Family adventure in North America

One family's five-month journey across North America with two preschool age children
By Mary Wuth

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After spending five months travelling the US in temperatures as low as -36°C with two preschool children, 10 bags, two bikes, two scooters, an office-in-a-laptop-bag, and mounds of ski gear, tackling everyday life back home in Cape Town can seem a bit dull. The excitement of having a new “home” every few days, from a Caribbean beach to a winter wonderland, for months on end, can make even the most picturesque city feel like it’s lacking. But I’m getting ahead of myself…
My husband and I moved from Joburg to Cape Town shortly after we got married in our mid-twenties and found any desire to travel the globe fall into a dismal second place. We were in love with Cape Town. Then, rather abruptly, we found out we were about to become three, which changed everything.
On hold
Viewing our future through the filter of dirty nappies, burp cloths and seven o’clock bedtimes injected us with a sudden desire for adventure. Given the predicament of my ever-increasing waistline and near junky dependence on salty cracks and olives, we decided we would schedule our travels for the year our daughter turned one. This was a solid idea, until we received news of a second little creation. We’re brave, but no amount of wine-induced courage could get us to jet off with a 14 month old and a newborn in tow, so on to Plan B. We bought a house and settled into suburban life.
Time to travel
As our heads began to emerge from under the wasteland of early child rearing, thoughts of our round-the-world trip gradually began to resurface. Lola, our daughter, had just turned four and Lincoln, our lively, accident-prone son, was about to turn three. So, armed with dogged determination and wit, we dived into planning a trip before we could change our minds, or fall pregnant, whichever happened first.
Thankfully, we have our own company creating mobile apps, which requires little but the internet and a computer; our location is irrelevant. Without this our trip would probably never have made it off the drawing board. We were able to elbow out some activities and carve a five-month window from October to March. What started as a round-the-world trip was quickly modified into something more plausible in the time we had. The destination became, by default, North America, because it was the only continent my husband and I could agree on. He had his heart set on skiing; I wanted to lie on a beach. America has it all.
With two months to finalise our planning, we set about deciding on the places we wanted to see the most, and the best route to get it all in. We found our equilibrium in the decision to hire an SUV and begin in New York, working our way in a clockwise direction down to Savannah, through New Orleans, Texas, Utah, Nevada, then California, up the West Coast, and across the top of the country back to New York. Oh, and a little sojourn off to Mexico in the middle somewhere. We agreed we wanted our trip to be flexible, so booked only the accommodation we were certain about before embarking on our trip. This gave us the freedom to stay longer if we were enjoying a place, but also to move on if we felt restrained.
Little wayfarers
Our one non-negotiable as parents was remaining positive and upbeat for our children. This wasn’t always easy. Five months on the road can leave you feeling lonely and in need of friends, but we chose this adventure and it was our job to keep things exciting for them. This was easy most of the time because it was exciting, but when you are running out of petrol in the middle of Mexican cartel land or sliding across the road in your car because you thought you knew better than the guy at the garage when he suggested you use tire chains, a smile and a joke are sometimes hard to muster. But, not only did our children surprise us with their level of ease at changing “homes” every few days, they thrived, becoming more outgoing and confident as our trip progressed. When your daughter spends more time hiding behind your legs than playing with friends at a party, this change alone made the trip worthwhile.
On our 24 000km drive around North America, the children remained buckled into their seats, either watching videos on the iPad, colouring in their books or playing make-believe games together. They are best friends. I might make them sound like angels, but it wasn’t always plain sailing; my husband will tell you that mothers utilise selective memory as a survival tool. We shared rooms and we shared our moods. We were in each other’s space almost the entire time, but there isn’t a moment that I wouldn’t repeat, even the difficult ones.
Travelling with your children adds complexities, no doubt, but the bonuses far outweigh them. When on the road, not only do you have to carry all their gear and yours, but you carry their dreams along with yours, too. The journey doubles in weight, but it also doubles in enjoyment. Nothing highlighted this more for me than skiing. After teaching the children the basics on the nursery slopes, we decided they were ready to head down some of the longer, more exciting runs. Now just to give you a bit of background here, I am ruffled doing anything more than a “green” run. I am a “distrustfully comfortable” skier, so herding my children down a slope I am simply proficient on was going to be challenging. What I didn’t anticipate is that when you have little people to worry about, you forget your own fears. It was only in repeating the slopes that I did with my children, by myself, that I realised how scary I found them.
Making memories
Skiing was not the only part of the trip that had me realising my own strengths. There were times when I wanted to sit down and cry, times when Shaun, my husband, was chained to our hotel room or apartment because of a work deadline. I found myself in places I didn’t know, with two children and no car. South Africa might be a third-world country, but nowhere does it come close to the chaos you feel in the middle of a city like Cancún, Mexico, when you don’t speak the language, where traffic seems to have a flow of its own regardless of any traffic signs, and travelling around with a daughter who has the biggest mass of tight blond ringlets draws strangers to you in a way walking around with a celebrity would. Putting on your big-girl panties is suddenly not enough; there were times I simply had to man up. I had to be stronger than even I thought I could be.
Luckily, there is always a flip-side. Ours was realising how much more joy everything brings when you are travelling with your children: the wonder in their eyes when they look up from their small little place on the pavement at the skyscrapers above them, or walk into the Disney Store in Times Square; the pure elation that bubbles from them when they roll in snow for the first time, or find their juice boxes frozen in the car overnight; their brave faces as they wobble around on their first skis, or the unrestrained laughter as they try and climb a palm tree on the beach. Sure, being able to party all night in New Orleans would have been an experience, but taking the children to eat beignets and watch a jazz band in a quaint little Creole restaurant was pure enjoyment; just different. There are not many children who can say they have snow hiked through Zion National Park or climbed the peaks in Yosemite by themselves. Cruising through a frozen Yellowstone National Park on a snow mobile had us all laughing out loud, even when the children fell asleep and we spent the last hour just trying to keep them from falling off.
Lessons along the way
Every day was packed with adventure and life. We crammed so much into five months that sometimes I think we are still recovering. The good times were so good, and the tough times so tough, every emotion was piercing. Our journey, as incredible as it was, was also overwhelming at times. We learnt a lot about supporting each other, even in the midst of our own fears and anxieties. Travelling offers you everything: a view inside your own soul and a view inside those travelling with you. Narrow-mindedness gives way to perspective. This offers understanding, while at the same time shrouding you in confusion and doubt. It broadens every facet of thought you have ever had, offering so much more to your life and your soul than you thought possible while wrapped in cotton wool at home, sipping expensive local wines complaining about your lack of promotion and the increase in the fuel price. Life is so much bigger, so much more. We are repeatedly asked what our favourite part of the trip was and our answer is overwhelmingly simple – an uninterrupted five months of just being together, muddling through life as a family, uncovering our own strengths and seeing the magic in each other. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat.


Debbie Gold wrote 4 years 31 weeks ago

Hello! It was so great to read this article and just so odd that it happened to be in this month's Child mag! My husband and I decided a few weeks ago that we will be doing a trip with our girls (ages 4 and 5) from end June returning end September. Would love to get in contact with Mary if she has a website or email address and takes emails? Wanted to get her top spots along the areas we are planning to travel to, from a family point of view.

admin wrote 4 years 30 weeks ago

Hi Debbie. We will forward your request to the author. Happy travels!

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