Monday, June 30, 2014

A Dad's Search for Outdoor Time On Vacation

So you're headed to the great outdoors.  Way to go, Superdad.  All the kids have got copious amounts of name-brand kiddie-size gear that your own parents would have likely never considered, had such things  existed 30 years ago.  Maybe you've even got your partner/wife/girlfriend along for the ride, and she has her own list of things she'd like to do.  To the protestations of your travel mates, you may have even snuck some of your own gear into the car or onto the truck - a surfboard.  Fishing rod.  Waders.  A small tackle box.  Hoping that in your short, frantic, budget-conscious outdoors trip, you'll find a magical window of time to go do the outdoors "your way."  Not "fishing" in the way of spending 2 hours begging one kid not to throw rocks at the fish, while unwinding the impossible tangle of the other kid's fishing line.  Fishing in the way of aggressively wading through mud or currents to get into position.    Or for surfing - spending 40 minutes trying to align yourself just right in the pocket, and angle just right into the take off, so you don't miss the wave or accidentally ride off the shoulder.   Or kayaking - working on your posture, your stroke, all in silence. Seeing how quietly you can paddle.  

Here's the thing.  Unless you like conflict and chaos, you won't make time.  And here's why:  even though you may feel like you booked a beach/mountain/forest trip because you'd like to get some outdoor time to yourself, "like the way it was before you had kids," it's not going to happen.   And I'm just understanding why.  Here are a few things to consider:

1.  Courtesy and Responsibility (young children).   Balance in all things - right?  Don't schedule a 4 day trip, and plan to surf by yourself each of the four mornings.   Don't schedule a 3-day trip that includes a 36-hour campout by yourself.    Be wary of scheduling a trip that would require you to leave the hotel/camp at 3am, possibly waking up your partner and your kids, as you're heading down the road "see you at dinner time!"  These all seem pretty obvious, but before we all had kids, we did a lot of this kind of stuff, or at least I did.   Your marriage or relationship needs to be intact at the end of the trip, and that's likely if you spend the trip acting like you're still 23.

2.  Don't schedule your trip like it's for you "before kids" (older children).   Remember your old outdoor trips?  On the water by 6am.  Back out by 11am.  Pizza and a few sodas till 12.  Stop by your favorite surf shop to run your mouth until 1pm.  Back in the water by 1:30pm for the tide change.  Surf/fish/hunt until dark.    I'm lucky enough in this life to have had many days like that.   But once your kids are old enough to participate in your outdoor sports (assuming they have that interest), you can't work that schedule.
Waves like this are a vacation letdown if you don't have kids with you.
And a blessing if you do.

 It's more like...on the water by 8:30am.  Out by 10am when the kids get hungry.  Go out for lunch.  Go play mini golf.  Back home so kids can get some down time until 4pm.   Get kids ready for dinner.  Go to dinner.  Walk on the beach/in the forest together as the sun goes down.

Those two days are fundamentally different.  The latter shows flexibility and a maturity to stop the "main activity" because the kids are done with it.   Instead of surfing, fishing, or paddling 5-8 hours per day, you'll be lucky to get 90 minutes of serious outdoor time per day, and again, that time may be engulfed by teaching your kids how to do it.  Enjoy that reward - it's not a punishment.   This leads to #3....

Mom or Dad still think they're gonna get on the water
every day?  Suck it up, pay the money,  and get
 as close as possible to the outdoors you want to see.
3.  Scheduling trips that create real outdoor opportunity.   When my buddies and I were young and poor, we wouldn't think twice about booking a hotel 45 minutes from the beach to save money.  After all, gas was 99 cents/gallon and who has $100/night to pay for a hotel room (4-6 guys sleeping in it)?  And, like I described above in #2, the thought was that we'd surf (or fish) our brains out for 36 hours and then limp back home.

Once again, that's a travel model that doesn't translate.  If you want to solidly get outdoors on your own for five days of a vacation, and you have children who are coming on the trip, please don't book 4 nights, or even 5 nights, of lodging.    Book 7 nights, and book them close to your outdoor recreation destination.  For example, a beach house that's within walking distance of the surf spot.   A river or lake cabin with its own boat launch (or community boat launch, if you can only afford a rental place a few blocks away).  Pay for as many nights as you can afford, both in vacation time and rental cost.

I've noticed that the more consecutive time we spend outdoors with Hank, the more he understands that the outdoors can be a constant - a lifestyle.  That it can really be part of us if we simply don't keep scheduling 1-night trips to our favorite destinations -  "Sure you can paddle tomorrow, but check out is at 10am so be back by 8am!"   This also seems to help increase the confidence of the kids on the trip.  Same beach or creek or forest every day.   They learn fast.

4.  Create a Support Network for the Trip.   This has been the hardest thing for me to do, since we don't have a family who will randomly rent a beach house and invite us to join them.   The alternatives are either to rent a huge place out of pocket and hope that someone's parents or grandparents will show up, happily babysit the children for no pay and no respect, and generally be okay with you acting like you're 23 again, "Hey mom, I'm leaving at 5am, can you watch my kid?"  No.   The other alternative is to rent a large house (or a few small cabins) with several families where multiple parents can take turns shouldering the parenting duty.  This means that eventually, you'll get some time off.  On your own.  That's part of the goal, isn't it?  If vacation is just to shop and spend money and eat too much food, you could save money and effort by getting a hotel room next to your local mall.    Recruit some allies - and provide parental support to your partner as well, so she gets her time to do her thing.

After almost five years of parenting, I think I have it figured out.  It's disappointing in a way, because the "great answer" is typical of other conundrums in life, "Just add money and time!"  For this outdoor dad, adding days to a trip, paying extra for up-close outdoor lodging, and involving more parents or families (and their typically higher standards than my own) really seems to be the recipe for creating a trip that celebrates the outdoors, provides lots of time for the kids to learn new outdoor skills or at least new environments, and gives Dad some time to relive the glory days of 10 years and 30 pounds ago.    Maybe your own recipe will be a bit leaner, and I hope you write about it, because like most things involving kids,  the outdoors vacation can be amazing and fun, but it's rarely cheap or relaxing.

1 comment:

JM said...

In my own journey as a parent who likes to fish, let me say that your patience will eventually pay off. One fine day you'll be admiring the way your son casts and plays fish, then you'll hear him ask if you mind if he goes on ahead of you to work some nice looking pocket water. Being outpaced can be almost as frustrating as forcing yourself to slow down, but both are equally rewarding. Enjoy the slower pace with him while it lasts!

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