Updated: Apr 12, 2022
I recently had the privilege of interviewing Melinda Schoutens, co-author of the successful series, Fresh Air Kids Switzerland. We talked about the process of settling in Basel and how that led her to where she is today.
Setting In Basel
Melinda and Robert Schoutens arrived from the U.S. in 2007. They were excited to be in Basel and found the city to be welcoming and accessible with a great deal of green space. Like everyone, they also had challenges with the initial process of settling and as Melinda recounts, she quickly discovered that "no one was going to knock on my door and welcome me to the city." As Melinda describes,"I realized early on that I had to be pretty ambitious about putting myself out there." This meant joining different groups, meeting up with strangers and trying new things, often in an unfamiliar language. As she recalls, "having a sense of humour helped tremendously."
In those early days, having the courage to "put yourself out there" was essential to settling, but in Melinda's case, it also led to something greater. One of the first groups she joined was a Centrepoint hiking group. Here she was able to meet new people, explore the area, learn different hiking routes and how to read the markers of the Swiss trail system. The hikes that she did with Centrepoint during the week, she repeated on the weekend with her husband, and as she muses, "Once we saw the mountains and learned how easy it was with public transportation...we were hooked."
Fresh Air Kids
With their love of hiking now fully established, there was no question of stopping when their children arrived. So with kids in tow and much trial and error, they developed some useful techniques for managing the little ones on the trail. After many requests to share this information, Melinda and Robert then co-wrote Fresh Air Kids Switzerland, a beautifully designed book about hiking, available in English, French and German. The first in a series, this book is a wealth of knowledge for hiking with children, mapping 52 trails over the entirety of Switzerland, with some great tips for keeping your kids happy and engaged on the trail. Anyone who has children knows how essential this is.
Besides the useful information, this book also focuses on how hiking can help children to develop a love of nature, improving both their mental and physical health. This speaks to their personal experience as Melinda explains, "Even on our worst days at home in the city, when life is crazy, if we go outside for a little walk or hike...we are just so much better for it."
The Fresh Air Kids Switzerland series has now expanded to include two other books. My Book of Discoveries, an activity book specifically for hiking, and Hikes to Huts, a third book that details 32 hikes with overnight stays that are part of the Swiss mountain hut system.
The Journey Continues
Hiking still continues to be a big part of their lives and as Melinda says, "it's become an extension of who we are as a family." They are constantly mapping new routes and adapting new techniques to add to their series of books. "Even though we are seasoned hikers with kids, there is still so much to learn."
As their children get older, approaching the pre-teen years, Melinda explains the importance of adding an element of excitement into the hike, whether it be zip-lining, snow-tubing or a sled run, "Something that gives them that feel of adventure." She also emphasizes the importance of giving them more choice; providing them with options and allowing for their input before trips are planned.
Ultimately what started as an effort to meet new people and explore the Basel area has now become a life-long passion. As Melinda says,"Some of our happiest days are on the trails," and I think we can all learn a little from that sentiment.