Aaron and I realized recently that, come August, we’ll have been in Texas for an entire year… without yet having ventured back out again. We traveled a lot when Kaspar was an infant, and then of course moved halfway across the country, hitting the ground running and going non-stop ever since; We’ve been so enmeshed in work, play and parenting that, despite chronic large-scale wanderlust (“Let’s expatriate to Buenos Aires!”) that’ll need to wait a year or two for any serious consideration, the idea of taking a ‘trip’ has, since the move, felt like more planning and work than would be, well, worth it. So we left well enough alone. But then, in the last several months, something shifted. We’re no less busy with work, play and parenting, but we’ve kind of hit a good rhythm on all of those fronts; Kaspar’s walking, sleeping in his own bed (twin-sized, and right next to our bed, but… sleeping) and eating a rotating, if limited, selection of foods without incident. Our work can largely sit on hold for an extended weekend, or come with us via the wonders of wireless internet. And our play… well, we really wanted to take a trip as a family, and for it to be a fun experience for everyone involved. I’m kind of astonished to report that we’ve succeeded in doing just that; I’m writing you now from Denver, Colorado, on the fourth, and final, day of a meltdown-free excursion. Read on for my travels-with-toddler secrets (and photos, and anecdotes), and then share yours!
First of all, Denver is not the first place that comes to mind when I think “weekend getaway.” I’m not into winter sports (it’s no longer winter here, anyway), and, in my opinion, America’s mid-section is just not her best feature. But, Aaron has family here, and they hadn’t met Kaspar in person yet, so it was time to make the rounds. Thus we decided on Denver, to double up family and leisure time (and ideally overlap the two).
Kaspar, flying the plane.
This was our first— albeit accidental—smart traveling move. I can see why people like to live near family. Aaron’s younger sister Sylvia, and her mom, Barbara, have been doting on the little man, and on us, since we arrived (Aaron’s dad also drove several hours to visit with everyone for a day… He’s not exactly a doter, but I think he enjoyed meeting his grandson). We’ve gotten nice breaks from our usual full-on parenting posts while we’ve hung out at Barbara’s house, where Kaspar toddles around with his new favorite ladies, and Aaron and I get to catch our breath, and catch up with everyone. We love these people, and time with them feels special and comfortable. We’re traveling, but we feel ‘at home’.
That being said, we didn’t want our visit to be all about family time, as travels with baby so often are; we wanted it to also count as a deliberate mini-vacation, a little escape on our own terms. In that spirit, we’ve given ourselves the gift of staying in a really nice hotel. Figuring out where to spend, or save, money while traveling is sometimes tricky, but going with a swank, grown-up hotel has, surprisingly, played a big role in making for a fun trip with our toddler. For one thing, action-packed days (and nights) out on the town are not in the cards with a standing nap schedule to work around, and getting a family like ours out the door at all just tends to take a while. We’re spending more time in the hotel than we would if we didn’t have Kaspar along. A hotel that feels exciting and special to stay in—rather than something of the anonymous chain variety-- makes down time a part of the adventure. We chose the Hotel Monaco, in downtown Denver, largely because it is one of only a handful of hotels nationwide that has been Green Seal Silver Certified (translation: super eco friendly, which means no toxic cleaning residues to stir up allergic reactions). It is also a beautiful hotel. Everything about it is classy and elegant. They had me at check in, when they handed us glasses of chardonnay along with the keys to our room.
The rooms are spacious and decorated with bold colors and lush textiles, and, as far as I can tell, they’re sound-proof (good for us—no naptime disruption from the hall-- and good for our neighbors). Kaspar got right to work rolling around on the beds and communing with our resident pet goldfish (nice touch, Hotel Monaco!), and we got right to ordering in-room dining from the hotel’s award winning restaurant, Panzano, which sources many of its ingredients locally and serves up unbelievable food. It was delectable, the best meal we’ve had in a long time. And, we didn’t have to worry about chasing after Kaspar lest he interrupt anyone else’s fine dining experience. Talk about the best of both worlds. Bottom line here, people, is do yourself a favor and stay somewhere amazing, because if you can’t get it together to go out and do much else, you’ll still feel like you’re making the most of your vacation.
Desserts at Panzano. So, so good.
We did make it outside, into Denver’s neighborhoods, which we spent our first couple of days exploring. Aaron went to college in Denver, back in the day, so he showed me the neighborhood he lived in then— known as the Baker area-- a hip bar strip with cool restaurants, tattoo parlors, bookstores, and coffee shops. I got really excited about the houses lining the side streets in this area, which were old, well-maintained, mostly painted brick, with porch swings and big trees in the yards. After that, we wandered around the Highlands area, walking up and down Tennyson Street. This area is clearly Denver’s Park Slope (New Yorkers, you know what I mean), with children’s boutiques, Music Together classes, art galleries, parks, street murals and little French bistros. We poked around an all-things natural baby boutique called The Giggling Green Bean (which hosts regular giveaways of super nice merchandise on their blog), right before a ‘Meet the Doula’ event took place in their in-store activity space, and also discovered a cool little artist’s collective called The Cozy Cottage; the collective is composed of 17 local artisans, and was started by a mom, who runs its shop on the first floor of her family’s home. It was fun to speak with the business owners about their different stories, and about the neighborhood itself, which was about as kid-friendly, and community-oriented, as it gets.
A mural on Tennyson Street.
We got a big crowd together for lunch on Saturday, (the above-mentioned family members, a few of Aaron’s friends from his Denver days, and a mutual friend of ours who left New York for the mountains last year), and then went to The Butterfly Pavilion —an indoor destination for a rainy day. This is a definite family ‘attraction’ and was teeming with small children being chased by their camera-wielding caretakers. We joined right on in. We all agreed, actually, that it was a pretty amazing place— a bright, warm greenhouse filled with enormous, colorful butterflies… impressive for any age.
Kaspar did the sign for 'butterfly' about three thousand times after meeting this guy.
We didn’t get to the zoo, the mountains, or REI’s flagship store (not on the list, actually… I liked Coloradans so much that I was able to look past the copious usage of hiking boots and sports sandals… but REI would have been overkill), but that didn’t matter. Our secret vacation sauce was to keep stress low by shooting for one activity or destination daily, but to make those activities high impact so that we all remained engaged and happy (giant butterflies, friends and family, general exploration). And, although we pushed naps and bedtimes back a bit so as to extend our visiting hours, we didn’t mess too much with baby sleep patterns… I think that helped. All in all, we got a good taste for the city, which boasts a variety of flavors-- from upscale to hip to totally crunched out—and was hospitable, friendly and laid back enough for a family to take at a family-style pace. I love Denver! Who knew?
Friends and family, all over the world. This is what it's all about!
Now it’s your turn: have you embarked on vacations with your toddler(s)? Was it a great, or a learning, experience? How do you make travel with small children enjoyable for kids and adults alike? Where have you gone? What kind of activities have you done? I’ve got the travel bug again now, so bring on the ideas and adventures!