The funny thing about wine grapes is that they taste terrible when eaten off the vine.
Especially when green.
At least that was the assessment of my nine-year old’s puckered face as we meandered through row after row of cabernet sauvignon vines in Livermore Valley, feeling the soft, oak-shaped green leaves recently burst from their winter hibernation. In late Spring, grape vines appear as squat trees, spread-eagled between wooden posts, their leafy afro billowing above their head and shoulders while a single leg stands awkwardly, seemingly both embarrassed and defiant in its nakedness.
The most interesting part, though, was watching my daughter shimmy under the vines’ arms to avoid being tagged by her older sister.
One of my passions is wine – the types of grapes, the soil, the climate, the place, the oak, the vintage – and over the years I’ve dusted several pair of shoes while traversing up remote dirt paths to taste the artistry of a winemaker. In Northern California, I live in a valley boasting over 60 wineries, about 40 miles east of San Francisco. Traveling to the wine country, therefore, is literally walking out the back door and driving – or even biking – a mile or two.
The trick is to entertain kids while touring a winery or tasting its vitis vinifera – not exactly appealing to my two daughters.
Moreover, a challenge when traveling in your own backyard is that the experience loses some of the normal excitement found in exploring a new place.
As my 12-year old summarized, “we have to got a winery AGAIN? It’s so BORING.”
So how do we pursue a personal interest located nearby while keeping kids engaged, maybe even learning something?
Because for most of us, travel begins where we are. Sure, packing up the car or booking plane tickets happens occasionally, but most of the time, a trip is something that occurs relatively close-by.
Our answer? I call it the Package Program, otherwise known as Snacks, Sports, and Sites.
When planning a trip more focused on adult interests, I grab a backpack and a small satchel, and pack the following:
- Favorite snacks – fruit, granola bars, goldfish crackers, water, juice boxes – whatever can last all day in the bag. I usually include Peanut Butter and Honey sandwiches too, and always hidden are baggies with two cookies (Oreos work well in my house) in each.
- The backpack (and maybe a second bag that stays in the car) holds the “what do I do now” stuff: decks of cards, Frisbees, paddle tennis balls (the ones with a ball attached to a string affixed to a paddle), small butterfly nets, bubbles, favorite books, drawing pads, and pipe cleaners. I mix up the items between active and quiet activities, and if the outing will be all-day, I stop by the dollar store and pick up a couple of “surprise” items and add them to the mix.
- Finally, I toss in the “sites” stuff: the quintessential iPad, a pair of binoculars, a “detective” notebook and pen, and a disposable camera.
Back to the winery.
As the girls are attempting to weave themselves through grape vines, which is producing heart palpations in the winemaker, I call them over, hand them the binoculars and paper/pen, and give them an assignment.
“Using these binoculars, count how many people, dogs, squirrels, and birds – and any strange animal like a raccoon -- you see from this point to when we arrive back at the tasting room.”
Suddenly armed with a task, my 12-year old creates a graph, decides how many minutes each sister would have with the binoculars at a time, and my 9-year old starts pointing at birds.
Ten minutes later, I hand each of them a water and a package of peanuts (mixed with M&Ms), and they hang out in the corner of the tasting room evaluating their finds and using the binoculars to look at my hair up close. Me? I’m happily sipping a petit syrah.
Travel doesn’t have to mean an overnight trip, or a week away. A trip can happen in your neighborhood for a few hours – just enough to take a break, rejuvenate the soul, and experience a little more of the world around you.