The Best Family Travel Product Ever

We. Love. This. Game.

We. Love. This. Game.

After four years of searching, I have found the single best family travel product in the history of family travel products: Rory’s Story Cubes.

Yes, the game/activity is something that can fit in your pants pocket or a stocking (HINT, HINT). Yes, it comprises nothing more than nine dice (or, in the app, nine virtual dice). But the “Cubes” rock because 1) they are so simple and 2) they spark endless creativity in both you AND the kids.

Here’s how the Story Cubes work. Every side of each die has an image. When you roll the dice, you get nine different images facing skyward. Then you have to tell a story that incorporates each one.

According to the official game rules, it doesn’t matter which image you choose to begin your story, so long as you touch ‘em all before you’re done. And, of course, the wackier the story, the better (which is particularly why 4-year-old L loves this game so much).

The company behind the product, Belfast-based The Creativity Hub, also regularly publishes suggestions from fans and customers of alternative ways to play.

(Also, for the record, the game comes in two other versions: Actions and Voyages.)

Because the parent company is based in Ireland, it’s fitting that we discovered the game at the cottage we rented last week on the Connemara coast. We had plenty of games from which to choose, including Ker-Plunk, Operation and more. Time and time again, we went for the Cubes.

When we returned to London, I purchased the app (for Android; no Apple products in this family). Since then, none of us has been able to stop playing. (Also, since then, I’ve connected with the game creator, Rory O’Connor, on Twitter.)

Because I’m not a fan of unnecessary screen time for kids, I prefer the dice you can shake in your hand and throw. That said, I admit that the Smartphone and tablet versions are great because you can play them in environments that aren’t exactly conducive to throwing dice (namely, on planes during long flights and in cars on road trips).

Whichever version you choose ($7.65 on Amazon.com; $2.25 for the Android app), consider this sucker a must-buy. And have a blast.

What are your favorite games/products to bring along when you travel with the kids?

The Secret to Pub Crawls With Kids

A typical lunch scene during our trip to Ireland.

A typical lunch scene during our trip to Ireland.

Confession: My wife and I spent nine full days in Ireland, and despite the fact that two members of our party are under the age of five, the grownups managed to sample an abundance of local beer every day.

Irresponsible? Perhaps. Gluttonous? Sure. Most of all, though, I like to describe our feat as GENIUS.

The secret to our accomplishment: the pub lunch. You see, most pubs in Ireland (and England, for that matter), start serving food around noon. Since very few locals swing by this early, a lunch visit just past 12 means you’ve got a) the place to yourself, and b) prompt service, since there’s no backlog of orders. Of course in Ireland, it also means Guinness. And Harp. And cider (for my bride). And whiskey.

Powerwoman and I applied this strategy every single day of our visit. Because the girls get up at 6:30 a.m., it was easy to build our days around a noon or 12:30 p.m. lunch. And because they both love fish and chips (which is a staple of most pub menus here in the U.K.), the kids were totally on board.

To put it differently, the question was never, Are we going to eat at a pub today? Instead, it was, At which of the pubs in [insert town here] are we going to eat?

For us, this was an effort to sample local culture by osmosis, a specific approach to work in booze and bar time to an otherwise G-rated affair. (FWIW, our favorite of the bunch was O’Dowd’s, a tiny bar in a Connemara fishing village named Roundstone. Coincidentally, this bar also starred in the 1997 Janeane Garofalo flick, The Matchmaker.)

For the girls, the meals themselves were similar enough to our usual meals while out and about. (Translation: They basically survived on chips and mushy peas). They drew with paper and colored pencils until their food came. When they were done—so long as they stayed at the table—they could resume drawing or make up a new game. If they behaved, they could score a few M&M’s from the secret stash in my bag.

The only downside to this strategy: We missed live music sessions, which normally take place after dark. The only difference from the usual approach to dining out on the road? Incessant toasting; every time Powerwoman and I ordered another round, we insisted the girls clink glasses with us.

While we didn’t make a habit of drinking more than one or two rounds, there were a few visits—especially when we were cabbing around Dublin—where we ended up clinking multiple times.

Thankfully the girls didn’t mind; after all, family travel is a vacation for Mom and Dad, too.

To what extent do you frequent local bars when you’re traveling with the kids?

There’s Something About Nothing

L, surveying the scene at a Connemara beach.

L, surveying the scene at a (chilly) Connemara beach.

We’ve just returned to London from six days in a rural stretch of County Galway in Ireland. In short, they were the best six days in a long, long time.

And we did copious amounts of nothing. The whole time.

Sure, there were moments of wonder—I’ll write about those over the course of the next week or so (Hints: They involve pubs. And castles.). But, for the most part, we just were.

Our base for the week was a three-bedroom cottage on Gorumna Island in a tiny town called Leitir Moir—basically in the southwest corner of the Connemara region. The name of the cottage was Sonas, which means “peace” in Gaelic. Donkeys and cows and horses outnumbered our human neighbors by a ratio of at least 3:1.

For those of you who’ve never been to this part of the world, I’d describe the topography as Coastal Maine on steroids. Lots of tidal inlets. Lots of bays. Lots of granite. And, every now and again, a house or two.

In this environment, we encouraged the girls to let their imaginations run wild. This meant daily walks along the one-lane road to and from the house—with the express purpose of getting into staring contests with the local animals. It meant journeys to harvest the tiny “flowers” that grew from the rocky hillsides. We also a) caught raindrops with our tongues, b) watched the sun rise and set, c) collected a carry-on suitcase full of shells, and d) engaged in rock-throwing contests toward the sea.

These, of course, were just the outdoor diversions.

Inside, we spent our time making fires out of turf (apparently, that’s what the industrious people in this part of the world burn), playing Ker-Plunk (yes, the board game from the 1960s and 1970s; they had it at the house), and listening to the rain plonk on the roof of the conservatory.

Perhaps most important, L and R became BFFs. Our daughters always have gotten along, but after this trip, it is safe to say the duo is inseparable.

Over the course of six days, they had tea parties with their stuffed animals (a Doc McStuffins for L; a kitty for R), used the markers to draw rainbows and “cooked” tasty—and imaginary—treats they called “flower snacks.” By the time we left for the airport this morning, L even was “translating” what her sister said when we couldn’t understand.

Our experience in Leitir Moir proves that sometimes, especially when it comes to family travel, less is more. Put differently, there’s something about nothing that works wonders for a wandering pod.

Don’t take my word for it; try it for yourselves.

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