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Traveling with Our Teen During the Pandemic Brought Our Family Closer

“It’s okay Mom. You can put your face under the water. The mask works! It’s so beautiful underneath the surface, and there are so many fish down here!” My 11-year-old daughter was overjoyed that below the surface of the beautiful crystal-clear water, a large school of fish gracefully swam by.

I’ve never been snorkeling before and, quite honestly, did not trust the swimming mask. She immediately sensed my trepidation with the act of fully submerging my face and body in the water. With a bright confident smile, she gave me the thumbs up and wave that it was okay to dive under.

Sure enough, just beneath the surface was a whole new world, and this personal interaction between the two of us further solidified our deepening trust in one another.

This is our new normal.

We’ve learned to be active listeners towards one another as we’ve bravely embraced exciting adventures together during this time of social distancing.

Finding Peace in a Pandemic

We had just finished swimming with manatees on a guided tour led by the Plantation Adventure Center in Crystal River, Florida. It’s one of the few places in the country where you can safely and legally swim with manatees, and my daughter had just experienced coming face-to face with a manatee and her baby calf.

Before we headed back to the hotel resort, our guides stopped at a nearby freshwater spring so that we could take a swim while observing the natural habitat. We beamed at one another on the relaxing boat ride back, because we knew that the day’s journey was truly a “lived” experience.

I’m not sure if we would have chosen to go to a cozy, little town back in the woods at a place called the Plantation on Crystal River, swim with manatees, or go snorkeling with fish in Three Sisters Springs in the middle of winter under any other circumstance. But we had the time of our lives.

For my daughter and me, traveling during the pandemic has been a peaceful escape, rekindling our love of the great outdoors and providing the space to protect our mental health. At the start of the pandemic, my husband and I chose to isolate and safely travel with our daughter whenever possible.

This personal decision has proven to be the right choice for our family, and we’ve learned many valuable lessons along the way. While we definitely could not change the true reality of the pandemic, we knew that we could choose to embrace whatever good could come from this unprecedented time. We made our mind and lives available to learn whatever it was that this pandemic was sent to teach.

Developing a Family Culture of Play

Before the pandemic, I couldn’t tell you the last time that I spent the day sliding and flipping on waterslides, but it has become one of my favorite pastimes with my tween. It’s been a great way for us to actually play and have fun together on a whole new level.

Once I may have been more inclined to sit back and watch her ride the waterslides, but the past year has encouraged us to live in the moment and appreciate life. Being in tight, close quarters in New York City has created a much greater appreciation for actively participating in outdoor activity. From Hershey Park in Pennsylvania to CDC-compliant hotel resorts with waterslides in Florida to Aquaboggan Water Park in Maine, our traveling adventures have really set the tone for our overall family dynamic.

We also have a greater appreciation for our physical health. My homebody husband has even taken an active role in planning socially-distant outdoorsy family trips for us.

Focusing on Mindfulness

Remote and hybrid learning have created chances to communicate more, to learn as a team, to listen more intuitively, and to set and appreciate boundaries. Forced confinement provided an opportunity for us to be transparent with one another that we needed space—and not just physical space, but emotional space as well.

My tween daughter now loves biking and we enjoy discovering new biking trails in the towns that we visit. On a recent trip to Inverness, Florida, we grabbed bikes from a place called David’s World Cycle, and we discovered the historic Withlacoochee Trail. This biking trail provided us with several hours of mindful relaxation while we immersed ourselves in nature.

Traveling during the pandemic has helped protect my tween’s peace of mind, as well as mine and my husband’s.

We have, at times, received pushback and unsolicited opinions about our choice to travel. But I’m glad we took the necessary precautions to travel safely, because the rewards have far exceeded our expectations. We are more connected and less stressed as a family, and traveling together has become our new love language.

My daughter would like to go snorkeling in Mexico for spring break. “What do you want to do next?” she asked recently. “Let’s think of a plan!”

Following CDC guidelines and ensuring our safety and the safety of others will always come first no matter where we decide to go on our next adventure—but the journey must continue.

Lynnette Nicholas

Lynnette Nicholas is a film critic, freelance journalist, parenting and culture writer and the mom of a girl tween. Lynnette currently writes on the intersection of parenting + entertainment, culture and children’s media . Lynnette has written for Parents, Reader’s Digest, HuffPost Parents, HuffPost Black Voices, Common Sense Media , Moms.com and more. Learn more at: lynnettenicholas.com.

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