Park passes latest addition to Colorado libraries

"Check-out" this pack!

“Check-out” this pack!

As a staunch advocate of getting kids outside, I was delighted to read news recently about a program at select Colorado libraries through which patrons can check-out 7-day passes to the state’s parks.

The “Check-Out State Parks” program is a partnership between Colorado Parks and Wildlife and eight libraries across the state. The program offers residents the ability to check out one of two seven-day hang-tag park passes (the king that hang on your vehicle’s rearview mirror) at each library.

Each pass comes with a backpack that contains a wildlife viewing guide, a camping guide, a compass, a binoculars, a magnifying glass, and more. There also is general park information, as well as educational activities. (It sounds like the packs are pretty similar to ones I spotted at Spring Mountains National Recreation Area in Nevada, and wrote about in this Expedia Viewfinder post.)

The Colorado passes are good for entrance to all 42 state parks. The passes can be reserved and renewed. The state also is encouraging people who check out the passes to share photos or Tweets from their trip with the hashtag, #CheckOutColorado.

The first eight libraries are part of a pilot program that started Oct. 1 and will run through March 31, 2016. The full program will launch to all 260 libraries in the state April 1, 2016.

Of course programs like this are AMAZING for family travel. They open up the great outdoors to families FOR FREE. What’s more, the educational information in those backpacks can help teach kids lessons about the environment they’ll remember forever. Hopefully my home state of California will adopt a similar program sometime soon.

Lessons Learned After One Month in London

Another lesson: London parks kick ass.

A major lesson: London parks kick ass.

Hard to believe it, but today is our one-month anniversary on the road here in London. This means tomorrow will mark the longest amount of time our kids have been away from home (last summer, we spent 30 consecutive days traveling in Hawaii). It also means that three months remain in this grand adventure.

Since I’m a big fan of self-reflection, I figured this milestone would be a natural time to look back and “synopsize” (Powerwoman’s word) some of the lessons (and Villano family tendencies on the road) we’ve learned so far.

Public transportation is the ultimate distraction tool
It doesn’t matter if we’re riding a bus, train, or (river or canal) boat—my kids *love* taking public transportation. The passion is so deep that that as soon as we climb aboard one of these vehicles, the girls forget that they’re tired/hungry/cranky/insert other problem here, chill out and, quite literally, simply enjoy the ride.

To put it differently, my Oyster Card is the key to vanquishing tantrums when we’re out and about.

For L, the obsession was born on her very first ride; for R, it was a more gradual process (if you recall, she hated the Tube at first).

Overall, both girls prefer the bus (the “double-bus, as R says”), and like sitting up top. That said, the Tube is OK by them as well, especially if we get to change trains so they can watch (and wave to) trains entering and leaving the station. The bottom line: Public Transportation is our friend.

You can never schlep too many snacks
Back in the 1990s, when my family had season tickets at Yankee Stadium, my Dad would stuff his backpack full of snacks and harass us all game long to eat. I nicknamed him “Bodega Man,” because he often offered a selection that was more varied than the stuff you’d find at the local bodega. He took the ribbing quietly, almost knowing that someday, the tables would turn.

That day is now. Here in London. Every time we go out and about, I’m the dad with the backpack of random snacks. And it always—ALWAYS—comes in handy.

What I’ve learned about being Bodega Man 2.0 is that incorporating a diverse array of snack options actually improves the success rate tenfold.  Put differently: The more stuff you schlep, the more likely you’ll have something the kids will eat.

(Dad, I get it now. Sorry I didn’t learn the lesson sooner.)

Routines rule
One of the most exciting things about traveling and living abroad is the notion that every new day brings new experiences, new people and new points of view. Especially when you’re traveling with young kids, however, there can be great comfort in a predictable schedule from day to day.

Basically, I’m saying that everyone breathes more easily with a bit of a routine.

It was a struggle for me to embrace this approach, but we’ve learned this routine doesn’t have to be elaborate. Aside from L’s school (which she attends weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon), our daily schedule is simple: Wake-up by 7:30 a.m., naptime for R (and downtime for L) around 1:30 p.m., park time around 4:30 p.m., tubs at 7 p.m.

The girls don’t come out and say they appreciate these predictable patterns, but on those rare days when we deviate from the plan—including the one day a week when we pull L out of school to explore London—the free-style schedule triggers a greater number of tired spells and associated meltdowns (as sophisticated as L is, she still is only 4).

Not all playgrounds are created equal
Back home, we can count on one hand the number of playgrounds our kids would rate as “awesome” or “super awesome.” Here, however, it seems there’s a kick-ass playground in every single park.

All of these playgrounds boast crazy wooden play structures, old-school metal slides, and spinny carousel type things (none of which you’d find in the U.S., where child play areas are made to be uber-safe and minimize lawsuits). Most of the playgrounds here also have bigger and boxier “baby” swings, which enable me to get R and L side-by-side and push them both at the same time (this comes in handy when I’m solo with the girls). Some even have huge sand pits. And a separate area for kids over the age of five.

The best thing about London playgrounds, of course, are the cafes; at play time, I’m never more than 200 feet from a hot Americano or a fresh-baked scone.

In short, this family can’t go wrong with a trip to one of London’s parks. (Also: we Americans have a LOT to learn from how they roll with playground development over here.)

I’ll end each month with a similar look-back (thanks, Kara Williams, for the idea). I’ll also use these pieces as an opportunity to mention what lies ahead. On the docket for the next four weeks: R’s birthday celebration at The London Eye, a trip to Bath, a visit from one set of grandparents and a 10-day (half-term) jaunt to Ireland. Stay tuned!

What are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned through family travel?

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