Updated: Aug 4
"I haven't been everywhere, but it's on my list."
I love this quote because it rings so true for me. I want to see it all, do it all, and I want to share it all with my kids. While a relaxing beach vacation is on our agenda every year (with adventure built in, of course), our most memorable trips are active family vacations! Family adventures = family bonding! I keep lists and lists of our dream trips, and I scour books and blogs for ideas. I love it all – the dreaming, the planning, the anticipation, the shopping for cute outfits and trip supplies, gathering all the books I will read on the plane and car rides, and the actual trip itself, of course.
I’ve always loved traveling, even when it was just road trips to Florida and Washington DC in the way back of my parents’ mustard yellow Toyota station wagon with handmade curtains on the back windows. I remember sitting on my mom’s lap in the front seat by the vent when I got too sweaty in the way back. I remember tent camping in the mountains of North Carolina and bouncing so high on the seesaw with my sister while my parents set up camp. I remember singing Christmas carols at the top of my lungs with my mom while the lights of St. Petersburg showed us the way to my Grandmother’s house after a long, long drive. I remember our annual summer trip to DC where we were either sightseeing or back-to-school shopping and getting lost on the way to everything we did. (Sense of direction is not in my family's wheelhouse). Check out my post on visiting DC with kids!
I love being "away" - being somewhere different and out in the world
I was along for the ride back then, but I loved being “away”, being somewhere different and out in the world. As a grownup, I have had the good fortune of traveling a fair amount of the world during my single girl days – a month in Italy and Greece, Barcelona, London, Croatia, New Zealand, Hawaii, Alaska, Mexico, Canada – but still I was mostly a participant. If you knew me now, you would marvel at the fact that I did not buy a single book or do a lick of research before my month in Italy. Thankfully, my travel buddy, Sarah, did. When I found myself alone in the Termini train station in Rome trying to find my track not knowing a single word in Italian except for “Ciao!”, I realized that some research might have been in order.
But now I’m the planner. I think it started when my future husband and I went skiing in Utah and he booked the room for us, which happened to also include a large family of roaches. He’s a pilot so I assumed he knew a thing or two about travel. I was wrong. From then on out, I've been in charge of vacation planning. We’ve been traveling the world ever since … and no roaches.
When I got pregnant, my husband and I agreed that we would keep traveling, even with the kids in tow. My firstborn traveled to Hawaii three times before the age of 3 - if you include the first time when he was in my belly. I flew alone with him to Paris when he was 1 1/2 years old to meet Daddy on a long layover. Free hotel in Paris, free flight for baby Brady? Let’s do it! I’m not going to say that the redeye return flight alone with a baby on my lap who never slept a wink was a good idea, but we got to see Paris!
Once we had baby #2, the exotic trips were over because I couldn’t handle flying alone long distances with a baby and a toddler. Hubs typically flies separately, because he jumps on whatever flight he can, which means I’m on my own. So as a family of four, we downgraded to relatively easy trips – beach, Disney, beach, repeat. Now that the kids are older (Brady is 12 and Ava is 8) and can manage their own luggage and backpacks, we’re back to dreaming big. We’ve settled into an annual vacation plan of one beach trip to escape the Midwest winter (an absolute necessity), one adventure trip (hooray for national parks!), one ski trip (check out my post on skiing in the Midwest!), and one trip with extended family (yay for cousins!). Overseas trips will be on the agenda in a couple years when both kids are double digits.
Experiencing the world through my kids’ eyes makes travel even more profoundly joyful for me. We can tell them how big the Grand Canyon is and show them pictures, but there’s nothing like seeing it in person. And there’s nothing like the look of utter awe on a kids’ face to make all the delayed flights, carsickness, and jet lag worth it. We make our kids the center of our world, and it’s so easy for them to become self-centered in the process. But travel helps keep them grounded. That may sound counter-intuitive given the cost of travel and how privileged our kids are to do this kind of traveling. But I believe that travel keeps you modest, because you realize how big the world is and how small you are in comparison.
Travel makes you brave and keeps you curious
Traveling ain’t always pretty, and adventure travel is almost never easy. But man is it fun! Teaching our kids to keep trying new things, even if it scares them is an invaluable life lesson. (See our canyoneering adventure in Zion!). Once you get a taste for that adventure, for all the amazing things the world out there has to offer, it keeps you wanting more. Travel helps us keep growing, helps us keep that childlike sense of wonder of “What’s around the next bend? Let’s go check it out!”
But travel isn’t just about sightseeing, swimming, and sunsets. It’s about being together 24x7 without school and work and friends and iPads. I have a captive audience - just me, them, and whatever adventure is on our agenda that day. Little hands in mine hiking in the Grand Canyon. Fights over who gets to ride with me on the Disney rides. Pure joy on their faces after they conquered their second rappel in the Zion slot canyon. (The first was still a little tentative.) Walking arm-in-arm shopping for souvenirs with big hugs after we buy them something they think they love but will forget about very, very soon. Sleeping together all in one room – sometimes all in one bed.
Travel can be a "happiness anchor" you lean on when times are tough
We are always a more connected family after vacations. Both kids are enamored with us on a trip when they’re often too busy to even say “Hi!” to us when they get home from school. Brady and Ava play together so hard while we’re away, which doesn’t happen too often at home. That’s the magic. Those are the memories I know my kids will look back on when they think of their childhood, when they become parents and think about the memories they want to create for their family. Those are the "happiness anchors" they will lean on when times are tough. And when my husband and I are gone, I know they’ll remember the magic we made with them all over the world.
We leave every vacation ready to be home but also ready to start planning the next trip – if I haven’t started already! I decided to create this blog because many people have asked for details of our trips and said they want to “steal” our itineraries. Not sure why it took me so long to realize that I could combine my love for writing and my love for travel into one. So here it is – Show Them the World!
Heather Vergara is a former PepsiCo marketing executive who left the corporate world to be a Mom and never went back. In addition to family, Heather is passionate about kindness, community, travel and adventure, whole food, and sweating every day. Heather has an MBA in Marketing from Indiana University, an Executive Education certificate in Digital Marketing from Columbia University, and a BA in Journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She lives with her husband, two kids and two furry dogs in Zionsville, Indiana.