Get Outta Town

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The clan minus the 3-year-old visiting Mayan ruins at Chacchoben, south of Tulum in Mexico (Photo courtesy Jason Tesauro)

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Sebastion time-lapsing the take-off from RIC (Photo courtesy Jason Tesauro)

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"How many SkyMiles do I have, Daddy?” No, these words haven’t been uttered by one of my children, but it’s inevitable. It’s an oft-repeated truism — at least in my house —that public school plus passports equals private school, and although I know that this isn’t completely accurate, it’s a formula we live by. Since Montessori times five is a sum we can’t swing, what we save on day schools, we spend on Delta. Presuming that most parents don’t need the why of traveling, let’s jump into the what and how.

Impromptu vs. Planned

Our trips fall into two categories: “grab your shoes” and “circle the date.” During my responsibility-free preteen years, Mama would occasionally blow past drop-off at Radburn Elementary and gun her stick-shift Datsun down the Jersey Shore instead. Those early, impromptu trips made an impression. First, who doesn’t love the surprise of playing hooky?  Second, it primed me as a low-maintenance traveler. Sometimes, a suitcase — and even a preordained destination itself — are optional. While my wife is no fan of the skipping-school day trip, all of us are simpatico with the benefits of a last-minute get-up-and-go. During one particular stretch of bickering and general familial malaise, Amy Lee and I handed down directives like royal decrees: “Turn off phones, fill water bottles, pack snacks and get in the car. We’re going on a hike. You have 15 minutes.” Within an hour, nature did its thing, grounding us and restoring positive vibes.

On the other hand, “circle the date” trips establish the importance of deferred gratification and encourage the team-building exercises of vision-boarding, planning and executing. Whether a year out or just a few weeks, once the date and destination are settled, divvy up the responsibilities. Assign to your teenagers some research tasks: best museums, cost of excursions, nearest beaches and pastry shops. The younger kids can make the “Countdown Chart” or decorate a “Pennies for Paris” jar into which everyone tosses their spare change. You don’t have to provide an actual integer regarding the cost of family trips, but to reinforce gratitude and an understanding of value, enlighten children to the sacrifices you’re making in advance of an adventure. A line like, “Do you want sushi rolls in Richmond ... or bocadillos in Barcelona?” goes a long way.

Road Tripping vs. Jet Setting

Besides exposing kids to the four F’s of travel — flora, fauna, flavor, foreign accents — you’re also laying a foundation of manners and savvy. With road tripping comes the life lessons of composing a drive-time playlist, assembling crunchy snacks and opening your beverage bottle with a seat belt.

With jet setting comes lessons in plane etiquette (dress stylishly, don’t annoy your neighbor), hotel intel (get chummy with a staffer, suss out the amenities) and the élan of tipping (arm the kids with a stack of singles).

On a road trip, the route is moot, it’s the adventure itself that matters. Show your children that detours and dead ends are worth exploring. Help them hone their sense of direction and develop a nose for ghost towns, luncheonettes, scenic vistas and junk shops. From pre-SATs through grad school, their lives will be dominated by agendas and schedules, so plant early these seeds of seat-of-the-pants spontaneity that will teach them to trust their guts.

No one comes out of the womb knowing how to read an itinerary and fill a suitcase appropriately. Guide them. Knowing how to pack one bag efficiently and keep track of its contents will serve your children whether they’re overnighting at a friend’s or backpacking through Europe. Our most recent family vacation was a cruise to Mexico with theme nights and fancy outings, but space was at a premium. The kids learned quickly how to organize their gear and dress the part.

Parenting, at its core, is about raising kind humans and good citizens. Because travel shapes us in lasting ways, it should be a fundamental part of growing up. I didn’t leave the country until I was well into my 20s, but none of my children have had to wait that long. And now that they, too, have gotten a taste for it, they’re not just more responsible, they’re more adaptable, more curious, more self-reliant and more comfortable in unfamiliar surroundings. Maybe soon, we’ll just give them a budget and let them plan a weekend getaway for the gang. Like my mama, I hope they don’t even tell us where we’re going.


Buckle up. Jason Tesauro, writer, speaker, sommelier — and modern papa to a five-some under 15 — invites you to ride shotgun as he hurls through life at the speed of love/chaos/adventure.

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Source : http://richmondmagazine.com/life-style/travel/get-outta-town/

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