Road Trips

Why Travel with Your Kids

Mendenhall Glacier. Where to earn Junior Ranger on an Alaskan cruise.
Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Why Travel with Your Kids? 

One of my best decisions of parenthood was to travel extensively with my kids.

You never know how the journey is going to change you and your family. This is the reason why I travel with my kids.

For my family of three ordinary kids with a mom on a mission, I initially started with short trips and it grew from theere. My desire to travel with my kids had a profound and positive effect on all of us. 

Like so many families, each of my three kids is different. The first born, my daughter, is a natural leader (like myself). The middle child, a boy, has some learning issues— challenging though nothing a veteran teacher hadn’t seen every one of their years in teaching. The youngest, another boy, is the baby. He is in no hurry to get anywhere. 

Before I started traveling with my kids, I worked in the travel industry for several years. After a painful exodus from the airline industry following 9/11, I needed to move forward and recover in a way that resonated personally. From that experience, I knew the perfect time to live life would never materialize. Waiting wasted time, and that was really the most valuable thing each of us is given. So for me, the perfect time to have kids came quickly and the perfect time to travel with them happened often. 

Tour the USS Constitution. See Boston in One Day with kids.
A visit to Old Ironsides, the USS Constitution, is a must for Boston. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

A year-and-a half after my final baby arrived, my flock of three was ready to spread their wings. It was 2009 and I was ready to lead them. I always knew I’d travel with my kids, though I didn’t know how I would do it.

The one thing I sensed from the beginning, tomorrow comes quick when raising kids and I wasn’t wasting my opportunity to explore and enjoy traveling with my babies. Without a grand plan or a grandiose budget, we started small and frugal by road tripping to the neighboring states and car camping.

Scrapping by with cold cut lunches and deluxe campgrounds (campsites with hot showers and flushing toilets), we wandered state-by-state, summer break-by-summer break. It was enough, actually it was perfect.

My need to detach and experience life outside my bubble was strong. For my kids, spending a chunk of the summer chasing each other through campgrounds and down hiking paths was more fun than fighting over the TV. Each summer I crafted a loose itinerary packed with interesting sites that appealed to the entire family.

One thing was constant in every itinerary, we always gravitated to the national parks. We saw America and its majestic natural beauty and along the way we experienced more than we would have close to home. 

The elk loose their antlers each year and can be found around Jackson. Credit: Catherine Parker

Each year as my kids’ ages increased so did our scope. Luckily, our home was centrally located in Texas, so we spoked out in a different direction on every trip.

My kids got dirty and no one cared. Actually park rangers like dirty kids—dirty kids are learning by exploring and engrossed in nature. We learned about the natural world using eveything from biology to geology to geography.

Though there is more to learn at national park sites, from the people before modern language to the modern thought makers of their day. We learned how humans shaped our continent for the better, and sometimes for the worse. 

My kids didn’t require elaborate meals when traveling. Burgers and hotdogs cooked over an open fire were perfect. I splurged on the name brand marshmallows and kept chocolate from melting in the cooler.

The conversations in-between our travels kept our trips alive. At home, I thought about what we needed to live a full life. Stuff wasn’t at the top of our list, and living a simpler life seemed the key to a deeper life when merged with travel.

For the kids, each trip expanded their view, and they began to pick out the common threads woven through our continent. We marveled at its subtle differences, so many times experienced through food. This could be as simple as trying regional fast food, a favorite with the kids. 

During the school year, my kids’ teachers remarked how well-traveled my kids appeared. At first I was confounded—we weren’t  dashing all over the globe. We were exploring our country. 

The more I thought about it, they did travel a lot, especially compared to their peers that gravitated to the well-trotted amusement-based attractions. Sure, my three kids had been to those places a time or two. They were amused by them, though they were never enriched by those excursions.

How did my kids act on those weeks-long road trips; well better than they did at home. Did they fight, not really. Did they complain, again not really. Traveling caught their attention and held it better than a screen.

Was it exhausting at times for me, the primary driver and planner, absolutely. Though that feeling was temporary. Personally, I came back re-energized from my experiences on the road. Add that to the bonding cemented on our trips, it was worth every moment.

The fun road games we played on drive days, like shouting Waffle House each time we saw one. The scary experiences (at the time) got replayed at the dinner table frequently, like waking up to hear an elk scratching its bum on our cabin or the glimpse of a bear on our hike. Each became lifeling memoires that I especially cherish as my kids get older. 

Each of my kids gained something different from the road. My first born student found herself in Japan as a high-school exchange student, ready to explore on her own. My youngest gained confidence in the outdoor world when he would preferred to stay indoors. 

How to plan a camping trip.
If camping in bear country remember that all your cooking gear and food will be stored in a bear box. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Though the largest gain was made by my middle child, my struggling student. I had always noticed he absorbed more through our travels, reading more comprehensively and understanding scientific concepts more thoroughly. He needed the real-world experience to understand those concepts better.

When he returned to school, he recalled what he learned and his teachers noticed. Eventually he chiseled out an identity as the traveler instead of his educational issues. His teachers knew he was the kid who traveled a lot and he always had something to contribute to class discussions, no matter the subject. When college acceptance letters landed in our mail box, he had a special note from the assistant dean of admission. 

I am so impressed you traveled to all 50 states, that is really amazing!

For me, I gained the confidence I lost after 9/11. With that confidence, I then felt gratitude for the time I got to travel with my kids. I invested my most valuable thing–my time and I shared my passion with the loves of my life. 

Now, I share my experiences and knowledge with others. I aim to change the narrative of traveling with kids. It can be a childhood-changing experience and enriching for all who travel with kids. Not every family can spend each summer exploring a new area though try to carve out some time, and explore a new area together, especially as summertime travel ramps up again.

Life moves fast and sometimes you can slow that down on a summer road trip. 

Catherine Parker has a passion for travel and seen all 50 U.S. States. As a former flight attendant with one of the largest airlines, there isn't a North American airport that she hasn't landed in at least once. Since clipping her professional wings after 9/11, she combines her love of the open road with visiting architectural and cultural icons. She is based out of Central Texas dividing her time between writing and restoring a pair of 100-year-old houses. She shares her life with her three kids and her husband.

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