When they were toddlers, my children’s level of enthusiasm for a destination largely mirrored my own, whether fake or real. I don’t want to brag, but I could shamelessly promote just about any trip and make them believe it was their idea. How about an awesome long drive up the entire New Jersey Turnpike!? I promise we’ll stop at Sbarro! Yes, I had that kind of power.
Now that everyone has an idea, an opinion, and their own particular aversions, trip planning has become a bit more involved. And since their ages vary quite widely (12 ½, 10, and 5), their physical abilities are an additional challenge. But there’s nothing I like better than a travel challenge!
Oh, before I proceed, I have to share another one of my travel philosophies: if you’re traveling with your family, avoid places that are designed for families exclusively. Counter intuitive? Only if you believe that you and your spouse don’t deserve a vacation as well. In other words, I don’t plan vacations for the children, I plan them for our family. I’m also not a fan of having expensive marketing items/toys/treats thrown at us every ten steps and spending vacations saying “no.” This is why we’ve never been to Disneyworld, Disneyland, or Disney anything, for that matter. It would make my husband John and me miserable—ergo not a good family destination. Conversely, I have never taken the family on a tour of 19th century TB sanatoria, a particular interest of mine that may not resonate with the rest of the family. Hold on while I lower myself off my soapbox.
OK, so what does it take to make us all happy? These days, it comes down to this: fresh air, the opportunity for all of us to try new things, hiking trails we can all handle, clean comfortable lodgings, good food, and friendly people.
Here are two of our favorite destinations—places which have ticked off all our boxes.
We spent two weeks there a couple of summers ago and went zip lining, surfing, snorkeling, horseback ridings, sailing, swimming, hiking, and rock climbing. We spent one of those weeks at Leaves and Lizards, a fantastic small rainforest resort and working farm at the foot of Arenal Volcano. Their wonderful staff took a shine to our youngest, Jeremy, and he “helped” collect hay, feed animals, and even prepare breakfast. We had our own little two-bedroom cottage, and an outstanding view which we shared with the sloth who lived on a tree right above us. (For more on our experience at Leaves and Lizards, click here).
Yosemite National Park
John and I had camped in Yosemite several times on our own before returning with our children. The majestic views, the wildflowers, the peaks, crevices, and rock faces took our breath away. And we found plenty of hiking trails which were just their speed. They still talk about Evergreen Lodge, a chic but rustic resort with a beautiful natural themed playground complete with teepee, evening movies for the older kids, outdoor ping-pong, and fantastic food. It will always be remembered by Julian (12) as the place he ate boar.
Acadia National Park
This national park is so nice, we went there twice! Both times, we rented a lakefront house which came equipped with canoe, kayak, and fishing dock. It gave the boys a sense of freedom to be able to step right out and fish while I sipped on coffee and admired the views from the deck. The house was about a ½ hour from Acadia National Park, a favorite hiking spot for all of us for its intense sea views, hidden coves, and rock-hopping.