Alina’s Adventures: letterboxing

En route to our mountain vacation, we drove through a total of 10 states. Courtesy of the tourism bureaus in each state, the little folks and I walked away with bags of information about American history, geography, geology, economic development, and culture.


New Mexico

On the way, the King and I learned a few lessons about long road trips, teachable moments, and the importance of multiple good playlists. The take-homes:

Pee outdoors when possible.
Stopping at established restrooms involves walking through gas stations full of candy and glitter intended to seduce your kids (and you) into forking over a small chunk of change in return for some junk. Also, imagine all the germs and viruses you can avoid by just peeing in the woods with the song of a sparrow to lighten your load. So pack that toilet tissue and vow to find nature-made restrooms on your road trip. By the way, snow isn’t a problem. In case you haven’t noticed, kids will pee anywhere. It’s their adult companions that crave the water wasted by those porcelain thrones we call toilets.

Nature journals.
Whenever we stopped at a rest area or even along a scenic piece of road, Max wandered around with his nature journal and made notes. The King provided the latitude and longitude as Max canvassed a brief area for local birds, trees, plants, grasses, and insects. Then, when we got back into the car, he flipped through his field guides and tried to identify each living thing while journaling them into a context (i.e. climate, geography, etc.).

Geocache kits.
Simple as having an iphone, a compass, and a geocaching log. If you have a signature stamp, bring it along as well. There are geocaches aplenty all over these fine United States. It makes a great excuse to pee in the woods for the more inhibited family members.

Printed maps and colored pencils.
Oh the things you can do with just a few maps and pencils. Encourage the writers to list all the towns they pass through on the map and then turn them into a narrative poem. Show little ones how to draw a blue circle to indicate a lake (and then mark them as you pass) or a red square to indicate a barn or a black dot to indicate a cow. Then let them make their own map adding what they observe along the way.

Read-aloud chapter books.
Long car trips are a great time to read that awesome book to a captive audience. Who needs illustrations when the scenery keeps catching your eye? I shared A Finder’s Magic by Phillipa Pearce with the crew, while Max read chapters from the original Winne the Pooh by A. A. Milne aloud to the girls.

Water bottles.
Skip the juice boxes and other sugar-laden laxatives- water is the best possible drink for the road. It saves big folks the frustration of spills, sticky luggage, and endless restroom stops. Kids tend to drink water when they are thirsty, while they will often drink juices to satisfy hunger or a craving for sugar. Keep it simple. Milk at night and water during the day.

Apples and clementines.
Bring along washed apples and seedless clementines. The little folks like to peel their own in our family. As for the apples, what could make a better all-around snack?

Scissors, glue sticks, and white drawing paper.
Using all those fantastic resources procured at each stateside rest area or travel office, cut out pictures of landmarks or places in each state and pass them (along with glue stick and paper) to the little people to make their own state-based collages. Alternately, let them tell stories by cutting their own pictures and pasting them to white paper (reimaged as a blank storyboard). Then, when you make your next stop, tell everyone that he or she has to pick up all the paper scraps around their chair and put them in the trash bag if they wish to “get off the bus”, so to speak. Consider cleaning up as a ticket (a get-out-of-van-free-card).

White cardstock and stamps.
Make your own postcards using glue sticks and travel brochure cut-outs. Let the kids write a message on their creations and then use your iphone to look up addresses. Put on a stamp and drop them off at the next post office box you see.

Good music and playlists.
There are so many ways to tie the music to the state you are visiting. For example, some cities are mentioned in songs. Travel brochures will mention which musicians hail from their state, so add a few locals to your playlists. Use the songs as segues for discussions about history and culture. Or just find a few favorite sing-alongs. We use Spotify rather than mp3s or ITunes because we can find any song in world and enjoy it without having to “own” it. You can also find lots of stories and songs for kids.

Poems and inspirations.
Find beautiful words to add to the mix when whimsy is conspicuously lacking. The little people may or may not show interest, but it will probably stir your soul just right. Keep your own journal of impressions and observations. Everything you see becomes part of the story you discover together.

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