Why I (For Real!) Love Traveling With My Kids
“Please. Please, just try for Mommy,” I said, kneeling on the airport bathroom floor next to my three-year-old. She whimpered again, tears in her eyes, terrified of the automatic flush. I knew she had to use the toilet, and we were 15 minutes from boarding. This was not how I had pictured the start of my first family vacation.
When I had announced my plans to travel with my husband and two children, ages 3 and 5, from New York to Colorado for a week-long family reunion, I received mixed reactions from friends. There were those who told me I was crazy to travel with young children, and those who said we would make memories to cherish forever.
“Just…lower your expectations,” came the sound advice of one level-headed friend, who had traveled around the world with her own kids. I knew it would be difficult; my children had never been on a plane, and it was a long flight. We would be staying in a house with five other families, including five grandparents and seven children under the age of 6. But it was in the heart of the Rocky Mountains. Perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have all of my side of the family together in one place. How could I say no?
But now, here I was, kneeling on the cold tile floor, texting my mommy friends for moral support. “Do you have any Post-it notes in your purse?” a friend asked, noting they were excellent for covering automatic flush sensors. Who carries Post-it notes in her purse? Finally, I pulled out the parent’s last remaining resource: bribery.
One pink vinyl Hello Kitty wallet from the airport gift shop later, my daughter used the toilet and we were good to go. Next stop: Denver!
I have been blessed with well-behaved children, so I was not overly concerned about the flight. It was mostly a matter of keeping them occupied for the duration. We had loaded the iPad with Dora the Explorer episodes, brought snacks and games, and then my husband and I became the in-flight activity directors. “All right, I got this,” I thought, proud of myself for the foresight to consult Pinterest before packing for the trip. I had it all: coloring books, Wikki Stix, peanut butter crackers, and gummy bears. At the end of the flight, the generous pilot invited the kids to sit in the cockpit, and we took two of the best pictures of our trip: the kids flying the plane. They were elated.
“This is so much fun,” I thought. That is, until we got to the car rental place.
Anyone who has children knows that there are only so many hours you can ask them to sit still. After a four-hour flight, hanging out for two hours in the lobby of a rental car office is not a lot of fun. There had been a mix-up at the rental office and we were stranded until our car arrived. Thus began the whining.
“I’m hungry… I’m bored… I’m tired.” And so was I.
When we finally arrived at our destination, we had been on the road for more than 12 hours.
“Remind me why we did this again,” I said to my husband. He looked at me with bleary eyes after driving two hours from the airport on winding mountain roads in the hot afternoon sun. Poor guy, I thought. This isn’t even his family. Had I brought everyone out here, halfway across the country, to be miserable?
And then we saw the mountains. And the elk.
Nothing quite beats the look of astonishment and wonder in your children’s eyes when they see something new for the first time.
“There’s snow, Mama!” shouted my son, pointing at the peaks of the Rockies. “But it’s summertime!”
“Look at that big deer!” my daughter said, eyes wide, as she gazed at a 700-pound elk, its antlers like a majestic tree. They ran to the fence to peer over at the huge animals.
Although we took hundreds of pictures during our weeklong stay in Colorado, there are a few that remain etched in my memory, one being that day we arrived, their small lithe bodies leaning over the fence, eager to catch a glimpse of the new landscape. It will stay with me forever.
By day, we hiked in the lower trails of the mountains, waded in cold mountain streams, watched a cowboy parade, and explored the local playground. At night we ate huge family dinners, and my children got their first taste of what it means to sit at the “kids’ table” together with the children of my cousins, slurping spaghetti and telling knock-knock jokes.
Yes, they stayed up too late and then threw tantrums because they were tired. They ate too much sugar and bumped their heads, claiming it was another cousin’s fault. It was loud all the time, children shrieking, parents laughing, people banging pots and pans and dropping glasses and shouting over board-game victories. There were several temporarily “lost” dolls and even one trip to the emergency room, but there were also new cowboy hats and several trips to the ice cream shop, elk sleeping in the front yard, and, it bears mentioning more than once, THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS.
As we flew home and I reflected on the trip, I remembered an essay I’d once read about Christmas by the writer Robert Fulghum, who says that Christmas “[is] just real life—only more of it all at once than usual.” Maybe that’s what traveling with children is, too. Fulghum writes: “And I suppose we will continue doing it all. Get frenzied and confused and frustrated and even mad. And also get excited and hopeful and quietly pleased. We will laugh and cry and pout and ponder… Hug and kiss and make a great mess. Spend too much. And somebody will always be there to upchuck or wet their pants…” Oh, yes.
And yet, just as I continue to celebrate every crazy and beautiful holiday, I will continue to travel with my family again and again and again—next time with a pack of Post-it notes.
Family-friendly ski resorts
For some people, winter weather means shoveling snow, long slow commutes, and hopefully escaping to a Caribbean island or a Florida beach for a little while. But for others, winter is the absolute best time of year for every member of the family. Yes, ski season is in high gear across the country, and we're psyched to share some of America’s most family-friendly ski resorts. BRETTON WOODS, New Hampshire, recently received Liftopia’s Best in Snow Award for family-friendly skiing in the Northeast. It’s got a great bunny hill and beginner stretches plus plenty to keep intermediate skiers busy. They’ve also got ski school and childcare. Lift tickets from $51. CRYSTAL MOUNTAIN, Michigan, has been honored by Ski Magazine and Liftopia. It’s got award-winning kids programs like crafts and adventure activities, plus ski school, great on-site restaurants, and a spa for when Mom & Dad need a break from the powder. Lift tickets from $19 (that is an amazing deal). KEYSTONE, Colorado, is where my wife and I took our kids to learn to ski. The teachers were patient and smart, the Rocky Mountains are a beautiful place to learn, and Keystone has an awe-inspiring gondola ride that will thrill the kids. My daughters really loved the sleigh ride dinner and the epic snow fort at the resort's Kidtopia activity area. Every parent will love that kids ski free at Keystone if you stay at least two nights, no exceptions, no blackout dates. Lift tickets from $62.
Deal of the Day: Your Mt. Rushmore Summer Vacation Starts NOW
Is this the summer you finally see Mt. Rushmore up close? We've got a deal from Travelzoo that nabs you two nights in midsummer at The Lodge at Mt. Rushomore from $169. The lodge is minutes from the monument, one of America's must-see sites, and this deal saves you up to 50 percent off typical midsummer rates. You'll enjoy two nights at a TripAdvisor four-star hotel plus complimentary hot breakfast, parking, and Wi-Fi. Families will especially love the heated indoor pool and quick drive (and complimentary parking pass!) to Mt. Rushmore National Monument. And exploring other local attractions such as the Wild West town of Deadwood, Badlands National Park, and the iconic Wall Drug ("America's Favorite Rest Stop") makes this an unforgettable summer vacation. To learn more or book your stay, click here.
How I (Finally) Learned to Ski
A while back, I admitted in Budget Travel's “Ski Resort Survival Guide” (in our November/December 2013 issue) that I had never skied. I had no idea where my confession, tossed in to spice up a Trip Coach column, would lead. When the folks at a major Rocky Mountain ski resort read my story, they suggested that I pay them a visit and finally learn. I took about three minutes to consider their invitation. The potential drawbacks in learning to ski in the Rockies—I can’t see well enough to drive, I take an hour to learn dance steps that others master in seconds, I get migraines at altitude—seemed a little whiny. The potential benefit—that I would finally be one of those guys who gracefully glide down a mountain—was tantalizing. Of course I took them up on their offer. In February, my wife and two young daughters and I flew to Colorado for a week at Keystone Resort. A FAMILY-FRIENDLY RESORT “Do we have to go all the way to Colorado?” was my daughters’ surprising first question. My next step was to find out if a western ski vacation was something we’d enjoy. Budget Travel’s photo editor, Whitney Tressel, gave me an enthusiastic thumbs-up—her recent ski trips to Utah’s Snowbird, Deer Valley, and Park City, and Colorado’s Breckenridge had been unforgettable. Encouraged, my family and I found Keystone’s website an inspiring way to plan our visit. My daughters couldn’t get enough of the photos of snow-peaked mountains and pine forests. I, of course, eyeballed those slick families skiing together—that was gonna be us! My wife, Michele, a visual artist and native Californian, was drawn to the sheer beauty of the place—and to its menu of spa treatments involving hot stones, botanicals, and other delights. AN UNBEATABLE DEAL I needed to make sure the resort was a bargain, of course. Keystone participates in the extraordinary EPIC ski pass program—a season pass gets you on the slopes at Park City, Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, Canyons, Heavenly, Northstar, Kirkwood, Afton Alps, Mt. Brighton, and Arapahoe Basin. In addition, Keystone has a “kids ski free” policy, with no blackout dates or exceptions. We learned that you can rent a gorgeous townhouse (with frequent free shuttles to the ski areas) or book a traditional hotel room for well under $200 at the Inn at Keystone (a very short walk from the ski runs!), with plenty of options in between. ALTITUDE! We arrived at the airport in Denver late in the evening and boarded a shuttle for the two-hour ride up into the mountains. Considering that we were traveling with sleepy kids ages 6 and 11, the ride was smooth and scenic in a dark, we’re-not-in-New-York-anymore kind of way. The next morning, we hit River Run Village, the resort’s “downtown,” for breakfast, browsing for souvenirs, and getting used to the serious altitude. We giggled when we noticed that everybody seemed to be moving with a loping “moonwalk” stride thanks to their clunky ski boots. SUITING UP When it was time for our lesson, my daughters and I opted for a private teacher. Experts often recommend that adults and kids take separate lessons because the teaching methods for big and little ones can differ greatly—and the kids’ ski programs at Keystone are clearly first-rate—but I felt strongly that I wanted to see my girls learn to ski, and that they might enjoy watching me conquer my fear of, um, everything and become one of those skiers I’d always secretly wanted to be. We met our teacher, Stephen, and spent about a half-hour getting fitted with helmets, boots, and ski rentals. Rather than tell you how to choose the best ski gear, I’ll suggest that you rely on an excellent, enthusiastic teacher like Stephen, who made the process look easy. I should also note that “extra” gear such as hand warmers, gaiters, and ski socks are not “extras” at all but absolutely necessary. During last winter’s polar vortex, I got sort of hooked on super-warm ski socks—some are wool, others are microfiber. Suited up, we were soon doing that loping moonwalk we’d found so amusing. (You get used to it pretty fast.) LEARNING CURVES Our first lesson was halfway up Dercum Mountain, a short ride on the River Run gondola. A far cry from the creaky wooden chairlifts I’d been worried we’d find, the gondola was completely enclosed and smooth, at least when the wind was mild. (In high winds, the gondola closes and the chairlift is the only way up—or down.) We hoppedoff at the mid-mountain bunny slope and Stephen showed us how to get in and out of our skis. My 11-year-old, Clara, a basketball and lacrosse player, got it in about two minutes. My 6-year-old, Rosalie, a dancer and gymnast, got it in about five minutes. Let’s just say I’m still obsessively reviewing in my 0mind how to master the fine art of stepping in and out of skis. This established a pattern for the remainder of our lessons. Stephen demonstrated how to glide down a gentle grade and stop by turning your skis inward, forming a triangle, or “pizza,” as they say in kids’ ski school. Clara? Got this. Rosalie? Got this. Me? Instead of stopping, I popped out of my skis and fell on my face in the snow. “Double ejection!” exclaimed Stephen, delighted. “I’ve never seen that before!” After a few hours, we took a lunch break with Michele in River Run Village and swapped stories: Her morning at Keystone’s spa was pretty much paradise. She also shared her drawings of the mountains—there’s nothing like the Rockies to inspire an artist to break out her sketch pad. (Lunch and all our other dining experiences at Keystone—from burgers to a fondue feast at the summit to a sleigh-ride dinner that took us up to an old homestead in the woods—were truly exceptional.) Because the girls had mastered gliding and stopping, post-lunch we hopped back on the gondola for the ride to the summit, where a more challenging learners’ slope awaited. Up there, with 360 views of the surrounding mountains, the kids got better and better, practicing run after run. I was content simply to remain vertical, mostly, and to practice easy turns and stops. I started snapping photos and enjoying watching my girls laughing and swooshing around, asking smart questions, and having a blast. After that first day, our week of lessons flew past—and just got better and better. Finally, it hit me: This trip was never about me. This was about giving my children the opportunity to become those girls—the ones who fearlessly glide down a mountain. Am I ever going to move beyond “beginner”? I still hope so. But I’ll tell you what: Clara and Rosalie are already asking on a regular basis, “When are we going back to Colorado?” A KID’S VIEW OF THE MOUNTAIN My daughter Clara loves to read (including Budget Travel) and write. On our visit to Keystone Resort, Clara, who was 11 at the time, took notes, and I suggested that if she took the “assignment” seriously, I would consider sharing her thoughts with BT readers. Here, Clara’s “kid’s-eye view” of Dercum Mountain and our skiing lessons: What I remember most about Keystone and learning to ski is the gondola rides up and down the mountain. I felt like I was flying up higher and higher in a magic cube. When we got out halfway up the mountain, I gazed at the gondolas, like little boxes, moving up, faster than I had felt in the actual vehicle. On the way down, I watched the antlike people and the toy-size buildings grow bigger and bigger as we made our way down. The gondolas were not only handy but magical, especially to me, a newbie. I will say that learning to ski was both fun and scary. Getting in and out of the skis was always tiresome, but the fun and exhilarating ride that came after made up for it! On my first try, I fell over twice, but after learning more, I was more confident and comfortable going downhill. At one point I questioned myself for trying to glide down a mountain on two thin slabs attached to my feet, but eventually I decided I was safe enough and not to question myself or my trainer any longer. At first I was scared to go flying down a hill very fast, but after learning simple tricks, like turning your head in the direction you want to go, I didn’t doubt my skill again. I certainly do appreciate the hard work that our teacher Stephen, my sister Rosie, Papa, and I had to go through so we could learn to ski, because it was really a fun, exciting, and lovely experience!
Fall Weekend Getaways Your Kids Will Love, Too
This article was written by Hallie Lavine and originally appeared on Yahoo Travel. Now that school’s back in session you can breathe a sigh of relief—and contemplate how to keep the rug rats entertained over long weekends and mini breaks. We’re here to help. These are 10 awesome autumn excursions guaranteed to be educational and fun (for the whole family!). Historical Boston Even if your kid detests history class, he or she will be enthralled by the Freedom Trail, a 2.5-mile, red brick road that takes you past historic churches, burial grounds, and even Paul Revere’s house so you can learn the story of the American Revolution and beyond. You can explore on your own, or you can take a 90 minute tour led by 18th century costumed guides. (For the easily bored, there’s a Pirates and Patriots version and also a Pub Crawl version.) Tickets are just $12 for adults, $6.50 for children. Once that’s over, it’s a quick walk to the Boston Tea Party Museum, a floating museum that has live actors and interactive exhibits (including allowing your little ones to toss tea into the harbor). Tickets are $25 for adults, $15 for children. If your kids are yearning for more historical re-enactments, drive an hour out of the city for an overnight getaway at Sturbridge Village, an 1830s New England living history museum. Tickets are $24 for adults, $10 for kids. Otherwise, consider the whale watch at the New England Aquarium. You’ll have to shell out a tad more dough at $49 for adults, $33 for children ages 3-11. Or check out the many interactive exhibits at the Boston Children’s Museum. It’s $16 for all ages. Related: Get Your Kids Ready for School: Amazing Educational Trips Family space camp Does your little guy pretend to be Buzz Lightyear? Consider booking the whole family at U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. You’ll go on simulated mission training and operations, learn how rockets are constructed, and get a crash course in on-site space history. One highlight: the 1/6th gravity chair, which simulates walking on the Moon, and the Manned Maneuvering Unit, which simulates astronaut spacewalks outside the shuttle. The jaunt will cost you $449 per person for three days, $499 per person for four days, with meals and lodging included. Colonial Williamsburg There’s no shortage of educational opportunities at this living history museum and historic district, which includes Revolutionary War reenactments, hands on opportunities at brick-making and digging for artifacts, and even dressing up as soldiers or undercover Colonial spies. You can easily spend two days here, then head over to historic Jamestown, which recreates life in the 1607 settlement, or visit one of the three plantations. Seven-day ticket pass for all is $89 for adults and $41 for kids. Balance it out with a day at nearby theme park Busch Gardens, where your littles can participate in the Animal Ambassador program and learn about the lives of critters ranging from eagles to wolves and foxes. Sleepover at the Smithsonian Bring your sleeping bag and flashlight and head over to one of three Washington D.C.’s Smithsonian museums—American History Museum, National History Museum, or the National Portrait Gallery—for an evening of entertainment that includes a nocturnal tour, craft activities, and various educational games. At night’s end, you “camp out” in the museum. The cost? $135 per person for kids ages 8-12. The next day, check out the National Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and the National Zoo, where you can say hi to three world famous pandas and stop by the Kid’s Farm, where children can groom donkeys, goats, alpacas, and hogs. Related: Tuck in Your Favorite Animals at These Zoo Sleepovers Digging for dinosaur bones The casino capital of the world also gives a great glimpse of what life was like when dinosaurs roamed the earth. The Las Vegas Natural History Museum boasts a prehistoric life gallery of critters who once roamed the Nevada deserts, including a 35-foot-long Tyrannosaurus Rex that lowers its head and roars, a Triceratops, Ankylosaur, and the giant marine reptile, ichthyosaur. The Nevada state museum offers a Dino summer special through September 20, which features an animatronic Tyrannosaurus rex and Triceratops, a Jurassic Park-style jeep journey through a virtual dinosaur world, and the opportunity to dig up life-sized dinosaur bones. Then hop in a car and drive either to Red Rock Canyon for a hike to check out fossilized Dinosaur tracks, or to Tule Springs to see Ice Age fossil beds—both are less than 20 miles away. Finish up with a visit to the Historical Techatticup Mine, the oldest, richest and most famous gold mine in Southern Nevada and a 45 minute drive from Vegas. ($12.50 for adults, $7.50 for kids.) Related: Dino Digs, Museums, and More: 10 Places to Get Your Paleo On Maritime adventures Head straight to sea with tickets to San Diego’s USS Midway Museum ($20 adults, $10 kids), a floating city that allows you to walk in the footsteps of 225,000 Midway sailors who served our country. Highlights include over 60 interactive exhibits, like playing on flight simulators and climbing aboard aircraft. Then head on over to the Maritime Museum ($16 adults, $8 children) which includes kid-friendly, seafaring-inspired exhibits. It has one of the world’s biggest collection of historic ships, including the world’s oldest active ship the Star of India, as well as educational excursions such as whale watching. Other non-nautical city highlights: animatronic dinosaurs at TheNAT San Diego Natural History Museum, hands-on science exhibits at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, and the San Diego Air & Space Museum, where kids can dress up as astronauts. Connor Prairie This interactive history park in Indiana ($16 adults, $11 kids) is a recreated 19th-century village on 200 acres. Among its highlights: an autumn headless Horseman ride, Civil War re-enactments, classes in blacksmithing, hearth cooking, and an “Indian camp” where you can recreate living like as Native Americas did 200 years ago. Once you’ve had your fill, drive to the Indiana Transportation Museum and take a spin on one of the vintage railroad trains, or the Children’s Museum in Indianapolis. Corning Museum of Glass A perfect East Coast weekend getaway, this museum, located in Corning, New York, in the Finger Lake region upstate, allows your kids to explore 3,500 years of glassmaking history while watching glass come to life during hot-glass demos. They’ll then make their own glass creations from ornaments to night lights. Cost: $18 for kids and adults. Afterwards, since you’re right in the neighborhood, you can pop into the Norman Rockwell Museum, or, if your kids are tuckered out, wake them back up with an invigorating hike on the Haunted History Trail or an apple-tasting tour. Fun with sea turtles Nesting season for sea turtles in Florida is May through October, so if you’re planning a trip to the Sunshine State this fall, your kids will love some close-up encounters with these critters. The Little Loggerhead Package at Palm Beach Marriott Singer Island Beach Resort & Spa includes a visit to see the sea turtles at Loggerhead Marinelife Center, while adventurous kids over age 10 can search for turtles and other marine life with the Beginners Dive Package. Acqualina Resort and Spa in Miami offers Acquamarine, a complimentary, marine biology-inspired program for kids which also includes a sea-turtle-based outreach program during the summer and early fall. But if you’re planning a Florida trip after sea turtle season, don’t fret: Acqualina offers its sea learning program all year round, while other hotels such as the Ritz Carlton in Naples has a Nature’s Wonders camp, led by a professional conservationist and featuring 11 aquariums with sharks, crabs, turtles, and eels, as well as a kid-sized lab with microscopes for budding marine biologists. All these programs are stimulating enough that you won’t feel guilty about taking some alone time to lounge poolside. Safari at Grand Teton National Park You don’t have to schlep your entire crew to Africa to give your kids the educational experience of a safari. Instead, book a morning or all-day trip through the nonprofit Wildlife Expeditions in Jackson, Wyoming, which offers an introduction to the wildlife of Grand Teton National Park, part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Trained biologists will point out the best viewing spots for Park critters such as elk, moose, big horn sheep, bison, mule deer, foxes, and eagles (You may even be able to see wolves hunting during the winter months!) and give your kids a crash course in ecology and animal behavior. Then, explore on your own with your kids through the park’s Junior Ranger program, where you learn about the natural world of the park on an easy 2-mile hike with a ranger. Resorts like Hotel Terra also offer in-house naturalists who can also organize smaller wildlife safaris or take your family on a nighttime stargazing tour.