Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Family holiday: around the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas

We got back just over a week ago from a two week holiday leaving me with 735 pictures (plus the eighteen my husband took on his iphone!) to go through.  It's blissfully overwhelming.  But I do want to write up a travelogue on it, so here's the first of three posts!

(Skip to Grand Canyon Road Trip  or Las Vegas)

We haven't been a family-holiday family.  Every year, we take a trip to the UK and spend two weeks meeting up with friends and family from all over England (and part of Scotland and Wales).  Last year, we went to Orlando, piggybacking onto my husband's business trip.  Though it meant that my husband didn't join us for most of the sight-seeing, it worked wonderfully well, and we were keen to take advantage of other business trips and conferences as a budget way of travelling (my husband's travel expenses and many of our living expenses are covered).

So when we discovered that my husband had a conference in Las Vegas the week following the children's spring break, we seized the opportunity with both hands.  We flew out a week early, and spent the spring break week road tripping around the Grand Canyon, before spending the following week in Vegas.  My husband had to take some leave, and the children missed a week of school, but we had five days of visiting natural wonders together, and it was amazing!


Our children are two and four years old, so they were our biggest limitation / consideration on this trip.  There are some incredible things you can do in this part of the world, but they're not for small children--I kept saying I'd love to do this holiday again in ten years because we could have a totally different experience.

On the other hand, five and a half days to road trip around the Grand Canyon isn't enough to make the most of it either, so we were going to be limited anyway.  I was less interested in Las Vegas, and figured (correctly) that the children would be exhausted by that point, so I didn't plan that portion of the trip particularly... I improvised when we got there.

Although we did better than I expected about having the children in bed by 7pm most nights, the change of routine and environment (and, in my daughter's case, having to nap in the car) was too much for them.  The cheaper flights tend to be at horrible hours, and while we made it work, it was a lot for the children to recover from, and my two year old daughter never really did.  My four year old son handled it beautifully for the first three days, and then the strain started to tell on him.  Both enjoyed the different experiences, don't get me wrong, but meltdowns were frequent and they required a lot of patience and care to keep them going.

I planned our trip via Google.  I'd use their maps to figure out driving distances between cities, and then search "What to do with toddlers in [city]?"  For the most part, I tried to have no more than two hours of driving between bursts of activity (I think our longest stretch was four hours between Hoover Dam and Williams, but we did that in the evening and broke it up with a meal at Kingman.)

To make the trip more child-friendly, my focus ended up being sightseeing, as opposed to activities like rafting, climbing, pony-trekking, or learning about the indigenous people and history of the area. Fortunately, this part of the world is a four year old boy's dream, with deserts, canyons, mountains, a volcanic field and a meteor crater to go and gets hands on with.


To state the bleeding obvious, travelling with kids is going to be hard at some point.  They will cry, they will complain, and you will both over and underestimate their abilities.

For most of the trip, my plan was to visit the plentiful national parks and do short walks (usually a mile or less). In retrospect, I should have reduced the walking and focused instead on places to stop and interact with the world without being required to follow a trail.  My son is a good walker.... my daughter not so much, and even my son started asking to stay in the car after a few days.  They did better when they could play with rocks, sand and/or water, choosing their own boundaries and endpoint.

As far as my daughter went, we had a stroller, and I was surprised by how many paved and stairless trails there were--of course, most places try to be wheelchair friendly these days, which is wonderful. But I knew we would want to go beyond stroller territory at some points, and I went through every trick in my book of how to get children to walk and learned a few others.  We knew we'd have to carry her at some points, but I would try and define my limits to this (I'm going to carry you as far as that big rock and then put you down).  When she started whining, I would point out some feature up ahead, to try and make the route itself interesting (we're about to go over a bridge, through a tunnel, under a branch).

Chipmunks were our friend, since she'd always chase after one; sadly, they can't be relied upon to go in the right direction!  Giving food or drink was a good way to settle her down with the drawback that she'd then go at a snail's pace.  Walking along the top of a wall beside the path was always a winner.  Finally, she was very attached to the small rolling luggage she had on the plane, and if she could pull that along the path behind her, she would walk a reasonable distance--daft as it looked to everybody else hiking along the trail in their backpacks!

The Itinerary (click on the links to navigate to the relevant post)

Grand Canyon
Day 1: Arrived in Las Vegas; Hoover Dam; Spent the night in Williams.
Day 2: Grand Canyon, South Rim; Spent the night in Flagstaff.
Day 3: Meteor Crater; Petrified Forest/Painted Desert; Spent the night in Flagstaff.
Day 4: Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, Tuba City Dinosaur Tracks, Navajo Bridge; Spent the night at Bryce Canyon.
Day 5: Bryce Canyon National Park; Coral Pink Sand Dunes Park; Spent the night in Springdale.
Day 6: Zion National Park; Spent the night in Las Vegas.

Las Vegas
Various attractions along the Las Vegas Strip
Town Square
Lied Discovery Children's Museum
Springs Preserve
Red Rock Canyon


  1. A backpack carrier is a good investment for future walking excursions. Especially if you can get one with a Cover to protect non-hat wearers. Glad you enjoyed your time in 1 of the prettiest places in the US!

  2. Zowie. My mind is a bit blown. We are trying to stretch our traveling with kids muscles this summer, and are taking three trips, as opposed to the ZERO that I want to be taking. I just can't believe how much you manage! So many trips, so many activities. Yeah, okay four and two is different from 8 months and 2, but still... Anyway, so cool to read how you navigate it all.

    1. Well, we did a lot of travelling anyway, just to get the kids back to the UK with us everywhere. It seemed like time we took everything we learned from that and spend the effort on going new places--especially since we're not planning on staying in the States forever, so it will never be this convenient again!