I’m considered a “travel mom” on Instagram—here’s what traveling with my kid is really like

Motherhood—and mothers’ voices—should be celebrated every day. But that also means having conversations about the complexities of parenting. In our weekly series, “Millennial Moms,” writers discuss the simultaneously beautiful and daunting responsibilities of motherhood through the lens of their millennial experiences. Here, we’ll be discussing things like burnout from the several side hustles we work to provide for our kids, dating app struggles as young single moms, rude comments from other parents at daycare, and so much more. Stop by every week for a judgment-free space on the internet where women can share the less rosy aspects of motherhood.

Social media makes it hard to simultaneously live your life organically and give people snapshots of your life. Based on the aesthetics of your page, you can be automatically categorized as an “influencer” or “blogger.” Take me for instance: I write for a living, I travel extensively, I’m the mom of a toddler, and I share it all on social media. But, there are no gimmicks, sponsorships, or paid ads when it comes to my perceived lifestyle as a “travel mom.” I just do it on my own.

During my last international trip to London, I polled my Instagram followers with this question: Do I make motherhood and traveling look easy? I set up the question because, naively, I thought that people would say “no.” To my dismay, over 80% of my followers answered, “yes,” with a few sending DMs that expounded on why they felt that way about my life. I was so taken aback and thought about the two-hour delayed flight that my son and I had just experienced. He was getting extremely restless, his stroller’s front wheel had broken right before we left for Europe, and I was carrying him and three bags throughout the airport, on my own. It was anything, but easy. But because I hadn’t documented or filmed the whole debacle, I guess these less glamorous parts of travel didn’t exist.

The reality for me as a “travel mom” is that I’ve slept in airport bathrooms and cried in many airport terminals. My bank card has suddenly stopped working in another country. Once, my son and I had a flight to catch in New York, but we had to drive from Washington D.C. for a flight back to China (where we live). When I got to the check-in counter (many hours early), his name was not included on the flight. They refused to add my son—who was still a lap infant—on to my ticket. After an hour of arguing, I had to cancel, rebook, drive back to D.C., and stay for another week.

It’s these types of experiences that made me decide it’s time to really explain how I’m able to travel as a mom.

My husband and I don’t have a savings account. Most people who ask me about affording travel are caught off guard when I reveal this fact. We’ll invest, rather than have money sit stationary in an account. The overall goal is for our money to make money, and while it does, we allocate funds toward everyday necessities, bills, and personal expenses. Plus, my husband and I both work—all things that grant us a lot more financial freedom when it comes to deciding if we can take another trip or not. Due to his schedule, I typically end up traveling with our son by myself.

I always have to remind people that, just like any hobby or goal, you have to make travel a priority if you want to do more of it. You have to work towards it, and it’s not always going to be easy. My child has been the runaway kid who takes off up and down the plane aisle. I’ve run completely out of diapers while traveling and had to approach another mom to ask if she had extras. I’ve had my checked bags end up on a later flight instead of on the plane that took us to a new destination. ,

And with all of this stress and budgeting, I still want to show my son the world. I want to take him to as many places as I can, so I put world exploration high on my list of priorities. Having a toddler, most people would put traveling on a back burner until their child is older. People often use the argument that your child won’t remember their travels before a certain age, but you will—and that’s the point.

Also, the cost of flights are much cheaper for smaller children and, simply, I don’t want to wait around for years to jet set. Just as much as I want my son to see the world, I want that for myself.

“People often use the argument that your child won’t remember their travels before a certain age, but you will—and that’s the point.”

Whenever I travel with my son, I make sure to pack as many things as I can that keep him busy—but I’m not always successful in that arena. I pack toys, books, snacks, and before I lost my iPad on a train ride to Beijing, I’d use that for entertainment, too. I book flights that are much closer to his usual nap or bedtime, and I always try to plan a clear route from the airport to our accommodations in advance so that we can immediately be on our way after picking up checked bags.

As a parent, I often consider trips to be all about relaxation. Even if my itinerary for things to do are centered around my son, I’m still getting a break. The ultimate point of my life as a “travel mom” continuing to do what I loved before my son arrived—and bringing him along for the journey.

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