Family Travel to Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls is a great place to visit with small kids. While small children near giant waterfalls may feel a little nerve-wracking, the barriers around the falls are safe, so it’s actually pretty easy to keep them from trying to find a barrel and rolling on down. Other pros:

  • The falls themselves, obviously, are beautiful and impressive. Even small children can appreciate that.
  • Clifton Hill is a big, ridiculous tourist trap, but it’s super fun for kids. There are rides that the whole family can enjoy. There’s an awesome Jurassic Park mini-golf place and a race track. Plus, there’s tons of silly souvenirs that they can choose from that will give them a little something to remember their trip without costing an arm and a leg.
  • We loved the Sky Wheel. I loved the view, I loved watching everyone’s excitement, and I loved the fact that our family could be in our own little clear pod where no one else could be bothered by my kids’ disregard for personal space or the weird comments they’re always making about poop and nipples.
  • There’s plenty to do, but it’s not overwhelmingly large. 4-5 days is just right. Early June is a pleasant time of year and the crowds weren’t bad at all, although there was a pretty big increase on the weekend. Later into the summer crowds can be an issue.
  • Journey Under the Falls gives you a poncho, but you don’t actually get drenched. This is important when traveling with a baby. You’ll get sprayed a little, like you might in a very light rain, but nothing crazy. It’s lovely.
  • Prices are reasonable. You just have to remember everything looks a little more expensive because it’s in Canadian Dollars. (I’m just going to assume you’re going to the Canada side here, because who doesn’t love Canada?)
  • The Butterfly Conservatory was cool for most of our family. My boundless optimism prevented me from predicting that my brilliant but sensory-atypical son would be like, the only kid ever to be scared of butterflies.  Fortunately, I found a solution in giving him my cell phone and asking him to take pictures of them. Somehow looking at them through the camera transformed them from fluttering specters into digital game pieces.

So don’t forget your passports, and have a great time! The Canadian Border is easy to get through, with little waiting. The trip is very drivable from the Mid-Atlantic Region, and I would recommend driving if you can. (This is mainly because we flew, and ended up missing our original flight and spending a lot of time in the airport, getting their 14 hours after we started, when we could have driven in 8). Road-tripping with little ones can be much less stressful than flying if you do it right, so hit the road and enjoy!

Planning Gone Wrong: Things to Avoid

Don’t skimp on your planning.  While meandering down a new road to see what you can see sounds romantic and lovely, it rarely turns out that way.  More likely, you may meander to a lack of gas stations and places to make a pit stop for your whining toddler, wander into a restaurant that is too expensive or not family friendly, or find yourself with nothing to do or too many choices leading to decision-paralysis.  Plan your days, albeit loosely, and identify several options that could work for food and sightseeing on your route and throughout your time at your destination.

Don’t over-plan.  Some of us are more likely to fall into the opposite trap of planning down to the minute, with days packed full of excursions and no room for spontaneity (or unexpected challenges that may come up.)  Especially if you are traveling with a big family, choose only a couple of activities per day, with some back ups that take weather and time into consideration (Sometimes attractions take a longer or shorter time than expected to enjoy).  Check out the food options, but have one or two in mind that will work for your family if others fail.  Plan carefully, but don’t overdo it.

Don’t force yourself to stick to the plan.  We once flew to Canada after missing a flight and in the midst of hand, food and mouth disease (it didn’t even cross my blissfully ignorant, pre-COVID mind that we might spread it to other passengers), because I was too stubborn to change plans.  It would have been much quicker and less painful to drive. All this to say that flexibility is key!  Sometimes plans should give way to better plans, and it does no good to hang on to something that is just not working.

Most importantly, don’t expect everything to go according to plan!  Anticipation and excitement leading up to a vacation are part of the fun, and it’s great to savor the experience this way.  But expecting that everything will go perfectly is another matter.  Expect the unexpected, and don’t expect perfection.  There will most certainly be some wonderful moments on your family vacation, but there will likely to be some challenging ones too, and that’s totally OK.  Look at those moments as opportunities for growth and learning, and for teachable moments to show our kids how to problem-solve and maintain a positive outlook even when they might be feeling tried, grumpy, hungry or stressed.  Then get back to enjoying yourselves!

Finally, don’t forget to laugh.  And in the spirit of laughter, please feel free to laugh at my misfortune in our big trip to Mexico – it wasn’t the first time I became severely ill south of the USA, but I sincerely hope it will be the last…

How to Travel with Kids

After about a decade of traveling with kids, I feel pretty confident and stress-free most of the time.  That doesn’t mean we don’t have our moments.  Remember not to expect a perfect trip, perfectly behaved children, or photo-worthy moments every moment.  But good planning with plenty of flexibility can help keep you from feeling utterly overwhelmed. Here are a few of the things I have learned along the way.

1.) FOOD needs to be a main priority. 45% of behavior problems in kids is because they’re hungry. If you’re like me, this means you have become incredibly adept at using google maps to locate every drive-through fast food restaurant within a five mile radius. If you’re a little more sophisticated, you should always be stocked with healthy snacks (in your car, purse, luggage, diaper bag, bra, etc.) and you will have a well planned food schedule that involves feeding them every 2-3 hours, BEFORE they get hangry.

2.) SLEEP needs to be your other main priority.  Another 45% of your kids’ bad behavior is because they’re tired. Yes, it’s vacation and the schedule’s going to need to be more flexible.  And yes, they’re excited and it’s hard to sleep in a new place.  But YES, they’re going to turn into tiny little monsters before the end of the trip if you let them get too overtired. Plan your schedule around the sleep needs of your youngest child, even if that’s a baby that’s napping at 9 and 1 and going to bed at 7.  Sometimes that means you can be driving during naptime so they can sleep.  Sometimes it means at least one parent needs to be in the hotel room with the littlest napper.  But in the end, everyone will enjoy the trip more if everyone is at least somewhat well-rested.

3.) Don’t be a jerk. So the other 10% of your kids’ bad behavior, is because they’re a jerk. I hate to be the one to tell you, but even your sweet little precious angel was born selfish. They all are. The opposite has to be taught, and the most powerful teacher is your example. You’re the adult. And 45% of your bad behavior is because you’re hungry and 45% is because you’re tired, so take care of yourself accordingly, the very best that you can. When you’re feeding your kids every 2-3 hours, eat something nutritious yourself. Take the opportunity to go to bed early with your kids while you’re away.  And try your best to be patient and loving with your babies, your partner, and yourself, because you don’t want a moment of anger to cast a cloud over those joyous vacation memories.  And if that happens, be quick to say “I’m sorry,” “I forgive you,” and “let’s move on with our day.” 

4.) Minimize the stuff you take with you. One of the reasons I love traveling is that I don’t have to deal with all the junk I’ve unfortunately accumulated over the years in my home.  We pack as lightly as we can, and it just makes life much simpler.  The focus is on the experience, not on the stuff.  Remember, the more stuff you bring, the more time you will spend taking care of it.

5.) Simplify your schedule. You don’t actually need to see 47 different tourist attractions to have a fun time.  It’s not about checking things off your list, but about enjoying a new corner of the world with the people you love.   Your kids will be perfectly happy exploring a new space, given the time to do so free of hurry and distractions.  And you will be happier if you have two or three activities to do each day that you truly value than if you have 47 things that you think you’re supposed to be doing with no breathing room in between. Sure, you should research a few extra options for the weather or in case some don’t’ work out or don’t take much time, but don’t try to do it all.  It’s vacation…  So slow down the pace, breath in the moment, and enjoy the journey!