Playing at an Iowa rest stop

Mondays are for dreaming: An alphabet of family travel

If you’ve never visited Wendy Perrin’s blog you should. Wendy is the Director of Consumer News and Digital Community for Condé Nast Traveler, a savvy traveling mom, and a nice person.

Lately Wendy has been all about family travel tips. Not only did she publish her own A to Z guide for traveling with kids, she has issued a call for others to share their family travel knowledge. The best part is that by doing so, you can be entered to win a $16,000 Caribbean vacation for four. The contest ends May 3 at 5 EST, so there’s still time to share your tip if you want to enter.

This Monday, I decided to create my own list, this one focused on inspiration and fun from day trips to road trips with kids. I hope you’ll enjoy – and I hope you’ll enter to win that fabulous vacation. Now that’s a Monday dream I’m sure everyone can get behind!

A is for Atlas. Invest in a kid-friendly one and map your trip routes together before you go (or just use it to dream about places you’d like to visit!).

Reading in the car B is for Books. Before you leave on a trip, find age-appropriate books about its history and share them with your kids. Last year before we visited Great Britain, my boys really enjoyed the Horrible Histories series. When we arrived at the Tower of London, my oldest looked eagerly for Traitor’s Gate while the younger one wanted to see Henry VIII’s armor.

C is for Collage. Collect brochures, maps, and other print materials at the various attractions you visit during your trip. When you get home, invite your children to cut out words and pictures and make their own collages. Assemble these into a book or binder and they’ve got their own family travel picture book.

D is for Detours. Sometimes you get lost or stuck in a traffic jam. Don’t be afraid to make the most of these situations by turning off of your planned path and finding a new one.

E is for Enjoying the journey, not just the destination. When it comes to long trips, attitude is everything. Think of the hours in the car or on the plane as special family time. You’re all together without interruptions and can share music, stories, or play silly games. When else do we have our children’s undivided attention or they ours?

Playing catch along the Pennsylvania Turnpike F is for Finding Fun wherever you are. In my family we’ve been known to play catch at rest areas along the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

G is for Get your wiggles out. Kids can enjoy some pretty grown up situations, from long car rides to art museum trips. But no matter how old they are, they’ll behave better if they have a chance at regular intervals to run around a little. Seek out nearby parks and playgrounds or even rest areas (see “F”) for this purpose if it’s possible.

H is for Hotels. Think back to when you were little. What was more fun and exciting than staying in a hotel? If you can’t afford the time or money to take a big trip, try scheduling a quick family getaway a few towns over. Find a hotel with a pool and a fun restaurant and your kids will be thrilled.

I is for I Spy. Whether you’re stuck in line or in the car, this old standby can keep children amused for a long time. Vary it by adding themes like the alphabet or colors. I once spent a good half hour looking for animals in the floor of Sainte-Chapelle in Paris (before I went there with my three-year-old, I had never noticed these gorgeous and detailed mosaics).

J is for Just go. Sometimes the trickiest thing about traveling with children is getting out the door. At least once a month I try to take the children on a spontaneous day trip where I just throw some snacks and sun block in the pack and head off on a surprise outing.

L is for Local attractions. Don’t think you have to travel great distances to show your kids the world. Have they been to your town’s history museum? How about that small art gallery you’ve driven past a million times? Even a trip to a nearby ethnic restaurant or grocery store can be a way to go global without hopping on a plane.

M is for Music. Create themed playlists for your road trips that you debut on the first day of your trip. You can include music you already own but also browse iTunes for songs you didn’t even know you wanted. Past playlists for our family have included songs from the 1950s, a mix of Motown and Beach Boys songs, and pop music from my high school years. The best part? They serve as an audio souvenir of your experience.

Looking at the garden at the Hill Farm Inn N is for Nature. Whether you are visiting a botanical garden, state park, or local walking trail, gettingoutside is always a great way to travel with kids. And don’t think you have to be far out in the country either – some of my favorite nature experiences have been urban hikes.

O is for Oops! I forgot. You will forget something you thought was critical. Either you can replace it on the road or do without it.

P is for Post cards. Kids love to write and send post cards to their friends and family; don’t forget to stash a few addresses before you leave so that you can mail them from the road.

Q is for know when to Quit. A good rule of thumb for family travel is to treat every place you visit like you’ll be back. Instead of trying to see everything, see what you can that day, bearing in mind that your children were up at 4 a.m. or haven’t had a nap.

R is for Relax the Rules. A little sugar never hurt anyone, nor did missing a bath. And I’m pretty sure that the extra TV you let your kids watch in the hotel isn’t going to affect their chances of getting into Harvard.

S is for Snacks. Snacks can be the difference between a successful outing with kids and a complete disaster, but it can be trickier to keep snacks on hand when you’re staying in a hotel or have been on the road for days. Breakfast buffets are great sources of snack food, so don’t be afraid to stock up there (love those little boxes of cereal!).

T is for Treasures. (Also known as free souvenirs.) My children love to find pebbles, bottle caps, bits of polished glass, and beautiful twigs. I’ve got decorative jars full of their treasures, which serve as visual reminders of all the places we’ve been.

U is for Understanding that kids are kids. Don’t expect that your travel will be just like it was before you had children. Or that traveling with a three-year-old will be like traveling with an infant.

Traveling with kids is a constantly evolving process. Meet them where they are at this moment in their development and you won’t be disappointed.

V is for Visiting friends and family. Some of the best trips we’ve taken have been to visit friends or family who live far away. Let them play tour guide and show off their towns. Play games together. Watch your children connect with people who are meaningful to you.

W is for Write about it. Every night of your trip ask your children to write down their favorite thing about the day (if your children are too little to write, have them draw pictures, or record their thoughts for them). Just capturing one or two sentences each day will give your child a personal record of their trip that they can read for months and years afterward.

Looking at art at the National Gallery X is for eXpect more from your kids. Not every aspect of your trip has to cater exactly to your children’s interests and needs. Remember that your family is the first community your children have to learn to live in, and that this involves compromise. It’s OK to ask your children to visit a more “grown-up” museum or attraction, as long as you balance that with activities that are fun for them. We did this last summer in Windsor, England, spending a day at Windsor Castle and then a day at Legoland.

Y is for You’ll always be glad you went. I’ve never gotten home from a trip with my kids – long or short – and thought “well that was a waste of time and money.”

Z is for Zeal. If you aren’t enthusiastic and willing to learn, how can you expect your kids to be? Act like you’re having a good time and they’ll follow your cues.

What are your Monday dreams? Please feel free to share.

Reader Responses

7 fellow travelers had this to say

  1. I especially agree with letter X. I think kids are capable of appreciating and understanding more than we might expect. In fact, we went to the art museum today, and my 4 year old was very excited about the Egyptian art.

    I’m sharing a Monday Dreaming post today on Wandering Off: http://wanderingoff.wordpress.com/2011/05/01/six-months-to-complete-my-texas-travel/

  2. I think a balance of U and X is wise, and makes everyone happy. My kids surprised me by wanting to spend hours in the Louvre trying to see everything. Then we had to spend a half hour in the gift shop as they agonized over what to buy. I had to adjust my personal sightseeing goals, skipping Montmarte so that the kids could go back to the Eiffel Tower and climb the stairs to the second level. We will just have to go back again!

  3. Wow! Very cool list. While we don’t have kids yet, we may be traveling soon with our friend’s 9-year-old, so this information couldn’t have come at a better time.

  4. Clever post! Zeal is a great one.

  5. Great post! Really like the R – Relax the rules…kids enjoy these holidays (relax) rules…and so do we as well! That’s also make part of the holidays.

  6. Clever. I love it. A and Z are my personal favs – a good map combined with some zeal.

  7. Wonderful post, I really enjoyed reading it. I would suggest A is for adventure, my family and I went on a family adventure with Austin-Lehman Adventures last year to Yellowstone and it was AMAZING. We got our kids outdoors and loving it, they hiked and biked all week. Here is the link to their Yellowstone Adventure http://bit.ly/kZXZIz

Join the Conversation