We are an active family. We don’t run marathons and my children are not likely to make the U.S. team in any sport, but we do, nonetheless, spend much of our free time enjoying some form of physical activity. Much of this is because both my husband and I are from large families where “go outside and run around” was a common parental directive. And so we carried this habit into our relationship with our own children. We walk, we hike, we bike, we ski, we swim – sometimes to the consternation of our children but always resulting in healthy faces, happy smiles and children who sleep soundly.
Leveraging habits from home is a great way to make children more relaxed while traveling and fresh air and exercise are vital when you’re trying to help your child adjust to a new time zone. Sticking to normal routines for bedtimes and mealtimes can be tricky in a new place, but my children rarely, if ever, resist daily visits to a new park or playground. If you’re visiting a city and do not having any luck finding green spaces, remember that it is truly amazing how much entertainment a young child can get from chasing pigeons.
We walk around our neighborhood in Seattle a lot and so, when we travel, we explore by walking around the cities and towns we visit. Bike rental is also a great choice with school-aged children. We cycled the walls of Lucca, Tuscany on rented tandems, parent in front, child behind on each bike – which led to some interesting discussion between our children on who was the better “secret slacker!”
We’ve hiked in four continents enjoying how our experience has changed as our children grew from being carried in backpacks to trotting alongside to rushing ahead to “be the leader.” These familiar activities gave my children confidence to explore unfamiliar locations.
On our recent trips, we’ve found that outdoor activities are becoming opportunities for our boys to challenge us and also to bond with us and with each other over adrenaline-fueled adventures. Zip-lining in the jungle is not something I ever thought I’d do, but when your eight-year-old cajoles, it’s amazing what a parent will do – and it was pretty exhilarating. Before we had children, we kayaked along the coast of Maui, imagine how awesome it felt when our then five-year-old son insisted on trying sea kayaking with his Dad when we visited Puerta Vallarta?
Our boys have been snorkeling many times, often with one parent while the other was scuba diving. In Mexico, our older son took the PADI Discover Scuba Diving. My husband and I joined his group on his open-water dive and he still raves about the experience – whether it was being underwater with Mom and Dad or the thrill of seeing sharks and turtles up close, we’ll never know.