Tag Archives: Beach

Best Coastal Beach Towns In America

Today is May 1st and that means my head is already at the beach. I am a total, beach-loving girl! With so much giddiness and joy I marked off the whole week on our master kitchen chalkboard calendar last night. We’ve had our trip booked for months, but to see it up there for THIS MONTH is so exciting! I cannot wait to have my toes in the sand.

Naturally, I’m going to gravitate to anything beachy this month (so brace yourself!) I pretty much consider myself an expert, but still I love Continue reading Best Coastal Beach Towns In America

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Friday Favorite- A Traveler’s Easter Basket

 Today’s Favorite Travel Product: An Easter Basket Full of Travel Goodies

With Easter less than a month away, I know the Easter Bunny will be shopping soon. As a parent, I have very few “genius” ideas. More often than not, I either copy other people’s great ideas or I totally Continue reading Friday Favorite- A Traveler’s Easter Basket

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21 Free (or Inexpensive) Things To Do At The Beach

As spring break and summer approach, one of the most fun and affordable vacations is a trip to the beach. Although you will still incur the cost of travel, lodging and food- entertainment is virtually free!

Personally, I need no prompting on how to enjoy myself on a beach for days on end. Likewise, my children play easily without much encouragement. I think it’s safe to say that we’re beach-people! However, that’s not the case for everyone. For that reason, many touristy beaches have all sorts of activities to draw you away from the sand. These attractions also come with a cost! What could have been a relatively inexpensive trip will add up fast if you start paying for activities.

In order to avoid the temptation Continue reading 21 Free (or Inexpensive) Things To Do At The Beach

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Friday Favorite- Matilda Jane Clothing

Friday Favorite

Today’s Favorite Travel Product: Matilda Jane Clothing

Clearly, our favorite travel clothes!
Clearly, our favorite travel clothes!

As a strong-willed, Type-A (borderline control freak) mom, there’s been a huge learning curve with parenting. Shockingly, it would seem that I’m raising a strong-willed, Type-A, control freak. She’s my mini-me in every way, including attitude. My girl marches to the beat of her own drum and asserts her independence every step of the way.

This girl will hold her own in life. Little Miss Independent!
This girl will hold her own in life. Little Miss Independent!

Raising this child, “pick your battles” has to be my mantra. Generally speaking, I repeat the phrase at least 20 times a day, sometimes more. For the first 4 years of her life, clothing was no exception. Despite my insistence on having the final approval on her appearance, she’d start complaining as quickly as we opened her closet. She’d whine that things were “itchy” or “hot.” I often heard about dresses not being “twirly” or “fun” enough. As a matter of fact, I often joked that she was my real life goldilocks. Every outfit was “too much not right” and striking “just right” often felt impossible.

 And then a friend introduced me to Matilda Jane Clothing and my daughter’s relationship with her closet has never been the same. Naturally, Mary Grace travels almost exclusively in the brand. If there’s one battle I don’t want to face on the road, it’s a breakdown from a 9-year old over her wardrobe.

Wearing one of her first Matilda Jane dresses.
Wearing one of her first Matilda Jane dresses.

I could probably come up with a million reasons why we love traveling in Matilda Jane…but I’ll spare you! Here are my top 5:

  1. Comfort: Matilda Jane clothing is so comfortable “it’s practically like I’m wearing pajamas.” Her words, not mine. I occasionally subject my children to extensive road trips. There can’t possibly be anything worse than being uncomfortable in the car. The fact that she asks to wear MJ on the road says a lot about the material. Likewise, there are no itchy tags and no hard buckles.

    All we need for road trip success: Matilda Jane and a good book!
    All we need for road trip success: Matilda Jane and a good book!
  2. Versatility: These clothes can literally be worn for hours in a car, a day of adventure in a city, on a hike, and then to a fancy dinner. They are both play clothes, and ‘Sunday best’ all rolled into one outfit. On a vacation we often pack as much into a day as possible. We love the versatility that MJ allows and the freedom to avoid lengthy stops at our hotels to change. Not to mention the fact that we can pack less, and I come home with less laundry. That’s always a plus!

    MJ clothes are our favorite for beach pictures!
    MJ clothes are our favorite for beach pictures!
  3. Uniqueness: Matilda Jane makes a statement. It’s not uncommon as we travel for several people to stop us and comment about her clothing. The girl wearing MJ is always easy to spot in a crowd because she stands out. Aside from the fun colors, it helps with safety in a crowded area. Likewise, we’ve met several other MJ families through our travels and we love the comradery the clothing inspires.

    MJ for any location!
    MJ for any adventure!
  4.  Durability: I’m pretty sure Matilda Jane clothing is made from magical cloth. Not only does the fabric literally repel stains, but it also looks perfect in all circumstances. We’ve never dealt with a wrinkle, or a problem with how the clothing wears. Frequently my daughter spills something on her outfit, and more often than not we’re able to remove the spot with a little water.

    The bird whisperer
    The bird whisperer in one of her favorite MJ tops and shorties.
  5. Value: You can’t put a price tag on the confidence my daughter feels when wearing these gorgeous clothes. The fact that we don’t have to argue about her clothing on trips is worth it’s weight in gold. And her safety is everything. The advantage of being able to spot her in a crowd is priceless. The clothes are well made, and they last. Finally, Matilda Jane is a company that gives back. I’m a proud patron of a company that does so much good for others.

    A dress fit for meeting a princess on a Disney Cruise!
    A dress fit for meeting a princess on a Disney Cruise!

 I am certain with one purchase you will fall in love with these clothes!

MJ is picture perfect, every time.
MJ is picture perfect, every time.

Matilda Jane can be purchased via their website. Please enter Trunk Keeper ID# 1261 at checkout.

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Best Trips For Young Kids

tripsyoungkids

When it comes to travel- specifically our family travel- I’ve heard it all. The comments and questions range from praise and admiration, to outright criticism. Furthermore, we’ve been prayed for and wished luck along our journey. Although most times those are said in very encouraging tones, other times it’s felt a bit mocking. Generally speaking though, the most common conversations (positive or negative) revolve around the ages of our children.

Here are just a few examples of conversation starters I’ve heard recently:

  • “I’m waiting until my children get older to start traveling with them.”
  • “We don’t want to spend a bunch of money on a vacation the kids won’t even remember.”
  • “Traveling with young kids is exhausting. It doesn’t feel like a vacation.”
  • “I would travel with my kids more, but they hate riding in a car.”
  • “Don’t you worry that your kids won’t sleep at a hotel?”

I aways start my response by saying “Yes. I get it.”

I’m not completely immune to any of those thoughts or problems. However, I truly believe when it comes to travel, the good outweighs the bad every time. Kids (and adults too) learn from experience. How will they learn if you never give them the opportunity? Not to mention, experiences shape their world and stretch their abilities. By the same token, the earlier you expose children to things, the easier they adapt and become accustom to it (ex. foreign language.)

Do my children remember all the travel we’ve done? Definitely not. But through travel- even from an early age- I’ve been able to teach them to be adaptable, inquisitive, and adventurous. We’ve exposed them to history, culture, art, and imagination. Likewise, they’ve learned etiquette (okay, this is still a work in progress) and the art of exploration. We’ve expanded their world through new foods, as well as new situations.

Has it been easy? No. Have we made sacrifices in other areas to be able to give our children these opportunities? Yes. Do I regret it for a second? Absolutely not!

And where their memories fail, my camera has not. Often at night rather than reading a book, we flip through old pictures of our trips. My children can tell stories of their travels- some from actual memories, but likely most from the repeated exposure to the photographs.

 If I could encourage parents in one way, it would be this: don’t wait. Don’t make excuses or put off travel until later. The trips don’t have to be over-over-the-top. In fact, a day trip or a short weekend getaway can be the best way to start.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for suggestions on some fabulous trips for young kids- here are a list of 10 that I highly recommend.

  1. Orlando, Florida:  No explanation needed for this city! Orlando has TONS to offer young families from the obvious (Disney) to a great Science Center, LEGOLAND, Sea World, and a variety of other family friendly attractions. To get more ideas, check out my post 10 Things To Do In Orlando (besides Theme Parks.)

    LEGOLAND designed their rides and attractions for younger children.
    LEGOLAND designed their rides and attractions for younger children.
  2. Chicago, Illinois: You could literally spend a month in Chicago with kids and not do everything. Chicago offers phenomenal museums, sporting events, and cultural opportunities. Additionally, the city parks are among the best in the country. For more ideas see my post, Chicago In A Weekend.

    The beautiful Chicago skyline
    The beautiful Chicago skyline
  3. Grand Canyon: One rule I’ve found to be true about my kids, “the bigger, the better.” And it doesn’t get any bigger or better than the Grand Canyon. Along with exploring the natural beauty of the canyon, kids are transported into a totally different landscape with an opportunity to learn so much science and geography.
  4. New York City, New York: New York is a city for all ages. It’s full of charm, history, and larger than life excitement (see Grand Canyon for my “rule” on that!) A broadway musical, a trip to the Statute of Liberty, and a bus tour of the city streets, can be a great way to expose kids to the dynamic culture of New York.
  5. Disney Cruise: Parents looking for a balance between a trip for kids, and a relaxing vacation need to consider a Disney Cruise. Truly the most perfect vacation for families of all ages, a Disney Cruise offers endless entertainment, a safe environment, and even built in babysitting. It doesn’t get any better! If you’re left with doubts read my posts about us taking the same vacation 3 times- Part 1 and Part 2.

    We ALL love Disney Cruises!
    We ALL love Disney Cruises!
  6. Washington DC: This city is the true heartbeat of America. There is no better place to teach children about history, politics and the future of our country. Best of all, the area is rich with culture, and family friendly attractions.
  7. Gatlinburg, Tennessee: There is no area of the world with a landscape as diverse as Gatlinburg. One minute you’re in the middle of a National Park surrounded by gorgeous mountains, and the next minute you’re in a wildly commercialized area that rivals Vegas. Like Chicago, Gatlinburg is a city where you could spend a month and still not do everything.

    Dollywood is truly fun for all ages
    Dollywood is truly fun for all ages
  8. Atlanta, Georgia: I might be a little biased since it’s my hometown, but I believe Atlanta is one of the greatest cities to spend a weekend (or week) with your family. In Atlanta you will have experiences that you absolutely can’t have anywhere else. With many unique opportunities, adults will enjoy the city as much as the kids!

    The Georgia Aquarium is truly the best!
    The Georgia Aquarium is truly the best!
  9. ANY Beach: Although we’ve never actually lived at the beach, I can say that my children have literally grown up on the beach. Each visit has been different. We’ve gone through stages of crossing our fingers they nap in beach tents, to sandcastle building, and recently we’ve entered the skim board phase. Our memories hold countless beach trips and I’ve loved every one.

    There is nothing my kids love more than digging in the sand!
    There is nothing my kids love more than digging in the sand!
  10. St. Louis, Missouri: Like with my beach memories, St. Louis holds a special place in my heart. I think the unexpectedness of our weekend is why I fell in love with this city. As I wrote in my post 5 Reasons To Take Your Kids To St. Louis, this city is my daughter’s favorite based on her experience as a 5-year old. For a well traveled child, that says it all!
    The famous and beautiful arch!
    The famous and beautiful arch!

    What is your favorite vacation to take with young kids?

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Friday Favorite- The Stair Barrier

Friday Favorite

Today’s Favorite Travel Product: The Stair Barrier

Favorite Travel Product
Favorite Travel Product

Despite my effort to keep my kids little, they somehow keep growing. We’ve slowly transitioned away from many of the safety products I once deemed necessary. Just last month the bedrails came off my son’s “big boy bed” and I might have shed a tear. However, just because they are getting older doesn’t mean that safety is any less of a concern.

Recently we had the opportunity to travel with extended family to a beach house. The kids on the trip ranged in age from 1 to 14. With the variety of ages it was imperative for us to have good safety measures in place for ALL the children. One of the biggest hurdles- in the past- was how to handle the stairs.

Putting up temporary gates, while safe for the smaller kids, created major hazards for the older children who were unable to properly navigate opening a gate. In the past the older kids would try to climb or jump over any gate we placed in front of the stairs. This created an incredibly dangerous situation for them. It also led us to dismantle the gate (or whatever we were using to block the stairs) halfway through the week.

A few months ago The Stair Barrier caught my attention. Instantly I recognized the safety value and convenience of this product. I couldn’t wait until our trip to test out the product! Upon arrival at the beach house, we set up the gate blocking off the stairs leading to our pool. The gate was easy to install, and extremely easy to use!

The older children could unclip and re-clip the gate easily!
The older children could unclip and re-clip the gate easily!

The older children were able to unclip the sides for pool access, and re-clip the gate to keep the younger kids safe. The height of the gate was perfect because it did not allow for anyone to attempt stepping over it. We were also able to bring the gate inside at night to barricade the inside stairs. This allowed us to sleep easy knowing none of the kids would wake up and have an accident on the stairs.

The Stair Barrier rolls up into an extremely convenient travel size. Although we just threw it in the car, it could easy fit into a large suitcase for airline travel. The gate is made from very durable canvas. After a week outside at the beach, ours still looks brand new!

Each side of The Stair Barrier has three adjustable clip straps. The versatility of this product makes it ideal in both temporary and permanent situations. Unlike many other baby gate products, no damage to the walls or rails occurs from use.

Secured to the deck rails with no damage to our rental beach house!
Secured to the deck rails with no damage to our rental beach house!

The Stair Barrier comes in a variety of customizable options. For travel, I particularly recommend the indoor/outdoor option. The gates are made in America, come in a variety of fabric colors and can even be monogrammed.

Did you know that stairs are one of the leading causes of injury for kids?  Also, did you know that 1 in 5 people report suffering an injury on vacation? Mix those two statistics together and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. The Stair Barrier is an easy, affordable solution. It can truly “safe” a vacation. Additionally, the gate gives parents peace of mind to enjoy the vacation without worrying about stair safety.

Keeping our little ones away from the pool has never been easier!
Keeping our little ones away from the pool has never been easier!

This product is awesome and it made our family vacation incredibly stress-free. I look forward to traveling with it in the future. To find out more about the product and order yours, visit their website.

*Stair Barrier provided Mom With A Map with a gate; however, the opinions expressed in this post are all my own.*

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Favorite Month To Go To The Beach

grayton-beach

It’s official. The last week of my life *might* have ruined all future beach trips for me. We hit the jackpot weather-wise for our family beach trip. While unexpected, October is absolutely my new favorite month to go to the beach! (Although, I’m going to keep testing all the other months just to make sure my research is accurate- ha!)

Our October beach weather started out a little rocky. Actually, more than a little rocky. Our beach house on Hilton Head Island was in the direct path of Hurricane Matthew. There wasn’t much for us to do except watch the weather channel and pray the storm took a turn. When it became obvious that wasn’t going to happen, we did the next logical thing. We scrambled to find a new location for our trip.

After what felt like hundreds of phone calls and emails later, we secured a house on Grayton Beach on the Gulf. With such a chaotic start to our vacation, I had no idea it would turn into one of our best weather trips ever!

Thankfully the lack of preparation led to what can only be described as irratic packing. I ended up bringing a little of everything. And that was a good thing because that’s exactly what we needed! Our early mornings at the beach were chilly, our days warm, and the evenings perfect. I honestly couldn’t script better weather for the beach!

Chilly sunrise on the beach...giving way to amazing daytime temperatures
Chilly sunrise on the beach…giving way to amazing daytime temperatures

Unlike beach trips we’ve taken during summer months, the sand stayed cool all day. We were able to walk through the deep sand without fear of burning our feet. We also walked along the shore anytime of day without overheating.

Miles of cool sand, even mid-day
Miles of cool sand, even mid-day

The only downside to our beautiful weather (if I HAD to pick a downside) is that we struggled to stay out of it. Each of us came home with a tad more sun than we typically do.  Going to the beach and not getting hot was a true treat!

While I know every beach, every week, every month, every year might be a little different. I’m doubtful that we’ll ever have another beach trip with as perfect a weather as we just experienced. However, I do think certain months can be more favorable. The locals I talked to at Grayton Beach all agreed that October is hands down the best month to be there.

What is your favorite month to go to the beach?

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The Best of Carolina Beach

carolina-beach

I’ve written this before, but it’s worth saying again- our family tends to be creatures of habit when it comes to beach vacations. We select our favorite beaches, eating establishments, and activities and stick to them. Lately we’re working hard to break out of our comfort zone and try some new spots. Also, we recently did something completely unconventional for us- we went to the beach without kids!

A rare child-free vacation photo.
A rare child-free vacation photo.

Carolina Beach was our destination of choice for this trip. Having never been to the area, we did our best to research prior to the vacation. We found a wide variety of opinions on the area. For every 5 people who agreed on a positive opinion of a place, there were 5 others who strongly disliked it. We couldn’t find a consensus on anything. So naturally, we went semi-rogue and I am writing our own “best of” review post.

Although we barely scratched the surface of options in the area, I do have some thoughts based on our quick visit. I look forward to testing the area out more in the future so I can do a more comparative and comprehensive review!

I could have easily spent the entire vacation right here!
I could have easily spent the entire vacation right here!

So here goes…the best of Carolina Beach (so far):

  1. Courtyard Marriott Carolina Beach: Although this was the only place we stayed, I can’t imagine wanting to be anywhere else. This hotel is beachfront with awesome access to the boardwalk and many of the shops/restaurants. The hotel design allows each room an oceanfront balcony. Yes, you read that right. Every room. Meaning, you don’t pay extra for that luxury. The hotel also features 2 pools (indoor and outdoor), a shell washing station, and a nice fitness center.
  2. The Island Ice Factory: This is the 1 item I never knew that I always missed. Refreshing, sugary Italian ice delivered to your beach chair. Umm, yes please! Not only is the Italian Ice delicious, but it’s also affordable. Be sure to have cash, and purchase the Koozie. The initial cost is a bit more expensive ($6), but then you can refill it throughout your vacation for $1 per scoop. I will not publicly admit how many additional scoops I purchased, but I assure you that I got my money’s worth.

    The greatest thing to ever happen to the beach.
    The greatest thing to ever happen to the beach.
  3. Bridge Tender: There are absolutely no adequate words to describe this meal. Not only was the food ridiculous, but the setting and service rounded out our incredible experience. This restaurant is located in Wilmington which is just a short drive from Carolina Beach.

    Best Restaurant in the area!
    Best Restaurant in the area!
  4. Starbucks: Any diehard Starbucks coffee fan struggles in a small town. Unfortunately, they aren’t on every corner and not every local coffee shop cuts it. Rest easy because hidden inside the Courtyard Marriott is the most Starbucks-like non-Starbucks ever. It’s pretty much Starbucks- they have the same cups (although you just order small, medium or large), the same beans, and the same drink choices. Really, the only thing I found missing was the option to use the App.

    Starbucks + Beach=My happy place!
    Starbucks + Beach = My happy place!
  5. Fish Bites Fish Market and Restaurant: If this place hadn’t been our final hurrah on our get-away I never would have agreed to go. We pulled up and it was in a strip center next to an Urgent Care. I could almost see the germs seeping through the wall and into my food. But my husband really, really wanted to go (thanks, Yelp!) I say all of this to make it clear- I had no intention of liking this restaurant. I don’t even like clam chowder (Brent made me try his), and now all I can think about is driving back for another bowl. Similarly, I will remember their shrimp and grits dish forever as the best ever. So, for the record, I’m thankful my initial judgement did not stop us from eating at Fish Bites. I will crave this food until we return to the area for more.
    Clam Chowder (left), Shrimp and Grits (right)
    Clam Chowder (left), Shrimp and Grits (right)

    We plan to return to Carolina Beach sometime this winter (with the kids!) Please help us with our next “Best of Carolina Beach” list.

    Where should we go? What should we do?

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