When I received a cancer diagnosis in January 2012, it was a life changing moment. In an instant, things were never the same for me. In many respects, this was good. Pre-diagnosis, my life was a disaster and I was desperately unhappy. I spent way too much time commuting to work, buying stuff I didn’t want or need, putting up with an extremely abusive spouse, and focusing on the inconsequential. Fast forward a year later. I had survived treatment and it was time to rebuild my life and live it with passion. I decided to live BIG and GRAND, create memories, and have fun. As part of that new mantra, I became obsessed with traveling and taking my daughters with me.
To shake things up, I try to plan four trips per year: 1) somewhere in our state (Utah), 2) a state we have never visited, 3) a national park, and 4) a foreign country. On these trips, it is imperative that we learn something new, eat a different food, and have fun. Oh, right– and get some rest. So far, my favorite cities in the world are Moscow, London and Buenos Aires. My favorite state to explore is Utah. The most awesome fashion and shopping is Milan. The best food is in New Orleans. A place I’ve never wanted to leave was Lake Como (Italy). The best snorkeling is Belize. The most incredible museum is The Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia. But this could all change because I’m not done exploring.
When it comes to traveling with children, though, there are some really terrific kid-friendly options that I highly recommend. So if a trip is in your budget, here are my favorites to take children of most any age:
1. A cruise
Pretty much any cruise is a terrific option for kids. The ships all have kid’s clubs where you can drop your children off for large chunks of the day. I never let my kids go to their clubs while the ship was in port, but you could. Plus, with unending food 24 hours per day, you never need to worry about feeding them. You can find a cruise to fit almost any budget. I personally love Europe and exploring via a cruise ship made this possible and easy with kids in tow.
2. Jackson, Wyoming and Yellowstone National Park
Jackson is an amazingly fun and beautiful place to visit. The town is charming, and there are endless things to do, like rafting, horseback riding, and hiking. Plus you’re not far from the entrance to Yellowstone National Park, a place that should be on everyone’s Bucket List. I took my kids on this road trip when they were ages four and nine and they absolutely loved everything about it. We saw tons of wildlife, Old Faithful, drank Mulberry Milkshakes, and took trams up the mountains for the best hiking trails. Depending on the time of year you go, hotels super expensive and sell-out quickly. So either plan ahead or consider staying in nearby Victor or Grand Targhee (Idaho).
3. Washington, DC
What makes Washington, DC rock is that many of the attractions, museums and monuments are FREE. This makes a visit to our nation’s capital somewhat affordable. I took my daughters when they were ages seven and 12 and they also learned a lot. My youngest daughter still talks about visiting the place where President Lincoln was shot and where he died. We visited all the main monuments, Mt Vernon (Washington’s home), the U.S Capitol and Supreme Court, Library of Congress, Arlington National Cemetery, the National Archives and several of the museums that make up the Smithsonian. Nearly all of them were free or just a few dollars. We sat outside at the Iwo Jima Memorial and watched spectacular 4th of July fireworks. We also rented a car and drove to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (a very quaint town) for a private tour of the battlefield. We stayed in a hotel near Georgetown where we could walk to many sites or take the metro. Washington, DC is definitely a “must visit.”
4. New York City
There is not city in the world like New York. I’ve taken my daughters twice and I think it’s a pretty easy place to travel with children. Our first trip, my daughters were ages four and nine. We hit up Mary Poppins on Broadway, took a horse carriage ride through Central Park, and went to the top of the Empire State Building. We also went to the Statue of Liberty and spent hours at Ellis Island. As you can imagine, New York is not cheap but bargains can be found. I found a great hotel across the street from Rockefeller Center (where we went ice skating!) for just $120 per night on Priceline. It included free breakfast and when we needed a snack, we walked a block to Magnolia Bakery for cupcakes. Yum!
5. New Orleans
Ok, so I haven’t taken my children yet to New Orleans but we have a trip planned for August. I love this city for its food, voodoo shops, cemeteries and music. We are all really excited!
6. Los Angeles
In addition to the beach and Disneyland, my favorite LA activities are: 1) Hiking up to the Hollywood sign. I’ve done this twice with my kids and it’s terrific! The view is amazing and the hike is great exercise. Take water with you, wear good running shoes or hiking boots, and watch for snakes. 2) The Getty Museum. Again, the views are phenomenal and you can spend the entire day there. Plus it is FREE. 3) Strolling Hollywood Boulevard and checking out Mann’s Chinese Theatre, the Kodak Theatre, and the Walk of Fame. 4) A bus tour that takes you past celebrity homes. Tacky but very fun and interesting. 5) Brea Tar Pits. Hard to believe that in the center of LA are dinosaur remains preserved over centuries in tar. 6) Back lot tour at Universal Studios. 6) Window shopping on Rodeo Drive (well, I suppose if you have deep pockets, you could do “real” shopping).
7. A Presidential Library (pick any)
A few years ago, I took my daughters to the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock. It was surprisingly fascinating and we were there for many hours without getting bored. Since then, I’ve wanted to hit up more presidential libraries but haven’t yet.
8. Southern Utah
I don’t think there is any place in the world quite like Southern Utah. You can fly into Vegas, check out the Hoover Dam in less than a day and then drive through places like Zion, Bryce Canyon, the lava fields, Escalante and so much more. It is literally one jaw-dropping experience after another and you will never forget it. I imagine it’s sort of like being on another planet.
9. Atlantis (Bahamas)
Going to the Atlantis hotel (Paradise Island, Bahamas, which is just over a short walkable bridge from Nassau) is not cheap but it is worth it. The water park is the coolest one I’ve ever seen, bar none. The hotel’s aquarium defies words. This is my oldest daughter’s favorite vacation ever.
Train travel is a blast. It’s a great way to see the USA, relax, reconnect with your kids without too many distractions, and stop at cities or towns you’re interested in seeing. There are train-hopper passes or round-trip options available. A few years ago, we took a 17-day trip on Amtrak and stopped in Chicago, Washington, DC, and New York City for a few days each. We took travel pillows and electric blankets for our overnight train trips (the trains get really cold!), portable DVD players, books and games. We enjoyed eating in the dining car (kind of expensive), and “put up” with the sub-par food in the mini convenience café.
My daughters love “stuff” just as much as the next kid. But what makes spending money and time on travel different is that you’re building memories, bonding, and doing something together that none of you will ever forget. In my humble opinion, this is far better than buying another “thing” that my daughters will eventually lose, grow out of, or stopping caring about. Memories are ageless and priceless. How do you put a price tag on that? I can’t. And I can’t think of a trip I’ve ever regretted taking.