I read an article recently that bothered me. It was titled, “Five Trips You Should Take With Your Kids Before They’re Gone.” It went on to name five specific locations the author thought families should visit before kids head off to college. While I appreciated the general concept I thought they missed the mark, in a big way. I don’t remember all the destinations they listed but I do remember that an African Safari was one of them. Uh huh. Because that is practical for the vast majority of American families. Wait…you don’t have a $20,000 annual vacation budget?? Me neither.
Okay, I realize their target audience was clearly the small percentage of families who have the resources for extravagant travel but the idea of specific travel goals can still be applied to any budget. I would never presume to tell anyone which locations they must visit. The world is full of amazing destinations, as is our country, and each individual state. Some of these experiences we’ve already been able to share with our girls and some are still to come. Choose locations based on your family’s interests and budget but here are six types of travel experiences I think each family should have together before the kids are gone. These are in no particular order:
#1 Nature Appreciation: Regardless of whether you enjoy camping or prefer staying in a resort, opportunities to enjoy natural beauty abound. National and State Parks, Nature Preserves, Mountains, Coastlines, lakes, tropical islands, forests…there is no end to how you could choose to enjoy nature together. Instilling an appreciation for the world we live in and a sense of responsibility for taking care of it is a great use of family travel time. It will hopefully shape a lifelong enjoyment of the outdoors and appreciation for the incredible diversity of the earth. When we lived in Utah we had mountains and red rocks anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 hours away. It would be impossible to run out of things to do and explore. The world is your oyster. Sometimes the most beautiful pearls are in your own backyard.
#2 History Appreciation: Andy and I were musing recently about where we would love to take the girls before they are gone. Major world history sites came to mind, Rome being at the top of the list. That may happen one day and it may not. But in the mean time…we live within spitting distance of countless historical sites from our own country’s history. Plymouth, Boston, Philadelphia, Gettysburg…our goal is explore as much of the area as possible and help our girls learn a lot in the process. Do you live on the west coast? Visit the old Missions or Gold Rush sites. Midwest? I visited a friend in Wisconsin a couple of years ago and 20 minutes from her home was an old Underground Railroad site. History is everywhere so if you can’t afford to cross the country or the world, find out what’s around you.
#3 Big City Adventure: If you don’t live in a big city, it’s well worth visiting one. They offer cultural experiences you just can’t get elsewhere. Podunk Children’s Museum is fun but exposing your kids to a museum like The Met, The Art Institute of Chicago, The Smithsonian, or The Getty is a priceless experience (I know there are many more but I can’t list them all. You get the idea!). Take them up in a skyscaper to look down on the world below. Eat street food. Go to Chinatown. Take the subway or a tram. Take in a play or musical. WALK places.
This picture may not look like much but it is a momentous event in Lilly’s life. It’s her first time in an overcrowded big-city marketplace and her first experience copping a squat to find a moment to eat! Reading Terminal Market, Philadelphia:
#4 Serving Others: There is something truly unique that happens when you take time to serve others in an environment outside of your everyday life. This may be a service-learning or missions trip overseas or it may be spending some time in a homeless shelter on your Big City Adventure. Find Habitat for Humanity projects somewhere you’d like to travel or volunteer in an orphanage. This may be the most meaningful travel experience you ever have with your family and will reinforce the importance of setting aside time in our lives to care for the needs of others.
#5 Family History: Andy spent a couple of years in Ireland when he was young. I spent a large portion of my youth in Hong Kong. In fact, it’s where Andy and I met. We would love to take the girls to those places. We hope those trips get to happen one day but if not, there are plenty of places states-side that we can take the girls to connect them to their family roots. My grandma grew up in New Orleans…They have some Cajun blood in them. 🙂 They also have an ancestor who was a stone mason in Wisconsin. A couple of his buildings are on the National Historic Registry. Andy’s family has property in Massachusetts where his grandmother and mother grew up. They can romp around the Christmas tree farm and play by the river that Andy’s family has enjoyed for generations. Sharing places that are special from your own childhood is a great way to bond with your kids. Our girls love knowing more about what things were like for us growing up.
#6 Total Relaxation/Fun: There is something to be said for going away and relaxing completely. For me, this means not cooking or cleaning up after people, so for our family this involves a hotel and eating out. For you it could mean a cabin or camping. This could mean a three day getaway an hour from your home or a bigger excursion to the mountains or a beach destination. Whatever recharges your family. On this type of travel, we like to alternate adventure days with days lounging in a pool or on the beach. When we mix it up we don’t get bored but don’t get overtired.
Magen’s Bay, St. Thomas
Keep in mind that not all of these experiences have to be separate trips. When I was about to enter High School my parents took our family on a big East Coast Trip. We spent three weeks visiting sites of historical significance, museums of all varieties, and we ended the trip relaxing in a small cabin in Maine (sleeping in more and eating lobster daily!). You could easily combine nature appreciation and relaxation or Big City Adventure with History Appreciation. My goal in writing this post is just to put something out there regarding family travel that shows you can give your kids incredible and valuable experiences, no matter what your budget. I don’t feel that my kids’ lives will be incomplete because we can’t afford to go on African Safari and neither should you. 🙂