American Nomad Blog
About this blog
American Nomad covers the best of U.S. travel—from vacation deals to festivals, weekend getaways, travel tips, and more. A seasoned traveler and Moon author, Laura is the perfect guide to help discover new gems when traveling domestically.
- A Southern Girl's Wintertime Adventure in Yellowstone
- One Novelist's Odyssey Across America
- Gearing up for a Family Camping Trip
- Mint Juleps and More at Oak Alley Plantation
- Avoiding Identity Theft While on Vacation
- Money-Saving Travel Tips from Nomadic Matt
- Fashion, Fun, and Convenience for the Modern Traveler
- In Search of Irish Museums Across America
- The Inspiring Journey of a Solo Kayaker
- Getting Fit for Treks in Yosemite and Elsewhere, Part 2
- Getting Fit for Treks in Yosemite and Elsewhere, Part 1
- Experiencing Yosemite with YExplore
- Two Travel Contests Worth Mentioning
- A Word About the TSA's No-No List
- A Reader's Advice About Airport Security
Fostering Wanderlust in Young Travelers, Part 1
Since Monday, when I shared my top three national park picks for summertime travel, I've understandably had the great outdoors on the brain. In truth, it's always been that way.
When I was younger, I adored fishing with my dad in the bayous of southeastern Louisiana, relished camping with my friends in the woods of southern Mississippi, and treasured road trips with my mom, who took me to some of America's most treasured places, from the Great Smoky Mountains to the Niagara Falls. As an adult, I've traveled to even more amazing locales with Dan, my husband and – as I've noted many times before – favorite traveling companion. Since our relationship began in the summer of 1999, we've explored many of America's national parks, from Yosemite and the Grand Canyon to the Everglades and Sleeping Bear Dunes. Along the way, we've also experienced some of the country's best state-operated parks, including California's Malibu Creek State Park, Arkansas' Crater of Diamonds State Park, Florida's John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, and Michigan's Hartwick Pines State Park.
While I've certainly seen more of this country with Dan than with anyone else, I'd be remiss if I didn't thank my mom – and, to a lesser extent, my dad – for my lifelong wanderlust. After all, it was the numerous road trips that I took with them as a child that inspired me to keep traveling and, ultimately, become a travel writer. So, just as learning how to swim or speak a foreign language is easier to do as a child – and more likely to become a lasting skill the earlier it's adopted – traveling ought to be a part of everyone's life as soon as possible. Traveling with your family can be especially rewarding, enabling you to spend quality time with those you love, pursue group interests, share one-of-a-kind experiences, and create lifelong memories. Of course, I realize that I was lucky to catch the travel bug at such a young age; not everyone has that blessed opportunity. Still, whether you're able to travel or not, reading about distant places when you're young will often motivate you to embark on road trips and other adventures when you're older.
Recently, I discovered a book that simultaneously encourages children to explore distant places, provides entertainment for young travelers on long road trips, and offers a slew of handy travel tips. Written by Michigan native (and award-winning author) Michael A. DiLorenzo and illustrated by Jenniffer Julich, Adventures with Jonny: Road Trip to the Parks! (Clinton Township, MI: Running Moose Publications, Inc., 2012, $17.95) is more than just a family travel guide to the national and state parks of America and Canada. Although the second half of the book does include helpful safety guidelines, hiking and camping advice, general travel tips, road game suggestions, key animal descriptions, and basic information about several national parks, from Guadalupe Mountains to Banff, the first half features a rhyming, well-illustrated children's story about Jonny and his family as they prepare for and embark upon an old-fashioned road trip to North America's national parks. On each page of the story, children can participate in a “funtivity,” such as trying to locate 20 hidden arrowheads inside a visitor center. As a bonus, the illustrator has even concealed her name (“JNNFFR”) in each scene.
Admittedly, I noted a few mistakes here and there and, on occasion, an awkward rhyme or two, but overall, the book is a lot of fun. It's also the fourth in Michael's Adventures with Jonny series, which includes Let's Go Fishing! (2006), Ice Fishing!: The Coolest Sport on Earth (2007), and Bows, Does & Bucks: An Introduction to Archery Deer Hunting (2010). As it states on his website, Michael is “a married father of three and a passionate fan of his home state of Michigan.” He's “logged countless hours fishing the state's abundant rivers and lakes. Introduced to fishing by his father, Michael has enjoyed doing the same for his son and two daughters – teaching them to fish at a young age and towing them around the Great Lakes State through all four seasons of fishing.” Not surprisingly, he looks forward to many more outdoor adventures with his family.
What's equally not surprising is that the “Jonny” character in Michael's Adventures with Jonny series was inspired by a real person: the author's son, Jon. Essentially, Michael created the series “to introduce kids to outdoor fun in the hopes that the outdoors will become a key part of their lives to be enjoyed forever. Today's structured activities, along with television, video games, and computers, deny children the exciting life lessons and opportunities that await them outdoors. To run without a coach, to play without instructions, and to learn without a lesson plan are but a few of the many benefits that outdoor adventures can give children.”
Intrigued by Michael's family-friendly series, I decided to interview him for my American Nomad blog. Here, then, is the first part of that interview:
American Nomad: According to your bio, you started the Adventures with Jonny series in order “to entertain and educate children about the great outdoors and the adventures that eagerly await them.” I'm wondering, though, what specifically inspired you to start the series. Was it a way to spend time with your own children? Were you disappointed by the kinds of kid-friendly travel books available at the time?
Michael DiLorenzo: I wrote the Adventures with Jonny series due to my overall disappointment in the direction that we are raising our children today and the lack of outdoor influence in their lives. Parents over-schedule and over-sport their kids to death today, and once they're out of high school, there is a huge void in their lives as their pastimes have passed, and all of their time (and their families’ time) was spent on that.
As parents, we are not raising kids, we are raising adults. It is up to us to prepare them for their overall lifelong journey, and there are so many life lessons that can be gleaned from their participation in the outdoors. Not to mention that outdoor family time is just that, family time. No coaches or outsourced instruction, and no child sits on the sideline while a sibling plays a game. It’s “all in” for everyone in the family.
I want children to make the outdoors their playground now so that they will take care of it then, when they are adults. We also need to provide our kids (future adults), with an escape when societal pressures take their toll. Again, the outdoors does this, too.
Oh, and by the way, the outdoors are multigenerational, so once again, it's “all in” for all in the family, including aunts, uncles, and grandparents. Try having a meaningful conversation with anyone during a soccer game – not going to happen. Conversation abounds during fishing, camping, hunting, and other outdoor adventures, oftentimes from other family mentors, helping to round out your child’s growth.
The Adventures with Jonny series is designed to pique a child’s interest in the activity at hand but also to educate them so as to maximize their family outdoor experience. And that is why I say, “If you give your child the gift of the outdoors, you will give them a gift for life!”
AN: What do your kids think of the Adventures with Jonny series? Do they have a favorite?
MD: My kids, especially Jonny, enjoy being in the series, as do all of the adults that have also been made into characters within the Jonny series. Once they know they're going to be in a book, the adults inquire more frequently than the kids do about its progress and release.
My son’s favorite book is the original fishing book, Let's Go Fishing! My daughters and wife all prefer the latest Road Trip to the Parks!
AN: You've packed a lot of fun stuff and helpful information pertaining to parks, travel, and animals in Road Trip to the Parks! How do you research for a project like that? And do you work closely with your illustrator in the preproduction phase?
MD: I spend a lot of time in the field and on the road doing research as we do family outdoor activities. Specific to the Road Trip book, we drove our tails off around this country and were thrilled at every turn into another national park.
We work very closely with our illustrator, Jenniffer Julich. She is a talent beyond compare and has the remarkable ability to give my thoughts illustrated life. My wife, Laura, and Jenniffer work great together, and the two of them really get all the little details right.
AN: You state that the information listed in the rear of the book “was obtained through personal travel experience, ranger interviews, and the national park website at www.nps.gov.” So, speaking of personal travel experience, what are some of your favorite park trip memories with your own family?
MD: My favorite family road trip was our “Big Western Swing” to parks that included the Badlands, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Glacier, Mount Rushmore, and all the great stops in between. I also really dug introducing my son and his buddy to the high-adventure trekking that is Isle Royale National Park. My brother, Jonny's uncle, also was along – for that multigenerational flair.
Hopefully, this interview (as well as Michael's book) will encourage you to consider planning a family road trip to some of America's national and state parks. In the meantime, stay tuned for my next post, which will include the second half of my interview with Michael.
As always, I’m open to ideas for future posts. If you have any suggestions, burning questions, or destinations that you’d like me to explore in greater detail, please comment below or contact me via laura [at] wanderingsoles [dot] com.
Disclosure: While I occasionally accept free or discounted travel assistance when it coincides with my editorial goals, my opinion is never for sale, which means that everything written in my American Nomad blog and Moon travel guides is my unbiased reflection of the things that I see, do, and experience while traveling across the United States.
Book cover courtesy of www.adventureswithjonny.com / Text © 2012 Laura Martone