Traveling with kids: Adventure for the whole family

February 2019 Posted in Community, People, Travel

Guy Rodrigue and Dorothy Brown-Kwaiser took their son Sullivan to Santiago, Spain.Submitted Photos

By Melissa Wagoner

It took Lisa Gerlits a number of years to find the joy in traveling with children. The mother of three – Alexander, 11; Annabel, eight; and Mieke, five – Gerlits and her husband, Michiel Nankman, have traveled to the Netherlands, Nankman’s home country, since Alexander was just a year old.

“It’s not the sort of carefree, free-wheeling way I used to travel,” Gerlits laughed. “It’s planning. Because with the kids I have to plan and I can’t just let it happen because they have so many needs that affect me on a very physical level.”

Although it took time, Gerlits has found real happiness in travel as a family of five and she especially loves road trips.

“I feel like once I figure out the particular kids and the way they travel that becomes lovely,” she said. “One part I particularly love is that we get to let go of our normal routine. And it’s more democratic when we’re traveling. Once they’re walking and talking we decide things as a family. I feel like we don’t do that much at home. That’s when I still feel like I get to have the adventure.”

One of the best parts of traveling with children, Gerlits has discovered, is the excitement they bring to each new adventure as they see, taste and try things for the first time.

“You get to teach them a whole host of things that you don’t get the opportunity to at home,” she said. “They will say ‘bonjour’ to themselves 100 times, then say it to an actual French person. And people are so joyful with children.”

New to traveling with children, fellow Silvertonian, Guy Rodrigue, agrees. When he and his wife, Dorothy Brown-Kwaiser, took their son, Sullivan – who was not quite two – on a 500-mile hike along the Camino de Santiago trail in Spain this past August, they encountered a side to traveling that they had never seen before.

“Traveling as a couple you are not so approachable,” Brown-Kwaiser said.

“But Spain is really child-friendly,” Rodrigue continued. “And a lot of the people who were hiking the Camino are retired. They always say it takes a village to raise children but learning that that still applies and learning to be OK with those interactions was something that I needed to learn.”

Those interactions – most of which were generated by the novelty of hiking with a toddler – ended up being one of the best parts of the family’s vacation.

“When people ask about the trip, that’s what I struggle with because it was mainly the people,” Rodrigue mused.

“Like a nun picked him up and took him on a tour of a church and let him touch Jesus’ foot,” Brown-Kwaiser illustrated. “If it would have been just us we would’ve looked around and left but instead it was one of the highlights of the trip.”

Although the family has a host of memories – dances with village elders and the return of lost journals by school girls to name a few – there were difficulties; after all, they were still traveling with a needy toddler.

“Parenting in public all the time is hard,” Brown-Kwaiser confided. “He was just turning two, all of our meals were in public and the walls of our room were thin. There was no time just to ourselves. And the pilgrims’ meals were usually one and a half hours long. So keeping him quiet for that long is impossible.”

To make the trip more fun for Sullivan and keep him entertained, Brown-Kwaiser bought new books for the trip, trimming the covers to make them lighter to pack. She also cut Sullivan’s special blanket into pieces so that he always had its comfort, even when a section was being washed.

“We started packing colored pencils instead of crayons,” she said.

But the biggest lessons the couple learned weren’t about what to pack or how to make the best use of daylight hiking hours – they often left before sun-up while Sullivan was still asleep – instead they were more about letting go of some of their preconceived notions about traveling with kids.

“The biggest tip for me is it’s all the same stuff – it’s patience and keeping your child entertained,” Rodrigue said. “Trust that what you do at home applies. It’s just being flexible and knowing that you’ve just got to try new things to see what works.”

Gerlits too sees flexibility and an open-mind as the key to a fun and stress-free vacation.

“I have to make myself always ready to change plans,” she explained. “And I always have to remind myself not to get too big with the plans and ask, ‘What is a reasonable expectation for what this day can be?’”

But even with the possibility of bumps in the road – car sickness, public tantrums and jet lag – both families feel that the benefits of traveling as a family far outweigh the negatives.  

“Don’t be afraid,” Rodrigue encouraged. “Go for it.”

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