Travelling To Iceland With Kids

Last month we took the family vacation of a lifetime: we spent 6 days in Iceland!  It was the most expensive vacation we’ve ever taken (and we’ve done 10 days in Europe), but it was also my favourite. If you like to explore and get outside when you travel, you need to visit Iceland. I love travelling as a family, but I know travelling somewhere new with a kid in tow can add an extra layer of worry so I put together 10 tips for visiting Iceland with kids.

1. Know where you’re sleeping, and have an idea of where you’re eating.

What makes a trip with kids go downhill real quick? Hungry, tired kids and parents. I know my vacation style is not for everyone: I like a fully researched itinerary so I don’t waste a moment. But even if you’re much more relaxed, I suggest booking your accommodations in advance and having a list of restaurants and food stops that you’d like to try on hand. We were there during midnight sun (it did not get dark!) and let me tell you, there was more than one night that we lost track of time and were scrambling to find a place to eat. It was nice to know we had a bed to crash into when we finally quit at midnight! Even if it’s just a cooler stocked with sandwiches, it’s important to remember that Iceland is a small, mostly rural country. It’s not New York City with a hotel at every corner, especially if you’re venturing outside of Reykjavík. Which you totally should do, just be prepared.

2. Check the ages of tours.

There are a lot of really interesting, one of a kind tours in Iceland and I highly recommend doing at least one. But because of the nature of a lot of these tours, whether it’s climbing down into a volcano or walking over a glacier, there are age restrictions that need to be adhered to because of safety reasons. I know that age restrictions can be a bit of a bummer, but trust me when I say these age restrictions are there for a very good reason and are not arbitrary at all in my opinion. Make sure that if you do have something special in mind that you check the age limits ahead of time to avoid heartbreak and plan accordingly.

3. Embrace babywearing.

If your child is a preschooler or younger, I highly recommend babywearing while in Iceland. I am a huge advocate for travelling without a stroller– in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever travelled with one, but this especially extends to Iceland if you plan on venturing outside of the Reykjavík area. Most of the areas you will be visiting will be dirt or stone trails, and very few landmarks that we visited were accessible (which is important to know if anyone in your party requires a wheelchair). If you plan on doing any hiking trails along the way, I’d even suggest a hiking backpack for those older kiddos who aren’t usually carried but can’t make a six or seven kilometre hike. This isn’t to say that you can’t bring a stroller, we saw at least one stroller go off-roading, but I definitely think you’ll be limited if you’re a family that likes to explore.

Gerduberg basalt columns in the Snaefellsnes Peninsula

4. Rent a car.

In my totally expert opinion having done Iceland a total of one whole times, the only way to see Iceland is to rent a car. The only other option would be to rent a camper van. This is because it is such a beautiful country, with such an unbelievably varied landscape, that I really believe driving is the best way to experience it. But if you’re travelling with kids, I especially recommend renting for a few reasons: flexibility and privacy. If your kid is hungry, if they need to go to the bathroom, if they need to nap, if they are just overstimulated from the excitement of the day and you want to head to the hotel early; being in charge of your own itinerary and having your own personal space to retreat to between stops is going to be a lifesaver.

5. Dress to get wet, get dirty, and stay warm.

By the end of our road trip we had dirt under our nails, in our ears, and up our noses. My kid was rolling in dirt, splashing through streams, and playing with rocks. I wouldn’t have had it any other way! I brought full-waterproof shells and waterproof hiking boots for the whole family and even though we had beautiful, sunny weather, it was totally necessary. Iceland is an expensive family vacation, make sure that you get to enjoy it to the fullest by bringing appropriate clothing. Say it with me: sweatpants and play clothes. Leave the adorable, insta-worthy clothes at home!

6. Watch your kid.

I am a very hands-off parent. My kiddo is bright, mature, and he’s been hiking and travelling since he was an infant. But in Iceland we were a lot more helicopter-y than normal. A lot of the tourist spots we visited were not as developed as we’re used to seeing on our travels or at home. Guard rails were few– oftentimes there was a thin rope marking the path or nothing at all. This made for a beautiful experience but as a parent, one small trip and your kiddo is going over a waterfall. This is not to frighten you, but it’s the truth. Hold your kid’s hand, put smaller ones in a carrier, and make older ones stay within eyesight and earshot or agree to certain meetup points. There have been a few tourist deaths in Iceland in recent years so please, make sure you’re reading the posted warnings and staying safe as a family. You know your kiddo best, but remember that on vacation even adult’s brains go on a little break sometimes. It doesn’t hurt to be extra vigilant.

7. Bring a nature kit!

This is one of my hiking hacks for at home, but Iceland was a great place for it as well! We didn’t bring our entire nature backpack but if you plan on doing a lot of hiking I definitely recommend bringing what you have room for. We brought binoculars and a compass, and they were great for keeping our kiddo occupied on longer walks. We had the same rule that we have at home though– no walking and looking!

8. Know your limits as a family.

This goes for any vacation but especially in Iceland. Does your kid need a strict bedtime or will they crash when they get tired enough? Can your kid nap on a loud tour bus or on a hike, or forfeit it all together? How much can you realistically fit in one day without killing each other? I am the weakest link when it comes to sleep in my family, but on vacation I can muster through a week of little sleep. We tend to pack our days as full as possible, and plan to be out and exploring for all but eight or nine hours a day. I know for a fact that this would make a lot of families absolutely miserable which is why I recommend really examining what you need to enjoy your trip. It’s always better to plan less and add something extra in than planning too much and feeling like you missed out!

9. Consider the sun.

Iceland’s subarctic location means that they experience extremes in daylight throughout the year. In the winter, the sun barely peaks over the horizon, leaving few daylight hours for exploring but giving an amazing chance for seeing the aurora or stargazing. In the summer on the other hand, the sun stays shining bright enough to tour all through the night if you really wanted to. It’s great if you want to go, go, go; but not so great if you want to see the stars. These extremes can be difficult for adults to adapt to, let alone children who are used to sleeping and waking with the sun and hold little concern for their parents’ sleep requirements. If your family needs sleep, I’d think twice about visiting in summer. If your family needs lots of stimulation and wants to see it all, I wouldn’t recommend the dead of winter.

10. Learn about Icelandic culture together.

Iceland has such a unique culture that I really think it’s worth learning about as a family. Because the country was relatively isolated for so long, their language, customs, and even their animals are incredibly unique! Did you know that Icelanders can read old texts like the Sagas, because their language is has changed so little throughout the years? Or that if they bring their horses abroad for competition, they aren’t allowed to bring them back for fear of causing an epidemic since they are exposed to so few diseases on the island? We started our trip with a City Walk tour around Reykjavík and it was a fantastic introduction for the whole family. I’m a firm believer that travelling is an important educational experience, so if you’re fortunate enough to travel, try to learn as much as you can.

Are you planning a trip to Iceland? What else would you like to know? Let me know below!

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Why I won’t wait until my kid is “old enough” to travel

Adult and child standing in front of Notre Dame in Paris on vacation

At the risk of sounding like a terrible human being, one of my first thoughts when I heard about the fire at Notre Dame in Paris was relief. Of course I was concerned about the safety of those in and around the famous cathedral, of course I was heartbroken at the loss of so much history; I just could not help feeling thankful that we had been lucky enough to visit the cathedral two years ago with our son.

There is a big question when it comes to travelling with kids: what’s the point if they don’t remember? Why spend thousands of dollars on something they won’t even care about three years from now? Why go through the tantrums, the headaches, the complaints of “my feet hurt” and “I’m bored” when you can stay home and listen to all of that in the comfort of your own home? They’re not going to remember anyway.

Because maybe all of parenting isn’t about the kids. I know it’s radical but stay with me here. Doing things for ourselves makes us better parents. And doing things as a family brings us together. Whether it’s visiting the museum that’s 5 minutes down the road or a multi-country European vacation, there’s value in going somewhere new.

Does my son remember seeing some old church? No. Does he remember the delicious brioche we ate on the park bench on the way over? No. Does he remember the sunshine and the smiles? Maybe not specifically. But I do.

I remember how he walked all over Paris with barely any complaints. I remember his eyes dancing as he watched his gelato being shaped into a flower as big as his head. I remember his nervousness and excitement at touring Marie Curie’s now decontaminated laboratory. Yes, I even remember considering not waiting in the long line to get into Notre Dame, because kids, but doing it anyway because Paris and making the wait fun. I remember watching him learning and growing as a human being. I remember watching the little pieces falling into place, shaping the adult he will one day be.

As much as he doesn’t remember the details, he learns something every time we venture somewhere new. Maybe I’m trying to justify my own selfishness, but I truly believe that travel changes us, even if we’re too young to remember in what way.

I know that I am so fortunate to be able to take my son places and give him experiences. I don’t take it for granted. Life happens– beautiful cathedrals burn and are forever changed, people die, and kids grow up. And waiting until my kid can remember it isn’t always an option. One day, he’ll go back with his own kids and that will be his moment to remember. Until then, I have beautiful photos to show him and fun stories to tell him. And maybe that’s selfish of me, but I’m going to cherish it.

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Visiting Fort George

After complaining last week about how difficult of a time we were having getting back into the homeschooling groove, this week has been a dream! We’re back to breezing through Beast Academy (our math curriculum), we printed out this awesome puzzle of Canada from CBC Parents, and today we took homeschool out of the house to Fort George!

My favourite kind of homeschool is the kind that doesn’t take place at home. Grandma took K out for lunch, and then we all headed to the Fort together. This year, all of Canada’s National Parks are free for Canada 150, so if you haven’t gotten your pass yet, get it here! At Fort George you present the pass at the visitor’s centre and receive replica British shillings as your tickets to present to the sentry.

Kids can receive a special Parks Canada Xplorers booklet. It is full of fun and engaging activities to help keep them interested while visiting. I absolutely love when museums and parks have these sorts of things, because they really do work wonders!

On one page of the explorer's guide, kids can follow along with the musket shooting demonstration to order all 11 steps.

They even get a certificate and a prize at the end!

The interpreters are all so knowledgeable and friendly. I am the annoying nerdy person who strikes up conversations with them but seriously, you are missing out if you don’t. I have learned so much more from talking with actual people than I have from reading the plaques on the walls. I mean, still do that too, but take advantage of the humans!

K absolutely loved the tunnel at the back of the Fort. He also challenged an interpreter to a game of checkers and lost admirably. We tried cookies baked in their authentic kitchen from their authentic recipe. And he even found the musket demonstration entertaining! I was afraid he would be too overwhelmed from fear and the loud noises, but he loved it.

After our trip to the Fort we headed to the Niagara on the Lake SupperMarket. The SupperMarket is every Wednesday from 4:30-9:00pm throughout the summer season. There are food trucks and tents from local restauraunts, wineries, bakeries, breweries and even different local businesses. There is always entertainment and tonight there was even a bounce castle for the kiddos. It is a great way to get a taste of Niagara all in one spot if you’re visiting, and a great way to find your new favourite haunt if you’re local.

If you’re planning on visiting Niagara, I can’t recommend a day in Niagara on the Lake enough! And with National Parks being completely free this year, you cannot afford to miss a trip to Fort George.

 

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Travelling with gifted kids

Travelling with a gifted kid may seem like something only someone intent on punishing themself would do. Between overexcitabilities and the fact they these kids never seem to turn off, it’s difficult to just make it through the day. When would you even have the time to plan a vacation when you’re parenting a gifted kiddo?!

But what if I told you that travel can be an amazing experience for a family of overexcitable, never stop thinking, over-wired brains? You just need to approach it differently.

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Admiring the Louvre’s collections

 

Prepare Expectations

We are a family of overthinkers. We mull over the littlest things for hours. So after all of that thinking, sometimes plans don’t meet the expectations of overzealous imaginations. (Prime example: my 4 year old ordered “honeycomb” gelato and was severely disappointed that it was not a Winnie-the-Pooh style ice cream in an actual honeycomb.) It can be a big letdown. Or, on the flip side, we get stressed about the details. This is why it’s a good idea for everyone to be involved with planning. I’ve involved my son with the planning of vacations since his first plane ride at 3 months. Yup, I sat and rambled to a 3 month old all about airplanes and planning and itineraries. At first it was mostly because I was bored and needed someone to talk to. But you know what? It works. Now I make sure I tell my son as much as I can about what we’re planning so he has an idea of what to expect. We look at pictures, watch videos, and get books from the library about the places we’ll be visiting. We even watch ride videos before trips to Disney, and no, it doesn’t ruin the magic. What ruins the magic is a 3 year old refusing to go on any more rides because of that scary thing they didn’t know was going to pop out at them.

Know when to walk away, and when to stick it out

I know, you paid all that money and came all this way. But sometimes, that thing you thought would be oh so fun is really just too overstimulating and loud and crowded. Sometimes, all of the preparations in the world can’t overcome those overexcitabilities. If at all possible, leave and come back. Get some air, let little ears readjust, and take a deep breath. Take a minute to talk it out logically. “I know, my ears feel a little buzzy and it makes my head spin when there are so many people and sounds too! But I really wanted to see that exhibit, maybe if we focus on that one display, it won’t seem so loud.” “Yikes, that dragon sure is scary, but you know, it’s just pretend. It actually took a whole team of scientists and engineers to make it! Maybe if we go in, instead of being scared, we can try to figure out how they did it?” Then, try again. But if it still doesn’t work, and it’s causing a meltdown, walk away. It’s not worth it.

What about those times when you just know in your heart that your kid will love it and just needs a little encouragement? Try to find a way to encourage them to stick it out! Draw their attention to a single detail so they can take one thing in at a time instead of being overwhelmed and finding it all to be too much. Sometimes, all it takes is for them to see mom and dad being confident for them to gain a bit of bravery too!

Don’t make promises

Just don’t do it. Promises have never helped a parent ever. It could rain. A ride could shut down. An exhibit could be closed. Prepare them that the unexpected could happen. And try to model appropriate behaviour when things go wrong. Taking a wrong turn or getting on the wrong train isn’t the end of the world. Laugh it off. It’s an adventure.

Pick something just for them

You can’t expect any kid to just go along and do everything mom and dad want to do all day every day for a week. Make sure the whole family is taking turns and gets to do a “must-do”. Maybe your kiddo loves trains, or science, or art, or literature. Find something unique that you think they’ll love.

Enough with the hard, why travelling with gifted kids is the best!

I think in some ways, I may have it easier travelling with my kid than most parents do with similarly aged kiddos. For one, his reasoning skills are high for his age in most cases. I can usually explain to him why he needs to stay with mommy, or why we can’t do something that we hoped. He was an early reader, which meant I didn’t really have to entertain him while travelling after he was 2. I just give him headphones and a book and bam! Mama can nap. He loves to learn, so bringing him to art galleries and museums is always a winning activity. And if there’s an audio guide, ha! We’re laughing. Always get the audio guide, even if it’s just a scavenger hunt for your kids to find the numbers and press them! On our last vacation I had a chance to observe kids who were and weren’t given audio guides, and my unofficial statistic is that kids with audioguides are more engaged.

My son needs the perfect balance of physical activity and mental stimulation which is always difficult to get at home. But when we’re travelling, he’s walking and learning and guess what… he actually sleeps like a log! Plus, vacation is the one time that I don’t mind that he doesn’t sleep as long as his age mates. It means I don’t have to worry about getting back to the hotel for nap time or an early bed time, and we have more time for sight seeing. Who knew that lack of sleep could have a benefit somewhere? Plus, there’s no laundry or cleaning or cooking to take care of, so we can focus on just being together as a family. And that is priceless.

This blog is a part of the Hoagies’ Gifted Blog Hop: Travelling with the Gifted/Intense. Please click here or on the image below to follow along!


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Learning on the road

I am always surprised when I hear about how controversial it is to pull kids out of school for a family vacation. I understand the importance of good school attendance, and maybe my view of school is a little different from someone who had to work hard to succeed (a challenge I wish I had been given!), but I feel like family vacations are just so necessary on so many levels.

Life today is so fast paced and full of stress. It isn’t unusual for parents to work more than 8 hours, and then come home and have emails and phone calls to catch up on. Kids even have their own busy little lives, with lessons and practices and all sorts of extracurriculars that have become almost a requirement of childhood. So for a family to be able to get away and enjoy some quality time together is, in my opinion, invaluable.

And here’s the thing, while kids may not be sitting in a desk and learning the required curriculum, they are definitely still learning. There are so many new experiences that ask young brains to adapt, and quickly. They meet new people, gain new social skills, and learn how to adapt to a new environment. It makes them malleable. Kids’ brains need novelty and fun, and what’s a better to way to get those things than a vacation?

And the thing is, we do so much learning when we’re not at home. But it’s natural learning, which I think sticks in children’s brains much better than rote learning or learning something abstractly. Time and money always come up while travelling, and it’s easy to involve kids with keeping to a schedule and budget. When you visit a new locale, discussions about geography and climate and even the animals come up. For instance, we’re seeing lots of lizards that we just don’t find back home. And, we had a visit from some bird friends which fascinated K.

He sat and watched them until they were out of sight, and noticed that they seemed to be eating. “They’re probably going to look for a little lizard,” he concluded as they walked away. Just having that momentary relationship with a creature he wouldn’t normally see is so great. He very rarely watches the birds at home, but because these birds were different from the cardinals and doves and blue jays he’s used to seeing, they held his attention and he experienced a connection with the natural world he wouldn’t have had ordinarily.

My son has been in swimming lessons since he was 2, and we do make an effort to go to the pool often, but there is a big difference between a half hour trip to a pool and a day spent going in and out of it. He has always been confident in water, but there’s something about being able to get a full day in the pool in that really pushes swimming skills along! He was diving in the 4 ft water for his dive sticks! I am a huge believer in kids needing to know how to swim and how to be safe around water, and there is no better way than just being around it.

And then, if you have a child like mine, you just may bust out the homework. When we found out that we’d be homeschooling K I ordered Beast Academy for him after hearing amazing things about it. It came the day before we left for vacation and he was so excited because, “Mom, we can bring it with us!!” So we did. Bringing it out meant a few more minutes of sunshine and relative relaxation for me, so hey, do what you have to do, right?

‘Cause I mean, if you’re going to do math, why not do it by a pool surrounded by palm trees? And, when you’re in a fun atmosphere, it makes learning so much more fun! We were learning about angles, and since we didn’t have much to work with, decided we could make angles with our bodies. Hello, physical education!

Kids may not remember the vacations you bring them on when they’re young, but it sets a foundation for them for the rest of their lives. And the more often kids get brought places, the easier it is to bring them places. K even received so many compliments on his behaviour. He just can’t be cranky when there’s so much novel fun around!

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