on the road with kids
Table of Contents
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?
Traveling with a bunch.. literally!
Adventures are for everyone! Experiential, child led, and play-based learning have always been the core components of our unschooling adventures!
We travel by a “go with the flow”/ “as we can”, sort of style while actively working towards going full time. Recently, we bought a 6 window school bus – affectionately named “The Frizz” – that we are currently converting into our travel mobile. When we aren’t traveling in our bus, we are traveling in our Honda Odyssey minivan.
I’ve been traveling with my 3 kids (ages 8,6,4) since they were all babies. I don’t believe the hype that “children stop adventures”. In fact I have experienced that they can actually enhance them and make them all the more rewarding. I love being on the road exploring and traveling with the kids. I spend the majority of the time adventuring and roadschooling with my 3 girls solo, but their papas try to join as much as possible, when work/ life permits.
I would say, when starting to travel with kids, start slow and ease into it with little weekend trips and drives. Then go up to longer drives and/or longer stays. See how you do, how your kids do, and evaluate what can change or stay the same for the next time. There is no right or wrong way to find what works best for your family.
This lifestyle has been incredibly rewarding and freeing for my family! Though we don’t travel full time yet, we do full time unschooling and learn through life and experiences. I’ve watched our children absolutely thrive as they truly enjoy learning, exploring and living this freeing life. Decolonizing how we viewed learning has also been freeing for myself as I continue to unlearn and deschool my own brain. I find this lifestyle to be so much more peaceful and liberating for all of us.
While on the road with kids I love finding new and engaging experiential activities for them to do. We are National and state park explorers, and the kids are Junior Rangers, so finding the nearest state and National park or historic site and hiking those trails or exploring that area while learning about the area is a must.
As a parent who has been homeschooling for 8+ years now, I absolutely love the National Park systems Junior Ranger Program. Each ranger program is unique to that park or historical site and each provides an opportunity to learn as you explore. Once you complete the activity packet given to you by the rangers, you are given a free junior ranger badge souvenir to match the location that you just explored and learned about. The children love doing these activities in each new spot! I love watching how much they enjoy learning through life.
When traveling we often try to find cool picture spots as souvenirs, like state signs, roadside attractions and statues. We especially love unique art and murals that showcase the culture in individual cities!
Hitting The Road
To keep the children’s legs stretched out – and to prevent boredom while driving for extended periods of time – we stop at each state line rest stop (which usually has the state sign for a photo op). I also try to find the coolest playgrounds, parks and children’s museums in the area to explore. We utilize a lot of reciprocal memberships to museums, zoos, and other attractions to make traveling and exploring with kids more financially accessible.
Things I always make sure I’m stocked up on before a trip with kids:
- Snacks! Lots of easy, quick, snacks. Our favorites are: lots of fruit – the kids love oranges, apples, grapes, bananas, and berries. Juice boxes, pre-prepared sandwiches, crackers… typical road snacks. My trick is having it all ready and easily accessible before I hit the road so that it can easily be handed out.
- We take many rest stops for bathroom breaks, and we also have a kids’ potty chair that lives in the minivan. One of the biggest reasons for the bus was wanting a bathroom for everyone while on the road, so the bus has a bathroom in it. I’ve found that late at night when I stop overnight to rest I also love having a bathroom on board because I don’t have to leave my vehicle to use the bathroom as a solo female with 3 children late at night if I don’t want to. Stopping at the state line rest stops and going to the bathroom anytime you stop for food or gas really makes bathroom time on the road less stressful, whether you have a bathroom/potty in your travel vehicle or not.
- I keep the children occupied on long trips with LOTS of entertainment. Before any trip I stop at the dollar store for new coloring and activity books for everyone. Each child has their own personal activity box that will usually have the new activity books, crayons, markers, PLAYDOUGH, pencils, and paper in it. I make sure that these boxes are stocked before each trip. I also make sure that the iPad is fully charged with pre downloaded movies, I try to estimate travel time with movie run time and plan accordingly. The children also love audiobooks, listening to kids bop, and podcasts. For myself I’m often listening to audiobooks while driving, and will switch to music when I’m starting to get too relaxed behind the wheel. I keep my snacks and drink up close, as well as my charger and phone holder.
My Final Thoughts
Overall, being as prepared as possible, being open to trial and error, strengthening what works, and doing away with what doesn’t, loosening expectations, and enjoying the journey are my biggest tips to share. Simplifying, focusing on the most important things in life and living in the moment. <3
Find Toya on Instagram @myrainbowsandsunshine!
Photos courtesy of Toya.
Introducing your kids to the outdoors
By Natasha Van Horne
If you have kids, you know the conundrum. Initially, it starts as a dream of the memories you will create with your children. You dream of exploring the national parks, teaching your kids about respecting nature, and immersing them in wholesome hobbies.
And then you find yourself on your first trip with your little ones. After a long drive of whining, crying, and endless questions, you finally arrive at your location – already worn out. Does this sound familiar? As a single Mom, I can empathize. Here are a few guidelines I’ve learned from traveling with my daughter on the road.
1. Throw your expectations out the window.
Here we are, on an unexpected sailing ride in Hawaii. My daughter and I really were hoping to sail, and one of our guides from another adventure knew someone who was willing to give us a free sailing adventure. Due to leaving plenty of room each day for whatever may come (and sometimes it’s just room for naps!), we were able to have a lovely experience of sailing a monohull together.
Leave room for the magic of spontaneity.
In the long run, it will allow you to be more flexible with the ebbs and flows of your child’s emotions throughout the day and allow you appropriately respond better. Your child is still discovering their feelings with every little change, and how you respond will dictate how the memory of the trip imprints itself on their minds.
Recently on my trip to Hawaii, I had a visual idea of how I thought the trip would go. I was excited to get up early each day, have the kids have their breakfast, and then head on out for an adventure. But every single day was different. And every single day the kids would ask if they could swim in the pool, despite the ocean being preferred for me. So each day I would do my best to find a way to slip in an adventure that was specifically requested. After all, this is your child’s journey as well, and they have their own dreams of how they hope this trip will go.
2. Preparation for the trip starts early.
Talk to your children about your upcoming road trip or vacation. Ask their opinions about a road trip, and find out what their ideas and dreams of a road trip entails. Be flexible to allow them to help plan. Their excitement will be insurmountable when they feel that they’ve had an active part in planning the trip. They also will look forward to specific plans that you had gotten them excited about prior to the trip starting. Be prepared to be asked when an idea they planned is coming up next!
As an example: the Dole Plantation wasn’t big on the list of places my daughter wanted to go. But knowing there was a train ride was all she needed to be excited about this location.
3. Let the kids navigate.
When I first started driving around in my van as a single mom, my daughter had to sit up front as it was the only other seat-belted spot in the vehicle. I discovered one day, after giving in to her begging to hold the map, that she was really good at telling me whether I needed to go left or right. After that, prior to any trip I would confirm that she still knew her right from her left, and let her become the trip navigator. She loved feeling important and included in the duration of the trip!
4. Plan points of interest along the way to the destination.
Bathroom breaks are inevitable with kids, so looking ahead to see what historical points of interest or fun stops you can add to your adventure will break up the monotony of driving and add an educational opportunity along the way. This also pulls us back to being flexible.
Plan your trip in advance to not be rushed, so that if your kid just needs to pull over and let some wiggles out, they can do so. This makes a huge difference for the remainder of your journey.
5. Give the kids their own adventure packs, fully stocked with snacks and activities for the day.
Put a time on each activity and snack so that they can be more independent.
Doling out snacks on flights or road trips can become tedious, and interfere with your focus while driving. Anticipating the need for snacks and drinks and giving it to the kids in advance will help you keep your sanity and the never ending questions at bay.
Personally, I enjoy placing times on little baggies for the kids to know when they’re able to open the next snack, game, or drink.
6. Give the kids their own adventure cameras.
You can purchase inexpensive digital cameras for kids for under $30. Kids will enjoy a good hike or a beautiful spot in nature more if they’re allowed to document the process in the same way they notice their parents documenting it. Plus, it opens the door to their creative sides and lets them take in details that they may not have noticed prior to them taking photos. Also, creating mini educational plans can help them along hikes, city tours, or mini adventures to keep their brain intrigued, and learning.
My Final Thoughts
While taking your family on the adventure of their lives can be daunting, it can bond your family together in a special way that is unattainable anywhere else. These precious memories of time spent together will live on in their memories and will create a legacy for them to want to continue in their own families in the future.
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