If your kids are anything like Beija, “I’m bored” is a frequent statement. Traditional cultural experiences like museums, walking tours, etc. are ok for about thirty minutes and then… she’s bored. I’ve got to say, this can turn a vacation that I’m excited about into a drag. I can manage camp counselor enthusiasm for about fifteen minutes and then I get grumpy too. Not so big of me, but true. (Jay is better at this because he was an actual camp counselor.)
So I make sure that our travel program includes things that Beija LOVES between things that I want to do. For her (and every kid is different) it is cats, swimming pools, ice cream, and horses. The way I’ve planned these obsessions into our trips has differed depending on her age but they are continuous threads.
Cats make the world go ‘round
We have photos of Beija with cats, of varying immunization status, in pretty much every country we’ve visited.
The great thing about cats is that you can find them in every country. So when we were in Croatia I was able to convince Beija to go on a walking tour with a bunch of boring adults by saying that if she could find six cats on our tour then we’d stop for ice cream. Similarly, in Fez, Morocco I encouraged her to venture out on her own by reminding her that I thought I saw two kittens outside our riad.
Beija carried this cat around with her for several days near Salta, Argentina. Much to the confusion of our hosts, “That cat is not clean.”
Swimming in pools of joy
We’ve got a water baby. When she is grumpy my strategy is to run her or get her wet. It hasn’t been hard to find places for a dip in most countries we’ve visited. We found several local pools in Costa Rica in between nature hikes. You can see our full Costa Rica itinerary here. We swam just about every day in Iceland where swimming is a huge part of the local culture, even in the winter freeze. In Ecuador, Beija got to swim with sea lions, marine iguanas, and (wait for the questionable parenting choice…) sharks. Even the Sahara desert had swimming on offer.
It seemed like we were the only non-locals in this set of pools in Orosi, Costa Rica.
Ice cream of my dreams
This may be a no-brainer, but for our family food bribery is extremely effective. I think Beija could tell you the name of a sweet, cold treat in at least six languages. In Argentina, ice cream was had before breakfast. I pretend to be the guardian of family healthiness, but the truth is, I love ice cream too so I don’t push back all that hard. Getting ice cream also created opportunities to get Beija to have direct interactions with people and say hvala or gracias or dhanyabad. Read her Ode to Dubrovnik here.
Sladoled in Dubrovnik, Croatia was a daily event but we easily walked it off.
Galloping to happiness
Horses are a great way to get off the main drag and see small villages or immerse yourself in the silence of nature. In Argentina I arranged for time on a ranch during a fairly long road trip in the Andes. Beija was often riding with the gaucho before I was even out of bed – and I definitely don’t sleep in. In another example of complete parental indulgence, we spent three days horseback riding into the interior of Iceland (detailed in this post). Yes, I let my 9-year-old sit on a horse while it swam across a raging glacial-melt river. We don’t have any pictures of that because we were gripping our own horses too hard to focus the camera.
Beija’s favorite pony is smiling at you!
In order to keep our trips from being “boring,” I intentionally build a kid-focused itinerary and use Beija’s passions as inspiration, motivation, reward, touch-point, and honestly, shameless bribery. It works. And a little ice cream isn’t all bad for the grownups either. Children are born passionate, we just need to pay attention to what those passions are. Maybe it is playgrounds, bike rides, a specific book character, fashion, making art, dancing, or adventure sports. Beija’s tastes keep changing, so we’ll keep changing along with her.
What are three or four of the things your kids love?