A Letter to Parents Who’ve Never Been Rafting
You’re thinking about trying this rafting thing. It looks fun – you’ve seen the photos of families having a blast on the water, kids laughing and splashing, cozy fireside cuddles…maybe you should give it a try?
But, you’ve never done this before and I know what you’re thinking. Will my kids fall out of the raft? Will they be scared or unsure about sleeping in a tent? Will my kids eat the food the guides prepare? What kind of gear do we need?
I had similar concerns before taking my two boys on their first river trips. My youngest went on his first trip when he was nine-months-old. Since then, I’ve chased a lot of toddlers along river banks. Here’s what I’ve learned:
You’re probably going to worry, but…
Of course you’re going to feel a little nervous about taking your kids on a family rafting trip. What parent doesn’t play through all the “what if” scenarios in their head before they embark on an adventure?
But here’s the thing, as you float further and further downstream and see those huge smiles on your kids’ faces when they get splashed by a rowdy rapid or try an inflatable kayak for the first time, your fears will subside to the background. They might not go away completely, but eventually the feeling of pure joy will creep in and make all that worry worth it.
And yes, there’s the possibility that one of your kids, or even you, could fall out of the raft at some point, but chances are that whoever falls out will go for a quick swim through a few rapids before being pulled back into the boat. Sure, it can be a bit scary for everyone involved, but most of the time it’s not a big deal and your family will recount stories for years to come about “that one time we went rafting and…”
Rafting trips are surprisingly comfortable.
It’s not like backpacking. You’ll be able to bring what you need – enough clothes so that everyone stays warm and dry, and even a few favorite items to keep everyone happy. Don’t stress about what exactly you need to bring – rafting outfitters will often provide check lists to make packing for a rafting trip easy. They also typically bring everything they can to make your home away from home as comfy as possible—tent, sleeping bags, pillows, extra thick sleeping pads, and even a full kitchen, “living room” set-up, and of course, a bathroom (more on that here).
But one of the beauties of a river trip – and something that’s great for kids to realize – is that you really don’t need all that much to be comfortable. A river trip helps you enjoy the simple pleasures. It also helps us see that being uncomfortable isn’t always a bad thing. One of the best trips I ever did was on Oregon’s Rogue River in late October. It rained the entire time and we were pretty wet and chilly every day. But it was beautiful, we saw an incredible variety of wildlife, we warmed up at big campfires every night, and we all had an amazing time. It was a true adventure.
Sometimes overcoming a little discomfort is what makes a trip special and memorable. Getting out of our comfort zone is what helps us grow and see the world, and each other, in new ways.
River time is the best family time.
That brings me to the most important consideration – the reason you want to take a family vacation in the first place. You want to connect. You want to enjoy each other. You want to have fun and try something new. A river trip is the most perfect way to do this.
When you climb into a raft and push off from the bank, you’re on river time. All the hectic schedules and to-do lists of daily life fade away. It doesn’t matter what time it is, you have no agenda or demands. It’s just you and your family, having fun, floating down a river through a beautiful landscape. It’s about wonder and discovery.
It’s no exaggeration to say a river trip can be transformational for yourself, and your family. Beyond the pure fun of it, spending that kind of a time on a river can give you a kind of clarity, help you re-set your priorities, and create stronger bonds.
Nobody will ever say they’re bored.
Ok, so that all sounds great – but maybe you’re still wondering – will my kids like it? Maybe they’ll get bored being on the river multiple days? Won’t they miss their friends, their video games?
I was on a rafting trip in Utah once on the Green River with a bunch of kids. On the first night we were hanging out before dinner and one of the kids pulled out a Game Boy (it was 1999). I didn’t say anything (not my kid) but fortunately one of the guides did. The Game Boy disappeared for the rest of the trip. And the boy was fine and had a wonderful time – the next time I saw him he was teaching the other kids how to make whistles with strips of grass.
When we took our older son on his first trip on the John Day River in Oregon he was two. I was worried he’d get bored in the boat, so I bought a bunch of cheap little Matchbox cars and other toys at a consignment shop. I thought I’d need to unveil something new every day to keep him entertained. But it was completely unnecessary. He loved watching the river, his dad rowing, climbing around the dry bags. I was happy I had some extra snacks on hand, but as far as fun and entertainment went, we didn’t have to try so hard.
For me, a river trip is the perfect family vacation. My boys look forward to them and talk about them all year. So take the leap, make the call. You, and your kids, will have the time of your lives.
Think you’re ready for a family rafting trip? Here are some of the best trips for first-timers and families.