If you go with big kids: New York City


Last summer I was able to take Jordan along on a work trip, which made me realize just how valuable one-on-one time is -- particularly with my babes about to fly the coop. If you haven't yet arrived at senior year, let me just warn you -- THEY ARE NEVER HOME. Between school, extracurriculars, friends, and the fact that they can drive, less and less time is spent eating after-school-chocolate-chip-cookies up to the kitchen island (although they do appreciate snatching up a handful as they head to the next activity).  You have to corral those older kids. Entice them even. In this case -- I had Maddie's complete attention in a small studio in Brooklyn. I'm telling you -- we took on the city!

To do & see:

Okay, this is kind of a silly list because you probably already know what you want to see. Perhaps I should label it "What we did." 


Wander through Washington Square Park, particularly if your daughter's very favorite movie is August Rush


Check out the wonders of FAO Schwartz. Don't forget to dance on the BIG piano.

Join in on a scavenger hunt / secret mission / theater experience on the streets of NYC. I'd seen a couple reviews of Accomplice before our trip and thought it might be a fun way to see more of the city. The actors were incredible and kept us guessing (and moving). We walked through Chinatown and Little Italy and performed some pretty important tasks for a NYC crime boss. This is a GREAT activity for big kids (and adults).


Don't miss The Strand Bookstore.  I have a penchant for seeking out historic bookstores, and I'm never disappointed. The Strand is a NYC institution and has an impressive stock of used books. 


Visit Mood. Maddie is a big Project Runway fan. Plus, we both wanted to bring home a "Thank You Mood" t-shirt for Rebecca. Just a heads up: There is NO sign on the building. We must have walked up and down 37th street six times before we clued in that the store was on the third floor. You also have to be quite determined to find the (unmarked) stairs or wait for the elevator (run by an attendant). But we persevered! 

Ride the Staten Island Ferry. If you plan far enough in advance, you can get tickets to go to the crown of The Statue of Liberty. Or, if you are allergic to crowded, touristy venues (like me), you can talk your kids into viewing the statue from the ferry. I found it lovely (and easy).


Shop. Even though I'm not a shopper by nature, Maddie does enjoy hunting for the perfect outfit. We wandered through streets of boutiques, but our favorite new-to-us store was Brooklyn Industries


If it's raining (as it was for us one of the days), Grand Central Station is a fun destination. The building is gorgeous. And, more importantly for big kids, the food court is tasty (Shake Shack is coming and Magnolia Bakery is already there). And the Whispering Wall DOES work. I worked as tour guide for a few minutes for doubting folks.  Just stand with your face to the corner and tilt your head up.

See a show. (I know. No need to list this one.) At Maddie's request, I booked tickets for Wicked a few weeks before we left. The show did not disappoint. We were tempted to stand in line at one of the TKTS booth to try for Matilda tickets, but there was just so much we wanted to do. If I was to stand in line, I'd try for the South Street Seaport booth. When we walked by in the afternoon, there were only about 6 people in line!


Go to a concert. We looked around at what was playing during our dates, and there was TONS. Maddie really, really, really wanted to see Justin Bieber, who just happened to be playing about a mile from where we were staying. I considered it cultural research. I mean, he's a good singer and all . . . but the frenzy? It was inexplicable. So, yeah. Went to see the Biebs. 


Hobble to Central Park. We didn't make it to Central Park until the last day of our trip. By this point we had walked approximately 32 miles, and our legs were TIRED. So when a very nice and persistent student made me a deal on a pedicab tour, I immediately said YES. It was a pleasant hour-long ride through the park, and our guide pointed out all the important landmarks/film locations. He even stopped a number of times to let us wander around and take pictures. Well worth the money for our weary bones.

Don't miss out on the Brooklyn Flea!! I'd been before with a group of girlfriends and loved it. It was walking distance from our apartment, so we felt like real locals strolling down to the flea, eating a bit of breakfast, and pawing through the vintage treasures. If only I could have taken some of that Midcentury Modern furniture on the plane! 

To eat: 


This list obviously does little justice to the culinary mecca that is NYC. But my big kid (Madison) was more interested in shopping and doing, rather than spending large amounts of time in restaurants. This was fine. I was perfectly happy sampling baked goods up and down the island.

Our favorite find was a tiny market/cafe a few blocks from our apartment: Choice Market in Brooklyn (318 Lafayette Ave.). They had incredible breakfasts and baked goods. We seriously ate breakfast there every day.

Shake Shack. Need I say more? I'm convinced Shake Shack is the best burger around. I pray regularly that a Shake Shack never opens within 100 miles of my house because I COULD. NOT. RESIST. If you've never been, try out the Madison Square Park location. It's the original, and you get to eat outside under a big tree.  

Molly's Cupcakes. Several people recommended Molly's as better than Magnolia Bakery, and it's just around the corner from Washington Square Park.  It was a tasty break for sure.


Doughnut Plant. I've drooled over Doughnut Plant on the Internet for a good long time now. I had the coconut lime. Maddie had some sort of chocolate cake monstrosity. WELL. WORTH. the CALORIES. 

One night we ordered in -- it seemed the New York thing to do. We both really enjoyed the food (Thai) and the rest. 

To sleep: 


We stayed in Brooklyn (Fort Greene neighborhood) in a 800 square foot apartment I found on VRBO. I'd stayed in Manhattan before, but I thought it might be fun to check out the neighborhood vibe. It was a great home base -- spacious, and with all the comforts of home. We've done VRBO at least half a dozen times, and we've always had good experiences. (Plus, it's cheaper than a hotel.) Two really nice ladies sitting next to us at Justin Bieber made a convincing argument for Astoria, Queens. Maybe next time?

To transport: 

One of the great things about NYC is that you don't need a car. We took a cab from LaGuardia to the apartment, and a car service from the apartment back to the airport. Other than that it was the subway and our own two feet.  (Bring good shoes!)


A few notes about the subway:

Google Maps gives great subway directions, but the walking directions TO and FROM each station were somewhat dicey. The problem is that a single station might have two or three entrances/exits, and you don't know which exit Google Maps assumes you take.  We found it easiest to switch to the maps on the iPhone for any walking directions. [This also meant we were often looking for a plug to recharge our phones!]

For vacation purposes, I'd recommend buying the seven day unlimited subway pass (unless you will use the subway two days or less). It costs $30 for a seven day unlimited or $2.50 per ride. We were easily spending more than $10 a day, and with the unlimited pass you don't have to monitor your account.

This was only my second trip to NYC. I know some of you out there are bona fide experts. Feel free to add any suggestions in the comments.


Things I learned:

Starbucks allows the public to use their bathrooms. A million thanks to Starbucks.

When your big kid(s) start dragging, it might be time to stop by a cafe or coffee shop, order up a smoothie, and give everyone some rest.  Recharging is super important.

Maddie and I both took up CandyCrush on the subway. It was a fun distraction and alleviated boredom during wait times. (Don't worry, there was plenty of time for conversation too.) 

Double check your tickets before leaving home! Our only real hitch of the trip happened at the Justin Bieber concert. When we arrived at the stadium, I pulled the tickets (I'd printed at home) out of my purse. I handed Madison her ticket, and when I looked down at mine . . . it was a map of Manhattan!! I had to leave Maddie at the concert (didn't want her to miss the Bieb's entrance), walk back to the subway, ride two stops home, grab the right piece of paper, and then trek back. I was a sweaty mess by the time I made it back. Ugh.

If you go with big kids: Melbourne

With just a handful of weeks before Lauren leaves us for 18 months, we managed to scavenge a long weekend to go see another corner of Australia together. We tossed around a few ideas but Melbourne quickly became our unanimous choice. And, boy, did she live up to our hopes. There's a reason it was voted the most liveable city in the world for the past two years. Melbourne, save us a seat. We'll be back!
Here are a few ideas if you ever find yourself in Melbourne with some big kids and teens (a big thanks to some local friends for the hints and recommendations):

Royal Botanical Gardens

Royal Botanical Gardens

Melbourne park read.jpg
Eureka Skydeck

Eureka Skydeck

Melbourne photo booth.jpg
Melbourne photo booth pic.jpg
Queen Victoria Market + Cafe Verona

Queen Victoria Market + Cafe Verona

Shopping on Brunswick Street

Shopping on Brunswick Street

Old Melbourne Gaol

Old Melbourne Gaol

National Museum of Victoria

National Museum of Victoria

Melbourne eating.jpg

To do & see:

Go for a wander through the beautiful Royal Botanical Gardens Melbourne (free). Perfect for a picnic or an ice-cream-cone stop along the way. We found a grassy place to put our feet up and enjoy the scenery for a few minutes.

The National Gallery of Victoria is right across the street from the Botanical Gardens. It hosted a fantastic exhibit of Monet's Garden when we were there. The rest of the museum is well worth a visit, too.   (Free except $ for special exhibits.)

Take a trip up to the Eureka Skydeck for spectacular views of Melbourne's sites. You might want to stop to take a few photobooth photos. Because who can resist the siren call of the photobooth, even when you're on top of the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere? Not us, that's who. ($) 

 Queen Victoria's Market (also known as Queen Vic or Vic Market) shouldn't be missed. It's a sprawling, historic market in the heart of the city where you can shop for fruits & veg, flowers, clothing, and arts. (Free, closed Mondays, Wednesdays and public holidays.) 

Shopping on Brunswick Street in Fitzroy, where vintage shops rub shoulders with cafes, artsy places, and one-of-a-kind shops. Even confirmed anti-shopper Sam enjoyed it. (Granted, his threshold was much lower than his sisters' but he did hang in there well. Plus there were burgers along the way.) Click on the link to get a flavor of the street in a panoramic view.

The Old Melbourne Gaol was a hoot. We got arrested and imprisoned by a sarcastic sergeant for an up-close and realistic view of the historic gaol and then wandered around the building learning about the infamous criminals who came and went within its walls. You can also do a night tour with the Hangman (not for young 'uns) and  watch a reenactment of the Ned Kelly Trial. ($)

The Australian Centre for the Moving Image was a fun stop. They featured a Hollywood Costume special exhibit from London's Victoria & Albert Museum when we were there this weekend, which was a big hit with all of us. ($)

For next time:
 The Melbourne Cricket Ground to take in some cricket or rugby or to visit the National Sports Museum.
Rod Laver Tnnis Arena: for tours behind the scenes of the Melbourne Open. You can also book a court and play a little tennis at those hallowed nets.
 St. Kilda neighborhood
Brighton bathing boxes
Great Ocean Road, 12 Apostles, and lighthouses

To eat: 

La Camera at Southbank: tasty and well-priced Italian fare. We went twice! 
 Cafe Verona (Queen Vic Market): you had us at mini pancakes. Yum.
 Brother Burger (Brunswick Road in Fitzroy): the best burgers and onion rings we've had in ages.

For next time: 
 Mamacita (Central Business District): we had read rave reviews but, alas, the wait was 4 hours for our party of five. Too long for our hungry crew.

To sleep:

We booked some hotel/apartments at Oaks on Market. They were pretty basic but the price was right and the location was perfect. And having a kitchen means lots more food flexibility.

We've also had great luck using Stayz in Australia to book a house or apartment.

We're certainly no experts after just one weekend there! Feel free to chime in if you have some Melbourne picks I've missed.

p.s. Things I realized this trip:
1.  Our cheesy travel doctrine of flexipositivity might just be paying off. Everyone was in pretty good spirits and willing to go with the flow as needed. (Exception: as Sarah sagely noted, a hungry child is a dangerous child. When we did encounter a bit of turbulence, it was nothing a little food and sitting down for a spell didn't fix.)

2. We have entered travel nirvana, age-wise (knock-on-wood). The kids are really pretty funny, can carry their own bags, and even sleep in their own hotel room. (I know!) We've been looking forward to this stage for decades. 

3. Travel nirvana has a very narrow window. I couldn't help but whimper a bit if I let myself think about how this whole-family travel thing might not happen again for quite some time. If at all. And isn't that just the truth about this parenting gig overall? Just when you get to the point that you can enjoy the whole thing, it's time for someone to move on.  

4. Vacation laundry is still a beast, no matter what stage your family's in.

5. I need to get in front of the camera a little more so I have proof I made the trip, too.