Tips for outdoor travel with kids

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Two years before we had kids, my wife Kathleen and I were on the Big Island of Hawaii where we met a 25 year old Colorado man and his partner who seemed relaxed, happy and sane as their toddler ran . rough in jungle vegetation between rainforest walking trail and beach. Since I saw children in my future, but was apprehensive about the lifestyle change they would bring, I asked this guy how he was dealing with it.

“If he sleeps when he wants and eats when he wants, we can take him anywhere,” he replied. “That way we can do what we want and usually everyone is happy.”

Over the years that Kathleen and I have had two children and dragged them with us on a number of outdoor adventures, we have found that our children’s exposure to the natural environment really benefits all of us.

Numerous studies back up our experience, finding that time spent in nature reduces stress and negative thoughts and correlates with higher self-reported happiness in adults and children.

What I wish I knew before I started traveling with teenagers

It makes sense, says Patricia Hasbach, a psychotherapist in Eugene, Oregon, and author of Grounding: A Guided Journal to Help You Reconnect with the Force of Nature and Yourself. “We have evolved as part of the natural world, but at this point in our history we have never been so far removed from it,” she says, since about 80 percent of Americans live in an urban environment and our society depends on technology. “It’s all very primitive… and we need this re-engagement with the natural world.”

I never analyzed it to such an extent, but I knew that I was happiest when I was in the wild and that I wanted to share this transcendental joy with my family. Here are some tips drawn from my 13-year-old struggle to raise nature-loving travel kids.

Start early. Taking babies and toddlers outdoors is not only about keeping up your own pace of outdoor travel, but also about nurturing a love of nature in them. Because if you start using your brat as an excuse to goof off at street cafes, malls, or (sigh!) your home, you could lose your charm forever.

Admittedly, dragging tiny people outside for long periods of time entails planning at the Eagle Scout level – diaper bag, bedtime, snacks, toys – which makes it reasonable…

Start locally. The road to 1000 amazing rides starts within reach of the panic button. That is, when your baby still has that shiny new maternity ward smell, invite your nature representatives nearby. For us, that meant walking through Rock Creek and Great Falls parks, during which we realized that the Colorado man was right: Babies have very simple needs.

Encouraged in this way, when Kai was 5 weeks old, we sent him to southern Arizona, where we cradled his tiny mass on numerous hikes, including the depths of the Kartchner Caves. In later years, Kai, now 13, and his sister Christina, 10, dug (and, of course, ate) sand from places as diverse as the Cape…

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