September 4, 2013

7 Million Wonders of the World—How to Adventure Travel with Kids. ~ Jill Wheeler

Are you cut out for adventure travel with your kids?

I mean off-the-beaten path, beyond the all-inclusive resort vacation. Have you considered renting a house and immersing yourselves in the language, cuisine and customs of a different culture? What about boosting your adrenaline with sports that get you up close and personal with nature’s waves, water, wind and trails?

Like many new parents, my husband and I were initially concerned having children would hinder our opportunities for spontaneous travel. How could we adventure travel, yet still meet our children’s needs for stability?

We were determined to find a balance.

Here are some ways we’ve traveled and a few suggestions to make travel fun, safe and adventurous for the whole family. In the past 12 months, our girls have rock climbed and hiked in NC and CO, trekked in the rainforest and river beds of

Costa Rica, snorkeled in John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park (the only living coral reef in the Continental U.S.), waded through the wilds of waist deep swamp in the Big Cypress National Preserve (braving unseasonably cold water and weather), while navigating around two different venomous snakes and gators. We’ve surfed in Costa Rica and Dominican Republic and woven our way through busy local markets of Nicaragua inhaling smelly, tepid cheeses and enduring hanging flanks of raw, rank meats. We have paddleboarded around islands and through mangroves at Rookery Bay Estuarine Sanctuary, slack-lined high on the mountain at Vail, skied in single digit temps and whizzed through tree-tops on zip lines and sketchy tarzan-style rope swings. We’ve whitewater rafted, kayaked and canoed coastlines and rivers and swam in underwater caves.

We rode horses along the Central American coastline and danced in the moonlight, practiced yoga all over and woke up in all kinds of beds. We’ve kiteboarded, played on beaches, chased sea snakes, wild horses, crabs and dogs. We’ve tried new foods and got tummy bugs, cuddled stray cats, learned Spanish, got cold, got wet, got hot, tired, hungry and then happy, again. We wouldn’t replace any of it for the world.

There are no seven wonders of the world in the eyes of a child. There are seven million. ~ Walt Streightiff

Are you ready for your own family adventure?

Consider these Principles for Family Adventure Success.

1. Set Expectations. Be realistic and clear about what you expect from your children during your travels. In all fairness, you might consider including yourself in the “rules” and expectations. For instance, we expect that our children try new foods when we travel. We then model this willingness by also trying new foods.

We expect our children to exercise regularly, so we include something active everyday. Because no one is a fan of “melt downs,” we model kindness and patience (not always perfectly, albeit), even during flight delays, cancellations and detours. Recently, a canceled flight out of Naples re-routed us through Tampa. We got creative and found an amazing organic, raw food restaurant in South St. Petersberg. We had a good attitude and it allowed us to find solutions and feel successful instead of stuck.

2. Adventure is when you don’t know what’s going to happen next. This is how we start every trip, and return to often when plans go awry. It’s a simple motto for travel and life. We plan for the best, but expect a curve-ball every now and then. Disappointment loses its grip and we see the opportunity for adventure instead.

3. Home is where the family is. I admit that my children are inherent “home bodies.” They loved being home with their dog when we still had him and miss their cat when we are away. They got stuck with wanderlust parents and I am convinced they will end up with desk jobs and hobbies like window box gardening and knitting just to counterbalance their adventurous childhoods. I started saying this to my first born when she was only one year old and occasionally cried about missing her “cribby” at home. Wherever we are, we are home, I’d tell her: ”home is where the family is.”

4. Forget FOMO. Very important principle. FOMO is the Fear Of Missing Out. Once I got over this, I could miss almost any event or party while I was away and not feel bad, guilty or like I was “missing out.” Being totally committed to travel is rewarding. Those people who don’t support your travel, well, you know what they say, are they real friends, after all? What you and your children will have to share will be interesting and will hopefully spark others to venture out, as well.

5. Snacks: Practical and obvious. Many a meltdown can be averted with regular and somewhat familiar snacks. While we do expect our children to try new foods when we travel, it is important to have snacks that are appealing, healthy and sustaining during long travel days.

6. Patience. When you figure out the perfect solution to keeping yourself and your children patient during flight changes, zip line closures, airport lines, shuttle lines, bus lines and more—let me know. Music, “I Spy”, stories and good ol’ handheld devices like iTouches, iPods and books are helpful. Like anything, Be the example you want to see would be my best advice.

7. Service and Gratitude: We already play The Grateful Game. On our recent trip to Dominican Republic we pre-planned an opportunity to visit a non-profit organization called The Mariposa Foundation. We brought a big duffel bag of essential items, including school supplies, books and everyday necessities. My daughters assisted me in delivering a meaningful day of empowerment activities. Hands-on experiences with children of different cultures, living with far less, materially, expands cultural awareness, gratitude, empathy and connection.

In order to be a true adventurer, consider this personal credo of mine: no matter if you have the wrong gear in the wrong weather and have made a wrong turn. If you have the right attitude, you’ve been successful.

And yet, I must admit, I still insist on my girls covering the toilet seat with paper in public restrooms, that is, if there is a toilet seat (we’ve encountered some on our travels without). So, last but not least, remember to travel with a robust sense of humor. Pack your humor in your carry on and don’t leave home without it.

Happy trails, travels and adventures!


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Assistant Ed: Judith Andersson / Ed: Catherine Monkman

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