“Life is all about the journey, not the destination.” We’ve all heard it a thousand times and when times get tough, we use it to comfort ourselves. For me, it’s something else. For me, it’s pure rapture. As a kid staring out of the car window, every clutch of trees in the interstate median had a Robinson Crusoe sanctuary just beyond the first line of pines. Every wooded lot was an exotic jungle and every mound of construction dirt a faraway desert dune. There was something magical and exhilarating about the continual line of experiences that the road served up in front of me.
I still feel that sense of wonder and adventure and it’s something as a dad that I want to pass on to my kids. The trouble is, there’s no curriculum to teach wanderlust or how to grow an adventurer’s heart. The good news is, you don’t need it. While there are a few books out there that can inspire adventure the best lesson plan is experience, and it doesn’t require a passport or airline miles. You can find adventure on your own street or in your own town.
Here are a few things I’ve found over the years that can help light the spark of adventure, without costing a fortune.
Take an “I Don’t’ Know” trip. Take a day to explore without knowing exactly where you’re going. Seriously, decide on a general direction and start taking turns until you end up somewhere new. You’ll be surprised how quickly you find something fascinating and story-worthy, even within your own neighborhood. Take your map, GPS or smartphone with you so you can find your way back. If you really want to ramp up the adventure, try and find your way home with none of the above.
Use adventure rules. Set some adventuring rules, find places that fit your criteria, and GO. A few years back my kids and I had a summer of exploration we called DadQuest. The rules were simple. A) It had to be someplace we had never been. B) It had to be someplace that cost less than $5 per person (free was preferred). C) It had to be within a 2-hour drive or less. That summer we visited a Sponge Diving museum, two flea markets, five state parks, an abandoned zoo, and a wildlife trail for an endangered bird that was on someone’s farm.
Get on a bus or train and just go. In many cities, you can buy a train, bus or transit day-pass for very little. Get one and see where it takes you. We spent an entire day riding the metro train and trolleys and walking between stops. The added benefit for this one is that it teaches a great life skill, how to get around using public transportation. If your kids are used to riding around in their car seats in the back of a minivan like mine are, chances are when they get older they’ll be clueless about how to get around without a car.
Be fearless. This is probably the hardest of all for me. With all of the horror and suffering and pain flashing by on your local news station it can be hard to remember that humanity is, by and large, good, and there are a hundred-thousand good people for every one who’s not so good. I to make it a point not to classify people as good or bad with my kids. People just have different stories or backgrounds or struggles they’re facing. Last weekend we parked at a small lot for the train station and I commented that I hoped it was a safe place to park, but that the only thing of value in our van was the car seat, and if someone needed a car seat bad enough to steal it they could have it. It sparked an entire conversation with the kids about people who were down on their luck and how hard it must be to get to the point of feeling the need to steal and what we could do to help people who needed car seats. There was no judgment or words of condemnation, only genuinely seeking to understand. It made me proud.
In the end, it’s still a crazy life and sometimes a trip to the store is just a trip to the store, but the next time you’re driving somewhere and your son or daughter is quietly looking out the window, think about what’s going through their mind. Check out that sparkle in their eye. That’s what I’m talking about. I don’t want that to ever go away for them. I don’t want them to ever stop looking at the world with wonder.
Jason Grooms is an author, adventurer, mountain climber, husband, dad of six and grandpa of one and a half. Along with his brilliant and beautiful wife, he’s been homeschooling for almost two decades (two graduated and four close behind). When he’s not being a teacher, adventure guide, and life coach for his kids, Jason is a Director of Learning and Development for an international company by day and writes science adventure books for kids by night. He has his degree in Cultural Anthropology, is an ordained Humanist Celebrant, and is certifiably the biggest Disney nerd you will ever encounter. You can find his science books and activities at SEA Books & More, and follow along with his mountain climbing adventures on his YouTube channel Geek on the Peak TV (https://goo.gl/IsTi5K).