Prior to procreating, I noticed that a good portion of my friends with kids were pretty reclusive, as if there was some invisible force that barred the doors of the house and prevented them from interacting with the rest of the world (outside of work and grocery shopping, that is). Perhaps this is an evolutionary advantage that has prevented parents of young children from interacting with those contemplating procreation, thus ensuring the existence of future generations. After producing my own offspring, I have found that remaining within the confines of our house is indeed the path of least resistance. Your standard motel in Secluded Town, USA does not offer the Seahorse Swing that magically makes any small child drowsy, nor do they have the Pony bike that keeps your kid entertained for hours on end. While you could schlep all these essential weapons of distraction on trips, due to the shear amount of gear needed for mountain biking, it can become a logistical nightmare.
In an all-out rebellious nature, my husband and I have attempted to buck the trend that is standard amongst those with small children. We currently take more mountain biking trips now than before we were graced with a rugrat. I am by no means an expert on travel, but below are a few secrets to traveling with a kid that we have learned the hard way.
1. Choose your location carefully.
This is by far the most important aspect of traveling with kids. If you’ve ever given a cat a bath (or can imagine it), then you know how difficult it is to hold a cat under water. This is the equivalent to strapping a kid who has already endured many hours of driving and is facing even more into a car seat. If you’re going to travel very far by car, consider driving at night while the kid sleeps. Even a well-timed nap can provide relief for all parties involved.
The same holds true for flights. While flying can sometimes be easier due to the fact that the kids don’t have to remain strapped in a carseat the entire time, there are separate challenges that you are likely to encounter. Small children can be higher maintenance than a Kardashian and require even more luggage. (That was quite possibly the first Kardashian reference in a mountain biking post, and I feel dirty for using it even though it provides an effective metaphor.) Add this on top of mountain biking gear and your standard luggage, and you may regret flying. My personal recommendation is to arrange a rendezvous to a biking mecca that coincides with a friend’s residence, particularly if said friend has kids. This will increase the likelihood that there will be plenty of toys for distraction as well as mountain biking tools, which will bring relief for the two tons of luggage you will have to bring with you.
2. Choose your location VERY carefully.
Did I mention this already? Regardless of how awesome the trails may be, there will come a point in the trip where you will need to bring out the big guns to keep the kids happy. It can be very beneficial to choose a location that has trails easily accessible from the town you’re staying in, but also parks and playgrounds near by. You want to maximize the time on the trails and minimize the time it takes driving to the trails. Playgrounds, or even just a large, open grass field can do wonders to keep kids occupied, as well as help tire them out. This is particularly important if you’re the adult in charge of child watching. If your spouse or significant other doesn’t bike, then choosing a location that will keep all parties entertained is even more important. It can make or break the entire trip. I also recommend coordinating a trip while there’s an event going on in the town, such as a biking festival. This will provide additional things to do during your stay.
3. Peer pressure friends. Bribe if necessary.
While solo rides can be good for the soul on occasion, it’s almost always more fun to mountain bike with someone. One arrangement that has worked for my husband and I is to travel to a destination mountain bike town with friends (both child bearing and sans kids). This allows one group to bike while the other group is on child entertainment duty. We’ll then switch roles. It allows everyone to bike and enjoy the trip, while no man (or woman) is left behind. Again, this can work wonders if your partner doesn’t bike. The guys can shop or take in the local sights with kids in tow while the women shred awesome singletrack.
4. Plan in advance.
As I mentioned before, children can create a logistical nightmare. It’s best to start planning way in advance. This includes not only the destination and hotel/campsite, but also getting all the gear together that will keep everyone entertained, from bike gear to toys. The last thing you want to do is arrive at your destination without biking shoes or that cherished blanket.
5. Choose your travel route.
If you’re going to attempt a ridiculously long road trip, make sure to choose a route that has decent places to stop along the way. In highly populated regions, like the east coast, this may not be as hard. But if you’re traveling in the west, you could go several hours before even seeing a gas station. If your little tikes have small bladders, this could lead to many issues. It’s also good to plan breaks along the way, like at a restaurant, for example. It allows the little ones extra time to stretch their legs. We’ve also planned extended breaks in cute little mountain towns that we happened to be passing through. A long dinner, playtime in a park, and a walk down mainstreet can do wonders to tire out kids in preparation for the last leg of the journey. The same holds true for flying. A well-timed layover is worth its weight in gold.
6. Choose lodging carefully.
While camping at or near the trailhead may seem ideal at the time, if your kids have never camped before you may be in for more headaches than you’ve experienced in your entire lifetime. Additionally, camping makes you more vulnerable to the elements. On the flipside, keeping kids penned up in a hotel room can be equally painful. Though the great distractor of TV is present, there’s a lot to be gained by letting kids run laps around a tent at dusk and sunrise (because we all know parents get to see both of those on a regular basis).
Travelling with kids is all about optimization and sacrifice. While you could optimize location with the most epic of trails, you (and/or spouse) will likely lose your sanity with screaming kids that have a pent up rage from enduring hours of boredom. It’s also very easy for conditions to spiral out of control. Don’t think you need to consider the possibility of rain in the desert while camping in a 2′ X 3′ tent with 6 kids? Think again. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in such a short time with a kid, it’s that Murphy’s Law is in full force… always.
Your turn: What are some tricks of the trade you’ve acquired through mountain biking trips with kids?