Travels with a ten-year-old

The intrepid duo on top of the CN Tower in Toronto, Canada.

Planes, trains and automobiles! Dawn Anderson shares her experiences of a big trip with a small person!

AS the usual arctic temperatures of January set in, your mind may be wandering towards the summer, the promise of sunshine and being able to leave the house without feeling like you have been swaddled. 

I usually long for the brighter weather, but am hopeless at planning holidays until the last minute, despite being ruled by the school breaks for the last 18 years! Having two children ten years apart has its advantages – but that isn’t one of them. 

But 2023 was different… a plan began to form in February and the essential elements, like flights, were booked by March! 

You might be wondering what galvanised me last year? Well, I was working on a contract that ended in July and was hoping to have time off in August. My son Laurie, then aged 10, spends half his time with me and half with his dad but I wanted to make the most of the time off and go away for a couple of weeks. I had no idea where and anyone who has children of that age will know that holidaying anywhere at that time is eye-wateringly expensive. 

I wanted something affordable, but fun. I am not known for being adventurous in my choice of holiday, usually preferring a package holiday (easier for a busy mum to arrange) but I had some time to think about it. 

My main consideration was this: what would a ten-year old and a fifty-something both enjoy? The idea of a different kind of trip began to form. I started to think of other destinations and to ask myself a) was my son old enough to come with me and b) would he enjoy it? 

The other major consideration was whether such a trip would be wise as I would be the only parent and indeed, the only adult. I played through every scenario in my mind, thinking of the worst that could happen, and would the limitations outweigh the positives? In the end I just thought, “Life is short. What am I waiting for!” 

An English-speaking country was essential, exotic places might be more appealing, but I wanted to ensure that if we had any difficulties, language was not a barrier. The United States immediately came to mind, I’ve visited before but my son hasn’t. New York seemed the obvious choice; you can fly from Manchester easily and, much to my surprise, affordably. Whilst there I also wanted to ‘pop up’ to Toronto in Canada. I knew it was close (well, only an hour’s flight from New York) and I had a friend there who I had been promising to visit for ten years. Whilst doing my research, I realised that internal flights in North America were relatively inexpensive (it was cheaper to fly from Toronto to Los Angeles than buy a rail ticket from Chesterfield to London) and then the options really opened up. 

Car hire was the next thing I debated; it was cheap (less than £30 a day) and fuel is almost half the price there, but would I dare to drive?  Whilst being a confident driver over here, I had never driven on the opposite side of the road! I breathed deeply and booked the car, reassuring myself that it was mainly one long road and that it would be an automatic car. 

My son and I did watch loads of YouTube videos prior to going, which was really helpful.  I later learned that a ten-year old makes an excellent navigator and a really good observer, noting the stuff that adults often miss. 

So, on the first of August 2023, we set off on our trip…

New York, New York… Twin Towers Memorial, the M&M’s Shop

A busy, few days in the bustling city, where dogs wear Crocs and people all wear Air pods (Laurie’s observation). It was here that I discovered that Americans don’t understand the concept of a kettle and my plans for a leisurely coffee each morning in the room were abandoned when I requested one and all they could produce was a filter coffee machine. It also felt strangely ageing to be called ‘Ma’am’. 

We saw Back to the Future on Broadway (it was epic!) and visited the M&M’s shop (well, I was with a ten-year old). We walked through Central Park eating ice-creams in the sunshine and Laurie spotted the hotel from Home Alone (our favourite film). A walking tour with one of the First Responders around the area of the Twin Towers was really enjoyable for me – and the massive bagel that Laurie had whilst walking was satisfying for him. 

Canada… Toronto and Niagara Falls

Less than one hour’s flight and we were in Toronto, home of Loonies and Toonies (the local coinage we discovered, much to our amusement!) Again, a nice warm climate and a relief to be called ‘Miss’ again. The highlight of Toronto was the CM tower where we ate a delicious meal whilst revolving over the Toronto skyline; I think we both loved that. Another highlight of Canada was Niagara Falls… simply breathtaking. Niagara Falls itself is a curious mix of fantastic water feature and blingy amusements… these were a hit with one of our group. It was here that Laurie first said: “If I do anything silly, just remember I am only ten. And a boy.” The picture (top) says it all!

Los Angeles… Hollywood Boulevard, Warner Brothers’ Studio

A five-hour flight and we were at LA collecting the car. My nervousness about driving was unfounded and with Laurie acting as an extra pair of eyes for navigation and signage, I soon began to feel confident driving on the right. America is definitely the home of the Tesla and the pick-up truck, as these were the most common vehicles we saw. Los Angeles was the warmest place that we visited, we actually needed the air-conditioning. The highlight here was the Warner Brothers studios! If you are a fan of the Big Bang Theory, Harry Potter or Friends, this is a must! 

Los Angeles to San Francisco… The Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz

The drive up the Pacific Coast Highway provided some of the most beautiful scenery imaginable. The aquarium at Monterey used in the film Finding Nemo was amazing (somewhere I wouldn’t have gone to if I didn’t have a ten-year old with me). We saw a lot of San Francisco via a Hop on Hop Off bus, including seeing the Golden Gate bridge in the fog (apparently quite common). Alcatraz was an adventure and an education at the same time!

Back home…

After 16 days, we arrived back in the UK, tired, but full of memories, too many to fit into this article. We had lots of laughs and no tears. We ate junk food unashamedly, but balanced it with visits to the Farmers’ Market. We sampled five different airlines (all of which had different baggage restrictions and prices), eight hotels (including three motels), two train lines (we could really take some tips from Canada about how to run railways!), the subway (air conditioned!), the local bus and several Ubers (this has been my only experience of travelling in a Tesla). 

My son was the perfect companion, big enough to help carry things, clever enough to help navigate, young enough to get reduced fairs or even free admission at times – and old enough to laugh at the same things as me. He did and said lots of silly things (well, he was only ten and a boy), but they made it a holiday that neither of us will forget. 

If you are contemplating a trip right now, I hope that this will give you some insight into a different kind of trip that was rich with experience but didn’t break the bank and gave us memories that will last a lifetime.