My 10-year-old son loves to travel. I’m not sure how my spouse and I got so lucky. Perhaps it was that we started early, with a trip from the East to the West Coast to visit in-laws when he was only five weeks old. Perhaps it’s our own love of travel and the excitement we try to convey—or his innate sense of curiosity and adventure. Maybe it’s just that he can jump from one bed to the other in our hotel rooms, or stay up extra late when we go camping.
Somehow, though, I feel that traveling binds me with other parents, as I see them also trying to corral kids and suitcases and teddy bears through the airport, or dragging their child away from one last round on a theme park attraction, or watching their child carefully wash up in a public restroom only to have her run her hands along the wall on the way out. And I just know we’re all receiving payback for the thousand times we asked our own parents “Are we there yet?”
At the same time, few things make me as aware of being an LGBT parent as traveling. My spouse and I carefully put copies of our marriage certificate, parentage order, and son’s birth certificate into our luggage. I worry about what would happen, even with the paperwork to back us, if one of us got into an accident in a state that didn’t recognize our marriage. Laws aside, I worry about going to places where the level of acceptance of LGBT people is low.
Still, we won’t let fear keep us home. Documents tucked away, lawyer’s phone number at hand, we set off, whether for a weekend camping trip, a cross-country jaunt to visit relatives, or a vacation to tourist destinations like Disney World or the many museums of our country’s biggest cities.
Most families of whatever structure soon develop their own repertoires of travel tricks. Here are a few that have worked for us.
Start early. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend traveling with a newborn, as we did (impelled by family necessity), but I do believe that the earlier kids learn to adapt to different environments, sleeping arrangements, and ways of doing things, the better.
Make lists. Especially when I was a new parent, lists kept me from last-minute panics and forgotten essentials. (On the first road trip we made to my parents after our son was born—a few hours drive for a weekend—I felt like we’d become a traveling circus.) I am not by nature a list maker, but do when I travel. And there’s nothing like having a potty-training toddler to make one want to know where rest stops are at all times.
Involve. The more I involve our son in the planning and preparation, the more he seems to feel it is his trip, too, rather than something my spouse and I foisted upon him. Even as a preschooler, he was responsible for packing a few of his things into his suitcase or travel bag. Now that he’s older, he helps plan our itinerary (with parental override so we don’t spend our whole time in a Lego store) or goes online to investigate food options in the area. I also work with him to dig up details about our destination, including history, landmarks, or the route we’ll take. Familiarity can breed comfort—and I’m often surprised with what catches his eye.
Adapt. Over the years, I’ve learned I have to relax rules about bedtime, acceptable food choices, and entertainment options for the sake of family sanity while on the road. If he doesn’t get his usual three glasses of milk a day for a few days, he’ll still grow up just fine.
Surprise. One thing that worked well when he was younger was to buy a new book, small toy, or game that I didn’t reveal until we were on the road (or in the plane) and our son was reaching the fidgety and bored stage. These days, I do the same, although it sometimes involves a new app for him on my iPad.
Manage expectations. Yes, we may not get to see all of the sights we’d planned. We may not do the full hike my spouse and I did years ago and wanted to share now with our son. But the old truism about journeys and destinations still holds.
Have travel tips of your own that you’d like to share? Have questions about traveling as an LGBT-headed family that you’d like answered? Please join me, then, for a travel-focused Twitter party for LGBT parents on November 6 at 9p.m. ET.
I’m partnering for the event with Residence Inn by Marriott, the Family Equality Council, and TravelingMom, a great site for all families who travel. We’ll discuss topics such as legal and practical aspects of traveling interstate and internationally, general tips for hitting the road with kids in tow, and extended stays out-of-state or internationally during an adoption process. Family Equality Director of Public Policy Emily Hecht-McGowan will offer legal insight for LGBT parents, and Midwest Regional Manager Kim Simes will share her travel tips. We want to hear your stories, ideas, and questions, too, so please join us by following the hashtags #RIfamily and #TMOM on November 6 (or just follow me, @mombian, at any time, and I’ll remind you when the event is coming up).
Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian (mombian.com), an award-winning blog and resource directory for LGBT parents.