Memories of traveling as a kid have a way of affecting the memories you make as a parent. Born and raised on the East Coast, I remember the excitement of visiting California for the first time with my mother and the subsequent college choice that resulted. I remember walking through Venice’s St. Mark’s Square with her, and the cloudy morning that meant seeing very little of the sunrise from Maui’s Haleakalā Summit, before tackling the way-too-cold-for-Hawaii bike ride down to the bottom. We traveled as much as we could when I was growing up, and I’ve kept the tradition alive with my daughters. (And now, in my 40s, I still travel with my mother.)
While some moms and daughters prefer spa time and relaxation, traveling with my girls seems to have naturally skewed toward being on the go, taking advantage of outdoor adventures and socializing with some of the cuddliest critters around the globe. Sleeping in tends to be reserved for weekends at home. There’s something to love about all mother-daughter trips — but some spots have a way of standing out.
Top Ideas for Mother-Daughter Trips
I have an admitted bias when it comes to sunny destinations with soft, warm sand and bright blue water, but Hawaii takes my love for the coast a step further, making the sea life that call it home so easily accessible. You don’t have to be a diver, or even have access to a boat, to observe and appreciate wildlife on Maui. During whale-watching season, typically December through May, it’s not uncommon to spot humpback whales from Ka’anapali Beach. Dive in at Black Rock (Puu Kekaa) and chances are you’ll meet a sea turtle bobbing in the waves. My youngest is not one for taking pictures, and I had to persuade her to strap a camera on her wrist the first time she ventured in. More than an hour and a hundred photos later, she came out for her first break.
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Harrods at Christmastime, London
There’s plenty to love in London all year round, but the city takes on an extra sparkle during the holidays. With just a couple of days to explore before heading to Scotland for a November wedding, we wandered into Harrods in hopes of seeing their Christmas displays. We’d made it just a few steps inside before an employee was quick to say hello and let us know Father Christmas had just arrived. So up to the Christmas Grotto we went to discover that we had Santa all to ourselves. And he was all ears — wide-eyed, with an assortment of stories to tell, my daughters had in-depth, animated conversations with jolly old St. Nick. And since they were ages 5 and 7, it bought me at least a few more seasons of their believing in the magic. While the encounter was unplanned and they were dressed like girls on the go, it’s still by far my favorite in our collection of holiday photos. And though my girls are now 16 and 18, the festive shot still hangs on the wall in my home.
The Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Sainte-Chapelle … Paris is a bustling city with countless kid-friendly things to see and do, but we made quite a dent on our first day exploring with Fat Tire Bike Tours. With the exception of a brief break at Berthillon ice cream, no one wanted to stop pedaling as one turn led to another and a flat, almost 7-mile ride before the day was through. The image of my youngest rolling around the Louvre Pyramid just before sunset is as clear in my mind as the look on her face when she slowly began to pour her first cup of hot chocolate from Angelina — as thick and rich as a melted chocolate bar in a mug.
New York City
The possibilities are endless in the Big Apple, but when your daughter’s wish list includes tickets to The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, you’ll spend at least a few hours sitting in line before you so much as think about breakfast. Unable to obtain tickets ahead of time, my daughter decided she was willing to get up before the sun to try and make it happen. So just after 6a, we joined the growing line of live audience hopefuls. It was a summer morning, so we were comfortable and not too hot, sitting on a piece of cardboard and talking about everything from music to college. At 9a we were each assigned a number and told to come back and wait in another line in the afternoon.
We filled the time in between with visits to the Empire State Building, the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, lunch and shopping. Back in line, we held our breath when numbers were called, and we were the last two audience members admitted to see the taping of The Tonight Show. After many laughs during the show, and a quick trip into the gift shop afterward to buy a sweatshirt, we had just enough time to cross the street and snag tickets for the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall.
Antrim Coast, Northern Ireland
It’s best to drive slowly when exploring Northern Ireland’s Antrim Coast. Otherwise, you might miss the neverending swaths of green, playgrounds that have a knack for turning up just when you need them most, and frolicking sheep, known by my brood as “sweaters on legs.” Stops to get out and explore are plentiful. Take a wide-shot mother-daughter photo on the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. The secure but very narrow 90-foot bridge connects the mainland to a tiny island. If you prefer to have your feet in the sand, you can wander the beach among basalt columns formed 60 million years ago at the Giant’s Causeway. Oh, and don’t forget to eat fish and chips along the way — you are technically in the United Kingdom.
Cruising the Caribbean
My girls like playing in the snow, but when push comes to shove, sunshine typically prevails when we talk about getting away. Even though we live on the West Coast, cruising the Caribbean is one of our favorite ways to see new destinations under blue skies. Our first cruise aboard Carnival Sunshine introduced us to swimming with stingrays in Grand Cayman, and we were hooked on the cruising life. Sea days on the ships between ports of call provide time to sleep in and catch up while lying by the pool or lingering over long dinners, where no one at the table is responsible for loading the dishwasher.
Mention Barcelona, and it’s hard not to think of Antoni Gaudi, the city’s favorite architect. The color and style he gave to the city is worthy of a trip in itself; La Sagrada Familia and Park Güell were my girls’ favorites. But there’s so much more for a mother and daughter to enjoy during a visit to Barcelona. La Boqueria market offers stall after stall of food almost too pretty to eat, and Santa Caterina Market has a small playground area just outside. La Rambla is perfect for wandering with daughters of any age: Whether you’re shopping or hunting for churros and chocolate, this mile-long stretch is expansive enough to be entertaining, but short enough not to be overwhelming.
St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City
I remember being fascinated with the Vatican City when I visited in my late teens with my mother. So when a Mediterranean cruise with Carnival Vista presented a long-overdue opportunity to visit, I was excited to be with my daughters when they had their first look. It was mid-May, and unfortunately, the overwhelming crowds made for a dramatically different experience for them. As we emerged from the Vatican Museum, rather than go directly into St. Peter’s Basilica (Basilica San Pietro), we noticed a very short line to climb to the Dome, so we went for it. It changed everything about our visit. No longer surrounded by people, we laughed as we huffed and puffed our way up. When we reached the final staircase, where handrails are replaced by a single rope to grasp, we could see the light at the end of the climb. As expected, the view was incredible, but the trek up is what we still talk about at dinner.
The timing could not have been better. It started to rain the second we stepped off the bus at Ephesus, and it wasn’t just rain — it was a cold, drenching downpour that showed no signs of letting up. Our guide kept us under cover, reviewing history and answering questions as long as he could, but there was no doubt that the weather had set in. So we put on all of the extra layers we had, including those colorful but not at all flattering disposable ponchos, and went for it. What had the potential to be a boring historic site visit became a place we didn’t hesitate to explore no matter how wet we got. The rain rolled right off us for the most part, but the unforgettable history lesson stuck.
Crystal River, Florida
Crystal River may not be the best-known Florida destination, but a recent vacation with my 18-year-old daughter will no doubt remain one of our most memorable trips together for years to come. Like me, she loves snorkeling, but interacting with manatees on a tour with Plantation Adventure Center, was unlike any other underwater experience we’ve ever had. Whereas colorful fish tend to quickly scurry off, the manatees we met in Kings Bay seemed to be just has happy to see us as we were to see them.
Editor’s Note: Photos by Dana Rebmann.