10 lessons from 10 years adventuring with kids
But just pause for just a minute and remember all those promises you made back when the house was a giant play pen and sleep was something other people had. Didn’t you resolve to spend time with your precious family? Didn’t you vow to work less and play more? What was that about exploring the world together?
Exactly ten years ago we started The Family Adventure Project after relocating from London to Cumbria with a six week old baby. With the arrival of first Matthew, then Cameron, and lastly Hannah, we made those same resolutions to put our family first. But we’re both easily distracted and knew that life was likely to put all manner of spanners in the works. So we wrote some ideas down and promised each other we’d act on them. These ideas ranged from getting out on our bikes more, to taking a gap year with the toddlers. Over the years, those hand written notes became a website and now a blog, recording all the things we’ve done together, providing lasting memories of our little and big adventures and reminding us not to settle for a life less lived.
Below are some of the things we’ve learnt along the way. And in some cases are still learning. Matthew is now in double figures and nappies are a thing of the past, but the family adventure continues… I wonder what the next ten years will bring?
10 life lessons from 10 years adventuring with kids
Lesson 1: Newborns can travel too
Babies don’t explode if you put them on an aeroplane. They don’t melt if you take them out in the rain. They don’t drown if you put them inside a boat or canoe. And they don’t break if you hike them up a mountain. Sure, those early months and years are a precious and demanding time, but you don’t have stay at home to enjoy them. If you’ve both got some leave and are starting to argue over who does the next nappy change, then why not change your location instead. It’s a great time to explore the world together. You can breast feed up a mountain just as easily as on the sofa and if you aren’t brave enough to rough it, perhaps do a short tour of hostels or affordable hotels. Or just start by getting away for the weekend. You might as well have no sleep in a place you’ll remember.
Lesson 2: Toddlers are easier in the outdoors
It’s a myth that being trapped in the house with the little cookie monster for days on end is a healthy situation for you both. Toddlers were made for stamping in puddles, for gathering up leaves in the woods, and for stuffing twigs into pockets. The outdoors is a great big playground. It’s also free. Why visit expensive fun factories or waste money on play barns when you can explore the world together at no cost? Take a wagon of snacks and go see what’s out there.
Lesson 3: Tweens and teens bring challenges wherever they are
Everyone knows children can be challenging, tweens and teens especially, so why not let them sulk in a pleasant environment? Let them hate you while the sun beats onto your back and a light wind fans your face. Let them text their friends from a forest instead of phoning them from their bedroom. Help them widen their horizons, take on responsibility and give them to the chance to say what’s on their mind without the distractions of everyday life. Spend time with them now, keep those communications channels open and you can build relationships that will survive almost anything.
Lesson 4: The world is a natural learning environment
You don’t need to teach them a language if they’re immersed in it already. You won’t need to teach them emergency navigation skills if you give them a map and let them figure out the way on a regular basis. School is a great thing, but the world is the most effective teacher there is. Just think of all the subjects that crop up when you’re out exploring the real world. History, geography, science, maths, art and languages never feel like a chore when they’re studied as part of a journey.
Lesson 5: Family life is more fun when you’re together
On a family adventure you chat, you joke, you laugh. You share things. You have fun. You have tantrums. But let’s face it, if there’s going to be tantrums at least there will be others there to share the anger. So much of daily life is spent in separate rooms, or even separate buildings. Come together once in a while and get to know each other. Build up a bank of shared experiences that you can draw on. It’ll help to ground you for when more difficult times set in.
Lesson 6: You don’t need all that stuff. Really, you don’t
Always thought a stone was a boring everyday object? Think again. Our family adventures always remind us that the plastic toys, the Nintendo DS’s and the GHD hair straighteners are not what life is all about. Life is about people. Ditch the stuff and try playing with each other for a change. If you’re worried about your children being stripped of their favourite possessions then don’t be. Even the littlest member of the family can make a doll out of a stick and we’re constantly surprised by how many games they can all create from a pocket full of stones.
Lesson 7: Taking on new challenges boosts confidence
Who doesn’t want confident children? Every time you go on a journey together, go somewhere new or try something different you create an opportunity to learn new skills for yourself and the rest of the family. Even on the most basic package holiday you can stretch yourself in terms of social interaction, by trying to get around a different environment or make yourself understood in a different language. And with an independent adventure the sky’s the limit; exploring, not knowing, testing your limits, dealing with setbacks and challenges become everyday experiences. And learning to deal with this builds character and develops personal resilience. You’ll discover that you and your family can deal with way more than you think and that’s great for everyone’s confidence.
Lesson 8: Adventures create strong reminders of their childhood
Children grow up in the blink of an eye and, let’s face it, a lot of regular life isn’t really that memorable. But adventure ramps up the number of new situations, people and places we encounter. It stirs up emotions of all kinds, and deepens and tests relationships, which simply put creates lots of strong, shared memories. We won’t forget the time we slept out under the stars, the sense of achievement when we cycled across the UK in the summer holidays, the drama of a sinking boat when we were supposed to be learning to sail. And these memories of our adventures together anchor us to moments in their childhood. Add to that the photos, videos, diaries and blogs we have of adventures at every age and it’s sure going to be hard to forget what happened when the kids were growing up. And it should make it much easier to embarrass them on their wedding day.
Lesson 9: Getting out with the kids keeps you fit not fat
Middle aged spread setting in? Get on your bikes. Or up a mountain. The children will be fitter than you, and closer to their peak. Let that be a challenge not a problem. We reckon we lose an average of four pounds in weight every time we go on a cycling holiday, while eating loads more. How good is that? And if the kids are eating too many trans fats then make them burn them off. They’ll thank you when their own middle age sets in.
Lesson 10: Parenthood is short
You think it will last forever. It doesn’t. Make the most of it while you can.