7 Great Family Trips from Backroads

If you’re the planner-in-chief for an active family like I am, you know it’s a ton of work.  A ton of work for which you won’t get much sympathy from anyone.

What you need is a shortcut, like the newly published Smart Parents’ Guide to Family Adventure Vacations, a great source of been-there-done-that ideas of where to travel this year with your kids.  We’ve asked all our sponsors to tell us about their best and most popular family trips, starting with the company that pretty much invented active travel: Backroads.

Whether you’re booking, plotting, or just daydreaming (and doesn’t it always start that way?), you’ll find plenty on this list to pin, forward, or bookmark.

Backroads trips for families

1.  Brittany & Normandy Biking: From D-Day Landmarks to the Emerald Coast

Families will visit colorful villages, bike to legendary beaches and explore the magical island monastery of Mont-St-Michel. Along the way, kids can go horseback riding, get a hands-on lesson in the art of glass blowing and chat with a local historian

2.  Czech Republic & Austria Biking: Bohemian Knights & Danube Castles

Fairy-tale castles on the horizon. Ancient cobblestones beneath frolicking feet. The Danube River, a fascinating falconry show and a theatrical sword-fighting demo performed exclusively for Backroads guests. And a trove of lifetime family memories!

3.  Iceland Multisport: Nature, Culture & Adventure at the Edge of the Arctic Circle

Glaciers, volcanoes, fjords, geysers, waterfalls… Families experience Earth’s most stunning natural wonders in incredible Iceland! Traveling by bike, foot, Zodiac, plane, horse and “super jeep,” everyone enjoys letting off steam in the Land of Fire and Ice.

The best family trips with Backroads

4.  Ireland Bike Tour: A Pot O’Gold for Families in Counties Cork & Kerry

The whole gang will adore what’s in store while pedaling through Ireland’s west Cork and Kerry: peaceful routes past green hills, quaint cottages and woolly sheep, a rich look at regional history and village culture, and a stay at the venerable Park Hotel Kenmare.

5.  Loire Valley Biking: Fun in France’s Regal Touraine

Easygoing routes for younger riders and lots of options for the older crowd. Treats at patisseries, gourmet cuisine and exquisite wines. A visit to Leonardo da Vinci’s house and a fencing lesson just for kids. History come to life. This is truly a family vacation nonpareil.

6.  Pyrenees to Costa Brava Biking: Catalonia’s Peaks to Mediterranean Beaches

Kids will be thrilled with the bike rides, rock climbing, pottery making and beach time. Grownups will love pedaling scenic routes in the Pyrénées foothills, seeing landscapes that inspired Salvador Dalí, and savoring sun-kissed Catalan wines.

7.  Tuscany Biking: Pedaling & Pizza North of Siena

Sublime scenery takes center stage on family-friendly biking routes amid ancient hill towns, sprawling vineyards and cypress-lined lanes. There’s wine tasting for the adults. Hands-on pizza making for the kids. The perfect family adventure in Tuscany.

March 3rd, 2014 | by Jamie Pearson 2 comments

The Smart Parents Guide to Family Adventure Vacations

Like this blog?  Get the guide!

If you’re anything like me, there’s a sharp demarcation between how you traveled before you had kids and how you travel now.  Before kids, I buzzed into Alaska’s wilderness on a propeller plane and landed on a river sandbar.  After kids, I rented a lot of condos on Kauai.

FAV imageNow, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a relaxing week in Hawaii — who doesn’t love a little aloha? — but once your kids are a little older, you might be ready to dust off your adventure travel credentials.

But where to start?

To answer that question — and many others related to family adventure travel, I’ve partnered with family travel expert Amie O’Shaughnessy of Ciao Bambino to write the Smart Parents Guide to Family Adventure Vacations.

The guide is free to you, because it’s sponsored by a handful of tour operators who lead really great family trips to the destinations we recommend.

Please note: the guide is a PDF and may take a few minutes to load, depending on your connection speed.  Stick with it — it’s worth the wait.


January 23rd, 2014 | by Jamie Pearson 5 comments

Looking for things to do in LA? Take a tour of Hollywood!

As it sometimes does, winter break this year found my family in Southern California looking for things to do in LA.  In between goofing around at Universal Studios and meeting up with old friends, we booked a private tour of Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, and Hollywood.

Touristy things to do in LA?  Hello Hollywood

I turned to the internet, and immediately found the perfect activity for us.  Glitterati Tours offers a 3-hour tour called “The Essential Los Angeles” that included all the highlights, plus a few celebrity homes.  I briefly hesitated over the price tag ($169/hour for 4-6 people), before pulling out my credit card.

The tour of LA was private, custom, and conducted from a very comfortable SUV with tinted windows.  This was kind of fun because people in the big tour buses tried to peer inside at us whenever we passed them.  Ha ha ha.

Our tour guide was Jimmy McGill – an LA native, writer, voice actor, and all-around fun guy.  Our ride was stocked with snacks and drinks.  Our every wish was Jimmy’s command.

Since it’s better to show than tell, here are some of the things we saw on our excellent tour of LA:

Things to do in LA

The GMC Denali is not a small car. This was a good thing, since my family of four was getting a little sick of each other in our 400-square-foot 1-bathroom hotel room.


Private tour of LA

After a quick stop at the Hollywood Bowl, we valeted the car at the Hollywood and Highland Center to grab some coffee. The cool thing here are the anonymous mosaic tile stories underfoot that tell how various people got started in the movie business…


Things to do in Hollywood, Los Angeles.

Turning right out of the Hollywood and Highland Center, we made our way down the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  Some names were more familiar than others.


The Dolby Theatre on a tour of LA

This was when we received the shocking news that the red carpet entrance to the Academy Awards is THROUGH A MALL. A dolled up mall, but a mall all the same.


Fun things to do in LA

After that, it was off to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre where I played a fun game called, “Which stars of yesteryear had smaller feet than me?” (spoiler alert: all of them).

Read on for photos of celebrity houses.  Also?  Snacks. (more…)

January 16th, 2014 | by Jamie Pearson 2 comments

Taking a whale watching cruise in San Diego with kids

whale watching

Whale migration is enjoyable for kids of ALL ages.

A few months ago, we visited San Diego during the annual whale migration months and joined Hornblower for their 3.5 hour whale watching cruise.

Ideally, hubby would have been aboard, but he was working and I am incapable of passing by opportunities, so off I went with my 3 little ladies (ages 6, 5 and 1) for a wonderful morning of wildlife viewing. Here’s what we discovered:

Whale watching in San Diego with kids

The volunteer naturalists on board from the San Diego Natural History Museum made this whale watching cruise a great educational experience for the kids. Also, a good-hearted volunteer recognized my less-than-advantageous adult to child ratio and lavished us with coloring pages, simple art projects, and lessons on marine life throughout the journey.

We were assertive enough to pop in and visit the captain at the helm. He kindly indulged us in a quick tour, which was a thrill for my older daughters.

whale watching with kids

On the lookout for whales with the captain.

The captain calls your attention to wildlife sightings via the speakers, so you don’t need to be regularly gazing at the water if instead you need to be, say, chasing a toddler. We were fortunate enough to see a school of over 200 common dolphins, a smaller school of bottlenose  dolphins, several sea lions, and a massive fin whale. The look of awe on my kids’ faces seeing these animals in their natural habitat was simply priceless.

Insider whale watching tips

The top deck had the best views, but was too anxiety provoking for me to supervise an active toddler and two kids. We spent most of our time in the enclosed 1st and 2nd decks. We were fortunate that the cruise was at half capacity, so we had lots of room.

Shell out the $10 for the “First mate package” for the kids at the ticket booth. The included binoculars, stickers, kiddie drinks and bag are well worth the money. Be sure to bring extra coats and hats as it gets quite windy at sea. Bio bands are sold on board for the queasy among us.

Disclosure: Hornblower provided us with complimentary press passes for the cruise. They did not request that I express any particular point of view, and all opinions are my own.

December 2nd, 2013 | by Julie Breitigan Comment

RV Rental for Beginners

My kids get excited and jealous every single time they seen an RV on the road or at a campsite.  I’ve never been quite as tempted by RV rental.

“Just look at it,” they swoon.  “It probably has a microwave and a bathroom!”

At the risk of being predictable, the fact that we don’t have a microwave and a bathroom when we camp is exactly what I like about camping.  I don’t need to backpack into the wilderness or anything like that, but I don’t want too many conveniences when I go car camping.

Plus, I’m kind of afraid to drive a vehicle that’s bigger than my first apartment.

RV rental

The Jucy Champ, all popped up and ready to party.

Last weekend, I got a chance to both test-drive and test-sleep a camping vehicle that was more my size than an RV rental — the Jucy Champ, which is made by a New Zealand campervan rental company that’s expanding into a few U.S. markets.

What we liked about our campervan-sized RV rental

With its tents, sleeping pads, stoves, and ice chests, tent camping is a little… gear intensive.  My rule of thumb is that it takes a full day to prepare and a full day to unpack, and that’s on top of any days spent camping.

The Jucy has a lot of gear on board.  You’ll still have to pack marshmallows, sleeping bags, and flashlights (among many other things), but here are a few of the conveniences we found on board:

  1. A small fridge, powered by an auxiliary battery that stayed cold for two days.  The battery recharges itself off the car’s main battery when it’s running.
  2. Ditto reading lights, and in the “upstairs” loft, a fan to keep sleepers cool.
  3. Two propane-powered stoves (one that stays in the car, one that can be taken out).
  4. A pump sink with a 5-gallon water tank.
A very compact kitchen for an RV rental.

The Jucy kitchen is a study in efficiency. I had a fun time playing with it.

It drives like a minivan, because that’s what it is.  There are seatbelts for five people, and it’s easy to park (as long as you remember not to enter parking garages or attempt fast food drive-thrus).  Filling up the gas tank wasn’t a financial hardship either.  Finally, although we were comped, I found the rental prices to be reasonable.

The van has two double beds: one below, and one above in the pop-top penthouse.  The penthouse bed is not accessible from the lower level, but via a ladder on the outside of the car.  Kids love it.

A few considerations

RV rental makes for a fun family vacation

The only way I could get them out of the camper was with marshmallows.

The thing we liked least about our campervan rental was the fact that it was bright green and purple with loud text and their sexy lady (Jucy Lucy) mascot painted on the front and back of the van.

Because I had to leave my own car at the Jucy lot, I had to drive my daughter and her friends to her high school Homecoming football game in the campervan the night before we left on our trip.  I wish you could have seen her face.

You can rent a full kit of cutlery and dinnerware for four people, as well as pots and pans, and various kitchen utensils.  All this rattles around a fair amount while you’re driving.  Paper plates and plastic cutlery would be a lot quieter.

Finally, at night when you’re sleeping, motion upstairs (such as someone rolling over) causes a lot of motion downstairs, and vice versa.  Enough to wake you up if you’re a light sleeper.  But no one really sleeps all that well when camping, right?

Where to rent

As of now, there are only three locations to rent Jucy campervans:   San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas.  If you’ve always kind of coveted a campervan, I encourage you to rent one and give it a try.  It was a lot of fun.

November 19th, 2013 | by Jamie Pearson 2 comments