6. Make memories.
On our first day we drove through Bristol, VA. John thought the idea of a city on a state line was the coolest thing ever and he was so excited to stand on the line with one foot in each state. Why? I don’t know. But standing on state lines became one of our things on this trip. The other thing that we got absurdly excited about was license plate spotting. Maybe it’s something more formal like geocaching or letterboxing but having something that becomes your thing is a great way to remember the trip and time together.
We also had the boys keep journals. Each night they wrote a sentence or two about what we did that day or what was most memorable to them. They included some drawings and we bought postcards that they could put in as well.
7. Join a Children’s or Science Museum
Many cities have Children’s and/or Science Museums that you can visit free with a membership. Not as well known is that many museums offer reciprocal benefits so that if you belong to one museum you can get in free to many others. In years when we know we are going to be traveling we join a museum and then we have access to many others where we are going. H. takes it one step farther and researches lists of museums to find out which ones offer the most reciprocal benefits in places we are going and which ones will give us benefits at both Children’s Museums and Science Museums. This means that often we join a museum that is not near us.
We’ve found Children’s Museums are somewhat hit or miss in quality. Many are just sort of glorified playrooms. However, some like the one in Pittsburgh are excellent. We’ve also found that even the playroom type can be useful on a rainy (or too hot) day or when you need something to do for just a short amount of time. We all love Science Museums. This trip we had an especially great time at the Nashville Adventure Science Center where the boys got to play in the moonwalk simulator. H. and the kids also lucked out on their visit to the New Orleans Children’s Museum where it was some kind of science day. Local colleges had students there leading all kinds of activities, including extracting strawberry DNA.
8. Mix up “kid stuff” with “adult stuff”.
Yes, we went to Legoland in Atlanta. But we also went to the CDC museum. The best stuff was the stuff that everyone liked: the swamp tour in Lousisiana, listening to live music in New Orleans, eating beignets, the Atlanta aquarium.
9. Study ahead.
I’ve mentioned before that H. is the trip planner in our house. For this trip he spent months planning which resulted in us seeing things and doing things we wouldn’t have done without his research.
I also knew that this trip would be full of great learning opportunities. I didn’t want to overdo this and take away the joy in what we were doing and experiencing but I did want them to get the most out of what we saw. This year we are focusing on U.S. Geography so we spent the first six weeks of school learning about the southern states. It was great having already talked about a lot of the places we were visiting. We also studied a few specific things that I knew related to places we would go. We were able to visit the Helen Keller birthplace in Alabama which was made more meaningful by having studied about her life in advance. We very briefly discussed Civil Rights which made our stop at the Civil Rights Memorial and Museum in Montgomery, Alabama much more meaningful. Even if you aren’t a homeschooler I think you’ll find that your kids will get more out of what they are seeing if they know a bit about it ahead of time.
10. Enjoy the journey.
This trip more than any other that we’ve taken was less about the destination and more about the journey. Yes, we were going to New Orleans for a pediatric conference. But New Orleans was more of a “sure it would be cool to go there” kind of place for us than a “we must see it before we die” kind of place. Yes, we had places to stop and lots of research telling us great things we could see and do. But there were very few “must see” places and mostly “would be nice to see”.
When we thought about our reasons for travel, primary was that we like it. We like seeing new places and trying new things. We want our kids to have those experiences also. I like that travel forces us to learn to be flexible and to sometimes be out of our comfort zones. I think those are good skills for our kids. But mostly, I like travel with the kids because it’s concentrated time together. We don’t have work. There is no school. No household chores. No feelings of “I should be doing x” instead of just hanging out. No kid activities.
It wasn’t always easy to remember that the journey was the vacation. When we arrived at one hotel very late at night to find that they had given us only one double bed. When there was a massive accident in Louisiana closing a bridge and requiring us to to take a one hour detour that made us miss the swamp tour. (We were able to reschedule and H. was interviewed on local TV news when we stopped for gas). And admittedly it was harder for the adults to remember this than the kids. Ok, it was hard for me. I’m not always a pleasant person when things go astray. It was helpful to remind myself that this trip (and maybe any trip) was as much about watching the kids snuggle in bed at night or laughing at a silly joke of David’s or hearing John yell out responses to whatever audiobook he was listening to (he hasn’t quite figured out headphones yet). It was about making memories and learning a little bit more about our kids.
The last tip? Go. Trust me, you’ll have a great time.