My tips for traveling with [older] kids

My son did the math for me recently – our daughter is almost in high-school, which means almost college, which means almost out of the house. (This is how I spiral, it’s ok) It’s only five years away. It goes fast. So fast. Fast fast fast FAST.

Traveling is one of our favorite ways to spend time together as a family. And it can be camping within our home-state of Michigan or flying to Florida for a long weekend, driving across the country for 6 weeks in the PNW or jumping the pond to immerse ourselves in other cultures.

Traveling with kids that aren't in diapers, don't scream, aren't crying because their ears hurt, can feed themselves, and are easily entertained .... Game changer.

No matter where we go though – I have a few things I look for each and every time. We aren’t theme park people (we did Disney for our daughters 5th birthday and, I won’t say never, but probably will not ever go back. Ever.) and we love immersive travel which means Airbnb or Vbro are our favorite conduits to travel. We prefer to go to places where we can stay for a while and because of my husband’s ability to work from anywhere if needed, this is an option available to us.

When we have a destination planned, a house booked, or tickets purchased I start researching the area more in depth.

I always look for local libraries.

Library in Lynden

Library in Lynden

Boulder, Co Day 3

Boulder, Co Day 3

Libraries have amazing programming, often free, and always age appropriate. In 2011, we went to Boulder, Colorado and while my husband worked normal hours from coffee shops or our airbnb, I would keep us busy with story time at the library, events with naturalists (all from the library), organized playgroups at the library and well, you guessed it – crafts at library. In 2016 when we spent the summer in Washington I signed my kids up for events at the local library. They participated in a kid craft fair, signed up for their summer reading programs and we made weekly (sometimes more than once) trips to the library for books and movies.

I search the local chamber of commerce and event calendar.

Next, I always look at the events calendar for the places we’ll be visiting for the time we’ll be there. We’ve stumbled on some pretty fun stuff just by checking this out. While in Lynden, Washington we were in town for the local Raspberry Festival. Which was a big deal – and tons of fun.

It's the thing to do, we hear, to have a raspberry sundae at the Northwest Raspberry Festival. The kids and Grandpa Roger did it up 👍

Had fun at the Raspberry Festival today!

If we’ll be in a different city for longer than 5 days I always check local art councils as well. They often have classes or camps for kids and I’ve been known to sign mine up for some music/drawing/dancing. The classes are usually 2 to 4 hours for a few days and it gives them something to do that they enjoy and I get a small break to be able to grocery shop, work, grab lunch with my husband, or just relax in the middle of the busyness of traveling with kids.

I try to find a place to stay with a kitchen.

Not always possible, depending on where we’ll be, but even hotel chains offer suites with kitchens. It’s always worth looking for us because we don’t love eating out. We love good food, and if restaurants come highly recommended, we’ll try them. But with kids, the food experience at restaurants is often above their pay-grade. They’re learning to enjoy a good dining experience but while traveling, my husband and I love discovering new places, going slow, and taking the time to enjoy our surroundings. Kids are sort of the anti-relaxer. So instead we look for great breakfast places (because first thing in the day they’re more likely to be on board with our “slow living” pace) and we leave the rest to snack plates, picnics or kid friendly options.

Last Sunday, our first real meal in our rental. It was @thekitchenbeet's mushroom stew which = therapy. Cupboards open, a pot simmering on the stove, haphazardly organized space. But it smelled amazing. And tasted even better.

Boulder, Co Day 6

This is one of the reasons we love booking our stay through sites like Airbnb or Vbro. We get the immersive travel by picking a place to stay right in town, or in a neighborhood close to the action (or away from it – if that’s the goal), the hosts of the places we’ve rented are always so helpful and accommodating and we get great tips of things to do or try from them as well. And … we get a kitchen, a separate sleeping space from the kids and walls to give us a bit of anonymity when we need some “down” time. It’s also more walkable, we’ve found.

I use Pinterest, Yelp, Google Maps, Groupon, etc.

And lastly, one of the main things I do while I’m putting together a trip is consult the internet. There’s so much information, so many recommendations, and so many ideas right there. I usually start with Pinterest and search for the area + “things to do”. or + “kids” and start looking at everything that sounds fun/frugal or free/worth it.

We love hiking, local history, walking tours, book stores, farmers markets, interactive classes, water of any kind, tours, and sunset activities.

I would also take advantage of whatever the hotel, home, resort you’re staying in, has to offer. In Florida we were able to take a Chef guided tour of their bee-keeping initiative and local farming operation for free.

Amelia Island, Florida 2017

Amelia Island, Florida 2017

The same resort (which I found on priceline for a steal of a deal) had a ton of fun stuff the weekend we were there – like a donut wall!

Amelia Island, Florida 2017

And we were able to rent a golf cart to tool around in, which was so much fun and cheaper than the bikes we were hoping to rent 🙂

Oliver loves a good golf cart - really he loves anything with a motor and wheels that he's allowed to drive. Florida: 👏

Amelia Island, Florida 2017

For more on this specific trip to Florida (2017) – go here.

Lastly, I look for parks.

One more thing, if we’re going to be somewhere longer than 2 nights, I usually look for parks. If we’re not staying in a hotel with a pool, I know I’ll need to get my kids outside to run off energy.

Around Lynden

Around Lynden

If we’re camping, then this is no problem. Usually where ever we are parked is playground enough for them with hiking trails nearby or pavement to tool around on with their bikes. But if we’re visiting a city … green space is key.

Ping Tom park

Amelia Island, Florida 2017

And there you have it! My tips for traveling with older kids.

We have a list of places we want to see, go, or things we want to do compiled and when the budget allows and deals arise or we’ve accumulated enough points for travel – I keep an eye out for the destinations we want to see. Usually I’m looking months in advance (or for “regular travel times” like spring break or holidays – a whole year ahead), but some of the best deals are within weeks of looking/researching them.

How do you travel with (or without) kids? What do you look for?

Wilderness State Park

This year for Spring Break we headed North. Did I want to go to sunny Florida? Georgia, even? Um, I live in Michigan so that answer is automatically 100% yes. But! We did something different and it was awesome, too. Much colder, snowy even, but a blast nonetheless.

Spring Break 2018

Our kids are 13 and nine and while I used to make things like the Summer Jar for school breaks, I’ve broken that habit since moving in to our current house almost 6 years ago. Sad, but true. This past year has been a difficult one, full of stops and changing plans when we thought everything was green light GO! It wrecked a piece of me for a while, I can’t lie to you. And then a couple weeks ago I decided to literally fuck it and took my life back. We’ve been living in limbo, in the ‘not there yet’ and ‘no longer here’ for way too long. A bunch of wait, so much of “when X happens, or Y starts, or Z is done” we’ll finally be able to / get to / go there.

And traveling is one of the many things we’ve been putting off for good reasons until I couldn’t justify them anymore and it was time to escape.

TO THE WOODS!

Waking up like this

Pour over, slow mornings

My husband spends a few nights at Wilderness State Park every year with the same group of guys. This year will be the 20th year consecutively that they winter together, in the woods. As our kids have gotten older and more curious – they’ve expressed interest in seeing what he does every year. So, we went!

Snow was in the forecast and my kids forgot their winter coats (my son forgot a coat entirely), I forgot my camera (hence the iphone photos here), we forgot to pack things like the french press and a pan for boiling water. You know. Essentials. But we remembered the coffee and the fruit and cheese.

We stopped on our way up to buy a pour-over 1 cup coffee brewer (and it worked like magic) and a few other things.

A love letter // a short list of things we forgot: *Upon entering Wilderness State Park, Oliver proclaimed he didn’t pack a coat. (It’s snowing) *Something to brew coffee, but we remembered the coffee. *Something to boil water in, but we remembered someth

Hikes, hikes, and more hikes

We hiked and saw the tee-pee my husband and his friends built years and years and years ago, and it’s still standing. We hiked over little bridges and creeks and found beavers’ dens. We walked out as far as I could handle with my best friend anxiety riding shot-gun on the ice of Lake Michigan, and we played rock ball in the freezing rain.

The Tee-pee Aaron and his buddies built almost 20 years ago

Playing "rock ball"

Free range

There was a lot of cooking over coals, an incident with the Whirly-pop and a lot of smoke, the dinner I turned into charcoal, and the naps and reading and coffee and games and laughing. There was a lot of laughing.

Playing games

Spring Break 2018

When making popcorn over hot coals inside means you get smoked out ... unless you’re a die hard popcorn fan.

Playing "rock ball" 2018

Spring Break 2018

It was a great escape. We stayed in the Sturgeon Bay Cabin and we’re able to drive in (not always the case, and had we not been able to it would have been a 3 mile hike in to the cabin), they supply the firewood for the wood-burning stove and a couple of rolls of toilet paper – but the rest is up to you. Bedding, all dinnerware and cookware, food and drink. The cabin is dry, no running water, and there’s an outhouse for yo’ business time.

But it was breathtaking and worth every effort.

Spring Break 2018
[Click on image above to play video]

Links:

*Reservations for Wilderness State Park
*Wilderness State Park Trail Map
*Helpful information and other camping options

Deep Lake // Yankee Springs Late Fall Camping

We had a great Thanksgiving this year, the weather was amazing and the food was delicious. There was a hike involved and, later, a law breaking ride on a golf cart to collect some greens for our outdoor decorating needs. In all of that excitement one of my brothers mentioned wanting to go camping one more time this year. He said this within earshot of my son, who is nothing if not an outdoorsmen who dreams of hunting and has two parents who type a lot as opposed to gather anything outside of a super market.

Also, we’re crazy, and it sounded fun. We might not be able to sit in a blind with him and educate him on the best practices for ethical hunting but we’re huge fans of our kids and if they’re in to it, we’ll get there.

So, it was decided! We were going to camp on the ground, outside, in late November. The weather looked amazing, the radar clear. So the day after Thanksgiving we packed up the car with our “six person” tent we got as a wedding gift and have used all of 4 times since and we headed to Yankee Springs.

The adventure starts.

We set up camp in record time for not being “tent” campers, with zero arguments (we continue to defy odds in the marriage counseling circles with our ability to do tedious things together and not threaten divorce: kayaking or canoeing, putting together a dresser from Ikea, set up a tent …) but after our agreed upon meet-up time came and went we started wondering if we missed something. Which we did. We set up the entirety of our camp at the WRONG CAMPSITE. Wrong campground even.

Deep Lake Campground

Fast forward to the correct campsite …

Deep Lake Campground

GLORIOUS, I tell you! We set up (again) and watched the sun go down over Deep Lake while stoking a fire to cook dinner over. The boys and men fashioned a bench out of fallen logs and branches since, in our amazing packing, we forgot everything but the tent and our sleeping bags and pepperoni. The essentials, if you ask Aaron. He packed. And I’m not kidding.

Deep Lake Campground

Deep Lake Campground

Deep Lake Campground

We cooked both meals we shared in this cast iron dutch oven that my brother owns and can I just say that if everything is going to hell in life, it can be fixed with a meal out of one of these cooked over a fire and shared under the stars?

Deep Lake Campground

There’s poetry to eating this way.

Deep Lake Campground

Deep Lake Campground

And I was reading it all weekend.

After dinner we played a couple games of capture the flag in the dark and I managed to run through the woods and stay upright in the dark until the very last game when a stone, out of nowhere, cropped up and took me out. Flat on my face. It was awesome. So much laughing and giggling and screeching and hiding and sitting in jail and running and it felt so good.

We all went to our tents fairly early but it was very dark and hard to tell by that point what time it really was. We gazed at the stars and watched the fire prick the air and not long after, the smoke escaping in whispers.

We got all tucked in to our various sleeping bags and blankets and then the real fun began. It was a night to remember full of unexpected rain, hardly any sleep, a lot of middle the night giggling fits because WTF and kids who couldn’t get comfortable and ended up sleeping in tiny rain puddles – and at one point, all 4 of us on a full size sleeping pad around 3:30 am wondering what now?

But the sun came up and there was coffee.

Deep Lake Campground

Deep Lake Campground

And coffee cake.

Deep Lake Campground

Deep Lake Campground

Deep Lake Campground

Deep Lake Campground

We hiked a bit, laughed about our night and broke down camp while the kids ran around with walkie-talkies.

Deep Lake Campground

We came home so incredibly tired, smelling like campfire and wet socks. But so happy. Stupid happy to have done the thing. Sleep (or pretend to sleep) on the ground in late November overlooking a lake by the fire.

And I was so thankful.

Backyard Tourist: Windmill Island, Holland, Mi

Such a fun morning being tourists in our backyard. Windmill Island is free for residents of the @cityofholland and it's a hidden gem. Beautiful gardens, parks, tours of the mill, horses! We will be back again and again.

It’s the first Monday of Summer Vacation and I’ve decided to take a relaxed approach to how we fill our days. The months are going to fly, this I already know, with sleep-away camps and sports camps and a few camping trips already planned, we’re going to arrive at the beginning of the next school year as if we left for a walk across the State and only ended up rounding our city block.

The kids wanted to roller blade and I wanted caffeine so we geared up and headed downtown to JP’s Coffee for my must-have and then meandered down to the Window on the Waterfront for theirs.

Backyard Tourists
Backyard Tourists
Backyard Tourists

It’s gorgeous with plenty of wildlife to watch and the end of the Spring flowers to see. We saw a family of swans, muskrats eating and swimming, and lots of birds and bugs.

Backyard Tourists
Backyard Tourists
Backyard Tourists
Backyard Tourists

As we were leaving I remembered Windmill Island is close to the park and, if I was right, it’s free for residents of the City of Holland. I wanted to check it out.

Backyard Tourists

TRUE! Free all day long for us, every day they’re open (save for the week of Tulip Time). I was super excited.

Backyard Tourists
Backyard Tourists
Backyard Tourists

It was fabulous.

Backyard Tourists
Backyard Tourists
Backyard Tourists
Backyard Tourists
Backyard Tourists

There’s so much to see and do, and with this being free to Residents, it’s like our own personal oasis. The carousel ride is free, the park is updated and multi-aged friendly. There are picnic tables literally every where. Water you can kayak in (bring your own), all kinds of flowers to meander through, it’s stunning. There’s even yard games for the kids to play and music is often wafting in the background. A small cafe and gift shop and tons of opportunities to learn more about the Netherlands. There’s horses on the island you can watch or bing an apple to treat. They’re nice, and they’re used to people. You can bike around the island as well (bring your own, or bike TO the island from your home).

Backyard Tourists

We enjoyed a lively and informative tour of the working Mill and even met the Miller in house.

Backyard Tourists
Backyard Tourists
Backyard Tourists
Backyard Tourists

You can buy the flour milled right here in Holland on Windmill Island, too. We tried but they were sold out today.

Did you know that they used to use the blades of the windmill as a local billboard to communicate? And during the wars they had signals to the town about where the troops were. Fascinating. The entire mechanism of the mill is crazy complicated and our Miller is the only female certified Miller by whatever association based in the Netherlands – it’s very prestigious. And she’s going for her Masters. Or something. On the tour we took there were folks from Germany! They’re touring the great lakes and made a stop in Holland to see the Windmill.

People, if Germans travel to see this gem and it’s in our backyard for free … I’m telling you. Geek out and get out. I can’t wait to go back.

It was a great (and mostly free) day. (I spent $2 on my cup of coffee. 😉 )

Backyard Tourists

Adventures: This one in Florida

Amelia Island, Florida 2017

We ran away to sunshine and spanish moss over winter break last month with our kids. Everything in me inhales deeper at the base of a live oak trunk with it’s arms swaying above me dressed in spanish moss and salty air.

I. Love. Florida.

Amelia Island, Florida 2017

Our destination was Amelia Island and we stayed at the Omni Plantation Resort.

Amelia Island, Florida 2017

We were able to find an incredible deal on priceline.com for the rooms and a rental car, and bought our plane tickets through a deal site that kicks back to our tuition bill, which is always helpful. When we checked in to the hotel we had no idea that it would be this amazing. I had researched and googled and planned an itinerary but seeing it in person and getting an ocean front room was another story entirely.

Amelia Island, Florida 2017

In my “House Keeping” series I talked about budgets (you can read that here) and one of the things I don’t think I mentioned was that we set aside a bit of each paycheck for vacations. It’s a separate savings account and the amount we budget for just gets automatically deducted from our paycheck and directly deposited each time we get paid. Lickety split. This is how I budget, actually, I have separate accounts for a number of different things.

Amelia Island, Florida 2017

I would absolutely go back to Amelia Island. It’s just inside of the Florida state line from Georgia so the southern charm is heavy. The history of Amelia Island and Fernandina Beach was rich and fun to explore.

A few things I really wanted to do were unavailable when we got there – but here’s our tips for a weekend getaway:

We flew into Jacksonville which is about 35-45 minutes away from the hotel we stayed at. So renting a car was the best option for us to get from the airport to the hotel. It was also nice to have a way to get around outside of the resort, where food was cheaper and being a tourist was more available. Inside the resort is beautiful, and I would recommend renting a golf cart (if you rent at the end of the day you get to keep it overnight for the cost of 2 hours, win!) to really be able to see the vastness of the estate. It is amazing, full of beautiful pockets, parks, lakes, neighborhoods, beaches and pools. Plus restaurants, shopping villages, a spa and more.

Amelia Island, Florida 2017
Amelia Island, Florida 2017

Definitely look for shark teeth on the beach, we came home with 3. We think. They might be shark teeth or they might be suspiciously shaped shells. Either way, the hunt was fun. This is the beach our hotel was sitting on. Gorgeous.

Amelia Island, Florida 2017
Amelia Island, Florida 2017

We had our own pool at the complex we stayed in but the main hotel had a larger, warmer pool that we spent most of our lounge time at.

The hotel also has a great calendar of events, some of them free to guests. We took advantage of all the things that sounded fun to us. A fire one night with s’mores, a tour of their apiary and Seelings Project with the head Sous Chef for the property, partaking in the donut wall for the holiday weekend.

Amelia Island, Florida 2017
Amelia Island, Florida 2017
Amelia Island, Florida 2017
Amelia Island, Florida 2017
Amelia Island, Florida 2017

Food:

Resort food is very expensive, but buying 4 adult meals every meal is too. We tried to eat at great local places that wouldn’t break the bank and we tried a couple of the restaurants in the resort as well. I think our favorite was The Patio Place on Sunday morning. A local brunch spot with good coffee, savory crepes, and amazing atmosphere.

The cheapest meal we ate was a $5 hot and ready pizza from Little Caesars on Saturday night. It was magnificent.

Amelia Island, Florida 2017
Amelia Island, Florida 2017
Amelia Island, Florida 2017

We walked around the historic part of Old Town after breakfast, just taking in the shops and scenery. We like to find a local book store every where we travel so we waited for their shop to open so we could browse.

Amelia Island, Florida 2017
Amelia Island, Florida 2017

Fort Clinch State Park:

For the next few hours we explored Fort Clinch State Park but we didn’t pay the entry fee for the actual fort. We walked to the beach and saw the fort from the outside, watched the tide change, looked for shells and watched fishermen. We also spent some time exploring the woods and climbing trees before we took a small hike to look for alligators.

Amelia Island, Florida 2017
Amelia Island, Florida 2017
Amelia Island, Florida 2017
Amelia Island, Florida 2017
Amelia Island, Florida 2017
Amelia Island, Florida 2017

The hike we did was The Willow Pond Trail and we spotted 5 alligators. Which means I think there were probably like 12. And you know, they’re just laying in wait in the water about 5 feet from my sandaled toes.

Amelia Island, Florida 2017
Amelia Island, Florida 2017

Oliver was very interested in keeping us all safe. 😉

Amelia Island, Florida 2017

There’s only one in the photo above, can you spot him?

Amelia Island, Florida 2017

And there are 4 in this above photo. Probably more that we didn’t see. Tricky!

After some more time at the pool and our only “resort” experience with poolside pina coladas (omg, so yummy) we decided to try to rent bikes and see more of the complex. When we got to rental place we noticed that it would actually be cheaper to rent a golf cart than to rent 4 bikes – and because we were so close to closing time, the 2 hour minimum rental for a golf cart turned into an overnight rental as long as we had it back by the time they opened the following morning (which was 9 am).

If you know my son, you know that this spoke his love language more than anything else all weekend.

BEHOLD!

Amelia Island, Florida 2017
Amelia Island, Florida 2017

We were able to see so much more this way – it was one of our highlights.

Amelia Island, Florida 2017
Amelia Island, Florida 2017
Amelia Island, Florida 2017
Amelia Island, Florida 2017
Amelia Island, Florida 2017

Monday morning we had the golf cart back by 9 am, grabbed breakfast at the resorts “market style” morning deli for the second time, went to the beach one last time, checked out the nature center and helped the kids shop for their souvenirs with their money.

Amelia Island, Florida 2017
Amelia Island, Florida 2017
Amelia Island, Florida 2017
Amelia Island, Florida 2017
Amelia Island, Florida 2017

We checked out at 11, drove back to their airport, and came home.

Amelia Island, Florida 2017

A perfect amount of time for a getaway in the sun in the middle of February in Michigan.

Until the next adventure.

😉