My tips for traveling with [older] kids

My son did the math for me recently – our daughter is almost in high-school, which means almost college, which means almost out of the house. (This is how I spiral, it’s ok) It’s only five years away. It goes fast. So fast. Fast fast fast FAST.

Traveling is one of our favorite ways to spend time together as a family. And it can be camping within our home-state of Michigan or flying to Florida for a long weekend, driving across the country for 6 weeks in the PNW or jumping the pond to immerse ourselves in other cultures.

Traveling with kids that aren't in diapers, don't scream, aren't crying because their ears hurt, can feed themselves, and are easily entertained .... Game changer.

No matter where we go though – I have a few things I look for each and every time. We aren’t theme park people (we did Disney for our daughters 5th birthday and, I won’t say never, but probably will not ever go back. Ever.) and we love immersive travel which means Airbnb or Vbro are our favorite conduits to travel. We prefer to go to places where we can stay for a while and because of my husband’s ability to work from anywhere if needed, this is an option available to us.

When we have a destination planned, a house booked, or tickets purchased I start researching the area more in depth.

I always look for local libraries.

Library in Lynden

Library in Lynden

Boulder, Co Day 3

Boulder, Co Day 3

Libraries have amazing programming, often free, and always age appropriate. In 2011, we went to Boulder, Colorado and while my husband worked normal hours from coffee shops or our airbnb, I would keep us busy with story time at the library, events with naturalists (all from the library), organized playgroups at the library and well, you guessed it – crafts at library. In 2016 when we spent the summer in Washington I signed my kids up for events at the local library. They participated in a kid craft fair, signed up for their summer reading programs and we made weekly (sometimes more than once) trips to the library for books and movies.

I search the local chamber of commerce and event calendar.

Next, I always look at the events calendar for the places we’ll be visiting for the time we’ll be there. We’ve stumbled on some pretty fun stuff just by checking this out. While in Lynden, Washington we were in town for the local Raspberry Festival. Which was a big deal – and tons of fun.

It's the thing to do, we hear, to have a raspberry sundae at the Northwest Raspberry Festival. The kids and Grandpa Roger did it up 👍

Had fun at the Raspberry Festival today!

If we’ll be in a different city for longer than 5 days I always check local art councils as well. They often have classes or camps for kids and I’ve been known to sign mine up for some music/drawing/dancing. The classes are usually 2 to 4 hours for a few days and it gives them something to do that they enjoy and I get a small break to be able to grocery shop, work, grab lunch with my husband, or just relax in the middle of the busyness of traveling with kids.

I try to find a place to stay with a kitchen.

Not always possible, depending on where we’ll be, but even hotel chains offer suites with kitchens. It’s always worth looking for us because we don’t love eating out. We love good food, and if restaurants come highly recommended, we’ll try them. But with kids, the food experience at restaurants is often above their pay-grade. They’re learning to enjoy a good dining experience but while traveling, my husband and I love discovering new places, going slow, and taking the time to enjoy our surroundings. Kids are sort of the anti-relaxer. So instead we look for great breakfast places (because first thing in the day they’re more likely to be on board with our “slow living” pace) and we leave the rest to snack plates, picnics or kid friendly options.

Last Sunday, our first real meal in our rental. It was @thekitchenbeet's mushroom stew which = therapy. Cupboards open, a pot simmering on the stove, haphazardly organized space. But it smelled amazing. And tasted even better.

Boulder, Co Day 6

This is one of the reasons we love booking our stay through sites like Airbnb or Vbro. We get the immersive travel by picking a place to stay right in town, or in a neighborhood close to the action (or away from it – if that’s the goal), the hosts of the places we’ve rented are always so helpful and accommodating and we get great tips of things to do or try from them as well. And … we get a kitchen, a separate sleeping space from the kids and walls to give us a bit of anonymity when we need some “down” time. It’s also more walkable, we’ve found.

I use Pinterest, Yelp, Google Maps, Groupon, etc.

And lastly, one of the main things I do while I’m putting together a trip is consult the internet. There’s so much information, so many recommendations, and so many ideas right there. I usually start with Pinterest and search for the area + “things to do”. or + “kids” and start looking at everything that sounds fun/frugal or free/worth it.

We love hiking, local history, walking tours, book stores, farmers markets, interactive classes, water of any kind, tours, and sunset activities.

I would also take advantage of whatever the hotel, home, resort you’re staying in, has to offer. In Florida we were able to take a Chef guided tour of their bee-keeping initiative and local farming operation for free.

Amelia Island, Florida 2017

Amelia Island, Florida 2017

The same resort (which I found on priceline for a steal of a deal) had a ton of fun stuff the weekend we were there – like a donut wall!

Amelia Island, Florida 2017

And we were able to rent a golf cart to tool around in, which was so much fun and cheaper than the bikes we were hoping to rent 🙂

Oliver loves a good golf cart - really he loves anything with a motor and wheels that he's allowed to drive. Florida: 👏

Amelia Island, Florida 2017

For more on this specific trip to Florida (2017) – go here.

Lastly, I look for parks.

One more thing, if we’re going to be somewhere longer than 2 nights, I usually look for parks. If we’re not staying in a hotel with a pool, I know I’ll need to get my kids outside to run off energy.

Around Lynden

Around Lynden

If we’re camping, then this is no problem. Usually where ever we are parked is playground enough for them with hiking trails nearby or pavement to tool around on with their bikes. But if we’re visiting a city … green space is key.

Ping Tom park

Amelia Island, Florida 2017

And there you have it! My tips for traveling with older kids.

We have a list of places we want to see, go, or things we want to do compiled and when the budget allows and deals arise or we’ve accumulated enough points for travel – I keep an eye out for the destinations we want to see. Usually I’m looking months in advance (or for “regular travel times” like spring break or holidays – a whole year ahead), but some of the best deals are within weeks of looking/researching them.

How do you travel with (or without) kids? What do you look for?

Wilderness State Park

This year for Spring Break we headed North. Did I want to go to sunny Florida? Georgia, even? Um, I live in Michigan so that answer is automatically 100% yes. But! We did something different and it was awesome, too. Much colder, snowy even, but a blast nonetheless.

Spring Break 2018

Our kids are 13 and nine and while I used to make things like the Summer Jar for school breaks, I’ve broken that habit since moving in to our current house almost 6 years ago. Sad, but true. This past year has been a difficult one, full of stops and changing plans when we thought everything was green light GO! It wrecked a piece of me for a while, I can’t lie to you. And then a couple weeks ago I decided to literally fuck it and took my life back. We’ve been living in limbo, in the ‘not there yet’ and ‘no longer here’ for way too long. A bunch of wait, so much of “when X happens, or Y starts, or Z is done” we’ll finally be able to / get to / go there.

And traveling is one of the many things we’ve been putting off for good reasons until I couldn’t justify them anymore and it was time to escape.

TO THE WOODS!

Waking up like this

Pour over, slow mornings

My husband spends a few nights at Wilderness State Park every year with the same group of guys. This year will be the 20th year consecutively that they winter together, in the woods. As our kids have gotten older and more curious – they’ve expressed interest in seeing what he does every year. So, we went!

Snow was in the forecast and my kids forgot their winter coats (my son forgot a coat entirely), I forgot my camera (hence the iphone photos here), we forgot to pack things like the french press and a pan for boiling water. You know. Essentials. But we remembered the coffee and the fruit and cheese.

We stopped on our way up to buy a pour-over 1 cup coffee brewer (and it worked like magic) and a few other things.

A love letter // a short list of things we forgot: *Upon entering Wilderness State Park, Oliver proclaimed he didn’t pack a coat. (It’s snowing) *Something to brew coffee, but we remembered the coffee. *Something to boil water in, but we remembered someth

Hikes, hikes, and more hikes

We hiked and saw the tee-pee my husband and his friends built years and years and years ago, and it’s still standing. We hiked over little bridges and creeks and found beavers’ dens. We walked out as far as I could handle with my best friend anxiety riding shot-gun on the ice of Lake Michigan, and we played rock ball in the freezing rain.

The Tee-pee Aaron and his buddies built almost 20 years ago

Playing "rock ball"

Free range

There was a lot of cooking over coals, an incident with the Whirly-pop and a lot of smoke, the dinner I turned into charcoal, and the naps and reading and coffee and games and laughing. There was a lot of laughing.

Playing games

Spring Break 2018

When making popcorn over hot coals inside means you get smoked out ... unless you’re a die hard popcorn fan.

Playing "rock ball" 2018

Spring Break 2018

It was a great escape. We stayed in the Sturgeon Bay Cabin and we’re able to drive in (not always the case, and had we not been able to it would have been a 3 mile hike in to the cabin), they supply the firewood for the wood-burning stove and a couple of rolls of toilet paper – but the rest is up to you. Bedding, all dinnerware and cookware, food and drink. The cabin is dry, no running water, and there’s an outhouse for yo’ business time.

But it was breathtaking and worth every effort.

Spring Break 2018
[Click on image above to play video]

Links:

*Reservations for Wilderness State Park
*Wilderness State Park Trail Map
*Helpful information and other camping options

Celebrate Everything.

What do you do when your son announces in the middle of Panera Bread that he has started puberty and could we please have a party about it already?

Well, I have no idea really. But what I did was bake a cake because my one rule is to celebrate everything. If my kids are in to it, so am I. Puberty? Let’s celebrate the crap out of that one.

Here’s where we know more than he does: he has not started puberty. But he is convinced that this rite of passage is upon him and we are on Team Him, so it’s a go. We’ve had “the talk” with both of our kids and we have a number of different age appropriate books scattered throughout our library for them to pick up as they wish. Our son is very scientific about all the things and has informed us that puberty is a 2 year stage, of which he is smack dab in the middle of. According to his research. Which I’m sure is vast.

Here’s the deal, guys, ok? This part of parenting (as with all of parenting) is generally a very personal thing. Between you and your tribe, whoever has a voice in your kids life. Sometimes I call on my kids’ allies to help when I know I’m not able to have the kind of conversation or transparency I’d like with them, I rally my troops and the people they feel the most comfortable with – outside of me and their dad. Not just with sex and bodies and safety and love. But with anything really. Friends, siblings, family relationships, homework, responsibility, etc etc etc.

I was the kid who was most excited to turn 16 not because of all the driving or freedom (that part terrified me, actually) but because I would FINALLY be able to buckle my seat belt with my left hand. I am not even shitting you a little bit. I took photos of my first zit, first hickey, and have embarrassing momentos from my own rite of passages in life. No shame, guys. None. I geeked out about the little stuff.

So I really understand where my son is coming from. And God help me, we’re going to dance around like fools for fake puberty and eat banana walnut cake together and wear silly glasses because the look on his face when he realized what was going down? He will never forget that feeling of being seen. And I’ll never forget being there to witness it.

Banana Walnut Cake

Puberty Party!

Puberty Party!

Puberty Party!

The best

This sort of thing embarrasses the life out of our daughter, but she showed up for her brother and that’s what mattered. We had extensive conversations about if he was going to share this with friends, how and what would be appropriate to say. Because I promise, if it happens at home – it’s news on the playground. See mom naked? TELL YOUR FRIENDS. Dad moons the kids after dinner? DEMONSTRATE TO THE CLASS! Mention that we’re possibly thinking of maybe doing something? IT IS FACT AND THE WORLD WILL KNOW.

All true stories, friends. All true.

He wouldn’t let me bake a penis cake. I asked. (All those bachelorette parties would finally pay off) So I found a phallic inspire caked (Banana Walnut) and we donned hairy glasses to ring in the beginning of something great. Or the almost beginning. Either way: it was a good day.

Celebrate Everything.

PS: To his future spouse; You better believe this is making a cameo at your wedding. We have loved the intense dickens out of this boy and are not ever going to stop celebrating his everything. My hope for you is that you delight in his curiosity for life, his passion for living as much as he does and you both carry the flame forward, together. I’ll be there with all the cake, no matter the theme or cause for celebration. I’m in.

Don’t look down

Perspective

Stick with me here for a minute, per usual, I have a round about way to get to the point. I used to spend an awful lot of time driving towards the lake. Specifically a small outlet in a nearby town where the parking spaces were few, the traffic slow, and the view unending.

It’s been a while since I made this pilgrimage … for a number of reasons. I haven’t really had time with this project house we’ve been working on, and the emotional space this ride used to take up was otherwise occupied by my anxious worries about the end result. The end result?

Of so many things.

When is this house going to be done? When is it going to sell? Is it going to sell? What did we do wrong? Why hasn’t any of this worked out? Did we make the right decisions? Should we have seen this coming? Were there red flags that I ignored? Is this ever going to be something that’s easy for me? Will this always be a fight? Why do I feel so unsupported? Where did my people go? What’s going on? Why can’t I stop the roller coaster? Are my kids ok? What the hell were we thinking? Will they ever make new friends? Did we just cement their future in therapy? Why is marriage still so hard? Aren’t we supposed to be good at this by now? Why do I resent my husbands job so much? Why is my family such a basket case? When does any of this workout for me? Have I just gone through life bulldozing my way towards something better without waiting for whats right?

So, as you can see, super busy.

The house is finally done and is listed for sale. Now we wait, while also continuing to work on things as the weather improves.

There’s so much more going on in the background of some of these decisions – I’ve thought more than once that we never really know whats going on behind the curtain.

Anyway, enough about the house. Back to the beach.

In addition to my mental gymnastics that were keeping me busy I’ve been having some pretty interesting conversations with God. And some completely crap-tastic dreams every night. Weird stuff, heavy stuff, icky stuff. Not generally “sleep good” lullabies – more “you’re trapped in a room and here’s your clue to get out, clock is ticking, enemy is after you: GO” adrenaline dump at midnight type stuff. I wake up weeping most nights.

Right? So – we’re all on the same page. Things are stressful. Overwhelming. And yet … I continue to hear from God that I can trust him. That he will not surprise me. That I haven’t heard him wrong.

You need that information for the next part:

Early this week on my way home from bringing my kids to and from school, somewhere on the rural back roads of Holland Township, this conviction just hits me;

I don’t trust him. No two ways about it, when I get an idea I don’t wait, I go. Not always without his blessing, but definitely always before the prompting. I am impatient. And in control. I have a hard time accepting blessings (tangible ones from friends or family, as well as those lofty things we all pray or hope for) because I am so capable on my own. Not necessarily from a “I’m awesome” stand point, more from a “well, I can afford to buy my own meal or we aren’t the ones who NEED that gift/blessing/or pardon.”

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I drive up to the beach this morning, park and get out. I walk to the steps and relish in how mild the weather is today. I’m not too cold near the water, it smells amazing, and the ice is moving. I think to myself, why have I waited so long to come back here?

I get to the bottom step, before another set of stairs that takes you right down to the beach, and I stop. The sun is just peaking through some clouds, it’s kind of moody – my favorite. I take my phone out for a few photos:

Perspective

Perspective

And then I walk down towards the beach, and stop again. I take another photo:

Perspective

And I immediately notice how I can no longer see beyond the ice formation towards the horizon. My view is blocked by what’s in front of me. I know it’s there, because I was just a few steps higher and saw it. But coming down to the beach, towards the water, everything changed. Somehow now I was landlocked. The open and vast water in front of me now a small shore towards something that felt much smaller, even though it’s still the same big lake I know exists.

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Here’s how this all came together for me; this morning I had a very tangible example of how moving just slightly in any direction can change the view in front of us drastically. How perspective is more a tool than an idea.

When I have a broad view (say, things are going well and my quiet time is full of big picture promises and hope and encouragement) I can see beyond the peaks in front of me. Beyond the road blocks, the hills, the possible mountains. I can see the horizon – still endless – but visible.

But when I walk towards those peaks, hills, mountains and the view changes from being able to see where I’m going to where I am right now: shit can really hit the fan.

I stop trusting that beyond this little bump in my journey there is still a beautiful horizon. I stop believing I’m on the right track, I start looking at my feet and my ability as the only tools to get me to the other side when I’ve forgotten the best part:

feet

The sky? She never disappears. Those beautiful clouds and the sun shining through them – they don’t connect to the endless horizon but they meet the mountain of ice instead.

Boulder, Co Day 6

I’ve been looking at the wrong thing. Trusting that the end is the goal and if the goal is out of reach, I must be doing it wrong. So I should try harder, do better, get more resourceful, get busier, work more … when I could, maybe, just keep going instead.

The hills are never that big, after all.

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Literally none of this changes my circumstances, it changes my perspective. My attitude. It calms my fears and washes away the anxiety. It brings my focus from a micro to a macro and I can finally breathe knowing we aren’t stuck here. Not even ‘we’, but me. Among my chief fears in life are: being forgotten, never being loved, and being stuck.

Not one of those fears is actually true. I just wondered if I was having such a hard time in this place, maybe one or two of you were, too. I would say to you: You’re not alone, you are loved, and don’t look down.

Change of address

All that writing about a book and then no follow up. Here’s what’s happening:

I wrote the book.

I did the thing.

It’s as done as it can be at this point.

And it will likely live on unpublished for a long time. This gutted me at first, I wanted to release this and let it go but what ended up happening is even better. I got it out of my head and if it’s ever time to release it to the rest of the world, I will readily.

If my kids are my only audience, I’m so glad I wrote this all down for them. As we enter the grey waters of growing up and learning that right and wrong are always colored in grace … I’m glad that if I don’t ever have the opportunity to tell them myself, they’ll still have my story to answer any of their questions.

I was talking to a friend recently about stepping back, being online for the past 16ish years has over-exposed me for a really long time. I’m ready for the mystery to return to my life. I don’t want to depend on the branding of my living room to feel good or the likes on twitter to help me feel worthy. I don’t want to be the person who creates images for consumption without having any real impact on the reality of the lives I can touch.

I worried that stepping away from the daily grind of creating would produce failure, but it’s been a fertile ground instead. A steady climb towards something new, different.

In the past year we’ve quietly changed most of our life. Changing schools, we bought a new house, we’ve been on trips without posting a damn thing about it and these moments that we’ve kept for ourselves, they’re the ones I’m savoring.

Not because the secret is more powerful, but the being present in the quiet moments of living are what I want to remember.

I’m honored to be asked to speak at events, to throw them still, to think-tank projects with some of my favorite people who are going places I’ve wanted to inhabit. And I think the best lesson of less has been this: it’s not that I won’t get to inhabit these spaces, but that I have time to inhabit them.

A few years ago I went to an event in upstate New York with one of my talented writer girlfriends and we sat and listened to authors speak about their careers and how varied their paths were towards the success of a book. The best thing I took away from that weekend was that there’s time. You can be 60 and still write the book. You can be sixty and start over entirely. You can be 80, or twenty-two or thirty-nine or twelve.

You can live all nine lives in the span of your one, amazing lifetime.

Maybe I’m explaining this poorly, I mean to say that I’m a writer. I just am, I always have been, I always will be. I will keep a record of my life and the lessons I’ve learned for as long as I live. I’m also a sharer. I care deeply about connection and information sharing. Of having the conversations and saying the things. I will write poetry for the rest of my life, even if every single one of them gets mistaken for trash on the back of a used envelope. I will keep releasing the prose to paper. Over and over and over again.

And eventually … they’ll live beyond my door.

I’ll let you know when that happens. It will be a really good day.