Feature Image: A car packed with stuff or a car packed with memories? Even if things went wrong, we’ll look back on these trips and smile. / Photo credit: Melissa Fox
My Tips on Letting Go of Expectations
When Carolyn suggested I take my young family on a road trip as part of our #TravelAtHome series, I completely forgot the stress and anxiety of every previous trip. Somehow, I assumed that packing two kids under the age of eight into a car for longer than two hours would go nothing but smoothly.
Generally speaking, my kids, ages 6 and 2, are well behaved and can sit for long stretches in the car without incident. It took a few years, but we can get from our home outside of Toronto to the city and back with me only having to threaten once or twice to pull the car over or turn it around.
High energy and creative, they’re surprisingly (and unlike myself) easy going. After months of focus on work and coping with the new “normal” of having them both at home and bored out of their minds, however, it was time for a much-needed break. For all of us. From the moment we reversed out of the driveway until the moment we rolled back in, I know the memories we made this summer will last us for a lifetime.
Do you want to have a great time on the road with your kids (or your grandchildren)? Letting go of that perfect picture in your head is a start. Easier said than done, but not impossible. Here’s how I did it.
1. Chances are, the Pony Will Win
Unless you’re booking an all-inclusive vacation to a theme park or even a cruise vacation, your kids are probably going to hate wherever you plan on taking them. Do your kids enjoy hiking through acres of wilderness or sleeping on the ground? Does the idea of portaging get them jump-up-and-down excited? These activities may be at the top of your list, and of course, you want to share them with your children, but try to squeeze in a few things you think they’ll really get a kick out of.
When we visited a ranch in Milton, it was a pre-requisite that my daughter ride a horse. If I hadn’t booked a ride, she would never have forgiven me. It ended up being the highlight of the summer for her. Much to my surprise, my two-year-old eagerly hopped on the back of the pony, as well! Kids do the darndest things.
Without a doubt, the most memorable moment for Dylan was getting up close and personal with the beautiful horses at Five Star Ranch. / Photo credit: Melissa Fox
To everyone’s surprise, William was just as willing to hop on Oreo, the sweetest pony we’ve ever met. / Photo credit: Melissa Fox
2. Downtime is good
I try to keep my children happy and entertained, especially when we’re travelling. I’ve learned that things tend to go more smoothly when kids are happy and preoccupied. However, did you know that “provide constant excitement and entertainment” is not part of your job description? On road trips, there is a lot of opportunity for downtime, which can be useful when you’re trying to unplug and unwind. Being bored is a skill a lot of these kids haven’t had the chance to nurture. I’m always careful to pack technology but I am also cognizant of the amount of time my kids spend with their noses buried in screens. During COVID, both my kids have spent way too much time watching TV and playing games. Our trip to the cabin in Katrine, ON — with no wifi and kind-of cell service — couldn’t have come at a better time. When we had settled into the cozy space, the first word’s out of my daughter’s mouth: “What is our next activity?”
We’re never not prepared with a few little things to entice the kids to start playing on their own. / Photo credit: Melissa Fox
Nothing. That’s what. At first, she pouted, but it wasn’t long before she and her brother were ready to explore the “forest” around us and creating worlds of their own from their Magna tiles and Paw Patrol figures. Imagination is one of life’s biggest gifts and forcing boredom on kids can help them rediscover that.
3. Leave the plan at home
Murphy’s Law: Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong. At least applied to my life. And when travelling with kids.
If you want to enjoy the experience, I highly recommend your repeated mantra be “come as you are.” Don’t over plan! I barely planned at all, just waded in with a rough idea of where we were going, what we would do, and when, and I can honestly say our two #TravelAtHome road trips were two of the best I’ve ever had.
4. Give your kids the power to decide
Parents know that if you want something done right you have to do it yourself, but do you ever get tired of making all the decisions? I think my kids get tired of me being in charge too. A road trip is a perfect time to cede a little of that power to your children. Let them pick the day’s activity, or where you have lunch or dinner. Give them a choice. It will empower them to have a sense of ownership on the vacation, too.
5. Embrace the chaos
Life with kids is not easy, so why would travelling be any different? In my opinion, there’s never a better time than now to introduce kids to the vast and valuable life experiences gained when getting around, even if it’s in your own backyard.
Now that I’m in the driver’s seat, it’s incredibly fulfilling for me to see my kid’s perspective expanding with each new journey. You may be lamenting your lost theme park or all-inclusive, but I’m not. A local-ish road trip is a great way for both you and the kids to dip a toe (back?) into the world of travel and help them learn about themselves and the world around them.
Want more advice on family travel? We’ve got you covered!
Karen was 12 when her father came homunced that the family would be moving to South Korea for his job. A year later, Karen’s family was packed up and on their way.
Sue was 16 when she spotted an ad in her Kansas high school newspaper for American Field Service (AFS)’s Study Abroad programs. She wondered aloud if she could do this. As the third of six daughters, she wasn’t sure itw ould fit into the family budget. But the stories she read from other students were so exciting and inspring, she drummed up the courage to ask.
This month, we share the stories of two resilient solo travellers whose adventures gifted them with the greatest love of their lives – their children. Meet Nancy C. and her son Alex, and Coralie and her daughter Carla.