All The More Epic: On Adventure and Kids

Author and husband on top of rock ledge
We hiked to the top of this rock arch in the Jordanian desert on one of our first dates!

Tonight, on the eve of our first adventure of the summer, I sit here reflecting on what it means to have “adventures”.  And how that has changed since having kids.  Many, dare I say most, assume that adventures have to stop when kids enter the picture, at least for a while.  I used to think that, and initially I mourned the loss of a part of myself.  But now, with my oldest just turned three and a baby entering her first summer, I believe kids actually provide more opportunities for adventure.  Intrigued? Read on! 

DEFINING ADVENTURE

To start, let’s define adventure.  I will say that I believe the word has gotten overused of late.  Everything from climbing Everest to taking the kids to the grocery store is considered an adventure.  That’s fine, but it does mean we need to be a bit more specific.

Author and husband by airplane
My idea of an adventure! Our tiny airport near a remote Costa Rican jungle.

As someone who once quit her comfortable and respectable Washington, DC research job to move to Damascus, Syria (before the war), I am talking about true, “in-over-your-head,” adrenaline rush, “not-sure-how-this-is-going-to-turn-out” adventure.  But yet, I’ve never climbed a 14er (or any mountain requiring technical skills of any kind).  I’ve never sky dived or ridden a dirt bike.  I consider 8 miles to be a longish hike (without kids), and while I work hard to be fit, I’ve never done a Ragnar or even a mud run.  Now, I absolutely would do any of these things, and hope that I will in the future.  What I am getting at though, is that the term “adventure” is very personal.  It depends on your skills, interests, and comfort level.  I would say that the vast majority of true adventures in my life have been based around foreign travel — but that’s just me.

So let’s define it.  I personally define an adventure as an undertaking that is 1) unique.  This means not a lot of people have done it, either because it is rugged or remote, physically and/or mentally challenging, foreign, dangerous, or otherwise weird.  Now, the term “lot of people” is also relative.  A million people is not a lot if we’re talking about seven billion on the planet.  But yes, I am talking about something that is, well, unique.  And 2) it means putting yourself out there a bit.  This means outside your comfort zone, “in over your head,”… vulnerable in some way.  Why is this part of adventure? Because it requires you to react, to think on your feet, to “handle” it.  It means you’re not sure how it’s going to turn out.  When you combine these two characteristics in one outing or occasion, you usually have a true adventure.

SO WHAT ABOUT THE LITTLE PEOPLE?

So on to the kids part.  Yes, having kids, especially young kids, makes it more difficult, to say, climb Kilimanjaro or go trekking in Nepal.  It’s harder (though far from impossible) to backpack through Vietnam on a whim.  Even a comparatively mild road trip to a National Park in the US requires a lot more planning and coordination.  BUT, here’s the thing.  When you bring the kids, you don’t need to make it to Everest base camp to have an adventure.  Bringing kids to something semi-unique automatically makes it unique because most people DON’T bring the kids.  And having them along automatically means you’re putting yourself out there.  You absolutely will have to think on your feet and handle situations.  Hopefully these situations won’t consist only of temper tantrums!

In other words, getting out and about with your kids unlocks a whole world of adventures that wouldn’t have been adventures if you had gone without them.  And most likely, the experience will be all the more epic. 

 

Baby Munchkin on her first big hike!

For example, last fall we road tripped to a remote canyon in southern Utah and hiked it with our then two-year-old toddler and three-month-old baby.  The hike itself was exceptionally cool, and as mentioned, remote.  But it wasn’t super challenging or long.  It was bringing the kids that made this trip an adventure.  Changing a diaper in a three-foot-wide slot canyon.  Watching my son’s face when the kid carrier backpack almost didn’t make it through a very narrow opening.  Similarly, we took both kids to Mexico City for vacation.  Unique? Not earth shattering, perhaps, but not most people’s first choice.  Putting us out there?  I would say yes.  And while we didn’t stray too far from the common sites, doing it with two very young children made it incredibly cool for us and for them.

Toddler sleeping in kid carrier backpack.
Rain? No problem.. Hiking Zion while Big Munchkin took a little snooze.

Now you might say, “awww… how cute.  But that’s not really an adventure.”  I hear ya.  We’ll be back to crazy travels, and long, hard hikes to challenging summits in short order (like when no one is breastfeeding).  But when I pack our stuff to go spend four days exploring in southern Utah, or think about our next international escapade with a preschooler and a baby, I channel the same spirit of adventure that took me all over the Middle East and Europe.  I have the same anticipation and excitement.  And I have the same joy in doing something cool and off the beaten path — experiencing life! Seeing the world!  But now I get to share that with two little people who have come to love the word “vacation.”

So if you’re thinking about doing something a little weird.  A little out there.  Just do it.  Be safe, plan ahead, don’t be stupid, of course.  But go.  Chances are your soul, and your kids, will thank you.

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PS — This article is part 2 of our “Travel with Kids” series:
Part 1 — “Best Of”: Awesome Hacks for Stress-Free Travel with Kids
Part 3Choosing the Best Stroller for Your Trip

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