I have nothing against Disney World. I’ve taken them there, too. (Once.) But Disney offers a perfectly fabricated adventure – and they do it better than anyone – and I want my kids to know all about the messy, surprising, unexpected things that can happen on a real adventure, in a real place – where different cultures collide. Where they can learn about something new, get a different perspective. And we’re lucky enough to be able to do it.
I know that traveling with your family is an expensive proposition. I’ve done it. But to me, travel is a necessary expense. I’d rather forego seeing movies in the theatre for a year, seriously scale back dinners out, and even – wait for it – heavily curb my shoe-buying habit – if it means we can take a trip that my kids will remember.
That being said, for the first eight or so years of my kids’ lives, we just went to Florida. My parents had a condo, it was quick and easy. And while I admire people who can travel with babies or little ones I just can’t do it. I’m not that relaxed or easy going: I am a New York Jew. ‘nuff said.
I’ve learned a few things along the way about adventuring far from home. Here are a few tips:
1. Don’t over-pack. Unless your vacation is to a five-star hotel in Europe (which is an adventure of another kind. Perhaps one best taken without the kids.), no one cares what you look like on an adventure trip.
Bring the basics. Pack a collared shirt or two for the males in your family, and a comfortable skirt that can go from day to night for the girls – and call it a day.
Leave the curling iron/straightener/five kinds of hair product at home.
And for heaven’s sake, don’t pack perfume. Can you say bug-magnet?
2. Be flexible. If you go to the rain forest, here’s a shocker: it will rain. Do not decide that that means you can stay indoors. Put on a big ole poncho and head out. Adventure is about…get this…being adventurous. What’s the worst that will happen? You’ll get wet.
3. Consider taking an organized trip. Yes, I know. You are adventuring. But banish from your mind thoughts of a tacky looking tour guide leading a group of retirees with a multi-colored flag in her hand.
Family adventure trips take the stress of planning away, provide great guides, and give your kids other kids to hang out with. Let me tell you – it keeps bickering to a minimum.
Plus, these companies know what they’re doing: they’ve done it a bazillion times.
We took an organized adventure trip to Costa Rica and learned WAY more, and covered way more ground that we would have on our own.
4. Balance taking tons of Photos with being present. I took a bazillion photos on our trips – especially to Africa. But there were times when I made myself put the camera down so I could really SEE what was going on. Sometimes, looking through a camera lens shrinks your experience down to what’s in the view finder. Don’t miss your trip while you’re recording it.
5. Add a Charitable Component
In South Africa, we spent an entire day of our trip in the township of Kaylesha delivering beads to women who make and sell beaded crafts through the charity Monkey Biz. (A friend of mind who works with the charity arranged it.) It was my favorite day of the trip. And it was important to me that my kids see how other people lived in South Africa – not just how people on fancy safari trips lived.
In Costa Rica, our guide set our kids up with Pen Pals before we left, and then arranged a meeting while we were there.
And in the Canadian Rockies, we spent a day learning about – and practicing eco-tourism.
You don’t have to do something huge…just something to remind yourself – and your kids – that you are in a real place where people live. Not just a vacation place for their personal adventure.
6. Most Important: Go with the Flow. “On time” does not mean the same thing in Africa as it does here. “Pizza” will not necessarily be what your kids are used to. Bugs will be plentiful.
Hey, if it were just like home, it wouldn’t be an adventure, would it?
DISCLOSURE: Sponsored by Austin Lehman Family Adventures Vacations