Family Vacay to Research Trip

Writers are hungry for moments to work alone–when the house is silent and free of gymnastics thumping/whining/laughter. As I’ve grown older, though, I’ve learned that it’s possible to make progress on my manuscripts with the children underfoot. (This is truly remarkable for me as I’m so sensitive to sound!) While I may not crank out chapter after chapter, I’m always thinking, planning, and this spring break I believed I could do more. I figured out a mini trip for a much needed family vacation while conducting research. And while this isn’t a Mom Blog, I have a few mom (and dad!) friends who might benefit from an idea or two for balancing child fun/learning with your own artistic endeavors.

Purchase travel journals–not just for yourself, but for your kiddos, also. I bought mine first and it wasn’t until we were on the road that I remembered buying travel journals for my children a few years ago. They were a little young at the time, but they enjoyed jotting down details about rock formations and Four Corners. My eight year old did especially well this time around. She captured each highlight of our trip with bulleted points and an adjoining picture. When my kids were bored, I suggested they pull out their travel journals. When they saw me writing in mine, they weren’t nagging me for paper. And they learned so much more when writing down details about the hike or waterfall, boat ride or caverns.

Pay for the audio tour. I hate spending money (really–I hate it!) but I knew my oldest would thrive on a third-party teaching him all about our sight for one day–the Alamo. There were 32 stops, and he listened to each and every one. My daughter and I listened to most of them, but got a little turned around. When we found Davy Crockett’s wallet and portrait, she said, “I saw his vest in the other room.” So she was paying attention. Listened when I pointed out other artifacts. She’s a quiet girl, but fiercely clung to that experience.

Show them by example how to jot down details. I’m not a natural observer. When I hear people say writers are observant, I squirm. I have to focus, really focus, to notice my surroundings. I’m too obsessed with feelings or daydreaming about who-knows-what. So, toting a notebook and pen is my perfect solution. While sightseeing, I could scribble down the simplest details. Types of plants, artifacts, sounds (squawking? that would be my four-year-old!). And now when I need to remember what a place smells or feels like, I simply look at my notes. It also helps me be more present.

Hit up your significant other as a babysitter. I lucked out. My husband had no issue watching the youngest while the older kids and I toured the Alamo, or all three when my sister and I ran off for our ghost tour. This was key, as we needed this experience for our research. We had a blast listening to San Antonio’s darkest horrors, and analyzing our tour guide’s rather storybook-like character. We took pictures, chatted about story options, and jotted down everything we could remember afterwards.

Share stories as you go. Two of my three children are so up-tight, they could pick a fight with a mushroom (which is baffling to me, since my husband I are pretty even keel). At one point, while tromping across Texas terrain on our way to see a waterfall, they were so at each other’s throats, I wondered how I’d ever get them to be peaceable. I prayed to know how to help them, and it wasn’t until the way back that I tried something that I doubted would work: I told them about how their dad and I met. My husband helped me along, and the kids were glued to every word. He told them how his roommates betted him a Martinelli’s that he wouldn’t be able to kiss me on our second date. (Luckily, I rejected him; and passersby said our story was “scandalous!”) We’d pause, and the kids (even the four-year-old!) would beg, “What happened next?” forgetting to fight the entire way back to the car. (See? The Lord supplies us with answers.) We also played an audio book in the car. The four-year-0ld whined at first, but he eventually got over it and he had his electronics, snacks, and journal. This was a great way to keep arguing at bay as there are five of us in a five-seater car.

Download a plant identifier app. Or any learning app that you’re naturally interested in. I love plants, so whenever we had a spare moment and my kids started to whine about anything–their thirst! the tightness of their underwear!–I’d have them take a picture of a plant and we’d learn the species together. This worked especially well for the older two. It also helped my oldest pass off a scout requirement.

That’s all for now. Many of my friends tell me their children are excellent travelers, so they probably already do this or something better. But, coming from a mom who hates road trips or leaving the house, it was an excellent learning experience. Here’s hoping our trips get better and better!