Friday Favorite- Foldable Backpack

Friday Favorite

Today’s Favorite Travel Product: American Tourister Foldable Backpack

Foldable Backpack

Okay, this may not be the most fashion forward accessory I carry on a regular basis. But it’s an amazing travel accessory, especially when space is limited!

The foldable backpack by American Tourister collapses to a very compact size. It is made from a very lightweight material that also happens to be easy to clean. Additionally the material dries extremely fast when wet.

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Although it is not my backpack of choice when packing, I find it extremely helpful to have along on trips. Here are a few ways we’ve used our Foldable Backpack…

  • when we needed an extra carry on because we did a little too much shopping on our vacation
  • when we flew to the beach and needed a makeshift beach bag
  • when we stayed at a hotel past checkout and needed a place to put our last minute, non-packed clothes
  • when we needed a bag to stash under our stroller at amusement parks (when you park your stroller, you don’t want to leave anything too valuable underneath. We’ve never had anyone bother that bag!)
  • when our kids bring too many toys in the car and need an easy way to transport them into our hotel
  • when our kids pick up a million brochures during our stops and need a convenient place to store them
  • when we take an impromptu hike while traveling and need something to carry water, phones, keys, etc. in
  • when, on said hike, our children find “treasures”
  • when we are in a big city doing a lot of walking (safer than carrying a purse)

These are just a few of the ways we’ve used the Foldable Backpack- I’m sure there are a TON more options!

The backpack is huge and can comfortably fit a lot in it without feeling over stuffed.

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The straps are adjustable and very sturdy.

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 Foldable Backpack can be found at retailers such as Walmart, or ordered directly from the American Tourister website.

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Most Affordable Cities For Family Travel

FamilyCities

I love stumbling on great articles on affordable family travel. So often I hear people use money as an excuse not to travel. I get it, it’s not cheap. However, if you plan smart, you really can take affordable trips as a family. For suggestions on how to do that, see my post on How To Save Money On Your Travel.

Recently Forbes released a list of the 20 most affordable cities for family travel. I couldn’t wait to dive in and check out the recommendations. I have to admit, though, after reading the article I was left scratching my head. Not only were most of the destinations not THAT awesome for kids, but they didn’t seem all that affordable.

Here is the criteria and background of the assessment: “These are the 20 most affordable cities for family travel according to SmartAsset, a personal finance technology company. SmartAsset looked at the cost of a three-day and three-night trip for a family of four in 48 of the largest American cities. This included the average rates for hotels, daily car rentals, airfare and restaurant meals.”

Scrolling through the list of cities, the average trip costs were between $2,400 and $3,000. From what I could tell, this did not include any of the activities a family would do in the various cities. From our travel experience, activities can be some of the most costly aspects of a trip.

Listed as the number 1 most affordable city to visit- Orlando, FL. Of course it’s inexpensive to travel to and stay there…but what are you planning to do there? Factor in the main activities (theme parks) and Orlando adds up quickly. Likewise, there was no mention in the article for the cities with great free museums or outdoor attractions.

I’m not a huge fan of this list because I think it’s a complete misrepresentation of the reality of traveling with family. Read the full list of cities here.

What do you think? Is this list realistic? What are the most affordable cities you’ve traveled to with family?

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The Old Spanish Sugar Mill- Florida

Old Spanish Sugar Mill

There is no shortage of entertainment in the Orlando area. In fact, there’s no shortage of anything. From hotels, to restaurants, to tourist attractions- Orlando has it all. The Old Spanish Sugar Mill is a hidden gem among hundreds of other options.

Less than an hour north of Downtown Orlando, The Old Spanish Sugar Mill is located in DeLeon Springs State Park.

De Leon Springs State Park

At one point the park was a bustling resort for the rich and famous seeking a winter oasis. Complete with a water skiing elephant, the resort attracted visitors from near and far. Guests enjoyed year round swimming in the natural spring that holds a temperature of 72 degrees. Rumor also has it that this water is the original Fountain of Youth. The resort thrived, and tourism in Florida began to flourish.

DeLeon Springs

Though gone are the days of water skiing elephants, the charm and appeal of the resort-like area remains. However, in the surge of commercial tourism to the area- this park has gotten hidden from the average Florida tourist.

Although the park itself has tons to offer- swimming, kayaking, boat tours, etc.- the obvious reason to visit is the Old Spanish Sugar Mill.

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It’s a quaint restaurant that features griddles in each table.

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Guests are given 2 different types of batter and a long list of topping options. You proceed to make your own pancakes right at your table. Although I make pancakes at home with my kids almost every week, there is something so special about doing it at the table!

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The menu also has options for breakfast meats, and eggs to accompany the pancakes, as well as other food selections for those not wishing to enjoy the pancakes (although- why wouldn’t you?!?)

The unassuming mode of operation maintains the charm and rustic feel of the restaurant. We love the laid-back atmosphere and easy going personalities of the staff!

The restaurant is so popular, most guests will experience at least an hour wait for a table (and during peak season and times, the wait can be as long as 3 hours!) The wait is well worth it though!

While you are waiting, be sure to wander the grounds and dip your toes in the water.

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Children will enjoy an awesome playground and lots of space to run. There is also a wonderful museum documenting the history of the area. Kids love the touch table and exploring all of the various artifacts. There are coloring sheets and also a few fact finder worksheets to encourage kids to read the history in the museum.

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Even if we only have a few days to spend in Orlando, this place (the “pancake park” as my children call it) tops our list of things to do!

For more information on hours, directions, etc. visit their website.

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Travel To Wyoming

Wyoming

For the last 10 years I’ve listened to my best friend talk about Wyoming. It’s her favorite state. She’s slightly totally obsessed with everything about Wyoming. At one point she actually packed up and moved to Jackson Hole, WY. Unfortunately for me, her year in Jackson Hole coincided with my first pregnancy.

That year she sent me the most unbelievable pictures of her adventures. The mountains and the towns in her pictures were absolutely breathtaking. Through the photos I saw her jumping off cliffs into crystal clear water, and standing on top of mountains. Being at home with a month old baby that cried all night and seeing those pictures was hard. I can’t lie, I was super jealous.

Jackson Hole

For years, when she brings up Jackson Hole, those are the moments I remember. Me, at home holding a crying infant at 2AM, and her on top of mountains. But then I remind myself that while I was living life in flip flops, she wore 4-layers of fleece jackets 10 months out of the year. It’s a small consolation.

While I’m obviously glad she’s moved back to the south (and closer to me!), I can’t shake the disappointment that I never got to visit her in Wyoming. It’s this big highlighted place on my bucket list that I’m dying to cross off. I want those pictures to be mine!

JacksonHole1

As we begin to think about our travel goals for the next year, Wyoming keeps popping into my mind. For us, it would need to be a summer trip. I don’t love cold weather, and we don’t ski (although, that’s on the bucket list too!) As I began doing some research on family activities in Wyoming, here were a few of my favorite posts:

Official Tourism Site

Fun Things To Do With Kids

Jackson Hole With Kids

10 Things To Do In The Summer

JacksonHole

I’ve decided I’m really going to have to channel my inner “outdoorsy girl” to make this trip fun. I do think it will be helpful and a little more enjoyable now that my children are past the toddler stage. I picture our family doing lots of the easy hikes and really exploring a lot of the national park areas. I can’t wait!

What are your favorite things to do in Wyoming?

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10 Best Airports In U.S. For Kids

Airport

Airports are fun places for kids. From all the hustle and bustle, to the moving walkways, trams and, of course, PLANES, kids stay entertained. Until they don’t. Occasionally a layover can last just a bit too long. Children go from excited explorers to grumpy terrors in a matter of seconds.

Child-friendly features at an airport make a HUGE difference in convenience and comfort. When you travel with kids, it all matters. From a clean changing table, to a private place to breastfeed, to a store stocked with baby essentials, the little things add up.

While most airports manage child guests, some really cater to them. As a family that travels often, the good airports really stand out. We are much more likely to travel through our favorite ones knowing our kids will be entertained and our needs will be met.

Recently Gina from MommyNearest Blog published a list of 10 U.S. airports that make traveling with children a breeze. Before I scrolled through her list I made my own mental list. Every airport that quickly came to my mind made her list- proving that it is noticeable when airports go out of their way to cater to families!

Here are a few of my favorite airports and features that she mentioned in her post:

  • Orlando (MCO)- 3,000 gallon salt water fish tank
  • Detroit (DTW)- huge water feature inspired by lines of a flight map
  • Atlanta (ATL)- breastfeeding pods
  • Seattle (SEA)- airport themed play area and private mother’s room

Not mentioned, but worth noting:

  • Dallas (DFW)- 3 huge play areas, and our personal favorite train
  • San Francisco (SFO)- self guided tour (i.e. treasure hunt) around airport

Read the full post here.

What are your favorite airports for traveling with kids?

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Friday Favorite- National Parks Guide U.S.A.

Friday Favorite

Today’s Favorite Travel Product: National Geographic Kids National Parks Guide U.S.A.

National Parks Guide

When two of my passions collide, I take note. I love travel (obviously) and I love education. Adding to that, I enjoy National Parks. I will say though, I don’t know a ton about them.

This informative guide details our National Parks with colored pictures, fun facts, and maps. Each page is better than the one before it.

National Geographic broke the book down by region: the East, the Midwest, the Southwest, and the West. Color coded tabs help you navigate quickly to each section.

Each section of the book details a few specific National Parks. Beyond the fabulous pictures, National Geographic included some great highlights and tips.

Also, the specific parks pages offer a “Dare To Explore” section with some adventurous places to visit. The book provides links for more information. In addition, they provide a “Checklist” for some very specific sights.

The regional sections end with a list of “Other Must See Park Properties.” And at the back of the book, National Geographic includes a complete list of National Park Properties.

My children enjoy flipping through this book to plan out our future travel. While my 9-year old is fully capable of reading each of the descriptions and fact lines, my 4-year old is not. However, even he can enjoy this book because of the photography and cool graphics. Both kids put Glacier National Park at the top of their wish list because of the pictures. They can’t wait to check out this suspension bridge (although, I’m not sure I can handle it!)

National Parks Guide

To order your copy of National Geographic’s National Parks Guide U.S.A. visit this link:

  National Geographic Kids National Parks Guide USA Centennial Edition: The Most Amazing Sights, Scenes, and Cool Activities from Coast to Coast!

Also worth noting, currently the U.S. National Parks are giving free admission to 4th Graders and their families. This is an INCREDIBLE opportunity! To find out more, and sign up for the program, visit this website.

Kid In Every Park

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How To Be Prepared For A Hotel Emergency

Hotel Emergency

A few weeks ago on our vacation we had a hotel emergency. When the alarm sounded around 1AM, our family was asleep. Also, we were completely unprepared. Fortunately, I will say that this story has a happy ending. Not only were we okay, but everyone else in our hotel appeared to be fine as well.

We’d spent a long day at the beach. In fact, we were coming to the end of a long week of vacation. Had this occurred earlier in our week, I might have been a tiny bit more organized and prepared. Unfortunately, though, we were running low on clean clothes, and even lower on sleep. Because of this our suitcases were a mess, our hotel rooms looked like a bomb just exploded, and I was past the point of caring.

We were all sleeping pretty hard when the alarm began to sound and the emergency strobe lights started flashing. Never calm under pressure, I began frantically searching our rooms for my shoes. And then I woke the kids up who had somehow remained asleep. I yelled at them to hurry up and put on their shoes. My daughter took a cue from my panic and became hysterical.

As I calmed her down I realized I’d lost my son. Clearly unaware of the loud alarm, he’d gone back to his room and tucked himself back in bed. Meanwhile, my husband was busy flossing his teeth. I’m kidding…kind of. I’m honestly not sure what he was doing, but I know he wasn’t helping me with the kids and their shoes!

I should probably say in my husband’s defense, it wasn’t like there was smoke pouring out of the building. We’d taken a peak off of our balcony and there didn’t appear to be anything actually wrong. Logically I knew that it was probably either a false alarm or something minor/contained.

After what felt like an hour (but was probably only a few minutes) we made our way down the stairs and out of the building. Relief flooded over me. I took a look around and saw hundreds of other hotel guests. Most of them had bothered to get dressed in actual clothes, and brush their hair. I stood there in my pajamas, holding my kids in mismatched shoes, and breathed a little sigh of relief. We were alive (yes, I’m TOTALLY dramatic in emergencies!)

As we stood there waiting on the emergency response team, I began thinking. I probably could handle that better. In fact, with as much as we travel, I NEED to do that better.

hotel emergency

For the next hour we watched firefighters, police and EMS case out our hotel. A few guests needed medical attention. It was never clear if that was the cause of the emergency or because of the emergency. Either way, I had a lot of time to stand there and think.

I came up with a few ways to be better prepared in the future. Here are my tips for being prepared for a hotel emergency:

  1. Keep shoes in 1 location.
  2. Know where your room keys are located. Make sure to grab it on your way out the door. *Trust me, waiting in line at the lobby desk at 2AM with sleepy kids is NOT fun!
  3. Bring your car keys. We regretted not having ours. It would have been nice to put the kids down in their car seats and turn on the AC.
  4. Bring your phone. This was the 1 thing my husband remembered and I was glad we had it.
  5. Bring any emergency medicine. We were outside for over an hour. Prepare by having any medicine that your family relies on with you as you exit the building.
  6. Put all of these items in a central location at night so you can easily grab them.
  7. Know where the closest stairs are located. Sounds like a no brainer- especially since it’s on the back of every hotel door. But, you wouldn’t believe the amount of people walking in every direction to get out of the building. Not many people bothered to check and I’m glad we knew where to go or we might have gotten caught following the crowed.
  8. Have an honest conversation with your children. Similar to doing a fire drill at home, let them know that there is always an unlikely possibility of a hotel emergency. We were candid with our kids about how we could have handled it better. We also let them know how they could help us if this ever happened in the future.

Have you ever experienced a hotel emergency? If so, would you add anything to this list?

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5 “Must-Pack” Items For Traveling With A Baby

BabyTravel

I always love seeing what other people consider “necessary” when traveling with a baby. I find some lists unbelievably minimal, others completely practical and occasionally a ridiculous list. I, myself, have fallen into each of those categories at one point or another so trust me when I say- no judgement!

I can confidently say that in the long run, you and your baby will survive a vacation no matter what you do or don’t pack. We traveled extensively throughout the first year of both of our children’s lives. Most trips I over prepared. And every trip I forgot at least one or two “crucial” things.

BabyBeach3

We’ve traveled by car with a baby. On those trips I had the luxury of packing everything but the kitchen sink. We also traveled by plane with a baby. Somehow I kept everything we needed for the entire trip under the 50 pound luggage weight restriction. The good news is that in all of those instances, I had everything I needed. It’s amazing how little you can survive with when you don’t have the option to pack more!

However, I will concede that having some essentials makes life a lot easier. Vacationing with a baby can be challenging enough! And thats why I’m always interested to see what others consider important for a baby packing list.

I stumbled on a list from the North Phoenix Moms Blog recently. I will admit, of the 5 items listed, 2 of them were never on my radar when I traveled with a baby. But I think the list is very interesting and well thought out! I love the idea of traveling with painters tape (that was one of the items that NEVER crossed my mind!) It’s total genius!

Painters Tape

If you’re confused how painters tape made the “5 Items I Will Never Forget To Pack When Traveling With A Baby” read the full post here.

What is the one baby item you can’t travel without?

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Clearwater Marine Aquarium

Recently our family received the opportunity to meet one of the most famous and recognizable animals in the world. Winter, the star of the movie “Dolphin Tales,” lives at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

In 2005, the center rescued a baby dolphin from a crab trap off the coast of Florida. Rescuers brought Winter to Clearwater and began the long task of healing and rehabilitating. Documented in the movie, Winter must learn to swim using a prosthetic tail. Not only does she thrive in her new environment, but she begins to inspire others around the globe.

Winter- Dolphin Tale

Although much attention is given to this amazing story, Winter is just one of hundreds of animals cared for by this marine center. The mission of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium is “preserving our environment while inspiring the human spirit through leadership in the rescue, rehabilitation, and release of marine life, environmental education, research and conservation.”

Spending even a few minutes at the center will allow you a glimpse into how well they live out this mission. We were blown away by the attention, and care the animals were receiving. Simultaneously, CMA uses the public forum to educate and encourage guests to respect sea life.

We started our day at the Clearwater Marine Center at Winter’s Dolphin Tale Adventure. This location houses many of the images and props used during the filming of the movie. Our family enjoyed reading and learning about the filming of the movie. We were also able to learn more about Winter and the care she receives at CMA.

Winter

Clearwater Marine Aquarium

My children loved seeing all the recognizable elements from their favorite movie! After thoroughly exploring, we were ready to meet Winter (and the other animals!) A free trolly or boat will take you over to the aquarium facility.

The Clearwater Marine Aquarium was designed with the animals in mind. Because of this, it’s important to remember that they are not there for guests enjoyment. The animals are at CMA to heal, and rehabilitate. I point this out because many of the animal habitats include private areas. This allows the animals some alone time and a break from public viewing. We walked around the whole building 2 or 3 times so that we made sure not to miss any of the animals.

Highlights for us included:

Winter (obviously)

Dolphin Tale- Winter

Hope

Dolphin Tale- Hope

The Surgical Suite

Clearwater Marine Aquarium

Rufus Beach

Clearwater Marine Aquarium

Interacting with the staff and volunteers was also one of our favorite parts of our visit to the Clearwater Marine Center. Each of the team members we encountered was extremely kind and knowledgable. Additionally, we loved watching Hope and Winter do a “typical” training/therapy session!

Clearwater Marine Aquarium

After spending a week doing all sorts of fun things in Central Florida, both my children picked CMA as the highlight of the vacation. We were all starstruck by Winter, but also inspired by the phenomenal work being done at the aquarium. We are already looking forward to our next opportunity to visit!

To learn more about the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and to plan your visit, go to their website.

*CMA hosted Mom With A Map during our visit*

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