By: Pat Ross
It was a two-day trip with a baby and a toddler in a mid-sized car. The destination was Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and the occasion was March Break. The waves, the sand castles, the warm temperatures and the numerous heated pools were glorious. But the drive?
You’ll have to try it yourself, along with all the other family-tested adventures that make the annual March Break holiday so memorable.
An action-packed family car trip is definitely a classic scenario. If you haven’t played Count the Cow, sung Old MacDonald Had a Farm (over and over again) and studiously ignored a growing pile of goldfish crackers and cheerios tumbling to the floor mats, well, what have you been doing each spring vacation?
There is many a middle-aged Ottawa parent who can still remember bickering and play fighting with a sibling in the backseat of a family car—until it abruptly and ominously pulled over to the side of the road. Oh oh. Occasional arbitrary seating rearrangements were part of the trip, along with emergency pee breaks, family storytelling and singalongs.
The same traditions continue today. There are many others too. Always, though, the annual spring getaway is about family bonding, whether it’s to an island in the Caribbean, to a hotel with a pool in downtown Ottawa or to the basement for a movie, some popcorn and a pillow fight. March Break is a state of mind.
It’s the time to take a day or two off (better yet a week) and be a kid with your kids. Lose the suit and the tie, the lipstick and the heels and the jam-packed to-do lists. Loosen up and let your youngsters take the lead.
If you’re heading on a ski trip, accompany the little ones on the bunny trails and the older ones on the bush trails or over the odd jump (when you’re feeling particularly brave). Forget function and form. Devote yourself to fun. There are a number of ski hills close to the city that are perfect for a day in the fresh air. If your plans include a hotel, Lake Placid, Vermont and New Hampshire all offer excellent skiing opportunities. In Quebec, Tremblant is closest to home (and will also work as a day trip), while the Eastern Townships and Quebec City’s Mont Ste. Anne are quite popular with families.
On the other hand, perhaps the city lights appeal to your crew. Kingston, Montreal and Toronto offer loads of family fun and attractions, with plenty of enticements for mom and dad, including wonderful restaurants, stage shows, shopping and spas. For real razzle-dazzle, head to New York City. Times Square, Central Park, the Staten Island Ferry, Broadway, Rockefeller Centre and the St. Patrick’s Day parade are just a few of the highlights.
When you want to really get away from it all, it’s okay to heed the call of palm trees and distant, tropical beaches. Many kids make great travellers and a lot of families book a cruise or beach vacation every March holiday. A number of families I know travel together each spring, so both kids and adults have friends for socializing.
But whether you go in a large group or as a single family, be sure you have comprehensive travel medical insurance. Don’t leave anything to chance. It’s also helpful to pack extra bottles of sunscreen, an anti-diarrheal product in a small first-aid kit and your kids’ favourite stuffies. (Whatever you do, don’t forget anybody’s blankie.) Should your destination happen to be Cuba, be aware that your credit card might not work. If it’s issued by a bank with a connection to the United States, it will not be accepted. It’s wise to check before you go.
In fact, it’s best to do a whole lot of planning and organizing before you go anywhere. In the case of an epic, Griswoldian car trip—with or without small fry in the backseat—you can make car travel part of the adventure. When the kids are older, get them to help chart the course and pick stopover spots and attractions they may like to visit. They can calculate distances, research different points on the map and help take ownership of the family fun. There’s enormous teaching and learning potential right through the trip (and they won’t even realize it).
Finally, if you’re feeling a little less ambitious, stick close to home. You can concentrate on enjoying down time with your kids and taking in some of this region’s celebrated landmarks and spring activities. After all, you can’t do better than a March Break vacation in Canada’s capital city.