3-6 Years, Family life, Travel

Simple surprises: a tiny packing list for fun family travel

This July, our family spent a few weeks on-board an expedition ship called the Ocean Endeavour, on an Adventure Canada trip that travelled from Iceland to the western shore of Greenland. In the company of 140 other travellers, we had meals and slept aboard the ship, and spent most days ashore for hiking or wild hot springs or checking out archeological sites, which we reached via rubber inflatable zodiac boats. It was literally epic.

On a trip like this, there weren’t many stores along the way, and limited wifi or mobile data. Travellers of all ages really had to depend on what we’d packed to get us through, and in very real moment of solo travel with kids I’d accidentally left Jasper’s suitcase at home! Despite that mishap, I realized with relief that a few items we had brought along for the trip just kept coming through for us. Whether your summer travel plans include an arctic expedition or even a road trip a little closer to home, consider packing along some of these simple surprises for your next family adventure.  

A slingshot

Good old-fashioned fun in the form of a simple wooden tool that doesn’t cause a fuss when you’re checking in at the airport? Yes please. Makes a kid into an active participant on any landscape, and offers something to do even when there’s “nothing to do.” Jasper received this one for his 5th birthday and it’s been in heavy use ever since. 

A rocks, gems & minerals guide

One of the greatest gifts of travel is seeing the world through new eyes, and after visiting Iceland and Greenland, that means a new affection for the ancient rocks that inhabit this planet. We were lucky to be travelling with real life geologists, who enthusiastically answered questions, pointed out interesting sights and got real excited about cool rocks all along the way, but at least once even the geologists needed to flip through the guidebook

A flower press

On our trip, there were very strict rules about “taking only pictures,” and in the fragile landscape of south Greenland, a few visits from a few hundred folks picking flowers could really do some damage. But we were all really excited about the botany we were seeing, smelling and touching at peak wildflower season — poppies, harebell, Greenland’s national flower niviarsiaq, and wild arctic thyme. If you’re traveling in a less fragile landscape, I think a flower press would be a small and simple project to work at along the way, without adding too much bulk to the backpack. 

Local stories

I read a kid-friendly version of Eric the Red’s saga (okay, so as kid-friendly as bloodthirsty Viking stories can get) to Jasper while we rested on some rocks at Eric the Red’s farm at Brattahlíð. We also visited a puffin sanctuary in the Westmann Isles, the setting for one of our kids’ most beloved picture books, A Puffin Called Fido. Drawing connections like this between literature and real life people, places and creatures, is a really wonderful way to engage with travel as a family. Even if you can’t find exact locations, broad landscapes that set the background for a beloved book can really add dimensionality both to the story and the new vistas. Thanks to our friend and fellow traveller Rachel Barreca for sharing her photo of Brattahlíð. 

A travel journal/sketchbook

Each of the kids had a fresh book to sketch, color, or journal in during our trip. One morning as we traveled through the majestic fjords of Prince Christiansund, Jasper spent a long time working on an illustration of a sailboat. As he was finishing, I looked up to see a real-life sailboat in the distance, after days without seeing any sign of other humans. It seemed impossible, tiny among the mountains and glaciers, like he’d conjured it right off the page. Sage was quite diligent about spending the last portion of our time ashore each day making art before getting back into a zodiac for the boat ride back to the ship. It was a great practice for me too, and I started bringing my journal along too, and came to really appreciate the creative limitations that our one shared pencil case brought. I bought each of the kids a small main-lesson book with onion skin to protect each page, which worked great for the art we were doing and light enough to carry in the daypack. 


Pin this post to your “family vacay” Pinterest board! 

Read more details about our “In the Wake of the Vikings” trip here.

4-6 months, Family life, Travel

Wee road warriors

Summer road trip tips

This morning I received an email alert about a spammy comment left on this site that began by saying “I see you need some fresh posts.” Touché, spam. If you’re ever left feeling a similar need for some fresh Milkweed, please join me on Instagram, where I update far more frequently (and where there is a whole community of Montessori-minded parents).

Speaking of fresh, about 24 hours ago we rolled in from our old-fashioned family road trip, during which we camped our way to the East Coast of Canada and back. The trip was full of natural beauty, family giggles, noisy singalongs and highway-side potty stops. Some sweet memories were made, and some great lessons were learned along the way. If you’re heading out on a summer road trip before the season ends, here’s a bit of what we gleaned on the open road.

Going off road. At four months and nearly three years old, our kids were amazing passengers (so perhaps tip #1 is “get lucky”?). We tried to drive as comfortably as possible — with snacks on hand, with full bellies, with frequent washroom stops, and for some of us, with a stuffed baby otter in hand. Whatever works. We had a policy of stopping any time the kids needed to, and it turned out they didn’t actually need to stop as often as we’d expected. We only stopped at a fast food restaurant once over 3000 kms and nearly two weeks. The rest of the time, we kept an eye out for farm markets, playgrounds, beaches and riverside parks (or, pictured above, a riverside farm market with playground and tractor to climb on. Thank you, rural New Brunswick). Getting a bit of space, and giving Jasper opportunities to really move his body kept everyone happy.

Staying on the road. The only way to cover a lot of miles is to just keep going. Although we stopped without a second thought when we needed to, we also tried to keep on moving when we could. We tried to keep an eye on the gas tank and the gas prices (the GasBuddy app was handy) during stops, so that we wouldn’t have to stop again unneccesarily. Keeping snacks on hand, within reach, could help to hold off lunch a little longer if we were making good time or wanted to make it to a particular destination.

Be here now. I’d packed an assortment of activities for Jasper — some were left overs from flights we’ve taken, like an etch-a-sketch book, a button snake, and some felt work; a homemade colouring binder; his sticker collection and book. Unfortunately, it seemed obvious pretty early on that Jasper gets some motion sickness, feeling nauseous when he spent time looking at his work instead of out the window. So, most of the trip, he looked out the window. Rather than the sort of educational entertainment I’d planned on, he was engaging with the real world — which was also the real reason we were on the trip. It meant he often needed more of my attention, but playing “I Spy” is as good a way to get through the hill and highways of New Brunswick as any. Looking out the window lead to conversations about naming construction and farm machinery, coming to recognize provincial flags, and speculating about the weather.

Listen up. The car stereo is everybody’s friend. It distracts from the squeak of the windshield wipers, it closes out conversation for a few minutes, it passes the time. We stocked up on audio books from the library and David grabbed a few favourite cds on the way out the door, and we were ready to roll. We took turns choosing what to listen to, and Jasper was usually willing to wait out a grown-up choice before getting back to “Macaroni and Cheese!” (aka Andrew Queen‘s great food-themed children’s album, Grow). Quick audio book review: Olivia and Frog and Toad were both pleasant listens, The Moffats is a family favourite, while Paddington Bear didn’t make it past the first few minutes.

As we settle in, do the laundry and return to life at home, I’m thrilled to know that our time on the road was successful not only in getting us to our destination, but in bringing our family together to meet a challenge, and creating truly lasting memories all along the way.

What are you up to this summer? What will your memories of summer ’15 be? If you have any road trip tips in your back pocket, let me know!