Thursday, September 26, 2013

How much travel gear do you really need?

As you gathered from this blog, our family obviously spends a lot of time travelling.  So you might assume, we must have all the "gear" to hit the road, looking pretty spiffy as we go.

But that's simply not the case.  Top 3 Packing Essentials?

Item #1: Pack your BAG.

Yes, we all have a suitcase.  In fact, we have had many suitcases because I find that air travel is really hard on them.  They break, crack, the wheels fall off, the handles jam, and you really can't get upset about it because that's just the way it is.   If there's any suitcase company out there who'd like to prove me wrong, I'd gladly test their product out.

For our round-the-world trip we took backpack style luggage, but that is a regret.  If we did it again, a good wheeled bag would have been preferable since it was too heavy for the girls, and most places we needed to carry it, wheeling one would have been easy (... possible exception in the pouring rain at the ferry terminal in Civitivicchia, Italy, trying to find the train station over cobblestones in the dark.  Come to think of it, a flashlight other than the iPhone would have been nice.)

Choose whatever makes you (and the kids!) the most independent, and if "wheels" are easier than "weight", that's the best choice.

Travel Essential #2: Then it comes to shoes.

Traveling, for our family, involves a lot of walking.  Both as a form of transportation and as a past-time.   We were very grateful for our decision to outfit each of us with quality, well-fitted footwear prior to leaving for Machu Picchu and beyond.  For our family, that meant Merrell and Vasque.  Not everybody has the same feet, and we chose what felt the best for each of us.  The girls' Merrell's made it as far as Thailand, when the overpowering scent of Egyptian camels required us to leave them behind.  The boys' were able to make it to Australia before the sand and sea destroyed the linings (I did tell them to not go in the water!) But my Vasque pair made it all the way around the world, and I'm still wearing them on hikes back in Canada.  Invest in good shoes.  Your feet (and your knees) will thank you.

Item #3:  Protect your eyes... quality sunglasses for everyone, including the kids.

Everyone remembers sunscreen (goes without saying) but the UV index is also meant for your EYES.  Sun damage starts when kids are young, and keeps accumulating as we age.  Good UV protection is essential for travellers of all ages, and not just for the fancy photos... The Vision Council recommends eye protection even on those overcast days when the sun isn't as bright.  And it is never too early to start wearing them.

All that other "essential" travel gear? Our family can either take it, or pack light!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Top 3 Reasons our Family Picks Travel (over just school)

It's a question I hear a lot.

"Why does your family travel so much?" comes the casual comment.

Then the kicker.

"Don't you think they are missing too much school?"

We do miss an above-average amount of school days.  In fact, the "number of absences" on the kid's report cards is usually right around the same as their percentage grade by the end of the school term (they actually count every block in the day in our district, if you can imagine.)  But since both numbers are in the high 80's or 90's I don't get that concerned.  They are still achieving great results, even though missing the daily routine.

How?  Well, because I am a firm believer that experiential learning actually anchors the theory taught in books... and the world is a wonderful classroom.  Why do we take our kids out of school during the year?  Here's our top 3 reasons.

1.  Family Field Trips
When I was teaching middle school full-time (life before we had kids) I would usually anchor my social studies unit plan with a field trip.  The "foods" unit in grade nine French had a trip to experience French cuisine, and the Fur Traders unit in grade 8 history went to Fort Edmonton Park, our local living museum.

Now that I'm a Mom, I still do it (though usually just for our kids, and maybe a friend or two).  School budgets being what they are today, this kind of thing is no longer in the curriculum.  But ask any teacher, and she probably wishes a trip to the Royal Tyrell Museum in Drumheller COULD be the activity in grade 8 science...  We've gone to the places our kids have learned about and extended their knowledge.  And we've gone both close and far, to enhance their learning.  Are they missing school? I personally think it's bringing the book lessons to life.

2.  Sports
Katie was asked to be the "absentee helper" in her grade four class this year.  It is up to her to gather assignments for kids who are away.  She asked for an assistant, since she realizes she is the one who will need the most help. This year we are headed to Vancouver for Western Canadians, and (hopefully) London, England for the World Championships at Easter.

Competitive sports have taught our children lessons about practice and perseverance, and the ability to achieve when it matters.  All four kids have had the opportunity to compete at International Levels... whether in rugby, hockey or dance.  It has taken them (and us!) to tournaments around the world, and they missed school because of it.  We'll count that as "gym".

3. Family Time
Now that our oldest has graduated from school and moved out on his own, I am truly seeing how little time we have together!  Between work commitments, and school, and sports, our lives are BUSY.  And we don't want that "busy-ness" to be the only memories we have as a family.

There's a quote at the end of my book that sums up how I feel:

"Of all the wonders in the world, the greatest wonder of them all, was sharing it with you."

Every day, we prioritize what is important in our life by how much time we spend on it.  We all have the same 24 hours.  But we don't know how many of them we will get.   SEIZE THE DAY.

We get to choose what we do.  Our "five months away" underlined for me that the most important wasn't all the stuff we collect, wear or purchase.  It is our time together, doing things we love, sharing the world.

It 's pretty easy to practice spelling, and math, in the sand.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

California Dreaming

Two thousand one hundred miles, plus change.  3400 kilometres in metric, just to make it seem even further.  That's quite a road trip if you have six kids along.  Which we did.

This summer, we decided we would drive back from the National Irish Dance Championships in Anaheim, California in the first week of July.  We counted a couple of extra days after the competitions to see Disneyland and the beaches, and then planned a week to drive home.  Home being almost straight north, to Canada.  It was a long way.

One of the main reasons our family travels is our Kids' Sports. We have followed rugby teams to international matches in Las Vegas, and hockey teams as far as Germany and Austria.  Dance has taken us to Chicago, Boston and Scotland (ironically, not to Ireland, yet!)  It's a great opportunity to see new places while the kids participate in the sports they love, with their friends.  Things childhood memories are made of!

And with all the beautiful young ladies, of course our son and his teenage friends don't need much convincing to come as a support crew.  Go figure.  Our California trip included our two dancing girls, and our son and three of his friends.

Highlights? Well, not the traffic between Huntington Beach and Malibu.  The scenic beach drive was a good idea in theory, but with street lights every block or two, not in practice.  We were in high danger of overheating the RV.  And saw mostly the back of the vehicles in front of us, during a never-ending rush hour.  But it did give us a sense of just how incredibly big Los Angeles (and all its related suburbs) really is.

The beaches south of LA were just like the movies.  We were shocked at how quickly they changed as we went even slightly north.  The water temperature dropped, and by the time we had gone six hours, we didn't want to get into the water.  Brrr.

We made it through the streets of San Francisco, across the Golden Gate Bridge and up to the Redwood Forest.  Very impressive, though of course our RV wouldn't fit through the giant drive-thru tree.  We settled for a group photo instead.

The California coast is very pretty.  But the road between Eureka and the inland highways in Oregon is not something I want to repeat, unless I am driving that cute little convertible next time.  Logging trucks and holiday trailers on a narrow windy mountain road are not a good mix, and I managed to get a little carsick.  The kids, thank goodness, were fine.

As we made our way north, we realized that the more direct Google-recommended route through Utah was worth heeding. By hour #18 we were still in California, and we could have been all the way home by then.  But, we reminded ourselves, we had chosen the alternative scenic route.  It was exhausting


Once across the US-Canada border, with home in our sights, we paused for a bit of a reward.  After 30+ hours behind the wheel, we shook out our travel weary legs for a bit of water-water rafting fun!  Great way to cap the long drive, and add a final zing of excitement.

Traveling with teens? Make sure to stop and do some of the activities they can talk about.  Give them a "Kodak moment", and join in the fun.  You are only as old as you act...