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my family travel stories: a guide through the forest
One of the biggest takeaways from the amazing TMS Family Travel Conference I recently attended in Niagara Falls was an impassioned quote from Keith Bellows, editor-in-chief of National Geographic Traveler, who stood up and declared, “Passports are the new diplomas.”
He was preaching to the choir. I agree there’s nothing more valuable for kids than travel, and, if you need a rationalization to take your children out of school for a long weekend away, a new study totally backs that up.
According to the U.S. Travel Association, kids who took learning-focused trips between the ages of 12 and 18 achieved higher grades and, as adults, earned higher incomes than those who didn’t travel.
We’ve been taking our kids around the world since they were little. They’ve seen great works of art, relived history, tried new foods, and spent time with people of different nationalities and cultures.
They’ve learned how to leave their comfort zones and figure out how to communicate despite language differences.
And, above all, they’ve learned to be flexible and keep an open mind because going on family trips is always full of unexpected adventures, many of which turn out to become the stories that are told over and over again, resulting in treasured memories – and, often, hysterical laughter.
This is the one that really does it for us.
Not long after we moved to California, when the kids were maybe 8 and 10, we took a family trip to Idyllwild, a beautiful small town in the San Jacinto Mountains. Idyllwild is surrounded by national forests so one morning we decided to take a hike.
As we walked over, we read out loud from the guidebook, which mentioned free guide dogs.
Now, we are huge dog lovers so that’s all any of us needed to hear. We were pretty much all jumping up and down, squealing:
“Oh my God, they have dogs to guide you through the forest! And they’re free!”
“Ooh, can we take a dog? Please? Can we? Can we?”
“How can a dog guide you through the forest? That’s so awesome!”
“Hurry up! We don’t want them all to be taken!”
We started running. Seriously, this was the best thing ever! We had never heard of anything like it before, and just could not believe we were going to be lucky enough to be led through the forest by a dog! How great was that?!
We literally ran all the way to the entrance booth. Out of breath, but sporting gigantic grins, we told the cashier we were interested in a guide dog. We just couldn’t stop smiling, we were so overwrought with anticipation.
She looked at us with a blank stare and tilted her head the way our own dog did when she had no idea what we were talking about.
“Excuse me?” she asked.
“The guide dogs!” my husband prompted, pointing to the sign. “You know, the free ones.”
She was speechless.
It hit all four of us at the exact same time – right before she said the words that made us hang our heads in complete embarrassment (and, worse, complete disappointment).
“We don’t have guide dogs,” she practically spat at us. “That’s for people who have them because they need them.”
“Yes, well, the sign says, ‘Guide dogs – free,’” my husband tried to explain. “We thought that meant we could get one to take us around … Never mind. Uh, thanks.”
The four of us were stunned at our own ridiculousness. We walked away, sheepishly, convinced the cashier was calling her friends, telling them, “Can you believe how stupid these city people are?”
To this day, we laugh until our stomachs hurt every time someone brings up that story. We still can’t believe that all four of us went there with our interpretation. Talk about seeing what you want to see!
Although we’ve been to dozens of other, more exotic places since then, I have to admit we’ve never been as excited about an activity as we misguidedly were for that one.
So, if you happen to know a place we can get a dog to take us around, please let us know. Honestly, we don’t even care if it’s free.