This weekend we went camping with some friends just north of Stillwater, MN along the St. Croix River. I got home from teaching about 7pm on Friday evening, we loaded up the car and headed out very early Saturday morning. My head was still full of projects at home and the assignment my students were working on. I had some readings I needed to review for class. I felt agitated to be leaving my work. The camping spot is just an hour away from home so there was no period of adjustment. We were in the city and then we were in the woods. Luckily it feels very remote.
There is something very calming about camping. It is so controlled. You bring the minimal amount of things you will need: one fork, one plate, one cup, one pot. You set everything out in it’s place. You build a fire to cook on, you cook your meal, you eat it, you clean up. And all of this becomes the major activity of the moment, not something that needs to be done before you can go on to the major activity.
Saturday evening I was washing the dishes and I had one of those moments where you are very aware of what you are doing. I had to heat the water, mix it with some cold in a tiny basin and then wash each dish individually, rinse it with a spray of water from my water bottle and set it on a towel before starting the next dish. It was slow and methodical and I realized I didn’t feel annoyed by this. I wasn’t thinking about anything except the beautiful evening light on the water in the basin and how the colored spoons looked as I wiped them.
For me travel has always been about inspiration. This certainly has a lot to do with new places and experiences, but more to do with the fact that there is dedicated time to seeing the new.
Before we had children, my husband and I traveled quite a bit. We are both architects, so most of the travel we did consisted of visiting cities and walking. LOTS of walking. The first time we visited New York City together we walked from one end of Manhattan to the other in a day. After we had a child, we didn’t consider altering this way of thinking about travel. Our first son was quiet and content to sit in a stroller and good at fancy restaurants. We continued to travel on our agenda, eating where we wanted, seeing the buildings and museums we were interested in.
After we had our second son things got busier with our jobs and it was harder and more expensive to travel with two children. Vacations were spent with family instead of traveling to new places. Until last summer. The boys were 4 and 8 and we thought it would be a good idea to go on a family vacation -just the 4 of us. We had been to Door County, WI when we were first married and fell in love with the interesting geography of the place. A long skinny strip of land between Green Bay and Lake Michigan, with beautiful rocky coasts, sand dunes, midwestern fields and charming towns. This seemed like the perfect place for a long weekend. And so we went. And the trip was a disaster. The kids were unhappy, we were stressed out and there was lots of bickering.
This summer we discussed another family trip and almost immediately decided that it would be a bad idea. But then I started thinking about WHY it had been so bad and realized it was all our fault. We hadn’t modified our way of traveling to accommodate our changing family. So we decided that we would try again, with a completely new attitude towards the trip. We didn’t alter our way of traveling so much as we thought more consciously about all 4 of us and implemented a few simple strategies:
- Plan the day out in advance and tell the kids exactly what activities are planned for when.
- Always start the day with a KID activity.
Our kids like seeing buildings and museums and going on nature walks, but they are also kids, and LOVE playgrounds and mini-golf. Starting with something special like go-kart rides seemed to set a fun tone that extended through the rest of the day.
- Be outside as much as possible.
The exercise and fresh air helped them be calmer when we did go inside public places or to areas where they needed to be more sedate.
- Let the kids eat foods that are normally special treats and stop for snacks periodically during the day.
I am pretty strict about non-healthy food, sugar and limiting snacks in general at home. On vacation we said yes to things like cinnamon rolls for breakfast every day, and generally let them eat more often. Having a few treats made them feel different and special -more vacation like.
- Compromise on restaurants.
Typically when traveling we will hunt down the restaurants that have the most interesting, local food and charming atmosphere. These types of places aren’t always the best for kids and I feel bad subjecting the next table to my sometimes loud and squirmy boys. I will not however go to “kid” restaurants. We compromised by finding a wood fired pizza place that uses local, organic ingredients and an outdoor seating area. Pizza is always a hit and outside eating areas are generally more casual and kid friendly.
- Allow later bedtimes.
Our boys go to bed early and get up EARLY. We ran them hard at the end of the day, doing things like walking on the beach at 8pm (this seemed to them like they were getting away with something) when normally they would be sound asleep. By the end of the trip they were sleeping until 7am (I know, you are all groaning) which was heaven for us.
We just returned from our trip and it was fantastic. Magical even. The perfect way to end the summer.