Creating Meaningful and Lasting Memories during Trips with Your Kids

Meg Stafford's picture

If you are wondering about how to create meaningful and lasting memories during trips with your kids, you are already heading in the right direction. Simply by asking the question, you are not assuming that what would be fun for you would also be fun for your offspring. 

A doctor of mine once said that when they’re young, your children follow you in your travels, but as they get older, you start to follow them. 

Creating Meaningful and Lasting Memories during Trips with Your Kids

It gave me pause at the time, but it was not too many months later that I took my first trip to join my older daughter for a week of her 7-week winter session in Peru. The image of her sitting down next to a llama who was lying down, their heads inclined toward one another while gazing out at the spectacular vista from Machu Picchu, is deeply ingrained in my mind and heart (and on the back cover of my book that followed a few years later!). 

Part of the story starts years earlier, when our children are small. That is the prime time to start asking their opinions about what they’re doing, what they notice, what’s fun, what’s challenging. It is a treat to understand what they are learning, and curious about. And it is right then, as toddlers, when they can start to gain confidence in their decision making if we offer them choices about which the outcome truly doesn’t matter to you. Which color cup would you like to use? Which shirt, or would you prefer chicken nuggets or Mac and cheese? 

As they continue to grow up, their choices become more complicated—and the better they know themselves, the better position they’re in to truly know what is right for them, whether deciding what to order at a restaurant, what kind of work they’d like to pursue, or who feels right if choosing a life partner, or where they’d love to travel. 

It’s not easy to hold our responsibility seriously, but lightly, but in the long run it affords our children so much to gain in terms of what they see as risky, or what feels doable. And they will more likely include us as parents if they feel they have been respected every step of the way, (as opposed to being dictated to).

When our younger daughter decided she wanted to go to Nepal to study meditation and Buddhism as part of her senior project for high school, we decided that we were not comfortable allowing her to pop around the world on her own just yet. The solution was for me to go with her to Nepal, and trek to the Annapurna Base Camp while she was studying for 10 days. This afforded her the freedom to be there on her own, but we would be together en route there, and afterwards when we traveled for several days in Nepal and Bhutan. When I rejoined her in Kathmandu, she was much more familiar with the city than I was, thus she was my tour guide for pieces of it. This was fun for both of us, and a lovely way to switch roles for a while. 

Just being away from home and visiting someplace new affords everyone the opportunity to be really present. This is perhaps my favorite aspect of travel. 

Creating Meaningful and Lasting Memories during Trips with Your Kids

The newness demands presence. It is harder to experience this in your home, because everything is familiar, including laundry that needs folding, and lawns that cry to be trimmed. But when we’re away, we can’t help but be inspired when we see the majesty of mountains, or the thrill of a waterfall. Or the bustle and beauty of architecture in Europe, South America or downtown in the nearest city! It commands our full attention, all of us, and in sharing this experience, we are creating memories that will stand the test of time. 

Creating Meaningful and Lasting Memories during Trips with Your Kids

When you’re together, having time to be on devices is fair, but making sure that there is conversation when you’re looking each other in the eye, and really talking about what’s happening in that moment, is priceless. This can happen anywhere, at any time. Connecting does not have to mean hours of deep conversation. It can mean ten minutes in the car, to really ask about what it was like to see certain friends, or what challenges a particular class is posing. I loved trying papaya with lime after a friend in the Colombian countryside village helped chop one down from the tree in my older daughter’s yard as we talked about the work she was doing there.

It’s also key to remember that not only do we as parents not have all the answers to what is best for our children, but that we stand to learn if we really listen to their opinions. They have wonderful ideas that may be better than our own. Thank goodness! And this is just as true when we’re traveling. They might find a place to eat, or a cave to explore that had not occurred to us. It’s a win for everyone when our children come up with ideas. The more they feel confident in their own decisions, the less we need to shepherd them. 

All along the way, if we create the time to share new experiences with our children, we are opening space for those experiences to be meaningful and memorable. 


Who Will Accompany You? Meg Stafford

Meg Stafford is a writer who loves exploration of all kinds. Her 2011 memoir, Topic of Cancer, won six literary awards (including being named "Best First Book" by the IBPA's Benjamin Franklin Awards) for its engrossing and hilarious portrayal of surviving and thriving after a life-altering diagnosis of breast cancer. For 25 years she has been observing how small, remarkable moments enrich our lives in her monthly newspaper column, "A Moment's Notice." As a social worker in private practice, she's been helping others negotiate the terrain of relationships and connections for over 35 years. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband, two dogs, and one large cat. 

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