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The great affair is to move: 9 truths about travel

We just passed exit 204 somewhere between Greensboro, North Carolina and Williamsburg, Virginia. It’s 10:39 p.m., and while the youngest one has managed to dutifully pass out in his carseat, the older two are up late watching a movie on the iPad.

This marks the end of Day Seven on our family’s road trip, wandering the east coast and saying hi to many of you. We are living out in the flesh the things I wrote about in the travel section of Blue Bike, a daily reminder of the stuff I’ve found true about traveling with kids.

(By the way, am I allowed to have a favorite section of my own book? I don’t know if that’s allowed. But if it is, I’d have to say it’s the travel section. Maybe it’s because I love travel that much, and also because there are very few things in life about which I am adamant, and this is one of those things—that families need to experience travel together, big or small.)

Spending these long hours in the car and the many moonlit nights in hotels and friends’ guest rooms has resurfaced so many of the things I forget when we’re not on the road.

Here are a few of them.

1. It’s always bumpy in the beginning.

The first few days tend to be rough on any trip (or the first few hours of a weekend trip—it’s a percentage thing, somehow). Grownups are stressed, kids are tense, and everyone feels a little on edge as the family adapts to different surroundings and agendas. You’re out of sorts at first.

finn behind

But then, quite miraculously, it tends to just iron itself out. You get into your groove, and things are well. Happens to us almost every time.

2. Sleep deprivation makes everyone insane.

I just want to issue a ginormous SORRY to everyone we’ve hung out with the past few days, because as of this writing, our kids are a bit ridiculously sleep-deprived. And so they do delightful things, like hit children they just met and yet have expressed affection towards.

A lack of sleep makes everyone punchy, including adults. We’ve learned that when tired hits, it’s time for all of us to slow it down a notch and restore our bodies. I’ve got my eyelids pinned back as I’m writing this.

3. Locals know best.

Lots of you have given us fantastic ideas about where to eat and what to check out. Thanks for that. Twitter is one of my favorite places to find good recommendations, followed by apps like Yelp. Not to mention good, old-fashioned asking-of-people-standing-next-to-you.

cafe du monde

4. Eating healthy is worth the effort and expense.

I’m not beneath the occasional fried offering, but overall, eating plenty of veggies and protein at every meal and drinking tons of water makes travel so much more comfortable, if you get my drift.

5. You need about half the clothes you think you need.

Kyle and I did laundry a few days ago, and both of us only washed about half our clothes, because the other half were still unworn. And yet we continued to wear the same clothes we just washed.

Why is this? I don’t know, but it seems to happen all the time—I only end up wearing the same few clothes on repeat. I’m a light packer to begin with, so this is funny to me.

6. Kids really, truly don’t need that many toys.

So including our few weeks at the end in Austin, this trip of ours will be about six weeks long (and it might extend to two solid months, if we decide to just tack on the west coast meetups after returning to Oregon and just keep on truckin’). We’ve hit up a few used bookstores, the kids have paper and writing utensils, and we’ve bought a few smallish things at Cracker Barrel. There’s also a mini Magnadoodle floating around somewhere in the back, along with a few travel-sized games.

Otherwise, that’s it. The only time the lack of toys has been an issue is when they’re tired, and they just need to sleep anyway. Frequent stops at playgrounds and regular exposure to nature helps temper their need for playthings. (A good reminder for real life, too, and not just for travel.)

reed in snow

7. Real life is a solid education.

Our normal school routine has taken a serious backseat during this trip, and we’ll need to play some catch up when we return to a semblance of regular life. But in the meantime, wandering the streets of Colonial Williamsburg, exploring the Audubon Aquarium, hitting up the D.C. and New York City sights, and running through woods and fields aren’t too shabby ways to learn.

And through it all, it seems like our kids’ reading, writing, and math aren’t suffering too much. Hmm.

8. Relationships over agendas.

Friends are to be found all over. We have had the best time staying with friends, and sure, we could probably make better time and see more stuff along the way—but then we’d miss out on some solid kindred spirit time. People have been the best part of our trip. Easily.

freeman and oxen kids

9. Slow is where it’s at.

Which yep, definitely means slow travel is so much more refreshing than frenetic, See All The Things travel. It might mean not seeing absolutely everything we could, but we’re seeing what we can through fresher, clearer eyes. We’re making time for real life along the way, and making that part of the journey in a tandem experience of everydayness within the new. Slow is what makes relationships over agendas possible.

9 truths about traveling with kids

We’re letting travel change us like it should. It’s been good to get out of Dodge, stretch our legs a bit, and just wander. As Robert Louis Stevenson said, “For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.”

Guess what? A final giveaway!

Thomas Nelson, publisher of Notes From a Blue Bike, is hosting a final giveaway to celebrate the release of the book—and it embodies the very essence of slow travel. Heck, it embodies the very essence of the book. It’s a great one… head here to find out what it is.

What has travel taught you?

Psst… I’ve grown to love Kia Motors, the great company who’s letting us drive a 2015 Sorento for this Ridealong. I even chatted with a former employee in a coffee shop parking lot, who raved about the company and said she’s saving up for a car like the one we’re borrowing. So, there you go. Good company.

Reading Time:

4 minutes





  1. Dawn

    I’ve learned (as you so wisely shared about in your book, which still has me chewing on thoughts … I will be doing this for some time, I imagine – SO GOOD) that travel with children (including small ones and including international travel) is not only possible, but very doable. That travel in general has much to do with my expectations and attitude toward the travel … do I think traveling with small children is something to be dreaded? Well then, it probably won’t go that well. Instead, adjust my expectations (like, expect that my children will still be children while traveling, know that sleep deprivation and crankiness – for all of us – will probably be a reality, etc.) and attitude (a hard one for me, but thankfully for me, I’m married to a “life is about the journey/life is an adventure” kind of guy ;)) about travel and chances are that I’ll enjoy it much more and enjoy it for what it is – an adventure.

    On that note, one of the biggest things I’ve learned for myself is to realize is that it’s not exactly a “vacation” (in certain senses of the word) if my kids are along, so I can’t expect to sleep in, expect to stop fulfilling my role as a parent, etc. I had a wiser older mom-friend once tell me that if my kids are along on the trip, it’s not a vacation, it’s a “family trip.” I think there’s a lot of wisdom in that. 😉

    • Tsh

      Vacation vs. family trip – now THAT’S a great way to put it! 🙂 Love that.

  2. Caitlin

    Each time you share your thoughts and experiences about traveling, I realize that it is definitely a passion that has been hidden deep inside my core since I was little. We only traveled in the US, but I loved the long road trips I took to Florida, Texas, Missouri, and Colorado. I really crave that togetherness and adventure even in the smallest way. Though I really haven’t done a whole lot of travel lately, a recent road trip to the south end of Missouri with my best friend, my son, and her daughter (both 3.5 at the time) has taught me to show compassion and understanding to all those you are traveling with and adjust your expectations otherwise you will only be letting yourself down by assuming it will be easy peasy just because I LOVE the concept of travel. And I agree with Dawn above, it’s all about my attitudes and expectations.

    I am itching to move! Thank you for the inspiration.

  3. NJ @ A Cookie Before Dinner

    I recently flew on standby status with my four year old and 5 month old alone. My mother in law is a retired flight attendant and we are able to use her perks. The trip taught me that a lot about myself including that I’m capable of more than I think I am. I also learned that no matter how hard it is, it is ALWAYS worth it.

    • Tsh

      It really is, ALWAYS worth it.

  4. Johanna

    All of these are so, so true!! We have the motto of experiencing vs. seeing when “sight seeing.” In other words, with lots of littles in the family, experiencing the feel of the city, vs just seeing another site is our aim. It’s so much more enjoyable that way.

    • Tsh

      Experiencing vs. seeing – I love that, Johanna.

  5. Jenn @ A Simple Haven

    We are planning a two-week road trip from Illinois to Canada and Maine this summer. Our kids will be 2 & 4.

    I’m so looking forward to it, but also have moments of “are we so crazy?” I think I needed to read this today! 🙂

    • Tsh

      Good – I’m glad!

  6. Alysa (InspiredRD)

    I love this. Makes me excited for our upcoming baseball season…and the start of a traveling family life (we will probably be traveling for baseball every year now). I love learning from your experiences. Thanks for continuing to share them.

  7. Caroline Starr Rose

    Paper, pencils, and magnadoodles! Plus activity books and books on CD (thank you, Hank the Cowdog). These were road trip essentials when my boys were younger.

  8. Dee

    Hah! How strange to see pictures of places I know so well (Zea and Cafe du Monde)!

  9. Sarah @ Little Bus on the Prairie

    I am totally down with #6. I once took away all my kids toys and put them out in the garage and they were HAPPIER than when they were all out. We are going to be doing another massive downsizing soon with our move into the bus and I am totally looking forward to it!

  10. Stacey

    I love this. Our family recently travelled across Australia by car. A round trip of about 11,00kms. We have six children aged 10 and under and we borrowed a small 4 berth caravan. Almost everyone said we were crazy, but it’s the most best thing we have ever done as a family. I second everything that you said in your post. One of the biggest things I brought home from our trip was how much stuff we have at home that we don’t need!! Every single person was happier with less. Now to translate that into the everyday at home life 😉

  11. Stephanie @ Keeper of the Home

    That is all SO true, Tsh! We especially relate to your thoughts about needing less clothing, and kids not really needing toys. Both have been happily true for us as well.

    One thing I struggled with a lot when we first began our year abroad was the desire to see and do it all (impossible, I know, but I still had this crazy expectation somewhere in me). The longer we traveled and got into that groove that you’re talking about, the more that I also realized that it’s about the people and relationships, and the things that you see and learn and savor when you travel slower. Although I really enjoyed a lot of the times when we were more actively “seeing the sights”, I think my favorite times were when we just stopped and lived somewhere for a little while, with no agenda, but just to experience the culture, meet the people, eat the food, fumble with the language, and allow ourselves the time and space to soak it up and stumble on those unexpected places and moments that are better than most of the famous sites anyway.

    Glad you’re loving your road trip! Sounds like a BLAST and I wish you were coming to Vancouver, because we’d love to show you the local spots. I hear it’s pretty beautiful in Chilliwack, though, where our new house is. We have a guest room and a provincial park 5 minutes outside our door… 🙂

  12. Oopy

    I love traveling and I think when I allow myself to be present and in the moment, it is such a fun adventure! Like you mentioned above, visiting new spots can add to your knowledge of history in a way that can’t be learned through books. I love checking out the state parks and stretching legs through a good hike!

  13. Kristin S

    Oh, I really wanted to enter for this pretty blue bike! But I don’t want “Glean Competitions” to have access to all that stuff they were asking for over and over when confirming that I “like” on Facebook and “follow” on IG. Oh well, maybe I’ll get a cruiser bike some other fun way.

  14. Shana D

    Last January, we took a very fast road trip through the New England states before our move from Ohio to Alabama. We hit them all in 5 days! It was freezing and we narrowly missed getting caught by a snowstorm! Our goal is to set foot (and take a family photo) in all 50 states with our 4 girls (ages 7-12) before our oldest leaves the house…which is creeping up very quickly. We have 27 states down already! I love traveling with our girls. It’s always an adventure!

  15. Jessica

    Your travel section was my favourite too, closely followed by the education section! Loved this post, will bear these points in mind when we go on our first family road-trip through the UK this summer!

  16. Charlie

    Excellent truths and tips here! I completely agree, and especially on healthy eating and lots of water too – it’s almost so easy to forget when you’re busy on the move and seeing new things, and then suddenly everyone gets cranky!

  17. Maridyth

    We traveled as a family this summer to East Africa for three months. Our kids were five and 20 months at the time, and it was simply wonderful. They each had a backpack full of books, crayons, favorite toys and Legos. That’s all they needed. We traveled light (a carry-on sized suitcase each), and like you, we still didn’t wear all of the clothes we took.

    People thought we were crazy. We weren’t. It was fantastic.

  18. Martha

    Good stuff. My family and I lived in Switzerland for 6 months last year. The children were 4, 2, and new. We lived in an apartment in a town the whole time so we did a few excursions and I would have to agree with all of your points. One of the neat things we discovered in the town was a toy library. We could check out bikes, legos, dollhouses, all sorts of things for about 2 weeks. This was the perfect amount of time. By the end, I knew if the kids really liked something and it was something to consider getting for home or they were done with it and ready to try something else. The only things that were keepers were bikes.
    P.S. I watched the video twice to enter to win the bike and it wouldn’t let me continue to use that as an entry. More of an fyi if there is anything that can be done to fix it rather than a complaint.

  19. Amy

    Our daughter has definitely taught us about slow travel. The temptation while we’re living here in Europe is definitely to try to see everything there is to see-but we learned quickly that trying to check off the “must sees” can lead to a horrible trip. Now we measure the success of our trips by the number of playgrounds we find and ask locals where the nearest green space is.

  20. Lana Wilkens

    I just wrote about what I learned from my travels. We did it without kids, so it’s a bit different, but still shaped me a lot. I had a great time, but realized some difficult stuff about myself and grew in love for my husband who rolled with the punches so much better than I did!

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