We have a treasure map in our family. It is worn and ragged, with the creases folded so many times that they have split in places.
The corners are dog eared and there are scratchings and notes all over it. It doesn’t lead to treasure though; the map is the treasure.
It is the record of a major road trip we took as a family a few years ago. The reason it is so treasured is because it began its life as a pristine new roadmap six months before we left home, and slowly became what it is today. It was transformed by all of us over the course of our preparations and travels, each person contributing to the wear and tear – and wonder.
Once we had decided the general route and areas we were planning to visit, we laid out the map and gave the kids a coloured marker each. They could research and think about all the places they wanted to go, locate them on the map, then mark them with a numbered dot. Alongside the map was a key, with numbers matching the dots on the map and accompanying information so we could recognise what it was and why it was there.
At first it started slow, but soon everyone got the hang of the project and dots started appearing. Our daughter, five at the time, is horse-crazy and so we began looking into farms and museums and parks with an equestrian flavour. A dot appeared at a working horse farm and visitor centre – one stop we couldn’t miss, as well as several cowboy and equestrian museums for good measure. As the weeks crept by, the colours expanded and started to fill the crisscrossed roads.
What it meant was that when we finally got on the road, our itinerary could be incredibly flexible, and yet, whichever way we turned, there would be something to do. We would wake up in the morning and consult the twin authorities of the weather forecast and the map. If storms or rain threatened, we would look for where it was clearer and what we had set aside to do there. With favourable conditions we would steer a course to the biggest concentrations of activities or sites to visit, keeping an eye on where we might also go next.
Of course, not every dot got visited, but our youngest got to see real fossilised dinosaur footprints in the rocks at his feet, our eldest rode roller coasters that made us shudder just to watch and our daughter spent two whole days exploring the horse park – amongst so many other amazing things. As the trip wore on, we checked off numbers on the list and a dark line wiggled its way across the map in testament to our travels.
It may not be the most orthodox way to plan a trip, but our treasure map proved to be perfect for giving us options and ensuring everyone had some input into the vacation. We made sure we visited the different coloured dots pretty evenly and the variety of things to see and do made for great experiences. What’s more, the map is now a lasting record of where we went and what we did, right down to the coffee stains and torn edges that help tell the story. There is no ‘X’ marking the spot on our treasure map, because the treasure is everywhere we went.