Lessons learned from traveling cross country with our little girl

By Angelee S

We knew from the moment Imani was conceived, that we wanted to pass on our love for nature to our daughter. Our pregnancy announcement was at Rocky Mountain National Park. Our maternity photos were taken at Joshua Tree National Park. Her nursery is nature themed. We couldn’t wait to take on the great outdoors with our little girl!

We have taken so many adventures with Imani during her 19 months of life. We have admired the fall foliage in New Hampshire, climbed the red rocks of Nevada, admired the beauty of the natural arches in Utah, drank from the streams in the Rocky Mountains, tasted the sweetest lobster in Maine, apple picked in Vermont, and have been to five national parks (ten if you count the five that we visited while pregnant). Our hope is that she grows up thinking that there are no limitations on where she belongs as a little Black girl with two mommies. We have learned so many valuable lessons along the way and wanted to share a few.

Lesson #1: Sometimes the best plan is no plan.

I was overly ambitious for our first family camping trip. I made a huge itinerary but only completed a quarter of the items. Our second camping trip I made absolutely no plans.  Imani led the way and about 50% of our time was spent playing in a large puddle of water in the campsite. We attempted one hike which in reality consisted of Imani wandering around the first 0.25 miles of the trail playing with random sticks, climbing on fallen logs, and collecting rocks. No plans meant no schedule to keep and no potential for disappointment if we missed anything. We were able to truly live in the moment and enjoy the beautiful surroundings with our little explorer.

Lesson #2: Have a strategy for long car rides.

We have done many long distance drives with Imani, including an 1800 mile drive from Chicago to Vegas. We learned that eight hours of driving per day is the sweet spot. Anything more leads to epic meltdowns. We always work around her nap schedule, planning longer stretches closer to nap time. If we have to drive for more than a few hours, we find a playground along the route to stop and let her get her energy out. We buy a bunch of cheap toys that she has never seen. Whenever she starts getting restless, we hand her a toy. We also keep lots of snacks handy. If all else fails, we hand her a pack of baby wipes and let her throw them everywhere. By the end of the trip the car looks like a tornado hit it, but it is worth it for a peaceful ride. 

Lesson #3: Do a trial run before your first camping trip.

We were a bit apprehensive about taking Imani tent camping for the first time. We booked a campsite 15 minutes away from our house to do a trial run and troubleshoot any issues that popped up. It took about 45 minutes to put up a tent that would normally take 5 minutes. Imani was climbing everywhere, throwing dirt into the tent, and using the stakes as swords. We quickly learned to assemble the tent prior to letting Imani out of her carseat. Because of all of the excitement, it was quite difficult for her to wind down. We were worried about our neighbors being annoyed by her squeals and giggles during quiet hours. One of us ended up going home with her after she refused to go to sleep. We realized that we needed to make the tent more comfortable for her. We traded in our huge 6 person tent for a 3 person tent so that we could cuddle and stay warm. We brought her sound machine, favorite blanket, and a few books so we could read bedtime stories. These small adjustments made a huge difference, but we wouldn’t have thought of them without the trial run. 

Lesson 4: Don’t apologize for your kid being a kid.

The biggest concern that I had about tent camping was that Imani would be really loud and disturb the neighbors. We think her excited squeals are cute, but not everyone feels this way. After the first night I assumed we would get dirty looks from people in the sites near us. Imani had fussy moments throughout the night and was talkative at 6am. As I was walking her around the campground, we were met with so much praise for braving the outdoors with a little one. Nobody seemed to mind the noise. They were happy to bring her pinecones or point us in the direction of a herd of deer. I realized that we could relax and stop worrying so much about quieting her down for other people’s comfort. What better place to let your child run wild than the wilderness?

Lesson 5. Not everyone will understand your decision to let your child explore the outdoors, and that’s ok!

We can count on one hand the number of other Black families we encounter while camping. We get so many comments from well-meaning family members and friends who are worried about our safety when out in the wild. “Why would you let your toddler climb a mountain?” “You know WE don’t sleep outside like that…” “What if a bear eats her?” 

The cool thing is that others don’t get to deem what is appropriate for your child. Not everyone needs to understand why we think being out in nature is important. Watching Imani’s vocabulary explode while taking our nature walks is so fun to witness. Seeing the wonder in her eyes as she is mesmerized by the campfire warms our hearts. And honestly, we are far more worried about her walking on the sidewalk of a busy city than hiking on a secluded trail. In the outdoors we are able to fully focus on experiencing the sights, sounds, and smells of the wild with our sweet girl without worrying about what is happening on social media, answering emails or missing “important” phone calls. Our hope is that sharing Imani’s adventures with others will inspire them to get out more and share the beauty of nature with their children.

It wouldn’t be truthful to say that exploring the outdoors with a toddler is easy. It is really hard work. There are some moments when we just want to pack up and go back home. But we can truly say that for every difficult moment, there are so many moments of pure joy, excitement and wonder. This world is a beautiful place, and what better way to explore it than through the eyes of a child?

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