Road Trip Planning Help

Help Road Trip PlanningPlanning to head out on a road trip with your family soon? If you’re like me, the days leading up to your departure will be filled with trying to remember everything that needs to be done – stop the mail and newspaper, arrange for pet sitters or house sitters, double-check hotel reservations, check that the car is in good shape. And that doesn’t include packing. I always climb into our car for long trips with a sense of dread, as in “what have I forgotten.” Because all it takes is leaving behind one key item to throw a trip out of whack. On the flip side though, sometimes bringing along just the right item can turn the miles on the road from humdrum to delightfully memorable.

So for your sake and mine, I put together a list of Family Road Trip Must-Haves. These are the top 10 things I’ve found to make a positive impact on our trips. They’re the essentials I want to remember for every trip. Some of them might seem obvious (snacks!), but believe me, in the thick of preparation when mom is juggling packing lists for multiple family members, along with all those other duties, even the obvious can get overlooked. Some of the items I only discovered or only became available after years of traveling with kids (portable hotspots, anyone?). And others we learned to pack the hard way (cleanup supplies!).

I hope this list helps you as you get ready to head out of town. While you’re at it, I’d encourage you to also download the free 18 Summer & Family Vacations chart. It’s a simple way to plan and record how your family spends free time together. It allows you to see at a glance how you’re doing and what you want to pursue to maximize the years you have as your children are growing.

How about you? What is on your list of top things to bring on a family road trip?

I always enjoy hearing what other families can’t do without. I often learn how I can improve the experience for my crew.

Bucket List Life Dare: Try a New Holiday Activity

December 2015 Bucket List Life DareCutting down your own Christmas tree. Seeing a live performance of the Nutcracker Ballet. Learning to make that special holiday recipe of your grandmother’s. Stealing the children from their beds to take them out for a late night car ride to look at the holiday lights while drinking hot cocoa.

This time of year is jam-packed with traditions and classic observances. Some of them are so essential to our experience of the season, that we can’t do without them. In our house, it’s a given that we will drink eggnog while decorating the Christmas Tree and listening to holiday tunes on the day after Thanksgiving. That combination marks the start of the season for us every year. But there are some Christmas experiences that don’t fit into our annual rituals – ones we’ve never had, yet still hope to one day. I imagine you could say the same too. If you think about it, such activities make perfect additions to a family bucket list.

In that vein, this month’s Bucket List Life Dare is to find a way to experience a new holiday activity – hopefully one that you have been wanting to experience (or share with someone else) for a while. It’s already a busy time of year, but enjoying something out-of-the-ordinary is a great way to make it special and memorable.

What’s fun about this dare for my family is that we have so many options to choose from. Here is a sampling: My eldest daughter wants to go to the Christkindlmarket in Chicago. I have always wanted to dine at The Walnut Room at Marshall Fields Macy’s under the 45-foot Great Tree.  And my husband and I would enjoy taking our kids to a holiday performance (Nutcracker, Rockettes or a Broadway holiday musical).

Treat yourself and your family to a holiday adventure by taking this month’s dare. What holiday experience is on your bucket list?

My Udemy course, Build Stronger Bonds Writing Family Bucket Lists, helps you create more opportunities like this for your family where you bring members closer, create more camaraderie & make quality memories. And not just at the holidays, but throughout the year.

The One Where We Sat on the Roof and Ate Ice Cream

In July I dared readers to step out and conquer a bucket list goal that required them to let go. To be wildly free. Something like dancing in the rain.

For me that expression of whimsical freedom came in the form of sitting out on my roof eating ice cream sandwiches with my kids – a daring bit of fun that always appealed to me, while at the same time sort of freaking me out. I put it on my bucket list long ago in hopes that one day I would get the courage to do it.

In response to the dare, I pledged to take my kids out on our roof for an ice cream treat by the end of July… And I did it (just barely before the end of the month)!

July Life Dare Accomplished2It was a sultry evening, thick with late July heat and humidity, but overcast enough that the roof wasn’t too hot to sit on, with a gentle breeze that stirred the warm air around.

I opened the window screen in my office, placed a stepstool under the window, and hoisted myself into the opening, one leg outside, straddling the ledge. Somehow climbing the rest of the way out became a sort of human origami act, me folding myself in half to duck out the window, while testing different bent configurations of my limbs in an effort to fit through without falling. I tried and got stuck. Tried again. And finally managed to squeeze through and pull my other leg over the ledge.

It seemed like it should have been easier, especially when each of my three girls popped out the window behind me with brisk efficiency. In my defense, having an ice cream sandwich in one hand did add a challenge to the process. That and a fear of heights.

Once outside all four of us lined up along the low roof above our garage, eating, chatting and people watching. I kept waiting for passers-by to spot us, but no one looked up in our direction. Perhaps it didn’t occur to them to expect anyone to be up where we were. But it seemed strange to me to see our neighbors pass by close enough to hear their conversation and yet not have them notice us. I’m used to the vantage from our driveway where we sometimes sit. There we share greetings with most who walk by.

As it was, it was a relatively quiet night. Very few cars, a handful of bikers, and a small number of walkers. The emptiness along our street wasn’t surprising though, since our little city tends to empty out in late July as swim, baseball and softball seasons end, and families finally take their vacations.

After devouring our ice creams we sat there for a bit longer, enjoying the night and the view. One of my girls suggested bringing a game out to play. But that went beyond my comfort zone. I guess I hid my anxiety at being up high a little too well.

I’m glad we did it, though. That simple act – eating ice cream sandwiches on the roof – whimsical as it was, made for a memorable evening. I can see us doing that again next summer and the one after.

Just don’t expect to see me walking around out there. I’ll be the one on the end, back pressed firmly against the house.

Family Bucket List Wall

Over the past year I’ve been working on my family’s bucket list wall – a pictorial commemoration of the goals we’ve reached and the fun we’ve had living out our bucket list dreams. Here’s the result:

Whole Wall

I collected these collage frames over time. I knew I wanted to be able to highlight the different types of bucket list adventures we have had – things we’ve done, places we’ve seen, people we’ve met, and the people we’ve become/roles we’ve fulfilled.

Aspire FrameSo my first collage contains pursuits that family members have aspired to: such as breaking the school track record for the 100-meter dash (Bethany), and learning archery (Evelyn).

Explore FrameNaturally our bucket list contains destinations that we want to explore. I’m hoping one day to expand this to its own wall, along with a pinned map showing places we have gone.

The more altruistic pursuits I gathered into a frame that I labeled “become.” It showcases volunteer experiences, and roles we have worked (or are working) to attain, such as my husband’s position as a leader in the disc golf community in our state and my daughter Katherine’s desire to become a pilot and the various flights she’s taken on that journey.IMG_5928

Meet FrameAs an avid reader (and writer) I keep a separate journal/scrapbook containing photos of me with the authors I have the privilege of meeting, but I’m not the only one in our family to rub elbows with people I admiral, so those shots go in their own frame.

And the wall just had to have another frame to balance things out. Plus I could tell we would fill up all the slots pretty quickly with only four collections. So I added a fifth frame of dreams fulfilled.Dreams Frame

You’ll notice that I didn’t hurry to fill the frames. I added scrapbook paper to empty openings, but ultimately the goal is to add in new photos as we check off different experiences. Not every bucket list experience of ours ends up on the wall. Our first time kayaking I didn’t dare take a camera on the water, so we don’t have a record of that. Other times we are all absorbed enjoying the experience and forget to take a picture (or don’t want to break the spell by snapping a shot).

Adventures SignFinally, I felt like I wanted to express the overall theme of our collections in words. Wood and metal signs saying “Family” are everywhere. But “Adventures”? Not so much. I ended up creating my own sign to finish the wall off.

I’m pleased with how it turned out. It’s an attractive reminder of the adventures we have shared. I love that behind each picture is a story – of perseverance, beauty, compassion, and dreams come true. And I look forward to filling them up with more memories.

How do you document the adventures your family takes? Do you keep a journal? Blog your thoughts? Create photo books? I would love to hear your favorite method for commemorating your family’s bucket list pursuits.

Talk About It: Post-Adventure Family Conversations

What kind of conversations do you have with your kids after you’ve reached a bucket list goal? What does your “debriefing” look like?
Chez Kent 411bOver Spring Break our family took a few bucket list adventures. Our eldest daughter spent three weeks on a school-sponsored exchange trip to Spain. The rest of us visited the LEGO Discovery Center for the first time. And I worked on a big project preparing for my next bucket list goal.

As much we enjoyed those adventures, we found the conversations we shared afterwards equally important. We heard stories about the differences between Chicago and the Spanish city of Santiago de Compastela. We talked about why we all agreed that it the LEGO trip would have been better for younger kids. And my family gave me feedback on my progress with my project.  We had these conversations not just for the fun of swapping stories (which is a huge part of it), but also because we’ve learned that processing our experiences helps us to appreciate, and deepen, the value of them.

When it comes to bucket list goals in your family, I hope you take the time to talk about them when you have accomplished them. Here are some ways to make the most of your family’s post-adventure chats:

  • Celebrate. Talk about how fortunate you were to be able to accomplish this particular goal. Ask your kids what made it the most memorable for them.
  • Reflect. Encourage your family to think about their individual roles in the experience. What did they do that worked well? What would they have done differently? What would they suggest to someone else approaching the same experience for the first time?
  • Applaud. Have family members exchange words of appreciation and affirmation. If it was a shared experience, ask each one to observe something positive they witnessed about another family member. As parents, share your positive observations.
  • Extract. Point your children toward the growth aspects of the experience. Where did they exhibit new skills or build on character traits? Ask everyone to talk about what they felt they gained from the adventure.
  • Commemorate. Discussing the adventure offers the perfect opportunity to seek your family’s input on how they want to mark the experience. Will you be putting together a photo collage? Or do you plan to display a souvenir? How might your family help you with these projects? Do they have ideas on how to observe or remember reaching that goal?

You may be surprised about what you learn from your kids during these conversations. Their perspective can be refreshing, and allowing them to process for themselves will internalize those experiences in significant ways.

Remember, it’s never too late to chat about the adventures you’ve taken. Make it the topic of your next family dinner and see where it leads!

Photo credit: Chez Kent 411b by Nathan LeClair on Flickr via CC License.