“The greatest legacy we can leave our children is happy memories”– Og Mandino – American Author of The Greatest Salesman in the World
When we first announced that we’d be taking our children on an extended trip around the US, most peoples reaction was “oooh you’re so brave to do that with young children”. The real truth of the matter is that we’ve actually found living out of a trailer with both of them easier than living in a house in a lot of ways, someways it’s harder, but for the most part they’re happier travelling than not. Here’s five reasons why:
Every day is an adventure
Whilst you might get cynical about a destination within 24 hours, your young children will find adventure wherever they look for a good three to four days. Mundane to an adult is a new exciting toy when you’re only 3 foot tall and have never seen the wood shed at Couer d’Alene campsite before in your life.
Yes that woodshed is impressive (because all wood is included in your campsite fee), but we get way to jaded as adults about the little things that are new in a location, the different fauna and flora, the animals to say hi to, the ever so slightly different weather (c’mon we’re British, we have to get our kids into weather), and just how the campsite gets the wood from A to B.
When you’re at home, you find routines with your kids, they know what to expect everywhere, where their toys are and what they will find in the garden, but every new location is novel, even if it has the same stuff as everywhere else, and that makes it a million times easier to keep everyone happy.
The whole world is your toybox
When traveling, we have a medium sized box (think big enough to hold 4-5 small toys) in the trailer and small box in the car (mainly books). That’s for both children, and typically we let them pick 3 toys each and 4-5 books to take on a trip.
However, the amazing thing is they rarely go near the toybox without our prompting (nightlight games for bedtime). This is because the moment S steps out of the trailer in the morning, he’s going to find a whole myriad of items to create a brand new game. Usually sticks, stones, bugs, maps, sand and dirt are made into the best game ever. Your kids have wild imaginations, and when you give them the opportunity to get outside and let their mind run free in nature, there’s no barrier to where their ‘toys’ will take them.
Sit back, enjoy the show and try and keep up with what that pile of rocks represents…
If you want tired kids at the end of the day, make sure they get their outdoor time
We live in a world where it’s easy to let the TV/tablet occupy our time. The truth of it is that we’re teaching our children this also. Most of us reach for the phone as one of the first tasks of the day, and the last, and children see that all the time, and so believe that their role is indoors on a device.
Living in a trailer or camping makes devices a lot harder, and therefore makes the outdoors a lot more appealing. First, so many places don’t have much or any phone signal, so you may as well put down your phone and focus on your family time. It’s nature’s way of reminding you, what’s important is the small person playing in the mud in front of you, not the email on your phone which can wait till after bedtime.
Second, when your living space is small and power is precious (see power management post), don’t waste it on electronics you don’t need, and therefore, your children (and you) and forced into the outdoors and traditional play for a bit. I’m not a luddite, in fact I love technology and gadgets, but it’s important to detox every now and again and remember life is lived in person, not through a screen.
Third, you’ve limited space in a tent or trailer, so everyone needs to get outside. The CDC recommends that every child gets at least an hour per day outside time for exercise, toning muscle and weight control (not to mention vitamin D and fresh air). By placing the restriction of a trailer or tent, it’s so easy to get an hour of outdoor play, and as a parent of kids who don’t sleep well, it’s a godsend because after a day outdoors, they both sleep so much better.
They’ll make new friends nearly everyday
Life on the road long term as an adult can be lonely. As we get older, it’s hard to make new friends, to build relationships and to get your social time, but for a child, this is a snap. Kids simply need to see another child and they’re friends. Whilst we were travelling, S grew in confidence so much from meeting many other children in playgrounds, in camp grounds, on hikes. It was amazing to see his personal growth, and I have no doubt that exposing him to many new people from all over the world at a young age will lead to him being a better world citizen, more accepting of other cultures and beliefs, and better at forming bonds.
I’m under no illusion that these relationships are not built to last, they are transient, but to a toddler, it doesn’t matter. What matters is they meet new people and have new experiences.
As Mark Twain said “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness”.
There’s nothing like knowing there’s a kid friendly hike on your doorstep
One amazing privilege of traveling is when you can camp in a national or state park (or just outside it). Particularly in park campsites, there’s a huge number of beautiful easy hikes which are walkable distance to start. No packing up the car, no forgetting the frame carrier or water, just get on everyones shoes and get your hike on.
This is so important when it’s a tough morning and things are not going too well. There’s nothing comparable to the feeling of dread associated with a short tempered toddler and explaining that to do the hike, they’ll need to sit in the car for an hour. If you’re already on location, life is so much easier, and the tantrum risks are so much lower. Set yourself up for success and minimize commute time.
Even in the larger parks, you can get to a lot of the hikes on free shuttle services. S loves a bus ride and so offering the carrot of riding the bus to a location is a great way to incentivize getting out, and opens up more hike options. Almost all these services are within the parks, so if you’re not camping in site, you’ll be facing a drive.
Some of the downsides
When the weather’s bad, it can get really tough being limited to a small shelter. On the upside, it’s a great opportunity to find a local museum, get to a bookstore and replenish your stocks, or to get on the rainsuit and get on a hike.
Bedtimes can be a real challenge with two children, when one won’t sleep, there’s a good chance they keep up number two. This is why we stagger bedtime and have a strict routine to stick to.
There’s only so many times you can sit by a fire and eat marshmallows without wanting to throw up. It’s true, but some friends we met on the road introduced us to fire roasted bananas and other fruits. Much healthier and great fun to experiment (let us know your favorite marshmallow alternative).
Finally is the potty run, when S needs to go for a poop, unless you want to fill up your compostable toilet, you’ve got to trudge across camp carrying a poo in a pot…
Let me be clear, travelling is hard as adults, and taking your children with you is not easy, let’s be honest parenting is hard at the best of times. However, we really believe that giving young children the opportunity to spend extended periods of time outside amongst nature, makes happier, more rounded kids who will grow up to be wonderful stewards of our little blue planet. Travel is an incredible way to make access to nature, just that little bit easier…