The true story of two crazy parents traveling with four small children… on a budget. Passports and Pacifiers follows a young, naïve baby-wearing family on eight memorable, affordable, and nap-centered trips. It all started with two bumbling parents taking their Never-Sleep infant to child-loving Italy. Six years later, the tally of kids reached four (all under the age of eight) for an adventure across Scandinavia. Readers are regaled with misadventures, like losing the only pacifier of the trip, missing ferries, and traveling with a baby who refuses to nap. The Jains find deals—traveling just a tad off the prime season, finding buy one get two flights, and using credit card miles and free grandparent babysitters—and save where they can. They stay cheap, shack up with in-laws, and visit generous family and friends. This book serves as an inspiration and guidebook to take your kids out of your comfort zone and explore.
Targeted Age Group:: Adult
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I wanted to inspire others to travel with their kids.
My three-year-old middle daughter lay prone on the floor of João Paulo II Airport, her feet thrashing the air in the throes of an epic meltdown. I braced myself to avoid the impact from her Minnie Mouse tennis shoes, violently lighting up with each kick. She still wore her sheer-sleeved Cinderella pajamas and hand-me-down-thin pink cotton socks she had carefully selected for our red-eye flight from Washington, D.C. to the Azores off the coast of Portugal. Her matted hair mixed with the grime of the floor where hundreds, if not thousands, of people walked each day in filthy shoes from around the globe.
I had no sustenance to appease her, no pacifier to calm her. At that moment, her salve lay buried deep in a bag on the other side of the x-ray machine amid the diapers, toys, and snacks. I couldn’t even offer her my arms since they held her angelically sleeping baby brother. She had made it so many hours but had been broken by my placing her suitcase on the scanner. Apparently, she wanted to do it herself. Her face shone red with frustration as she screamed and cried, a huge production lacking any true tears. Walking through that final metal detector on her own two feet to that short flight was her final step.
This wasn’t our first challenge of the trip, and I was pretty certain it wouldn’t be our last. Our oldest had thrown up on the airplane. After discovering my fourth pregnancy just three days earlier on my son’s first birthday, those tingles of excitement I felt in my belly were beginning to morph into nausea. What would be next? I wondered. What had we forgotten?
“Can you imagine if we had another?” my husband joked to my unknowing, but horrified, parents who had joined us.
We were traveling the world, one tantrum at a time.
Am I an Idiot? Or Just a Weirdo?
Growing up middle class in middle America, travel to me meant days of driving to get anywhere. Crossing a river was exciting. Seeing a license plate from Alaska, unreal.
As my family’s youngest, I fell under the shadows of the others—my super-athletic, likable sister; my bulldozer of a brainy brother; even my dad, a former semi-professional athlete who returned to his small town. I could relate to my middle daughter crying out for attention with a tantrum. As a child, it had taken everything I had to keep up.
My sister, Kylie, was my hero, a She-Ra in my eyes. I wrote odes to her basketball skills and used the tracks she etched in the snow as my guidepost. To avoid direct comparisons, I focused on a different sport, volleyball. I liked a game where I could rise to the challenge with a well-timed ace but also float under the radar of complex team dynamics. At least after some practice. As the youngest child, I wanted attention—but not all eyes on me.
I still vividly remember when my high school coach, at one point the country’s winningest, thrust me into the spotlight. He was an intimidating bear of a man and probably reveled in allowing that University of Michigan-bound senior to humiliate me, a lowly freshman, by serving me off the court. She directed ball after unreturnable ball at me, at least a half-dozen times in a game to fifteen. I single-handedly lost that game, aided by my coach’s refusal to sub me out. Since I was ghostly quiet, he called me Casper, but he knew the threat of negative feedback on my performance would drive me to work harder. I quickly improved since I hated (and still do hate) failing or letting others down.
Then, three years later as a senior, I demonstrated that fear in front of an entire auditorium of athletes and their parents—though not my own since they were, fittingly, at one of my sister’s college games. I was smart but oblivious, a strong but painfully naïve girl who had moved from a small town to a larger school, a pebble in the larger stream of life.
At an end-of-season sports banquet, I got up to speak about our amazing basketball season with my teammate, Kim. My friend was tall and well-liked, gorgeous, homecoming court material. Kim either had fantastic confidence or faked it really well.
After she shared thoughtful team anecdotes, I edged over to the micro- phone to thank our fans. For that, I turned to the guys on the football team in the second row. They weren’t like the stereotypical football team. Oh sure, they were a bunch of jocks, but we were no Friday Night Lights. They had one of the worst records of any of the teams at the event, but the seniors supported us and came to every game, home and away. They made signs and wore homemade t-shirts bearing our names. Perhaps one or two were fond of me, but all seemed to be head-over-cleats for my friend. They, and a few others, were our Super Fans.
As I went in for the close of my speech, I talked with the unnecessary confidence of a senior at the top of my high school game.
“I would ESPECIALLY—(pause for effect)—like to spank the football team.”
Spank the football team? Spank. The. Football. Team. Like my three-year- old stuck on one side of the x-ray machine in the Azores, the “th” sound remained trapped behind my treasonous teeth.
Howls erupted throughout the packed auditorium, echoing across the stage, spanking me in the face with each guffaw. Mortified, I attempted to bumble through a correction, but in her shock, Kim had moved in front of me, cackling loudly into the microphone. Now people were laughing with her distinct chortle, and the auditorium felt like a comedy club, hooting at my expense. The soccer boys fell on the floor, slapping their knees with laughter. The football guys blushed in appreciation, and standing center stage, I burned red.
Thankfully, the guttural aspects of the memory would fade with time and would become just a funny story in my life. “Ha, let me tell you about a time from high school…”
That is until I relived it through my oldest child, second-grader Brooklyn. At her school’s International Night, I learned how parenting could influence our memories.
Brooklyn stood on the stage in the midst of a Parade of Nations with her kindergarten-aged sister, Ella. They shone in fire engine red and glistening gold lehenga, gifted from their paternal Indian aunt.
“What country are you from?” the emcee had asked.
“Brooklyn,” my daughter replied in her trademark, loud monotone voice. A moment of silence hung in the air before the crowd laughed. Loudly. I felt myself flush for my daughter’s misstep as my own memory bubbled up.
The moderator asked again. “Norway,” my daughter tried. We had brought Norwegian smoked salmon to share in reference to my heritage. The crowd laughed a second time. I noticed the strong odor of Bangladeshi curries punctuating the still air. Looking at my daughter’s smiling, flustered face, I felt the diversity of food churning in my stomach. The salmon clashed with the Scottish shortbreads, and the samosas battled the bulgogi. As my breathing shallowed, my youngest, Baby Sienna, pulled my long hair—and me—back to the present. Lucas, my third child, smiled at me with hints of Swiss chocolate on his lips.
I had transposed myself onto my daughter, reliving my most embarrassing moment in her beloved elementary school. As parents, we experience life again through the eyes of our children. Sometimes that may involve ghastly moments, but I have found that, like a perpetual 90’s throwback party, more often, we get to relive the highlights.
New experiences evoke that innate curiosity shown daily in the eyes of my kids. In the morning, as I open the nursery blinds, my baby girl stares admiringly at the sun’s brilliance. My son’s jaw drops in wonder whenever he sees a train zooming down the track. His older sister’s face lights up like a jack o’ lantern when the unexpected occurs—Wow, this plastic horse outside the grocery store gallops. My oldest reveals it when an idea clicks—There are 3,600 seconds in an hour!—and she grasps a new concept. I feel it with travel.
The journeys I had crossing cow country for tournaments showed me that I love seeing new places. My first time away from my family came at seventeen when I grudgingly let my parents send me away to the Appalachian Trail for an optional college orientation. Coming from a small town in Michigan, I quickly realized I didn’t know much about the wider world.
That was my mindset as I arrived a day early in Charlotte, North Carolina and met Jessica, a short, plucky girl in platform shoes and funky jeans who spoke with a thick Long Island accent and clipped her hair in a unique, trendy style. I was sure she wondered how she’d gotten stuck with a country bumpkin like me. My idea of culture was the ‘hors d’oeuvres’ my mom made me. Basically, that was a Buddig turkey and butter sandwich, smooshed until the white bread lost all of its volume, and then cut into sixteen pieces—something you’d see in the Kalamazoo edition of Bon Appetit. I discovered later that though Jessica and I dressed differently, we both came from working-class families who shipped us down a day early to save on airfare.
My camping group had an abnormal number of geniuses, even exceeding the standards of my school. Perhaps they were all overachievers and came the first available week. I just needed to fit it in before volleyball preseason. I was a jock among academics; my ability to dig a volleyball had secured my
acceptance. Of the seven of us, one person has since started an innovative health company, another is an attorney with the Justice Department, and one is a tenured professor. Jessica, the Long Islander, is now a psychiatrist and one of my dearest friends. For my part, I demonstrate a unique ability to birth children in rapid succession. That is a feat in and of itself.
In the woods, though they were smarter, I showed strength. I carried a heavy load and led the pace for hikes. I also unintentionally (but thankfully) scared a bear on my solo hike. I persevered precisely because I was willing to try new things and excel outside my element. The experience accomplished its goals; I learned about myself, and I bonded with future classmates. It also set the course for my future travels.
While there, I picked up a camping party trick: how to avoid a lightning strike while stuck in the woods. Members of the group should disperse along the path and crouch to make themselves as small as possible. That way, if one person gets hit, the electrical current will not pass to the others, leaving them able to tend to the injured. But don’t lie down since you want to minimize contact with the ground. With two feet firmly on the ground, the circuit may pass through you without hitting your heart.
That’s the theory anyway. After thirty minutes of squatting in the cold rain, I bailed to the tent with one of the guys. He looked at me grimly and said, “This is hell.” I reached back to my Catholic roots, said the Hail Mary, and prayed we wouldn’t get struck.
A few months after my college camping adventures, my team qualified for the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history. The NCAA committee matched us with Nebraska, a team with more wins than any other program and five national championships.
“Where are we?” my teammates asked. I felt at home, flying over the quartered corn fields. My home state had more water, trees, and let’s be truthful, appeal, but Nebraska held a certain charm with its Fazoli’s restaurants and fervent fans led by their cornhusking mascot, Herbie Husker.
The next year, we repeated the feat, but instead drew Hawaii, winner of only four national championships and arguably the country’s most idyllic state. My teammates groaned. We’d be taking the longest flight in NCAA history across five time zones the week before exams. I was thrilled—free trip to Hawaii! At sunrise, a few teammates and I snuck out to warm ourselves and study on Waikiki Beach. No Fazoli’s there; I ate exotic sushi and snorkeled for the first time.
In hindsight, perhaps I should have been a little more concerned, like the upperclassmen. I did suffer on my Macroeconomics exam, but no long-term effects beyond seeing that third letter of the alphabet for the first time, and a professor who suggested I change my major. I just worked harder. I really don’t like being told what to do.
Two years later, I left the continent for the first time to study in Australia, branching out from my American classmates to immerse myself in the culture. I met my foreign neighbors, joined a netball league, and experienced life as a local. (Netball ≈ basketball with no dribbling or backboard. I felt like I had gone back in time to the original rules of the sport.) Although I did travel extensively using the outrageously strong U.S. dollar on semester breaks and long weekends—to Sydney, the Great Barrier Reef, Melbourne, and New Zealand—my typical weeks revolved around barbecues and the Brisbane Lions, the local Aussie Rules Football team.
I extended my stay after the program ended to organize a daunting trip with three Aussie friends to Uluru, a giant monolith smack in the middle of the country. Those seventy-hours of car time one-way gave me just a glimpse into the real Australia, the red dirt and the Aboriginals, the poverty and the remote towns. The path was easy—a straight line into the heart of the continent. Finding a car company that would rent to college students traveling to the Northern Territory proved most troublesome, though. It did serve as an impetus, teaching me I could find a way to do what I wanted and see what I could.
After that, I scraped my money together for annual trips to Europe, allocating a portion of my meager paychecks for travel. Living in expensive Washington, D.C., that meant meticulous planning to keep the costs manageable. I shared a tiny hotel room with my parents in Europe, chaperoned a trip with my brother, Bryn, for his high school students cruising the Greek Isles, and flew to Paris when the airlines practically pay you to go. Walking the Seine River is quite chilly in February, but I ate croissants with the locals in warm cafés, and the Louvre was inexplicably less crowded.
In business school, I co-led a service trip to Morocco, negotiating an itinerary to get us the maximum exposure for the minimal price. Among the open-air markets in Marrakesh, I glimpsed my future. Eating baklava while my classmates were debating whether to try lamb brains or stick with mutton, I spotted a family with three children under six sauntering into the tent. The kids were a little cranky and hungry, but pretty well-behaved.
“Wow,” I commented. “That’s so cool.” Six months later, I would see my own blue line.
Before business school, I had grandiose visions of working abroad for an innovative consumer products company and segueing into corporate responsibility. But that was before I emerged from business school six figures in debt with a watermelon under my cap and gown. In an instant (if your definition of instant is nine months), my goals shifted.
I discovered my first recruit in the team that would win any competition I entered—my own squad of six including a husband and four little ones. Like a gumball machine, I popped them out in a row. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. All within five-and-a-half years.
I slowed down and settled in a modest, suburban lifestyle as a working mom and wife, just basically trying to keep it all together. But it didn’t stop my desire to see new places and things. I still craved travel. What was a new mom to do?
Bring them along!
It’s still challenging to know, truly know, how easy travel would be with kids. Heck, it’s hard to know how difficult getting a baby to sleep night after night or soothing a temper tantrum is before having your own. I searched for travel books but found them targeted to singles or couples. I wondered, do kids travel? Would they enjoy Italy? Belize? Sweden? Was I an idiot for considering this?
People see pictures from our travels or they hear my stories about globetrotting and say things like, “I can’t believe you did that,” or, “I can’t imagine doing that with my two children and you did it with four.”
Yes, sometimes there are tantrums and things don’t go according to plan. That stress may seem inevitable to those who fear the unknown, but like raising kids, travel with them is rewarding. It is entertaining. It is memorable and awe-inspiring. I will take those occasional meltdowns for the opportunity to see my kids’ raw reactions to a wild monkey or a real-life castle that may possibly be Elsa’s.
Travel exposes kids to so many intangible benefits—seeing and trying new things, expanding their perspective, learning compassion, and experiencing different cultures. But before those kids could come along and I could take them overseas, I had to find a partner. Someone as weird as me.
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