When my daughter, Emily, was 10, I took her to London. Leaving her sister, brother and dad at home, we hopped on and off a sightseeing bus and laughed our way through high tea at the Ritz, a visit to the Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace, and a ride on the London Eye. For years afterward, we giggled about our trip, breaking into our best English accent whenever the urge struck.
While there are many ways to bond with and make discoveries about your child, here’s why you should give one-on-one travel a try.
Emily and the author sip tea at the Ritz Hotel in London. (Photo: Caren Osten Gerszberg)
Traveling alone with children offers many opportunities to show them the ropes and how-to’s, giving them a sense of confidence and independence for future trips — and life.
Rowan was 10 when he and his mom, Julia Hicks de Peyster, an independent HR consultant from Wellesley, Massachusetts, traveled to Savannah, Georgia. In an effort to teach Rowan how to plan and organize a trip, Julia included him when it was time to research the itinerary, book activities like an evening carriage ride, pack the right clothes, and plan for a long wait when a popular restaurant didn’t take reservations.
Julia Hicks de Peyster and her son, Rowan, enjoying a dinner in Savannah. (Photo: Julia Hicks de Peyster)
Getting to Know You
Most of us are way more relaxed on vacation then when we’re at home and our days are filled with work, hectic schedules, and the constant gnawing of social media. The change in scenery is an ideal chance to uncover new characteristics about your child, and vice versa.
While traveling with his 16-year-old daughter, Mara, to Austin, Texas, David Goldberg, a lawyer from New York City, discovered that his daughter was much more laid back than he’d thought. While he worried about things like timing, traffic, and parking — even when it was around seeing a rock band she likes at the SXSW music festival — she was the one telling him not to worry and that it’d be fine. “And she was right,” says David Goldberg.
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David Goldberg and his daughter, Mara, on the road in Austin. (Photo: David Goldberg)
Getting Closer in Close Quarters
Whether it’s during a plane or bus ride, on a hiking trail or in a hotel room, being together and away offers many more openings for discussion. Traveling has built-in down time — to just listen and be listened to.
For Alon Gratch, a Manhattan-based psychologist, spending time talking on the chairlift was his favorite part during the yearly ski trips he took with son Jordan, beginning when he was 5-years-old. “It’s great because you have a captive audience,” said Gratch. “And for a young boy who does not talk much, it’s an easier path for bonding and an opportunity for conversations of all kinds.”
Jordan Gratch on an annual ski trip to Park City, Utah. (Photo: Alon Gratch)
Follow the (New) Leader
At home, everyone in the family knows who the real boss is. But on vacation, giving up the reins to your child can be liberating for you and empowering for your child. Instead of doing all of the planning yourself, take a step back and let her lead the way.
As the youngest in her family, Olivia Osten, 15, from Amherst, Massachussetts, doesn’t often get to make travel decisions. So when she and her mom, Colleen, grants coordinator at Wheelock College, take their annual weekend getaway, Olivia calls all the shots. “When there’s only her to please it’s easy to do so, so if she wants to compare red velvet cupcakes at five different places, that’s what we do,” says Colleen. “It’s fun to see her tailor the agenda to everything she likes.”
Olivia and Colleen Osten on one of their mother-daughter getaways. (Photo: Colleen Osten)
Building a Friendship
Dynamics can shift during travel, especially when there are just two of you. Given the opportunity, you may just discover that you and your child are not just parent and child, but potential peers, too.
While on a college tour, co-author of Grown and Flown Mary Dell Harrington began to notice a shift in her relationship with Walker, her then 17-year old son. Looking back, she says, “It took getting away from the familiar grind of homework and sports for him, cooking and laundry for me, to see more clearly that it was time for me to adapt my parenting to a young man about to leave home.”
Walker and his mother, Mary Dell Harrington, at a college football game. (Photo: Mary Dell Harrington)
There’s nothing like going to a place where Google maps simply doesn’t work. Having a young, resourceful, eagle-eyed child around to use his map-reading skills can come in quite handy.
On a trip to Scotland with her 9-year-old son last summer, Irene Lane, the Washington, D.C-based founder and president of Greenloons Ecotourism Concierge, found herself lost while biking through Cairngorms National Park. With map in hand, mom was confused by the trail markings and was stunned when her son took the map and began to figure out their location, using landmarks and the sun to figure out in which direction to proceed — with success.
Navigating Scotland’s Cairngorms National Park by bike. (Photo: Greenloons.com | Eco Adventures for a Greener World)
Becoming the Confidante
At home, your child may feel more comfortable talking to your spouse about the trials and tribulations of child- and adolescent-hood, but with only one parent on the road, they’ll have the chance to share with just you this time.
While traveling to California with his then 16-year-old daughter, Ilana, Alon Gratch had a chance to “function more like a mom.” Not only was he the one responding to the sleepover social issues with her local friends, but he also got to be the ear for things Ilana would more easily share with her mom, had they been at home.
Alon Gratch with his daughter, Ilana, in Sonoma, California. (Photo: Alon Gratch)
Trips are a great time to milk those lighthearted moments and take them back home with you afterward. With no siblings and partners present, the fun times are just between you and your fellow traveler, and will remind you of the good times you had together.
On a trip to Maine last summer, Debbi Barer, a a senior copywriter from Easton, Connecticut, and her 17-year-old daughter, Milo, took turns playing their favorite songs for one another, which sparked all sorts of conversations — about mom’s college and single life, and daughter’s high school experiences. And one evening during a dinner stop at Friendly’s, hot fudge became fodder for a silly private joke they still laugh about.
Debbi Barer, clowning around with her daughter Milo. (Photo: Debbi Barer)
Discovering New Talent
While a chance to get to know one another better, travel can also provide a window into a child’s talent for something in particular.
Leslie Josel, an academic life coach from New York, knew her 16-year-old son, Eli, loved music, but had no idea how talented he was until they took a trip to Memphis, Tennessee. On a tour at the Gibson factory, Eli picked up a ukulele in an area where you can “test drive” a selection of guitars, and proceeded to play and sing for a couple of hours with a group of guys he’d never met. Impressed by her son’s talent, mom bought him that ukulele for his 16th birthday present, admitting, “I never would have done that if we hadn’t taken this trip!”
Eli Josel strums a ukulele at the Gibson factory in Memphis. (Photo: Leslie Josel)
A First for Both of You
Sharing a new experience together can be exciting and fun, adventurous and nerve-wracking, and will ultimately add to your and your child’s bond.
On a trip to the Cayman Islands, my then 13-year-old daughter, Nicole, and I signed up to go night snorkeling — part of the Ambassadors of the Environment program at the Ritz Carlton. I was nervous to go into the ocean in the darkness, even with a headlamp strapped to my forehead, but my brave daughter eagerly led the way, and I stayed close behind. Seeing ocean life at nighttime was a totally different experience and one we will always remember doing together for the first time.
Nicole, the author’s daughter, snorkels with stingrays in Grand Cayman. (Photo: Caren Osten Gerszberg)
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