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Challenge: Traveling with Kids

Little Vacations Can Mean Big Memories

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I come from a self-professed family of homebodies. My childhood home sat half a mile off the road, with fields and forests all around. My cousins lived on either side of me, and we’d spend our days foraging around the creek, creating makeshift tree houses, and playing way too many games of Capture the Flag to count. My parents watched it all from the sanctuary that was the big family kitchen. With windows going all the way around, my mama could wash dishes, fix supper, and water her houseplants, all while keeping a keen eye on her babies playing yards away in the great outdoors.

It was such a fantastic way to grow up, and such a freedom existed, that we never really ventured too far from the property to take extensive family vacations to faraway places. My dad’s aunt lived at Emerald Isle beach, a four-hour car ride away on the Carolina coast. Once a summer, we’d load down our old van, and all us kids would pile in. My mama would pack a cooler full of pimento cheese sandwiches, cola, and trail mix and we’d hit the road. Because it was our one big yearly adventure, we’d find plenty to do along the way to make even the most mundane journey totally part of the fun. We’ve stopped at almost every noteworthy site I can think of between here and there. We watched historical reenactments, visited every great barbecue joint our guidebooks told us about, and even spent an entire afternoon looking for a water park that must have jumped clean off the map because for all our hunting, it was nowhere to be found. Still, we ended up at a local doughnut shop right at closing, when they were practically giving away that day’s lot, so all was not lost!

Now that I’m a mama of my own, I understand more clearly my parents’ logic in foregoing big family trips. Yet, growing up, I often felt sheltered, especially when everyone around me was out exploring and we weren’t. While my cousins and friends went to Disney World as kids, I was well into middle school when we finally took that plunge and went. When my best friend in high school took a trip around Europe and brought me back a beautiful leather journal, I didn’t tell her that I’d been saving pictures of Venice on my desktop at home, just daydreaming of a time when I too could see the world like that.

Now, we’re at a place in our lives that we can do those things, and take those trips. My children are still young, and so are we. My husband and I both have semi-flexible jobs that we can work on from just about anywhere, so we’re considering taking them on a few adventures over the next few years. Fortunately, there is no shortage of options should we decide to pack up and go. I can just see us exploring around this reserve all the way around the world, or maybe on a trek to the outback or to see the gorgeous Japanese gardens we’ve been reading about in our library books. Or, we might spend a little more time discovering all that our country has to offer, and take them out west to Monument Valley, where we once watched the most beautiful sunrise I’ve ever seen, when we were young and newlywed and evergreen.

Regardless, I know that we’ll get out and see all that this world has to share. Still, I can’t help but look back with nostalgia and quiet reflection at the sweet and simple beach trips that I shared with my family. There were no plane rides, and no amusement parks. We didn’t need tons of luggage, and we barely even needed to stop for gas if we didn’t want to. Still, there were big memories made, ones that I carry with me still to this day.

I remember wading in the stillwater sound with my sister, looking for sand dollars among the sandy muck. We’d stay out all day in the sun, then my great-aunt would fry that day’s catch up, and we’d gather around her tiny table in her tiny home, munching on flounder and french fries until our bellies ached. My siblings and I would get on the blow-up mattress in the living room and whisper together until well past midnight. They’re grown and out of the house now, and while we all live within a five-mile radius of each other, those nights spent staying up late together are few and far between.

I remember walking too far from my parent’s umbrella one balmy summer day with them. We just started strolling west and before we knew it, we’d discovered a new little beach town, Sunset Beach, a few miles away. One giant, shared shaved ice and a few frantic phone calls later, we were reunited with them. It wasn’t too funny at the moment, but now any time one of us can’t reach the other via phone or text, we always reference that beach, asking “Are you at Sunset?” quickly followed by a cry-smile emoji.

So yes, small family vacations might not be uber glamorous. They might be short-lived and at times a little dull, but they can also be the catalysts for some of our family’s most precious and long-lasting memories. This summer, we’ll plan out the travel calendar and hopefully book some amazing journeys. Yet, the ones I’m looking forward to the most will likely occur within the confines of our tiny cottage by the side of the road. The shared, sticky watermelon smiles. The late evening runs through the ice cold sprinkler. The picnics by the creek behind the field. We’ll do it all and love every minute of it, even if we’re back home by dinnertime.

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