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: The CN Tower and Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada

VIA Train Ride to Toronto

This summer my family and I decided to take trips closer to home, so on the August long weekend we took the train to Toronto, Ontario. It was my daughter’s first time on the train and between the comfortable seats and free WiFi, she is already asking when we can take the train again!

Although we had driven through Toronto several times, we had never spent quality time there.  My daughter had heard about the CN Tower and has asked many times when she could see it. She had also heard a lot about Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada and has wanted to see it for “years!” So, needless to say - she was excited for our trip to Toronto.

So, off we went. Our first must-see stop was the CN Tower. We went in the evening, which is a quieter time to go if you are trying to avoid lineups. They are open until 11 pm most nights, so later in the evening is a great time to watch the sun set and to admire the lights over the city of Toronto. The line ups during the day can be extremely long – and the line you see from the front doors is the security line (so have your bags, etc. ready to be checked).

CN Tower Toronto

Then there is another line once you purchase your Tower Experience tickets. This line can be up to another two hours, but you can purchase Timed General Admission for the Look Out Level, which gives you a specific date and time for an expedited trip up. I highly recommend this purchase – especially if you are travelling with young kids. You can purchase tickets online ahead of time as well, which is a great time saver.

We did not visit the SkyPod, but it definitely has the best views of the city as it is the highest observation level; however the floor to ceiling windows on the Look Out Level satisfied our ten year old’s curiosity level. The glass floor on the Look Out level was the biggest highlight for my daughter. She loved walking on it, sitting on it and kneeling on it - trying to make out what she was seeing below. She also thought it was cool to see the sharks that circle the roof of Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada.

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Glass Floor CN Tower Toronto

If you plan on visiting both the CN Tower and Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada, take a look at the “Sea to Sky” pass – it covers admission to both attractions at a lower price than paying for them separately.

View from the CN Tower Look Out

View from the CN Tower Look Out

We went to Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada first thing on a Saturday morning. If you go on a weekend or during a peak period, such as summer or March Break, I recommend going when doors open or in the evenings for a less crowded experience. The busiest hours are 11 am to 4 pm during peak dates, but even then, you will be in awe of this aquarium’s galleries and programming.

Jelly Fish - Ripley's Aquarium of Canada
Ripley's Aquarium of Canada

Although it may look small from the outside, this aquarium features sea life from all across the globe including Canadian waters. My daughter, who enjoys fishing, loved seeing a big bass swimming about in the Canadian Waters gallery. Between the Rainbow Reef gallery, which is filled with colourful tropical fish we had previously only seen in Disney movies, and the Dangerous Lagoon filled with a wide array of sharks, turtles and sting rays, this aquarium is a feast for the eyes! The moving floor in the Dangerous Lagoon moves you through a glass tunnel where visitors can watch ocean life in motion. You will feel like you’re truly underwater. We loved it so much we did the Dangerous Lagoon twice!

My daughter was curious as to why the sharks in the Dangerous Lagoon didn’t eat the other sea life. We asked a staff member who told us that the sharks are lazy and in the wild don’t eat very often, and because these sharks are in captivity they know they will be fed, so don’t feel a need to exert energy hunting when they know where their meals are coming from.

Dangerous Lagoon - Ripley's Aquarium of Canada

The aquarium experience comes with many educational facts, displays and an interesting “Life Support Systems” gallery that teaches visitors how they keep the tanks clean and the fish and other creatures healthy.

Shark at Ripley's Aquarium of Canada

Visitors of all ages will love Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada. There is so much to see, do and learn while there. It’s definitely an attraction I can see myself returning to!

Ripley's Aquarium of Canada

When was the last time you took a trip up the CN Tower? Have you visited the Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada recently? Share some of your favourite memories from two of Toronto’s biggest tourist attractions with us – we’d love to know!  

**Special thanks to CN Tower and Ripley's Aquarium for their hospitality and assistance in writing this post. Views are my own. 

 

A Family Weekend in Montreal

KITC would like to welcome guest blogger, Stephen Johnson to the blog. 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.  

Our family literally reached new heights on a recent trip to Montreal. We achieved this by riding a new Ferris wheel, taking the funicular up Olympic Stadium and visiting La Ronde amusement park. I was holding my breath the entire time!

The adventure started at La Grande Roue Ferris wheel located in Vieux Montreal. Our son, David, spotted it last summer while appropriately taking a zipline. He had been asking my wife, Sandy, and I all winter when we could take a ride on it. The day had finally arrived. I have never been one for heights but was pleasantly surprised by the comfort of the cabins and the smoothness of the ride. David was taking photos like it was the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. The glass compartments made taking photos easy. I must admit to being somewhat uneasy when David told me it was the largest Ferris wheel in Canada, especially when we stopped at the top, but all was well.

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After we finished at the Ferris wheel, we decided to check out the nearby Montreal Science Centre. David enjoyed all of the interactive exhibits. He particularly liked the exhibit about the human body. We spent a couple of hours exploring the museum. Once we were done, the spring weather was still doing its impression of hide and seek. One hour it was warm and sunny and the next was cool and rainy. We decided to wait out the damp weather with a tasty meal at Les Trois Brasseurs. Soon enough, the weather cleared and it was time to head back to our hotel.

The following day, we were ready for more high-flying fun. We headed to Olympic Stadium to visit the Montreal Tower. It is the tallest inclined tower in the world at 165 meters and a 45-degree angle. To reach the top we took a two-minute funicular ride that was stunning. Once at the top, we had a panoramic view of Montreal and surrounding area. Staff at the tower said on a clear day, it is possible to see up to 80 kilometers away.

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Once done at the tower, we were ready for an out-of-this-world visit. I’m not talking about a ride aboard an Elon Musk or Richard Branson rocket ship. We saw a show at the Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium The presentation was about the aurora borealis. The colours were truly spectacular and the presenter filled us in on the science behind the aurora borealis. We were also taken on a tour of all the constellations and planets we could see in the night sky.

After our celestial entertainment, we hopped on the Metro and made our way to Old Montreal. We decided to visit the Queens of Egypt exhibition at the Pointe-à-Callière museum. The exhibition was world class. It featured many different objects including monumental statues, frescos and even a mummy!

We wrapped up the day doing one of our favourite activities, just wandering the streets of Old Montreal and enjoying the ambiance. Street buskers and musicians just added to the atmosphere.

For our last day in Montreal, we fittingly scheduled more high-flying fun. La Ronde amusement park is one attraction we have never visited in Montreal so we were excited to go. To my knowledge, it is the only amusement park that can be accessed by metro in North America which I find cool. Upon entering the park, David wanted to find the highest ride. The Super Manège roller coaster fit the bill. My wife, Sandy, was brave enough to accompany David. I was given camera duty and was happy to snap away while Sandy and David had fun flippin’ and flyin’.

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The next ride on deck was the Bateau Pirate. The boat delivered up many thrills with it reaching extreme heights. David seemed more energized by every ride while Sandy bowed out after the Bateau. Next up, David decided to try the Goliath roller coaster. Afterwards, I read online that the ride went 110 km an hour (never shared that detail with Sandy!)

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For his final ride, David chose the Ednör roller coaster. It was a fun way for David to wrap up the day as the ride spun around and even went over a small lake. For the rest of the time, we walked around the grounds enjoying the sights and sounds. I liked the fact the park delivered many rides in a relatively compact space.

We had a comfortable stay at the Residence Inn by Marriott Downtown. It is located very close to the Peel metro station making it easy to get around all of Montreal. The hotel also had a delicious breakfast to start off the day.

We are already our next trip back to Montreal!

For more information about Montreal, attractions and events visit, www.mtl.org/en.

Tourism Montreal assisted David with attraction passes and hotel, but all views, etc. are his own.

Weekend Road Trip to London, Ontario

Gibbons Park, London, Ontario

Gibbons Park, London, Ontario

London, Ontario may not be an ideal weekend road trip destination from Ottawa (after all it’s about six hours away by car and that is providing Toronto traffic is light), but when you have in-laws and a new baby niece to visit, it becomes the perfect road trip. :)

I enjoy our visits to London, Ontario and there are certain spots we make a point of visiting with the kids; so I thought I would share them in case you ever find yourself in this delightful Southern Ontario city.

Gibbons Park

If you brought your bikes make your way to Gibbons Park to enjoy the paved paths along the scenic Thames river. The trail system goes to other parks, including Harris Park and all the way to the larger Springbank Park. In addition to the paths there is also a playground, public pool, mature trees and a splash pad. There is also plenty of parking and shade-covered spots for picnicking. If you love wide-open parks with mature trees then you will love this park! There is always something going on: kids flying kites, a soccer game or just lots of families enjoying the area's natural beauty.

Storybook Gardens

Jumping Pillow at Storybook Gardens

Jumping Pillow at Storybook Gardens

Storybook Gardens has been a family attraction in London for decades (since 1958), but they recently renovated and improved the park by removing the animals and zoo and replacing it with an amazing playground, large splash pad and fun playhouses. Storybook Gardens centers around popular fairytales and nursery rhymes and there are traces of those around the park, but more so there are rides, slides and a giant jumping pillow that is perfect for kids preschool aged and up. My daughter loves the giant slides and playground. It’s a fun-filled way to spend a day in London!

Playhouses at Storybook Gardens

Playhouses at Storybook Gardens

London’s Children’s Museum

For over three decades, the London Children’s Museum has been a popular destination for children. They have interactive exhibits and encourage children to learn by playing and touching. Admittedly some of the displays are worn out, but there is still plenty to see and do – especially on those rainy days when the kids are itching to run and get some energy out.

Fanshawe Pioneer Village

If you have ever gone to Upper Canada Village with your family and had a good time, then you will probably enjoy Fanshawe Pioneer Village as well. There is always interesting period-related activities going on in the historic buildings as well as throughout the village grounds. As with most pioneer villages, this interactive museum tells the story of rural communities, this one related to London and nearby counties from 1820 to 1920. It’s a great way for children to experience life in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Victoria Park

Turtle in Springbank Park, London

Turtle in Springbank Park, London

Located in the heart of the city, Victoria Park is usually the hub of activity with festivals and musical entertainment. If there is an event going on in the City of London – it will be at this park. It’s also full of history and there is a memorial to the Boer War, which may be interesting if you are travelling with a history buff.

Above all, I recommend visiting the many scenic parks in London. The massive mature trees are stunning and the wide-open space is perfect to let little ones run free (especially after a six hour drive).

Have you travelled to London, Ontario? Where is your favourite spot to visit with the family?