A Mother's View: What I've learned from travelling with my kids
Are big trips worth it with your kids? Absolutely, says Michelle Jackson, in this Mother's Day reflection
"Have you forgotten how to drive, Mum?" Nicole piped up.
I had, in a way. We were driving from Santa Monica to the Hollywood Hills, and it had been a while since I'd driven an automatic car - so the first kilometre of our journey was taken on kangaroo juice. Fortunately, I remembered to use my right foot to break before reaching the five-lane freeway.
After that? I put the wrong Hollywood into the GPS. We ended up at Hollywood Dry Cleaners in east LA instead of Universal Studios.
Time passes too quickly. Today, my daughter is 15. My son, Mark, is 18. How did that happen? Mothers will always look back on these whirlwind years with mixed emotions. But as a travel writer, one of the decisions I am happiest with is to have travelled with my two kids. On long, winter nights in Dublin, those trips provide some of our fondest memories. GPS screw-ups in the US are just the start.
We've travelled as a trio on cultural trips, such as a cruise in the Baltics. Our stroll through the Amber Room at Russia's Catherine Palace was more memorable for the photobombing of other tourists and strange cheese sandwich in the canteen. Our visit to the Guggenheim in Bilbao was completely overshadowed by the giant puppy made entirely of flowers that sits outside the museum.
On one of our most recent trips, Mark and I visited an elephant sanctuary near Chiang Mai, Thailand. There we made homoeopathic medicine for the geriatric elephants and washed the babies in the nursery. I was learning as he was. The fun continued afterwards as we zip-lined through the jungle, over paddy fields and tree tops.
America has been good to us. A solo trip with Mark to Washington DC saw us enjoy superb views of the Washington Monument from our room at the W hotel, and a 'Bike and Roll Tour' through the Presidents' Memorials gave him a history lesson that helped him through his studies in secondary school.
Then there was eight-year-old Nicole's adventure on a Barbie cruise with Royal Caribbean. Would it turn her into a diva? In the end, she wallowed in the experience and made so many friends, I had difficulty getting her off the ship on port days.
The diva thing wasn't an issue until we landed in New York to celebrate her 10th birthday. That was a trip carved out of my own most girly desires - from the American Girl store to Mamma Mia! on Broadway and the Top of the Rock observatory atop of the Rockefeller Center.
Then there was the shopping.
"I could live here, Mum!" she said.
Travel has made them brave. Recently, we went on a group tour to China. To navigate the turnstiles of the Beijing underground at rush hour is a skill in itself. But to walk on the Great Wall of China is a bucket-list adventure. We walked a small part of the wall at Bandaling during autumn, as orange leaves blew in the dramatic light. Being there with my children truly enhanced the experience.
What makes travel different to other experiences we share with our kids? It's the opportunity to see the world with new eyes. While travelling, Mark, Nicole and I have learnt acceptance and appreciation of different cultures and customs. Travel has educated us in learning about new foods and extended their tolerance of new flavours. They've pushed me out of my comfort zone, too. I'm not sure I'd have zipped around a glacier on a snowmobile without them!
Most importantly, as a mother, travel has offered us the privilege to enjoy these experiences without the interruptions of daily life. And to enjoy them together.
You don't have to travel far to enjoy a memorable experience, of course. I had never been to Northern Ireland before taking my kids on a trip to Titanic Belfast. We had most fun in the restored tender, SS Nomadic. Once, this boat carried guests to the ill-fated ship; today, it's a permanent interactive museum in the Titanic Quarter, where the kids dressed up in period costumes. I have to mention the laughs we had when we saw a genuine Crapper & Co. toilet, too...
Ireland is full of natural beauty and when the weather is good, it's difficult to beat as a destination. During one of our recent glorious summers, we went to Dog's Bay Beach (below) in Connemara. Nicole assured me it was warmer than Portugal.
The knowledge my children have gained from travel is immense. They know what is essential to pack and what to leave at home; they can navigate any departures board and change terminal with aplomb. They can spot our luggage before it hits the carousel and waste no time finding bus timetables while navigating their way around a new city.
Travel has given them confidence and an interest in life that I hope will take them to wonderful places and experiences in the future.
Do I regret any of our trips?
Not for a single moment. But if I was able to change one thing, it would be to go to Lapland when the children were small. Yes, time passes quickly. Purchases get made for the house and the car, and some opportunities just pass you by. Then again, it's something that they can do with their own children when they grow up.
Enjoy your time together. Memories are made of experiences shared with those that we love.
Read more from Michelle at thenoveltraveller.com.
What to pack
Take spare clothes in cabin bags in case of luggage delays; download movies onto devices before take-off; a pack of cards is great fun (and an ice-breaker with new friends); and save space by buying cheap towels at your destination.
3 Top tips
1. Check in with a travel agent - they know the best family operators and can do bespoke trips. All-inclusive or half-board resorts can help control food costs, as can cruises - a good way to see several new places on a single trip.
2. City passes are good value - offering discounts and shorter queues. A hop-on-hop-off bus tour will help you get your bearings in a city. And don't forget to pre-book big attractions.
3. Make a diary, and write down funny things the kids say and special places you've been. Collecting photos into a book can make a great surprise gift after the trip.
Read more:20 best multi-generational holidays for parents, grandparents and kids