The Joy of Spontaneous Family Travel

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This past weekend, Kirk and I surprised the girls with a trip to Madison, Wisconsin. Heck, we even surprised ourselves! I got the idea Saturday afternoon that we should head there for the night, Kirk jumped on board, and we were packed and in the car 45 minutes later.

We LOVE spontaneous travel, and along those lines, unexpected adventure whether big or small.

From time to time we hear from friends that their kids are not good travelers or that the one time they took a family trip it was a disaster. Whether because of missed naps, cranky kids, or unexpected delays, some families write off traveling with young children.

And then other families we know, such as Brittany and Mike of Family at Sea or Jenn and Adam of Tiny Ass Camper, make travel a full-time lifestyle with children under age 6 in tow. And I don't think families that travel have children that are born as good travelers, but rather are made through a united family culture.

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We are somewhere in the middle as we do not travel full-time, but we also look for opportunities to travel as often as possible with our two girls. And we plan to even step up the amount of travel we do once our youngest is born in a few more weeks.

Both of our girls took their first cross-country trip by the age of six months; V traveled by plane several times in her first year and C joined us on a four day (round trip) road trip from OKC to Door County, Wisconsin. Since then the girls have been to at least a dozen states and have spent countless hours in a car or plane.

If we've figured out one trick to all of this, it's this: as much as is possible with your family dynamic and your children's temperaments, teach them flexibility. Let nap time slide from time to time, take them out to eat and in social settings that aren't always kid friendly. Don't be such a slave to nap and bedtime routines that your children will only go to sleep one specific way. Expose them to sleeping in different places, with varying background noise, and with sliding bedtimes. We also pack light and don't plan for every single variable and scenario. Traveling light means that we move quicker and aren't weighed down by our stuff, and the kids benefit so much from this philosophy. They are able to connect more fully to their surroundings when they aren't constantly entertained by gadgets and screens. Boredom is a purposeful tool to strengthen imagination and engage their senses in the world around them.

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Learned flexibility is truly the key to embracing spontaneous travel with children. 

Of course, your situation may be different, and we aren't parenting experts by ANY stretch of the imagination. But following the few tricks listed above from a very early age with our girls has created well-adapted little travelers. One of our daughters struggles more with transitions and change and the other is more laid-back; both, however, thrive on travel.

When we're on the road, we often don't plan too far in advance. We figure out meals as we go and determine a place to sleep often just an hour or two before we get there. This works for us, but can be intimidating for others. But we've found that by trusting in the process of travel and opening ourselves up to the possibilities of unexpected adventure, we create a much richer and deeper experience.

There is so much joy to be had in exploring a new place, suddenly pulling off the road for a surprise ice cream break, or catching an unexpectedly beautiful sunset at a scenic turnout. Sometimes it's better to leave the itinerary behind and allow travel to shape your experience instead.

What's your favorite mode of family travel? Let us know in the comments below!