You might remember that back in April, ESP Boss & I attended the Overland Expo 2010, near Tucson. While there, we met some really amazing people, not the least of them Mark & Brooke Stephens of AdventureParents.com. Mark & Brooke take their young daughter, Chloe, on just about all their outdoor adventures.
Since I’m not a parent, I asked them a few questions about their experiences. I’m really curious to see if all you parents out there have had similar experiences!
1. You go camping with a toddler! Wow! Why didn’t you & Brooke say “We’ll wait until Chloe is older before taking her camping?” What was the number 1 reason you didn’t want to wait?
Mark: When Brooke and I began dating, we enjoyed a lot of backpacking, rock climbing, trekking, back road driving, and those types of things. We had fun and accomplished some significant achievements together; particular hard or significant hikes and climbing routes especially. We made some good memories together in the outdoors, which really shaped our relationship. We believe that spending our time doing active things together, completing goals together, was good for us as individuals and as a couple. So we simply decided that we’d raise our children while showing them how much fun we can have outside, and also using an active lifestyle to teach goal setting and personal achievement. So, the number one reason? It was a lifestyle choice.
Brooke: I think Mark even bought the domain adventureparents.com when I was still pregnant with Chloe! We both knew it might be challenging camping with an infant and toddler, but we understood it can become too easy to wait for “the right time” to get out and do neat things. It’s good for our marriage, and therefore our daughter, to keep doing the things that brought us together as a couple to start.
2. If you could give one piece of advice to families that are just getting started with outdoor adventures, what would it be?
Mark: As parents, we are typically way off base about what will get our children’s attention and hold it. It’s pretty normal to think you have to bring along 4,000 lbs of toys from home and make sure the backseat DVD player is running top notch. It’s just not true. Kids find more entertainment in a fallen log and and some open space than we can fathom. St. Exupery even wrote, “Only the children are pressing their noses against the windowpanes. Only the children know what they are looking for.” He wasn’t full of crap. It’s true.
Brooke: On another side, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be comfortable while you camp. In fact, it’s far more enjoyable when you are comfortable. It doesn’t have to be like bad memories of a boy-scout backpacking trip. You can cook good food, and sleep on very comfortable bedding arrangements if you want. Mark has engineered a water tank and shower on our Frontier. Nothing makes me happier than being somewhere beautiful and exploring all day, having a great time with friends around a campfire, and then to top it all off with a shower. Added bonus: if you’re comfortable, your kids will pick up that vibe and have an enjoyable time, too!
3. What items are on your “Can’t have an adventure without _______” list?
Mark: Chloe’s purple blankey, a topo map, a camera, and a bright attitude.
Brooke: Swimsuit, s’mores fixings, headlamp, and a good mixture of music (currently we alternate between Dora and Friends, and Counting Crows)
4. What is the scariest thing about taking a toddler on your outdoor adventures?
Mark: Having to come home. She hates that part. No kidding! How many times have we been out on a little hike or bike ride and if she senses us turning around she’ll say, “We’re not going home!”
On a serious side, getting too cavalier about her safety, or oblivious to potential danger, is a constant thing we watch out for. Chloe recently fell into the coals of a dead campfire and burned the skin on her lower back. There were three adults within an arm’s reach of her and it still happened. Chloe wasn’t running or jumping or anything like that; she simply tripped over her own feet while walking and tumbled in.
Brooke: I have a fear sometimes that we are ruining all of the routines we work so hard to put in place at home. Sleeping through the night, eating well, having good playtimes inside and outside, and most recently, using the toilet like a big girl. It just seems so dangerous to mess with those things when they’re going so smoothly at home. It’s no different than every parent feels taking the kids on vacation, though. Just throw the routines out the window for a while, keep what semblance of normalcy you can, and then get back on track at home later.
5. What is the best thing about taking a toddler on your outdoor adventures?
Mark: The absolute best part? We don’t have to put our travels on hold. We get to expose her to the world, to wildlife, to plant life, to culture. We’ve taken her to Mexico a few times and she’s played with local children there, eaten the food, seen 17th Century missions, learned a few words of Spanish. Chloe knows that cacti have spikes that can hurt her, she knows what a California condor looks like and can see a picture of one and call it out. To some degree, I’m just a parent bragging about my child right now. But she’s experienced some cool things and we can see that she’s learning from them.
Brooke: I love seeing her eyes light up when we talk about getting the tent and truck ready for a road trip. And it’s like that when we’re someplace new, too, she is eager to see and play and talk about everything. I think about how many types of experiences she is getting and as a teacher, I can appreciate how that will help her future learning in school. Also, I like the slower pace we are “forced” to take on with a toddler along. We might spend a long lunch at the park, just so she can stretch and play for a while before our next drive. Having a child with us gives us a need to immerse deeper into where we are and to interact with more people along the way.
6. How do you plan your trip? What resources do you use? What steps do you take to make sure the trip is fun?
Maps! I like to look for the empty spaces on the Arizona map. Other times a trip just kind of unfolds as an attachment to something else. One time we were at home and got to talking about our dishes and how we wanted something new in the cabinets. I suggested we drive down to Nogales on the Mexican border for a day and buy some Mexican glasses. That flourished into a fun three-day weekend near Patagonia; we camped in the mountains down there, did a little biking, and made some tasty meals. Eventually, we made it to Nogales and bought those glasses.
I also like to read Arizona Highways and get specific ideas for destinations or things to do that I’ve never been to or done. Sometimes it just serves as inspiration to go find my own backcountry drive.
We just discovered EatStayPlay.com and look forward to using that as a resource as well. (We met Kim at the Overland Expo 2010.)
To maximize fun for everybody, we try to keep the driving time down, eat meals at funky small town restaurants, find hikes or geocaches to find. Chloe can’t hike much more than hour on her own two feet before she starts asking to be carried, so that’s limiting. One of the best formulas for maximum fun is to go someplace and set up camp by about 3:00 or 4:00; that gives us plenty of decompression time for exploring, relaxing, and getting dinner ready before the sun goes down.
However, I think for a trip to be really fun is that both Brooke and I have to be on board with the whole idea. If she or I really don’t want to be on the trip, it’ll contaminate the spirit of things and deteriorate everything else. So, it’s best if we all have a good attitude. Chloe just wants some open space to go play. That’s easy.
Background / About Adventureparents.com
Mark and Brooke run their website as a source of inspiration and advice for other parents who enjoy adventure travel with their children – or parents-to-be who have that understandably typical fear of being forced to trade their active lifestyle for something dull. They enjoy the outdoors with their daughter Chloe by traveling throughout Arizona, the southwestern U.S., and Mexico. www.adventureparents.com