Toni Klym McLellan’s three boys, on an adventure close to home.
Toni Klym McLellan, freelance writer and mom of three boys, loves exploring so much that she started BringTheFamily.net, a site devoted to “family adventures at home and away”. I talked to Toni to find out her best advice for being out and about with kids, whether it’s a trip to an exotic locale or just a hike at the local nature preserve:
Meagan: what gave you the idea to start BringTheFamily.net?
Toni: I wanted to find a way to combine my love of traveling with my kids with ideas for when we were hanging out closer to home, too.
Meagan: What are the biggest differences between being out and about with kids and without kids?
Toni: Well, obviously being out and about without your kids is easier, and you can be more spontaneous. It’s often a lot more quiet, too.
But taking kids along enriches the life of your whole family, not just your kids. It forges bonds that can last a lifetime. Of course, there’s way more planning involved in terms of what stuff to bring, how many hotel rooms, airplane seats, or campsites you need to reserve, how much time to allot for nursing, potty breaks, and nap times, etc.
This isn’t to say you can’t also be spontaneous with your kids, but I think that having the logistical stuff in place ahead of time leaves room for spending more time playing in a public fountain outside of a museum or taking a second ride on the El around Chicago’s Loop (my kids’ favorite part about visiting The Windy City).
Meagan: What advice would you offer parents who are just starting to venture out with children in tow?
Toni: Lower your expectations. Everything from day trips to epic dream vacations will require more planning than you’re probably used to. And there are so many factors that can derail a really “planny” outing, from fevers that come out of nowhere to someone losing a shoe to tantrums. So along with your expectations, hopes and dreams for any excursion, pack a hefty dose of “go with the flow.”
Meagan: Do you have any must-have tricks or tools for making outings with your family easier?
Toni: Hang on to your stroller for as long as humanly possible. You can stow a camera bag, diaper bag, purse, and souvenirs in the bin beneath them, and they’re great for longer outings when even bigger toddlers might still need a nap.
Bring snacks and water. I love chewy granola bars; they pack well and kids love them. Never underestimate the power of a low blood sugar crabfest.
I try to prepare kids for what’s coming up, and head off some of the complaining that comes up by appealing to their competitive nature: how many birds can you spot on the trail?
I also let the kids lead the way sometimes; it empowers them and often leads to hands-on learning experiences you might not have considered.
Meagan: To a lot of people, the word “adventure” conjures up something big: Disney World, Europe, etc. To you, what qualifies as an adventure?
Toni: I think a parent’s enthusiasm can make anything seem like an adventure, though of course doing something outside of the kids’ comfort zones certainly helps.
With a two-year-old, an adventure can be digging a hole in the garden. One of my kids’ favorite mini adventures is walking with me around the block at night with flashlights or headlamps from our camping gear.
Trying anything new can be an adventure, and I really believe that life itself is an adventure. Raising our kids to feel the same way just might encourage them to see new experiences in that light rather than shying away from the unknown or falling apart when the unexpected happens.
Meagan: I think a lot of people are intimidated just leaving the house with little kids to go to the grocery store, let alone going on a day trip or vacation. What would you say to encourage them?
Toni: Put your family and your kids first, because we all have a place in this world. As long as you’re working hard to socialize your young children, don’t sweat the occasional dirty look when your toddler happens to let out a happy squeal when they see something they like. This is huge: let your kids get dirty. Bring extra wet wipes if you have to; that tactile exploration is so vital for them. Know your kids’ energy and highs and lows. Maybe visiting that art museum before their nap isn’t the best call, or perhaps walking to the farmer’s market right after breakfast is the ideal time of day. Most of all: plan to have fun, even if it doesn’t happen in exactly the way you’d planned on.
Read more about family adventures at home and away at Bring The Family.