One of the most coveted perks at Travelzoo is the Travelzoo Experience, in which Deal Experts and other employees take advantage of the same travel, entertainment and local deals we publish to our subscribers and report back on their experience.
Last year, my wife suggested that we pack up and hit the road for a “haycation,” where we would take our toddler to a farm somewhere. I was intrigued by the idea and read up on the subject. Apparently the whole movement is popular among foodies, especially parents who can show their kids that a chicken doesn’t always look like a hunk of meat sold by the pound. I have to admit that the farm-to-table experience interested me as well, given that the only eggs I had ever collected had come from Whole Foods.
With that in mind, the three of us headed to the White Mountains of New Hampshire. So long, city mouse. Hello, country mouse.
On the way to our new home in the mountains, my wife and I quickly realized the depth of our remote location as radio stations crackled and dropped from the dial. By the time we drove up to the property, we were clinging to one remnant station.
As we stepped out from our car, we couldn’t help but stare in awe at the 360-degree mountain backdrop. We immediately noticed the clean, crisp air wafting through our nostrils and the calming sounds of a few birds tweeting nearby. No car horns honking. No cellphones ringing. No e-mail inboxes pinging. No trains rushing by on their morning commutes. Just the sound of gravel underfoot and the serene setting hanging in front of us like a permanent painting.
To be honest, the mountain range didn’t look real. The vista was too unobstructed, too pristine. The country mouse immersion was underway and there wasn’t a drive-through window in sight.
We easily could stayed on-site the entire vacation without a problem. Every evening, we received a new list of the next day’s complimentary activities. Other than aboard a cruise ship, I had never seen such an extensive array of options. We planned our days around axe-throwing, farm tours, cookie socials and s’more bonfires, all of which were free of charge. We were especially struck by the free s’mores as we had seen other resorts charge for “s’mores packs.” That was true for the resort as a whole as the daily resort fees and parking fees we’ve come to expect elsewhere were noticeably absent. At one point I said to my wife, “They know places charge a lot of money for this stuff, right?” As we all know, nothing’s worse than paying for a vacation, only to get nickel-and-dimed to death by the hotel for every little toothpick.
Each morning, our toddler met Ms. Diego and team to collect chicken eggs, greet the donkeys, pet the goats, brush the bunnies and say hello to the rest of the barn. Even though we went each morning, Ms. Diego found new and fascinating ways to educate us. For instance, did you know chickens love to eat their own eggs if left to their own devices? We saw a cluster of chickens devour one of their own eggs like a pack of wolves fighting over a fresh kill.
One morning, we woke up and saw it rained the night before. At home, that would have meant wet swings on the playground, but here, our Country Mouse jumped from puddle to puddle in his "Thomas the Tank Engine" boots, smiling and laughing the whole way. He didn’t need his remote control tractor or train puzzle or model car. He didn’t even need his piano or books. Just his boots and some puddles. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen our toddler happier than stomping and splashing through those puddles. And lucky for me, I have it on video so I get to watch it every day.
One night, we went to the s’mores bonfire and while other kids kicked a ball around and fought over sticks for the bonfire, our little man chased me and up down a little hill, laughing the whole way. I was suddenly aware that this unplugged vacation was exactly what our toddler wanted.
On our trip, my wife and I watched our little country mouse blossom. One day, he trekked past a roaring waterfall called Flume Gorge on a two-mile hike. For a little boy, hiking past a loud waterfall like that could have been intimidating and just plain scary, but he never complained as he walked step by step up the wet, wooden path past Flume Gorge. At home, we’re on constant alert, protecting our City Mouse from falling at a playground or holding hands together in a parking lot. But here, in the face of a towering force of nature, he didn’t bat an eye. He was determined to climb past the waterfall himself. He didn’t want to be carried or held. My wife and I were nervous as we got closer to Flume Gorge, but our toddler just kept lifting his little legs one at a time to the next step.
Earlier, I had thought the mountains were impressive, but I was wrong. The awe-inspiring one was wearing an Elmo diaper.
Back home this weekend, I looked at my usual bookmarked sites on my computer, wondering where we should go to have fun together. But then I just closed my computer and walked with our toddler down the street to our local library branch. We sat on a couch in the children’s section for the next few hours, making castles, towers and reading book after book. At one point, I said, “We should pick out books to take home. The library’s closing soon. Do you want to take this book home?” Our toddler looked at me said, “No, just read it again here.” I smiled down at him, opened the book and read it again.
For the first time as long as I can remember, we didn’t need to be anywhere else.