How to Vacation in Maine (with offspring) by Julia Spencer-Fleming

August. The month when people pour out of cities all along the east coast with one goal in mind–to reach Vacationland without killing the rest of the family en route. As we here in Maine want you to enjoy yourself (and spend lots of money) in our fair state, we’ve devised this handy guide for parents.

Age: Infant. Babyhood represents the easiest travel you’ll have for the next 20 years, as your baby is basically a piece of luggage when strapped to the carrier. As long as you feed and change it regularly and don’t forget it on the Mantinicus Island Ferry dock, you’re good.

Age: Toddler/preschool.  Do yourself a favor. Don’t go. Put up a kiddie pool and a picture of a pine tree in your back yard and call it good. Traveling with 2-4 year-olds requires more luggage than Hilary took on his expedition to Everest. You will be unable to travel on the interstate because you need to be no less than 3 minutes away from a rest room at all times. You’ll wind up with seven take-home containers full of kiddy meals in your rental’s refrigerator, because your toddler will take one bite and spend the rest of the meal trying to climb off the deck of The Taste of Maine. (Caveat: ignore this advice if you’re meeting up with grandparents. The free babysitting will be worth the rest of the inconvenience.)

Age: Elementary school.  Plan ahead for activities. There are several guidebooks on what to do with children in Maine (no, “losing them in the woods” is not an option.) You may be looking forward to a restful week of shopping and sunning at the shore, but your average child spends 7 hours a day getting information crammed into his head and another 2-6 hours getting bombarded with stimulation via the TV/computer/smart phone. “Sitting” and “strolling” are not their strengths. You know that guilty voice in your head that says the kids need more time outdoors? Maine offers you the chance to run them into the ground. Hike up Mount Battie! Kayak on Frenchman’s Bay! Go mountain biking at Sunday River! Rainy day? I suggest the Children’s Museum in Portland or the Maine Discovery Museum in Bangor. In addition to offering hours of educational fun, both are located near stylish bars where the off-duty parent can relax with drink.

Age: Middle School.  This time of life offers a switch to parents who have spent years mouthing apologies to restaurant owners/fellow campers/the clerks at the LL Bean store (pro tip: the live lake trout exhibit is NOT a wading pool.) Once your kids are in middle school, it’s their turn to be embarrassed by you. Not by anything you do, mind; by the sheer fact of your existence. Seek out activities you can do together, yet apart. Stake out opposite sides of Pemaquid beach for the day (they probably won’t drown without your direct supervision.) Let the kids get in line at Red’s Eats 20 minutes before you do, so they can pretend not to know you. Let them loose in the Big Chicken Barn – it’s large enough to keep any number of tweens busy without bumping into their parents. But don’t go too far away, parents! They still want to be close to your wallet.

Age: High school.  Peak of the “I’m too cool for this” stage of life, the teen years offer special challenges to parents. You will point out masterpieces at the Farnsworth museum, only to hear, “Yeah, yeah.” “Look, son, the majestic Mount Katahdin!” will be greeted with silence, as your kid is too busy texting to take a look at Acadia. Better stick with activities that enable them to meet and mingle with other teens who share the unfortunate fate of being forced to vacation in Maine, with only a non-stop stream of texts to keep them connected with friends back home. If worse comes to worst, drop them off at the Maine Mall for the day. The Portland Museum of Art (and those stylish bars) are awaiting you.

Age: College.  Is it nine months in a dorm room with a roommate who never washes his clothes? Exposure to Western Civ 101? Whatever the reason, your college-aged offspring are now happy to go on holiday with the family. They will cheerfully try strange food in new restaurants, patiently wait for the puffins to appear on the puffin cruise, and be willing to rough it in most any circumstance – as long as your rental house/camp site has wifi – they’re not barbarians. After years of trying to instill appreciation for art and nature into the kids, you may be surprised to be one-upped. “What was that about a hill and a bay?” you’ll say while lunching in Camden. Your English major daughter will surprise you by quoting, “All I could see from where I stood/ Was three long mountains and a wood;/ I turned and looked the other way,/ And saw three islands in a bay.” Your other daughter, the geology major, will describe the forces that formed Maine’s lakes and mountains as you bike through Oxford County.

Who are these delightful people? you will wonder.Sadly, all too soon, they’ll be drawn away by their jobs and travel with friends. But don’t worry, parents – at some point ion the future, your kids will be desperate parents of toddlers themselves, and the whole cycle will begin again. So please, keep visiting Maine! (and bring your money.)

I have three advance reader copies of Through the Evil Days to give away to one lucky commenter. Just the thing to turn to when you’re stuck in Route 1 traffic!

About MCWriTers

Kate Flora is the author or co-author of fifteen books, including her Joe Burgess police procedural series, her Thea Kozak series, two true crimes, a stand-alone suspense and a memoir, as well as many short stories. Her books have been Edgar, Anthony, Agatha, and Derringer finalists. She’s twice won the Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction and won the 2015 Public Safety Writers Association award for nonfiction. She divides her time between Maine and Massachusetts. Flora is a former international president of Sisters in Crime.
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82 Responses to How to Vacation in Maine (with offspring) by Julia Spencer-Fleming

  1. Janet Lord says:

    I vacationed in Maine at the age of 45 with my older brother, who lived in Portland at the time. He attempted the “lose her in the woods” technique but I outwitted him.

  2. Marianne says:

    Don’t forget hiking in Acadia. Or the Owls Head Transportation Museum. Or zip-lining at Sugarloaf. So much to do in Maine.

  3. Deb Martens says:

    We would love to visit Maine!

  4. Sharon Chrust says:

    I love this! The ages are so perfectly described. Thanks!

  5. Stephanie Andresen says:

    Maine is on my bucket list. It’s a hike from Nebraska but worth it now that the nest is empty and there are no need to leave bodies along I-80

  6. Stephanie Andresen says:

    I hate it when you hit post and then spot a grammatical error. The hazards of little bitty text on a phone screen.

  7. Stephanie Andresen says:

    I hate it when you hit post and then spot a grammatical error. The hazards of little bitty text on a phone screen.

  8. Kimberly Morgan says:

    I’d love to visit Maine, if for no other reason than the scenery and the seafood!

  9. Kathleen says:

    Or just take them to Brown’s Ice Cream in York. Great ice cream….great memories of that place. And then just walk down the road to Nubble Light. Or the arcade at Short Sands. I could go on!!

  10. Susan Roy says:

    Don’t forget the wonderful fairs in places like Topsham, Windsor, Skowhegan and other locations in central Maine. Read Charlotte’s web first. While in Windsor, drag them through Hussey’s general store – perfect for a rainy day.

  11. Vicki says:

    Maine is already on my want-to-go list and now you’ve made it even more so! But one aspect remains in question: what to do with The Husband (who probably doesn’t want to spend a day at LL Bean)? 🙂

  12. I so enjoy visiting Maine, but maybe because I’ve never done it w/ kids in tow! Boothbay is a favorite. My friends own vacation homes in Phippsburg, which seems far away from anything but actually has wifi.

    I love the Russ & Claire series! But I read them all too quickly. I purposely hid my copy of One Was a Soldier & saved it to read this summer—much closer to the release of the next book. I’m from upstate NY. Grew up in a little town called Kinderhook, which the residents of Millers Kill would instantly feel at home in 🙂

    Please include me in the giveaway & thanks for your generosity.

    reneeasmith61 [at] yahoo [dot] com

  13. Penny Baker says:

    I always wanted to vacation in Maine. The wife of one of my husband’s cousins – a Maine native – took every opportunity to tell the horrors of the Black Flies. According to her, they would ruin any vacation and Husband would not hear of the trip.

  14. Becky Preston says:

    We toured the Old Town Canoe factory when I was a teen, about 1965, still a happy memory. My husband took the gradeschool-aged children to a weeklong program at Colby College one summer and they all loved it. About time for a trip back, I think.

  15. Susan says:

    Maybe George Barnard Shaw should have said ” Travel is wasted on the young”.

  16. Jennifer Ross says:

    The wiggly bridge in York is a fun place to visit. My 20 month old loved walking on a real bridge and watching older children catch crabs. Plus, the little island is fun to explore. If it is raining the York Public Library has a great children’s room for toddlers and preschoolers. It has two train tables and an adorable house with its own weathervane, kitchen, and work bench.

  17. Judy says:

    OMG! We are traveling by car Labor Day with our very active 3 year old grandson. We’re not coming to Maine unfortunately but now I’m really worried. 8 hrs each way – achhhh

  18. Kelly says:

    I was lucky. My almost-five-year-old grew out of the toddler/preschooler stage of travel you describe a bit early. We took the bus down to Boston recently and she commented, “this is all we’re bringing?” She’s not a very picky eater, either, which is great when traveling. I second the recommendation of the Children’s Museum in Portland. It’s great and not as overwhelming as the one in Boston.

  19. Carri says:

    How very apropos! Articles claiming to be helpful to people attempting to travel with children are most often laughable with their completely unreasonable suggestions. This one hits the nail on the head and, if I’m honest, helps me to understand why I’ve only taken three vacations with my children since having the first of four in 1999. I love the wading pool and pine tree picture suggestion – that’s my style! Your insight is spot on. Thanks for writing a very informative piece on Maine vacation spots while sprinkling it with humor that any honest parent will appreciate wholeheartedly.

  20. Susan Currie says:

    We love visiting Maine — our neighbours next door — very similar to New Brunswick, but just different enough to make it intriguing!

  21. Gram says:

    We love Maine, it is not far from home and relatives live there. Seafood not to be missed! If you are retired you can go later before everything closes for the summer, before the leaf-peepers are there, and enjoy Maine almost all to yourself! Dee

  22. Elizabeth Sheffer says:

    Trips to Hermit Island for camping is one of my fondest memories of vacationing in Maine with my kids. One year, when my son was about 3, he happily took off down the beach to frolic in the surf. His feet hit that cold Maine water and I swear, he walked on water trying to get out. Funniest thing ever to remember. My daughters, who were 7 and 8 loved to climb the rocks, watch the ocean, and hike on the paths. Special memories for a special place.

  23. jackie baker says:

    Have never had the chance to visit Maine although I understand I have a lot of shirt-tail relatives there. (Any one named Ebacher is kissin kin) Maybe I could connect with some and have a chnace to kill 2 birds(not puffins) with one loevly Maine rock

  24. Mary Anna says:

    Nice! We’re heading up in a couple of weeks – 4 days camping and kayaking in Stonington/Isle au Haut, and then 6 days in Moosehead – we’ll be there for the sea-plane fly-in. (And I love going in September – all the tourists have gone home! well… except for us. but we’re not the annoying kind. *grin*) And oooh! would love an ARC of the book – it’s gonna be hard to wait until November!

  25. Kim Wyant says:

    I’ve only been an arm-chair traveler to Maine. It’s at the top of my want to visit list and the good news is, I’m finally going to set foot in that lovely state in late September!! Whoo Hooooo! So excited!

  26. Carolyn says:

    Had to send this to my grandson’s parents. Loved the 2-4 yr old advice. They are lucky and can come anytime or age…built in babysitters! We live in Bowdoinham in the summer. Love to just sit on the back porch and read my favorite Maine authors.

  27. Helen Delano says:

    We’ve been blessed with a kid who was tolerant, and even interested in stuff like the Penobscot Narrows bridge and Fort Knox, who went to camp in Maine and was happy to go visit friends near Acadia after camp for a few days. Now he is going to Bates, so we may have to learn to vacation around our kid – he’ll be too busy and will know Maine too well- He’ll be teaching us.

  28. Sandy Rouse says:

    Love this Julia-plan to share it with friends who just made this trip with their three children!

  29. trude vandine says:

    Spent a few weeks last year (end of August into September) in Scarborough. We are from Washington state and even though both states have mountains, pine trees and the ocean they are very different. Spent a lot of time comparing lobster rolls! !! Acadia, the South Portland light, the Scarborough marsh and Booth Bay Harbour are just a few of my favorite places

  30. Helen DePrima says:

    Waiting for Labor Day so we can enjoy Maine’s best fried clams at Ken’s on Pine Point Road in Scarborough.

  31. Helen DePrima says:

    Waiting for Labor Day so we can enjoy the best fried clams in Maine at Ken’s on Pine Point Road in Scarborough.

  32. Marilyn Strout says:

    Just don’t try driving north of Taste of Maine in summer cause the traffic backup in Wiscasset…for no apparent reason…can be annoying!

  33. Nancy Chilimidos says:

    No smog? Less traffic? Nature? Beauty? Compliant and curious teens who wANT to hang with the family?!?! This sounds too real to be true! We are booking the next family vacation to this Eastern state…. And what better traveling companions to take along on that trans-American flight but a carry-on tote bursting with the Millers Kill book series!

  34. Sharon Shirley says:

    My cousin bought a house in Maine this year, and I’ve been up to visit her. The country side I saw reminded me (and made my homesick for) my own Northern NY roots, but your novels bring me back in a much more exciting way! I’m looking forward to getting to know Maine better, as well as to continue along the journey with Reverend Clare and Chief Russ.

  35. Krista Stern says:

    We love Maine – went there last year for the 1st time. We took our very young children to Acadia, and had a blast! My daughter wanted to stay at the Thunder Hole section all day :-). Can’t wait to go back!

  36. Kathy MacAlister says:

    We took our older granddaughter (13), a real city child, to Panther Pond this summer and watched her turn into a swimmer/kayaker/fisherchild! No technology involved; she loved it.

  37. Elizabeth Halberstadt says:

    The tongue-in-cheek tone in the piece made me chuckle. Good thing I wasn’t drinking my morning tea!

  38. Thanks, Julia — this was hilarious! As a dedicated reader of all your excellent Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne books, I hadn’t realized that you also had such a devastating sense of humor. (And I’d love an advance look at THROUGH THE EVIL DAYS.)

    BTW, maybe I misread your advice to parents of high-schoolers, but I think you would want to say, “Oh look, Cadillac Mountain!” if you want them to look up and see Acadia.

  39. Robert V. Lent says:

    Two questions: Does the toddler caveat include aunts & uncles? When did Hillary Clinton scale Everest? Who knew?

  40. Carol says:

    Been there, done that! Thanks for the reminder. 🙂

  41. Edea Baldwin says:

    I had fun reading the suggestions about the different ages, and became very sentimental with the part about college kids. Just when your children seem like they’ve morphed into friends, off they go. Btw, Maine sounds like a great vacation spot!

  42. Drucinda Woodman says:

    Too funny and too true.
    Little do exhausted new parents know that THESE are the easy times! I would add Coastal Children’s Museum in Rockland for the younger set. York Animal Kingdom is still a bargain. And don’t forget how simply magnificent it is to sit & drink coffee while you watch your children climb over rocks, peer into tidal pools, collect shells & discover all the ocean in Maine has to offer…

  43. thelma straw says:

    My vacations at the Black Point Inn led me to write a thriller a couple of years ago with Prout’s Neck as the setting. The female lead was married in the lovely Episcopal Church down the road, and the beach and deck and clubhouse of the wonderful beach club across the road from the inn featured in several scenes of the book. This did not sell at the time I submitted it – but I have enough love and enthusiasm for the settings that I plan to rewrite it and submit it again! I want to share my love of the Maine coast with as many souls as I can! Thelma Straw in Manhattan

  44. Sherilyn Leath says:

    After being practically housebound for almost a year following my husband’s diagnosis of leukemia we are hoping to be “released” sometime in the next month or so.. We can’t wait to travel again – we’ll surely put Maine on our list. I’ve read a couple of books set in Maine this summer and would love to see the beautiful scenes that these writers have painted in my mind!!!

  45. Flora says:

    A beach in Maine again! What I wouldn’t give to be there now! Kids or no kids….

  46. Joan Emerson says:

    When I finish chuckling, I think I’ll start a campaign for a vacation trip to Maine . . . .

  47. Jody Gebhardt says:

    I first went to Maine as a rebellious teenager. Mom and I were at war. In Acadia, I went in the ocean, probably just to get away, but also to watch my much younger sister and brother. It was so cold, my legs were bright red when I came out, and Mom yelled at me for getting sunburned.

    Joyfully, I’m headed to Georgetown Island in a few weeks, with my siblings and 10 year old nieces. We all will be kayaking and heading to the beach, playing games, reading and generally having fun together. Can’t wait!

  48. Tracy Simpson says:

    I love that “ah ha” moment when you’ve taken your child somewhere and they just get it. A quote from my 9 year old nephew that we took on a trip to Gettysburg. While at a rest stop on our upper deck bus tour of the battlegrounds he removed his headphones for the talking tour and exclaimed very loudly “This is the best vacation ever!!”. We’d been to Disney the year before. It has been a favorite memory of mine.

  49. Mary Robert says:

    I’ve only been to Maine once and far too long ago. I can’t wait to come back to see and do much more (although lobster rolls everyday is a pretty amazing activity!). I’m an Episcopal priest, by the way, and I love all the Clare and Russ books.

  50. Brenda says:

    Lucky me, I am Maine now, not too far from where you live….Bridgton/Lakes region. Hope to get the the ocean while I am here. It would make my summer reading if I got your book. I actually live close to your fictional setting of Miller’s Kill. Love the local references.

  51. Marilyn Healy says:

    This is great! I love Maine and have been there many times over my “many” years!

  52. Barbara says:

    Great suggestions! And Maine is a great holiday destination.

  53. Lois Fleming says:

    You didn’t have a heading: What to do with adult parent. Maybe a. Is it to a rocky shore or a boat ride to an island…?

  54. Wendy says:

    Thanks for this witty recap of travellng with children. I am now at the point where I am traveling with grandchildren and you are right, the cycle starts all over again! And it is even more fun the second time around!

  55. Earlene says:

    I got to live my dream vacation last year by visiting the Northeast. I loved Maine (no kids along) and can’t wait to return! While we were in Maine saw something about you and your books. This year we are in YNP and I have spent my time (while hubby works) reading all of your books. I am finding it hard to wait until the new one is out in November!!

  56. Beverly Fontaine says:

    Such a funny post! We’ve traveled with kids of all ages and all you said is true, true, true. We’d never been to Maine until our youngest daughter enrolled at UMaine in Orono (as far as she could get from Wyoming). Since then we’ve been a couple of times to visit and to attend her wedding to a wonderful Maine native. Now they’ve moved back to Wyoming and I don’t know when we’ll get back to Maine. Really too sad, as I absolutely love the state (and the lobster). Anyway, thanks for a great post and I really enjoy your books (and your participation in JRW, the best authors’ blog ever).

  57. Lisa S says:

    I love this article! It is soooo true! Julia writes about each age section with obvious experience and adds in just the right amount of humor! Right now, I am at the just beginning stages of Middle School- my son starts 6th grade in a few short weeks! I hope that he won’t be quite so middle schoolish! He and I can usually talk just about anything, and I hope it will stay that way! We have never been to Maine, but it is on our list! Sounds heavenly, no matter what the kids’ age!!!!

  58. Lisa S says:

    I love this article! Julia writes about each age group with such expertise! Just the right amount of humor! My son is just starting 6 th grade- Middle School in a few weeks. I am hoping that he and I can still maintain our close bond through these years! Maine is definitely on our wish list of vacations!!! This article remains true though no matter where a family vacations!!!

  59. Cindy Ronken says:

    Maine is on the list of must see states. In reference to list above, we always travel the week after Labor Day so all the little darlings are back in school. Works out really well.

  60. Lauren Taylor says:

    My goal since I was a kid was to visit all 50 states. I have every pacific, mountain, midwest, and southern state. I even have both the “hard to get to” states, Alaska and Hawaii! But I am missing pretty much all of New England. One day, Maine, I will make it there and have lobster, with or without the kids!

  61. Pamela Greuling says:

    Loved visiting the author.

  62. Paulette Kidder says:

    Love the article! I’m looking forward to the new book!

  63. Wah. This was a summer without Owl’s Head and the Farnsworth and getting stuck in traffic in Wiscasset and most of all our dear friends up there.
    I don’t usually sign up for these things, but you got me so hooked with your masterful beginning of Through the Evil Days that I’m really, really hoping I win. 🙂

  64. The traffic here in France at vacation time is incredible–hours of wait to all go the same place, the Cote d’Azur. Luckily we missed most of it this year by leaving early.

  65. My just-graduated-from-college daughter has fallen in love with Maine. She actually wants to go there with us!

  66. JoAnne Lehman says:

    I grew up vacationing and summer-camp-ing (not the same as “summer camping”) in Maine, and I really miss it out here in Wisconsin.

    And, oh gee…. I sure would love to be a lucky commenter and be chosen for an ARC of THROUGH THE EVIL DAYS. Would LOVE to. As with the last book, I will write it up for my Episcopal church newsletter and talk it up at coffee hour and Wednesday morning Eucharist. Will it help my case to mention that I’ve donated copies of all the previous books to my church library? And that there are now loyal followers of Julia S-F there who had never heard of her before?

    JoAnne in Wisconsin

  67. Amy Downey says:

    Would love to visit Maine one day! It would bring me great joy to visit you!

  68. Suzanne McGuffey says:

    That was brilliant! As the drop-off grandmother I can attest to much of that, but I would add that elementary school kids enjoy the Maine State Museum, and the Maine Wildlife Park pleases all the kids.

  69. Valerie Cannata says:

    I just found In The Bleak Midwinter — loved it sooo much, I just ordered the next four in the series. Thanks, Mollie Cox Bryan, for steering your FB friends to this wonderful series

  70. Erin McPhee says:

    My husband and I would love to come up some fall and see the colors, and of course eat fresh lobster! As the mother of two children, 5 and 3, I appreciate the honest commentary on bringing kids — perhaps I’ll wait until they are both well into elementary school! And the comments from other folks include good visit tips too. Not to mention, I always enjoy your sense of humor! Any chance I can visit Millers Kill and meet Rev. Clare while I’m there? (Ha!)

  71. Marcia says:

    Love Maine vacations…we went after the kids moved out!! Your guide seems spot on!! And I LOVE your books!!

  72. Megan says:

    Nice article – a reminder of how lucky my son and I are to live in Vactionland!

  73. Lil Gluckstern says:

    I love the Maine coast, but I have an addition to your list. Many years ago, friends and I rented a houseboat on Lake Sebago. We swam and fished, went through the locks to Long lake, I think. or maybe it was the other way around. We then drove to the Rangely lakes-a very different feel from Acadia and Bar Harbor. But I can still taste the Lobster rolls.
    I know the mountains of New York so Millers Kill some times feels like home, and of course, I would love an arc of your new book.

  74. Paula Moore says:

    I’ve always wanted to visit Maine. Always been a lighthouse girl. Problem – might not go home.

  75. Tracey Pawlowski says:

    Don’t forget to have the delicious popovers at Jordan Pond in Acadia National Park! Lovely location to have snack, and read a book! Great for all ages – many trails to get some energy out!

  76. Gillian Barr says:

    I believe I am the only Episcopal priest of my acquaintance who has not visited Maine. Clearly I have to remedy this! It is a favorite spot of so many friends. Would love to have another Clare/Russ book to take with me on wherever my next vacation leads me.

  77. Jeanne says:

    Your article was too funny! I am a great fan of your books and would consider myself quite lucky if I were an ARC winner! Have a great summer!

  78. John Clark says:

    Ungodly accurate and wicked funny.

  79. Jim Collins says:

    Just came back from Maine, where my wife hiked the AT. Love the advice about toddlers–I believe that approach would be just fine with my two-year-old granddaughter. When will a book tour bring you to NC?

    best, Jim, Durham

  80. Margaret Franson says:

    Best age for children travel is when they are adults and can be as interested as you are in what you are seeing and doing. Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire are on my bucket list–only states (in addition to Texas) that I have not visited or passed through or over.

  81. Nancy Miller says:

    Loved this post. What a wonderful (and true) sense of humor. Thanks!

  82. Stephanie Carr says:

    I’ve never been lucky enough to make it to Maine, but am still hoping to make it one day–waiting with bated breath and eyes at the ready for “Through the Evil Days” since I already have all of the others and have read each one about ten times. Have also turned any number of my friends on to your books and they love them as much as I do! Come on November!

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