When the kids are little, a trip to the local park is enough of a family adventure (and surprisingly a lot of the tips below still apply). But as the kids get older, you can venture out on bigger trips and take some risks. Like canoeing to a camp site, going where there is no cell service or electricity, and convincing the kids that a 5 day hiking trip is going to be FUN.
An adventure trip requires a different kind of packing and a new way of thinking. Your 'go with the flow' level is tested, your 'must-have' items get left at home, and a deck of cards becomes your best friend.
Take 3 kids on a 15 day trip through the desert, jungle, and mountains and you learn a few things about packing: what works (sling bags for laundry), what is a waste of time (rain poncho in dry season), and what is an epic fail (thinking your teen would wear those 'practical' hiking pants).
Preparing for this trip consumed me for weeks – I wasn't sure if I was over thinking it, packing too much, or forgetting something major. On most trips you can stop at the drug store for forgotten toothpaste or grab an extra long sleeve shirt at the nearest Walmart. but when you are packing for a family adventure, things are different.
Whether you are planning a camping escape via canoe deep in the woods, a cross Canada road trip, a family vacation in a foreign country, or a trekking trip that has you living out of only a backpack, this means a whole different packing strategy.
We stayed in 7 different hotels, a lodge, and even a campsite in South America. We travelled by car, by bus, by boat, by plane, by train, by raft, by dune buggy and by foot. We lived out of duffel bags and back packs, we packed and unpacked many times, the temperature changed 3 times every day, and we did not have easy access to ketchup (THIS was a big deal!). Yet we loved it. We survived, and our 3 kids are now expert backpackers and have learned the importance of carrying their own toilet paper.
The worry about what the kids would eat was real, and if they did eat, would they get sick? Would they be warm enough, cool enough, drink enough water, get bored, get tired, get enough sleep or have any fun? Turns out one pair of pants IS enough for a two week trip; I am a pretty darn good packer and when there is no TV or other friends around, your kids will get along miraculously well!
Don’t just pack tissues, make everyone carry napkins, Kleenex or a few squares of toilet paper in their pockets. Everywhere. Even if you are lucky enough to find washrooms, there is no guarantee you will find TP too! I can proudly say my child was not the first person to create a johnny on the spot on the side of a mountain in South America. Luckily, I had a square to spare.
Take individual packs of drink crystals – lemonade, Kool-aid, iced tea – to turn boring (or different tasting) water into a kid-approved drink. We travelled to high altitude, so hydration was very important, but if you are hiking in the heat or camping far from a general store, you need just as much water. Drinking boiled or treated creek water or water in a different country can taste kinda yucky - drink crystals or the bottles with flavour shots are a lifesaver!
Before travelling outside of Canada, visit the dollar store and pick up pencils and stickers with Canadian flags and designs on them to hand out to local children. You will put smiles on little faces and encourage your kids to interact with locals while getting some of the sweetest photos ever.
Pack 2 empty drawstring sling bags for dirty laundry – one for socks and underwear, the other for tops. Trust me, you will want the socks and under clothes separated from the rest of the laundry! If you can, drop it at the hotel front desk mid trip to give it a clean, or pack your own environmentally safe laundry detergent and do a little hand washing in the lake to avoid taking the really smelly socks along for the rest of your trip.
Not IN the Buff! Those cool tubular "tops" the young ones wear on Survivor make a great head cover for cold nights, mouth cover for toxic smells and pollution, to hide day 3 of unwashed hair, or wear around your neck for a great fashion look while travelling. If it can double as a top for you too, then I'm impressed!
Pack small snack bags before you go and hide in the bottom of everyone's back pack or duffel bag. Think Jube Jubes, licorice, Lifesavers, M&Ms... and pack extras in your luggage. Familiar treats will be a welcome reminder of home after days of foreign food or camp fare, but don't expect the treats to last longer than the car ride if anyone finds them before you leave the driveway!
No matter where you are going, take flip flops with you. After a long day of hiking or any extended time in running shoes, your feet will welcome the freedom of flip flops.
Packing light means no big board games but you can get games like Monopoly, Scrabble, Wizard and Simon Says in a deck of cards and they are totally worth taking. Add in Uno and a travel cribbage board and you have endless hours of family entertainment on trains, planes and hotel rooms when there is no WiFi or electricity. I can't even add up the number of hours we spent playing cards. Plus it is great family bonding time... until the kids start complaining someone is cheating.
Kids are always hungry. Even if you just fed them, they are hungry again in minutes. Add a long drive, a hike, a plane ride, or a 'b-o-r-i-n-g' archeological ruin (their word not mine!) and kids will be begging you for something to eat. In an unfamiliar country or out back in the woods, you will be thankful you packed healthy, protein and fibre-dense snacks like IronKids Nutrition Snack Bars or even homemade granola bars. It fills them up, provides nutrition they might not be getting from campfire or unfamiliar restaurant food, and can fill in time during long travel days.
We had no idea the country we were visiting was not as big on ketchup as our 10 year old – or that the ketchup they did have wouldn’t taste that good. Stock up on take out ketchup packs or mustard – what ever helps your kids eat. We didn't see a vegetable for 2 weeks, and the fish, chicken, beef, and melted ham and cheese sandwich we did find for her to eat NEEDED ketchup for her to take more than 4 bites. Lesson learned - pack the essentials. If breakfast is a challenge, pack small bags of cereal or a tiny container of peanut butter - another staple at home that we did not see once while we were away! Even consider a high quality good tasting protein powder that you can mix with water if there is a concern you won't find suitable protein where your travels will take you.
Now that we have this first adventure trip under our belt (and armed with all the supplies and treat bags) I am looking forward to a portaging canoe trip through Algonquin, a hiking trip through the Grand Canyon, or a road trip to the East Coast. The kids were troopers, the card games we brought were brilliant, the new country we explored was awesome. The photos are breathtaking, and the family time was priceless.
Pack well, safe travels and please share your best and most practical tips when it comes to adventure travel with the kids.