When I think back to my childhood, what helped quell the anxiety of transitioning to another school year was being able to organize my new backpack. Way more exciting than clothes, was shopping for supplies… trapper keeper, notebooks, folders in different colors for different subjects, pencils, pens, erasers, sharpener… you know the collection of goods.
Our trip to Patagonia aligned with the winter holiday season and the gathering of travel goods as gifts for the kids had a similar effect on my nervous system. Being committed to minimum screen time, and wanting to stay light for our five-month journey, held a challenge for me to focus on rather than what seemed like an endless list of tasks to complete before departure. The day after Christmas, we left our home in Boulder, Colorado, each kid carrying a backpack of activities and crafts, hopeful that they would be kept engaged for our two days of travel.
Well… two days of travel turned to five when we were delayed on the first leg of our journey. The threat of a tornado in Dallas grounded us at Red Roof in Tulsa and had us miss all of our connecting travel to El Bolson, Argentina. Let’s just say the backpacks of supplies were put to the test and everything in them was used. The act of organizing and reorganizing them became a great activity unto itself! We found ourselves and all our supplies splayed across numerous airport, hotel, and bus depot floors, not to mention sidewalks, taxi backseats, reclining bus seats, and highway medians.
In case it’s helpful for anyone planning a family adventure that includes long days of travel, here’s the list of what got us through…
- Paperback books – A collection of 8 has been enough to support our bedtime story routine. We chose some of our favorites that include themes of adventure and gratitude, like Jack and Betty and the Tigers Tale, by Simon Arthy and The Way to Start a Day, by Byrd Baylor and Peter Parnell.
- A themed sticker/activity book – one about space for Mason and horses for Celia. These never seem to get old, not even for adults – mazes, connect the dots, find what’s different between pictures…These activities the kids were able to really do on their own and feel a sense of accomplishment in completing page after page.
- Latch Key – Oh yes, we resurrected the old craft of shag-rugging. This activity requires a lot of focus and dexterity. I found it best to set a goal, like completing a row during a short flight. Otherwise, I think for a 5-8 year old, this activity could become frustrating. If not a latch key, I would also consider bringing some kind of sewing or weaving Really any craft project that can’t be finished in one go, but requires coming back to and watching the progress you make.
- Wonder Women Go Fish – What better way to learn about powerful women and work out your competitive spirit? In addition to having fun, we all learned about some really inspiring international women, many of whom were not familiar to us. The little book that comes with the cards has short bios that are also fun to share with the kids. Now we all know who Aloha Wanderwell is!
- Magnetic Hangman – To be honest, this one got a bit annoying with one illiterate child and the other an aspiring literate. It just required too much of mom and dad to help out. I know that this company makes a bunch of travel products that might be fun to bring along if age appropriate.
- Beads and pipe cleaners – We made bracelets and key rings for EVERYONE. Having activities where there is a tangible result, especially something that can be gifted, always seems to inspire our kids. This could also be making friendship bracelets or beaded safety pins to give to new friends they meet along the way. I just make sure to have a container that closes well to hold the supplies and a tray to lay things out on. Paper plates work great!
- Headphones, IPOD & Split Jack – we downloaded Winnie the Pooh stories and let them make their own playlists, which included Queen, David Bowie, Janis Joplin and Mary Poppins, of course. One year, Tim and I actually recorded ourselves reading some of the kid’s favorite stories from home that we didn’t have space to pack. We uploaded them on the Ipod and were able to sneak in some naps for ourselves while they listened.
- An Origami Kit – This one too needed a bit more support than we were often willing to give. I’m not sure I would bring it again, but for a kid who already has some origami experience it’s great.
- Plastic animals – wow, these have endless possibility. I think we had 20 in total and there were parades, family gatherings, hide & seek games, gnarly hunts and lots of questions about carnivores, omnivores, herbivores, nocturnal and diurnal sleeping habits… really just an ecologist’s dream.
- Bun Bun & Puppy – the one stuffy lucky enough to be chosen by each kid and to offer an anchor to home with every snuggle. The comfort these stuffies have given has made the space they took up in the bag well worth it!
As we adjust to the more fluid rhythms of Argentine culture, our travel activities have continued to engage us in the margins. We had a soft landing at a beautiful farm just outside of town and when not exploring the surrounding hills, gorging ourselves on cherries from the bountiful trees, or catching up on sleep, we let our attention drift back to card games and playlists. We are grateful for a safe arrival, a welcoming culture and the 5 months of exploration that lie ahead.