Adventure Parenting: Living the #vanlife with Kids
Our newest KEEN Ambassadors include a 1-year-old, who probably has more stamps in his passport than many of us grown-ups. “The Expeditioners” are Roberto, Bella, and Mikio, a family of three from Canada who are living the #vanlife to the fullest. Those of us at KEEN with kids have been following their adventures around the globe with awe (and envy!). How do you go kitesurfing, sea kayaking, and backpacking with a baby?
When they stopped by KEEN headquarters in Portland, Oregon, recently, we got to ask them all the things we’ve been dying to know about how they make it all look so effortless.
Q: First of all, how did you become ‘The Expeditioners?’
Roberto: Twelve years ago, when Bella and I met, we were weekend warriors. I was a businessman, and she was just finishing her degree in biochemistry. Our escape was the rich, verdant forests and myriad lakes of Quebec and Ontario. With every backcountry canoe trip (our favorite thing to do at the time), we fell more and more in love with the outdoors.
Canoe camping evolved into sea-kayak expeditions. But it was only after getting married in 2012 that we kicked it up a notch and decided to attempt to make a living off of our adventure travel concept: The Expeditioners. So we threw caution to the wind, sold most of our belongings, gave others away, and packed up our little SUV and red trailer with all our adventure gear to kick across Canada, and explore it east to west—canoe camping, kayaking, biking, and hiking—with no fixed schedule or itinerary. And no fixed address. It is with this grand road trip that the concept was truly born. The idea was to inspire others to travel and explore the world.
Our greatest surprise was discovering that traveling with a little one is a lot easier than we imagined it to be.
It was only in 2016, when Mikio was born, that we decided to get a little Airstream—a dream since 2008 that came true in May of 2017. The idea behind “Happy the Airstream” was that we would have a warm base for our little one in between backcountry adventures. It’s one of the best decisions we ever made.
Q. Has the ‘expedition life’ been what you expected?
Being a lifestyle ambassador was still a very nascent concept at the time, and we had plenty of surprises. The first one was the level of support we received even at an early stage. Folks believed in us—and I guess that had been one of our biggest doubts. Would people believe in what we were doing? And they did. Living out of a Pathfinder full-time was a tad trickier than we imagined, especially as fall would turn into winter. Another of our great surprises was two grand gigs that we got as hosts of bilingual shows: Life is Calling with Discovery and Jeep in 2015, and Far and Wide, exploring Nunavut’s Baffin Island in the first episode to celebrate Canada’s 150th Anniversary. All this being said, I believe our greatest surprise was discovering that traveling with a little one is a lot easier than we imagined it to be.
Q: Where have your expeditions taken you so far this year? Any favorite experiences to share?
Turks and Caicos Islands, Hawaii (Maui), Oregon, Washington, Whistler, British Columbia. It’s hard to say which was our favorite, as each one has unique places that left us in awe. Kitesurfing off of South Caicos Island is magic, with a myriad of sea life. We frequently saw sharks and spotted eagle rays. Driving Maui’s Road to Hana left us speechless, not only is the winding tropical road one of the most unique we have ever been on, but the waterfalls were simply divine. Oregon and Washington’s National Forests allowed us to experience “dispersed camping” for the first time—allowing us to park Happy amongst towering trees—with only the sound of the wind sifting through the leaves as company. And Crater Lake’s water has one of the richest hues of blue that we have ever seen. Each place has its gems, and I think that’s the key to traveling—not to compare, but to enjoy and take in each place for its own beauty.
Q: You make all these epic adventures look so easy with a baby in tow, so what are your secrets?
Truly, it’s a lot easier than we ever imagined it to be. A few particular things come to mind:
Having the right gear. As with any adventure, this is critical to smooth travels with Mikio. For example, our Thule stroller has massive rubber tires that allow us to take it easily on snow and sand alike. It also has great sun protection, and the back part folds down, making a perfect sleeping spot for him—all whilst safely off the ground and buckled in. Also, the Sapling Child Carrier has likely been one of the most practical pieces of gear for exploring with him. It’s basically a backpack to tote him around on terrain that the stroller can’t make it through. We use it for anything from small hikes to waterfalls, to big mountain treks, to beaches when we have to launch or land each other’s kite. It also lets us be hands-free when we need to. Whether to grab onto branches or rocks while hiking or simply to be able to take pictures and videos. The mega-bonus about it is that he absolutely loves being in it. For one, he’s attached to mummy or daddy (something that all babies and toddlers have loved since the inception of humanity), he’s entertained by whatever we are doing, and above all he’s comfortable enough to frequently fall asleep... making for a happy non-fussy babe.
Airline travel. Little man has been on 27 flights so far. And all but one were extremely smooth. When booking a flight, strategically select your seats. Most planes have rows of three. Book the aisle and the window seat—or the two aisle seats if it’s the middle row. Middle seats are the last to be booked, and so it’s quite likely that you will have the middle seat available for the little one to sit or lay down on. When checking-in, ask if they can block the middle seat as you’re traveling with a little one. Most of the time they will happily do so. In a worse-case scenario, you simply ask the person sitting in the middle seat to trade places. When your baby is between 6 months and a year (or under 20lbs)—and you are booking your ticket—ask for the bulk head row with the bassinet. This row has a mini-crib that folds down from the wall for your little one to sleep in. It is so extremely ideal!
In many ways, this 'slower travel,' especially in the backcountry, also helps us enjoy everything more, and even take more pictures and videos of the incredibly special moments of traveling with him.
Toys. Funny enough—we rarely travel with any toys as we’ve learned that he tends to get bored with them quite quickly. It’s the books that seem to entertain him for longer periods of time, so we make sure to bring his three favorites on any trip. Also, as most of our activities are outdoors, branches, rocks, leaves, water, sand and such tend to keep his happy attention.
Diaper duty. When partaking in backcountry travel, we always loved that as we ate through our food, our packs would get lighter. Alas, with a baby it’s quite the opposite due to weighty used diapers. That being said, we bring a 10L dry-bag with a plastic bag inside it where we put the used diapers. We once ran out of them, and had to sacrifice a few t-shirts comically twisted into a Greek-like toga, and since then we always make sure to pack more than we expect to use. Also, we like to buy a size a little larger than what he needs as it prevents explosions (out of the diaper). Because once an explosion happens, the clothes he’s wearing become unusable until they are washed thoroughly.
Our demeanor + his pace. If we’re relaxed, so is he. And our pace is now to go at his pace. Sure, a normal 2.5-hour hike becomes 4+ hours. But what’s the rush? We stop to feed him when he needs it, change his diaper, or simply to stretch his legs periodically if he’s in our carrier. In many ways, this “slower travel,” especially in the backcountry, also helps us enjoy everything more, and even take more pictures and videos of the incredibly special moments of traveling with him. If it’s a torrentially rainy day—it’s likely a day meant to stay in the tent, dry and warm. And that’s what pace is all about. Being flexible. We travel at his pace. And while that often means slowly…it also translates to happily!
Stay tuned for more from The Expeditioners as they get ready to lead an adventure camp in Squamish, British Columbia, this summer—sharing their love of the outdoors with families as they backcountry camp, mountain bike, and “create memories that will last a lifetime.”