An Easy and A Hard Way to Travel with Kids


One day many years ago I was listening to NPR when a fascinating piece came on about zebras. Even though their distinctive stripes make them stand out on the African plain individually, collectively their patterns merge, making it difficult for a predator to visually isolate just one and pick it from the herd. Alone they are doomed, together they survive, and so the herd moves only as fast as the slowest zebra—the young and the old, the crippled and the pregnant. The phrase struck me: moving only as fast as the slowest zebra.



We were getting ready for a trip to Hawaii, a Mom and a Dad and 4 youngsters with various paces—from a gallop to a sidle and stroll–and I wondered what would happen if we moved only as fast as the slowest zebra and waited for the one who watches his feet and stoops for shells or for the girl who wants to linger over a display case of gooey cinnamon rolls at the airport before moving on, instead of the tug and pull of hurry hurry hurry? We decided to try it. Why not?

It turned into a beautiful thing, precious and packed with memories that happen when you are willing to take detours.

We had to factor in extra time to move slowly without listening to the clock ticking, telling us we were late for some thing, some event, that would be forgotten in a blink. Oh, some of the kids bolted ahead on our 10 days together but inevitably they returned to the herd to see what a brother was watching, what a sister had found.

That phrase—we will move as fast as the slowest zebra–became our family mantra over the years and we used it with almost every trip. It changed the transitions in airports, on walks, in leaving a beach for a restaurant– all of it shifting from the lock step of efficiency to a rich and leisurely exploration of what others who moved faster were leaving behind. We had real conversations that dawdled and meandered, I relaxed—there was plenty of time for everything including sudden stops for hitching up a backpack or talking to a stranger. The trick was extra time. That meant packing up the picnic and towels earlier for a dinner reservation, or catching a ferry that left more time to make our flight.

There are occasions when the slowest zebra can bring real problems to everyone with his pace, or when it is absolutely necessary to move at a fast clip, but with slowing down, the journey changed in depth and texture, something I never considered until a random radio show decades ago.

You want to know the hardest way to travel with kids? Keep to a strict schedule packed with many events that begin at a certain time. Eat only at meal times, do not go barefoot, and make them kiss your aunt with whiskers. Don’t let them jump on hotel beds, or be alone for 2 minutes. Be vigilant. Stay on time. Take the freeway, no exits.

Or you could move as fast as the slowest zebra.

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