Spring and summer travel is here, and parents are ready to get kids out of the house and on the road or in the air. But before kicking off their dream vacation, parents are left with the difficult task of packing for everyone in the family. And while it may be as simple as outfits and skincare for adults, packing for kids requires much more preparation, thought, and consideration.
As a parent, I tend to be more on the laxer side of the screen time debate. I know letting my kids have an extra 30 minutes on their devices can be just what I need to keep my sanity in check. However, when we travel, I prefer to limit screens as much as possible.
I find that while offering screen time can keep my kids calm and make for an easier trip in the short term, often the stress over devices losing charge, not working, or even inducing nausea make them not worth bringing in the long run.
My family has taken several road trips in our Subaru, the longest being our drive from New York to Ohio when my kids were 6 and 3. While we did endure the occasional whine, my kids were able to manage without a device in their face for a few hours.
We are heading out on the road again, this time to Washington D.C., and I plan to use some of my tested strategies as well as some new ones, to help make the trip a calm and enjoyable experience.
Read on to see my plans for a screen-free road trip.
Family vacations during school breaks are always something to look forward to and can still be enjoyed even in the era of COVID-19. Thankfully, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise domestic travel is safe for fully vaccinated individuals who wear a mask in public. If your children are too young for the vaccine, the CDC recommends you limit your travel to a short road trip to a location with outdoor activities that allow for social distancing.
Read on for ways to enjoy vacationing with your family in these unique times.
A few days after our family trip to Cape May, N.J., I can still smell the salty, sea air and feel the cool, ocean breeze on my skin.
I am no stranger to the beach; I grew up in Queens, within an hour’s drive of Long Island’s popular shores, took yearly trips to Virginia Beach as a kid, traveled to the beaches of the Carribean and the Middle East, and, more recently, spent many summers at the more northern points of the Jersey Shore.
Cape May N.J. has a lot of what you might find in any beach town, small shops selling ice cream, souvenirs, or beach gear, restaurants on the water and a walkable pathway that runs along the edge of the beach. However, what makes Cape May stand out is the charm of the town.
Cape May N.J. is dotted with beautiful Victorian homes and quaint shops. In proximity to our hotel, was just one small grocery store, and I can’t recall seeing a single chain restaurant or major retail store. Of course, this could make living in Cape May year-round challenging, which I can’t speak to, but if you enjoy an escape from the hustle and bustle of busier areas, a visit to Cape May may be right for you.
Since the world stopped earlier this year, our November trip to Disney World was a beaming light of hope. By then, surely, the pandemic would be under control, or at least manageable enough to allow us to travel without too much worry.
But, as the months went by and the COVID-19 cases went up, our Disney trip seemed like less and less of a possibility. Still, I stayed positive.
Numbers were declining in my state — once an epicenter for the New Coronavirus — and I was encouraged when Disney World opened its doors again this summer. I followed along with the ever-changing protocols, rationalizing the sacrifices we would have to make would be worth it to go.
Sure, I thought, the masks might feel odd, and the characters won’t hug us, but the crowds would be smaller, and the parks will be cleaner than they’ve ever been.
I told myself not too feel bad if this was the first experience the kids had with Disney World. They’ve never been, they wouldn’t know any better. But, I have, and I know better. Yet, I convinced myself all the restrictions and changes would be a minor price to pay to give my children the chance at something magical in an otherwise difficult year.
I held on to the hope as the months, weeks and days drew closer to our planned trip. I sent countless emails back and forth to our agent, making and re-making dining reservations, I spent hours one morning to snag our set of limited park tickets, all the while knowing our trip would likely be postponed.
And, today, was that day.
Today was when I sent the email asking our agent to move our trip to next year.
That dream we had all the way back in the beginning of 2020, before COVID-19 was a word in my vocabulary, that dream was now gone. Well, not gone, but delayed.
As, I write this, I hear how incredibly privileged I am to even have entertained the thought of a Disney World vacation. When so many have suffered tremendous loss both in terms of life and livelihood, I know some mom whining about not being able to take a trip to Disney is the least thing the world needs right now.
So, I write this with no intention of anyone to feel sorry for me. I have no right to elicit sympathy, nor comfort. Those are things we should grant to those truly suffering, because there is plenty of suffering and not enough sympathy to go around.
But, I will permit myself to feel just a little bit sad about these now canceled plans. I will take a moment to grieve the loss of what I had hoped would have been a special trip for my family.
I will wallow and bitch about the state of America and how if we could have only gotten our act together fewer people would have died, and I would get to watch my youngest get a hug from Cinderella and my oldest wield a lightsaber against a Sith lord.
So, please, forgive me for being petty and whiny. I am aware of how foolish I sound.
Then again, maybe you are like me, maybe you had a big trip planned, or you were hoping for a huge wedding, or you thought you would be celebrating your kid’s graduation with hundreds of people, or your family has yet to meet your new baby, or you will be alone on Thanksgiving.
I want you to know you are allowed to feel devastated about all of it. Feeling sad over what you lost doesn’t make you any less appreciative of what you have.
I am so grateful for all the incredible people and comforts I have in my life. I thank God, and hope a canceled Disney vacation is the worst thing that happens to our family this year.
Because while we may not get to experience the magic of Disney World, we have had plenty of joy and happiness right in our own home. We have found new ways to connect and appreciate one another, all while managing a challenging year.
And our Disney Dream isn’t over, it’s just on hold until next year.
Unpredictable moods, constant whining and non-stop hunger make traveling with children a daunting task for families. And, while many parents, including me, are grateful for the wealth of tech products to keep our kids entertained, often we need, or want, to leave the gadgets behind.
Whether you are a tech-free family or your devices simply ran out of power, there are lots of reasons to turn to old school forms of entertainment on your next family road, air or train trip.
I asked my followers on Facebook to share their tech-free tips for keeping kids occupied and happy while traveling, and they delivered. Continue reading →
Every few months or so, I mull over the idea of planning a family trip to Disney World. I go online, research the best hotels, compare vacation packages and express my interest in Disney to a chorus of responses from friends who are Disney vacation planners, or know people who are Disney vacation planners.
The process overwhelms me, as I am confronted with the reality of how difficult — and expensive — a Disney World trip can be for families, not to mention how hard visiting the Happiest Place On Earth is for anyone traveling outside a very narrow selection of dates.
So, I table my plans and think, maybe another time, all the while wondering if I am depriving my children of some magical experience they will only appreciate when they are young.
It doesn’t help that my six-year-old has never been that into Disney or most other “fantasy.” I swear the kid was basically born an adult.
My younger son, however, loves princesses and make believe and all things magical.
He is four, which means soon, he too will have no interest in childhood fantasies.
I often worry I’m depriving him of the opportunity to have his dreams come true.
But, then I think about how magic can come from anywhere.
I am reminded simple joys can mean the world to a child.
On a family trip to Mystic, Conn., we decided to drive about 25 minutes away to watch the Connecticut Tigers, a minor-league affiliate of the Detroit Tigers. Continue reading →
If you love history, quaint shops, museums or beaches, Mystic, Conn., is a great choice for families looking to spend a long weekend out of town.
Located about a two-to-three hour drive from most points originating in either the New York Metro area or the Boston Metro area, Mystic has long been a popular destination for families looking for a little bit of everything on their vacations.
Where To Stay
Because we booked our trip somewhat last minute, and it was over the July 4 holiday, our hotel choices were limited — a lesson learned for the future about how popular this town is during the summer. Also, we were looking for options best suited for families, which narrowed our options.
At first, I was disappointed we couldn’t find something at one of the quainter hotels in Mystic’s more historic areas, but once we checked in, I knew we made the right choice.
The Residence Inn is located right off the the I-95 exit and is just minutes from Mystic Seaport and Mystic Aquarium, making it super easy for families to get their desired tourist attractions. Access to an indoor pool was also a huge plus for my kids, when they needed to get some energy out before bedtime.
For our family of four, the room (which included a separate living space with kitchen and pull-out couch) was sufficient for our three-night stay, but was a bit cramped. I would opt for a bigger suite if we were to return.
What To Do
Of course, we weren’t in our rooms much, with all that Mystic has to offer.
Our first stop was Mystic Seaport, a sprawling, outdoor museum dedicated to preserving and educated the public on the area’s rich maritime history.
Visitors can explore an old whaling ship, learn how people lived in the 19th century and discover the science behind sailing and other maritime activities.
For families with younger children, there’s a wonderful children’s museum on site, in which kids can pretend to be sailors, cook in an old-fashioned kitchen and learn how to tie sailor knots. Best of all, the museum is included with your Seaport admission.
Depending on when you visit, Mystic Seaport has many special events for your enjoyment. We were able to go on July 4 and watch the parade, but the highlight for me was learning to play croquet. Our family had so much fun learning the game we decided to buy croquet set of our own!
My six-year-old loves learning about sharks, and I’m almost certain we have read every library book available on these fascinating sea creatures. When our family had the opportunity to visit Mystic Aquarium this summer, I was eager for him, and his brother, to see some sharks and other marine life up close.
From the time we walked in, our family was impressed by the size of the aquarium. The facility boasts plenty of outdoor and indoor exhibits — be prepared to do a lot of walking — and remember with small children, it can be hard to visit everything, so focus on what interests you.
Exploring their surroundings through touch, is one of the main ways children learn about the world. They love to get their hands on everything — often things which are dangerous, expensive or both. This love for grabbing all the things, can make visiting museums tough for families with small children.
Their acceptance and even insistence that kids manipulate and interact with their exhibits is why I love science museums. Children are curious beings, and offering them opportunities to see how things work is crucial for their development. Nothing beats seeing a child’s eyes widen in wonder at the sight of something remarkable.
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