Divorced Dads: Five travel tools and ideas to make visitation more fun

Whether you travel for visitation or not, there are many travel resources you can use to make your experience with your children more enjoyable. Over the past year as a divorced dad, this is something I’ve learned, and the revelations, if obvious to some, have been powerful for me, especially in winter, when outdoor options simply aren’t available. You don’t have to sit in the house and try in vain to entertain your kids. Instead, think like a visitor, and see what your community (local or not) has to offer.

For me, this was eye-opening. I travel to see my son, and I wasn’t fully aware of what was available in his town. With some help, I thought like a traveler and found some interesting options. Here are my top five:

1. Contact the visitors bureau: these organizations don’t just exist in big cities and tourist destinations. Cities and towns of all sizes have them, and their mission is to help you find things to do when visiting. You’ll find attractions you didn’t know existed – and that the locals may not know about. Stop by their websites, and if you don’t see something that catches your eye, fire off an email or make a phone call.
2. Check out local staples: the local library never occurred to me, but it’s now on my list for the next time I visit my son. There are book readings and other planned activities for children. They’re usually free, and will also help your kids get into the habit of appreciating reading!

3. Plan a tour: take a handful of everyday stops in your child’s hometown and fashion them into a fun local tour! Bring excitement to the mundane by planning an underlying theme that connects the familiar in a new or interesting way. Then, you can have a blast navigating this experience, showing your child the local world from a new perspective.

4. Watch the seasons: there are hayrides in the fall and snowy hills for sledding in the winter. Parks are great in the summer, and nothing beats throwing a Frisbee around after you’ve munched on a picnic lunch. Keep an eye on seasonal alternatives where you live and plan accordingly. Have a good idea for summer when the snow is knee-deep? Write it down! That tip will be useful before you know it.

5. Think like a kid on vacation: you’re used to seeing the roads you use for your daily commute and the same boring restaurants whose menus you memorized a long time ago. Shake your head, clear your eyes and take a different look at everything around you. Think back 30 or 40 years. What would you have seen when you were a kid? I remember seeing a tangled comforter as a rough landscape for toy soldiers – even though I now see it as a chore to be finished. We see things differently as adults, and it helps to toss that perspective aside.

[photo by Mike_fleming via Flickr]

Five visitation travel tips for divorced dads

Divorced plus distance equals difficulty – when you have kids. You don’t get to spend as much time with them as you’d like, and the process of going to see them involves lots of time on a bus, train or plane (or even in a car). The trip home leaves you with lots of time to think. There’s nothing easy about this, but you can take some of the sting out. Keep the right frame of mind, and be realistic about how you travel: it makes a profound difference.

Do you take visitation trips a few times a month (or year)? Here are five ways to make it a bit easier, learned from a year of doing this myself:

1. Don’t measure time in minutes: this trap is seductive. You want to spend as much time as possible with your kids, and losing even 10 minutes to traffic or weather can be infuriating. It’s agonizing to be stuck on a bus, realizing it’s time you won’t be able to spend enjoying fatherhood. You can’t let this get to you: it’ll just drive you nuts (and affect your visit). It took me a few months to come to grips with this, and life got much better when I did.2. Leave early: this is especially important if you’re taking a bus, train or plane. You have enough stress already, and rushing for transportation will only heighten it. And, do you really want that to shape your frame of mind when you hug your kids for the first time in a few weeks? Give yourself a cushion up front, even if only to decompress a little. Arriving early can help you do this, too.

3. Distract yourself during the trip: I didn’t’ do this well at first, and I felt it. Even veteran travelers – who have logged hundreds of thousands of miles and are accustomed to bringing books, magazines and laptops – will not be as adept at passing the time on a visitation trip as they expect. Spend too much time dwelling on your situation (as I did for the first few months of three-hour bus rides), and you’ll torture yourself emotionally.

4. Be ready for the return trip: this can be pure living hell inside your head. Give yourself a moment to unwind before going home – you’ll need it. I usually get to the bus station 45 minutes early to collect my thoughts, reflect on the weekend and ease myself out of the mindset of having said goodbye. It helps. A lot. Traveling home accompanied only by your thoughts should become more bearable.

5. Know that it gets easier: or, at least that you’ll get used to it. You’ll find a rhythm, and that will get you through the traveling itself. Over time, you’ll see and feel the changes, and you’ll spend more time enjoying your visits.

Do you have any tips for making visitation travel easier? I’m not the only one who’d love to hear them, I’m sure. Leave a comment to help us all out.

[photo by Rob Young via Flickr]

Yellowstone sets new record for visitors in June

It seems that the sluggish economy isn’t preventing Americans from traveling this summer, at least not to one of our favorite adventure destinations. The National Park Service announced earlier this week that more than 694,000 people visited Yellowstone in June, an increase of 7.9% from last year, and a continuation of a recent trend that has seen travelers flocking to the park.

In 2009, Yellowstone set an attendance record with nearly 3.3 million visitors making the trip to the America’s first national park. But it seems that mark is already in jeopardy in 2010, as every month this year, save May, has seen an increase in traffic. With July and August, the park’s two busiest months, still to come, it seems that the Park Service will have another very successful year on its hands.

With all of the spectacular natural beauty that is found in Yellowstone, it is easy to understand why it is so popular. The park is famous for its amazing mountain vistas, impressive waterfalls, sprawling canyons, and of course its geysers, with Old Faithful being the most famous of all the attractions. Yellowstone is also home to plenty of wildlife ranging from elk and bison to wolves and bear, making it one of the best places in all of North America to watch wild animals.

If you’re still undecided about where you want to travel to this summer, perhaps you’ll add Yellowstone to your itinerary. It’s a classic American destination, and a must see for any traveler.

[Photo credit: Daniel Mayer via Wikimedia Commons]

Foreign visitation to the U.S. on the road to recovery

The travel market is showing some signs of stability! Finally! In September, the Department of Commerce reports that 4.1 million people visited the United States from abroad, down only 1 percent from the previous September. Visitation for the first nine months of this year fell 8 percent. Spending was down 14 percent from September to September, hitting $10.3 billion for the month. Year-to-date, foreign visitors to the United States have spent $90.6 billion, which is off 16 percent year-over-year. Nonetheless, it’s headed in the right direction. Nonetheless, foreign visitation suffered its eleventh straight month of declines.

Canadian visitation ticked up 3 percent in September, though for the first nine months of the year, it’s still down 7 percent. Meanwhile, visits from Mexico fell a modest 1 percent from September 2008 to September 2009 and is down 6 percent for the year.

Visitors crossing an ocean to reach the United States fell 4 percent in September — bringing the year-to-date decline to 9 percent. In September, 11 of the top 20 countries posted declines, five of them at double-digit rates. But, there’s some good news. Visits from the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands and Ireland posted double-digit year-over-year increases for the month.