Road tripping with kids - tips and tricks to make it great!

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I have a bit of a romantic view of road trips - I think of the days in my teens and twenties when I took to the road with friends and we drove for hours, singing at the top of our lungs, stopping at random roadside attractions and were totally carefree.

This romantic view sometimes slides into thinking that a road trip with my husband and three kids will be the same, but we all know that’s not quite true. It can be fun and amazing, but there are a LOT more things to plan for and factor in.

As I was gearing up for a recent road trip with my family I thought I would collect some of MY best road trip tips, but I also went to our Facebook Page and asked others what their best road trip tips are - and there are some gems. Multiple times in the thread others responded, “I am printing this word for word for my road trip!”

So, here are some ideas, thoughts, and strategies to consider employing on YOUR next road trip.

If you have others to add, comment and we can either add them here (or maybe we’ll need a whole second post!)

Packing for a road trip

Janet said:

Socks, blankets and snacks. I have done many road trips with kids from when they were tiny between Ottawa and the east coast. For kids to sleep/nap/chill, they need to be warm and not hungry. I realized that when we are warm in the front and have air conditioning on, it can be cold in the back. Especially if they are barefoot and in sandals. So even in summer, I had my kids in socks with blankets in reach.

Gi Na said:

- Each person has their own packing cube for their clean clothes. We bring a large wet bag for dirty clothes until we can do laundry. 
- If we have some hotel stops along the way to our final destination I plan ahead and pack for hotel specifically (as there is often a pool and need for less clothes etc) to minimize what we have to carry in. And I label all the bags that are only for the hotel so it’s easy for my husband/myself to quickly identify what has to come into the hotel for the night and what can be left in the car. 
-aside from the usual we always have a potty in the trunk (our kids are 1, 3 and 5) and toilet paper and old grocery bags. And paper towels. And wet wipes. And a change of clothes easily accessible, including socks, for all the kids. 

Natalie said:

One of the best tips I’ve ever received is to pack things in a white bin tower in your trunk (if you have an SUV). That way you can easily access things you need without having to rummage through luggage every time.

Géraldine said:

Essentials on board are: one pillow each and their little special "road trip backpacks", that we keep packed and ready to go in the closet close to the front door. In each backpack, we have a notebook and pencils, one or two colouring books, (the magic ink ones are great!) and a rigid Crayola case they can use as a mini desk. Also a bottle of water and some snacks and Kleenex.

Give them food and other stuff

Activities and food can be the key to keeping kids entertained in the vehicle. Some people have a no food in the vehicle rule and some people say ALL THE SNACKS. You pick what works best for you and your family!

Misty said

They get a new wrapped gift every hour which was something they could read or play with (e.g colouring books, crayons, car games, silly putty etc.) Another thing I found super helpful was gum and/or suckers. For some reason they are always quieter when sucking on something.

Jennifer said

We also let the kids pack their own 'fun bag' of art supplies, books etc, which they like. And then I augment with maps from CAA showing where we're going (so when they ask 'where are we?' we can just tell them to check the map - it hasn't really worked yet, but I remain hopeful!), and a relevant book (the Dear Canada series is great for this), and my super secret bag of emergency sugar snacks.

Screen time for the road trip

Just like food, some people say yea and some say nay. I’m a yea but you pick what works best for you and your family here too! :)

  • Download movies from Netflix and have them loaded up on iPads and other devices.

  • Bring all the devices and charge cords you can find - we brought the Switch, the DSes, the iPods and the iPad. They got passed around and shared and for the most part, nobody whined about how long the drive was..

What to listen to

We loaded up a bunch of new and never heard songs onto our phones from Amazon music to keep things interesting and new.

We also loaded up on dozens of episodes of a podcast everyone enjoyed - Story Pirates (we also posted on Facebook and got some other great podcast recommendations!).

How to work out the sillies on a road trip

Rest Stop Rock Stretches

Rest Stop Rock Stretches

  • Look for hotels with a pool (and make sure their hours will work for when you’re arriving and leaving). A kid who spend 5+ hours in a car will almost ALWAYS have lots of energy to expend and a pool is an easy and contained way to let them get it all out before you try to have a big group of people trying to fall asleep in one room!

  • Rest stops - the ones without any restaurants and lots of picnic tables, are great for kids to get their wiggles out. We often will look for geocaches at them, and the kids will just run around and jump up and around on all the rocks and tables and around the bathroom building. Even at 10 and 12, for us this works just as well as when they were 4 and 6 :)

    Where to stay

    When we’re just driving with no precise plan on when or where we’ll stop, we have a tendency to look for the closest and easiest Holiday Inn Express with a pool. We know what we’ll get and we know the approximate price point.

    For our time in Washington, DC we knew we would be there for a number of days and wanted a home base and we used Air BnB (that link gives you a discount if it’s your first time using the service) for the first time. What a treat to have three bedrooms, a kitchen and a place to watch TV so we weren’t on top of each other all the time. We will definitely use that option again when we are somewhere for a few nights!

    Find these tips and tricks useful? Comment and let us know which one you liked the most. Or share your tips in the comments below!!

Family Travel: Dynamic Earth, Sudbury, Ontario

I grew up in Sudbury, Ontario, and although I didn't appreciate it as much at the time, it is a beautiful city with lots of things to do for families. A five-hour drive from Ottawa's west end, Sudbury offers families a plethora of beaches including Moonlight Beach, Bell Park, and Windy Lake and makes for a great long weekend destination.

FAMILY TRAVEL Sudbury Ontario.png

I now visit Sudbury twice a year, every spring and fall, to spend time with my grandfather. My most recent trip up was with my mom and my ten-year-old daughter. We all thought spring is the perfect time of year to check out one of Sudbury’s most popular tourist destinations, Dynamic Earth.

Of course, there is also Science North, which is known for its Bed of Nails, resident beaver and porcupine, flying squirrels, as well as many other interactive nature and science-related exhibitions. I hope to explore Science North again more when I return in the fall!

In the meantime, if you have never heard of the Bed of Nails before, check out this fun promotional video from Science North:

Dynamic Earth

This trip, we decided to visit Dynamic Earth. I hadn't been "down in the mines" since I was a kid and I was excited to share the Underground Tour experience with my daughter. When you arrive at Dynamic Earth, you are assigned a start time, which is typically every hour on the half hour. We got there 45 minutes before our underground tour started, so we took advantage of the additional exhibitions that are included with admission.

It was a beautiful day so we, of course, took the opportunity to snap pictures of the infamous Big Nickel that stands on the top of the hill at Dynamic Earth. The Big Nickel is a replica of the 1951 Canadian nickel and has been a selfie hotspot since before selfies were a thing! According to the Dynamic Earth website it, “symbolizes the wealth that Sudbury has contributed to the Canadian economy through nickel production.” I love that access to the nickel is barrier-free, which means anyone can walk or use a wheelchair to get up close with the Big Nickel. You may have heard that there were once other large coin monuments that shared space with the Big Nickel… you can learn what happened to them by visiting the Big Nickel, but I still believe the rumour that they rolled away. ;)

The always accessible Big Nickel

The always accessible Big Nickel

After visiting the Big Nickel, my daughter explored the Outdoor Science Park. This park is unlike any other! It features science and mining themed play structures, vehicles and slides safe and fun for kids of all ages. My daughter lived sliding down the “molten slag” slide towards a real slag pot and climbing the net climbing structure.

When we finally ventured back inside, we spent time learning about colour minerals on the mineral wall and playing in the mine training centre downstairs that featured virtual operating equipment such as a rock breaker, excavator and mining drone.  

Dynamic Earth Sudbury Activities.jpg

Of course, the real attraction was the underground tour. The tour starts by taking a big glass-windowed elevator down seven storeys. The guided group tour takes you through their demonstration mines through the ages. During the approximately hour-long underground tour, you learn the evolution of mining in the Sudbury region from the turn of the century to modern mining and also includes a mock-dynamite explosion. It's unlike any other tour I have been on, and I found it very interesting to learn about what went on under the ground all those years of living there. Also, you can purchase a postcard at the gift shop before heading down and mail it in their underground mailbox – a fun way to let others know how much fun you’re having! It’s a very realistic experience and makes you appreciate the dark and damp conditions miners continue to work in every day!

Dynamic Earth Underground Tour.jpg

If you’re planning a family trip to Sudbury, Ontario make sure to include Dynamic Earth! Here are some tips to make the most out of your time there: 

  • Pick up your underground tour pass for the next available tour time as soon as you arrive (you may be tempted to visit the Big Nickel first, but depending on when you arrive there will be plenty of time to do that!).

  • The temperature underground is approximately 13C (55F), so make sure you are dressed for cool and damp conditions by bringing a jacket and wearing running shoes.

  • I recommend the underground tour for children aged three and up, but there are strollers available underground!

  • It is dark when you first get in the elevator and when you first arrive underground. Make sure little ones are prepared by letting them know it will be dark, but also that there will be lights and that they are safe.

  • There are flashing lights.

  • There is a café on site if you want a quick bite to eat as well as numerous bathrooms.

  • Dynamic Earth is typically closed from October to March each year.

  • The Big Nickel is free to visit any time of the year!

For more information on Dynamic Earth, visit: https://sciencenorth.ca/dynamic-earth/.


Disclaimer: I received passes to Dynamic Earth for the purposes of this review, but all opinions are my own.

Family Travel: Greek Peak Mountain Resort, Syracuse, NY

KITC would like to welcome back guest blogger, Stephen Johnson. Stephen Johnson is an Ottawa writer who loves to write about family travel.  During the summer, you will most likely find him and his family at a local fair or festival. During the winter, a beach in Mexico is a likely bet.  


There are certain attractions that I have seen from roadside billboards, websites or tourism brochures but never had a chance to visit. One such place was Greek Peak Mountain Resort. Located south of Syracuse, New York just off of Interstate 81, we had passed the billboard for Greek Peak numerous times. This time, we decided to stop at the resort and are glad we did.

FAMILY TRAVEL - Greek Peak Mountain Resort .png

It may seem counterintuitive to visit a ski resort in mid-spring, but I checked online and was impressed by the spring and summer activities being offered. What particularly caught my eye and especially our son David’s attention, was the indoor waterpark. After arriving and checking in at the resort, it probably took us about ten minutes to change and hit the waterslides.

Indoor Water Park at Greek Peak Mountain Resort

Indoor Water Park at Greek Peak Mountain Resort

If you are reading this article in Ottawa or the greater area, you know spring has not been especially kind to us this year. Hurtling down the waterslide, it felt like it was mid-July. For the first slide, my son had assured me I would be fine. Ya right! The slide had numerous hairpin turns and drops, ensuring maximum adrenalin for Dad.

The second slide was a joint effort. David and I sat together on the toboggan as we shot off down the tube slide. I added the ballast in the back, ensuring we went extra fast. Sometimes, I do miss taking the little kids waterslide with David.

Greek Peak Mountain Resort Indoor Waterslides

Having had my excitement rush, it was time to relax. My wife, Sandy, David and I went to the indoor/outdoor hot tub and pool. Even though it was only about 13 C outside, we were able to relax in the warm water. We did our Scandinavian spa routine alternating between the hot tub and pool.

Hot Tub at Greek Peak Mountain Resort

We finished our time checking out the whitewater wave pool. David got right to the front of the waves riding them like he was a California surfer.

All of this activity had made us pleasantly tired and hungry. I was happy that our room had a full kitchen. We prepared a home-cooked meal of steak and veggies while saving money in the process.

After our meal, we were energized to go check out more of the lodge. The main area was decorated like a rustic wilderness lodge with wood beams and wood furniture. There was also a huge wood fireplace giving the area an extra cozy feeling.

Greek Peak Mountain Resort, Syracuse, NY

One of the things I love about travelling is the surprises that happen along the way. The weekend we were staying at Greek Peak there was a large wedding party. They were having fun but always respectful. As we were about to turn in for the night, we noticed an impressive fireworks display going off. At first, I ran through my limited knowledge of American holidays. I also considered it was a special promotion being put on by Greek Peak. The red heart-shaped fireworks gave it away. It was part of the wedding celebrations. The show was equally as good as many Canada Day celebrations (excluding Ottawa.) I had to smile when someone asked what they had planned for their first anniversary after such a momentous wedding celebration.

The next day, the smoke had cleared from the fireworks. We wanted to go check out the Greek Peak adventure centre. Various activities were offered ranging from ziplining, aerials rope course and a mountain coaster. We were somewhat short on time, so Sandy and David decided to opt for the mountain coaster. A lift brought Sandy, David and their two-person car to an altitude of 4,300 feet. I stayed at the base of the mountain. This is secondhand from Sandy and David, but both said the ride was awesome. The driver controls the speed of the car, thus allowing you to determine how fast or slow you go. I am sure at points David was asking Sandy to go faster. Both looked like they had a great time.

Greek Peak Mountain Resort, Syracuse, NY rollercoaster

After the coaster, it was time to leave Greek Peak and explore more of New York State. It will certainly not be our last time to the resort, and we will be more open to taking those detours off the main highway.

If you go - Greek Peak Mountain Resort is about 4h 15 minutes south of Ottawa just off Interstate 81. It is an all-season mountain resort, so any time a year is a good time to visit. The surrounding countryside is gorgeous so we would like to return to do some hiking. For more information about the resort visit, www.greekpeak.net.

Disclaimer: Stephen and his family were comped accommodation and activities but as always, all views are his own.

A Weekend in Montreal for Nuphilex and Nuit Blanche

KITC would like to welcome back guest blogger, Stephen Johnson. Stephen Johnson is an Ottawa writer who loves to write about family travel.  During the summer, you will most likely find him and his family at a local fair or festival. During the winter, a beach in Mexico is a likely bet.  

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Our son, David,  has always had eclectic interests.  He went through the dinosaur and reptile phase and has also included researching our family history and meeting seniors over a hundred as his passions.   As parents, Sandy and I have always tried to be supportive and nurture his hobbies. His latest interest, coin-collecting, took us on a road trip to Montreal to check out one of the largest coin shows in Canada, Nuphilex.

We arrived at Nuphilex early afternoon on Saturday.   David was concerned that perhaps all of the good coins had already been purchased.  Upon entering the hall, he found that was not the case. There were over forty dealers with an incredible selection of Canadian and world coins.   

Nuphilex

Having relatively little knowledge about coin-collecting, I am always concerned we may not be getting a fair price. Luckily, David has grown with his hobby researching what coins he needs to add to his collection and what is a reasonable price.   We found the dealers at Nuphilex were all very helpful and explained some of the finer points of coin-collecting. We were also offered a decent price on all the coins.

After a few hours of numismatic (fancy word for coin-collecting)  hunting, David, Sandy and I were ready to relax. Our past few trips to Montreal,  we have chosen to stay at the Residence Inn Downtown.  We love the hotel because it is only a two minute walk to the Peel Metro station and the rooms are always impeccably clean and spacious with in-suite kitchens.  

We took an hour catnap and were ready to go exploring again.  I had reserved tickets for the 7:00 pm performance of Aura at the Notre Dame Basilica.  It is hard to put Aura into words.  The first part of the experience allows you to explore the Basilica discovering a series of multimedia installations that highlight the artwork of the church.  

Notre Dame Basilica - Aura performance

The second part can best be described as rock concert meets religious experience.   The music tends to be classical with the light show being equal to any Pink Floyd concert or techno rave.   The overall effect is mind-blowing. The Basilica lit up with lasers and lights coming from all different directions.  I have been fortunate to travel to a number of different places and have seen many shows but have never seen anything like Aura.  My favourite was seeing the massive pipes of the organ illuminated by lasers.

After seeing Aura,  I would be very interested to take a tour of the Basilica to find out more of the history of the building.

Once we were done at the show, our party was just beginning.   The day we were in Montreal, Nuit Blanche (white night) was taking place as part of the Montreal en Lumiere festival.  Nuit Blanche features activities with an artistic bent.  It also takes place until the wee hours of the morning.

Montreal en Lumiere festival - Nuit Blanche

We stumbled upon the epicentre of Nuit Blanche in the Quartier des Spectacles near the Place-des-Arts metro.   The area was a cacophony of sound and lights.  There were activities for every age including a DJ stage,  illuminated toboggan run and ferris wheel. Our favourite were the outdoor fire pits where you could roast marshmallows and sausages.  It gave the feel of camping in the middle of the city surrounded by thousands of other revellers. The crowd was equally people under thirty and families.  Everyone mixed together just having a great time.

Illuminated toboggan un Montreal Nuit Blanche

David would have stayed up till the break of dawn.  Unfortunately for him, Sandy and my party days are well behind us so we turned in before 11 pm.  

The next day, we started off with a delicious buffet breakfast in the hotel.  I loaded up on the sausages and eggs while David and Sandy loved the waffles.

Once we had checked out the hotel, David wanted to make one more visit to Nuphilex.  As it was the last day, the crowds were smaller giving the vendors more time to talk with David.  Of course, we did not leave empty-handed. David added ten coins to add to his growing collection.   I am sure Nuphilex will become an annual tradition for our family.

If you go -  The best place to keep up-to-date about all activities in Montreal is www.mtl.org.  I would also recommend Nuphilex for non-coin collectors.  It is fascinating to see the currency from around the world and provides a good lesson about world history and geography.  


Disclaimer: Stephen and his family were comped for the hotel and Aura show as part of this review, but views are his own.



Family Travel: Visiting Kingston, Ontario

KITC would like to welcome back, guest blogger, Stephen Johnson. Stephen Johnson is an Ottawa writer who loves to write about family travel.  During the summer, you will most likely find him and his family at a local fair or festival.  During the winter, a beach in Mexico is a likely bet.  


Thanksgiving weekend has always been a chance for our family to obviously give thanks.  It has also been an opportunity to take a road trip. This year, we decided to visit Kingston, Ontario.   

We started our trip in Kingston picking up a kpass.  It is a great option if you are looking to visit a lot of destinations in Kingston including Fort Henry and the Kingston Pen tour.  Some tours and experiences need to be booked ahead of time so check the website.

For our first experience,  we decided to try out Improbable Escapes.  We had never tried out an escape room so the staff patiently explained what to expect.  We chose a room that had an elementary school theme which was appropriate for our son, David, who is ten years old.  

We were locked up in the room and had a series of challenges to solve, both physical and mental in order to escape.  I quickly found that problem-solving may not be my strong suit. My wife, Sandy and David solved most of the puzzles. I was very proud when I discovered a key hanging on a hook near the top of the room (that was more luck than skill!).  As part of the game, we were given two chances to call our guide for assistance. Each time, she provided useful advice without giving the game away.

We had one hour to escape from the room. At the fifty minute mark, our chances were not looking good. Finally, David figured out the way to crawl from one room to what we thought was freedom. We had only solved half of the puzzle and found a second chamber! Our guide was nice and gave us an extra fifteen minutes. We solved a couple more puzzles but did not ultimately escape. Fear not, our guide did let us out of the room.

Escape Room, Kingston Ontario

We really enjoyed it for our first time and are looking forward to trying escape rooms in Ottawa.  It is a great way for a family to work together and also encourage non-linear thinking. I also now know how to open a multitude of locks.

All of this thinking had worked up an appetite so we headed to our favourite restaurant in Kingston, Ali Baba Kabab. Three hearty plates of the shawarma mix and mint tea rejuvenated our energy.  

It is getting near Halloween so we decided to check out the Kingston Ghost and Mystery Trolley Tour.  Our first stop was appropriately a graveyard where we visited the gravesite of the first Prime Minister of Canada, Sir John A. Macdonald. Our guide told us about the history of the gravesite and a few potential spirits that may be haunting the graveyard.

The tour certainly does not advertise itself as a family attraction and parents with young kids might choose the regular day tour. On our tour, there were children younger than David. The guide was good at keeping the content age appropriate. She also had a good sense of humour making the atmosphere fun.  

We also visited Queen’s University and downtown Kingston. I did not realize the city was such a historic and potentially haunted place.

We ended our day by checking into the Ambassador Hotel and Conference Centre.  The Ambassador has been our go-to place since we started visiting Kingston after David was born. David took his first ride down a waterslide alone at the Ambassador when he was five even though mom and dad were white-knuckling it the whole time.   

To relive old times and relax after our busy day, we hit the pool and hot tub. David wanted to give the waterslide a go. We were much more relaxed seeing ten year old David go down than five year old David.

The next morning, we felt refreshed from a good sleep. We were also fortunate to have a room with a kitchenette and fridge. We had stocked up on eggs the night before and prepared a delicious breakfast.   

The plan for the day was to go on a boat cruise aboard the Island Queen. We started our cruise leaving the Kingston harbour going past Fort Henry and Wolfe Island. The scenery made me appreciate what a picturesque city Kingston truly is.

Kingston Ontario boat tours

Once out on the water,  the staff served up a delectable Thanksgiving lunch buffet including turkey and pumpkin pie. We were also kept entertained by a keyboardist who could play and sing almost any tune you threw at him.  He said he knew over 10,000 songs and I could believe him.

The highlight of the trip occurred once we hit the Thousand Islands near Gananoque. It was amazing to consider that there could be homes on some islands that seemed little more than rocky outcrops in the Saint Lawrence. The taped audio guide also gave us a lot of useful information about the Islands. We spent about forty minutes cruising around and then headed back.   

Boat Tour St-Lawrence River

Our man of 10,000 songs kept us entertained with everything from Elton John to the Beatles. Soon enough, we were back in port.

To wrap up our time in Kingston, we checked out some virtual reality at the VR Hut. David and I both chose Google Earth VR as we both love to travel. A person truly felt like they were walking in Hong Kong or New York City.   

VR Hut Kingston, Ontario

I also thought it was a perfect way to wrap up our trip.  Exploring a cutting edge technology that was physically located in a limestone heritage building. To me, that totally sums up Kingston.

The best place to start any planning for a trip to Kingston is by visiting, www.visitkingston.ca. As mentioned,  we always have a great stay at the Ambassador Hotel and Conference Centre www.ambassadorhotel.com.


Disclosure: Stephen and his family were provided with the Kpass by Tourism Kingston but as always, all views are his own.