Photo Friday: Think Outside The Bus

Paris by bike

It doesn’t matter where you go. The United States, Europe, Asia; there’s never enough time to do everything. Kids and guidebooks often don’t understand each other’s idea of a perfect day. With my girls, ages 8 and 11, the philosophy has always been use the first trip to help plan the second.

That doesn’t mean you have limit yourself to all too often lackluster bus tours, just because you’re traveling with kids. It just means getting creative. There are lots of ways to cover more ground without a good pair of running shoes.

On a recent trip to Spain, traveling by horse drawn carriage was a popular choice for families. In Nerja and Sevilla, carriages offer access to places buses can’t and can be quite affordable for a family. Find a driver who speaks fluent English, and you’re likely to discover hidden gems, such as great restaurants and local parks. Since you hire them by the hour, you can see as much or as little as you’d like. Throw in a bit of chocolate or a stop for ice cream, and your kids will think you’re the greatest.

Bikes are a blast and can be a tired family’s best friend. Throughout most of Europe, renting a bike is an easy, affordable option.If you’re feeling adventurous, you can plan your own itinerary, or go on a tour and let someone else handle the details.

Fat Tire Bike Tour

I booked a tour for my family with Fat Tire Bike Tours to try and help us get a feel for the layout of Paris. We were in town for a family wedding, and our tourist time was at a minimum. The hardest part of the day was choosing a bike. Big ones, small ones, ones with bike seats and tandems – there was a bike to fit every size, every age.

With water bottles tucked in tight, we were off. The guides, mostly U.S. college students on break or doing a semester abroad, were fabulous. Paris is a bustling city, but we never felt unsafe on our bikes. A good two dozen riders strong, we moved in mass through the city. Rolling at an easy pace, my kids didn’t have any trouble keeping up. Nobody complained, nobody got tired, and most importantly nobody wanted to stop.

On a snack break in the Tuileries Gardens we stumbled upon a summer carnival complete with Ferris wheel.After polishing off the world’s largest cotton candy, my girls were ready to roll again. In about 4 hours we covered almost 7 flat, fun-filled miles.We liked the tour so much, we booked the night tour for the next day.

Kids on bikes at night is not usually a good mix.But don’t let the name scare you off.We didn’t do much riding in the actual dark. (During the summer, it’s light until really late at night, adding substantial time to your touring day).

Louvre Pyramid by bike

With my youngest daughter on a tandem with dad, and my 10-year-old going it on her own, we took off.As we rode, we watched the city slow down and light up.One turn lead to another and soon we were biking around the Louvre Pyramid.Then there was the ice cream. And not just ordinary ice cream. Berthillon ice cream.You kids will never look at Baskin Robbins the same way again.

When darkness actually started to set in, we headed for the waterfront, locked up our bikes and hopped on board a boat cruise up and down the Seine.My husband and I sipped wine as we sailed past the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame and the Louvre.The girls screamed as the Eiffel Tower turned blue and lit up the sky.

Dordogne by Canoe

We had such good luck on bikes, when we made it to Sarlat, we decided to test drive a canoe.There are plenty of rental places to choose from in the Dordogne. We went with family-friendly Canoe Vacances.

No guide this time.Just us and a couple of paddles.There weren’t any worries about getting lost.The current was going our way, we had a good map and a waterproof box.We were novices, but it didn’t matter.When we saw a cool castle, we beached the canoe and went exploring.When we were hungry, we pulled ashore to eat.When we wanted to watch the crazy teenagers on holiday from Britain, we stopped and enjoyed the show.

What was supposed to be a few hours on the river, became a day long jaunt.Prepared with plenty of snacks and a picnic lunch, we spent almost 8 hours, swimming, eating and taking in the scenery around us, as we paddled along.No one got tired, no one whined. My 8 year-old wanted to go again.And if the sun wasn’t going down, she probably would have convinced us.

China by rickshaw

Our visit to China had us on more tour buses than any trip we’d ever taken.But to see Beijing’s Hutongs, ditching the bus was a must. Large vehicles won’t fit down the narrow, maze-like alleyways. Knowing the littlest legs in our group weren’t up for the long walk ahead we got our taste of the neighborhood via rickshaw.

Even Grandma came along for the pedal-powered ride. We just sat back, relaxed and enjoyed watching the locals go about their busy day, as our driver pedaled with a purpose. The ride stopped a few places along the way, giving the kids a chance to stretch their legs. Our visit ended with lunch in a local family’s home. My girls couldn’t get enough of the crunchy, stir-fried green beans. I consider that a bonus.

Don’t be afraid to think outside the bus.Alternative transportation can save, even make a vacation. And in many cases, you’ll find it’s less expensive than buying typically tour tickets. The adventure you make could wind up being the highlight of your trip.

For more of this week’s Photo Friday posts, check out Delicious Baby.

7 Comments

  1. I couldn’t agree more, this was a great post! Although in London, where I live, the top of the double decker bus is definitely the best way to travel!

    We went to Switzerland this summer and I wrote a similar post listing all the ways we travelled: bus, boat, cable car, double decker train, tram etc. The children loved the variety and the views were always great.

  2. The slower you go, the more you see. That is why I love hiking. As soon as my kids are old enough to bike we will certainly be doing that more.

  3. When we visit a new city for the first time we take one of the open top sightseeing buses to get a visual of the city. It also gives us the opportunity to cover a lot of ground very quickly. That way we can be selective about the areas we visit in depth. I agree with you when you say it is impossible to see everything, so we prefer to explore certain parts well and leave the rest for our next visit.

  4. Great blog!! Loved reading it on the shore!!

    When our sons were young we traveled all over Europe by train, bus, boat and car. As young adult they now travel to Asia, South and Central America with ease. Traveling is a great family bond builder!! At every family dinner we share at least 1 story of our travels as a family.

  5. Great post!

    We particularly enjoy boat rides of all kinds. I loved the fact that Chicago has water taxis to get around town during the summer, and we used those a couple of times.

  6. An inspiring post hammering home the point that traveling with kids just takes a little creativity. Simply mixing up the transportation can be that unique way of approaching a city that helps get the kids engaged. Recently in Boston, we had a great experience on “Pedicabs” which is Boston’s version of a rickshaw. My son and I loved it. Thanks for the great post!

  7. I live in Anigua Guatemala and there is no better way to explore this small city than on foot. You can walk across it in 30min. and it will give you the chance to see everything.

    There are many different ways to get to know a city but for me hiking is the best.

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