by Jayme Gualtier
Our first road trip was from Chicago to Kansas City. It was about an 8 hour drive, but we broke it up by stopping to have lunch in Saint Louis, burned off some energy playing at the City Museum, and then spent some time exploring my old College town of Columbia, Missouri. The kids were not quite two at the time, and were such fantastic little travelers, that we decided to tackle a much more ambitious trip that fall. Our family loves road trips with kids, and we’ve been on quite a few since the twins were babies. Some people may think we’re crazy for spending so much time in the car with our kids, but it’s just become a way of life for us. We treat time in the car as family time, and do not rely on things like DVD players or video games to pass the time. Instead we sing songs, talk, look at maps, play the alphabet game, storytelling games, geography games, or “bury the cows” (where each person has to look out their window and count the number of cows we pass. Each time we pass a cemetery, the people on that side of the car have to “bury” their cows and start counting again from zero. The person / team with the most cows at the end of the trip is declared the winner). We also keep a box of activities accessible for the kids, and offer fun snacks that we usually wouldn’t buy at home (just eating in the car is a big deal, as we so rarely allow it).
Our second road trip took us from Chicago to Pittsburgh, then on to Philadelphia, and finally to New York city (we stayed and parked our car in New Jersey, and took public transportation into the city proper). The kids were 2.5 at the time, and spent most of our trip ooh-ing and aah-ing over the beautiful landscapes we passed through. It was mostly highway driving, so stopping was limited, but we made sure to do lots of fun, child- centered activities once we arrived in each city. This whole trip involved a grand total of about 24 hours in the car, but since it was broken up into smaller segments, it felt infinitely more manageable.
My son, a self-professed engineer since birth, especially loved the bridges and tunnels in Pittsburgh, and my daughter was completely enamoured by the magic of New York City. We also made a stop at Ringing Rocks State Park in Pennsylvania to make some music pounding on the mysterious boulders. In Philadelphia, we visited the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, and spent lots of time at various parks and playgrounds (which is always a fun way to get a sense of local culture). New York highlights included watching the model sailboats in Central Park, Having tea and sandwiches at Alice’s Tea Cup, playing in Washington Square Park’s playground, and bumping into Sarah Silverman in SoHo, who raved about how adorable the twins were. One of my favourite memories of this trip is of two year old Isabel walking, five feet ahead of us, through Greenwich Village with her hands in her pockets and her head held high and proud, as if she owned the entire city.
Over the years, we’ve gone on several smaller road trips to neighboring states: Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, and Minnesota. At age 6, our kids have already been to 21 states and the District of Columbia. Sometimes we visit friends, but mostly we travel to new destinations with an open mind, intent on discovering the uniqueness that each place has to offer. When our family travels, we seek out the attractions and small businesses that we feel give a place its character. We are not seeking to recreate our home life in another zip code. For us, the joy of travel is living locally, all over the world.
Even when we fly somewhere, it’s quite likely that we’ll seize the opportunity to drive to a location off the beaten path, or explore another nearby city. For example, a couple of years ago, we flew to Atlanta, and then rented a car and drove to Savannah. Doing this enabled us to see more of the state (including cotton fields and hanging moss), and we also had the opportunity to visit some friends along the way.
Last year, our family spent Spring break driving from Chicago to Washington D.C. Our kids were nearly 5 years old at the time, and the perfect age to sink their teeth into all of the incredible history that D.C. has to offer.
I tend to make lists of sites we’d like to see and restaurants that we’d like to try, but I also travel with the understanding that plans change and flexibility is the most important thing to bring with you. You never know when you’ll happen upon something you never knew existed, and these unexpected adventures tend to be some of our fondest memories. One of our favourite afternoons in the D.C. area was spent in Glen Echo Park — a former amusement park in Maryland that now houses several different art programs as well as a carousel and a puppet theatre.
My two favourite road trips with kids have both come within the past year. Last summer, The kids and I embarked upon what we still refer to as the “Epic Summer Road Trip”. We actually rented a car for this vacation so that we’d have more space to spread out (and because we were considering buying a new car and wanted to put it through its paces first).
The trip began in Chicago and took us through Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and finally back home to Illinois. This trip was especially wonderful because we were able to visit so many different friends along the way. The highlight of the trip was spending a weekend in Colorado Springs with eight other families we’d gotten to know while we were going through the process of adopting the twins.
We also had a lot of fun experiencing roadside Americana on our way through South Dakota and Minnesota. We spent the fourth of July at Mount Rushmore, hung out with dinosaurs in Rapid City, stopped at Wall-Drug for some free ice water, and visited the Wounded Knee Museum, the Corn Palace and the Spam Museum.
In Minnesota, we attended the Mehaber – an annual gathering of families who’ve adopted children from Ethiopia. It’s such fun to see how much the kids have grown up, and how immediate their connection to one another is, even when they haven’t seen each other in months.
This trip took us about two weeks, and I was the sole parent / driver for the majority of it (my husband flew to Colorado and joined us for the second half of the trip). My biggest realization during this vacation was that driving is truly the best way to see all of the incredible sites that America has to offer. The differences in landscape between the Black Hills and the Badlands alone were astounding, and we wouldn’t have had nearly the same number of breathtaking moments or opportunities to experience the local colour had we been traveling any other way.
The last road trip experience I’ll mention is our most recent trip to Ethiopia. For this trip, we hired a driver and developed an ambitious itinerary that had us driving between 4-8 hours every single day. This was one of my favourite vacations because just being on the road in Ethiopia is such a unique and fascinating experience. You’re sharing the pavement with cattle, goats and donkeys loaded up with all sorts of things. People walk along the road on their way to local markets, schools, or wells, and driving through the small towns gives a brief snapshot of daily life. The kids were rapt as they stared out the window, breathing in everything they could about the beautiful country of their birth, and waving to all those whom we passed. It was truly a transformative experience for all of us.
One piece of advice I have for other families is to encourage your kids to keep a journal of their travel experiences. Before road trips with kids, I buy inexpensive blank books at our local teacher supply store. Each night before bed, we have a ritual of asking the kids to document their favourite part of the day. Younger kids can draw pictures and have a parent write their words for them. These vacation journals make fantastic, personalized souvenirs, and we always enjoy looking back and reliving our experiences.
I honestly have no idea whether our kids are just exceptional travelers, or whether the fact that we’ve traveled so much with them has enabled them to develop the skill of adaptability and nurtured a genuine interest in the world. Either way, exploring the world is our family’s favourite way to spend time together.
Today’s post is written by my friend Jayme. Jayme is the adoptive mother to twins, Isabel Tsege and Elijah Geremu, who were born in Ethiopia. She loves to explore the world with her children, and actively seeks out every opportunity to broaden and deepen their knowledge of both culture and geography. Her primary goal as a parent is to raise happy, thoughtful, compassionate, confident and creative little citizens of the world. Check out her blog “Adventures of the Wondertwins” to learn more about her cuties!