The American family is notorious for taking summer road trips with ice chests loaded with sodas, pimento cheese, and lawn chairs in tow. No doubt, this is the long standing backdrop of many a family memory that will be recanted throughout homeplace gatherings for years to come.
But, with summer approaching its peak, there are several reasons why arrival at the vacation destination and leaving the auto rental at the airport ranks high on the scale of adventure. Whether renting a car is not a good idea due to parking issues or one is simply seeking either a physical and psychological challenge that illuminates the pseudo-survival warrior within, there is no doubt that the “on foot” adventure flexes otherwise unseen strengths and weaknesses.
While true foot travel such as a remote trail hike may be too strenuous for families with children, the next closest option for adventure is uncovering the secrets of an unfamiliar place where there are safe walking trails, nearby infrastructure, and a mainstay of public transportation if necessary. Here are some things to remember:
- Safety First. Safety is achieved by prior planning. Long gone are the days where we are forced to rely on maps we can touch with our hands. The key to safety is getting online well in advance of a summer vacation and mapping out the exact agenda and path of upcoming activities. Being informed of what is available, where the locals go, and how they go about getting there are major factors in learning what is and isn’t safe as the streets of our destination become a reality. The old adage of know before you go still applies today.
- Early to Bed, Early to Rise. One of the greatest philosophers of American history, Benjamin Franklin, revealed the key to discovery when he used this phrase. Maximize the day by beating the sun out of bed and finding a nearby cafe for eggs, coffee, and of course the local specialty. Listening to the surrounding chit-chat can speak to the history of the town then and now.
- Better Than a Backpack. There is something far better than a backpack: a rolling backpack. There are no heroes for carrying everything, especially when many backpacks have not only handles and wheels, but side pockets for water bottles to keep the family hydrated while on the go. For ladies, especially Moms, the backpack is an ugly but vacation-acceptable alternative to the purse. Designer handbags can wait until autumn when it comes to family travel. Another hideous, but highly functional apparatus, is the cross body bag that bumped the fanny pack out of number one position for America’s most hated accessory. It is a hands-free alternative that works!
- Become a Destination Selection Snob. Being a destination selection snob does not infer that one select only pretentious places that offer English tea and scones with clotted cream every afternoon, though that never hurts. Destination selection goes hand in hand with prior planning, but can also be tweaked through overhearing locals upon arrival. The goal is to maximize the cultural experience for the family, whether the kids like or not, this one is going to be a topic of discussion for years to come. For instance, finding a local dive that offers “world famous” anything sometimes yields the jackpot. Maybe it’s really not the world’s best cup of coffee, but then again, maybe it is. There is only one way to find out.
- It Takes A Village. Whether the scenery of the family adventure includes a quiet countryside or a more metropolitan landscape, any place that boasts village center usually ranks high for quaintness. Where there is a shopping mix of local art, fresh fruit, sidewalks, or street food, there will always be company. For those traveling alone, company might take the shape of people-watching, a vacation activity that never fails to entertain. (Anyone who says they do not people-watch on vacation is not only deceiving themselves, but everyone they know and all that is good and right in this world.) In Latin cultures, a visit to the Mercado is mandatory. In rural America, finding Main St. is a must. In posh uptown locales, the street with the cool coffee shop will tell the town vibe immediately, but rushing to take it in would be a crime.
- The Dirty Word: Public Transit. There are several reasons why the term public transit has become the dirty little word of travel. For one, when something as common as purchasing a bus or metro ticket reveals the blaring tourist status to locals, this can feel uncomfortable. Secondly, public transit etiquette is the first cousin to elevator etiquette. Is this going to be a good day or a bad day to engage a stranger in the small talk of which stop is best? Who can tell until someone finally takes that risk?! There are many reasons why public transit gets a bad rap, mainly because it challenges the boundaries of the human comfort zone and can potentially land a traveler in a strange place where there is no sense of safety; however, two great advantages, once fear has been overcome, is that it is dirt cheap and also the best way to experience the culture as a local. There is also no shame in using a taxi service or mobile transit app to locate rides nearby.
- Finding The Gym in Nature. If a vacation is a retreat from the normal grind, leaving the gym at home is going to be ideally replaced by walking further than the average health walk. What has happened in American culture that has created so much guilt about hitting the machines and isolating every muscle group a few times each week? Breaking free from anything that has to be done is not just “okay”, it is important. Leadership coach John Maxwell states in his book Failing Forward that in order to achieve success, one must train for failures. When workout machines and manufactured physical fitness have a grip on the daily grind, changing it up to a long walk can identify the threshold of our fitness levels. What better place to be more free in any area, than while on vacation? The long walk has historically been one of the most enriching practices of mankind for centuries.
- Have Waterproof Blanket Will Travel. Investing in a waterproof travel blanket will prove worthwhile whether the journey takes place in the beach, the mountains, or anywhere that would expose the elements. Picnics in a public park with local delicacies from the neighborhood deli are more satisfying when shielding the bottom from moist grass. No one wants a wet wedgie or a soggy sandwich for the rest of the day. That would be a travesty.
- Take the Red-Eye Challenge. The red-eye challenge is the double dog dare of dares when combining steps 1 – 8 in an entire day followed by the flight home. The outdoor terrain can be utilized for a final body refreshing workout prior to the long journey ahead. After seeing every last site possible, the sole traveler should enjoy a final five course meal in the best restaurant in town then retreat to rest on the trusty travel blanket in the park for reflection on the last several days. The red-eye challenge only counts if the flight home leaves after midnight and the mouth is completely open with exhaustion while sleeping. Snoring and mint flavored gum are optional.
- Grow & Let Grow. Being separated from the wheel of the vehicle for a week or more at a time in a new place can spur creative thinking, survival skills, good budgeting sense, and time management. It is a controlled environment for teens to make leadership decisions within adult supervision and create memories in the process. But, the best of all is the sense of discovery that may pain the sole, but is sure to rejuvenate the soul in the media age. While on the journey, one might discover the likes of Shakespeare, Sondheim, Monet, or even a great artist yet to come.
Read Brandi’s column each month in The Cross Timbers Gazette newspaper.