If you’re familiar with the TV show Phineas and Ferb, then you know “There’s a hundred and four days of summer vacation, ’til school comes along just to end it. So the annual problem for our generation is finding a good way to spend it.”
As a parent, it’s important to me that my kids get outdoors during the summer, and not just to blow off steam and get some vitamin D. There is so much world to see, and there’s only so much time for them to experience it! We have three children, one who just got her license, which means soon, she won’t even live with me anymore. There’s 208 days of summer vacation left with her. How are we going to spend it?
It takes a little planning to give your children opportunities to experience the wilderness. This summer, to celebrate my 40th birthday, we’re taking our kiddos Out West, on an adventure I’ve always wanted to take, into states most of us have never visited. I’m in the middle of my own trip planning now, so I thought I’d share what I’m learning.
- Make a Route
I want to do one of those old fashioned, Griswold cross-country roadtrips and actually drive across the country. I want to get a sense for just how big the world is, and this is just one part of the world we’re visiting. I’ve shaped our trip around visiting National Parks, which helped determine the route we wanted to take. Then I used Google Maps to start figuring out how far we had to go, where we should stay (we’re camping or staying with friends most of the time), and how long it will take to get to our next destination. You can save a Google Map with all of your destinations on it for later on, which is super helpful when you plug in your GPS and start driving.
- Pick Your Parks
When I was a kid, “visiting a national park” often meant a drive-by view through the passenger side minivan window with a quick stopoff in the park’s gift shop. I want my kids to visit some of the parks we visited when I was a kid, but I also have a lot of places on my list I’ve never visited. If you plan to visit multiple national parks, you might benefit from ordering the National Parks Entrance Pass, and if you have a current 4th grader, you can get a pass for FREE. The pass provides access to over 2,000 federal recreation sites.
National parks are great, but don’t overlook the many, many state parks and county parks that exist all over the United States. Some of the state parks have just as magnificent experiences as the national parks.
- Search for the “Must-See” Spots
Parks are so huge that it can be overwhelming to know where you should go and what you should do. Thankfully, lots of other tourists and travelers have done the hard work for you! A quick Google search of must-see spots at each national park can help you plan the hikes that are most family-friendly, which ones you can do in the same day, and what you absolutely don’t want to miss when you’re there. This also helps you plan out how much time to spend in each park.
- Rough It
The Wells family isn’t exactly rolling in dough, and current raised prices of everything doesn’t help matters. But this trip is important to me. Don’t you just love to hear the glory-day stories from your parents and grandparents about driving cross-country with all seven of us in a worn-out station wagon, all the windows down, no air-conditioning, a cooler of Cokes at our feet, only stopping to sleep on the side of the road?
We could give this to our children, people.
I told my kids that we’re tent camping, and we never tent camp. I told my kids I’m packing a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter and a bunch of bananas: Breakfast. Lunch. I told my kids we’re bringing a water bottle for everyone and filling up at water fountains. Boom. Hydration. This is not a fancy trip, friends. We’re here to experience nature. And if you also don’t shower for a while, whatever. Just imagine the stories you can tell later.
- Build Hype
We’re planning to go on our trip in July. I started talking about this trip at Christmas with my kids. We’ve looked over the route. We’ve talked about what they want to see along the way. We’ve discussed car seating arrangements. We’re making snack plans. Any time someone talks about getting a good night’s sleep, I chime in about sleeping bags and tents and You just wait! Make up wild tales (or find some real-life tales) to build suspense. Research the parks together. Oh, man. It’s going to be something.
- Be Flexible
For all the planning that can be done, I’ve learned from experience that the best way to ruin a good vacation is getting upset that the plan had to change. I know, fellow delighters in the TripTix, a thwarted plan is a serious bummer, but we can persevere.
- Bake in Boredom
In my dream world, this would be a device-free trip. But I think we’re going to be spending something like 80 hours in the car together, and I’d like to avoid breaking all of the ten commandments on our way.
My temptation is to plan every waking minute in the parks, dashing up at the crack of dawn to hike and what-not, but some of the best memories of my childhood camping were spent in the quiet, boring, unscripted stillness, around a campfire, on a bike, playing cards on the picnic table, making a meal together. It doesn’t have to be all Kodak moments and scenic views.
- Pack Lightly; There’s a Walmart in Every Town
There are some essentials I know we need to have, and I’ve got a working list of things I want to make sure we buy before we leave. But we live in a world where it takes some serious work to escape capitalism. Do not fret; you will be able to find deodorant somewhere if it happens to be left behind.
- Buy a Road Atlas
Maybe this seems old fashioned, but I bought a new road atlas for my kids and me to reference on this trip. I don’t know, maybe we’ll lose our cell phone signal, maybe we’ll want to take a detour, and maybe I want my kids to remember flipping from one state to the next and plotting out where they are as we make our way across the nation. You can’t turn the pages in Waze.
- Plan for the Worst, Hope for the Best
These are complicated times, and if the last couple of years have taught us anything, it’s that plans can change. Hopefully we’ve all developed a little resilience as a result. Plans are probably going to change. It will probably rain once or twice. Everyone isn’t going to be 100% happy and grateful and in awe and wonder the whole time. It will be okay. Just be there with them in it all, because isn’t that the point, to be together and to see how small we are in this great big world?