'Travelling in the USA with kids wasn’t at all what I expected. It’s exactly why you need to go.'

Visit the USA
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I thought I knew what to expect from a family holiday to the USA — theme parks, busy schedules and a lot of stress. 

But from wild burros in Arizona to impromptu snowball fights at the Grand Canyon, our once-in-a-lifetime trip was filled with surprises that made every moment unforgettable. It turns out that the best family memories are made when you venture off the beaten path.

Here is why travelling to the USA with kids is nothing like you’d expect and why I’d do it all again in a heartbeat. 

Adrenaline-packed California. 

Image: Supplied. 

With four kids desperate to experience the thrill of Disney and Universal Studios, it was the first stop on our U.S. adventure. 

At Universal, my Harry Potter-loving daughter was mesmerised as she entered the magical world of Hogsmeade. Our days at Disney were filled with pure exhilaration as we ran (literally) from one ride to the next, back and forth between parks to do their favourites "one more time". 


My 11-year-old Jack still recalls with great amusement (and the widest grin) riding the Incredicoaster, a theme inspired by The Incredibles, and hearing "Jack, Jack" being shouted at him as he zipped and turned on a high-speed rollercoaster.

The unexpected wonder of California (for me, anyway) happened away from the parks. It was the simple joy of walking from Marina Del Rey (where we had an apartment) to Santa Monica, watching in awe as the locals board-slid at the skatepark, shot hoops on the outdoor courts at Venice Beach and pumped iron at Muscle Beach. It was something totally different from anything back home, and I'm so glad my kids got to experience this side of California. 

Road-tripping through Lightning McQueen country in Arizona. 

When my husband, the tour guide, announced we were driving seven hours from LA to the Grand Canyon in Arizona, I may have groaned aloud, right along with the kids. Talk about a comedown after four days of theme park thrills. 

Yet this road trip turned out to be a journey back in time to the many years we spent watching Cars (on repeat!). 

In Oatman, Arizona, wild burros roamed the streets, occasionally being shooed out of the gift shops by locals. Fun fact: these burros were the real-life inspo for the rogue tractors that drive around the town in the movie Cars, often barging into businesses (the burros have similar tendencies, I've been told). We were astonished to discover Hackberry General Store on the historic Route 66. The quirky décor, classic cars and vintage memorabilia found here made it feel like we had stepped into a real-life version of Lizzie’s Radiator Springs Curios. 

Never has an animated movie felt so real.

Image: Supplied. 


The unexpected magic of the Grand Canyon, Arizona. 

I expected our night at the Grand Canyon to be just another stop on our itinerary, with a nice walk and lookout; after all, how grand could it really be?

How wrong I was. 

Our long day of driving was rewarded with a majestic sunset, wrapping itself around the canyon before disappearing between its cracks and crevices. For kids who hadn’t seen snow before, the snow was a highlight of the trip. We raided the local store for extra layers of gloves, socks and beanies to endure the blistering cold. Fuelled by hot chocolate next to open fireplaces, we all spent hours having snowball fights and making snow angels, only going inside when we could no longer feel our fingers.

Image: Supplied. 


Despite the allure of Las Vegas, no one wanted to leave the Grand Canyon. It's now at the top of my bucket list, but next time in summer, with my trail shoes and tent.

Sensory overload in Las Vegas, Nevada. 

I couldn’t wait for the kids to experience the over-the-top craziness of Las Vegas.

And it didn't disappoint.

Staying just off the Strip, we took our time exploring the brilliance of the casino hotels: the Venetian's gondolas transported us to a mini-Venice, New York-New York's rollercoaster defied the rules that rollercoasters should be outside, as we marvelled at the water show at the Fountains of Bellagio. 

Image: Supplied. 


But there was more to Las Vegas than the glitz of the Strip. 

We ventured into the vibrant heart of downtown at Fremont Street, where indoor zip-lining and an endless street party electrified our senses. Our teens were ecstatic to catch their first live NFL game, meeting up with friends from home to watch a Raiders game and soak in the energy of American football.

My heart was full in New York City. 

Returning to New York City with the kids filled me with excitement and nostalgia as I remembered incredible memories from past holidays. The city’s iconic landmarks, vibrant art galleries and endless shopping made it hard to know where to begin. 

Staying in Midtown Manhattan, we spent every moment walking and exploring without any real agenda. We cheered at a Brooklyn Nets NBA game, wandered into art exhibitions down back roads and bought tickets to an off-Broadway show because the sign looked 'cool'. We ice-skated in Central Park, delighting in the ever-so-cheesy but beyond-magical experience. 

Phew. New York City was a whirlwind of activity and adventure, making me fall in love with the city all over again.


The grandeur of Washington, D.C.

Image: Supplied. 

As we bussed our way from New York City to Washington, D.C. I didn’t know what to expect. It was one of the few places I hadn’t visited on our itinerary.

After the buzzy energy of Las Vegas and New York City, Washington, D.C. felt calm and serene. Yet the imposing size and grandeur of its buildings left us in awe. 

The kids were speechless at the Lincoln Memorial, their minds taken back to school lessons about Martin Luther King Jr.'s iconic 'I Have a Dream' speech. At the Smithsonian, we marvelled at some of the world’s most incredible jewels while the stunning architecture of the Thomas Jefferson Building took our breath away. 


And, of course, we couldn’t miss another NBA game! Watching the Washington Wizards play was the perfect way to wrap up our exploration of this impressive city.

It's hard to believe we packed so much into our U.S. family holiday. 

Did it create lifelong family memories? Did it ever. Not a week goes by without one of the kids starting a sentence with "Remember in USA when we did…". It was so good that the kids want to know when we can go back and experience all the other hidden gems the USA has to offer. 

So much for only 'once in a lifetime'.

To plan your next trip to the USA, explore Visit The USA. 

Feature Image: Supplied. 

Visit the USA
Visit the USA is the official travel site of the USA, showcasing the vibrant and diverse experiences that you can discover all across the United States of America.