Family travel can be an enriching and fulfilling experience but it also comes with its own challenges and concerns. Mariam Sanai, a Muslim mom of two based in France, shares her family experience on traveling as a Muslim family, diversity, and what they most like about exploring the world.
Q. Could you tell us a little about you and your family?
A. We are a Muslim family of four, two children, an almost five-year-old boy, and a two-year-old daughter. We are currently based in the south of France for the year, but the American Midwest is home. My husband and I are both ethnically Indian and we both grew up in Saudi Arabia. Growing up as third-culture kids, travel has always been a part of our lives.
Q. What goes through your head when choosing a travel destination? Does race, religion, or sexual orientation affect how you choose your travel destination?
A. We don’t necessarily consider race, religion, or sexual orientation when planning for travel destinations, but it is always most comfortable when we find ourselves amidst diversity. There is also definitely a degree of mental ease when our chosen destination is primarily a Muslim one. Although we venture into all kinds of territories, the comfort of blending in is undeniable.
Q.What are the things you love most about traveling with your family?
A. We love so many things about traveling! New experiences, building memories, meeting people, breaking from the mundane, and spending time together as a family without the pressure of work and schedules. We are fortunate that our children seem to enjoy traveling as much as we do.
Q. What have been surprisingly positive experiences?
A. I am always pleasantly surprised by how much kindness we receive from strangers because we have little children in tow. Whether it’s helping with a stroller, thoughtful accommodations at restaurants, or just people looking out for your kid on the street. No matter race or religion, the turmoil accompanying parenting seems to be an unspoken universal language! And the innocence of children too, I suppose.
Q. What kind of challenges do you face when traveling as a Muslim family?
A. One of the things that always feels like an unreasonable burden is the responsibility to represent an entire race or religion. When we travel, we tend to be hyper-aware of the fact that we are Muslim and that people can easily generalize any of our actions or attitudes to our entire religion. Finding ourselves in the position of teaching others about our communities through representation can at times feel not only challenging, but also daunting.
Less complicated, but another challenge nonetheless is finding suitable food. We don’t eat pork, we don’t drink alcohol, and mostly eat vegetarian or seafood. Added to that, we love good food!
Q. Have you talked to your child/children about how racial injustice could affect your travels? How do you prepare your child/children for it?
A. We have lots of conversations about race and injustices in general. Although we are often the minority, we are still very privileged. Thus, the focus tends to be on injustices to others.
We have had some instances where my four-year-old feels somewhat bullied at playgrounds for looking different and/or not speaking a language, but validating his feelings in those situations and elaborating on differences always helps him feel more empowered.
We also always encourage our children to look out for one another and stay together.
Q. Is there anything you would like to add?
A. Traveling with young children can be intimidating and oftentimes downright difficult but it has truly been priceless for our family. This is true whether it’s a transatlantic trip to build and maintain bonds with family, living abroad for a year and experiencing an entirely different way of life, or just taking a vacation in whatever way we can and making those memories together. It’s such an enjoyable way to both learn and teach, not just for yourselves and your children but to the global community.
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