Starting young can bring out the best in travellers.
From since I can remember, I've wanted to travel. I was raised on the travel stories of my parents — hippies in the deserts of Afghanistan and the twinkling shores of Ios. It was only fitting that I follow in their footsteps.
When I was young, my parents took me on two extremely defining trips. My mother and I travelled to Finland, Turkey and Scotland when I was 11, then at 13 my father and I travelled down through Vietnam together. Seeing those places, especially at that age, was pivotal. It showed me how small my world was, how lucky my life was, how Kiwi I actually was and an inkling of how many variations of life there can be.
In 2009, as a bright-eyed 23-year-old, I packed an outrageously large backpack and travelled through Europe, South America and the US, touching 17 countries in eight months.
Now I'm 33 and have two young children, my life feels so completely different to the utter freedom one feels travelling on your own. Sometimes the freedom is so aimless and gooey it can make you feel like a fart in the air of someone else's neighbourhood. At those moments you have to really check in with yourself, wonder why the hell you're doing this and call your parents. But then someone simply smiles kindly at you or helps you with a bag and it tends to all fall back into place.
Now I'm a mother I think about how it must have felt for my parents to see me go. The day I left, I had never seen my father cry like he did. It must have been such a smash of feelings; the obvious silent terror of a parent watching his only child head off into the world, alone. But I felt a deep pride in him too, like subconsciously he had raised me for this moment and here it was; I was flying, wings spread wide, out of the nest, just as he did 40 years before me.
After having been in Europe for the allotted 90 days, I had planned to meet my mum in Buenos Aires before I started my journey up through South America. We had a glorious 10 days together before I was booked to take a 36-hour bus journey to Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Our last day together was one of the weirdest, saddest, yuckiest days I'd had to that point. Both of us were quiet, secretly terrified, but worried that talking about it would make the situation worse. By the time I was packed and ready to go, it had all become too much. We didn't say anything, we just curled into a ball and wept — then she walked me to the bus station. The price you pay for raising an independent, confident young woman is you have to watch them leave a lot.
On one of my last stops in New York, I was lucky enough to meet a cute Kiwi guy at a friend's birthday party on the Lower East Side. He was so cute in fact, that three years later I married him and now we have two small babies.
Although I have an adventurous streak, I love Aotearoa; no matter where I live and for how long, it's still the place I refer to as "home". So I could hear the relief in my mother's voice, when, from NYC, I told her I had met the guy. "Cool," she said. "He's really sweet". "Great." "He's from Auckland!" "Ahhhh! That's brilliant!" And I knew she was joyous with relief because it meant I'd probably come home.
Scroll on 10 years and travel is still a huge part of my life. With husband and kids in tow we move around for work a lot. Sometimes I complain about it, which is naughty, because it's an incredibly privileged thing to be able to do. My babies have been on more planes than most adults. It brings me immense pride when people remark on how "good" they were on a flight. "They were, weren't they?" I say innocently. I could write a book — well, maybe not a book — I could write a detailed pamphlet on my hacks for travelling with small people aged from five weeks to four years.
Even though the jetlag for a 2-year-old seems unbelievably mean, I know that, in the long run, travelling together will teach them humility, organisation, kindness and gratitude. They will learn to get through security gracefully and with a swiftness like no other. They will learn that we try our best to eat vegan on a plane and bring our Keep Cups because the whole thing is a big mess. We will have treasured travel stories to tell of incongruous meetings and swift escapes. And one day, I will have to walk them to a bus station in the middle of nowhere. I will hug them hard and say goodbye and hope like hell they come home a fuller, stronger and deeper person than they were when they left.
Morgana O'Reilly stars in Mean Mums, Tuesdays at 8.35pm on Three