Travel Lessons: Go Slowly

For the last two months or so, my biggest and most important tasks of each day have been to walk my daughters to preschool in the morning and pick them up in the afternoon. This might be a routine thing for any father or mother in the USA to shuttle their kids to and from school in their SUV or minivan. However, I have no car and I am in China, specifically in a bustling residential neighborhood of Hangzhou, where the streets are lined with restaurants ranging from pizza to Korean BBQ, foot massage spas, fruit stands and bakeries. The area is filled with an incredible amount of activity, especially around the times my kids and I hit the road.

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The preschool that my kids attend is literally across the street with an equivalent distance of two football fields from where we live to where their school is located. We need to cross just one crosswalk along the way. But with the chaotic mix of a wide array of cars from BMWs to Audis, freight trucks, vans, buses, taxis, mopeds, and bicycles on the road, taking my kids safely across this crosswalk is not an easy task. In the crosswalk, we must dodge the left and right turning cars that seldom yield to pedestrians and avoid the bicycles and mopeds that dart through the crosswalk. On several occasions, my feet have nearly brushed up against cars whose drivers have felt impelled to squeeze their way through the scores of pedestrians in the crosswalk.

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Though the walk to school is more dangerous than I’d prefer it to be, it is a time that I relish with my daughters. Once we’re on the road, it’s just the three of us, walking and talking. On the sidewalk, I let them walk freely in front of me, many times hand-in-hand. They sometimes climb some stairs and jump off and I let them be. The older sister runs in front of the younger sister and eventually lets her younger sister catch up to her. And because my youngest daughter is two-years-old, our pace is limited to the speed of her tiny steps. Thus, walking from home to school in the mornings will take us about twenty minutes when any normal adult could walk the same distance in less than five minutes. And that’s okay with me.

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Everyday these walks with my children teach me an important lesson: Go slowly.

It’s in these moments of two-year-old pace walking that I can truly appreciate what is going on in front of me. I can see my children learning to be caring sisters, walking down the street hands held. I notice the curious stares and can also hear the compliments of people around us who are trying to piece together the anomaly they are seeing: two sisters (rare in China with the one-child policy) walking down the street with only their father dressed in his daily “work” attire of shorts, tanktop, cap, and slippers on their way to school.

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When we get to our destination, I can observe how my older daughter is accepting her role as the big sister when she helps put on her little sister’s sandals before she enters her classroom. When I pick up my younger daughter in the afternoon, I can see the look in her eyes of the excitement of getting picked up to go home. I let my younger daughter put on her own shoes, even though it takes three times as long than if I were to help her. I don’t want her to miss out on this opportunity to learn to take care of herself. And this could only happen because I slow down when I’m with my kids. I don’t want to miss anything that I would if I were in a rush or preoccupied with something else.

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After traveling solo, with friends, as a couple, and with family over the past dozen years or so, I prefer the latter because not only are you sharing the experience as a family, but you’re doing it slowly. Kids make you slow down. If it’s nap time or snack time or potty time, concessions need to be made to adjust to the pace of your kids. And it’s in the moments when you stop moving and snapping photos that you discover why you’ve traveled to wherever you are. You’ll realize that you are not traveling primarily because of the destination, but you are traveling for the pleasure of the journey and all the little steps you took to get there together.

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In life, sometimes it feels like we’re racing all the time either for a deadline at work, chores at home, activities and parties on the weekend, and we’re trying to squeeze more and more stuff in our schedule than we can handle. We want to go as fast as humanly possible. It’s overwhelming and unhealthy to sustain a sprinter’s pace in a full lifetime. So slow down and go at a pace that you’re comfortable with because we’re all in the same marathon together.

For me, I’m going to enjoy moving at my two-year-old’s pace for as long as I can.

Cliff Hsia is a writer, husband, and father, who is determined to live a better than normal life by traveling the world, slowly and purposefully, with his wife and two young daughters. His writing has been featured on MSN, TODAY, The Huffington Post, The Good Men Project, and other publications. He writes about travel, parenting, and lifestyle design.

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