would do. In fact, like so many of us kid-free LGBTQ types, I never gave it any thought at all, unless of course it involved me gritting my teeth as a toddler incessantly kicking my seatback on a long-haul flight. It’s not about disliking children per se, it was just a deep-rooted desire to keep things very simple in order to maximise the ability to savour the world on my terms, at all hours of the day or night.
Life has a funny way of teaching you lessons though. Some years back, I was given the opportunity to take part in an interesting and action-packed parent-child press tour of Belgium and Luxembourg. So, I did what any resourceful journalist lacking a child would do to get a story. I borrowed one from my cousin for a week. Mackenzie, aged twelve at the time, was not one to give her emotions away. I’d only managed to elicit a few grins in our limited time together, usually with chocolate bribes. As much as I loved her, I didn’t understand how to communicate with her.
As it turned out, offering her a trip to come with me to Europe was actually the missing link. Her first email to me went something like this: “OMG! Are we seriously going to Belgium? OMG! What should I wear? What should I bring? How much money should I take so I can exchange it for ‘Euros’? We also have to eat lots of chocolate because, I hear it’s famous. Did you know Belgium is only 12,000 square miles? I am sooooo excited that I got out my talking globe. I’m so very excited, can you tell?” (Exclamation points and capitalisation drastically reduced here for space and article aesthetics). It was the most I’d ever got out of her and it made me happy, even if her message was digitally lacking the grammar and punctuation I’m a stickler for.
Two months later, we set off – Mackenzie with her first passport and infectious enthusiasm; and me with a letter from her parents stating that all was in order and she wasn’t being kidnapped. I’m not sure which one of us learned more that week. Who knew that a water park is a truly refreshing way to cope with jet lag upon arrival? And if you travel with other ‘parents’, you can trade-off responsibility along the way. This allowed me to squeeze in a trip to the gay bars near Brussels’ architecturally dramatic La Grand-Place. Even skipping the Magritte Museum to allow time for a Belgian waffle stop was a delicious compromise.
Together, we savoured an abundance of mouth-watering, local culinary delights, from mussels to ratatouille. Our yummy Waterzooi (Belgian chicken stew) lunch at a farm near Damme left the entire group gasping at how much tiny Mackenzie could consume. I found myself swelling with pride that she was such an unfussy eater, and she made me look at each of the places we visited in whole new ways, re-energising my passion and love for travel. One of my favourite trip moments came when we stopped at a stunning viewpoint overlooking Luxembourg City.
“Where is the city?” Mackenzie asked, staring down at it.
“That is the city,” I replied, and watched her preconceived notions of the world immediately falling away.
“It’s so old and cute!” she said, grinning, ready for more exploration of this magical, miniature place. Trust me, I’ve travelled with plenty of adults who were no where near as open to new experiences as my little cousin.
Mackenzie is no longer a child, but she’s still one of my absolute favourite travelling companions. We share a love of sampling new dishes, frolicking in the sea and a loathing of early-morning starts, some things run in the family it seems. Watching her light up with joy over a giant plate of pasta in Sorrento, Italy or singing merrily along to Belle from Beauty and the Beast (“Little town, it’s a quiet village…”) while on an adventure in the French countryside makes me giddy. So, I say to you non-parental readers, consider sharing travel with a young person within your sphere. And to wannabe parents out there, having kids will not cramp your style. You’ll be surprised to find how much you are enriched from the experience. Travel is a language for all ages.