Bristol Renaissance Faire: A Chicagoland Spotlight

As an enthusiast, but sadly not practitioner, of time travel, I am especially fond of the Bristol Renaissance Faire. Just about an hour north of Chicago, right across the Wisconsin border, the Bristol Ren Faire is consistently voted the best in the country, and it’s easy to see why. Upon entering the gates of the 30-acre, open-air site, you’re transported to Elizabethan-era England (but, fortunately, with the benefit of modern-day conveniences).

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To escape the summertime heat and stench of London, Queen Elizabeth would spend time in the countryside, where villages would put on lavish festivals in her honor. The Faire replicates those visits, and serves as quite a shock to the senses, quickly forcing Chicago to fade into obscurity. When you’re at the Ren Faire, you really feel as though you’ve entered a new world, surrounded by the sights, sounds, and (only good, food-related) smells of the 16th century.

Within minutes, you’ll be greeted with several iterations of “good morrow,” “how dost thou?” or “hail and well met!” You’ll see costumes of grandeur, costumes of…scant fabric, and costumes that involve nothing more than a t-shirt that says “this is my Ren Faire costume.” (I’m convinced those are probably engineers.) You’ll look around in slack-jawed wonder and laugh at the anachronistic disparities between this world of fantasy and that of our own. It’s no wonder that the Faire’s slogan is “Where Fantasy Rules,” because that’s exactly what you’re getting when you go: a day of fantasy.

Why You Need to Visit

It’s a fun, living-color history lesson

There’s actually quite a bit of history laced in with the whimsy of the Ren Faire. As mentioned, it’s supposed to resemble the English countryside during Queen Elizabeth’s visit in approximately 1574, when townspeople would gather for elaborate celebrations and to flaunt their wares. This is why the Queen and her court are historically represented with quite a bit of pomp and circumstance each day of the Faire. You can even check out the Queen’s court as guests are being presented to her. The people representing these historical figures are quite impressive; they’ve auditioned for and researched their roles well and nail their accents. But it’s the costumes that really blow me away. Each one must be valued well into the thousands, if I were to guess, and they certainly add to the air of majesty and grandeur.

Visitors also have the opportunity to watch and even learn how to do the maypole dance.

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You can also learn quite a bit about the culture of knights and weapons, if you’re so inclined. The Military Encampment, or weaponry area, is especially fun.

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The 11 o’clock show is particularly important.

An inside source told us that most of the people in this section are, amazingly, wearing handmade, historically accurate costumes, and that several people working at the Faire hold master’s degrees in British history. Despite how silly it seems at times, there’s definitely some clout behind the scenes.

It’s a great place to take kids

The Ren Faire has so much to offer children, it’s like taking them to Disney, just on a much smaller budget and with little to no licensed character sightings. Aside from all of the history your child will absorb and weapons he will yield (again, great parents!), there are several play structures, face painting booths, human-powered carnival rides (which are hilarious to observe), free-range fairies and woodland nymphs, and so much more.

And, of course, there’s also the “horse part” as my son calls it, where you can see knights compete in an exciting jousting tournament. With this and all of the other kid features, I guarantee you’ll have much more fun here than you would at Medieval Times. It’s an almost laughable comparison.

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But make no mistake, there’s quite a bit of “adult” fun too

My implied salaciousness is purposeful, because bawdy humor abounds at the Ren Faire. Even the most unexpected of passersby may lash you with a biting tongue, as it seems implicitly understood and accepted that the sharper the wit, the more suggestive the commentary, and the more unseemly the pun, the more fun you’ll have (though, honestly, this is kind of how I feel about life in general).

For a taste of what I mean, I suggest checking out Adam Crack’s fire whip show, the Washing Well Wenches show, and Vegetable Justice.

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Throw tomatoes at the insult comic or you will face his relentless–and usually hilarious–scrutiny. Warning: throw only if you have a thick skin.

Grab one of the many available cocktails (I personally really enjoy the red sangria) and prepare to be mildly offended but thoroughly entertained.

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The Ren Faire is the only place I’ve ever seen chain mail or mesh bras–and shockingly, not just once, or twice, or thrice. Since it’s a little awkward taking a picture of someone in a bra, you’ll have to settle for this mannequin model.

There’s a ton of food and it’s pretty decent

With hundreds of food–and drink–options available, you’re sure to find something that whets your appetite. The turkey legs are popular, of course, but despite being Instagrammable, I actually prefer the calzones. Also worth trying are the pickles on a stick (the spicy one is great) and the jerky. Not worth your money is the white chocolate key lime pie on a stick. I should have trusted my gut on that one.

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You’re better off with a calzone, but I admit the picture is more exciting like this.

The entertainment is plentiful and worthwhile

There are so many kinds of performances you can watch at the Ren Faire that there’s guaranteed to be something up your alley. Even if you don’t want to sit down for an entire show, it’s impossible not to happen upon some type of art or musical installation just walking around. Keep your eyes and ears open (and check out the performances I mentioned above).

You can be anyone or anything you desire, and not a single person will care

To me, the best part of the Ren Faire is that everyone is 100% themselves; the day of fantasy also means it’s a day without judgment or shame. Everyone is welcomed and celebrated within the confines of the Faire, regardless of race, ethnicity, body type, or anything else. This also means you’re in for a treat as far as costumes go. Some of the most creative costumes I’ve ever seen have been right there in Bristol.

Sure, there are several people in traditional Ren Faire garb, practicing their Elizabethan English, but you’ll also find pretty much any kind of cosplay you can imagine. A mash-up fairy alien? Why not? Bruce Wayne with a Predator mask? Sure! Looking for a place to flaunt that chain mail bikini? This is it. Want to hang in the background and just observe in your normal, boring 2018 clothes? That’s okay too.

In fact, I’ve been so inspired and envious of all of the costumes over the years, that I finally decided to invest in one of my own. I love it so much I want to flaunt that baby everywhere: dinner, the gym, the laundromat, whatever. I’m pretty sure that’s normal.

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Costume from Silver Leaf Costumes. They were wonderfully helpful in selecting and fitting what is now my favorite outfit. Shoes especially historically accurate.

Quick Tips

Here are a few things I’ve learned over the years that will maximize your Ren Faire experience.

1. Bring sunscreen

Though there’s plenty of shade in spots, it’s hard to avoid the sun entirely. Make sure you’re packing and putting sunscreen to use, or you’ll end up as red as the tomato guy (probably redder since not a lot of people actually hit him).

2. Pack water bottles

Because it can get so warm, I highly recommend bringing your own water bottles. You’ll need to keep hydrated and I will say water fountains are not in abundance. Plus, a bottle of water costs $4. FOUR BUCKS. At a fairground in Wisconsin. For shame.

3. Take out some cash ahead of time

While most of the artisans accept charge cards, you’ll need cash for pretty much everything else, including food and drink. There are ATMs available at the Faire, but I recommend avoiding those lines and grabbing cash before you leave home.

4. Check out some of the stalls

The vendors at the Ren Faire showcase quite impressive craftsmanship, and you’d be seriously missing out if you didn’t check at least some of it out during your visit. You can find costumes (so many kinds of costumes), candles that turn into lotion, metalworks, blown glass, art, books, art-rendered maps, jewelry, and more.

5. Tire your kids out in the children’s garden

If you have kids, make sure to pay a visit to the children’s garden. It has adorable little Hobbit-style houses, slides, a stage, a big dragon egg, pirate ships that double as play structures, and characters who are all-too-willing to recruit your kids for some kind of mission. It’s spacious, right next to the mother’s room (see below), and a great way to make sure your kid is exhausted later that day.

6. Don’t be afraid to get in the spirit!

Most importantly, go with an open mind! Ask people questions, try your hand at one of the various activities (I went on the man-powered rocking ships and they were so fun), test out your best British accent, wear a costume (even if the rest of your family doesn’t), and have fun. The Bristol Renaissance Faire is a joyous place with joyous people, and not exploring it in its entirety would be doing it, and yourself, a major disservice.

Plan Your Visit

Print off a discount coupon before you go and either take it to your participating Menards or go ahead and head straight to the box office (it’s never very crowded in the morning). Without the discount, tickets are $25.95.

Location and hours

The Faire is located at 12550 120th Avenue, Kenosha, WI 53142. It’s open on Saturdays, Sundays, and Labor Day from July 7 through September 3 (meaning you have two more weekends this year!) from 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

Parking

There’s no public transportation, but there is plenty of paid parking in the field on site. I believe it’s $5 cash.

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Stroller or carrier

The Faire grounds are primarily dirt, gravel, and grass, so as long as your stroller can traverse those, I’d recommend bringing it. You can always throw the carrier down below.

Mother’s room

There is no air conditioning at the Faire, meaning it can get pretty warm. For a brief reprieve, check out the mother’s room by the children’s garden. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s a clean, air-conditioned room with changing tables and benches for nursing moms.

A Hit for All Ages

Do yourself a favor, Chicagoans, and make your way to the Bristol Renaissance Faire before it closes for the season after Labor Day. When you visit, you and your family are in for a day of lighthearted, boisterous hijinks and fun. If you soak in a little history or get into the cosplay, that’s honestly just a bonus.

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Travel With Your Kids

Now that we’ve established how much I enjoy traveling without kids, I thought it would be prudent to share how much I like to do it with them, too. It’s certainly different (read: more crap), but still wholly worthwhile. I say this at the tail end of both a camping weekend and trip to Disney, the holy grail kiddie Mecca, maker or breaker of traveling with children. If I still love to do it, then you know I mean it.

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I mean, come on.

When my now-toddler was a baby, we took him everywhere (except international, because we’ve selfishly kept that for ourselves). In fact, he visited 13 states in his first two years. While our now-baby hasn’t traveled quite to that same degree, she’s no slouch on travel protocols either. I recognize it’s not cheap to travel, whether by car, train, bus, boat, or plane. But in case you weren’t aware, kids under two do fly free on your lap within the U.S. As you can see, we really took advantage of that with our first and intend to do so as much as possible with the second, too.

Maybe you don’t like to travel in general. If that’s the case, skip this post. Just know that I think there’s a kind of travel for everyone, and it’d be a real shame if you–and your kids–miss out on the chance to explore the world around you. If you don’t like to travel because you don’t want to be around people–which is completely fair–take a road trip to somewhere in the country. If you don’t like to plan, try outsourcing it to a friend or travel agent. Just don’t dismiss it altogether.

If you do share my propensity to jet set, but are, like many of my friends, a little intimidated to do so with children, look no further. I’m here to help dispel your fears and doubts by sharing some of my wisdom for traveling with little ones. Many blogs have done this before, so I’ll try to keep it simple.

The Only Traveling-With-Kids Advice You Need

Have no expectations and go with the flow. End of story.

Somewhat timely GIF, no? #royalwedding [Source]

Now’s about the point where you want to slap me in the face and tell me to STFU, right? No expectations and go with the flow? Yeah, okay. If we were truly able to do that, we wouldn’t be parents of the modern age. It’s nearly as bad as when people tell you to “just relax.” However, with the understanding that it’s never easy to just let go, that is precisely what I recommend you do when you’re gearing up to travel with children.

Keep going, I promise I’ll get less annoying. [Source]

Despite my rather long introduction, it’s not a big deal, guys. That’s what I’m trying to get at here. Ultimately, it’s just like every other part of parenthood: something that’s wrought with both challenges and rewards.

Because I’m feeling particularly loquacious today, I’m not going to leave you with just that. While I’m not lying when I say it’s your best bet for having a good time on your travels, I’ll do my best to impart my simplest, tried-and-true travel tips right in this here post.

Regardless of how much you read up beforehand or how much junk you lug with you, though, not everything will go according to plan and you’ll undoubtedly experience some choppy waters while you’re on your trip. If you don’t go in with a strict “plan,” you won’t be all that disappointed when things don’t quite follow it. After all, isn’t it the very nature of children to be unpredictable?

Some level of chaos will ensue

A tantrum or two (or what feels like infinity) might will definitely happen, sleep might be interrupted to the point of exhaustion, or you might run out of some item you deem necessary. So what? All of those things can occur just as easily at home, too. At least in my mind, all of the positive experiences you gain on a trip–even if it’s just spending some quality time together outside of your normal routine–far outweigh those minor inconveniences. Tantrums? They subside. Sleep? You’ll eventually get it again. That’s what caffeine is for. Kid supplies? There are probably kids where you’re going. Ask someone where you can purchase something similar. If you can’t find it, take a deep breath and know that children survived for hundreds of thousands of years without it. Yours will too.

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And for those moments when your own survival is in question, send a frustrated selfie to your spouse who’s sleeping peacefully at home. It accomplishes nothing but feels pretty damn good.

But it’s so worth it

All of those minor blips in time will pass and be forgotten, unlike the memories you’ll cherish forever. Sure, your kids may be too young to remember anything, but you will. (And if all you remember is how terribly something went, then I have two things to say: 1. You probably need a general shift in perspective; and 2. Time has a funny way of softening those blows, too.)

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One of my all-time favorite pictures.

TL;DR: it’s all temporary, so you might as well enjoy it

If you’re going for a decent amount of time, then your kid will adjust to a new schedule. If you’re not, then you’ll just need a couple of days to get back on track. Either way, it’ll be over before you know it.

Keep in mind that some of the biggest benefits of traveling are expanding your worldview and forcing yourself outside of your comfort zone. If nothing else, these are just magnified with children in tow.

All of that said, I’m not your therapist and lest I start advising you to try and relax (there’s that awful piece of advice again), I don’t have great counsel in terms of how to actually shift your expectations. That’s on you. Instead, here are some practical tips on how to ease your travel.

What to Pack

In general life terms, I tend to be a less-is-more kind of person. This extends to my parenting philosophy–which is why my daughter can sometimes be seen chewing on plastic cutlery in lieu of toys–especially when traveling. (It does not, however, appear to extend to the length of this post.) With that in mind, there are some things you’ll want to have in your bags to ensure smoother sailing, regardless of where you’re going.

Must-haves

Clothes and a hat

This is a no-brainer, but I’d like to remind you to bring a few extra outfits because much like movie-promoting celebrities, kids often require a midday costume change. If you’ll have access to a washing machine on your trip, this is obviously less important. If not, bring extra clothes and throw in a wet bag for good measure.

My other favorite travel accessory is a good ol’ sun hat. I’ve been a big fan of this one from i play because it shields kids’ necks and holds up well in the pool.

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My favorite hat and my favorite girl.

Tools of distraction

What I really mean is, bring food and new, exciting toys. One of the great things about having an almost-three-year-old is that he can finally carry his own backpack of crap, but believe me, you’ll want these regardless of your mode of transportation or age of your kids. This music maker from Baby Einstein is my favorite travel toy for babies, and for toddlers I love the Fire 7 Kids Edition Kindle (trust me, screen time will be your travel ally) and this Transformer car (though any vehicle would do).

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Or he can just dump the toys out and wear it! Whatever works.

Easy and transportable snacks include packets from Plum Organics, raisins, and pretzel rods (for kids of all ages).

Baby carrier

One of my best tips for you, especially when traveling with babies or young toddlers, is to babywear. I cannot stress this enough. For the infant age, I loved my Baby K’tan Breeze.

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Totally ignoring the scenery.

For babies and toddlers, I’ve loved the ergobaby Mesh 360.

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Any hike is easy when you’re being carried in an Ergo.

For hiking with older toddlers, I am a huge fan of the Deuter Kid Comfort 2.

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Okay, so we obviously enjoy hiking. Note: I really ought to take more pictures with my daughter.

Wearing your kid is beneficial for many reasons. It frees up your hands, keeps baby close to you for his and your comfort, and allows you to nurse on-the-go. If you haven’t figured out how to do this yet, I strongly urge you to experiment until you do. In fact, nursing is another one of the best travel tips I can give because it helps soothe your baby in an otherwise new environment.

All of these benefits are invaluable in an airport (despite my not showing pictures of me carrying my babies anywhere but on hikes). You’ll also find that a carrier comes in handy while you’re actually in your destination. Plus, kids love falling asleep in carriers. It’s a win-win.

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Dads can babywear too!

Birth certificate

This really only matters if you’re flying, but don’t forget the birth certificate, mostly if you’re taking advantage of the kids-under-two-fly-free-on-your-lap policy. I’ve flown on nearly all airlines with my kids and have found that while some airlines always require it (Southwest), others will occasionally request to see it, too. Your best bet is to have a copy in case it’s needed. I just keep a copy of both birth certificates next to my ID, and that seems to work well for us.

Nice-to-haves

These are some things I usually end up packing with me, but I’ve also often just bought once I’ve gotten there. Either way, you wouldn’t regret them.

Ibuprofen

You never know when your kid is going to get sick or suddenly sprout a tooth. I usually sneak a bottle of ibuprofen in my bag because it lasts longer than acetaminophen and is an anti-inflammatory, meaning those achy gums will be better relieved.

Sunscreen

My fair-skinned children require a good amount of sunscreen, so I typically bring it with me so I don’t have to worry about it later. I personally prefer Babyganics Sunscreen for everyday use and Badger Balm Anti-Bug Sunscreen for camping and hiking.

Don’t bother

Pack ‘n’ play and other gear

If you’re traveling to a hotel, they most likely have a pack ‘n’ play or crib they can put in your room upon check-in. Just call and add it to your reservation. If you’re visiting someone’s home, ask if they have an extra or could borrow one from a friend. If you’re renting a place like an AirBnB, look into baby equipment rentals in the area. One of these three options has yet to fail me on all of my traveling-with-kids adventures. When driving, however, it’s often easiest to just bring it along if you have the space.

As for other baby gear, you don’t need it. Like everything else, you’ll figure out an appropriate workaround. Honestly, any alternative is easier than lugging all that clunky, heavy stuff.

Diapers

Pack your carry-on with as many diapers as you’d need for the day, then worry about buying more for your trip once you’re actually there. Diapers are way too bulky and cumbersome to worry about packing in a suitcase, and you’ll find them no matter where you’re going.

Top 3 Tips for Air Travel

1. Check all your crap

If you’re taking advantage of the lap child policy, you’ll need to head to the ticket counter to add the kid to your ticket anyway. While you’re there, you might as well check your bag (I like to use a big one for the whole family) and your car seat(s) if you’ll be using a car while you’re away. (I’ve used rented car seats once and was so unimpressed, I likely won’t do it again.) While all airlines allow you to check your car seat and stroller for free (although some have weight limits, so do your homework), free checked bags are one of the things that differentiate Southwest to me. In general, I find them to be the most kid-friendly airline before, during, and after the flight takes place.

When checking these kid items, I’ve also found it’s easiest to get the big red bags for car seats and strollers since they’re so easy to spot and help keep the items clean. Unfortunately, you do run the risk of your stuff getting manhandled a bit, but in almost three years, it hasn’t been a problem for me.

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Car seat in bag plus large suitcase, ready to be checked.

My routine is such that I usually check the bag and car seat, get my boarding pass, then head to security with my baby carrier and lightweight umbrella stroller (unless I’m going somewhere I won’t use one). Then during the security check, I wear the baby, fold up the stroller, and proceed to the gate, where I get a gate-check tag for the red stroller bag. Then right before I board, I fold up the stroller once more, stuff it in the red bag, and drop it off on the jet way with other gate-check bags. This sounds involved, but it’s an easy routine when you actually move through the steps, and strangers are almost always willing to help if needed.

What’s nice about having the stroller in the airport is that you can lug around a kid who is otherwise slow and/or not cooperative. If you end up continuing to wear baby, then you at least have a nice little storage seat for your carry-on bag to help save your back a bit.

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Another bonus to bringing a stroller: naps on the go. What better way to enjoy a Mai Tai on the beach than with a sleeping child?

2. Tire your kid out before you board

Many airports have play areas for children. Philadelphia and San Francisco both come to mind immediately, though I know I’ve seen several. Take advantage of these designated areas to let your kid exhaust himself as much as possible before he’s forced to sit still for a few hours.

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This was taken at SFO, where they actually do have a kids’ play area despite this not being it. The point is, he was entertained, and that’s all that matters.

If you’re in an airport without a designated kids’ area, look outside and see wonder on your kid’s face as he takes in all the planes, trucks, and cars whirring by. This has provided us with endless hours of entertainment.

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“Mommy, wook! Boo trucks!”

3. Choose a window seat

You may think it would be best to sit in the aisle seat so you can get up easily with kids, but I have learned (the hard way) that window seats are ideal. First of all, they allow kids to see outside and stare at clouds or whatever else is out there. Better yet, window seats allow you to turn to the wall for a bit more privacy if you need to soothe your kid. They also allow kids to play with the armrest without bothering your neighbors. More still, they provide a headrest or more wiggle room if your kid falls asleep on you and stretches out. Finally, window seats mean window shades, and boy have those come in handy for last-resort distractions. I’ve also had friends buy those dollar store sticky window decals for flights, and I think that’s a wonderful idea.

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The emergency landing manual has never failed, either. Nor has a basic flashlight, surprisingly.

If you’re flying an airline that allows you to choose your seat ahead of time, book yourself or your kid in the window. If you’re flying Southwest, remember families can board between groups A and B. I’ve never had an issue finding a window seat at that time.

No matter the seat you do choose, if you’re a breastfeeding mom, be prepared to nurse a lot on your flight, especially during takeoff and landing, since the sucking motion helps prevent ear discomfort for the babe. The release in oxytocin should also help  make your baby drowsy, and let me tell you, a sleeping baby is the best kind of traveling baby. When they’re not as pliable or likely to nurse at any time of the day, have a water bottle with a straw ready to go during changes in altitude.

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Yes, Toddler Bear, I agree that the Chicago skyline is mesmerizing.

Top 2 Tips for Car Travel

1. Plan on a few short breaks

I have to pee regularly anyway, so I already know I’ll have to stop on a road trip. This is beneficial during trips with our kids because it allows us time to get them out of their car seats to stretch their legs too.

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Even if stretching their legs is done on yours.

2. Find music you and your kid will enjoy

Someone once gifted us with this CD of children’s songs, and it is incredible how instantly it helps both of our kids settle down when they’re feeling restless. Compared to a lot of children’s music, I’ll freely admit I even kind of like it. Maybe it’s because I’ve listened to 99,000 spirited renditions of “I’ve Been Workin’ on the Railroad,” but I can’t but help sing right along.

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This just might be the best $5 you’ll ever spend. [Source]

Camping with Kids

Camping with kids is really fun, too. See my previous post for tips on this particular version of travel.

Have Fun and Record Your Stories

Some of my favorite–or most laugh-out-loud–parenting memories have come from our trips together. For example, I remember the first flight I took with a newly minted toddler. He was extra active, climbing on my legs, yodeling at the people behind us, blowing raspberries and basically motorboating me, and being all-around wiggly. When I finally got him to stop and have a sip of water, I didn’t take into account that the pressure change would cause the water trapped in the straw to burst out like a geyser at all of those around us. If only I had this on film. (Moral of the story: appreciate while you can how easy it is to travel with a baby.)

With time and distance, I’ve now also come to find the silver lining in that one god-awful time my son screamed throughout the entire first flight, subsequent run through the airport, and boarding of our second flight. Once he finally fell asleep, he curled right up against my then-30-weeks-pregnant belly. His soon-to-be sister took the opportunity to begin pursuing her life goal of irritating him, because she wouldn’t stop kicking against his head. Little did he know how in-his-face she’d later become. Now when I think back to that day, I remember the cuddles and the belly kicks, and not the exact pitch at which I finally went insane (okay, maybe a little of that).

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Minutes after he finally passed out on the aforementioned flight from hell. Now, in retrospect, I can appreciate how sweet this moment was.

And that’s not even to mention all of the memories I have from once we’ve arrived at our destinations. For example, I’ll never forget the first time my daughter went hiking in the Rockies or sprawled out in our tent, effectively leaving me with a sliver of space between her and my snoring toddler. I’ll never forget the first time my son dipped his feet in the ocean.

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As you can probably tell from my face, I had no idea that wave was coming. Good thing kids are resilient.

I’ll never forget when he decided to go swimming with a sweet potato fry or the look of adoration on his face as he met the Disney princesses.

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Love at first sight.

These memories are the ones that will stick with me, not the ones of nights without sleep. It’s true that traveling changes you, and I can assure you that traveling with your kids will do so tenfold, because what you learn on your journey may embed itself into the very core of who you are as a parent.

I do not deny that it’s expensive to travel, and more so with kids. But if it’s within your means, by whatever means necessary, I say you go for it. Don’t let children or your fear of traveling with them interrupt your desire to explore the world. Life is entirely too short to quell your sense of wanderlust because you’re not sure how to navigate with kids. Like anything else, sometimes the best and most rewarding way to experience something is through baptism by fire. You just have to jump in and take comfort knowing you’ll probably land on your feet one way or another. If you can parent at home, I promise you can parent afar.

Now go book your trip, pack your bags, and have fun. Bon voyage!

Never doubt it. [Source]

 

 

Top 5 Reasons to Visit Bermuda

For years, one of my friends has claimed Bermuda to be her favorite place in the entire world. I never gave it much thought–I mean, yeah, islands are amazing–until I was looking at places to visit over a much-needed long weekend sans kids. After some quick research, and upon discovering that flights to Bermuda were about the same as flights to Phoenix or New Orleans (yes, really), I decided it was high time to see for myself what she’d fallen in love with many years before.

Long story short, I was not disappointed.

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IMPORTANT: All beach and/or ocean photos in this post are 100% unedited. That water is completely real and even more breathtaking in person. This was a shot of the pink sand beach of Horseshoe Bay.

Before I disclose why, and subsequently why you should absolutely add Bermuda to your travel bucket list, let me disclose a few other things.

One, we travel a lot, even now that we have kids (although less than before, because, well, money). Travel is one of my biggest life values; it invigorates me like nothing else. I am aware that traveling as much as I have makes me very lucky and I try not to take it for granted. I am also grateful to my husband for supporting my ringing sense of wanderlust even though it’s not as high on his list of priorities. I like to think we make a good team.

You may be surprised to hear we travel because, surprisingly, this is my first travel post. (I did blog about my trip to Scandinavia on another friend’s blog a few years ago. Check out my posts about Sweden, Norway, and Denmark.) I always intend to post after we travel somewhere new, but I just haven’t gotten around to it (add it to the list of things I’ve not yet covered). Anyway, this is still fresh and the weekend was so short, I felt it would be a great segue into more travel blogging. Let’s hope you agree.

Secondly, this post is not an ad nor is it sponsored in any way (although I’m totally open if any other island destinations want to prove why they’re even better). The enthusiasm you read from this post is 100% genuine as are my recommendations for places to eat, stay, and explore.

Now that we’ve crossed those t’s, let’s move on to the top five reasons why you should visit Bermuda.

Why Bermuda Should Be Your Next Vacation Destination

1. It’s so close

Despite being included in the long list of Caribbean islands in the Beach Boys song “Kokomo,” Bermuda is, in fact, in the Atlantic Ocean. It’s basically along the same latitude as South Carolina. While this meant mid-April temps were a little chillier than we had hoped–though mid-70s felt plenty like paradise after this long Chicago winter–it also meant we were only a two-hour flight from Philadelphia. Since Philly is only an hour and a half away from Chicago, we were in Bermuda in the time it would take us to reach LA. Not bad.

And, for what it’s worth, those cooler mid-April temps also meant our visit fell in the off-season, when it’s slightly cheaper and much less crowded. We may have had to wear wet suits when snorkeling and cardigans at night, but those two things made up for it.

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So small, the map doesn’t even show land.

2. It’s small, safe, clean, and convenient

Prior to visiting, I didn’t know much about Bermuda aside from the fact that it’s one of the biggest insurance hubs in the world (which is why, according to the UN, it has the fourth highest GDP per capita). That’s certainly true, and it’s apparent that there’s a lot of wealth on the island, but I also discovered that it’s a small but proud country with a rich history and charming people.

Bermuda is only 24 miles long and averages about a mile wide. To put that in perspective, people voluntarily run farther than this for fun. The population is only about 65,000, meaning the entire island is only slightly larger than my alma mater (hook ’em). The country values privacy, making it a popular haunt for celebrities. According to a taxi driver of ours, paparazzi are unable to get work visas and therefore have their equipment confiscated upon arrival. More importantly, though I think that’s noteworthy, crime is low. As someone told us, it’s not exactly inconspicuous for a thief to lug a stolen TV on the back of their scooter. Bermuda is so safe that many people apparently leave their doors unlocked. The relatively small and interconnected community is likely also to thank for that, though I can’t be sure.

Also important for US travelers, the exchange rate between currencies is equal, so Bermudian dollars and US dollars are accepted interchangeably. Tourists are not allowed to rent cars in Bermuda, so taxis, buses, or scooters are the primary form of transportation around the island. We used taxis, and they were all very easy to arrange. Basically, there’s not a lot of guesswork to be had. Another bonus in terms of easy travel for Americans is that English is Bermuda’s official language. Needless to say, it’s a perfect little oasis for even the most timid traveler.

And if you’re into that kind of thing, it’s got some of the weirdest knickknack souvenirs I’ve ever seen.

3. Bermudians are extremely friendly and accommodating

We stayed at Cambridge Beaches Resort and Spa on the western tip of the island and it provided the perfect getaway. Before I continue, take a look at the following pictures all taken of the hotel property so you can see for yourself.

I first corresponded with the staff to arrange transportation from the airport, and I could immediately tell our stay would be fantastic. Everyone we spoke to was warm, hospitable, and helpful, which is obviously something you hope to find at a resort (but don’t always). What was unique in the people we encountered at Cambridge Beaches, however, was that their warmth and friendliness seemed authentic and not just because it was their job to be nice. This was true of every single person we came across on our stay in Bermuda. Yes, many of the people we encountered were in the hospitality industry, from the hotel to restaurants to taxi drivers to the scuba instructors. But even the random Bermudian people we met out and about struck up delightful conversations with us and genuinely seemed to want to help make our experience on Bermuda the best it could be. It’s like everyone on the island was trained in being travel guides. As someone who likes doing this for Chicago visitors, I felt like I was with my kind of people.

4. The food and drinks are delicious

When you’re parents to two young children and you have a long weekend to yourselves (with a couple of your closest friends), you absolutely look forward to consuming copious amounts of tropical drinks. Luckily, Bermuda is known for two such cocktails in particular: the Rum Swizzle, basically rum punch, and the Dark ‘n’ Stormy, dark rum and ginger beer. Despite my affinity for Mai Tais, I’m not usually that fond of rum. I am fond of drinking what the locals recommend, though, and I can’t say I was let down.

I may have been too hungry to take pictures of the food we ate (not sorry), but rest assured I took my stereotypical beach drink pics. You’re welcome.

Though I don’t have any of those food pictures, the food was so good I, at the very least, owe you the names of the restaurants I’d suggest. As you can imagine, Bermuda’s fish is plentiful, fresh, and absolutely delicious.

One of our first meals on the island was also perhaps one of the best, the wahoo fish sandwich on raisin bread with the works at Woody’s. We were actually en route to a different restaurant when a taxi driver persuaded us to avoid the “tourist trap” and eat at Woody’s instead. I’m so glad we did, because the sandwich was perfectly crafted and very reasonably priced (as were their Rum Swizzles).

On the other end of the spectrum was another great meal at Tamarisk, a fine dining restaurant conveniently located in our hotel. There, I’d highly recommend the lemon pepper-crusted red hind followed by the vanilla-lavender ice cream with a brownie and hazelnut sauce. I wish that meal were in front of me right now.

Another hit was our meal at Bonefish in the historic Dockyard. I thoroughly enjoyed my Mai Tai and salad with perfectly grilled and seasoned snapper, and the bite I had of the fish tacos was also something to write home about.

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The Dockyard is a former royal naval base, active between the mid-1700s to the mid-1900s. Now it’s a touristy area with all sorts of shops and restaurants, but it was neat to read the historical signs posted in the vicinity.

My last recommendation is for the Henry VIII Sushi Bar and Pub. One, how can you not be drawn to that delightfully strange combination of foods? Two, their butter chicken, because it makes sense that Indian food was also on the menu, was very tasty. If you visit, I’d recommend going during the day because the ocean views from the restaurant, which we visited at night, looked like they would have been fantastic with more light.

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Lionfish, a non-native, invasive, and venemous fish, is prevalent in Bermudian waters. One of the scuba divers on our snorkel trip called himself a “lionfish hunter” and caught these two throughout the day. That said, they are apparently quite tasty. (Friendly reminder: venomous is when something injects venom and poisonous is when something deadly is ingested. They are often exclusive of each other.)

5. It’s gorgeous

I can show you as many pictures as I want, but the true beauty of Bermuda is hard to describe without seeing it firsthand. The pink sand beaches strike a beautiful contrast against the serene waters of cerulean, aquamarine, turquoise, and cobalt. The vivid green vegetation is perfectly scattered amongst the brightly colored homes tucked away from the curved two-lane roads. Bermuda’s 24 miles sure pull a picturesque punch in a small amount of space.

Our taxi rides were certainly helpful in showing us more of what the island had to offer, but my favorite–and probably most incredible–views came from our snorkel adventure.

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Thank goodness for the wet suits.

We used Blue Water Divers because they accommodated both scuba divers, like our friends, and snorkelers, like us, on the same boat. We took a half-day trip out around two sites: the Marie Celeste, a nineteenth century Confederate paddle steamer shipwreck, and a reef. The water was chilly, hence the wet suits you see above, but incredibly clear. I honestly had no idea the water in the Atlantic could be so clear. Our friends dove down 53 feet to the bottom of the shipwreck, and, amazingly, I could see the them clearly from my position on the surface. As I floated above the scuba divers’ bubbles and cautiously took note of the Portuguese man o’ wars, I observed sunbeams shining through the water all the way to the bottom of the ocean. It was almost as if I were a modern-day Ariel luxuriating in the sun-rippled sand. That is if Ariel were wearing a black seal suit and shivering at the surface. To-may-to, to-mah-to.

If you find yourself seeking your own snorkeling princess adventure, I do highly recommend Blue Water Divers. The captain and crew went out of their way to ensure our safety–especially that of the scuba divers–and followed suit of all other Bermudians in their overall travel guide helpfulness. Plus, one of the scuba instructors and I bonded over breastfeeding, so that’s fun.

I sadly have no underwater pictures, but here are some more (unedited) photos to demonstrate the splendor that is Bermuda.

Also Good to Know

It’s a great to place to visit with friends

Bermuda’s close proximity and reasonable off-season prices made for a great long weekend getaway with some great friends.

None of this would have been possible without generous grandparents

Thanks to Grandma and Granddad, our kids spent a fun-filled weekend at home while we were gallivanting around an island. It’s amazing how relaxed and refreshed you feel after spending three nights away from your kids. Thank you, Mom and Dad!

But for real, if it’s within your means, you should take a weekend away from your kids

Of course you’ll miss them dearly and end up spending a good chunk of your time discussing them with your spouse, but do it anyway. It’s so important to have alone time with your significant other, especially because it’s easy to lose focus on each other in the everyday grind of raising kids. Imagine waking up on your own schedule or consuming as much alcohol as you want without worrying about its effects the next morning (just kidding, you still can’t drink much because now you’re old and you know better). Or imagine spending more than two minutes in the shower or on the toilet without a little voice calling from the other side of the door, “Mommy! Where ARE you?!” or, “Mommy! What are you DOING?!” Can you picture it? It’s even more magical than you think. Plus, taking a few days away is a great way to help you reset and remember all the amazing things about them instead of feeling worn down by the tantrums and lack of sleep. Absence and the heart…

Pro tip: if you plan to leave your exclusively breastfed baby for a few days, start pumping early. I swear, lemon-lime Gatorade and oatmeal helped increase my supply enough to pump one bottle’s worth of milk a day on top of what I was feeding her. That adds up quickly. The only bummer was having to pump routinely during the vacation. It would have been better if I had a good way to store that milk, but it was much easier for me to dump it as I went. Even though I was prepared and felt confident in that decision, there is something extremely cringe-worthy and tear-inducing about dumping your breastmilk down the sink.

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Somewhere, an angel cried when I took this picture.

Book Your Trip!

One final recommendation if you plan to go is to browse travel packages on the major airline sites. By booking our hotel and airfare together, we ended up saving around $400. That’s $400 more to spend on Rum Swizzles. Just sayin’.

Ah, Bermuda. I haven’t even been back at home for a week yet and I’m already ready to start planning our return.