Surprise Weekend At Universal Studios

The promotion to big brother is kinda like exercising for the first time in a while.  It sounds like a good idea until you can’t get out of bed the next day.   The promotion to big brother of twins is really more like a demotion if you think about it.  There’s 2x the crying, 2x the poop, and about 1/10th of the attention.

 

IMG_8131It’s near impossible to share my attention equally between my 1-year old twins and their 7-year-old brother.  No matter how you slice and dice it, Cam comes up short.  This fact, coupled with the challenges of a December birthday, had us wanting to do something special for Cam’s 8th birthday.  Cam and I have been reading the Harry Potter series together.  He’s enamored by the magic and mystery and wanted to have a Harry Potter themed birthday party.  So Jimmy and I got to scheming.  What better way to have a Harry Potter birthday than to go to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter located at Universal in Orlando?

 

 

The day before Cam’s birthday we casually told him he could open his present from us a day early.  We built it up, saying it was the best present we had ever gotten him.  When he unwrapped the Hogwarts t-shirt he did his best to hide his disappointment.  It only took a few minutes before this letter and a Hogwarts Express train ticket fell out with the following message from Minerva McGonagall.

“We are pleased to inform you that you have a place at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. You will be traveling to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Orlando.

Please find enclosed all of your travel information. We eagerly await your arrival.”

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I wish I could have caught his face on camera the exact moment it sunk in. He kept saying “when?” and I kept saying “now!”  We immediately left for the airport.  When our flight arrived we grabbed our rental car and headed to Universal’s City Walk to have dinner and check out the lay of the land.  The next morning we had birthday donuts at the hotel before heading to the parks.

 

IMG_8230Universal did not disappoint Cam.  It exceeded all his expectations.  From Harry Potter to Marvel to Transformers it is everything that would peak a little boy’s interest.  You should know by now I’m Team Disney all the way, but even I have to admit that The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is pretty amazing. Here the magic of the stories come to life in excessive, detailed, interactive, splendor.

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If you asked me, I’d have to say my favorite part has to be the train ride between the parks.  It’s a clever transition that keeps you lost in your favorite storybook as you travel from King’s Crossing Platform 9 3/4 to Hogsmeade and back again.  Cam’s favorite was the interactive wand we purchased upon arrival to Diagon Alley.  He could have spent all day turning on lights, spraying fountains, and making the window displays come to life.

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I knew going into the weekend that there wouldn’t be a lot for my little tots to do. There’s plenty to walk through and look out, but only 1 ride between both parks for tykes smaller than 36.”  Unfortunately for us, the play areas designed for toddlers are water playgrounds and the weather wasn’t warm enough for me to let them get wet.  Jimmy and I took turns riding with Cam and entertaining the littles.

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The next day, I woke up feeling like I had been unfaithful to my true love and so we promptly headed to Disney Springs so I could make amends.  Christmas time at Disney is unparalleled.  We spent the day enjoying the decorations in the sunshine including my personal favorite: the Trail of Trees.  Each tree along the path is decorated with a theme from a favorite Disney movie.  There is Christmas music playing and even fake snow falling to really put you in the Christmas spirit.

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I was reminded this weekend that the unexpected moment is always sweeter.  There’s something to be said about a true surprise.  Cam, my love, my lap may be fuller this year but there will always be room for you. Thanks for graciously scooting over to make space for the twins.  You are better than my best dreams.   Happy 8th Birthday, I love you more than words.

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XOXO,Holly

 

 

 

 

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10 Travel Hacks for Staying in Hotels with Babies & Toddlers

It’s so fun to have a baby in a hotel – said no one ever.  Hotels should stand for adventure, excitement, a break in the ordinary.  But bringing a baby or a toddler anywhere new (or anywhere really!) can be a bit overwhelming.  Here are some of tips, tricks, and travel hacks to make it a little bit easier for you.  IMG_6982

Move the furniture. Most hotel rooms are small.  And every inch counts.  The first thing I do when I get to a hotel room is assess the space to see how it will work for my family of 5.  I’ve been known to rotate desks, scoot beds, or even stack end tables in the corner to maximize our space.

Most hotels will provide you with a crib(s) or pack n play upon request (free of charge).

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Don’t forget the tape.  Believe it or not, tape is your best friend. It’s the quickest way to baby proof a hotel room.  It will cover electrical outlets, keep the phone receiver in place to avoid long distance phone charges, and keep the lid on the toilet.

Don’t get stuck with dirty diapers. If you mess up on this one, you’ll pay the price.  Don’t make the mistake of leaving a dirty diaper in the trash can after housecleaning has already made their rounds.  Always take your diapers to an exterior trash can.  If you can’t, make sure to use the ice bucket liner or plastic laundry bag to contain the smell.

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Bring an inflatable tub for the tub. Not all hotels have bathtubs.  Many hotels have traded bathtubs for the sleek modern look of a walk-in shower.  An inflatable tub allows you to still have bath time, even if you’ve only got a shower.   Even if you have a bathtub these work great for smaller guys who aren’t sturdy enough to sit alone in a big bathtub of water by themselves.  Addi could sit up before Chase, I used this tub at home in my own bathtub until I had two study babies that could play together in the bath.

There is no such thing as too many snacks. One day I’m going to write a post where one of the tips is not about food.  But today isn’t that day.  If someone doesn’t eat a meal, or they get hungry before bed your snacks are better than the $3.25 candy bar in the vending machine.

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Bring toys. Bring things for your kids to do in the room.  A couple of their favorite toys or maybe a new one that can keep them entertained for a little while. Here’s a fun idea I plan to try next trip: Car tape + cars.  Boredom is not your friend.

Do a curtain check (binder clips).  The last thing you want is that little crack of sunlight coming into your room and giving the baby the impression that it’s time to get up.  I’ve found my kids tend to sleep-in, in a hotel if I can keep those curtains shut.  Use a binder clip for those stubborn thick curtains that refuse to cooperate.

 

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Don’t forget the sound machine. My kids use a sound machine to go to sleep at night so I always bring mine.  But even if your kids don’t use a sound machine to go to sleep, white noise will really help with naps.  There are lots of apps or YouTube videos you can play on a loop.  The sounds of people walking up and down the hallway, shouting, opening and closing doors can be muffled with some good old-fashioned white noise.

Nobody puts baby in a corner BUT she can go in the closet or bathroom.  Think about it.  The bathroom or closet are usually the best choices for a baby to sleep.  It’s dark and quieter than the main room. Plus it’s isolated (to an extent) from the people that don’t need to sleep.  Because I have twins, we don’t usually have a bathroom or closet big enough for both babies; so we reverse it.   Jimmy usually takes Cam to the pool or for a walk while I put the babies to bed in the main room and hide in the bathroom till they fall asleep. I usually take a book or my laptop.  It’s not ideal but it could be worse.  Sleep is worth more than diamonds to me and my kids are usually asleep in 20-30 minutes and then I can transition back into the room.

You want to keep bedtime the same, as much as possible.  Whatever your routine is at home, do your best to keep it in the hotel.  Don’t stress.  I have a friend that puts the baby in the car, drives till they fall asleep, and then transitions them to the hotel crib.  Whatever works people.  You won’t find judgment here.

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Use the appliances.  Double check what amenities your room has.  Most rooms have at least a mini fridge which works great for milk storage and breakfast items so you can eat inexpensively before heading out for the day.  The coffee maker also makes a great bottle warmer.  I recently saw a post from a fellow traveler who used the ironing board as a table for her kids.

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Growing up y parents were known to book a hotel for a night just to mix it up, we would swim, order room service, and stay up late watching movies.  While I’m sure it was a hassle, I only remember the fun.  So don’t skip out on an adventure because you’re afraid of the hotel stay.  They won’t remember what goes wrong, they’ll only remember the fun.

Got a hotel tip or travel hack?  Leave it in the comments!

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What’s in my Disney Bag?

I’m headed home from a week-long stay at one of our favorite places. Yep, you guessed it Walt Disney World.  We love taking our kids to explore new places, but at the risk of sounding cliche, there really is something magical about spending time at Disney World. I’ve shared this before but my love for Disney started with my grandparents.  My granddaddy loved Disney and was there the first year it opened, and each consecutive year after that.  He took his kids and then his kids’ kids. We lost him 9 years ago but that didn’t stop the pattern.

So now I take my kids and Lord willing, I’ll take my kids’ kids.  In a world that is full of heartbreak and loss, Disney is a place where good always wins, where the impossible is possible, and dreams have no limits.

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We’re open to close people.  We rarely head back to the hotel during the day, so when I leave in the morning, I take everything with me that I’ll need for the entire day.  My kids nap REALLY well in their strollers so we don’t typically head back to the hotel unless something is wrong.  If you are go-back-to-the-hotel-for-naps kind of people, you have the luxury of restocking.

Disclaimer: I’m not going for lightweight.  I throw mine in the bottom of the stroller and leave it for the day so heaviness really isn’t a factor for me.  You can find my current Disney bag here. I also snagged these adorable reusable bags (found here) to hold the snacks and misc small items so they don’t get lost in the bottom of the backpack.

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  • Snacks.  Always snacks.  I usually have an arsenal of fruit snacks, granola bars, goldfish, and peanut butter crackers.  Ain’t nobody got time to be hangry when you’re at Disney World.
  • Typical baby items, your diapers, wipes, and baby food (pouches for the win).  Don’t skimp on the wipes, they are perfect for sticky hands and faces after a classic Mickey Bar.
    • If you run out of baby items, Disney has a spare for you in their Baby Center (in each park).
    •  If you don’t breastfeed, bring your bottles empty so you don’t have to worry about keeping the milk cool.  I put the formula in the bottles ahead of time and just add water when it was time for them to eat.  Now that they are older and take just one bottle before bed, I buy two cartons of milk at the park when it’s time for them to have their bottles.   DSC_0770
  • Like I mentioned, my kids sleep really well in their stroller.  They use the muslin blankets for sleeping, so I throw those in for nap and bedtime.  I don’t try to make my kids stay up or skip naps.  Tired toddlers are cranky toddlers. You can see more of my general Disney tips for babies and toddlers here.
  • Baby spoons and forks (here).  My twins are 18 months and just learning how to feed themselves with utensils.  They struggle with the size of a standard spoon/fork with their little hands and mouths.  I find letting them use smaller utensils makes them more independent at meal time and often keeps their attention longer so the rest of us can eat.IMG_6593
  • Portable charger for your phone.  Your dining reservations and fast passes are managed by an app.  That same app (My Disney Experience) provides you with wait times, restaurant options, and mobile ordering throughout your visit. This seems to be the most common type. I’ve chosen to invest in the apple charging case (found here) which literally allows my phone to last for days without charging.
  • Small wallet.  I’m talking like change purse here.  I throw my credit card and picture ID in.  That’s it.  Neither of which I’ve had to use since it is all linked on my magic band, but just in case.  DSC_0308
  • Tylenol.  For adults and infants.  It’s a long day of walking and standing and lifting kids in a noisy sunny place.  The last thing you want to be dealing with is a headache or aching back.  When Chase started cutting a tooth in the middle of our Disney trip I was glad I had the baby Tylenol too.
  • Sunscreen.  Did you know you can get sunburned on an overcast day in Florida?  Don’t ask me how I know! Ouch! Put sunscreen on in the hotel when you are getting everyone dressed and then bring a small bottle for reapplication.  I love the sticks for applying on faces and my little people (here).  DSC_0513
  • Small toy for keeping kids occupied during long waits.  If you want a good spot for a parade or a show it requires getting a seat at least an hour ahead.  Having a few cars, figurines, or the coloring packs (from the dollar section at Target) will help that time pass quickly.  Same goes for waiting for food at a restaurant or even a long attraction line.
  • Bibs.  My color coordinated outfits don’t seem to match as well when one of the twins has ketchup all over him.
  • Autograph book and pen for characters to sign.  My oldest recently got into the pin trading.  So his pin lanyard and extra pin backs have now found their way into my backpack too.  DSC_0706
  • Camera.  This is the only thing that doesn’t stay in my bag.  I typically wear this around my neck (strap: here)so I’m ready to snap a pic at any junction.  I’m a bit of a photo fanatic.  I have a pretty nice camera and don’t want to risk anything happening it to while I’m on a ride.  My current camera: here.
  • Depending on how little your kids are, a change of clothes is probably a good idea.  When the twins were babies I would bring their pajamas so when they fell asleep in the stroller I could transfer them right into their cribs back at the hotel.  Now that they are getting older I have an extra pair of bottoms for each of them for the case of a blowout.  DSC_0263

What’s not in my Disney bag

  • Ponchos unless forecasted.  Download the app Dark Skies and you will have an accurate forecast that will let you know if rain is likely.  If there is rain forecasted then I would definitely purchase ahead of time to avoid paying Disney’s steep cost on ponchos.  The thing about Florida is that it rarely rains ALL day.  It will rain for like an hour or so and then the sun usually comes back out.
  • Water.  Any Disney vendor will give you ice water for free upon request.
  • Selfie Stick.  Disney does not allow selfie sticks into the park anymore.  They will confiscate them at security and you’ll have to claim them at your departure.  IMG_6591

I’ve lived in several different places and by now you probably know that my family is pretty spread out too.  Disney’s been a constant in all the moves and all the changes of life.  There’s something about Disney that just feels like coming home.

XOXO,Holly

 

 

 

 

 

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How To Visit Key West With Kids

I grew up in South Florida.  Hurricane season wasn’t any different than when the spring rains roll in, in Northeast Ohio.  Every once in a while a hurricane of substantial size would blow in and we’d ride it out in the bathroom at my grandparents’ house.  There are of course those exceptions.  I went through hurricane Andrew in 1992 and Hurricane Wilma required me to evacuate from my college dorm. And I can remember watching as Katrina decimated Louisana.

This year, however, seems different.  It’s been hurricane after hurricane.  And these storms are full of uncontrolled power, destroying everything they touch. We spent some time in Key West back in the Spring and had a great time.  Unfortunately, the keys were right in the path of hurricane Irma.  She rolled through and left a trail of destruction in her wake.

Many of the residents make their living off of tourism.  While donating funds and supplies definitely helps the island begin to rebuild; I’m sure most of the small business owners and restaurants would tell you the best thing you could do is to come visit!  I’m hoping this post might encourage some of you to take the trip.  If you have a couple days off and are wondering where to visit – pick Key West! You won’t be sorry!

Here’s how to do it with kids in tow:

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Stay off Duval Street:

We had some reservations about taking the kids to Key West, and most of them centered around Duval Street.  It’s no secret, Duval street is where the party starts, and I just wasn’t sure my kids were ready for all that top-notch people watching; if you catch my drift (wink wink).  We ended up staying on the other side of the island and that was a great decision.  We could spend time downtown and head out before things got too out of hand.  I’d look for an Airbnb or HomeAway property a little off of the main strip.

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Hit the beach:

We stayed right near Smathers Beach.  It’s picturesque with its white sand and blue waters.  We checked out a couple of different beaches, and most were pretty rocky or not very kid-friendly. They were fun to explore, but this is where you’d want to park yourself if you are planning for the traditional beach day.  There is a concession stand on one end and we had lunch at one of the food trucks that park near the beach.

There are limited shade options here.  Here’s the umbrella we love when we hit the beach with babies.  I also took an inflatable baby pool to fill with water for the tots to play in, which ended up being a great idea, if I do say so myself.

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Visit a deserted island:

I mean really, how cool does that sound? 70 miles off the coast of Key West is a Dry Tortugas National Park.  It’s a series of islands with the main one hosting Fort Jefferson.  We haven’t actually made it out to the fort yet because it is a 2-hour boat ride and there were just too many variables to take my 1-year old twins on the journey.   The park is known for its snorkeling, wildlife, and history.  Everyone I’ve talked to has highly recommended it, we can’t wait to check it out on our next trip.

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Watch the Sunset at Mallory Square:

Mallory Square is known for its incredible sunsets.  What you might not know is that as the sun sets the square comes alive.  Street performers, merchants, and food vendors all have a spot for your enjoyment.  Each evening hosted a number of different performers and my son enjoyed being able to participate in a few of the acts.  From magic to juggling to fire-breathing to sword swallowing you will see it all here.  I wouldn’t expect to get any breath-taking pictures here, despite all the reviews, it’s very crowded and unless you are there early, you probably won’t have a front row seat to the sunrise.

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Do the Aquarium: 

All of my kids (ages 7, 1, 1,) loved the aquarium.  It’s small, but it’s very hands on. There’s a touch tank, turtle feeding, and shark feeding demonstration to name a few. It won’t take you a full day but it’s located right downtown and there are several restaurants and shops to occupy the rest of your afternoon.

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We bundled our tickets since we wanted to visit the shipwreck museum, which was a way to save a few dollars.  I wouldn’t recommend the shipwreck museum for kids under 5.  It definitely has some interesting parts and an awesome observation tower you can climb to the top of.  However, it’s a lot of reading and history that might not keep your little ones engaged.

Grab some history at Fort Zachary Taylor:

You know I’m a sucker for a good learning opportunity.  We toured Fort Zachary and were transported back to civil war times.  There are also nature trails and a beach to visit.  We found the beach to be a bit rocky, but still enjoyed some fun in the sun.

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Get some Cupcake Sushi

Did you really think I could have a post and not talk about food, specifically chocolate?  Well, that was just silly.  At Cupcake Sushi you can order bite-size cupcakes in an assortment of flavors designed to look just like sushi rolls.  The only word going through your mind right now should be yum.  Visit early in the day, once they are out of their rolls the shop closes for the day.

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Go to the southernmost point in the evening:

You can’t visit Key West without going to the southernmost point of the USA.  My advice would be to go in the evening.  The cruise ships typically pull out around 5pm and their passengers go with them.  There’s always a line to have your picture taken, but it’s significantly shorter in the evening time after the ships leave.

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Go Fishing:

Key West is known for its fishing, and there are plenty of boats you can charter.  But we found the best kid-friendly fishing to just be off the causeway.  The water was so clear, that in the evening we could see stingrays, jellyfish, and several large nurse sharks.  My son even caught a small shark.  It was the highlight of his trip!

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Don’t forget the water sports:

When it comes to water sports, Key West has it all.  I’ve done a jetski tour of the island in the past which was really fun.  This trip I took my 7-year-old parasailing on the Fury and it was a great experience. You can see our pictures here.  You can also rent boats for the day or take snorkeling tours.  There’s a water activity available here for everyone.

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Earnest Hemmingway, who had a house on Key West, sums up the island perfectly when he said, “Live in the full life of the mind, exhilarated by new ideas, intoxicated by the romance of the unusual.”

Hope to see you down in the keys soon!

XOXO,Holly

 

 

 

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Hiking with Babies and Toddlers

Cam was 4 years old when we visited Yosemite National Park in California, which needs to be on everybody’s bucket list by the way.  This particular hike was a 2-mile hike to the top of a waterfall. As a novice hiker, it wasn’t until about halfway in, that my burning thighs helped me to realize going to the top of waterfall meant we would be hiking uphill for the majority of the journey.

I didn’t intend for it to be this pivotal parenting moment, but there we were, a quarter of the way from the top and Cam wanted to quit. To be honest, we all did. It was hard. But Diakandrus never quit and so we pressed on, tears and all.  Afterall the best views come after the hardest climbs, right?  Most definitely.  For days, both my aching muscles and my little man would say, “Remember when we didn’t quit mom?”  “Remember when we made it all the way to the top, mom?”  Oh, I remember little one!

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I think it was after that trip that hiking started becoming our go-to family activity.  While the views of Northeast Ohio can’t compete with the views of Yosemite the benefits for us remain the same.  Hiking teaches endurance and perseverance. We push through when it is hard, and we take each hike one step at a time. It allows us to get away from the hustle and bustle as a family and just be.  And if you’ve read any of my other posts you probably know that I believe time spent matters more than anything else.  I also believe in building healthy habits for your kids.  Hiking instills a habit of exploration while keeping your body moving.

Each hike leaves us with a growing appreciation for our Creator and this beautiful planet we’ve been given.  We see His details in everything, from the leaves of the trees to the stripes of a caterpillar to the changing of the seasons.  We study the plants and creatures we come upon.  We talk about respecting the environment and encourage our kids to follow what inspires them.

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When the twins were born, everyone told us our hiking days were over.  You can’t possibly take two infants into the woods.  Wrong.  You absolutely can, you just can’t be quite as spontaneous.  Preparation is required.  The twins went on their first hike at about 4 weeks old, and at 18 months now they haven’t slowed down.

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Here are a few tips for hiking with the littles:

  • Consider your timing.  When the twins were babies we were very specific about our hiking time.  We liked to feed the babies in the car before heading out on a hike, that way we knew they were full and we didn’t have to rush through the trail.  They slept a lot in their carriers when they were really little too.
  • Bring snacks and water.  I always have snacks.  If I could write a parenting book, I’d have a whole chapter dedicated to the importance of snacks.  We always have at least one water bottles in our pack, but I started also throwing in a granola bar or baggie of pretzels too.  On a long hike, a little snack break goes a long way.

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  • Leave the diaper bag in the car.  It’s heavy and you won’t need it.  Throw one diaper and a few wipes in your carrier.
  • Have the right carrier.  I started with the Classic Ergo.  But quickly upgraded to the Ergo 360.  I found that the babies enjoyed looking out at the trees and colors of the forest instead of always facing me.  Now that they are older we use a Kelty carrier.  Don’t limit them to the carriers.  Take time to let them out, let them explore, wander, and learn too.
  • Dress them appropriately.  Kids tend to get cranky when they are hot or cold.  Layer them so they can strip down if needed.  Don’t forget if you are wearing them, they will get pretty warm in the carrier quickly as they are up against your body.

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  • Have a change of clothes and towels in the car.  If you are anything like me, your first instinct is probably to tell your kids to stay out of the mud and water.  Resist it. Instead let them get dirty, like really dirty and have a change of clothes when you get back to the car.
  • Research your hike.  Know the intensity and duration about what you are doing.  Keep it short while they are little, up to 2 miles max.  There are a ton of websites and blogs with specific details so you know what to expect. Google is your friend. Don’t bite off more than you can chew.
  • Let them explore.  Let them swim in the rivers, dig in the river bank, hunt for bugs and climb trees.

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Local friends here are 5 great hikes for children under 5:

  1. Henry Church Rock Trail (Formally known as Squaw Rock).  If you have older kids, pack bathing suits (if weather appropriate), there’s a place to jump and swim under a waterfall.  (South Chagrin, Ohio)
  2. Cascade Valley Metro Park  has a few different trail options depending on how adventurous you want to be.  (Akron, Ohio)
  3. Twinsburg Ledges Trail @ Liberty Park is a GREAT hike for little ones.  The loop leads to a cave and nature center, as well as a nature-made playground area. (Twinsburg, Ohio)DSC_1579
  4. Brandywine Gorge Trail.  We like to veer a little off the trail and head under the bridge to throw rocks.  You can often see chickens and goats on this trail, as you pass an inn that has both.  You will pass over the top of the falls toward the end of the hike. (Sagamore Hills, Ohio)
  5. Rocky River Nature Center is a new favorite of ours.  The nature center is phenomenal, it’s free and has so much for kids of all ages.  There are several different trails to choose from.  We made a day of it, visiting the nature center, packing a lunch, and then finishing with a family hike.  (North Olmsted, Ohio)

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“Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.” (John Muir).  Adventure on, friends.

XOXO,HollyHiking With Babies & Toddlers

Why I Make My Kids Ride Roller Coasters

One of the biggest things I want to teach my kids is to live courageously.  Courage doesn’t mean that you become fearless, it means you don’t let your fears stop you from living.

Life is full of scary things; following a dream is scary, moving to a new place is scary, making friends is scary, taking a new job is scary, getting married is scary, getting a diagnosis is scary, losing a loved one is scary, raising kids is scary, the list goes on and on. And while I can’t teach my kids to live without fear, I can teach them to live in spite of fear.  

Here are 3 things we do in our home to encourage fearless living:

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We let them fail.

When it was time for Cam to learn to ride his bike, he was eager to to get going; until it came time for me to let go.  He begged me not to let go.  But in the end, it was probably harder for me than for him.  You see, I wanted to hold on a little longer. I wanted to make sure that he was completely ready, I wanted to ensure he wouldn’t fall. But life doesn’t work like that, does it?  In order for him to really soar, he had to overcome his fear of falling.

Fear stops us from dreaming big.  The fear of failing starts as a child and I’m not sure it ever really ends.  What I’ve found is that my house is the best and safest place for my kids to fail.  It’s a place where their acceptance and love is not earned by their success and performance.  I want them to fail under my roof so I can help them learn to get back up again.  When I let go of Cam’s bike, I knew he would most likely fall a time or two.  So I waited, band-aids and ice pack in tow.  And he fell.  So I patched up those knees and wiped the tears, and then I made him get back on that bike. Over and over again, until he got it.  And oh man, you guys should have seen his face when he was finally pedaling down the street on his own.  Pure Joy.  That is one of my favorite moments.  Once you know you can fall and get back up again, your fear becomes smaller and your dreams can become bigger.

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We always tell the truth.  No matter what. 

I tell my kids the truth. Always. No exceptions.  When Cam was 3, he was terrified of getting shots at the doctor.  The nurse suggested I distract him and she would quick poke him and it would be over.  I declined.  I looked Cam right in the face and told him it was time to get a shot. He asked me if it would hurt, and I said yes. He screamed of course and I ended up having to hold him down in the end. The nurse was seriously annoyed.

But the trust between Cam and I stayed intact, and that was the most important thing.  I tell them when the shots are coming or when the medicine will sting or when something will be uncomfortable.  This way when I look them in the eyes and tell them something is completely safe, or that I’ll catch them, or that they are brave and strong they will believe me; because they know that no matter what – mom always tells the truth.

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We make them ride rollercoasters 

Yep, it is exactly what it sounds like.  You can’t rationalize yourself out of fear. Sometimes the fear won’t go away -and so sometimes you have to do things even though you are still afraid.  So I make them do everything once – ride the coaster, parasail, snorkel (after watching shark week, yep major mom fail), zip line, whatever it is that has them stuck in fear.  We acknowledge the fear and then we overcome it.

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Our fears might change from monsters under the bed to the uncertainty of life as we get older but some things don’t change.  Fear tells lies.  Fear tells you that you are too small, too weak, and that you are not enough.  Fear tells you that you are all alone and that you can’t.

The last thing I want is for my kids to believe those whispers.  My hope is that when my kids find themselves in a situation crippled by fear that they will remember standing on the roller coaster platform with me, telling them “You CAN do this.  You are braver than you think.”

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But more importantly, I want them to remember the words of the ONE who holds all things in His hands.  The author and giver of bravery and courage.

“For I am the LORD, your God

who takes hold of your right hand and says to you,

Do not fear

For I will help you.”

(Isaiah 43:13)

Afterall, what is there really to fear when the giant in front of you could never be bigger than the God beside you?

XOXO,Holly

7 Must Haves For Traveling with Babies & Toddlers

I did the math the other day, the twins, at almost 18 months, have been on 28 flights.  I’d like to say I’ve become this traveling expert and that I could guarantee you a smooth and peaceful flight but then I’d be lying.  I’ve had flights where everything went perfect, and yet the 28th flight was probably the worst one of them all.  That being said, I have compiled a list of 7 things that will give you your best odds at a successful trip.

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A few thoughts before you book.  Typically when I book I’m looking at price. But If I have some flexibility I would consider two things.

First would be getting your toddler their own seat, even if they qualify as a lap baby (under 2).  Having the extra space for your little one to sit, stretch, and stand makes a world of a difference.  Lots of people recommend bringing your car seat, and I might be inclined if that didn’t mean carrying two giant car seats with me through security and the airport along with everything else I already have.  That is just not possible for me.  If you are flying an airline with assigned seating you can request to be moved next to an empty seat, if there is one. Most airlines are accommodating and this gives you extra room at no cost.  However, if it’s a full flight, you are out of luck.

Second would be the time of your flight.  If you pick a flight over nap time or bed time, the chances of your little one sleeping through the flight increase.  In this case, don’t forget their favorite blanket or comfort item!

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Ok, on to the must haves.  I would like to specify that my diaper bag is a backpack and I would highly recommend this to anyone.   This is the one I use, and I love it.

1. Snacks.

Seems easy enough. But think it through. Take a variety, and take something special; a treat of some sort.  Here’s my new favorite: smarties.  They are cheap and easy to pack. And I dish them out one at a time, so now that roll of smarties took 10 minutes to eat. Listen, folks, every minute counts when you are at 30,000 feet.  I’m not sure you could ever have too many snacks. But be careful with a cracker-like snack, bags tend to get crushed and then all you are left with are crumbs.  I put our crushable snacks in a portable spill-proof container like this one.

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2. Electronics.  

Whatever your screen-time rules are, throw them out the window. You can pick them back up when you reach your destination.  If you are a Netflix user, you can now download movies on your device and play them without a wifi connection. The twins are currently in a Moana phase, so you better believe I have that on digital download as well.  Amazon has a bunch of toddler headphones that have limited volume for ear protection.  But I’ll warn you, the volume is so limited, it’s a little difficult to hear at times on a noisy plane.

Apart from movies, we like the Fisherprice Apps.  They are free learning games for toddlers with bright colors and music.  Both of my toddlers will sit and play them for a pretty lengthy amount of time.

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3. Extra Essentials.

However many diapers and wipes you think you need in your carry on, bring more.  The last thing you want to deal with is a delayed flight and a shortage of diapers, wipes, or bottles.  Plus I use wipes for everything, dirty bums, sticky fingers, runny noses, and even cleaning tray tables.  Throw some plastic bags in the bottom of your diaper bag in case someone has a blowout.  I find if you plan for the blowout, nothing happens, but that one time you forget extra clothes and supplies… well you know how that story ends.  When the twins were little babies, I’d bring extra white onesies and just throw them away if they were soiled.

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4. Travel Toys.

One thing I always do is to pick up a couple of surprise items for my kids.  These are things that they have never seen before.  Think lightweight and interactive.  Resist the urge to show them everything in your bag.  Give them one item at a time, when they start to fuss, then and only then do you bring out the next one.  If you have to read the same book 100 times, so be it.  Here are some of my favorites for the twins:

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5. Something to Suck.

This is one you will probably hear over and over again: make sure they are sucking when you take off.  And I’ll admit, the first time I flew with the twins they were only 8 weeks old and I was very concerned that their ears would hurt them on take off and landing.  I followed all the advice and gave them a bottle during ascending and descending, even though they had been sleeping.  Now I want to scream at my inexperienced self.  No. No. No.  Never wake a sleeping baby!  Just be prepared if they seem to be in distress.  Nurse them, offer a bottle, or a sucker if they are older.  I’ve only noticed a few times some discomfort and it usually coincided with a head cold or a teething baby.

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6. A layover.

I’m probably the only person who is going to tell you this.  So take your finger off that scroll button and just hear me out! If your flight is longer than 3 hours I would suggest a layover.  I know it makes your travel day longer, and I know you just want to get to where you are going.  BUT you will be surprised what a break will do for your kids and your patience.  I find that letting my kids walk around, stretch their legs, and take in a change of scenery almost completely resets them for the second leg of the journey.

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7. A Tough Skin

This one’s important, because like I mentioned at the beginning: sometimes you can do it all exactly right and they still cry.  My most recent flight was a disaster of epic proportion for my Chase.  He had an allergic reaction to something during our time in Texas that caused him to break out in hives, which in turn meant he hadn’t slept well the night before.  My little guy was over-tired and not feeling well when we boarded our flight out of San Antonio.  There was no combination of snacks and toys that could counter-act how miserable he was,  He pretty much screamed the entire two hours and 18-minute flight  (but who was counting?).  You are going to get the looks, the whispers, the stares and you need to let them roll right past you.  You are doing your best mama, a crying baby isn’t a sign of failure.

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The more you do it, the easier it gets.  For you and for them.  My 7-year-old is completely self-sufficient on an airplane and has been for years.

Don’t miss out on an opportunity to go somewhere new or to visit family because you are worried about flying with your little ones.  What’s the worst that can happen?  The baby cries the whole time? Been there, done that.  When it’s over, it’s over. You still get to where you are going in the end, and you will never see those people on your flight again.  Well, hopefully not!

Adventure on, friends.

XOXO,Holly

Don’t Skip The History: Mount Vernon Travel Guide

I did something crazy (I know, I know it is becoming a reoccurring theme).  I wanted to visit a high school friend of mine that lives in North Carolina.  Jimmy wasn’t able to take the time off work; so I decided to make the 8-hour drive by myself with the kids. Like I said, crazy, but I’m so glad I went!  I’ll admit, I was a little nervous so I decided to break up the trip rather than make the drive straight.  On our way home, we made a pit stop in Alexandria, Virginia and visited Mount Vernon, George Washington’s estate.

Originally I wasn’t sure if this would be a good place to take my young kids to.  I knew I wanted to take Cam but wasn’t sure if the two tots would get in the way of him learning the history and being able to enjoy the estate.  But I was very pleasantly surprised at not only how kid-friendly it was, but how much there was for kids to do there.

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Here are some things to note before you plan your trip:

  • Consider the weather.  We went in the end of July and it was HOT.  Like hot hot. Think melting popsicle hot, only you are the popsicle.  I spent a fortune on cold water bottles and was constantly on the look out for shade. It’s a lot of walking, which coupled with the intense heat had me constantly worried about the littles getting overheated.  I definitely want to go back and think fall or spring would be amazing.  There are several gardens on the property that would be just stunning in full bloom.  Rumor on the travel guide scene is that spring is the most popular and most crowded time to go.

 

  • Dress accordingly.  Most of your day will be spent outdoors.  Also, don’t forget to wear comfortable walking shoes.  You’ll be on your feet for several hours.

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  • Plan for a whole day.  It’s a BIG property.  Beyond the mansion, itself are the gardens, slave quarters, working blacksmith, ice house, trails along the Potomac river, the Washingtons’ tombs, a slave museum, an old-fashion working farm, the George Washington education center, and you can also take a shuttle over to his distillery for additional tours.

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  • Download the Agent 711 App.  It’s an interactive Spy-based scavenger hunt through out the grounds.  You are an undercover spy for General Washington and must complete activities, solve puzzles, and search for clues to decode secret messages.  You can also rent a smartphone there to play too.

 

  • There is also a paper adventure map that has some puzzles and scavenger hunt on it as well.  We opted for the electronic version since my Cam is very into all things spy related.  Both are really well done and keep the kids engaged through out your day.

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  • Think through your stroller options.  You can take your stroller but most of the grounds are not paved so it was a workout, especially with my double stroller. The tombs are quite a bit a way from the rest of the property and I definitely regretted the extra donut I snagged at the continental breakfast as I huffed and puffed all around; specifically on the uphill trek back.  Did I mention it was hot?! That being said, I couldn’t imagine not having my stroller either.  The property is BIG and it’s a TON of walking.  Just be prepared for rugged terrain.

You actually can’t take your stroller into his house for the mansion tour.  I didn’t know that and wasn’t prepared to take 1-year old twins, unconfined, through the historic mansion.  Let’s just say I’m not sure we will be invited back anytime soon.

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  • You can’t take outside food or drink in.  They do have a little food court, but you may want to including buying lunch in your budget.

 

  • Plan your visit.  Check the calendar before you go so that you don’t miss anything. There are kid friendly activities, crafts, a peddler band, farming demonstrations, forensic lab workshops, and a 4-D movie that are all time specific

 

  • Don’t skip the education center.  It is interactive, interesting, and definitely worth walking through. Apart from the spy app game, this was Cam’s favorite part of the day.

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  • Purchase your tickets online.  You can save a couple of dollars on each ticket by purchasing in advance.  You will save money and skip the lines.

 

  • Bring extra money for the gift-shop.  It’s one of the best I’ve ever been to, and believe me, I’ve done my fair share of gift shops.

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There is an intentionality behind our travel (you can read the specifics here) but I think stops like these are so important.

“If you don’t know history, then you don’t know anything.  You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree.” – Michael Crichton

I know some of you might be saying, “but history is so boring!”  Well, I’m certain you must be looking in the wrong places.  A day at Mount Vernon was rich in history in so many ways – American, culture, civil rights, heritage, and it was anything but boring.

Adventure on friends.

XOXO,Holly

Cheap Weekend Getaway: Camping (and YES you can bring the babies).

Getting away as a family doesn’t have to be expensive.  Our last campsite cost $14.00 a night.  If you can meal plan and pick a spot close to home to save on gas, a camping weekend for a family of 5 could cost you less than $75.00, food included (see below).  If you don’t have your own equipment, think about borrowing from a friend.

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I should, however, start out with a bit of honesty.  I don’t love camping.  Well, let me rephrase, I don’t love sleeping on the ground and going on a hike every time I need to use the bathroom. I don’t do bugs and my hair just isn’t made for outdoor living.  BUT I do love sleeping under the stars, late nights around the fire, and sticky little marshmallow crusted faces.

We recently went camping with some friends.  Yes we took the babies, and yes we slept in a tent.  We prepared for the worst and were pleasantly surprised. I mean, I’m not going to lie, I yelled “Don’t put that in your mouth” more times than I can count and it took several scrub downs to finally rid my children of all the dirt that was caked into all of their little crevices.  But man is time spent with family and friends good for your soul.  Because the best things in life aren’t measured by their price.  They are people and memories and pictures.  They are moments and smiles and laughter.

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There’s something about being out in creation that connects you to the Creator.  When I stare up at star-filled sky, or at sunsets over a lake, when I feel the warmth of a fire, or hear the laughter of my kids mixed in with a symphony of the crickets; I can’t help but stop and stand in awe of the hands that made it all.

When I told people we were going camping as a family, everyone treated me like I was a complete loon.  “You are taking babies camping? Why?!”   Well we survived and I’m here to say, it was actually fun.  And, no, I am not being sarcastic! It was worth the extra planning it involved to take the littles.  We were out in nature together on a unique family adventure.  That’s the thing with camping, each time brings something new.

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Here are some tips to help prepare you for taking a baby (or 2) camping:

  • Packing:  I’m never going to win an award for the lightest packer.  But I might for the most prepared!
    • Bring everything you would normally need for time away with your people; and a little more of some things.  Pack extra diapers, wipes (perfect for sticky hands and messy faces), and clothes.  People are bound to get messy and wet.
    • Bring clothes for layering.  What starts out as a hot day, may turn into a cool evening.
    • Bring toys or things to entertain the kids while you are setting up camp and cooking dinner.
    • Bring ways to get around the campsite (to bathrooms, playground, trails, lake, pool, etc.)  My older son typically brings his scooter or bike. We love our wagon for the littles.  It can even double as a portable bed, if you find yourself away from the tent at nap time.   If you plan to hike, don’t forget your baby carriers.  thumb_DSC_1861_1024
    • Don’t forget the bug spray, sunscreen, anti-itch cream, Neosporin, band-aids, and Tylenol.
    • Refillable water bottles or sippy cups for little hands.  Camping isn’t the time to have your children learn how to master the cup.
    • I typically bring my air mattress.  I know, I know all of you avid campers are rolling your eyes.  But a well rested mama is a happy mama!  My car has an outlet which allows the compressor to be plugged so I can inflate my mattress. Some of our friends prefer inflatable pads for under sleeping bags or camping cots.  But I told you from the beginning, I’m not a roughin’ it type of girl.

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  • Sleeping: I take sleeping very seriously! My kids are so much nicer little people when they have slept.  And to be honest, so am I!
    • We recently upgraded our 4-person tent.   We’ve added three more people to our tribe since we purchased it; and so we went big.  We bought a 10-person tent.  There was plenty of room for our bags and our babies.  This allowed us to bring our pack-n-play for sleeping.  Which can double as a play yard  with toys at your campsite.  One family with us brought their rock-n-play for their little one to sleep in.
    • Bring extra blankets.  Temperatures are hard.  What one likes is too cold for one and too hot for another.  You can always use them as extra padding under sleeping bags.  I like to be prepared, so I dress them in pajamas with layers and bring extra blankets.  thumb_DSC_1784_1024
    •  Keep your night-time routine if possible.  This really only applies to toddlers and babies not children who can understand the change in routine.  My babies get a bottle then go into their cribs awake with their blankets and sound machine.  So that’s what we did at camp.
    • Be easy-going.  The above suggestion only worked for 1 baby! Chase struggled with the extra noise and the strange environment.  I ended up putting him in the stroller with his favorite blanket and did a couple of laps around the campsite until he fell asleep and I could transfer him to his bed.  Our friends put their baby in the car, and drove around the campsite until he fell asleep.  There’s always baby Benadryl — Joking! (kinda!).

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  • Eating: Think easy
    • I found a blog that plans out a weekend of food for a family of 5 for $50.00.  And the best part is they don’t use fancy camping gear to cook it, so anyone can do it.  Here’s the link.
    • Tacos are a go to for us (in life and at the campsite).  You can make the beef ahead of time, store in the cooler and then just heat it up when you are ready.  Switch out the meat with eggs in the morning and you can re-use your leftovers for breakfast tacos.
    • Because we went with three other families, one of our veteran campers made a menu and then sent out a sign up sheet so that everyone could split the grocery list and we ate potluck style. We didn’t spend a lot and ended up having a TON of food to split between everyone.
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    • Don’t forget, you have to bring all of your paper products, and cooking utensils.  Also, how cool are these portable high chairs?  We don’t own these, but they are on the wish list.
    • If you have a portable canopy, bring it.  Having an area out of the sun to prepare food and sit under to eat was really nice.
    • Make sure all of your food gets locked in a vehicle at night. Raccoons are sneaky little bandits.

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One reason camping has a special place in my heart is because of who we camp with.  I’m so thankful for the friends God has given me to do life with.  They are the type of friends that know everything that’s wrong with me and love me the same.  These people saw my hair first thing in the morning and didn’t flinch.  They are the type of friends who text me to tell me which radio station is playing 90’s music all weekend and love your kids with their whole hearts. They are my no matter what people.  Oh and they have a boat too, so that doesn’t hurt.    There are friends and there is family and then there are friends that become family.  I hope all of you can experience the latter.

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Life was meant for good friends and great adventures.  So here’s to the nights that turn into mornings with the friends that turned into family.XOXO,Holly

Making Family Travel Affordable

We spent last night as a family out on our trampoline dreaming about a big trip we are taking in the fall.  Clearly I have a passion for travel and adventure, but I also have a passion for helping families get out there and make their own adventures.

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I recently told y’all why we choose to travel so much, (if you missed that blog post, you can find it here). Well, here is the how.  I know there are a lot of families who are saying “well, sure we would love to travel more, but it’s just so expensive.”  I hear ya. So I’m sharing my top 10 money-saving hacks to make traveling more affordable for families.

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Get A Southwest Credit Card

First thing, you need a credit card that rewards your everyday spending with airfare.  I have zero other cards. Not even the Target RedCard – and for those of you who know how much time and money I spend at Target, this is b.i.g.  We buy everything with our Southwest card. And I do mean everything.  We even paid for a down payment on a vehicle purchase with our card; and then went home that day and immediately paid off the card with the money we had actually saved for the down payment.  It was one extra step, cost me nothing extra, but hey, I got the points.

We use our credit card like a debit card and don’t carry a balance.  Our budget matches our card spending.  You need to be careful: I don’t want to get into money management here, but if you spend more than you have and need to make monthly payments with interest you aren’t getting the full benefits of the card.

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I know there are several different cards out there that allow you to redeem your points for airline miles, but I’m convinced this is the best one. Look this isn’t a sponsored post.  I’m just a BIG Southwest fan and here’s why:

  • First off, you get 40,000 points after you sign up and begin using the card.  That is about enough for two round trip tickets somewhere.
  • There are no black out dates, no change fees, or cancellation fees.  In fact if you book a ticket, and that ticket goes on sale – Southwest will refund you the difference of what you originally paid (If you catch the sale).
  • You get TWO free checked bags per person.  That’s 10 free suitcases for a family of 5.   Most airlines charge you 25$ per bag.  If you can’t fit everything you need in 10 suitcases, you may be over-packing.
  • You can earn points by purchasing hotel stays, and rental cars through Southwest.  I just recently did this for the first time and their pricing is pretty competitive.  You also get a point for each mile you fly with them.  Yep, book with your southwest card and that’s double the points for one trip.
  • If you earn enough points from spending, flying, and booking you can earn what they call a Companion Pass.  This is gold.  It allows you to buy one, get one free on your airline ticket for an entire year.  Like I said, pure gold.
  • Oh and did I mention Southwest has some international routes now?  Yep, it’s true.  Bring on the tropics.

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Go Off Season

Both airfare and lodging prices dramatically decrease during the off-season.  Going to Disney or the beach in the fall or winter costs a heck of a lot less than going over spring break or in the prime time summer months.  Plus you will appreciate the warmer temperatures if you are leaving freezing ones behind.  Different places have different off seasons, so do your research.

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Have Flexible Dates

Typically the cheapest days to travel are on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.  Most people have a week for a vacation.  There’s no rule that your vacation week needs to run Sunday to Sunday.  Afternoon flights tend to be the busiest, they refer to it as the “rush hour” of travel so those flights tend to be pricier.

When we’ve been interested in taking a cruise, I’ll call each cruise line and ask them for their cheapest cruise dates, and then schedule our vacation around the best deal.  You would be surprise how much dates factor into their price.

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If you can be flexible enough to wait till the last-minute, you can save a bunch.  Both hotels and cruise ships want to be fully booked and will typically drop their prices last minute to fill up.  I’ll admit, my A-type personality struggles with this one, and so I can rarely bring myself to roll the dice; but I’ve seen my dad take full advantage of it.  My dad will see the cruise he wants to take, schedule his vacation dates, but wait until the week before to book, but he’s gotten some killer deals! Now, this is dangerous because the ship may book up, or the price may not drop.  It’s a gamble, sometimes you hit, sometimes you lose.

The exception to this rule is airline travel.  Typically, if you book a flight late notice you will pay more.

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Buy One-Way Tickets Instead of Round-Trip

Ok this one requires some research.  Sometimes its cheaper to buy two one way tickets (even on different airlines) instead of the round-trip.  Sometimes it is cheaper to bundle them together.  Check it out both ways and compare prices to get the best deals.  You have to be patient and put the time in to find the best deals.  Also, watch for airline sales.  Southwest will randomly have a 48 hour sale, where they will drop all their prices for a short window.  Skyscanner.com is the place to start for the lowest airfare.

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Check Nearby Airports

Sounds simple enough, but I think this is often over-looked.  There are a lot of cities that have multiple airports or cities with close proximity to each other.  Let me give you an example – you want to go to Orlando but plane tickets there are running high.  Check the Tampa Airport.  It’s about 1.5 hrs away and typically cost less than Orlando.  If you already plan to rent a car and can save $30.00 a person on airfare; for a family of 5 that saves you $150.00 dollars.  That’s two dinners out for my family.

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Hotel Rewards

Enroll in a hotel rewards program.  It’s free and just like the credit card, you earn points for hotel stays you are already taking.  We choose the Hilton Honors Program..  There are a bunch of Hilton properties: Hilton, Hilton Garden Inn, Hampton Inn, DoubleTree, Homewood Suites, Embassy suites, (and many more), so we have a lot of options where we stay.  Their rewards system is also in points, that you turn in for free stays.  This summer, they have a double points promotion, so you can earn twice as many points per stay.

If you wanted to be really greedy with your points, you can book your Hilton hotel through Southwest and get points for hotels and flights in one booking.  #doneit

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Check Your Lodging Options

You don’t have to stay in a hotel when you travel, especially if you are going somewhere for more than a couple of days.  It’s worth checking Airbnb and HomeAway They are easy to use sites, where people rent out their own properties for select dates.  This gives you a full kitchen options which will help in the food department, not too mention a lot more space!

Travel with family or friends and split the lodging.  Instead of booking somewhere for $150 a night, choose a bigger place for $250.  Split the bill between two families – that’s $125.00 a night.  For a week-long vacation, you saved $175.00 that might pay for your rental car.  Just be sure to pick people you like.

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Think Twice Before You Eat Out

Seriously though, this is where most people blow the budget.  But it doesn’t have to be this way.  This is a huge opportunity area to save money when traveling.

Theoretically if you have accommodations with a kitchen, your food budget should stay the same as if you were at home.  Just because you are on vacation doesn’t mean that you have to eat out for every meal!   If we have a place with a kitchen, we are only eating out once or twice during the whole vacation.  So I’m buying the same groceries that I would if we were home.

 

Obviously if you are staying in a hotel without a kitchen space you are more limited, but it’s not the end of the road.  First off, always pick hotels with included breakfast.  There are several chains that offer a continental breakfast, and several that even offer a hot breakfast, included in the price of the room.  And almost all hotel rooms these days have at least a mini fridge.  Utilize it and buy things for lunches and snacking on when in the room.

Pack your own snacks and waters when you are off on excursions so you don’t have to buy them.  You will typically pay more for food and drinks at a tourist attraction than the grocery store around the corner.

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Buy tickets online and always check Groupon first. 

Always check Groupon before buying tickets or booking an excursion.  Often times Groupon will have an offer that will save you money on your trip.  You can even save on local restaurants by searching Groupon first.

I’ve found that buying my tickets online is almost always cheaper.  The kids and I recently visited Mt. Vernon (George Washington’s estate) on our road trip and I saved $2.00 a ticket by purchasing online and skipped the entry line by having an electronic ticket for them to scan instead of paper.

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Be Creative

You don’t have to take a big international trip to have a good time.  Renting a condo at the beach, especially off-season, is usually very affordable.  A week at a lake house might be even cheaper.  Almost everything to see and do in Washington D.C. is free.  If you can drive there, and rent an apartment for the week, your extra costs will be only your transportation and lodging.  National Parks are the way to go for cheap sightseeing.  Admission is usually less than $30 for the week and camping can be as little as 6$ a night. With lakes, waterfalls, mountains, and beaches to explore, there is something for everyone.

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There are so many places to go and see, so get out there!

If I missed any money-saving tricks, leave a comment below.  Hope this helps turn some of your dream adventures into realities.

XOXO,Holly