It is a single-minded passion and purpose for travel that brings around 700 travel writers together at an elevation of 9000 feet in Keystone Colorado. But, even though we have gathered, road worn and weary, from every corner of the globe with this particular purpose, as soon as we are assembled, we begin to disperse into groups based on perceived similarity. It is phenomenon that happens in any group of people, but a conference like TBEX 2012, is a petri dish for this typical human behavior.
Whenever we are thrust into a new group situation, without prompting or conscious thought, we begin to sort people into appropriate boxes. Then, we shake those boxes to further catalog people into size, color, and usefulness. Sounds pretty barbaric when you break it down into such oversimplified terms, but step into any conference center, or high school reunion, or middle school orientation and tell me you don’t see it happening.
~The one and only picture I took at TBEX. Bad, bad blogger~
This travel conference was composed of possibly the coolest group of adventure seeking, risk taking, open minded, life livers ever assembled in one space, and still human nature overrode our overdeveloped sense to not judge a book by its cover. We just can’t help it, no matter how sophisticated we think we are. Humans are hardwired for compartmentalization. We analyze. We assume.
We do a lot of assuming based on outward appearance, but what’s worse, as we learn more about each other we use that information not to broaden our view, but to further narrow it. Think about the questions you ask when you meet someone new: Are you married? Do you have kids? What do you do? Where do you live? We filter those answers into a complex dichotomous key in our brain, and our past experiences and present biases help us spit out an algorithm of assumption.
Let me use myself as an example. Answering the simple questions that are flying around the conference room gives the basics of my biography. As soon as I open my mouth, everyone knows I am from the south. (I’ve tried hiding it, it doesn’t work.) Then they learn, I am a mom of four boys who I homeschool, which means I must be a stay at home mom (a title I wear with pride above all others.) I have been married for 15 years and I am 33 years old. (I’ll do the math for you and tell you I was 19 when we married.) I had my first baby when I was 22 years old and continued to have babies for the next decade.
Now, just for the sake of science, use those simple facts and see if you can conjure up an image of what kind of person I might be. What do I look like in the categorizing part of your brain? Be honest: you are probably seeing someone a little like Michelle Duggar, right?
While all those things are a part of me, they aren’t the whole story-not even close. If you dig a little deeper, that’s where the real story lies. But, that hardly ever happens in a casual conversation, because as soon as the first details are known, the person is pigeonholed and the box is closed.
Family travel is like that. There is an entire breadth and depth of awesomeness to family travel if you dig past the surface assumptions. But, people don’t want to look past the mere appearance. They hear “Baby on a plane” and they immediately have a visceral, scream and run the other way panic attack. Or they consider overseas travel with kids, but then quickly reconsider, citing children’s need for structure, familiarity, and three metric tons of gear to keep them occupied. All of a sudden, you find yourself pigeonholed with the assumptions that family travel is just too darn hard. Finding out few more details only serves to make it worse. Liquids aren’t allowed on planes? We have to pass through a nakey-scanner that can see the holes in our underwear? Forget it! I was right! This is too hard!!!
So, how do you get past the surface assumptions? Well, first you have to admit that some part of them is true. That’s right; stereotypes don’t create themselves. Some part of them is founded in reality. It is without a doubt stressful to take a baby on a plane. Taking kids overseas does require a flexibility you can’t find at home. Security is every bit the
personal assault pain it seems to be. But, is the whole story right there in the assumed value that appears on the surface? Hardly.
I could give you all kinds of good, noble, inspiring reasons to travel with your family, but I'll just keep it simple. Here’s my challenge: If you’ve never traveled with your kids, dare to try it. Ignore the daunting assumptions, rife with obstacles and what-ifs and just dive in. Maybe it will be a huge mistake and you'll have to scrap it all and come home. Maybe it will be a something you save for a different time in your life. At least try to get past the presuppositions just once-because if there is anything worse than the limitations we put on each other, it's the limitations and assumptions we accept about ourselves. If you’ve never even tried to get past the obstacles, you’ve judged the book by its cover, and in doing so, you may have missed the best story of your life.