
I’ll tell you what mindful parenting means to me in travel. Before becoming a mom, I commuted between New York, Boston, and Washington on a weekly basis. I learned to roll with the punches with travel changes because I had recognized my emotional reaction was a choice. I could be angry, or I could choose not to react.
I’d seen just about every minor delay or reason for not getting to my destination except one I’d always hoped to avoid. And it happened flying with my two children.
Family travel, of course, is a completely different ball of wax from business travel. We model behavior for children in how we interact with the world, we strive to maintain our sanity, and we have to steer clear of little people’s bodily fluids when we have a limited wardrobe.
My children and I were on our way to Orlando to attend the Traveling Mom retreat at Disney World. We flew to Palm Beach, however, and reserved a rental car to drive to Orlando to save hundreds of dollars on this last minute trip.
My children and I woke up at 5 a.m., landed in Palm Beach, and approached the Alamo counter. I reached for my driver’s license with no luck.
I didn’t recall putting it back in my wallet after security in the Boston airport. I spread my belongings on the floor in a quiet area in baggage claim, and my children, aged 4 and 10, slowly removed every item from my bags and helped me.
It wasn’t anywhere. I knew in my gut I had lost it.
Stranded without Identification
I returned to the Alamo counter, I was told there was no way I could get my car without a physical license. No scanned image or faxed copy would work. My husband was scheduled to join us in Orlando the following night, and I wasn’t quite sure yet how we were going to make it there, two and a half hours north.
Inside I started to panic. On the outside I morphed into a talking steamroller.
I moved on to the adjacent Avis rental car and asked to speak with the manager. I believed that I couldn’t be the first person that this had ever happened to. He said someone once went to the Department of Motor Vehicles and had something printed up. “DMV” are not the three letters I ever associate with anything fun, but I figured it was my only shot.
We grabbed a taxi ride to the closest DMV near the Palm Beach airport. So far, this Disney vacation wasn’t exactly magical.
Because it was a government building, we placed all of our luggage and strollers on the belt of their x-ray machines while the security guards raised their eyebrows at our load.
We waited in a very long line at the DMV. The customer service agents looked at me and nodded back and forth while thinking of how to break bad news to me. I politely asked if there was a chance I could speak with a supervisor because I appreciated few had dealt with this very rare circumstance. The supervisor saw my children and baggage and offered me sincere sympathy, along with bus and train schedules.
The security guards at the door whom I’d spoken to earlier approached me with genuine concern and asked if my kids were hungry and if they could share their pizza with them. Clearly fathers themselves, they wanted to make sure that my kids were fed. It was an excellent opportunity to point out to my children how kind people can be to strangers who may need help.
Their authentic generosity snapped me out of the fatigue-induced tailspin to seek a solution, and I breathed.
Checking Our Privilege
This is where I must state the obvious. Anyone traveling for recreation enjoys an incredible luxury, as do those who have credit cards in their name. Don’t believe for a second that I think a story of a family stuck in Palm Beach en route to Disney World doesn’t reek of privilege. Any family that can afford to visit Disney World enjoys privilege. Any parent reading Traveling Mom to plan a vacation enjoys privilege.
I took my children to the employee’s picnic benches and slowed down. I watched my children play with their Star Wars magnet story kit and smiled at their loving friendship in that moment. I felt the warm sun on my body that I had yearned for and saw our choices: figure out a way to get to Orlando using buses, trains, and taxis, or get my husband to the Palm Beach airport using the free WiFi from the DMV.
I grabbed my laptop and arranged the latter, because both would be expensive, but one would be a lot more fun. I booked a last minute room at the beach on Hotwire. The only thing left to feel negative about was the unplanned expense of these 24 hours, so I was determined to make them count.
When Travel Brings Real Danger
But travel can throw us into truly scary situations. I knew many people visiting Paris during its recent attacks. Think of those travelers who were visiting New York on September 11th when airports closed for days.
My dear friend was with her children on the train headed to Paris during the the most recent attacks in Brussels. The train stopped many times and made announcements detailing the events of the attacks, which frightened her children. She remained perfectly calm for them and provided them assurance.
She left the train station with a strong resolve and children who were at ease, and she skillfully kept her own rattled emotions in check. But when they arrived at their hotel, her Platinum level upgrade fell though, and she was verbal about her irritation and berated the desk clerk in front of her kids. Clearly the stress of her journey needed an outlet, and she felt badly afterwards.
“I am a road warrior. I am mostly a very chill traveler, but sometimes I become unhinged. If I judged myself for not being mindful during those moments, I probably would not travel as much with my kids. Later I thought about both obstacles and was disgusted with myself for being mad about not getting an Eiffel Tower view when the world is such a crazy place. I should have been thrilled to be alive.”
She has raised two wonderful world travelers because of her best and worst moments on the road. “Every parent is going to have good and bad experiences.”
I am a flawed parent. Maybe you are, too? We all get anxious or distraught by life, and we are bound to face the classic family travel nightmares at some point: bed bugs, vomit, theft, loss, flat tires, ER visits, and more vomit. And, of course, we face fears of terrorism and mystery disease, too. Some fears are just too scary to acknowledge.
When I don’t feel proud of the behavior I exhibit for my children, I simply tell them what was going on with me and move on. I can’t change my mistakes but I can always model awareness of my own feelings for them, whether that wisdom arrives immediately after or hours later.
My husband arrived the following day, and we returned to Alamo and spoke with the manager who manually reinstated my canceled car reservation. Arriving in Orlando with some unforeseen expenses and some sand in our shoes had really felt like the beautiful gift that it was.