Megan Smith's mommy/travel blog started out as a mission.
Or, more precisely, mission work.
She and her husband, Mike, spent the first years of their marriage doing the Lord's work overseas, enjoying traveling during mission duties. They pledged early on to keep travel a vital part of their family life, even after the children came along.
"We came up with a plan for our lives," said the Lexington mom of three. "One of those family goals was that we always travel together."
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Unfortunately, as it is for a lot of parents, the daily responsibilities of raising kids crowded out other things.
They traveled less and less while raising Canaan, 7, and Ezra, 3. But, somehow, as she proceeded through her 11th year of marriage and pregnancy No. 3 with baby Otto, Smith decided the original family plan needed to be revisited. And, she hoped, it could serve as a resource and inspiration for other parents. "A lot of people don't know how to travel with children," she said.
Smith, a fervent multi-tasker who is not one to do anything in a small way, decided to create a blog called Backseat Traveler. A little more than a year ago, she and her family decided to make taking to the road a priority.
Family travel is generally limited to anywhere you can travel to and from in a day. She categorizes her trips as free, cheap or splurges.
As for free and cheap, Smith said she loves the off-the-beaten-path kind of treasures, such as authentic diners that offer real mashed potatoes, country stores where guys play checkers or cards — unlikely gems uncovered along the way to a particular destination.
"We are foodie kind of people," she said. "Any time we can find a ma and pa diner and order food, we are up for it."
They might head to Bardstown for a great milkshake or to Northern Kentucky for a day at the Newport Aquarium and a night at the Cincinnati Hilton. She even considers farm estate auctions a family-friendly day out. She and her husband can look for antique treasures while the kids can play outside.
"We don't necessarily look for things that are typically 'kid friendly,'" she said.
For instance, they took the boys to the Abbey at Gethsemani in Trappist, which requires silence on some parts of the tour. The trip offered some "life lessons," she said, about how people choose to worship and alternative ways to live.
Her love of travel has its roots in a childhood trip to a dulcimer festival with her dad. It made her feel special and grown-up to be one of the few children there. She said it's one of her favorite childhood memories.
"It was such a culture experience for me," she said.
She hopes to inspire similar sweet memories for her sons.
The most important thing is planning, she said. Everybody should be on the same page and have an understanding of what will be happening.
Otto requires the full diaper bag treatment, but the older boys are pretty self-sufficient on the road. She lets them pick out a book to read or games to play in the car. Sometimes they check out family- friendly books on tape. There is no video baby sitter.
A natural optimist prone to words like "super fun" and "awesome," Smith likes to see what you can find on the road, even relishing the occasional unplanned detour. (Also known as getting lost.) But those days might be over, now that husband Mike has bought a GPS.
And, although the family travels pretty well, she has had her share of "mother moments." You know, those times when one child is screaming, the other is whining that he didn't get to push the button to summon the elevator, and you are sure that all eyes in the hotel lobby are squarely on you.
She considers any trip successful if the clan, which travels two or three weekends a month, returns home "not regretting that we've gone."
That's about 99 percent of the time, she said.
On the rare occasion that they go somewhere that doesn't exactly meet expectations, she tries to write a review that highlights good points while making it clear why it might not be the best family getaway.
Smith, a stay-at-home mom with a crafting business, and her husband, a pharmaceutical rep, set aside travel money from the entertainment portion of the family budget. Because she is an experienced blogger — she has had a homemaking blog, "hiphome," for six years — she sometimes get discounts or special rates from the businesses she profiles.
She is excited to see where the road will take them.
They'll do it "until it's not fun, and then we will re-evaluate," she said. "We are not going to put pressure on ourselves."