In this state of fun and sun, the ideal family trip is never too far from your mind’s eye: you close your eyes and visualize the beauty of the red rocks in Southern Utah, the magnificence of the Arches, or the unforgettable spreads and unique ecosystems of Montana and Wyoming. The dreams of relatively nearby getaways flutter there, just beneath the surface, but you’re so busy that you think you’ll never have enough time to make it happen.
Sure: if you just packed up and went solo, that’d be one thing, but you know how special a trip into the wild unknown would be to your equally busy family. I know from experience: developing an itinerary for a family of any size (even if it’s just a duo)is more than just difficult—sometimes it feels downright impossible, or at least, impossible to complete without at least one toddler-induced stress headache.
As much as I’ve wanted to lose myself in the amazing rock formations of Yellowstone or Goblin Valley, I’ve come far closer to losing my mind in the family minivan. How many times can I tell my pre-teen that, “we’ll get there when we get there” anyway? The biggest questions I’ve tackled, however, haven’t concerned which kinds of snacks will fill talkative mouths, or which drinks will result in the fewest bathroom breaks.
The world that we live in has asked me to ask questions of safety and security that I doubt my grandfather ever had to ask when he piled the kids into the Winnebago, but here we are. In order to head for the hills with my precious familial cargo in tow, I have to quell my anxiety about their complete safety. Read on for some of my strategies for safer family travel, and hit the open road with your little ones this spring season.
Protecting Your Assets
If you’re an avid traveler like me, then you too might pride yourself on being able to recognize a tourist from over sixty yards off. When I traveled solo as a freshly minted college grad, I made sure that I didn’t stand out too much. Unfortunately, having your full family in tow already makes you more than a little conspicuous.
Remember that tourists are targets, and that opportunistic thieves look for “fresh off of the Universal Studios” lot as a buffet of trinkets, wallets, and electronics. Luckily, there are several easy ways to avoid any unwanted attention from less than savory types, and to protect you and your family from thieves in search of easy prey.
Precepts for traveling safely in a secure fashion—like not obviously asking for directions in a disparate language, or simply avoiding wearing garish clothing—-can wipe those tourist targets right off of your family member’s backs. Don’t let a nasty smash-and-grab or a stolen backpack derail your carefully wrought travel plans. Nothing can ruin a family trip faster than a child suffering an anxiety attack over the burglary of their Nintendo Switch.
Tight Strings, Big Dreams
I’ve spent years enjoying extended solo travel on a limited budget. Sometimes, when my amazing partner offers to take care of the kids on their own for a weekend, I can still make it out to the desert on my own every now and then. My goal has never been to see how much I can spend as I traverse the open road, but instead, discover how little a wonderful trip can end up costing me over an extended period of time.
Not everybody can be a vagabond, of course, born to roam on nothing but loam—especially if they’re still in diapers and need their blankie or expect at least some WiFi to check up on their social media friends. I don’t let the extra baggage break my bank, though; there are plenty of tips that I follow to reduce the heavier blows to my bank account. I always take a good hard look with a totally objective eye in my own financial situation before I book that five-star resort in Cancun.
An avid traveler knows when they must save, and when they can spend; I use these moments to teach these incredibly important skills to teach my children. If I can’t afford to take my kids to Disneyland eight times a year, so what? I can (and do) take them to the national forests that are only a hop, skip, and a jump away—and I’ve never had to worry about a pickpocket in the woods.
Great Outdoor Expectations
There’s no other way around it: I know how extremely difficult it can be to travel with children. Not only did my kids turn into demanding banshees on our first few shared outings, but they also had a habit of throwing all of their best behavior out the window as well. I know all too well what it’s like to travel with a child that does not want to be there.
They kick and scream and cry and ask to go home until they find themselves busied with something that (thankfully) distracts them from the “miseries” of traveling that they just can’t handle. Thankfully, there are strategies for dealing with this less than stellar behavior. Sometimes, simply by recognizing some of the anxiety precursing the tantrums that you’d rather avoid, you can help steer your child away from going all-in with their blowouts.
Most of it just comes from knowing the little humans that you’re traveling with, but some of them hide their discomfort a little better. Once you recognize that they aren’t having the best time that they could be, you can take control of a bad situation and turn it in your (and their) favor.
As important as physical safety is during your travels, mental health and stability are equally as important: for both you and all the members of your family. The only way to engage with the benefits of travel is to enjoy how you hot there—and you can “get there” a whole lot easier with just a little planning, and plenty of understanding.