By Rachel Baker, Crosswalk.com
My infant daughter was strapped to my chest, I pushed a stroller with my then preschooler in it. On my back hung a portable baby travel bed. On top of the stroller was a huge orange gear bag with two car seats in it, below was a diaper bag and weekend bag packed to the brim.
We made our way through the airport and towards passenger pickup. People stopped and stared, some with mouths agape. A gentleman asked if he could help, but accepting help would have shifted my weight-distribution. Any change in weight and I’d certainly topple over. I declined and proceeded to the sliding doors, making my way out of the airport.
I’m a traveler. From my youth I’ve loved getting out of dodge, visiting new cities and discovering the great wide world around me. So, it only made sense that when I became a mom I naturally wanted my children to travel as well.
God designed such an incredible world; with its rivers and valleys, mountains and oceans, its cities and villages. I want to see as much of it as possible, but the reality of parenthood and adulthood means limitations. The vast majority of us live on a budget, we are anchored to a community, we have commitments and can’t just up and travel any old time.
Nevertheless, finding opportunities to invite our children into adventure can develop life-long learners and adventure-seekers who see the world as a whole rather than fragmented pieces.
During the summer I often set out, just the kids and I, to see family and friends and discover new places. On this year’s adventure we logged 6 states, roughly 4,000 miles driven, and nearly 4 weeks on the road. Sure, some of it was exhausting, and I admit I did snap at the kids a time or two, but all in all we had a fantastic trip.
If you have an itch to get out and do some traveling with your kids but are feeling a little daunted by the task at hand, here are some helpful tips to bring on the adventure and create some pretty magical memories!
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/FlamingoImages
1. Plan, Plan, Plan
My Mom recently relocated from Southern California to Waco, Texas. I’m pretty sure she’s the biggest Chip and Joanna Gaines fangirl there ever was, but that’s another story for another time. At the beginning of summer she invited the kids and I out for a visit. Her house is approximately 1,600 miles from mine, so of course my response was a resounding “yes!”
For this trip in particular I decided to drive. I pulled up Google Maps and started planning, breaking the long drive up with overnight stops. I packed the car strategically, including snack packs for both kids, road trip activities, a fully loaded video queue for each child complete with headphones, cozy blankets and even a sleep mask for my 9-year-old who is light sensitive.
I downloaded my favorite podcasts and filled the center console with “Mommy snacks”. I even packed an additional first-aid for my 5-year-old who has a rare talent for injuring herself. I planned to the best of my ability, right down to weather checks and sharing my location with anyone who needed to know.
We woke up early in the morning, said a prayer for safety and hit the road. Each hour that ticked by I’d exclaimed, “okay we only have so many hours left!” Each new state that we drove into, we’d clap and celebrate. The planning and preparedness created peace; if you’re driving across the country with two little kids having a semblance of peace is essential.
Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Julentto Photography
2. Relax a Little
Whether you are traveling by plane, train, or automobile the reality is that we can only plan up to a certain point. We can plan our drive concisely, but then hit a delay or a hail storm.
Suddenly, our well calculated arrival time must be shifted. Flying we can experience the same: canceled or rerouted flights. These types of inconveniences are at the very core of traveling. If we set stringent expectations upon ourselves or our travel experience we can end up frustrated and fatigued. Rather than holding tight time tables, I suggest that when traveling we allow ourselves a fair amount of buffer.
Give yourself a generous amount of extra time when hard deadlines are involved, and take a breather and go with the flow if your timetable is more flexible. This has been monumental in creating enjoyable travel experiences, and it goes a long way when our children are involved!
Children are incredibly perceptive, they feed off of our emotions. If Mommy and Daddy are stressed out they are going to feel it. So, when you miss an exit or the trip somehow gets delayed, try to take it all in stride.
Talk to your children about these disruptions, invite them into finding the joy in them. As silly or cliché as this sounds, when you’re feeling the pressure of a delayed flight or disrupted travel think about the life of Jesus. Jesus allowed space and margin for disruption, perhaps we can do the same.
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3. Involve the Kids
Last winter our family traveled to New York to attend my sister’s wedding. While the main focus of the trip was the wedding we couldn’t fly all the way across the country without getting the most out of it. As we planned we involved our kids in the conversation.
We asked them what they dreamed of doing while visiting the Big Apple. My son’s biggest dream was to climb into the crown in the Statue of Liberty. Our daughter just wanted to go ice skating and eat ice cream.
Including our kids on the front-end gave them some major buy-in. They understood that the flights would be long—again use some of the tips from the first point to plan for a long flight, like snacks, snacks, snacks. They started learning about the history. We read books and articles about New York for kids and watched movies that took place in the city.
It was so fun to walk through the American Museum of Natural History and for our daughter to ponder if the animals really do come to life at night or not.
Letting your kids help plan your trip will give you confidence knowing that your children are really enjoying the activities that you have planned, and will help instill in them a sense of ownership and pride that they helped plan something so big.
Our kid’s involvement also allowed my husband and I to experience the city through their eyes. It’s incredible to see the world through the eyes of a child.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/szefei
4. Determine the Goal
The majority of the trips my husband and I have taken since we’ve become parents have centered around family. We travel for the holidays or special events. Occasionally, we’ll plan a trip just for our kids and ourselves.
These trips have included a camping trip up the coast of California, a long weekend with families in our small group discovering the beauty of Moab, and most recently a quick family get-away in the mountains local to us.
Each of these trips served a specific function, of course they all included adventure, but additionally they had a purpose or goal. Our recent get-away was for our family to connect and catch our breaths. Our small group camp out, that trip was for the purpose of connecting in deeper with our church family. The coastal camping extravaganza, well, that was for my soul.
As you plan travel and trips with your family it is helpful to determine what the goal of the trip is. Set expectations.
If you’re traveling for work and pleasure, and you’re bringing the kids along let them know what the restrictions are. If the trip is truly a vacation, again, share this with the kids. Let them know that you are prioritizing relaxation, so they can understand a slower pace. If the purpose of travel is family bonding, find a way to express this that your children will understand, so they know that spending time together is most important.
Clearly communicating the purpose of a trip can set the tone and create something the whole family can enjoy. Isn’t that the whole point anyway?
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Rasica
5. Schedule Down Days
On our honeymoon my husband wanted to maximize our adventure. He had us scheduled for every fun activity he could find, whereas I just wanted to lay on the beach with him and enjoy his company. A decade and two kids later we’ve somehow duplicated ourselves. Our son needs down time, whereas our daughter wants to move from one activity to the next.
When we travel we’ve discovered that we absolutely must schedule in down time. Sure, activities are the best, but there’s nothing worse than coming home from a trip or vacation and feeling like you need a vacation from your vacation.
The purpose of the trip does set the tone but scheduling downtime, if possible, can create deeper enjoyment. I know that my son and I have a better time out and about if we are well rested. So, in general we don’t schedule early morning activities.
Instead we sleep in a little bit, I drink my coffee slower than normal, we allow ourselves more time to get going for the day.
On our trip to New York I kept whole blocks of time unscheduled. One of the days this enabled us to take an impromptu ferry ride down the East River. We had nowhere we had to be, so we could move slow, take in the sights of the city and just enjoy experiencing something new as a family.
As you prepare for your next trip try not to overschedule, see if allowing slowness creates something special for your family.
One of the best gifts we can give our children is travel. Seeing the world will open their eyes, deepen their empathy, and bring to life history. When done right, traveling together can deepen family bonds and develop memories that will last a lifetime. I still remember the camping trips of my childhood and look on those days with sweet nostalgia.
For my own children, I dream of memories created while exploring and discovering God’s great world.
As you prepare for your next trip with your children, or embark on your family’s maiden voyage, my great hope is that you are able to find joy in all of it. I hope that you and your children are inspired by planning and preparing, and then excited by discovering something new, or rediscovering someplace old but in a new way.
Someone very wise once told me that, “life is a great adventure” and a life that includes travel, well, I’d argue even more so.
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