2017 has been good to us. We’ve managed to meet some of our favorite characters, see the places where fairies live, hunt for mysterious monsters, take a surprise balloon-filled bubble bath, eat ice cream in a cow field, make friends with pandas, and have sand whip our faces as we bump over giant dunes. But of all the things we’ve seen and done this year, what’ve been the top moments of family travel for us? Moments we just can’t forget? It was hard. And I think that if we revisited this question in a week, we may all come up with different answers. But here’s where it stands today, in these final, fleeting moments of the year.
Three Kids Dad won’t ever forget the little hike to the fairy pools in Scotland’s Isle of Skye. His blood pressure was pushed to the limits, as his little people had to somehow jump from slippery rock to slippery rock across small, slowly moving currents of water, next to cliffs that drop into deep pools of crystal clear water (filled with fairies, of course) And once it started to rain? Forget about it. But the biggest moment? Carrying the tiniest little on his back and his middle little in his arms as he walked up what seemed like a near vertical climb back to our car. In the rain. He was every bit the hero.
Steak dinners are delicious. Dominican Republic is beautiful. Can it get any better? Well, yes. You see, in the DR, one night Three Kids Mom had to take the two youngest littles back to the hotel room because they were exhausted and dinner was late and they just weren’t having it. That left Three Kids Dad and the biggest little alone, having a special dinner where they got to chat about what slides she loved most at the kids club and what chairs she wanted to sit on at the beach the next day. They wandered the resort, soaking each other in. And it was sweet.
It’s pretty easy to drink wine. And even easier to do it in a tasting room in Napa. And even easier, still, when you know the littles are safely at home under the watchful eye of two adoring grandmothers. But when sipping wine, things start to change, get murky even, when that tasting happens deep in caves filled with barrels. That day, the outside disappeared, hours slipped by. And that was ok, because for the first time, in a long time, there was no one’s schedule that needed to be met. And the freedom of that afternoon in the curves of a cave was enough to replenish.
No one had any expectations of Camera Obscura in Edinburgh. It had been recommended to us by our AirBNB host as well as virtually every guide we found, so, after spending the better portion of three days in the car, we thought it best to visit and let the little people explore to their hearts’ content. They trekked through mirror mazes, perspective rooms, and rooftops. And then the middle little followed his big sister into the swirling light vortex. (Wait. What is the swirling light vortex? Well, it’s a walkway through a tube-shaped room that has little lights circling that tube–think a tunnel that transports you to the future or the past. (At least it’s what I’d imagine a tunnel to look like that could actually do that.)) Anyway, the middle walked into it. And then he collapsed to the ground, unable to move, certain he was slipping and falling all over. I had to throw down the littlest and grab the middle’s legs, pulling him out the entrance to the tunnel. The result? I had to hold him the rest of the time we explored the exhibits and reassure him that we would never, ever, ever, go back. Ever. His poor, sweet little soul.
We’d never been to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park even though we drive ridiculously close to it each and every time we drive to grandma’s house in Florida. And for some reason, it kept calling to us. (TBH, It may have been the sign for the largest Christmas Store on the East Coast that originally got us sucked into the East Tennessee kitsch that lies just outside of the entrance.) No matter the reason, we found the need to stop there, and in 2017 we managed to squeeze it into our trip north from Florida. It was bound to be a short stop–just a few hours, but little did we know it would be the crossroads of…well…kitsch and camping. On one hand, the park stands majestic (and crowded). It’s beautiful and awe-inspiring. It’s mountains and fog (at least it was that day), flowing water and trails that run deep. But getting there? It’s jam-packed with bright lights, giant plastic sculptures of apes and alligators, souvenir stuffed bears dressed in plaid, and overly dramatized dinner theater. It is a world of contrasting extremes, and I couldn’t take my eyes off of either.
Twelve years is a long time. For anything. That’s how long Three Kids Dad and I have been married. And this year, to celebrate this special day, we ate pizza at a tiny little pizza place in a tiny little town in Scotland named Callander. We had plans to go to this beautiful restaurant tucked down a small twinkle light-lined close off of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. But after getting distracted by Scotland and all its intense beauty on our drive that day from Isle of Skye to Edinburgh, we missed our reservations. By hours. Eventually we had to eat and stumbled upon some fairly solid pizza made by a kind little Scottish woman. She was welcoming and engaging, gentle with my littles who were full of legs that needed to have some freedom from the car. It was the gift I needed after having a different local woman yell at my family the prior evening at dinner because my middle had to be taken to the bathroom mid meal. I admit that I let this woman break me down and question traveling with my littles. But sitting with my family that night, I felt proud of my little people, confident in my twelve years, and eager to keep going.
He’s fun. He’s cheeky. He’s Thomas. And he’s my middle little’s newest obsession (at least he was at the time). After a bit of research I found that the official Thomas Land exists in Massachusetts, in a small amusement resort named Edaville Family Theme Park. And since the middle little can be a bit a bit fickle, we figured we better get to this theme park ASAP. So, we packed up, headed out, and just enjoyed the fact that the were experiencing a place we knew little about. It was exciting, and we felt like each new step was a step we were taking together.
When you love something, or the idea of something, so much, sometimes the expectation of that something is better than the real thing. But not giraffes. Nothing is better than real giraffes. After suffering some devastation when we went to the Smithsonian National Zoo and discovered there are no giraffes, our middle was poised to pounce on the next opportunity he had to watch his favorite creatures in action. So, when he found out the zoo down the street from his grandmother’s house had giraffes that you could feed, he made plans to do it as soon as he arrived. So on Christmas Eve, there we were, feeding giraffes and making little boy wishes come true. (Sorry Santa, but you were moved to second place.)
There are very few moments that stand out as the moment that officially proves you are getting older, and for the biggest little, it was when she discovered that she could ride a boogie board while at the Outer Banks. To be honest, riding the waves in was quite controlled. She wasn’t far out and I held her and then her on the board until a wave came and swept them away towards shore, which was literally about 10 short feet away. But still, that freedom of being in the water, the ocean, without being attached to my hand was so invigorating for her. And a bit frightening for me. And no, I wasn’t crying. That was just salt water in my eyes.
Ok. You got us. Our sweet little minivan didn’t actually make its way to Scotland. But I bet she wishes she did. And it wasn’t because her passengers consist of three insanely adorable little folks. It’s because Scotland is A. Maze. Ing. From minute to minute the scenery changed so much that I could never fathom taking a moment’s nap. Each twist and turn was a new color of hill, a new rainbow in the sky, a cascading waterfall, a quaint town, a castle in the distance. No view was ordinary. And I’m sure our van would love to have been there. Thankfully, we had a hybrid, so it made cheating on our sweet van feel a little bit better. Still, that three day drive could’ve been turned into a three month drive, and we all still would’ve been as awestruck. Scotland. Each and every turn. This family travel tribe will never get over you.
As I sit and watch Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen (secretly, not so secretly wishing it was Kathy Griffin), I am frantically adding this bit of bit to our favorite family travel moments. At zero hour we decided that we’d take a slow drive back to our home from our Christmas visit in Florida. This meant spreading 1200 miles over four days instead of three. But what to do with that extra day? Three Kids Dad randomly google searched “Resorts in Virginia” and came up with a little place called Massanutten Resort. We booked what was literally the last suite and crossed our fingers. And as of tonight, I can confidently say, it was the best random, barely researched, choice we’ve ever made. After a day of indoor water park fun, we ended our night dancing to 50s music hours after the littles should’ve been fast asleep. It is rare that you can pull into a resort in the darkness, be there for five minutes, and know you’ve got to come back. But this place did it. And on January 1, 2018, when we pull out and head back to our home, each of us will feel a bit sad, yet convinced, we will make it back.
Here or there. Traveling isn’t so much about getting somewhere far away. It’s about looking at each other differently, looking at the world differently, looking at ourselves differently. 2017 has given us so many opportunities to learn about each other, and hopefully 2018 will give us many more. (Have any recommendations on where we should go?)
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