Since becoming a parent, I’ve learned some hard truths about traveling with children. For example, air travel is brutal.
It’s bad enough if you’re traveling alone or with a friend or partner — the absurdity of wedging 3-ounce bottles of conditioner into a small plastic bag, the indignity of being ordered to remove one’s shoes in the security line, the humiliation of having some TSA agent rifle through your underwear in view of all and sundry.
Now take the hellscape that is modern air travel and add some irritable, sleep-deprived toddlers to the mix. You can probably imagine some likely outcomes: Yes, your toddler will abandon his place in the long security line to sprint towards the closest escalator. He will remark that the TSA agent pawing through your bag is ugly. And he will most definitely let loose with some ear-splitting howls the moment you get to your seats on the plane, keeping it up all the way though takeoff.
Despite the downsides, my husband and I continue to fly with our kids. I think it’s good for them to get used to the rituals of travel starting at a young age; and indeed, they’re becoming better travelers with every flight. But do I look forward to the airport slog? Not exactly.
Road trips, on the other hand, can be a more forgiving way to get out of town. They tend to be cheaper, for one thing. If your kids start freaking out in the backseat, there’s only you to annoy — not a plane full of seething, glaring strangers. And you can go somewhere new without needing to cross time zones (the fastest track to sleep destruction, as many already know).
I’ve chosen a small selection of road-trip destinations for your consideration.
Winter: Grand View Lodge, Nisswa, Minn.
Got friends with kids? With plenty of group-friendly accommodations, Grand View Lodge (2.5 hours from the Twin Cities) is a great place to go with them. The biggest selling point for our tots was definitely the pool and waterslide. There’s also a Family Fun Center with a bouncy house and video game consoles. If you want to get out at night sans children, check in with the front desk. They should have a list of local babysitters. There’s also an on-site spa for all your midwinter massage and pedicure needs.
Spring: Madison, Wis.
Book a room at the Park Hotel on Madison’s Capitol Square (a 4-hour drive from the Twin Cities). This will put you right where the action is: You’ll be close to plenty of good restaurants, the Madison Children’s Museum (pictured above) and State Street, to name a few. Plan to visit the free-admission Henry Vilas Zoo, similar to our Como Zoo, only better.
Tack on a side trip to the National Mustard Museum in nearby Middleton and you’ll walk away with a lifetime of memories from one quick weekend getaway.
Summer: Kinnickinnic State Park, River Falls, Wis.
Located where the St. Croix and Kinnickinnic rivers meet (45 minutes southwest of the Twin Cities), this picturesque state park features lovely river views, good hiking opportunities, a great-for-the-Midwest beach and a sandy delta populated by locals drinking beer and blasting Steve Miller Band tunes. Fun for the whole family!
Fall: Willow River State Park, Hudson, Wis.
Introduce your children to the joys of camping — just 45 minutes east of the Twin Cities!
Featuring good hiking trails and the impressive Willow Falls, Willow River State Park is a popular camping site. Looking for a piece of the action, we headed over there one Saturday afternoon. Arriving just as the sun was going down, my husband and I rushed to set up the tents. As we prepared to sit down to eat our lukewarm Smashburger takeout order, my daughter tripped over a log and gashed her shin.
Pro tip: Always find the location of the nearest emergency room and/or urgent care facility before hitting the road.
Shannon Keough lives in St. Paul with her husband and two children. Send questions or comments to email@example.com.