I am a father of FOUR boys and I've come to learn that spending just a little one-on-one time is vital. Each kid gets to know that I think about them specifically, and that they each have value to me. I've come up with a great way to maximize our time together and keep things interesting. This is how I “Dad Travel” in amazing South Dakota in just 36 hours.
Father Son Date in the State of Great
Being a dad is fantastic. It can also be overwhelming when you have more than one kid and you feel as though you may not be making the meaningful connection you want. It's a bummer to feel spread thin, like you aren't making the deep memories you know you want your kids to have. That's why I came up with an idea I call “Dad Travel.”
I take a day or two to travel with just one of the kids. Not only does this help lighten the load, but you can have less stressful and more attentive conversations one-on-one. Plus, this is a great way see things that YOU think are cool and share them with the most important people in the world.
Explore the Old West…on the Westside
If you want to try your hand at dad travel, one of the best places to explore is South Dakota. Wide open landscapes, road trip friendly spaces, amazing landmarks, and fantastic towns to drop in on. There is so much space in South Dakota, social distancing is as natural as the grass on the great plains (which, by the way, are also in South Dakota).
Boost your experience in an old West Boom Town
If you're coming from west to east, as I was, the first town you must drop into is Deadwood. This iconic town has been updated with stoplights and a freshly brick paved road, but still very much has the feel of its hay day. There's even a horse drawn carriage that rides through town and nowadays, there are a lot fewer gunfights to scatter from.
The best part about dad travel is that you get to take your kids to all the “cool” stores. We made sure to stop into the Deadwood Distilling Company. This old western saloon style store is exactly what you'd expect, with PLENTY to take home. There's all sorts of moonshine tasting and it's a great centering point for the whole town, where you'll find lots of interesting food and candy shops.
Here's a pro tip when it comes to dad travel… always ALWAYS bring home a little something for mom. I – being the professional that I am – selected a bottle of peach flavored Full Throttle Moonshine as well as a Margarita flavor. Always helps take the edge off for mom when you get home.
We also made sure to drop into Mind Blown Cafe for a mixed berry parfait. One of the best things about being a dad is being able to find all the good eats. Recent events had the Mind Blown Cafe on partial staffing with no glass blowing currently, but we knew it was a great place to stop from our whole family trip to South Dakota a little more than a year ago.
Drop in and see OLD friends
One of the best things about dad travel is that you get to tell your own story and experience things together as you see it. There's nothing wrong with traveling with the whole family, but this is a great way to put your own spin on any destination.
This was the second time Ahren (my son in the picture) had been to Mount Rushmore. However, he was much smaller the last time and with all his brothers running around talking about the presidential facts they learned in school, I never got to focus on HIM seeing the mountain for himself.
For a solid five minutes, I decided to act like he was CRAZY for seeing people's faces in the mountain. “WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?” I kept asking. What “guy in the mountain?” It was pretty darn funny to every grandmother walking by that overheard me asking him. Eventually, I gave in and admitted that there in fact WERE faces carved into the mountain.
Finding GOOD MEDICINE
Traveling as a two man team (well, one man and one boy) makes getting in and out of a lot of places much simpler. Crowds are at an all-time low right now, which makes sightseeing even more personal. Bringing my dad travel game to the famous Wall Drug Store in Wall, South Dakota, was even better than ever.
The narrowest chapel I have ever been in – right inside the Wall Drug Store – was remarkably empty. My prayers for a successful trip were that much more easily heard.
The fascinating thing about the Wall Drug Store is that it's a continuous chain of smaller eclectic stores. Clothing, Indian and cowboy memorabilia, restaurants, ice cream, even a candy shop. You can find most anything there! Ahren, without hesitation, found the fudge store. I even got to try my first pickled quail eggs.
Let me see that Bison Bison
As we worked our way from west to east, we easily found our way to the great plains. We made sure to stay in our car as we found the Great American Bison (also known as buffalo). As a father, hunter, and outdoorsman, this magnificent creature is not only amazing to behold in person, but represents such a fantastic and tragic part of our history.
This was a perfect opportunity to raise new ideas and concepts about who we are and where we come from with Ahren, who is constantly fascinated and deeply moved by his Native American heritage.
The buffalo, quite simply, represents the vastness of America and its wild spirit. I did have to tell my son, “No, we can not take one home.”
Always Better in the Badlands with Dad Travel
Less than two miles from where we sat and watched the magnificent buffalo have their evening snack, we rolled up to the South Dakota badlands. A storm was brewing on the horizon and we were treated to a very fast rain shower, with hail and winds up to 60 mph. I asked Ahren if he would ever want to live in such a place, but it was hard getting a straight answer through all his giggling and squealing laughter.
The Badlands of South Dakota are a landscape unto themselves. This national park is an easy drive with a number of animals to see along the way. It's always fun to imagine being there 200 years ago and wonder how you might live off the land, like so many Indians did for centuries.
Sunrise over Falling water: We reached Sioux Falls
As this trip was an intentional and convenient addition to a business trip I was already taking, I knew I wanted my last few hours to be spent somewhere easy and fun for Ahren. One of the simplest active sights along the way was Sioux Falls…in Sioux Falls. One of the best parts of dad travel is finding ways to just sit quietly (as quietly as a five year old can) and watch the thundering water roll by as the sun rises.
Taking a moment to teach my son to take a moment.
As the sun climbed onto its perch for the day, a red winged black bird flew down from its perch to terrorize joggers passing near the falls. Ahren almost choked laughing as the fitness-inclined man swatted feverishly at the tiny bird striking away at the top of his hat.
Time for the Bacon
Shortly after watching a little bird terrorize a full grown man, we headed off down the road to get breakfast. As I drove, I quickly did a search for donuts and found a location along the way on East 10th Street called Flyboy Donuts.
A quick walk inside, and we saw model airplanes hung from the ceiling along with photos of old vintage planes adorning the walls. It was SO nostalgic of all the time I spent at airshows as a kid. But that wasn't the best part. The best part was the obscenely over-the-top bacon covered maple bars (my favorite, even without the bacon). I did the best I could to control myself and ordered one. Just one. I know, crazy, right?
Ahren had to have two. I mean, how could one possibly expect a five year old to choose between a pink sprinkled donut and a white sprinkled donut with whip and a cherry on top? Come ON. As we prepared to head out of amazing South Dakota, we enjoyed our delicious sweet and savory breakfast treats.
If you plan on spending one on one time with your kids, I strongly consider doing some dad travel. And if you ever want a fantastic dad place to go, South Dakota is a wonderful place to start.