For many, the idea of traveling with kids in a car for any extended period of time doesn't sound like the ideal way to begin or end a vacation. Have you ever given yourself over to daydreaming about how awesome a vacation is going to be, only to start thinking about the 6-7 hour drive (which always ends up taking longer) you will have to "endure" just to make it to the awesome?
That happened to me before we made a quick family trip from Nashville, TN to Boone, NC. We were only going to have one full day in the area sandwiched between two days of heavy travel there and back. Confession: That kind of scenario typically stresses me out. I'll admit to having to do a lot of personal preparation for this trip. One of the biggest reasons was that we had never traveled (even close) to that far by car with our daughter. On top of that, we were going to be in a hotel...with walls, and neighbors, and hotel carpet...and a toddler. We would have preferred to be camping, but circumstances didn't allow for that on this trip.
Quickly, this fun family getaway was becoming a stressor. This wasn't cool, nor was it fair to Nea or our little traveler. So, I decided before we left that I would be a few things that my family really needed me to be on trips like this...and maybe even more often at home! I wasn't sure how to label or characterize those things, but I did know that my focus needed to be on keeping the trip fun. With some time to reflect upon our trip I have come up with those eight things I need to be to make sure I can help Nea keep vacations, especially car vacations, fun for our daughter and for us (Nea is very good at this, by the way).
2) Be a traveler - Don't shortchange yourself or your family; count the travel time as part of your vacation. We had some of our most fun moments on the way to and from Boone.
3) Be flexible - Be flexible enough to change your plans. On the way home we were going to stop for a 5-mile hike before we left the Boone area; however our daughter slept for an incredible 13-hours the night before! So, we weren't going to have time for 5-miles; instead, we decided to just go and find something along the way.
4) Be adventurous/spontaneous - What we found along the way was a quick hike up a grassy bald atop Roan Mountain. It just so happened to be on the alternative route were taking home, and it just so happened to be around snack time. What better place to have a snack than atop a mountain? On the way to Boone I remembered that Josh from the Happy Family Movement recommended a giant tree house that I hadn't known existed; it was on our way, too. We stopped there and a few other places just for fun. And, you know what? It was a whole lot of fun. We didn't worry too much about getting into town to do fun things, because we were finding and having so many great experiences along the way.
5) Be attentive - Know when to stop, rest, push through, sing a song, sing lots of songs, read a book, put on the relaxing music, be quiet, etc. Toddlers take a lot of attention. This is obviously much easier with a good traveling partner (again, Nea's the best).
6) Be locally-minded - Why go to someplace amazing and not partake in the local culture? We ate out for two meals a day, and each time was at a different locally owned restaurant or cafe. We shopped locally, played locally and naturally (hikes, walks, playgrounds, exploration, etc.). We even did this while traveling. On the way to Boone we found a great little sushi restaurant outside of Knoxville, TN, and on the way back we had barbecue sandwiches at a saloon in Elizabethton, TN.
7) Be together; be on vacation - When it's not work time, it's not work time. This is true when we're in Nashville or anywhere else. I'm much happier when I am with my family, focused on them and completely mindless with regards to work. I love my job, we both do, but we love our family more and these times we have together are priceless.
8) Be thankful - Most of all, I found myself feeling thankful on this trip. My family is remarkable. My wife is my best friend, and our daughter defies description. I remind myself constantly how fortunate we all are to have each other. Whether we were finding our way through Minister's Tree House, feeding our daughter lima beans with chopsticks, watching the sunset in Cherokee National Forest, scrambling down rocks at Price Lake, enjoying local cuisine in a locally-sourced restaurant, sitting silently atop Roan Mountain, or just watching our daughter sleep past 8:00 AM, there was a constant feeling of peace and happiness. This is pretty much how I feel everyday I am with Nea and our daughter, and I am eternally thankful for that.
So, that's my list of what I need to be in order to keep the fun going on a road trip. What do you think, did I miss anything? We would love to know what you do to keep road trips fun for everyone; please share!