The Return to International Travel

It was Christmas 2019 and I was sitting by the tree opening a small box sent by my sister. Inside was a beautiful necklace with an airplane dangling from it. She knows my heart. It has always been travel, particularly travel abroad.  She knew that after becoming a mom later in life, I was itching to travel again and that 2020 was going to be the year that would happen.

I don’t need to tell you what happened in 2020.

Fast forward to November 2023.  That tiny plane hanging from neck was not forgotten. Thanksgiving week became the target date and this time it was not going to be missed.

The destination: Mexico City, Mexico.

I’ve been to Northern Mexico many times – mostly to Monterrey for work trips. I have also spent time as a teenager in Guaymas, Sonora, where my Mexican brother is from. But I had always wanted to see Mexico City – finally it happened!

This was the first trip abroad for our son. He was on the cusp of 9 years old and a trip abroad was long overdue. While he had been on planes with me, he had not yet exercised his passport. Most people who go to Mexico for vacation hit the beach, but not our family! I thought carefully about his first trip abroad and decided we were going deep into the largest city in Mexico and North America instead of “la playa!”

Traveling with a child is a completely different experience than going solo. Despite my lists of possible itineraries and endless things to see, a child of any age requires flexibility.  The only activity I pre-purchased tickets for was the Frida Kahlo house. Everything else was played by ear.

How did it go?  Let’s just say my heart was overflowing!  Watching your child experience another country makes it a million times more special. Our son was such a great reminder in going with the flow, resilience, and courage.  For his first trip abroad, I put aside my desire to see a slew of museums (and Mexico City has PLENTY!) to instead focus on seeing more history, meeting more kids (think SOCCER here, or as they say in Mexico – futbol), using Spanish, and going with the flow.

Here are some pictures and moments that summarize our sojourn:

H on the plane. He brought a “friend” with him to experience Mexico.  We leave devices behind as much as possible and I love that he spent a lot of time simply looking around the plane and out the window.

Our first day was spent at the Frida Kahlo house, Casa Azul.  While H didn’t quite get what was so important about being there, he did love people watching and the vendors outside the building, lol. I was in my glory; Frida is a huge lesson in courage and this trip reminded me of how necessary courage is in life. By the time I got to the room with her art supplies and then her bed, I was quietly sobbing. Who else has had this reaction?

Our kid loves soccer. The universe hooked us up by having a youth soccer program directly across the street from our apartment. (By the way, we did a house swap – so the apartment was free! We highly recommend swapping!) H doesn’t speak Spanish (yet!) but he jumped right in. He observed and then quickly was yelling “Aqui, Aqui!” when he wanted the ball passed to him. Flexibility was key in our travels – once we knew there was a two hour soccer experience literally across the street, we pivoted and made sure he had that experience.

Our family’s love of soccer led us to the Estadio Azteca tour – we went into the  locker room, the press area, and even walked down to the field and sat in the team’s seats.  The guy in the middle of the pic was the tour guide – he wore jeans and an everyday t-shirt. No uniform. No nametag. No mic. Just a booming voice and enthusiasm to follow his lead. We had a blast!

Our kiddo loves to cook and I literally read cookbooks for fun – so food was a big part of our experience. He enjoyed trying different mole sauces and despite eating a burger here and there, he came home and asked if we could go to our local Mexican tienda for tortillas. He made tortilla “sandwiches” with onions, cheese, cilantro, and salsa for days after we returned!

At one restaurant outside Mexico City, he opted for a burger but then made tortillas for us and our Uber driver, Manuel!

Of course, we couldn’t leave Mexico City without trying their famous churros! Immersing in Spanish was a big lesson for our son – on our 6th day – without any instruction, he turned to me in a restaurant and said “Quieres mas sal, mama?” (Do you want more salt, mom?) I almost fell off my chair. The language acquisition was happening – and it reminded us that we need to return for a longer period while he is young – for him to quickly progress.

But first we needed to visit the National Museum of Anthropology – which our kiddo loved more than I could have imagined!

Visiting the ruins at Teotihuacán was another major highlight. Seeing this history in person is key to understanding civilizations and culture.  And what a workout those stairs were!

Because we were going with the flow, we actually ended up at the large public square, The Plaza de la Constitución, also known as El Zocolo, during our final days. We took a bus tour around the city and then ended the day with a visit to the local dentist for a cleaning.  This is a pretty standard practice for us – there are great dentists abroad and it is so much less money than in the US!

I got my much needed travel hit, my kiddo experienced his first country outside the US, and my sweet husband rolled with it all. It was a much more enjoyable Thanksgiving than the ubiquitous turkey at home, at least in our eyes.

And perhaps most of all, it was my personal way to tell that damn pandemic that we will keep traveling, that it will never stop us again. It was cathartic, that was for sure!