Traveling is one of my biggest passions. For me, it’s a great way to connect with nature and the world outside my yard. Before having kids, and while I was still living in Venezuela, my life revolved around travel. Now my life revolves around my wife, our 7-year-old daughter, and our 4-year-old son, but having a family hasn’t diminished my wanderlust, if anything it’s enhanced it.
For three months, starting on March 2, 2015, the four of us embarked on a once-in-a-lifetime journey through Central America. We traveled through Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras (Roatan Island), Belize, and Guatemala.
Our family ventured into the unknown and hiked through mountains and rainforests. We visited volcanoes, explored inhabited islands in the Pacific, swam with turtles and whale sharks, paddled over pristine coral reefs, and interacted and connected with local communities such as the Mayans, Comarca Ngäbe-Buglé, and the Criollo people of Central America.
I often get asked how we pulled that off. How did we keep the kids entertained and active for 90 days? In truth, it wasn’t that hard, but we did learn a lot along the way. Here are our five tips for adventurous outdoor traveling with kids:
1. Stay in each location for a minimum of one week
We travelled at a slower pace to avoid overwhelming our kids with too much. This gave us the opportunity to take it easy and really enjoy ourselves in each location. We found this helped us balance play time, travel time, quiet time, and even TV time.
2. Split “adventure days” with “easy days”
Very active days were great but also tiring. Sometimes is was better to just hang around our rental. The kids would play independently, swim in the pool, or do crafts. On occasion, we would sometimes split our days, combining a very busy morning with a quiet afternoon.
3. Travel using local transportation
Renting a car can be very convenient but using local transportation is an adventure on its own and kids love it! We did a lot of walking, sometimes up to three kilometres, just to get to our destination. Also taking the anticipated “chicken bus” and “tuk-tuks” (aka: moto-taxi) were often the highlight of the day. Traveling with the locals also allowed us to interact more deeply with the culture.
4. Plan your day with a purpose
For us, a purpose meant an experience. So, rather than just planning on going to a place like a old ruin, a beach, or a mountain, we planned activities to do in those places, such as traveling back in time to old civilizations, boogie boarding, paddling a kayak, or finding the mighty quetzal in the cloud forest.
Having a direction to the day helped to keep us all focused, and motivated the kids (and the adults) to get out and try something new. It’s easy for inertia to set in, especially because traveling with kids can be exhausting. Having a purpose to our day made sure we took advantage of all of the amazing places we were and opportunities that were available to us.
5. Learn something new
Everywhere we went we found something new to try or learn. My kids learned about tropical natural history, ancient Mayan culture, the art of weaving, and making chocolate, among other things. Every day was a learning experience and our children were eager students.
Developing physical literacy skills while we were traveling was also very important to me. As a personal trainer, I know how important balance and stamina are in overall fitness. An added extra with all of these adventures was that the kids improved their balance and stamina — without even realizing it! Their exposure to walking and running on cobblestone streets in Antigua, climbing Mayan ruins, and playing in the ocean waves have helped my children to be more confident and physically stronger, making it easier for them to travel in this way.
Bonus tip: stay in places with a pool
One of the biggest secrets of our success had to do with trying to book rentals with swimming pools whenever we could. On easy days, or a quiet afternoon, a pool was the perfect activity, keeping kids moving and cool. We could relax reading a book and enjoyed splashing about with the kids too. Our daughter even learned how to swim during our trip!
Of course, it wasn’t all sunshine and roses — some days were downright rough — but overall the entire experience was extraordinary. I loved watching my kids learning new skills, enjoying nature, getting immersed in new cultures, interacting with locals, and being active outdoors. Seeing them exhausted at bed time was priceless. The level of satisfaction I felt with this trip was one that I never experienced in my pre-kids travel days.
Don’t let having children stop you from getting out and seeing the world. Sure, traveling with them may be more challenging and you might not be able to do all of the things you would do if you were on your own, but I guarantee that it will be better than you could have ever imagined.
All images courtesy Rodney Fuentes