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!

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

  1. Marilyn Healy says:

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

  2. Barbara says:

    Great suggestions! And Maine is a great holiday destination.

  3. 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…?

  4. 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!

  5. 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!!

  6. 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).

  7. 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!!!!

  8. 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!!!

  9. 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.

  10. 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!

  11. Pamela Greuling says:

    Loved visiting the author.

  12. Paulette Kidder says:

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

  13. 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. 🙂

  14. 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.

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

  16. 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

  17. Amy Downey says:

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

  18. 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.

  19. 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

  20. 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!)

  21. Marcia says:

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

  22. Megan says:

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

  23. 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.

  24. Paula Moore says:

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

  25. 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!

  26. 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.

  27. 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!

  28. John Clark says:

    Ungodly accurate and wicked funny.

  29. 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

  30. 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.

  31. Nancy Miller says:

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

  32. 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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