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Who Says Toddlers Can't Have Wanderlust?

I brought my little girl on her first airplane when she was just shy of 6 weeks old. I know there are some who would scoff at that, but honestly—if it hadn't been for fear of others' reactions, we might have gotten on that plane even sooner.

By her first birthday, she had already taken four big out-of-state trips. Living in Alaska, that means spending roughly six to 12 hours on airplanes and in airports, almost always accounting for at least one layover. One of those trips came abruptly and unexpectedly just five days after we had returned home from three months spent traveling. That was the only time I hesitated, and even then, only because I was tired and desperately wanted to do laundry. But ultimately, we got on that plane. Because it was one more opportunity to take my girl someplace she had never been before.

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I have navigated every single one of those flights on my own, just me and my daughter. In the early days, before she could walk, it involved me wearing her on my front, her car seat on my back and a bag over each shoulder.

We were definitely a sight.

I have friends who struggle to understand my passion for traveling with my child. They don't get why I would take on all the extra work involved to make those trips happen; to them traveling with a toddler just sounds miserable. But for my part, I love it—even more so because my girl seems to love it as well.

Travel can expose kids to a view of the world (and the people within that world) they won't ever get from their own backyard.

I have at least one big trip planned out for us every year from now until the day she decides she's done being my travel buddy (a day that will hopefully never come). I've already been contemplating getting her a passport but am forcing myself to wait, not because there isn't anything to be gained by taking a toddler out of country (because there is always something to be gained by travel) but because I am by no means rich, and these trips are something we sacrifice for in other ways. Less stuff, more experiences. So I'm forcing myself to save the best (and most expensive, in terms of airfare) travel locales on my list until she is at least old enough to remember the trips.

I'm thinking like age 6.

It's important to me to show her the world and share with her my own innate wanderlust. I truly believe there is so much to be gained from travel; exposing children to different cultures and areas of the world can shape them into more compassionate, open-minded and even intelligent people. Sure, they may experience that travel differently than an adult would, and it's possible they won't appreciate it in the same way, but I absolutely believe there is still value there.

Travel can spark areas of the brain that otherwise remain stagnant. It can ignite ideas and passions that might not otherwise have ever been. Perhaps most importantly, it can expose kids to a view of the world (and the people within that world) they won't ever get from their own backyard. So taking my girl on these adventures is absolutely one of my parenting priorities.

I get that it's not for everyone. For some parents, a real vacation is leaving the kids at home—which is a perfectly acceptable way to feel! If traveling with kids isn't your thing, don't do it. But I think it's important to remember that just because it's not for you, doesn't mean it's not right for someone else. I get that some people may look at the way I plan to travel with my girl and think that it is more about feeding my soul than hers, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Because let's be real, traveling with kids is absolutely more work. It's just that in my mind, it's worth the effort.

So far, our adventures have been tame; simply because toddlers are still pretty big on their routines and basic comforts. Our biggest trip was to Hawaii just a month shy of her second birthday.

I had a friend warn me that it would be miserable, that diapers and sandy beaches don't mix and that toddler tears destroy any chance of reading peacefully in the sun. But we had an amazing time, and I was so glad I had refused to heed those words.

Sure, traveling is different for me now. I can't just fly by the seat of my pants like I used to. I can't stay out all night and sleep in as late as I want, or curl up on a lounge chair and read for hours on end. And I have to evaluate the safety of our adventures a little more closely; scaling the side of a mountain can't happen with a toddler on my back. But all those things are worth sacrificing for the wonder I see in my child's eyes when she is experiencing something, or someplace, new for the first time.

A few weeks ago, it dawned on me that I hadn't given the same focus to sharing our home state with her as I have to taking her out of it. I've always been a girl who loves road trips myself, but as a single mom, long road trips are a little harder with young children, just because you can't exactly entertain your kid while driving. So up to now, we had never gone anywhere that had us in the car for more than two hours.

But this particular weekend, the sun was out and shining after weeks of rain, and we had nothing on our calendar to hold us back. So, I asked my girl (now 2 and a half) if she wanted to go on an adventure; she emphatically replied with, "Yes! Venture!"

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We left town at 10 a.m. and didn't return until almost 11 that night. We traveled more than 300 miles, stopping an estimated 15 or so times—not for potty breaks or toddler meltdowns, mind you, but because there were things we wanted to get out and see. My only rule was that we head to places my daughter had never before been, and we stop at a few locations that were new to us both.

Over that long day trip, we explored, hiked, visited animal conservation centers, ate at tiny little diner pit stops, and every single time we got back in the car, my little girl cheerfully called out, "What's next, Mommy?!?"

So, yeah, my toddler totally has the wanderlust gene. And she might just be my little soul mate traveler, willing to go wherever the wind takes her. It's an incredible thing to witness, and one of my favorite parts of parenting so far.

Photographs by: Leah Campbell

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