Friday, 20 October 2017

Travel bonds

By Emily Prucha | Prague Daily Monitor |
18 March 2011

It was our love of traveling and sense of adventure that, in large part, brought my husband and me together in the first place. Although I was the one who moved to Prague to try my hand teaching English and to experience Czech culture, Radek had already committed several years to studying English and had started studying Spanish when I met him. His Prague world included an international group of friends who spoke the languages he was attempting to learn and shared experiences from their cultures, including weekend salsa dancing and shots of tequila. If Radek hadn't actively cultivated a multi-cultural social circle, we'd have never met.

Once we were together, our future plans revolved around traveling and experiencing more of the world together. From the beginning, Radek had far-reaching aspirations; I was still more content to explore the newness of my Czech surroundings. Shortly after we met, he left for a three-week tour of Thailand. Looking at his pictures after he got back, I remember one photo in particular: him standing tall and tanned beside a Thai guide and holding a roasted insect to his lips. The pictures filled me with intrigue; Radek's far-flung sense of adventure both impressed and intimidated me. When Radek invited me to join him in Ecuador that Christmas for a trip to visit his Spanish teacher's homeland, I counter-offered him the option of coming with me to Virginia. Surprisingly, he agreed. We eventually did make that trip to Ecuador, but a few years later.

Luckily, Radek and I share a deep-rooted appreciation of history. While still in the Czech Republic, Radek was intent on showing me at least some of his country's wealth of castles. In our first spring of dating, I remember we visited nine Czech castles, complete with guided tours (in Czech of course) and we saw quite a bit of the countryside as we made our way from fortified castles to chateaus. For a rural American girl like me, castles always hold a bit of Disneyworld's Magic Kingdom glamour. Even the most mundane displays of ancient weaponry or hunting tools make an impression. The Czech countryside didn't look that different from the farmland that I'd grown up in, except that Czechs put their cows in barns at night, something I'd never seen back home.

When we later moved to America we lived an hour from New York City, which made a good comparison and contrast to our city experience in Prague. On the weekends Radek and I both soaked up the vibrant culture of the city, enjoyed its cheap eateries and wide cultural representation. Our plans to save money and travel through Asia were tempered by the birth of our daughter. Still, once Anna was eight-months, we spent three-months driving across the US, through Canada and down the Baja Peninsula into Mexico. Although our normal pace of travel slowed with Anna, we still maintained a fairly tight itinerary. Radek was the more ambitious, setting goals for the distance we'd travel in a day or the time we'd spend in a particular national park. We didn't explicitly adjust our plans because Anna was with us. But we always made sure she had baby food and toys, and a dousing of sunscreen before we ventured out. Anna learned to crawl in a campground when she lunged for the pinecones just out of reach from her blanket, and she swam naked and slept in a hammock beachside.

Certainly our travel adventures weren't all stress-free. Nearly every afternoon, I'd reach my limit entertaining Anna in the backseat and watching dusk fall I'd tend to chasten Radek to find a campground already. Once there, I'd fuss over whether we'd tired her out too much during the day and if we'd kept her strapped into her carrier or car seat too long. Weren't we selfish for dragging her along on our adventures? Was this what traveling with children was supposed to look like?

When a well-meaning Napa vineyard owner passed Anna a cork from a just-opened bottle of his chardonnay, she sucked it eagerly before I took it away afraid she'd bite off a bit of the cork. Radek just smiled and raised his glass, signaling me to "take it easy" and enjoy the adventure. For the most part, I think I did. Looking back at the pictures, I remember more of the carefree and sun-filled days than the hassle of traveling logistics. Our trip took us to some places that neither Radek nor I had been. It was fun to travel without feeling that one or the other of us was more responsible for the trip's success, which often tended to happen when we travel in our respective home countries. Having pictures of the trip to look back on makes the experience more vivid for Anna, who of course, can't remember it, and even Oliver is fascinated by all the different scenes with his infant sister in them.

Now, even with three children, our spirit of travel is ever-strong, although we're both also more acutely aware of the pluses and minuses of traveling adventures with kids. Like many "half-n-half" families, we're faced with the responsibility of weaving experiences from at least two cultures into our children's everyday lives. Finding the time, money and energy to explore new places outside our home countries is often a daunting challenge. Still we both want our children to grow up knowing something about the world outside the Czech and American cultures that they navigate so fluidly. Plus, since so much of our holiday time is spent with either one or the other of our families, we also feel that it's important to go somewhere as just a nuclear family.

Recently, we found a good deal on a long skiing weekend in the Austrian Alps. Although our kids like to ski, we'd inadvertently picked the same weekend that their preschool was having a carnival, so convincing them to be excited about the prospects of a long car ride, even to ski in some big mountains, was a tough sell. In the end, they packed into the car reluctantly. A couple hours into the trip, Anna complained of a headache and we realized she had a fever. I began to question our intentions for the trip and my spirits sank even lower. But never ones to turn around, we persevered.

In the morning, Anna's fever was gone. We drove up a steep road to the Alpine resort where we all (except the baby) skied one gorgeous, sunny day. The kids noticed the big mountains as we'd hoped, although their favorite part of the trip seemed to be the novelty of the Austrian pension we stayed at. They particularly loved unpacking and arranging their toys and playing on the fold-out sofa they shared. That night Samuel fell ill and the older kids began coughing, so we made plans to leave in the morning.

On the way home, as the children dozed in the car, Radek and I had a chance to check out the Austrian countryside. It was another mild day with hints of spring in the air. People were outside, walking across fields and biking and strolling on the paved paths. I wished we were all healthy and strolling in the sun. I briefly wondered if it would have been better to stay home, then I realized that my tendency to second-guess our travel decisions would always haunt me. I gazed at the three sleeping behind me, who didn't seem too worse for the experience, and resolved that with any luck our next family trip outside the Czech Republic might go more smoothly. While I can't force my love of travel on my children, I'd like to give them plenty of opportunities to discover it for themselves.

Emily Prucha is a Life Section columnist for the Monitor. She likes writing about bilingual and multicultural families.
You can reach her at emily@praguemonitor.com. You can read more of her stories here.