Travel Memories Are the Best Present
Guest post by my daughter-in-law, BrookeLynne Wilcox
For Christmas this year my parents took a road trip and met us in St. Louis on Dec 28th. My parents live in CA and we are in TN. Their present to us was to pay for our hotel, food, and adventures. We just had to cover our gas there and back. For Christmas, travel memories are the best present ever!
Need a little convincing?
Our December leading up to Christmas was stressful, probably not unlike many other young families. There comes a time in adulthood where you transition from enjoying magical moments to feeling the pressure to create them. This was a year when the pressure to create magical moments was high for me. I felt ill-qualified yet somehow it all turned out well in the end.
I’m being real here. I was less than excited about a post-Christmas road trip. When my parents called and asked me about it, I let their excitement rub off on me and enthusiastically agreed to this adventure. However, in the moments when Christmas stress and pressure threatened to overwhelm me, I couldn’t believe I’d agreed to one more thing. Thankfully, by Christmas day most of the stress melted away and a do-nothing post-Christmas day also helped.
Let the kids help
I let my kids pack for themselves and on December 28th, we got in the car and started our adventure. I grew up going on road trips for weeks at a time during the summers. Something about a road trip is comfortable and familiar, even with all the unknowns. When we left home, Google Maps said we’d be at the hotel right about the time we could check in.
Exploring on the way
On the way we saw lots of signs including one for Patti’s 1880’s Settlement (in Grand Rivers, KY) that caught my husband’s eye. We decided to follow it and explore. It turned out to be a really cool pit stop. We spent 45 minutes walking around enjoying the holiday decor and window shopping. Also there was snow on the ground, so our 5-year old had a blast throwing snowballs at every opportunity. Other than the keychain I bought at the gift shop, we didn’t spend a penny. (I like to buy key chains on all our trips to use as ornaments for the Christmas tree. If you’re not shopping at Christmastime, ornaments can be hard to come by, so key chains or pins make a great alternative. I’ve made circle fabric ornaments to attach the pins to.)
We got to the hotel an hour after Google Map’s first prediction. When my parents arrived, we went out to dinner – thanks Mom and Dad for covering the bill! I did say that travel is the best present ever, right?
St. Louis: Gateway Arch
The next day we headed into the heart of St. Louis right after breakfast. My dad had already made online reservations for the tram to the top of the Gateway Arch. (Confession: Before this trip, I didn’t know anything about the St. Louis Arch except that there was one. I got to learn right along with our kids about its history and construction.) Turns out the Gateway Arch is part of the National Park Service. (Did you know 4th graders can get a free Annual National Parks Pass? I happen to have a 4th grader, so our future travel plans are being adjusted with this information in mind.)
What it’s like at the Gateway Arch
As an introduction before loading onto the tram, everyone is given a brief history and some fun facts about not only the Arch, but also the decade it was built. In my opinion it was the right amount of information to not overload you and still give you an appreciation and context for the experience you were about to have. The St. Louis Arch is very tall, and it was a bit scary and also a whole lot of cool! Looking out at the top of the arch is incredible. The arch sways a little which is a good and safe thing but also is part of that ‘bit of scary’ I mentioned already. Between the presentation before you get on the tram and the underground museum that stretches the length of the arch you really get to learn a lot about the history of how the United States has become what it is today.
Gateway to the West
The symbolism of the “Gateway to the West” was not lost on me. I have ancestors that traveled west during the westward expansion and that definitely played a part in my experience here. So many feelings. I don’t trust in my ability to put these feelings into words but I will say this: The fact that my parents came from the west and we came from the east to meet up in St. Louis “the gateway to the west” meant something to me. And that when we said goodbye, we’d be heading away from each other to different parts of one united country. That had me feeling some kind of way.
Ice Skating behind the Capitol Building
Once we had eaten at the cafe under the Arch, Grandma and Grandpa spoiled us even more by taking us ice skating. It was a seasonal rink set up behind the capitol building which could be seen from the top of the Arch. Some of us had more success than others on the ice and those of us who ducked out early enjoyed watching and cheering on the others.
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis and a date
Next we walked to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. The walk and the buildings were beautiful. Unfortunately, to enter the museum we had to show proof of covid vaccines and we didn’t all have proof with us. No one complained that the walk had been for not; it was still worth it. That evening Grandparents took the kids to the movies and my husband and I got to go on a date, just the two of us. It’s something we don’t do enough of. We are the only ones in our close families that live east of the Mississippi and often the extra effort of finding and paying for babysitters doesn’t happen.
The next morning Grandma and Grandpa had to take off really early because they had a long driving day ahead. We took our time and got on the road after breakfast. My husband did some quick research before we left to see if we could find another cool pit stop. Did you know Google Maps can tell you the exact halfway point between you and your final destination? It can also conveniently suggest cool places people like to stop along your path. It was raining pretty hard for the first half of our drive so we were unsure how our planned pit stop would go.
Just as we arrived, the rain let up which meant we got to take pictures with Superman, and Lois Lane without getting too wet. Ever heard of Metropolis, Ill? We hadn’t before this trip. Superman’s town, complete with a cool museum that, yes, we did pay to see. I also got another key chain.
Fort Massac State Park
Besides Superman, this small town in Illinois also has an old fort with military history dating back through several early American wars. In my husband’s research that morning we learned that the replica 1802 fort at Fort Massac State Park was closed for repairs. However seeing that it was across the street from the Sonic where we got lunch, we decided to see what we could see. We enjoyed beautiful views of the Ohio River and were able to walk around the outside of the reconstructed fort and make a few other little discoveries.
We also discovered that the visitor center was open thanks to a bathroom emergency. Turns out it was a really cool visitor center. So we spent time reading while the kids had fun with some of the interactive displays. We finally all piled back in the car and drove three more hours home.
Why travel memories are the best present ever
I have one more thing I want to share that is less about adventure and travel and more about life and motherhood. This trip was a wonderful Mom moment for me. Sometimes I refer to these as super mom moments but it’s not that I had any super mom moments. It was just that I had fun being my kids’ mom. This trip was a trip where I got to hang out with my kids. I loved getting to hang out with the people that my kids are.
As a mom, it is not my job to be my children’s friend. Yet sometimes it’s just really cool to share friend moments with your children. I love my children and beyond that, I think my children are really cool people. It is so cool to watch them becoming the people they are. So yeah, I don’t think I would have had any more fun on a girls’ trip than I did on this family adventure where, yes, I was still on mom duty. So…a big thanks to my parents for giving me this priceless gift I will hold memories of for the rest of my life. That is exactly why travel memories are the best present ever.
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