The practice run: Venturing with kids to the next town over

Sam Davies wasn’t ready to take his daughters on a long trip, so he started out small—no agenda, lots of bathrooms, and the joy of experiencing something new along with them.

Photo by: Pen Waggener.

When you have a young child, traveling anywhere involves a complex Gantt chart with interlocking dependencies. You attempt to account for all conceivable contingencies: Will there be laundry facilities for our cloth prefolds? Does the hotel have a door so one child can be coaxed into sleep independently from the other child? Will anyone eat anything? Will the zombie apocalypse hit while I’m at the playground1.

Because of the complications of travel, my wife, Kat, and I just didn’t bother for awhile. We weren’t complete homebodies, we’d visit our parents and do overnight stays, but the idea of traveling any great distance with our children seemed more effort than it’d be worth2. Even though friends and loved ones would graciously invite the whole family to far away weddings, we’d arrange to leave the kids with someone vaguely competent, and Kat and I would go on our own.

As our girls got older and they stopped defecating in their pants, it got easier to take a trip. We could fit the entire contents of a “Gramma trip” in a small backpack. We’d even branch out and go to the beach a few times. But due to the added expense from and potential misery of the children, we hadn’t tried to go anywhere more than a few driving hours from Richmond.

And we still haven’t, but very recently, I started to feel like we could.

This summer, we took a practice trip a little less than an hour away to Charlottesville. With no particular itinerary, we picked a long weekend, booked an Airbnb3 within walking distance of the Charlottesville Downtown Mall, packed the car, and went. A manageable distance from home, our little family could have a test run of visiting a brand new place, with fewer of the risks.

Neither Kat, nor I, know Charlottesville very well. We both attended SEP camp at University of Virginia 25 years ago, but have since become VT Hokies, so it never occurred to us to go back to Jefferson’s town. I’ve traveled a lot for work, and the best part of that burden is getting explore new cities. I’d love to share that with my children.

We spent our first day walking around the UVA campus, glad that we were not yet at the stage where we had to tour it with a begrudging teenager and make up things to say like “I think that brick will help you learn.” And it was fun. I’d forgotten two key features of college campuses that make it ideal for tired grown-ups and small children. Firstly, there are water fountains and bathrooms EVERYWHERE. You’re thirsty? Let’s go in this public building. You need to pee again? No problem, let’s go in this public building. No awkward conversation with a shopkeeper, no praying for a library you didn’t know about, just always available plumbing. Secondly, because college students learn by sitting, there are chairs and benches EVERYWHERE. Are we tired? Let’s sit on this bench. Too sunny? Let’s move two steps to that bench in the shade.

My kids hadn’t really experienced an environment where I didn’t know everything.

But what surprised me was the realization that my kids hadn’t really experienced an environment where I didn’t know everything. For the first day, the kids would ask us the function of every building, the Wikipedia history of every statue or fountain. By the second day, we got tired of saying “I don’t know,” so we started asking them. “What’s that street called?” “Why did they put plants there?”. Emphasizing that we were all exploring a new place, and that experiences can be new for Mom and Dad, too.

We spent the weekend walking, exploring, and spending more time deciding where to eat than actually eating. It was delightful. There were happy times and cranky times, but in no different ratio than we’d face at home. With the nearest city to home under our belt, I feel like we can now travel even farther and see more of the world together.

  1. This is pretty much a statistical guarantee. 
  2. Maybe we were tainted by an experience early in our parenthood where we took our 10-month-old on a trip to Colorado, she contracted a stomach virus on the plane that we first thought was elevation sickness, but then everyone in the house we were visiting (including us) started vomiting all day. 
  3. Airbnb is a service where people can rent out some or all of their home to travelers. Our Airbnb was the perfect homebase. We rented a small apartment with a full kitchen, a bedroom door that closed, and plenty of room to laze about during down time. 
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Sam Davies

Sam Davies is the father of two daughters (ages five and eight) who lives in Northside Richmond. He and his wife Kat are trying their best to not raise sociopaths.

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