Most people enjoy a stroll through pretty countryside, especially if there’s a good meal and alcohol at the end of it. Long walks with multiple toddlers doesn’t sound quite as fun, I grant you, but it is perfectly manageable, a hip flask and a good sense of humour will see you through. Long walks with multiple toddlers in wilderness, though. How does that sound? Hmmm not sure? Yogi Bear meets Blair Witch, maybe? Every shade of hell, ending only in everybody’s slow and painful death?
Well, think again. Firstly, in the US and also in the UK, ‘wilderness’ is a relative term. Forget the dictionary definition, what it actually means is ‘practically no infrastructure’ (and in Yellowstone, it didn’t even mean that) – but that doesn’t necessarily mean practically no people. In the 6 or 7 wilderness parks we have visited, they’ve all been packed out like Piccadilly Circus, which is unfortunate as I love the countryside and I hate people. Going for a nice scenic walk is something I often crave – especially now that I live in the public footpath- and sidewalk- free world of greatbigdirtySUVs and massive freeways (hashtagfirstworldproblems).
Ostensibly, the only hiking my two diminutively sized monsters show any interest in doing is over/through the mountain of plastic tat that is rapidly and claustrophobically replacing what once was an entire house but is now one giant, sticky, crap-laden playroom. Even then, they only hazard that trek when I’ve forcibly removed them from the telly. Yet, when we get them out there, The Great Outdoors, with the waterfalls and the alpine meadows and the glacier lakes, our kids have an absolute feckin ball. No joke, they love it. We, the adults, are absolutely bolloxed, but they have the greatest of times. In fact, we all do. With some qualifications.
So to the content proper of this blog. I’ve compiled a list of lesser known practical points to the ones that might immediately spring to mind (possibly… I’m not fully convinced about that) for those parents committed to getting their budding Ranulph Fiennes out into Mother Nature.
Good luck with it, send me a postcard when you’re on your vacation, let me know how it all goes.
PS If you’re reading this from outside the US (if such a place exists outside of myth and parable), then this list applies to long walks in the countryside where you’re not going to come across any pubs for the entirety of your walk. Yes, I know – not sure what can I tell you, it’s a different world. They do have lions and tigers* and bears though. Oh my.
To the list.
It’s a strength training session
- Unless you’re a founding member of the Justice League, goddess, and Ambassador-at-Large of the Amazonian people, the general rule of thumb is one adult (or more) per small person
- If you have yet to garner a feel for how far your kids can hike, choose distances based on worst case scenarios:
- First hike of the day: could you carry your kids a third of the distance, if you really had to?
- Second hike: could you manage two-thirds of the distance?
- Third (or last) hike: you may well need to carry them the whole distance.
- Along with your children, you’ll also be lugging water, snacks, sun lotion, bug spray, possibly diapers, wipes, bear spray… a gun or two (hey, when in Rome… or Texas). It adds up. When hiking at altitude or high temperatures it is mission critical that you morph yourself into what is essentially a human camel. Lest we forget, water weighs a tonne.
- Get a decent baby carrier and a lightweight stroller
- And a rucksack. Don’t try to lug a change bag, it’ll kill your shoulders
- Pack sandwiches. Everybody parps on about snacks – and of course they’re the capstone of toddler-care and I never, ever leave home without them (and i’m definitely not suggesting you omit them) – but if your kids get really tired, a sandwich is better than a pack of peanuts. Fact. If I could give them coffee I would but BUGGER THAT.
- Speaking of caffeine, a refreshing can of coke or two for the donkeys won’t go amiss (that means you)
- You WILL need to pack band aids
Adopt whinge mitigation techniques
- It is surprising how much further a child can walk if he/she makes a new friend en route or if the end goal is a lake they can paddle in
- If your child is obsessed with rocks/twigs/bugs/etc, then you’ll probably be 25 feet into the hike 45 minutes after starting it. You’ll wish you’d packed a hip flask of Jose Cuerva, trust me.
- Apparently, kids twatting each other with big sticks and then howling blue murder isn’t an appropriate game for busy trails. You could try other aversion tactics such as ‘finding shapes in the clouds’, ‘what animal lives in a hole like that’ and everybody’s favourite ‘who can find the biggest leaf’.
- Positive reinforcement galore
- And just expect whinging. Your pint-sized companions will whine at some point, it’s a lot to ask of their fat little sausage legs. Be patient.
Choose your hikes tactically
- Ask the rangers ‘We have X number of kids aged X, we think the maximum we can hike is X miles on X terrain, what trails would you suggest?’ and see what you get back. At least know how you could challenge yourself, even if you can’t be arsed to see it through.
- That said, wherever possible, do as the tour buses do and drive right up to the attraction. Similarly, do the stroller friendly hikes. Because they’re essentially free.
- Make the first hike of the day the one you want to do most
- The last hike should be the most engaging for small people (waterfalls, lakes, wildlife etc)
- Expect your child to get incrementally more tired more quickly with each consecutive day of hiking
Mommy, I wanna go potty! (is possibly the most annoying phrase in the history of humanity)
- Get your child to try to go to the toilet as often as the opportunity presents itself. getting through 1.5 miles of a popular 3 mile loop to be informed, loudly, by your toddler that he/she is desperate for a poo and no, he/she can’t possibly hold it in, it’s coming out right now… it’s enough to ruin even the sublimest of vistas
- Getting my daughter to wee behind a bush without soaking her shoes is something of a skill I have yet to master but apparently it helps if her feet are higher than her bottom (on rocks for example)
- Use the parks as a living classroom whenever possible, but don’t labour the point. Nobody likes a bore.
*Tigers in captivity
A Guest Blog from HK Vontrapp
About the HK
Well, this is my blog so… hi there. I am an average British 30-something woman who is currently living in the US with her family for a short(ish) spell.
Once you’ve been in the States a little while, you realise that which state you live in confers all sorts of hidden semantic messages about who you are. I have no idea what Maryland means, but that’s where I live right now. In Blighty, I’m a Midlands girl – although I’ve been living in the slightly more upscale Cotswolds for the last few years. If you’re a Brit, I love curry more than average and the M&S food hall (but not for curry, obvs) and all things John Lewis. If you’re an American, well I’m British… I sound smarter in person than in writing (probably) and I’m insanely, dangerously socialist…. Haha not really, but I am super liberal. You’ll also be relieved to hear that’s probably the most political I’m ever going to get on this blog.
Anyhoo… I’ve amassed quite a lot of experience on travelling with toddlers over the last 18 months, and I thought it would be a good idea to write it down. That is, until I tried to write it down and it became abundantly clear that you need a modicum of talent or you’ll just end up sounding like a nob. Although, tbf, that’s not stopped anyone else and it’s certainly never stopped me before.
I have some aims whilst I’m living in the US, and they kinda inform all of this, so for the record, I want to…
- See as much of this vast, diverse, beautiful and crazy country as I can within the limitations of time and budget,
- Learn about the US culture you can’t find on HBO series, Hollywood films and Nick Jnr,
- Maintain an approximation of sanity,
- Not kill my husband or my kids.
I’m totally on it with 1, 2 and 4. 3 is a work in progress.
You can read more at The Family Gal Blog