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Passports with Purpose

Looking back on our stellar family travels of 2012

View of Mt. McKinley from the Camp Denali on a clear morning in June 2012

View of Mt. McKinley from the Camp Denali on a clear morning in June 2012

By Eileen Ogintz
Tribune Media Services

It’s pouring — sleeting, actually, though it is June — and we’re trudging straight up hill in spongy tundra.

We’re soaked through and have no choice but to picnic on soggy sandwiches in the downpour. Are we having fun yet?

Absolutely! We are in America’s last great wilderness, Denali National Park on one of the few guided hikes permitted at the north end of the park, available to us because we were staying at Camp Denali, located 95 miles inside the park. Denali National Park celebrated its 60th anniversary last June when we visited, a celebration made special by founders and former staff members who returned to tell stories of their Alaskan adventures.

As I thought back about this past year’s trips, I realized that each one enabled us to challenge ourselves in different ways, whether in the outdoors, navigating in an unfamiliar culture, or learning a new skill. That’s not counting the challenge of getting along with each other along the way — not always easy, especially these days as families who don’t spend a lot of time together gather for vacation.

It can be tricky to satisfy everyone’s needs and agendas. Family travel doesn’t always mean traveling just with your significant other and kids either. Increasingly, grandparents are along for the ride and sometimes they are traveling with just the grandkids. You might also be traveling solo with a child (I certainly have done that this year) or indulging in an adult getaway.

On that once-in-a lifetime Alaska trip, for example, that also included an expedition cruise on a 78-passenger ship called the Wilderness Discoverer — read what I wrote about that — we were traveling with my husband’s sister, her husband, his brother and his husband — a grown sibling trip that brought us together from both coasts and the Midwest.

We skied with my grown son, nephew and his parents in Aspen and then returned to Colorado last summer to hike with my 21-year-old daughter who was spending the summer helping to run the farm at her college. I took teen cousins to Orlando and aboard the Disney Fantasy, the cruise line’s newest, and in the summer, introduced a young teen from the Bronx to the wonders of a New Hampshire organic farm and even managed one moms’ getaway — to Scottsdale — where we alternated hiking and biking with spa time and touring museums. (We especially loved the Musical Instrument Museum where you not only see instruments from around the world but hear them played.)

Rainbow over Tortola on our first morning in the BVI

I only managed one trip together with all three of my kids and my husband — a wonderful sailing and diving adventure that enabled us to explore the British Virgin Islands on our own chartered catamaran (the kids did the sailing) from Moorings. (Read what I wrote about that rare week of togetherness.)

Just as families say they are no longer waiting for the economy to improve to take that “special” trip, I learned this year not to wait until everyone can go together. In fact, I’ve been grateful for the one-on-one time with my kids.

In the hopes that our adventures might inspire you as you plan your 2013 travels, here are three ideas that proved winners for us:

Gathering eggs from the Eggmobile at Inn at Valley Farms

Gathering eggs from the Eggmobile at Inn at Valley Farms

— Visit a farm or farmer’s market on your next trip. Our young Bronx friend reveled in gathering eggs and vegetables from the garden at the Inn at Valley Farms in Walpole, N.H., where the farmers generously give their time to teach you about sustainable agriculture on their 105-acre farm. The website FarmStayUS includes nearly 950 farms, ranches and vineyards where you can visit and stay, sometimes for under $100 a night. Even a stop at a farmer’s market can encourage kids to try new foods and appreciate where their food comes from, first lady Michelle Obama said in a recent interview with TakingtheKids. (Find a farmer’s market to visit at.)

— Fulfill a travel dream. That trip to Alaska was a long-held travel dream for the relatives who traveled with us. But fulfilling your travel dream doesn’t have to take you to expensive, exotic climes. Last summer, my daughter Mel led the way as we hiked from Crested Butte, Colo., to Aspen — an arduous 12.5-mile hike that included crossing the 12,000-foot-high West Maroon Pass. I’d always wanted to do this iconic hike and was glad to have my outdoors-loving daughter encourage me along the way. There’s another plus to getting outdoors with kids and grandkids: With limited or no cell service and no Wi-Fi, they’re more apt to talk to you along the way. I met another family on that trail that planned their hike together for exactly that reason. After the hike, we treated ourselves at the casual yet deluxe The Little Nell hotel in Aspen at the base of Aspen Mountain that can’t do enough for their guests, including kids and pets.

ABC Boys get ready for bike ride on the National Mall

ABC Boys get ready for bike ride on the National Mall

— Try something new with the kids. Maybe you’ll go camping or snorkeling for the first time. Maybe you’ll tour a city via bicycle, as we did last fall with a group of high school boys in Washington, D.C. It was a lot more fun than trudging on foot from monument to war memorial.

— Let the kids lead the way in planning, whether they want to immerse themselves in everything Harry Potter at Universal’s “Wizarding World of Harry Potter” or explore a specific museum exhibit you might have missed otherwise. (Let the young foodies you know lead the way at the wonderful new Global Kitchen exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History in New York and FOOD: Transforming the American Table at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.,.

You will be amazed at what you’ll discover together.

Happy travels in 2013!


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