Just Add Water

Traveling with kids gets better with experience. The more you do it, the easier it gets. You develop a system, and refine it with every adventure.

Swan boats in Northern Ireland

When I plan a trip, I have a very distinct routine. It starts with an empty notebook, a guidebook and a few hours on the Internet. Once armed with the basics, I start trying to lay out a rough day to day itinerary. It serves as a guideline for my family.If something doesn’t happen, it’s not the end of the world. Maybe we’ll do it tomorrow. The important part is I’ve got all the information to make it happen.

I’ve gotten really good at some things, like how to pack.See my recent packing tips post.

I’ve learned to stay in one place for at least two days.It limits the feeling of constantly being on the go, and helps immensely when the entire family is in need of clean laundry.

Anything, and I mean anything, involving animals will be a hit. Kids and critters make for fabulous experiences around the world.

And even on the worst day, all can be saved if you just add water.

Swan Boats, Northern Ireland

Fresh off a flight from San Francisco to Dublin, I was doing all I could to keep my kids from crashing the moment we got into the rental car. It was pouring rain, so on top of being soaked, we couldn’t enjoy the scenery, because we couldn’t see it. We were headed to Belfast and we still had hours of travel ahead.

When the arrival excitement and sugar rush started to wear off, I sensed I was losing the battle. The rain let up just as we were driving by the seaside town of Bangor, Northern Ireland.

I had read about the seaside town and jotted it down in my notebook. I didn’t expect anything fancy. It just sounded like a nice place to take a break and get some fresh air. Call it karma, call it luck. The afternoon set the tone for a great trip.

We just happened to park across the street from a small tourist information office. After grabbing a map to get our bearings, we decided we’d just wander a bit. Turns out, Bangor’s Marina is the largest in Northern Ireland. (I didn’t have that in my notebook.)We found a ramp down to the water and hunted for sea glass along a small, rocky little beach like area. Then we took a walk along the harbor, to soak in the sun and amazing views. That’s when we stumbled on the swan boats at Pickie Family Fun Park.

The rain had scared everyone off, so my girls had the place to themselves.They climbed into a bright yellow swan and off they went. My husband and I got a drink from the snack bar and watched from a bench with a million-dollar view. It was a good hour later when the girls pedaled their swan to shore. They were a little damp, but dry enough they assured me, to hit the incredible playground just a hop, skip and a jump away. We had been in Northern Ireland mere hours. We were tired and should have been cranky. But the kids had already decided they liked it!

Dragon Boat Ride, Beijing

Go to China with kids and you’ll see lots of palaces. Incredible places, painted in stunning reds, blues and golds. It’s like nowhere else I’ve ever been. But, Chinese palaces can be like churches in Europe – after a while they start to blend together.

The Summer Palace in Beijing was hands down my girl’s favorite. The reason, we got there by boat … Dragon Boat. The ten-minute ride on Kunming Lake invigorated my girls. When we docked, they practically took off running to explore the incredible gardens and temples. The excitement and energy came in handy when we started down the crowded, but stunning 728-yard Long Corridor.

Drifting down the Dordogne

Canoeing on the Dordogne was in capital letters in my notebook. There are countless companies to choose from. I went with family-friendly Canoe Vacances.

No guide. Just the four of us, armed with two paddles and a current, that worst case scenario would take us in the right direction.We had originally planned to just spend a few hours and then be on our way. Luckily, we packed plenty of snacks and a hearty picnic lunch, because we spent the entire day floating along. There are places at every turn to beach your canoe and have a picnic, take pictures of castles (we lost count there were so many), or go for a swim.

Life jackets are provided for kids and adults. If you’ve got a baby or small toddler, save the canoe ride for the next trip. It’ll be too hard, and you won’t be able to enjoy the fun and peaceful glide.

Row, Row, Row Your boat

In the middle of Madrid! Who would have thought? Retiro Park stretches 300 acres in busy Madrid. You can spend an hour or a day. Pack a picnic. Go rollerblading. But on a hot sunny day your kids are sure to want to cast off on Retiro Parque Lake. The lake isn’t huge by any means, but we happily rowed and floated, dipping our fingers and toes in the cool water, for about an hour.

Once back on land, you can check out the throngs of musicians, street entertainers and local craftspeople scattered about selling their wares.

Seville at Sunset

We were hungry, but couldn’t agree on dinner. Sound familiar? We were looking for a place to eat along the Guadalquivir River in Seville, when my youngest daughter saw them … paddle boats. It was clear food was no longer the priority, when both girls took off running. The owner was closing up shop for the night, but saw how excited the kids were and kindly agreed to let us head out for a quick sunset spin. Seville is a beautiful city. At sunset it’s simply stunning. Darkness ended our cruise, not hunger or fatigue. It wasn’t until we docked, that we remembered about dinner. Turns out the paddle boat owner also owns a floating restaurant, is that luck or what?

Relevant Links:

Packing tips (perfectly packed carry-on)

Articles about Ireland with kids

Articles about China with kids

Articles about France with kids

Articles about Spain with kids

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