Freelance Travel Writing and the Art of Being a Parent

I recently turned down a press trip to a place I’ve always wanted to go. The press trip was going to be an all-expenses paid trip to a destination near the Mediterranean Sea. I would go, see the sites, and write about the destination for a few publications. I didn’t have a firm assignment for any magazine, newspaper, or website, so this presser was going to be more a frivolous pursuit than a full-fledged moneymaker.

So, why did I turn this opportunity down? Ethics? No. I discussed that in an earlier post. I turned down a fabulous press trip opportunity because I couldn’t bear the thought of traveling without my children.

To those without kids (and some with), this probably sounds like a pathetic excuse. I think back to Eat, Pray, Love, in which Elizabeth Gilbert confessed

I have always felt, ever since I was sixteen years old and first went to Russia with my saved-up babysitting money, that to travel is worth any cost or sacrifice. I am loyal and constant in my love for travel, as I have not always been loyal and constant in my other loves. I feel about travel the way a happy new mother feels about her impossible, colicky, restless newborn baby – I just don’t care what it puts me through. Because I adore it. Because it’s mine. Because it looks exactly like me. It can barf all over me if it wants to – I just don’t care.

Gilbert compared her love of travel to the love of a parent for a child. And, while I once had the very same feelings about travel – that it was what made me me – it was before I had children. It is not the same. (I am saying this at the end of a week being snowed-in with two bored children under four. So it must be love.)

A search for meaning...or just belly lint
A search for meaning...or just belly lint

The thought of traveling thousands of miles away while my children stay behind is a frightening proposition for me, not in the least because I have only spent one night away from either of them only once in the three and a half years since becoming a mother. While I know that the kids would be fine in the care of their father and/or grandparents, I can’t help but envision the sense of abandonment they would feel while I was away. No doubt, if I took the trip, the thought of my children missing me would put a pit in my stomach from the moment I walked through the airport security gates and would haunt me throughout the entire journey.

And then I start thinking about “what if something happened to me?” I’d never forgive myself. I imagine my husband explaining to my children, “You will never see your mother again because she had to go on an unnecessary press trip.”

Now, you must be thinking, “You’re a wuss!” There are plenty of mothers who must travel for work and they – and their children – do just fine. In fact, my husband is set to go on a two-week business trip next month and I don’t think the idea of leaving his family has even crossed his mind. Maybe it’s like that for fathers and some mothers – “It’s work. It must be done. I have no choice.”

But I wasn’t planning to go on a business trip to Cleveland to talk about business forecasts. I was going to be traveling in a foreign country, over-indulging in the local food, seeing gorgeous, historic sites, practically going on vacation. I was going to be working, yes. But I was also going to be having fun.

This, of course, presents an existential crisis for me. Can I call myself a travel writer if I don’t want to travel?

It’s not that I don’t travel anymore. In fact, my husband’s job as a diplomat guarantees that I will be traveling overseas again – with kids – in the near future. In our last post, Turkey, we traveled all over the place with our sons in car trips to the Mediterranean and Black Seas, on overnight train rides to Istanbul, on day trips to villages near Istanbul. Traveling with kids was trying, but we we couldn’t think of leaving them at home with the nanny like so many others did. I also did a few trips alone with my oldest son (before the youngest was born) back to the States which was a serious hassle, what with airport security, overweight carry-on baggage, and all the fatigue that goes along with keeping a toddler engaged on a plane and in airports. When we returned to the States for good last summer, I vowed that I wouldn’t get on a plane again until I absolutely had to. Friends and family could come to us for a change.

Almost all of the travel writing I’ve ever read, save for maybe Paul Theroux or V.S. Naipaul, mythologizes the way of life in foreign countries. People in countries outside of our own have their priorities straight. They have honest, unhurried meals. They take walks after dinner with their loved ones. They live with less but enjoy life more. They take time for family. All of those traits that we as travel writers admire about residents in foreign lands are not at all beyond our grasp. In other words, we can talk the talk but we rarely walk the walk.

So, call me a heretic for breaking the freelance travel writing creed. Call me crazy for not accepting a free trip to Mediterranean bliss. Call me an embarrassment to feminists everywhere. Call me whatever you want because you won’t be calling me a bad (or absent) parent. There will be more chances to travel later. And I am sure that I will eventually travel abroad without my kids. But right now, I’m going to enjoy to enjoy this time. Besides it’s time to put my youngest down for a nap.

Update: My children are now older, my motherly hormones are in check, and I am ready to begin accepting press trip offers once again on a case by case basis. Contact me.

5 comments

  1. Zach Everson says:

    Great post! I just had a fantastic time in Palm Beach on a press trip, but felt guilty the entire time about leaving my 1-month-old daughter behind. In the midst of what was a fantastic spa treatment, all I kept thinking about was what she was doing at that moment.

  2. Mom says:

    And the travel adventure began when at 16 you walked onto that airplane to Germany as an exchange student — never looking back. Your sisters and I had to retreat to the bathroom until we could quit crying. So it isn't easy from either perspective.

  3. Steph Lee says:

    🙂 Don’t have kids yet but had the exact same thing happen when I got my dog! Absolutely hate leaving him for trips. It’s getting easier but still breaks my heart each time. @iamstephly

  4. Charu says:

    Melanie, this speaks to integrity and the clear vision of looking for the meaningful. I mean, the bottom line is that you’re going to feel a sense of “coulda shoulda” but you know your core values. Very Buddha of you (in the best sense).

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