Months ago, when my husband asked me how I’d like to mark my 40th birthday, my answer was to go on an action-packed adventure with him and our three kids (ages 13, 11 and 8). I wasn’t sure what that was, exactly…nor did I know if it would even be possible amidst what feels like a never-ending global pandemic. A vacation where there is something for everyone seemed like the ultimate challenge, given the extremely different interests and personalities within our household. We spent weeks searching for something that would be exciting and unique from any experience we’d had before. Then I remembered reading about Backroads family trips a few years before, and I suspected we’d find our answer with them.
After the initial sticker shock (let’s be real – this isn’t a weekend at the Holiday Inn off the turnpike!), my husband and I decided that this opportunity to go to Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks to make memories with our kids in such a healthy way while introducing them to a new part of the world would be money well spent. Leading up to the trip, we found more and more people that we knew who had the good fortune of participating in a Backroads trip, all of whom raved about the experience and built up our already palpable excitement!
Now, for anyone who has ever traveled with kids, y’all know that preparing for a trip is no small feat. Planning where to go, what to do, where to eat, where to stay….to me, this feels completely OVERWHELMING! I have an uncanny ability to turn packing into a full-time job, to the dismay of my husband. But seriously, there is a LOT to think of! I was grateful that aside from figuring out how many base layers and socks to bring, Backroads was busy planning the rest of the details so that I didn’t have to. I can’t emphasize enough what load that was off my shoulders!
In addition to my obsession with being crazy prepared, I wondered if this trip would be a little too ambitious for my 8-year-old daughter. I assumed I’d be sitting out a few activities with her, and worried about how she’d manage on an active trip out in the wilderness. Would there be other kids for her and my boys to connect with in our group?
Well, there weren’t other kids her age on the trip. In fact, only my oldest had kids near his age. But it didn’t matter, because within two days, all of these kids created a little family – requesting a kids-only shuttle, playing cards until late into the night, creating inside jokes and memories while hiking some of the most beautiful sites our country has to offer. On our last day, we rafted down the Snake River, kids in one boat, adults in the other. This determined and mischievous group of minors worked together to successfully take down our adult raft guide into the cold rapids, cheering and celebrating that, as a group, they conquered a seasoned Snake River tour guide. (Thankfully, he had a great sense of humor!)
Adding to the success of the experience were our trusted guides. Sarah, Camile and Sydney greeted each of us with a smile, always welcoming any questions we had along the way. The wealth of knowledge they possessed of the area as well as the activities we partook in was astounding. Once my kids realized how knowledgeable our guides were, they couldn’t stop asking questions, becoming more engaged in our surroundings by the minute. My husband jokingly said, “forget ‘ask Siri’ – on this trip, we “ask Sarah”! Weeks later, when talking about where we want to take a family trip, my daughter declared that she didn’t care where we go, so long as one of our guides from the Backroads trip would be there. During that week, the guides shared themselves with us, cared for us, loved our children, and went above and beyond what I ever anticipated.
Our kids learned first-hand what it truly means to “roll with it”. Our guides had the daunting task of leading this trip during a global pandemic, unseasonably cold/rainy temperatures for much of the time, all while contending with the lingering smoke from California wildfires. Keenly aware of the challenges that were out of anyone’s control, our kids saw the creativity and “can do'' attitude that our guides displayed without complaints or frustration. Seeing that success comes not only in ideal circumstances was not lost on any of our kids. I am so grateful for these strong, intelligent, fearless women, and the examples they have set for our children.
The confidence our kids developed through pushing themselves to do things they had never done, or harder than they’ve ever tried, is invaluable. Biking with our kids through the Tetons, admiring fumaroles and elk while kayaking, hiking along waterfalls and seeing them fall in love with nature together…this experience was such a gift to us all. Now to figure out where and when our next family Backroads adventure will be!