“Is your luggage packed?” Mom asked us from the other side of our small two- bedroom duplex. Two adults and three kids were packed in pretty tight for such a small space. I was 8, maybe 9, and my siblings and I had been planning our great adventure across the United States for weeks. Dad snuck a map into work and made photocopies for each of us. This was pre-laser printing, so the paper had this eerie, gray tint and was slick to the touch. My brother and I had painstakingly drawn our route out, identifying anything of interest along the way. For those of you who remember what life was like without smartphones at your fingertips, you can image the lack of information we had to go on. We would pick interesting city names or anything that had the word ‘park’ in it.
Mom bought three makeup suitcases at the Salvation Army for each of us to use as luggage. She had packed clothes for us in ‘real’ luggage; however, these suitcases were for whatever we wanted to bring with us. We spent hours trying to decide which toy, book, magnifying glass, binoculars, etc. would make the list. Mom and Dad were never prescriptive. The only rule they had was, “It must fit in your suitcase.”
Much like every family at that time, the thought of traveling by air somewhere was ludicrous. There were five of us and even with a good job at the railroad; there was NO way we could afford airplane tickets. Nope, we were going to drive the 15-year-old Cutlass Supreme cross-country for five or so days. Did we have flat tires? Yes. Did we have radiator issues? Yes. Did parts of our axel fall off? Yes. Did we have the time of our lives? You better believe it.
I look back on those adventures and ask myself, “What did my parents do so well to create my passion for adventure today?”
Here’s my best take.
- When you are going to do something that might be ‘adventurous,’ let your kids plan and think and plan and think. I remember redrawing our travel route dozens of times, almost as if I were actually decided the route for my parents.
- When driving, stop at roadside attractions. Our family loves to camp. We have campers (caravans for our friends across the pond) and are gone as much as possible during the warmer months. My parents stopped at almost every tourist trap. I think I spent most of my vacations wearing a headdress of some type of a plastic pistol and some type of hat. We were poor; however, Mom and Dad prioritized these experiences for us.
- Introduce your kids to a wide variety of experiences. Today, you can find something free to do every single day of the year if you take the time to look. Visit a working farm, a cheese factory, a library, attend a music festival, visit a renaissance fair, go swimming, go hiking, find a geocache, write a song, anything! Just mix it up.
- Take calculated risks. When I look back at some of the stuff my parents let me do growing up, I am amazed. I am not sure I would have the courage to take the leap of faith.
- Don’t be afraid to be embarrassed. One could argue all of our parents are ‘embarrassing;’ however, in hindsight, no kid was every really harmed by being embarrassed by something their parents did or said. It might have been weird at school for a couple of days, but we all know that it didn’t take much to make school weird.
- Let your kids talk to strangers. Make sure you are present; however, a curious mind is something to nurture. I grew up talking with adults, within reason. When I travel today, I usually leave a country with a great understanding of how many people there live; what they eat, how they make a living, what they like about their homeland, and what they would like to change. That only comes from being allowed to ask questions growing up.
- Turn off the television. There is nothing less adventuresome than watching a television show. We went 14 years without a television and I thank God and my parents for that every day. In today’s world of entertainment at your fingertips, it is even more important to limit the amount of time your kids are watching shows.
- Let them read. Regardless of the time of day, let them read. My parents let me get up at 0500 every morning to read. I traveled to more cities between 0500 and 0630 than you can imagine.
It is so incredibly important that we instill a sense of adventure in our kids in this day of age. Tonight, I spoke with five people from five different countries in the time span of one hour. Think of what the world will be like when your kids grow up. Embracing the unknown will prepare them well for the world they inherit.
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