We did it! Remember back in January when I mentioned that a family adventure abroad was on my 2017 bucket list? Well, one big checkmark is in the books. We just returned from an 11-day jaunt around the south of England, and it was so much fun I immediately wanted to plan the next trip. (Truth be told, I actually did plan the next trip…but that won’t be happening anytime soon.)
This trip to England was totally a case of the stars aligning. We found a great deal on airfare and happened to have friends who’ve been living just north of London for the past couple of years. So we set up a time to Skype and talked about the possibilities. It turned out their spring break coincided with ours and they would be leaving for Cornwall the day we arrived, but they were fine with us staying at their place while they were away. We ended up arriving a couple of hours before they left, which gave us enough time to say hello and gather any details about caring for the flat. We planned to stay three nights before heading west ourselves to Winchester, Salisbury, Bath, and the Cotswolds. Then we would meet up with our friends in Stratford upon Avon to see Shakespeare sites, catch Julius Caesar at the Royal Shakespeare Company, and tour nearby Warwick Castle before driving back into London to spend the weekend at their place.
I won’t go into the day-to-day details, but I will say that traveling with kids made for a very different trip than those we’d taken in our pre-parenting days. But in a good way. I tend to be an over-ambitious traveler, who tries to pack as much as possible into each day. I knew this approach would not work this time around, so we purposefully planned light, flexible itineraries. Even at that, there was always one thing that dropped off the list each day, and we were okay with that.
Inevitably, we would become engrossed in the first museum or site we were visiting and spend more time there than we expected. When I say engrossed, I mean the kids were into it too. So we got in the habit of visiting the must-see site on the list first. Then we took the approach we learned when the boys were young–if they are happy playing at the park, or building with legos, or doing any other activity, relax and allow them time to enjoy it instead of rushing on to the next thing. This worked like a charm (for all of us!).
Our favorite sites? The Jane Austen house just outside of Winchester (see the boys clowning in hats above), the Tower of London, the Victoria and Albert Museum, Stonehenge at sunset, the Roman Baths in Bath, and the walk between Upper and Lower Slaughters in the Cotswolds. We found that a little decompressing time at the park or on a walk helped break up the day and gave the kids the freedom to run around. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that many of the museums did an excellent job of providing hands-on activities and scavenger hunts to keep the kids engaged. This wasn’t as crucial for my 12-year-old, but it was key for my 10-year-old, who seemed to thrive on finding every item on the list, giving us time to enjoy nearby exhibits (and maybe actually read about them!).
The days were long, so we always had breakfast before leaving the flat/airbnb, and grabbed food on the run for lunch BEFORE the kids had time to get hungry. If I were to do it all over again (and I’d love to), I’d pack sandwiches in the daypack for lunch. Buying lunch from food stands and restaurants got to be pricy, and the timing wasn’t always ideal. Plus, going to a grocery store should be a must on any trip…it’s a great way to see and try local food specialties.
And whenever we could, we tried to make our way back “home” early enough to spend time relaxing before bed. We started watching The Crown on Netflix before we left the States, and continued catching episodes at the flat or Airbnb in England. This was a fun “British” thing to do that still gave us the sense of comfort we get from cozying up to watch shows or movies together as a family at home. In fact we just watched the last two episodes in our own TV the other night. It’s good to be back, but I’m already looking forward to the next adventure. Any recommendations? I’d love to hear about your favorite places to visit, especially with kids. Happy Trails!