Tag Archives: traveling with kids

Jumping the Pond…With Kids

   

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!

Inspiration on the road

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I love road trips. There’s something about watching the landscape shift as it zips past, framed by the car window, that puts me at ease. And while I used to spend any time I had in the car doing something “productive” like knitting, reading, or (I can’t believe I’m saying this) working, more and more I’m just letting myself be. And that’s exactly what I did on our trip to New Orleans last week. For the most part, it was heavenly. Our boys travel well and we planned several stops along the way to keep us all entertained.

One of our absolute favorite stops was a bit of an afterthought. We were telling friends about our plans to visit St. Louis to see the Gateway Arch when they mentioned the City Museum. So we went. I have one word for the City Museum: WOW. If you have a creative bone in your body (you know you do), you must check this place out. Housed in an old multi-level shoe factory downtown, the City Museum is basically a huge indoor and outdoor playground for kids of all ages, constructed entirely of recycled items. There are miles of tunnels to crawl through that lead to entire underground worlds, old airplanes to explore, giant metal “bird” cages to climb through, vintage fire trucks to play in, and amazing slides, including one that corkscrews down from a height of 10 stories. (See boys in entrance to one of the outdoor slides above)

But for me I think the best part was noticing the creative ways the museum made use of things that would otherwise be tossed in the trash. Take, for instance, this valance of vintage neck ties (below, left). How cool is that?  Or this nifty use of old floor grates as a unique wall covering? (below, right) Inspiration was everywhere, and I couldn’t stop snapping photos. We spent five hours exploring every nook and cranny and the boys still did not want to leave. I think this might be my happy place.

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We headed on down the road and had lunch the next day at Mammy’s Cupboard, a roadside attraction from days gone by just outside of Natchez, Mississippi. And can you believe this fantastic use of a screen door below? They backed it with cool fabric and used it to block the view into the kitchen. (If you haven’t read it already, check out my earlier post on my fondness for old screen doors.) This place also served a banana caramel cream pie that was to die for, blueberry lemonade, and blueberry chutney. Now I know what to do with the rest of those Canadian blueberries in my freezer.  I was in heaven.

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We did eventually make it to sunny, hot Louisiana, where the air was heavy and smelled faintly floral. In St Francisville (this is where we are above, right), a small town north of Baton Rouge that I absolutely love, I woke up early one morning and headed out for a run through fog so thick I could barely make out the silhouette of the live oaks, draped in Spanish moss, in the park next door. New Orleans was a mess of torn up roads and construction, but I loved it just the same. We visited family (ate), made the obligatory beignet stop at Cafe du Monde (ate), strolled through the French Market, had muffulettas from the Central Market (ate), watched a couple of hours of amateur magic shows in Jackson Square, and managed to find the dog in the mini coffin that plays dead for money (the boys really wanted to see this!). Finally we made our way back north, where it’s been cool and dreary. But I’m still warm, thinking of the sunburn that kissed the back of my neck a week ago today. And best of all, I’ve returned with about a half dozen inspiring ideas for crafty projects bouncing around in my head that I’m anxious to try when I find a spare moment. Those are better than any souvenir money can buy.