‘I Started to Wonder If Our Family Vacation Had Been a Bad Idea’

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Sasha Brown Worsham and her family in Iceland. (Photo: Sasha Brown Worsham)

On our fourth night sleeping in a camper in Iceland, with 80 mph winds lifting the vehicle off its wheels while our three kids slept, my husband and I started to wonder if our family vacation had been a bad idea.

“This is why people with kids do all-inclusive vacations,” I told him, shivering.

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It’s true. According to a recent story published in the New York Times, travelers become vacationers when they have children. The writer of the story, accustomed to traveling with his wife to far-flung locations such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, described how he’s gone soft since becoming a parent, opting to “do nothing” at a Floridian resort after becoming a parent.

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However, my husband and I were determined not to lose our edge, which is why we’d brought our kids, ages 8, 6, and 1, to a country where the wind feels hurricane-like, the temperatures in April vary by 50 degrees (within an hour), and the roads are often icy and closed in July.

This was our second trip to Iceland. In 2006, my husband and I turned a layover in Reykjavik into a romantic weekend. We were travelers, the type of people who met a stranger from Morocco one night at dinner and the next day booked tickets to visit his family in Marrakech.

But ever since our first baby was born in 2007, we’ve found the idea of traveling with an infant daunting. When baby number two arrived 18 months later, it became nearly impossible. As we juggled the demands of an infant and a toddler, we watched our wanderlust dwindle. How could we get on a plane when we could barely make it to the grocery store without a meltdown?

We took trips, but we didn’t bring the kids. I went to Ethiopia for work and to Israel with extended family. My husband went to London, Switzerland, and Germany for work, and together we went to Amsterdam for a week, leaving the children with my family.

Travel is a part of us, and we wanted our children to experience it. By the time they were 4 and 6, we had taken some road trips. They did fine, so we started traveling by plane to visit my husband’s family and realized that, given an iPad, a few snacks, and a coloring book, our kids flew quite well.

But then I got pregnant with number three. “This won’t change us,” I promised my husband. And it didn’t.  By the time she was 3 months old, she’d flown across the country twice.

So we set our sites on Iceland in April.

“Are we going to die out here?” I asked my husband on the first day of our trip. It was colder and more deserted than we expected. Regular tourist season doesn’t start until late May, but we didn’t realize that most gas stations and restaurants would be closed. Or that we would go entire days without seeing another person.

We’d planned to drive the Ring Road, a beltway that travels the circumference of the island. Iceland is only the size of Ohio, but with teeming volcanic activity, hot bubbling springs, geysers, and waterfalls every mile or two. It’s a living landscape.

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The Blue Lagoon. (Photo: Sasha Brown Worsham)

Our first night, we set up camp an hour outside the city, by a waterfall that spit droplets just high enough to meet the sun. The rainbow it created spanned much of the sky above our private sleeping spot.

Since it didn’t get dark until 11 p.m., we worried the children wouldn’t sleep, but that first night we all slept from 9 p.m. to 8 a.m. We were feeling smug.

On day two, at the edge of a cliff, on a one-lane road, miles from anything resembling a human, we got stuck in a pile of snow that had drifted off a mountain into the road. The wheels would not budge, and twilight was approaching.

My husband left us in the camper and hiked a mile to a farmhouse and returned with a tractor and a tow, pulling us from our predicament. But the real problem was the wind, which nearly blew our camper off the road. At night, I clutched the baby, imagining the wind ripping open the doors and sweeping her away.

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The family’s camper, stuck in the snow. (Photo: Sasha Brown Worsham)

By night four, we’d surrendered to the elements and agreed to stay in hotels for the rest of the trip. We hiked, taking shifts so the kids could stay in the car when it was too cold. That night, beside the lagoon where bits of glaciers break off and drift to sea, my husband and I held hands.

“They trust us completely,” he said of our three kids sleeping peacefully in the camper, their tiny chests rising and falling. We didn’t sleep at all. But when the sun rose, the camper was still intact. We were OK.

By day nine, we’d made it to the Blue Lagoon (Iceland’s most famous hot swimming pool) just beside the airport. We were ready to go home. We’d survived by being flexible and adjusting our expectations.

It wasn’t a vacation; it was an adventure. Not the kind parents are supposed to take with children, but none of us would have chosen differently.

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