Ask my two boys what they remember most about our recent vacation to Canada and they'll likely give you blank stares.
Venturing into another country, spending foreign currency and watching millions of gallons of water pour over Niagara Falls had little impact on them. If pressed, the preschoolers may offer some tidbit about the hotel pool, which featured a super-shallow end where they both could stand unassisted.
The part of the trip they can't stop talking about? A last-minute side trip we made to Waldameer Park & Water World, an old-time amusement park that caters to the young set. The Maid of the Mist was nothing compared to Waldameer's Frog Hopper, a ride that bounced them about 20 feet into the sky.
We added the park to our itinerary a day or two before we left when we realized the impossibility of driving straight through to Niagara Falls with a 3-year-old and 4-year-old.
The hunch was right-on as the first "Are we there yet?" was heard about ten minutes into the 355-mile trip.
The park, located in Erie, Pa., made a great and relatively inexpensive stopping place. The kids had a blast zipping around on the kiddie rides and wore themselves out running from one end of the place to the other for a few hours.
The boys came home and told all their friends about the rides; they hummed the tunes from the live shows and started saving their money for a return trip. Crossing an international border barely rates a mention.
Traveling with children over the years has taught me the need for flexibility and the importance of play areas.
You've got to throw your time table out the window and make room for potty breaks, car sickness and McDonald's French fries, a cure-all for travel-related issues.
You also have to realize kids often appreciate the simple, everyday stuff more than the highlights of a carefully planned itinerary.
On long car trips, my husband and I usually carve out time for the kids to romp around a play area or check out an outdoor playground.
The stopovers usually lead to better behaved travelers and -- despite our well-laid plans -- sometimes end being the most memorable part of the trip.