February 1, 2013

Road Tripping Through Southern Africa

One of our Foreign Correspondents has returned from her travels! Cathy and her family traveled to Zimbabwe this winter to visit family. Cathy is a teacher who took leave from her position during the birth of her twins. When her children were toddlers, she filled her time by acting as a founding parent of a charter initiative to open Birchtree Charter School, a Waldorf-inspired school in her  hometown of Palmer, Alaska. Since the school’s opening in fall 2010, she has acted as the treasurer on the Academic Policy Committee. We outfitted Cathy’s family with a suitcase full of Tea before they left, asking them to share their adventures with us upon their return. Below is part two of their adventure.

travel with kids

Three six year olds, four adults, one Toyota Prado and a three-week 2,100 mile road trip through Zimbabwe and Mozambique- that was our plan. Trepidation? Lots of it- I couldn’t help wondering if this was not our best idea. Yet, we were excited about spending time with my brother and his family, who had recently relocated to Harare, Zimbabwe. What we knew for certain was that we are not package tour travelers- we wanted to explore on our own as much as possible. Car travel would allow us maximum freedom for exploration.

Happily, I report, that not only did we survive, we thrived. In fact, the trip turned out to be one of our very best vacations- one that will shape our thoughts for years to come. What we learned along the way is that not only is road tripping with young children possible, it’s a fantastic way to explore at your own time and pace. Below are a few tips that guided our daily experiences.

Put the right people in the car: If traveling with others, choose your travel partners wisely. Talk clearly about expectations for the trip. For us, this part was simple. We’ve traveled with my brother and his family for years. We tend to like to experience travel in the same way and truly enjoy each other’s company.

travel with kids

Engage everyone in the plan: Should we do one very long drive today and get to the beach or spend two shorter days in the car and stop along the way? Questions such as these posed to our six year old travelers allowed them to feel a part of the decision-making and be active participants in the journey.

travel with kids

Rise early: For us, getting an early start to the day was essential. Departing by 5am on our driving days enabled us to make the most of daylight hours while the kids slept through the first several hours of the trip. Getting an early, early start to the day was also wise as it gave us more time to deal with the unexpected: road conditions, police stops, frolicking baboons, detours, and getting lost a time or two.

Sing often and reinstate those old car games: Music was a part of each of our days. Given the holiday season, Christmas tunes were at the top of our list, as were Shona songs. Additionally, We asked our children to prepare a holiday concert for us. Each child chose a favorite song, taught it to the others, and developed choreography as needed. Tried and true car games also worked to engage us for hours. What better time to play I Spy than on road trip in Africa?

Nourishment: Who could know how much kids can eat during the course of a single drive? We kept a cooler fully stocked at all times, so that we wouldn’t have to engage in time consuming sit down meals. However, roadside vendors did fill the inquisitive palate from time to time. Roasted cashews, piri piri chicken and fresh mangos were exquisite local fare readily available through a rolled down window.

travel with kids

Get out of the car: Make time for tree climbing or other out of car experiences. Sanity is much more easily maintained when recognizing that children and adults need to move. Planned and unplanned stops to walk on the beach or take dip in the ocean reenergized even our most weary travelers.

Declare Moviepalooza: Vacation is the perfect time to loosen house rules a bit. In our home, TV and movies are permitted only on Friday and Saturday nights. Allowing our children to enjoy some movie time worked well for our longest travel days. Yes, they were missing some of the scenery for a few hours, but everyone can benefit from with a break from all the newness that surrounds us during a trip.

travel with kids

Once again, knowing how you enjoy traveling and planning with those that you know and trust is essential.  We included the kids as much as we could and let them know what was happening all along the way.  They knew it could take 1 hour or 6 hours at the border and that we would all do the best we could to make it fun and easy.  We also let them know that as soon as we got to a pool or the beach, no matter the time or weather, it was swim time.  Believe me there were hiccups – unexpected police stops, room mix ups, a dead motor on a boat that had just whisked us ten miles out to sea –  but, we survived by focusing on the best and laughing at the rest.