Traveling with the Kids, Stress-Free

While the pandemic rages on without—and we are currently isolated within—it’s never been more important to me to get out and (safely, following all social-distancing protocols) travel by taking energizing road-trips. Because I can work safely from home, I’ve been tasked with taking care of my young nephews while my sister—an essential worker—is taking care of the world at large by simply doing her job. I’ve been wanting to take my nephews up into the mountains for quite a while now, and I know that the fresh air and beautiful sights will do them as much good as it always does me: with the threat of in-person school looming, too, I want to engage them in as many healthy physical activities as I possibly can until the end of the summer, and use the time to impress upon them health guidelines and protocols in a relaxing, distraction-less environment in order to ensure their safety as they return to school. However, although by this time I’m an expert “solo” traveler and camper, I haven’t involved too many others yet in my outdoor activities—and certainly not any “tween” aged youngsters. I did a little research into traveling with younger companions and came up with some strategies that will make every road trip safe, memorable, relaxing, and most importantly, fun.

The Call of the Why-ld

When I was just a little guy myself, my grandfather took me camping all the time. I didn’t grow up with a whole lot, and my family struggled with financial stability until well after I was an adult, so my grandfather would sacrifice his own meager savings to get my brother and me out into the mountains for some “rest and relaxation.” He couldn’t afford to spend any money on cruises to exotic islands—or flights to Paris or Rome—but he did make a substantial effort to invest in quality camping equipment, a well-maintained vehicle and camper, and plenty of pleasant amenities to make our road trips memorable. I’ll never forget those special weekends when we’d save up to rent a room in a small cottage, and wake up to the smell of freshly-cooked bacon and eggs, or falling asleep in the living room next to the fireplace, wrapped in my favorite blanket

As I grew older (and very embarrassingly transformed into a snot-nose, cranky, angsty teen), some of these road trips and activities began to annoy me. My brother and I complained constantly. I was jealous that my wealthier friends were flying off to exotic places, and that I was instead baking in a car for multi-hour road trips, only to wind up sleeping in a tent. While based in Utah for most of my youth, my grandfather lugged us in his van to all four quadrants of the southwestern states. Throughout the years, we even experienced special trips that extended our journeys all the way to Canada twice, to experience the best of the Pacific Northwest Trail. We traveled to the Grand Canyon over a dozen times—some of the time, my grandfather had to almost drag me along.

And I am eternally grateful. I look back at these memories with immense gratitude and love. I cannot fathom how much patience and perseverance it took to take me on these trips, especially with limited funds, and I only hope that my grandad knows how truly thankful I am for that gift. 

Road Trips in the Modern Age

I know now that the world my nephews are growing up in is basically unrecognizable with my own: not only are there a hundred more “worthy” distractions (including PC and console games, constant alerts on powerful cell-phones, and the consistently terrible news they’re inundated with every day), they’ve also been asked to bear the burdens of generations’ passed unlike any have before. In the face of this, I want to strive to make their trips with me into the mountains as stress-free as I possibly can, and I’m including the following in my “must-have” list:

  • Well-stocked pantry of snacks and healthy food.
  • An e-reader (or two) chock-full of all of their favorite comic and book titles.
  • Video games: I know some purists won’t agree, but the entertainment world is different now, and my nephews deserve to play some of their favorite games while we’re at the “boring” stage of the trip. I’m the kind of uncle that’ll even let them play a bit while we’re relaxing by the fire.
  • Journals, sketchbooks, and pens: the most important aspect of these trips will be their memories. I want to encourage my nephews to process their feelings during a difficult, unprecedented time in history, and also allow them to express whatever they feel as they wander through the wilderness. The messages “in a bottle” that they send themselves now might prove to be life-saving in the future.

The Roads We Travel

As an adult, I finally understand the magnitude and value of the trips I took as a child and teen: as I reevaluate them, not only were they relaxing—sometimes exciting—and always fun, they helped me discover who I was, even when I was too upset about my circumstances to understand that in the moment. When it comes to my nephews in the current climate, it’s worth the effort to me to get them outdoors, so that they can learn how to connect with their inner voice throughout the years. In the age immediately ahead of us now, they will need a strong, clear, inner voice to guide them now more than ever. 

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