How Travel Helps Encourage Family Bonding
by Nicole Claesen
I was born with a traveling spirit. By the time I was six, I had a poster of the Eiffel Tower hanging in my room. Thankfully, I was lucky to grow up and meet a man who smiled at my crazy road trip ideas. When we decided we were ready for children, we knew we wanted to continue our adventures. When our oldest was four and I was five months pregnant (with my doctor’s blessing), we set out on a multi-state road trip. During that trip, we learned a lot and knew that traveling with young children was not only doable but also fun! Seeing the world through the eyes of a child was amazing! He noticed things we would have overlooked. Plus, his joy and wonder at everything he saw gave us a new appreciation for travel.
As our family became four, we wanted to take our children to as many places as possible. We visited NYC when our youngest was six, and he fell in love with the city. The bright lights, the people, and the history and electricity of New York thrilled him. Before the trip, we gave him a book about New York and a map of Manhattan. He ingested every fact he could and quickly considered himself an expert in all things New York. We asked for his help with planning the trip by deciding on one of our activities. It surprised us when he decided we should go to Central Park to find the bridge where Buddy has the snowball fight in the movie Elf. It was super fun to spend an afternoon in the park and see the bridge (it’s Pinebank Arch Bridge, in case you would like to find it too).
Including your little ones in travel planning can excite them for every trip. Beginning with that first trip, I told my son I couldn’t decide on a restaurant in one city we planned to visit. I showed him pictures from social media and described the meals they offered. He was so excited to pick the restaurant, and I believe it gave him some “ownership” over our vacation, even at that young age.
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Small things can make a difference, especially with young children. We love museums and have visited all types of art, science, and children’s museums. In art museums, one way I engaged our children was to have them tell me which piece was their favorite and which was their least favorite. It encouraged interesting conversations, and they enjoyed knowing I wanted to know their thoughts.
One of our favorite traditions is our “family travel tree.” Every time we travel, we look for Christmas ornaments. Some are unique, and some are more traditional, but we always get one. We look forward to putting on Christmas music, getting out each ornament, and discussing that trip and funny stories from each year. One of our favorite ornaments comes from an unexpected source — a raccoon. While in Williamsburg, Virginia, we were walking back to our hotel and saw several cats eating food someone had put out. We watched them for a second, and then, out of nowhere, a raccoon came out from the bushes, looked at us, and proceeded to steal a handful of food from the cats. The cats were startled but didn’t seem to mind. We continued watching, and the raccoon decided to join the cats. Surprisingly, the cats accepted him, and all enjoyed the free feast left for them. The next day while shopping, our oldest son found a raccoon with a tricorn hat Christmas ornament. We knew we had to have it, and we still talk about the raccoon every Christmas when we place that ornament on the tree.
Our boys are 17 and 13 now, and they have visited almost every state and several countries. I love listening to them talk about all the places they’ve been and the things they have seen. Long car rides, visits to museums, and holding onto their boarding pass are all second nature to them now.
With all that being said, no vacation is perfect, and that’s ok! Truthfully, some of our fondest memories are of when things went wrong, or at least not how we planned.
A trip even an hour away to your nearest state park, museum, or capital city can feel like another world to a child. Take the journey and collect as many memories as possible along the way!
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