I love to travel with my kids. I am lucky to have the means to do so, but travel shouldn’t be a luxury. It is such a great way to understand things, to see how other people do things, to really viscerally feel what it is like to live in other people’s shoes. And, of course, adventurous travel helps us determine how to put stress into perspective, and find a way to deal with relatively difficult things and still relax.
I don’t know any Swiss people. A friend’s boyfriend I met long ago was Swiss, and I like Swiss cheese, but that’s all I knew before hopping a plane recently to exchange houses with a Swiss family in Sion.
We arrived at Geneva airport and made our way to pick up the car our host family had left for us. The trust that we strangers have is amazing, sharing houses and cars and even pets. Donald the Cat was to be ours to care for the week of our stay, while our dog Ginger was in their care.
The kids, awake all night watching movies on the flight, sleepily responded as I pointed out the beautiful chalets and the vistas of the Alps towering over the villages that dotted Lake Geneva along our path.
I am always a bit nervous driving stick shift, but my husband doesn’t know how, so I do it. Making our way to the house, up in the hills above Sion, was slightly nerve-wracking but exciting too. A modern architect-designed place, its doors opened onto a yard with a view of the town’s castle and abbey on neighboring hills. Breathtaking.
I’d been nervous leading up to the trip, knowing that touring cities without knowing the language or where you are, staying in someone else’s house and driving someone else’s car, taking care of someone else’s pet, has its challenges.
Certainly, the fridge our hosts left full of local meats and cheeses and jams was amazing, and the views from the house and the places we drove to and explored — the towns of Nendaz and Vevey and Leukerbad — were incredible. So many lessons come from what we see and do. But so much of any journey we take is also how we all deal with the stresses.
Switzerland provided lots of lessons. There was the how to breathe while driving down narrow mountain paths that are two-way but only allow passage of one car at a time alongside thousand-foot cliffs (use that mindfulness training, Steph); the what we do when someone cracks their head on a castle wall (G’s answer: Just hold a paper towel to soak up the blood from the gash and keep on sightseeing); how to handle the chicken in the house, then the hedgehogs (in both cases, just chase and shoo them back out to the yard); how to proceed when one of the kids gets sick and throws up at the thermal baths (let him lie down until he revives and then watch him speedily climb down a 3,000-plus- foot mountain); how to react when the gates come down in the parking lot for the night just after we pull in (just park and pray that it will be there in the morning when the garage opens, because there’s no one to ask and they probably wouldn’t speak English if there was.)
The challenge of relaxing and teaching the kids to relax amidst the many unforeseen adventures of travel is what always stands out in my mind as a big reason to sign on for these kinds of trips. They are a metaphor for the concurrent joys and challenges of everyday life, the ups and the downs that we are going to encounter wherever, whenever.
It is a lifelong lesson I feel blessed to try to learn alongside my kids, to enjoy and appreciate and weather difficulties with a c’est la vie.