Let’s say you love cherry pie but hate the pits and your mom says, “I baked delicious pie but forgot to remove the pits.” She then offers you a whole pie with pits or some small pieces from a previous pie without. This is the perfect analogy for our family’s travel philosophy.
Many people we know prefer to take one high-end trip a year with all the bells and whistles. Taking a family of five to an upscale Pesach program probably costs just about the same as our travel budget for the year. And we travel a lot.
By the time my eldest was two, he had been to 14 countries as well as Hawaii and Alaska. I am in Romania now visiting country # 69. A famous anecdote in our family is that when we first got married, it was my goal to see 40 countries before I had kids. Every time we attended a Bris, we were given the honor of being the K’vaterah, the people who bring in the baby. As a baal teshuva, someone new to Judaism, I had no idea this was a segula (supposed to be good luck for someone who wanted to have a baby). Gavin and I were always so touched that so many people considered us such good friends. We had no idea how many people were praying for us to have kids. And there I was, holding off because I was adamant I had to travel to 40 countries!
We travel adventure style. Lots of camping trips, cheap cabins and crazy flights. Gavin travels a great deal so he has lots of frequent flyer miles. If you use miles carefully, you can get a lot out of them. However, the flight that departs at 6 a.m. (that means a 3 a.m. wake up call) is usually cheaper than a 10 a.m. departure. Likewise, flights with connections instead of direct flights are always less expensive. We often have nightmare flights but they provide lots of opportunity see the world.
Did I mention that all the pensions we stay at usually have no elevators? That means Gavin shleps a lot of bags! While I am an adventure traveler, I have not figured out how to scale the bags back. The Manhattan Princess asserts herself.
We have so many crazy stories to share about traveling on a budget and traveling kosher. One cute one took place when I was with my father staying in a fancy old Colonial style hotel in Zimbabwe. It was his treat. He met me after I returned from a backpacking trip. I was so hungry and looking forward to the bag of kosher food he was bringing from South Africa. Unfortunately, he had forgotten the bag at home!!! I was so hungry and protein-deprived, so we bought a pot and went to the fancy dining room and asked for boiled eggs. They seated me at a table and a white-gloved waiter arrived with a tray containing a silver-covered dish and opened it to reveal one lonely egg. At that point, I dreamed for my pan in the backpackers’ kitchen so I could whip up a real meal.
It’s frustrating eating tuna and crackers for any extended period of time. You don’t get to experience the food of different cultures and, in many countries, my can of tuna costs more than a meal. But we make up for it in trying beers from all over the world.
I also know that my kids always remember they are Jewish. We are anonymous in a place we are visiting, we could be any of the millions of tourists, but when our stomach calls for a meal we are Orthodox Jews.
My kids cope well with early wake up calls and they appreciate the excitement of travel. Caily now asks each day, “Where we going today?” Temira has a list of 10 places she wants to go next, including Russia, China, Japan, India and Sweden. Meron has seen well over 20 countries. I love the way Temira, who is now seven, recently walked down Jaffa Street in Israel which has been redone for the light train. She looked at the cafes and remarked, “This feels so European.”
I always read to the kids from the Lonely Planet guide or from Google searches. I know they listen when I hear from the backseat, “Speak up, I cannot hear you!”
Life, like budget travel, is a big cherry pie with lots of pits and we hope the lessons in flexibility, tolerance and worldliness will stay with my kids for life.
Originally published: September 1, 2011