Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

DIY Car Organizing Tips (Giveaway with Big Fat Notebooks!)

Monday, August 22nd, 2016

DIY Car Organizing Tips from MomAdvice.com

You know that mom that always has bandages, always has a snack and drink on hand, can pull a pen out at a moment’s notice, has tissues, never forgets an umbrella, utilizes time well between running kids, and keeps a tidy car?

That’s not me.

In fact, I have been pretty embarrassed about just how bad things have gotten. No one really wanted to ride in my car including myself (insert scared face emoji).

It was on my organizing bucket list to tackle this since a good portion of my day is now spent in the car running kids from activity to activity. I spent an afternoon getting us organized for this school year and I wanted to show you how I did that.

Big Fat Notebooks Big Fat Notebooks

The inspiration came from today’s partner, The Big Fat Notebook series. If your kids love Diary of a Wimpy Kid, they will LOVE this new way of learning. When my kids were younger, they were hooked on Brain Quest, but once they hit middle school age, I felt like everything just felt like…Well, work. After a long day at school, the last thing they want to do is browse another textbook. That is why these are so genius. They look fun and teach you something in the process.

There are five books in all, and each is the only book you need for each main subject taught in middle school: Math, Science, American History, English Language Arts, and World History.

They also happen to meet Common Core State Standards, Next Generation Science Standards, and state history standards, and are vetted by National and State Teacher of the Year Award–winning teachers. If you are a homeschooling mama, this would make an excellent addition to your curriculum.

You can find these fantastic books at AmazonBarnes & NobleIndiebound, or Workman.

Big Fat Notebooks

I am not lying when I say that my daughter has become OBSESSED with these. There has been a lot of fact reciting at the dinner table!

We REALLY want to share them with you so please scroll to the end to catch this giveaway!!

I also wanted to figure out a way that we could keep these books on hand for busy days so I used this as an excuse to get my car organized and create caddies for each kid with the things they need. With school supplies on sale right now, it also happens to be quite an affordable time to create these little kits!

DIY Car Organizing Ideas

DIY Car Organizing Tips from MomAdvice.com DIY Car Organizing Tips from MomAdvice.com

After browsing every type of organizer available, I ended up using these shower caddy organizers for each of my kids because they had great pockets and a wipeable surface in case they get dirty or muddy. I also slipped a plastic cup for each to hold pencils/pens so it would make it easier for them to grab. In each one, I have an umbrella, snacks (that can withstand the hot car),  a water, a couple of Big Fat Notebooks (strategically chosen for the subjects we need to work on!!), and packages of tissues.

car-organizing-tips-2

I had planned to hang them from the backs of the seats, but the width was too deep on our car. I actually think it will be easier to have them on the floor and they can also be moved to the center when they are being used.

DIY Car Organizing Tips from MomAdvice.com

Backpacks can also pile up on the floor so I got these hooks to give these guys a home. It can also be a great place to hang a jacket, hat, or purse. Our backpacks often get dirty and thrown on the floor so I am hoping it helps with that too!

Now that the kids are in better shape, I wanted to work on some problem areas for me. My biggest issue is carrying around gym equipment so I wanted to make that an organizing priority.

diy-car-organizing-ideas-9

DIY Car Organizing Tips from MomAdvice.com

In my gym equipment stash I have two pairs of shoes (one for dance class and one for cardio), a spare pair of socks, yoga socks, tissues, water, facial cleansing wipes, hair ties, travel brush, and a towel. These are things that I am always forgetting and that I sometimes end up having to buy at the gym.

All of these fit perfectly in this container.

Again, plastic, wipeable, AND breathable.

Not that my feet sweat AT ALL, but I wanted you to know for you. It’s okay. It happens to a lot of people.

DIY Car Organizing Tips from MomAdvice.com

DIY Car Organizing Tips from MomAdvice.com

DIY Car Organizing Tips from MomAdvice.com

My yoga mat takes up valuable space and I hate that it is always rolling around in our trunk. Again, using those utility hooks to keep it in place along with my hot yoga towel and umbrella.

DIY Car Organizing Tips from MomAdvice.com

To finish up the tour, I wanted to show you just a couple of other things that are helping.

DIY Car Organizing Tips from MomAdvice.com

removable hook for hanging the trash bag- we will see how long this holds!

DIY Car Organizing Tips from MomAdvice.com

DIY Car Organizing Tips from MomAdvice.com

DIY Car Organizing Tips from MomAdvice.com

tiny totes for random things- one has receipts and pens, one has snacks for me, one has a mini first aid kit (for a legit one check here!), and the last one has tissues.

DIY Car Organizing Tips from MomAdvice.com

utilizing the gaps for my phone to save space in my drink holder (similar idea here!)

It’s not perfect, but I’m pretty proud. I feel like I *might* be able to be that mom this year AND my kids will be learning between activities too. High fives all around, friends!

Giveaway Time

Big Fat Notebook

I can’t wait to give someone this whole collection. We are so excited to share this with you! The books included in this giveaway are:

Everything You Need to Ace Math . . . covers everything to get you over any math hump: fractions, decimals, and how to multiply and divide them; ratios, proportions, and percentages; geometry; statistics and probability; expressions and equations; and the coordinate plane and functions.

Everything You Need to Ace Science . . . takes readers from scientific investigation and the engineering design process to the Periodic Table; forces and motion; forms of energy; outer space and the solar system; to earth sciences, biology, body systems, ecology, and more.

Everything You Need to Ace American History . . . covers Native Americans to the war in Iraq. There are units on Colonial America; the Revolutionary War and the founding of a new nation; Jefferson and the expansion west; the Civil War and Reconstruction; and all of the notable events of the 20th century—World Wars, the Depression, the Civil Rights movement, and much more.

Everything You Need to Ace World History . . . kicks off with the Paleolithic Era and  transports the reader to ancient civilizations—in Egypt, Greece, India, China, Africa, Rome; the middle ages across the world; the Renaissance; the age of exploration and colonialization, revolution and imperialism, and the modern world and the wars and movements that shaped it.

Everything You Need to Ace English Language Arts . . . covers everything to get you your best marks: grammar, including parts of speech, active and passive verbs, Greek and Latin roots and affixes; nuances in word meanings; textual analysis, authorship, structure, and other skills for reading fiction and nonfiction; and writing arguments, informative texts, and narratives.

One (1) lucky winner will receive:

  • Copies of all 5 titles in the Big Fat Notebooks series
  • Branded school supplies including highlighter/pen combos, a notepad, and jigsaw sticky notes.

Please follow the widget below to enter to win! I hope this post inspires you to get organized. As always, feel free to ask me any questions in the comments below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

DIY Car Organizing Tips from MomAdvice.com

This post was sponsored by Workman Publishing and Big Fat Notebooks. All thoughts and opinions are my own!

 

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How To Make Flying Economy Feel Like First Class

Tuesday, June 30th, 2015

How to Make Flying Economy Feel Like First Class

Wouldn’t it be lovely if you could fly in first class all of the time? Unfortunately, for most of us, we often find ourselves in the back of the plane feeling a little bit jealous of those first class passengers. Lucky for you, with just a few thoughtful items tucked into your carry-on bag and a little planning before your flight, you can trick yourself into believing you are having a first class flying experience without the expensive price tag!

As a frequent flyer myself, I wanted to share with you a few quick ideas for making your economy experience feel like a first class one for your next flight!

How To Make Flying Economy Feel Like First Class

Make Flying Economy Feel Like First Class

 

Select Your Most Comfortable Flight

To begin your first class experience on your economy budget, begin by choosing the most comfortable flight you can within your budget. InsideTrip.com is a site that not only arranges your flights by price, but they also allow you to include the most important flight features for you, including the speed of the flight, the comfort level of your flight, and the ease of the flight. Using this site, you can plan the flight with the most legroom, the type of aircraft you prefer to fly on, and even arrange flights with the newest aircrafts for your next flight.

Select the Best Seat You Can 

You might not be able to afford a first class ticket for your flight, but you can certainly make the most of the economy seat you are in. Visit sites like SeatGuru.com or SeatExpert.com to select the best seat available for your trip. By using a site like one of these for selecting your seat you can avoid a seat with limited recline or reduced legroom on your next flight. With a little extra legroom and the best seat in the back of the house, you are just a little closer to that first class experience!

Make a First Class Tote 

Many of the amenities the other passengers are enjoying in first class can be enjoyed in economy with a little thoughtful planning. Inside your carry-on bag tuck in a few items that will help you feel comfortable when you are flying. I love to have an easy cardigan or wrap that can double as a blanket or to keep my arms warm when I fly, a warm pair of socks when the cold air is blowing on me, and a few delicious snacks that I can enjoy for free while I am in flight. A moist towelette for freshening up, dental floss, a toothbrush, and toothpaste can also be wonderful to keep you feeling refreshed on longer flights.

Take a First Class Nap

While you might not be blessed with as much room as the first class passengers, it certainly doesn’t mean that you can’t be comfortable. Purchase an eye mask that you can take along with you when you travel that can block out the light so you can take a really great nap and look for free white noise apps that you can download to your phone to block out the noise around you while you are flying. With the addition of your cardigan or sweater to snuggle up with, you have the makings for a perfect first class nap!

 

 

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5 Free iPhone Travel Apps That Save Time & Money

Monday, June 29th, 2015

5 free iPhone travel apps that will save you time and money

I have to admit that before I had a smart phone, I was hesitant to travel or venture anywhere without a good tour guide to help me navigate the unfamiliar terrain. Thankfully, my phone has not only helped me to be more adventurous when exploring new restaurants and sites, but in some ways, it truly helps me to feel like a local.

Of course, my favorite apps are the ones that can save me time and money, both of which are always on short supply when traveling. Today I wanted to share with you a few of the best apps that can save you both of those things when planning your next trip.

5 Free iPhone Travel Apps That Save Time & Money

Use Travel Apps to Save Time and Money

Gate Guru

Wandering around aimlessly at an airport searching for your gate, a good place to eat, or where to pick up a good book to enjoy on your layover is a thing of the past! Just as Yelp, CitySearch and foursquare are great for locating new and interesting options within a given city, GateGuru serves as the leading light to locate the best food, shopping and service options within any airport at the touch of a button. This free app covers the top 86 airports in the United States, the top 12 airports and Canada and London’s Heathrow Airport. Be sure to add this to your phone to help save you time on your next flight!

Wi-Fi Finder

There is nothing worse than arriving at a destination and discovering that there is a charge to use the Wi-Fi when you finally make it to your destination. Fortunately, with the Wi-Fi Finder, you can quickly and easily find free Wi-Fi when you need it most. This app simply uses the GPS function on your iPhone and the Wi-Fi finder will tell you exactly where the closest Wi-Fi hotspot is, and how to get there. Although the app highlights both paid and free Wi-Fi spots, a simple filter allows you to easily filter only the free spots so you can save a few bucks on your next trip.

Take Me To My Car

Is there anything more painful than taking a red eye flight and parking your car…only to forget where it is? This application solves the problem and with only one tap saves your current position wherever you might be. The next time you start the app you’ll have walking directions to your car right in front of you. Unlike many apps that offer only turn-by-turn driving directions, you can use this app to find your way back to your car with walking directions and ditch the endless wandering around the airport parking after a long day of traveling.

Flight Tracker

Any app that makes a flight easier for me is an app that is worth downloading. With Flight Tracker you can track all of your flights with zoomable maps, get real-time departure info, or delays and gate numbers at a glance. The best part, of course is that they will update you on cancellations and help you find an alternate flight. With assistance like this, you are bound to save time not only locating your gates, but also avoid being stranded at the airport the next time your flight happens to be canceled!

Cheap Gas

For those travelers that are hitting the road, Cheap Gas! is a fantastic app to add to your iPhone. Simply by using the GPS, Cheap Gas! lets you know the prices of gas near you, and then automatically maps a route to the station of your choice All gas prices are provided by the Gas Buddy network of sites and includes time stamps to let you know how long ago the gas prices were updated. When gas prices rise, you will be armed with this money-saving tool to make the most of your travel budget.

 

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Strategies for Packing Lighter

Monday, June 22nd, 2015

Strategies for Packing Lighter

Packing lighter not only will help you save you time at the airport, but it can significantly reduce the amount of money you spend on your next trip. Unfortunately, most airlines now charge for you to check in your luggage, but it is important to be aware that the largest allowed size for carry-on bags is 22×14×19 inches. With careful planning and strategic packing though you can maximize your suitcase and shave approximately $50 off on your next round trip flight with a few smart packing strategies.

Here are a few quick tips for lightening your load on your next flight:

1. Call Your Destination First

Wherever you are headed, whether it is for business travel or leisure, call first and see what is already included in your hotel room. Some items like bathrobes, hair dryers, and toiletries are common items that are often included within your stay, but you may discover that your hotel can offer some unexpected offerings that will free up a great deal of precious space in your carry-on bag. For example, items like beach towels, toys or movies for children, and portable cribs are items that could be offered complimentary with your room. I have found that it just never hurts to call ahead and ask and you might be surprised to discover just how little you really need to bring!

2. Divide Your Luggage 

If you are traveling as a family, divide the luggage up between each family member and consider investing in one small roller bag for each child that they will be able to maneuver themselves. Child size luggage can be found at discount stores like Target, Walmart, TJ Maxx, and Marshall’s. Even with this investment, you can still easily save $25 on the way back because you won’t need to check a bag. The bonus is that they can use that bag for years to come, making it easy to recoup your travel investment.

3. Pack Smart

It seems that it is always the people that do not take the time to pack wisely that become the most flustered or are asked to step aside by security. The most important thing to note is that Transportation Security Administration (TSA) rules require that passengers only carry liquids in three ounce containers in no more than one, clear, quart-sized bag.

I love to visit freebie sites like Freebies4Mom.com, DealSeekingMom.com, or The Savings Lifestyle and stockpile sample size toiletries and detergent for your trips that will comply with these federal guidelines. If you travel frequently, reusable travel containers can also be a fantastic investment that can be refilled with the items you already have from home. Make sure to store this bag right on top for easy access, as it will need to be removed from your bags when going through airport security.

4. Establish Order In Your Carry-On 

Underneath your bag of toiletries, tightly roll your clothing to prevent wrinkling and to maximize the space within your carry-on luggage. Choose clothing that can easily be mixed and matched and make sure to prepare for what weather conditions may be awaiting you. There is nothing worse than being at an amusement park with your family during a torrential downpour and paying $15 for an umbrella or heading to a state with warmer weather and paying $35 for a junky tourist sweatshirt because you are freezing.

Last, make sure that any electronics that will need to be inspected rest on top next to your toiletries until you get through security. The ones that will not need to be run through separately will be easier to scan if they are right on top and those that require a separate scanning will be easy to access for this procedure. Remember that everything can be rearranged in the bag, once you get through security, to protect your electronics from harm during travel.

5. Save Even More Money

The best part about keeping your bags light though is that you can use this as an excuse to not buy so many travel souvenirs on your trip. Consider that light bag as not only a savings for not checking in, but the ultimate excuse to not indulge in those pricey gift shops. I have been known to use this excuse a time or two when coming home empty-handed after a business trip!

The important thing to remember is if, in the end, you are unable to reduce your luggage to be carry-on compliant, try paying for your baggage online first. Just by paying for your checked bags online you can sometimes save you a few dollars each way.

How to Pack Lighter for Travel

In the end, the lighter the load, the lighter the expense and the easier your life will be when getting through those security checks!

What are some of your tips for packing smarter and lighter when traveling?

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Learning to Love Travel with Your Husband

Tuesday, June 16th, 2015

From our marriage & parenting contributor, Mary Carver.

Learning to Love Travel with Your Husband

When I was a kid, my family took a vacation each summer. Even if we could only afford to visit the next state over, we went somewhere new. When my husband was a kid, his family spent a week at the lake each summer. Even if the traffic was horrendous, they took a road trip to spend those days swimming and sunning.

Though we knew these things about each other before getting married, we never imagined it would influence our own relationship and decisions for our family. Unlike money and communication and how to fold towels, we had no idea that our approaches to travel could result in frustration, disappointment and general disagreement.

If you think about it, though, travel is more than an interest or hobby. It’s related to how we view spend our time and money, what we determine are priorities and set as goals, and even what we think is best for our families. No wonder it can cause so much trouble between two people with completely different backgrounds!

While WHERE to go is the obvious difference of opinion when it comes to travel, that’s just the beginning. Since getting married 16 years ago, my husband and I have disagreed about…

  • When to travel – which season, which month, what part of the week? early in the morning or in the middle of the night?
  • How long to travel – a long weekend? a full week? a day’s journey away? only a few hours away?
  • How to pack – like a Boy Scout (be prepared)? roll your clothes to fit more in the bag? just the necessities? {shudder.}
  • Whether to fly or drive – spend the money? or the time? or the sanity???
  • When (and whether) to travel with kids or friends or family (speaking of sanity…)
  • How strictly we adhere to an agenda – or do we even need an agenda? {Yes. We always need an agenda!}
  • Where we splurge and where we pinch pennies
  • Whether tourist traps are fun or awful
  • How often to stop for bathroom breaks or photo opportunities

And probably more that I’ve forgotten!

Because of these differences and disagreements, many of our early trips were spent with as many frustrated signs and ill-tempered words as museums and national parks. Both of us assumed that OUR WAY to travel was THE RIGHT WAY to travel, and we felt both disappointed and disgruntled that the other one didn’t get that!

Tips for learning How to Love Traveling with Your Husband

Thankfully, after so many years of traveling together, my husband and I have figured out which details and decisions we can compromise on and which ones we need to take turns on. He knows I’m never going to go somewhere without an agenda, and I know he’s never going to be happy about multiple bathroom and photo breaks. But, for the most part, I can manage a laid back schedule designed for maximum fun and minimum stress – and he almost always humors my requests to stop {again.} for one more break.

Of course, that doesn’t mean our travel planning days are carefree, full of rainbows and giggles. {Um, no.} As a matter of fact, as we worked on plans for this summer’s vacation, we had to debate again the benefit of a larger hotel room when traveling with children versus the benefit of saving a few dollars! But for the most part, our travel dreams are more aligned than ever.

They’re so in sync {sometimes. okay? not always!} that we’ve started a Travel Wish List.

The wish list began when I read something online about how many summers we have left with our kids before they go to college. After I stopped crying my eyes out {because REALLY.}, I counted. My oldest daughter is seven and just finished the first grade. She may travel with us after going to college (and we have a handful more years before her baby sister leaves the nest), but the reality is that we only have 12 summers left before she moves out.

We immediately began brainstorming all the places we want to take her – and then realized that a) the list is way longer than 12 destinations and b) we might not want to take kids on all our trips over the next couple of decades! We came up with a list of 24 places we’d love to take our girls, but the truth is several of the destinations overlap with our couple’s travel wish list.

That may mean we visit those places twice over the years – once with kids, once without. It could also mean our daughters have to make some trips with their own families down the road. In other words…don’t tell the girls, but they might get left with the grandparents a few times, no matter what our list for them says!

These days it feels like a miracle if my husband and I can go to the grocery store together, sans kids, so even a short road trip would be a gift. But we won’t always have young kids, and we want to plan now so bigger trips are possible sooner rather than later. So we’ve made a list for ourselves – and started a savings plan to make those travel dreams come true. Here are the top 5 places we’d love to go together right now:

  • Chicago
  • Savannah/Charleston
  • Hawaii
  • San Antonio
  • Europe

Our 20-year wedding anniversary is coming up in four years, so we’ve actually started saving for a trip to Hawaii. My hope is that we have way more than five amazing trips in our future, whether they’re far away or just a couple hours’ drive from home – and that, one of these days, we can even learn to agree on the ideal playlist, best snack foods, correct number of bags and appropriate souvenir purchases!

Do you and your husband have the same approach to travel?

 

Photos by wwarby and jolevine

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Printable Travel Games

Monday, June 15th, 2015

Free Printable Travel Games from MomAdvice.com

Road trips are in the plans for our summer. How about yours? My least favorite question to hear from the back seats is the infamous, “Are we there yet?”. Busy young minds sometimes need encouragement to look up and to gaze at the changing landscape outside of the car. With three children ranging from 5-10, we have a minivan full of various interests and developmental levels.

I have happy memories of bingo travel games (remember those with the transparent sliding doors) so I decided our children needed travel games of their own. For my older set, we put together a scavenger hunt, and for my son, an emergent reader, a bingo game of symbols and sites.

Free Printable Travel Games from MomAdvice.com

DRIVE bingo follows the traditional game with graphics you might see on a day of errands or a road trip (use as needed!). We always pack a lap desk or clipboard in the car for drawing and paper activities so my son was ready to get to work when he saw this board! Some symbols like the water tower or the number sign might need explanation but they will also keep little ones spidey eyes attuned to some new discoveries.

Free Printable Travel Games from MomAdvice.com

PRINT DRIVE BINGO HERE

My two older daughters, 8 and 10, want to be challenged. The Road Trip Scavenger Hunt is right up their alley. If you’re headed out on a longer journey, you could tape this to an interior window (making sure it doesn’t obstruct the driver’s view) and work on it little by little. This works well for us since we tend not to travel light, and a single piece of paper can get easily lost in the books, ipods, stuffed animals, etc.

PRINT ROAD TRIP SCAVENGER HUNT HERE

I’ll admit that I had a lot of fun thinking of what might stump them. :) You could use these as a competition to see who can find all of these items first. For our family, competition and long drives do not go well together so we use these more as a group project!

Free Printable Travel Games from MomAdvice.com

Searching for a lost shoe on the side of the road and sparking conversations about what counts as outdoor art is a fun way to pass the time, and even get to know each other a bit better. Some of these you might even find in your own car!

MJ from Pars Caeli

Enjoy the summer travels; we’re going to do our best to do the same! Any tips on helping your children enjoy road trips?

xoxo, MJ

I hope you enjoyed our guest post today from M.J. at Pars Caeli today. MJ will be joining us this summer to share her beautiful printables and knowledge with us! I am so lucky to call her one of my personal friends and to get to share her talent with you this summer! Please visit her blog for incredible ideas this summer to entertain your kiddos- she is one fun mama!!  You won’t be disappointed! xoxo

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Group Travel Tours: Are They REALLY a Good Deal?

Thursday, June 11th, 2015

Group Travel Tours: Are They REALLY a Good Deal?  from MomAdvice.com

My husband and I went for our first time out of the country this past month and it was the experience of a lifetime. In the upcoming weeks, I wanted to share with you a little bit about our experience with traveling internationally from how we saved the money to do it to packing for your vacation.  Since this is our first time out of the country, we lack the seasoned advice of travelers like Tsh from The Art of Simple (I have been just dying over their family’s incredible adventure, haven’t you?), but I hope we can bring a new voice to it about first-time international travel.

One of the keys to our success was utilizing a travel agent and going the group tour route for our first time traveling internationally. This surprised us so we wanted to share that experience with you especially if you are trying to travel internationally on a budget.

Group Travel Tours: Are They REALLY a Good Deal?  from MomAdvice.com

The savings plan (I will go over that next week) had been in place for many years so that our family would not feel the pinch when we decided to take our 15th anniversary trip. Since it was our first time out of the country we had to get our passports. We headed to the post office to get the paperwork filled out which I was pretty nervous about.  I have so many issues because I dropped my middle name when I got married and this has been the biggest headache of paperwork ever since because my license and Social Security card do not match (thank you, Indiana).

My husband’s passport showed up in our mailbox quickly and I, of course, got a letter that my name was not correct on my license. After it being put before a board to determine if I am who I say I am (Sam I AM), they sent the passport with my correct name and that is when we started moving on the booking of grandma (bless her Jesus-sized heart!) and the booking of our travel.

I asked my friend Erika Brown from Chic Shopper Chick to help us because she and her husband had taken an excursion to Italy and she is my go-to gal when it comes to travel.

Armed with her amazing advice, we reached out to Cheryl Oddo from Carefree Vacations (telephone number 800.683.4074 and her email is coddo(at)carefreevacations(dot)com) to assist us with booking our travel.

PS- She said you can reach out to her if you are interested in pricing for yourself and she is awesome. Please tell her you are my friend! 

This was our first time working with a travel agent and it definitely will not be the last. Cheryl asked what we were most interested in seeing and looking for in a trip to Italy. She then sent to us several ideas for group travel packages that we could do and the pricing for each option. The pricing was carefully spelled out and told us what would be included (transportation, breakfast at our hotel, walking tours) and what wasn’t covered (airfare, additional excursions, tipping). We noticed the rates increased during the height of tourist season and selected one right before the rate hike for Italy to make the most of our money and the timing of our incredible grandma.

Here is where I keep things real….

I did not want to do group travel for my 15th wedding anniversary.

I did not want to be social.

Mostly, I just didn’t want to share my husband with anyone and I wanted to have a really romantic vacation with just him.

We weren’t thrilled.

Group Travel Tours: Are They REALLY a Good Deal?  from MomAdvice.com

At the same time, we had NEVER been anywhere out of the states and the idea of navigating Italy was, indeed, far too daunting for the two of us. My husband didn’t feel comfortable driving and I didn’t feel comfortable planning an itinerary and finding public transportation to everything. This did seem like the best option and what unfolded was quite glorious.

Here are 7 reasons why I think group tours are a great travel option (if you are a seasoned traveler or not):

Group Travel Tours: Are They REALLY a Good Deal?  from MomAdvice.com

You Can Avoid the Lines for Important Monuments

The lines at some of the important monuments and museums had minimum wait times of an hour or more. Since we were on a group tour, our guide knew what time to take us to avoid the crowds to get the best experience, and they had a VIP line for tours where you could bypass all the people who were not on a tour and just go right in to see everything.  For us, we were only able to spend seven days in Italy and we wanted to experience as much as we could in this short amount of time. Doing the tour allowed us to see multiple attractions in a single day and beat the crowd doing it.

Group Travel Tours: Are They REALLY a Good Deal?  from MomAdvice.com

You Have a Great Ride to See Everything Up Close

Our tour offered a motorcoach that even included WiFi so that we could share our photos and update email on the trip. Not only did we have an incredible guide, but our driver got us as close to our destinations as possible which helped us waste less time walking and more on the attractions themselves. The first night, for example, we got to see the lights of Rome and the bus pulled right up so we could take a photo. A nice touch of Andrea Bocelli singing Time to Say Goodbye certainly completed the mood while gazing upon the beautiful city.

Group Travel Tours: Are They REALLY a Good Deal?  from MomAdvice.com

Group Travel Tours: Are They REALLY a Good Deal?  from MomAdvice.com

You Learn SO Much Through Guided Tours

Here’s a little secret, I was a terrible student and listener.

SHOCKER!

It’s hard to hold my attention so I was on the fence if a guided tour was going to be my cup of espresso, so to speak.

Here’s another shocker.

It was.

The reason?

The tour guides were phenomenal. One of our guides majored in art history the other was doing archeology in Rome. These guides just didn’t know a little about these attractions, they knew everything. Standing at the feet of David would have still been a moving experience, tour or not, but when the guide told the story of Michelangelo and his passion for art as well as helping us discover details that we would have never noticed before, it made it an entirely different experience.

 

Group Travel Tours: Are They REALLY a Good Deal?  from MomAdvice.com

Group Travel Tours: Are They REALLY a Good Deal?  from MomAdvice.com

Group Travel Tours: Are They REALLY a Good Deal?  from MomAdvice.com

You Still Have Time To Shop & Explore On Your Own

Our big worry was that we would just be on a neverending tour everywhere, but that wasn’t the case. On some of the excursions, we were given a quick walking tour and then we were told where to come back for meeting and for other tours and you always had the option to opt out of any experience and do your own thing. For us, the travel into destinations would be more to cab it and try to navigate on your own then it would have been taking the motorcoach in and having the free time.

One day we skipped a tour to visit the Uffizi. We let our travel director know where we were headed and he not only checked to see if he could get us tickets (impossibly awesome to do this), but he walked us to the cab, told us how long we might expect to wait, and where could pick a cab back up. After three hours trying to get in, we walked in the museum to see my husband’s favorite work of art and had a glass of wine on the rooftop with an incredible view. When we got back, my husband hugged our tour guide with tears in his eyes because it helped make the impossible possible.

It was the sweetest thing ever.

Group Travel Tours: Are They REALLY a Good Deal?  from MomAdvice.com

Group Travel Tours: Are They REALLY a Good Deal?  from MomAdvice.com

Group Travel Tours: Are They REALLY a Good Deal?  from MomAdvice.com

You Will Know the Lay of the Land

No matter where you go there are good parts of town, bad parts of town, appropriate etiquette and tipping guidelines, and protocols  that you will need to know when navigating somewhere new. A guide can tell you where to find a bathroom (invaluable, if you ask me!), if you should tip someone, where to watch for pickpockets (and how they operate), as well as assist you if you have special dietary needs.

I thought being gluten-free would be an issue, but it NEVER was. I let our tour director know that I couldn’t have gluten and he let every single chef know wherever we ate. When on our own, he supplied incredible recommendations for where to get a bite to eat.

Safety would have been a big concern if we would have been on our own. We were advised how to hold our purses and where we shouldn’t be going to avoid having our money stolen.

Part of me disbelieved the hype until we stood in line at a museum and a girl told us how kids were distracting her and being cute in a seat next to her while they stole all the money in her purse on the subway.

Maybe this wasn’t just hype. Maybe we were really lucky to know this after all.

Group Travel Tours: Are They REALLY a Good Deal?  from MomAdvice.com

Group Travel Tours: Are They REALLY a Good Deal?  from MomAdvice.com

Group Travel Tours: Are They REALLY a Good Deal?  from MomAdvice.com

You Will Save A LOT

Not only did the travel agent provide good advice for making the most of our money, but the group tour option saved us thousands thanks to the affordability of group travel.  Factoring in the better budget accommodations, the transportation (by boat and by car), the included meals, and the walking tours, we really saved a bundle by going through a group tour.

Were all the meals spectacular? No. Were all the hotels fantastic? No.

We shrugged it off and worked around it. Most places we were there only a night or two so it was easy to laugh off. If we wanted better food, we could cab it somewhere better than the hotel offerings.

Group travel does require flexibility and it isn’t always perfect. For the most part, it was about the destination and the people…not necessarily the accommodations!

Group Travel Tours: Are They REALLY a Good Deal?  from MomAdvice.com

You Will Make Incredible Friends

You know those two people who just wanted to be ALONE and not be social?

#lifeoftheparty

We met people from ALL OVER THE WORLD.

I even met two bloggers/photographers (check out Better Family Photos & Kellie Carter Photography)- what are the odds?

It never felt lonely or isolating when you had people to talk with.  Everyone has a story and I tried to put my listening ears on (see above why this is hard) and really listen and learn from these incredible people. My heart was so full and we had so much fun together that I was teary-eyed when it was time to go. Not to just leave this incredible country, but to leave these incredible friends. How lucky we are to have a place like Facebook where we can continue to follow one another.

There you have it.

Group tours are not only far more affordable, but they are officially the Clark jam.

We can’t wait to do another one!

Have questions? Ask me! Have a personal experience doing a group tour? Share it here! See more photos of our trip on Instagram (I’d be honored!) xo

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m challenge: What’s in Your Carry On Bag?

Monday, June 8th, 2015

Carry-On Bag Essentials Ideas from MomAdvice.com

I have gotten the chance to travel a lot with my job which has been an unexpected blessing for this blogger. I had always been a nervous and scared traveler, but now I don’t even lose sleep the night before my trips because I feel relaxed and prepared.

Today I wanted to share with you a few of my favorite carry-on essentials that I keep with me when I travel.

Carry-On Bag Essentials Ideas from MomAdvice.com

Cozy Items

I hate the cold air blowing on me in a plane so I always try to keep a couple of cozy items in my carry-on bag.  The first thing I always have is a nice cushy pair of socks especially if I am traveling in sandals where that cold air can blow right on my freezing cold feet.

The other thing I always have is a wide scarf or poncho to keep me warm. I discovered this Kerisma Poncho (found at Ali on the Boulevard for $36- you can contact her if you want one. Just call 574-274-3110, they can take your CC by phone and ship to you!). These come in a variety of colors and can be worn five different ways including as a scarf when traveling.  The nice thing about this poncho is that it folds up really small so it is easy to transport. Although this says it is a dry clean only item, I ran it through a handwash cycle and line dried it with no problems at all.  I keep this with me, not only for travel, but for a light covering at air-conditioned restaurants or as an easy layer on cool summer mornings.

Carry-On Bag Essentials Ideas from MomAdvice.com

Items to Help Me Sleep

After taking a ten hour flight, I now understand the true challenges of international travel. I always travel with a sleep mask, some Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime Extra Tea (not the regular stuff, the extra stuff- read the reviews why!), and I pop a Tylenol PM as soon as I hop on the plane so I can try to knock myself out for my flight. Combining that with my poncho and socks… I can usually get a great sleep on the plane with this winning combination.

Carry-On Bag Essentials Ideas from MomAdvice.com

Great Snacks

Being gluten-free and traveling can be a tricky combination so I always try to keep lots of snacks in my carry-on in case I have trouble eating anywhere. I always carry a big bag of almonds and these Think Thin Creamy Peanut Butter Protein Bars are a go-to because they are gluten-free, have 0 grams of sugar, and 20 grams of protein. If I end up not being able to stop for a bite to eat between flight connections, this is often my lunch or dinner.

I also try to bring an empty water bottle with me for filling. Our airport (as do many) offers a water bottle filling station so I bring it empty to get through security and then fill it once I am at my gate. Filling this up saves me several dollars and keeps me hydrated while flying. I recommend a style like this for optimal flavor and easy transport.

Carry-On Bag Essentials Ideas from MomAdvice.com

Fantastic Entertainment

For me, it is all about reading on the plane. My last trip, I managed to consume four books which would be ridiculous to try to carry around in my suitcase. I use the Overdrive app from my library and load up my Kindle app on my iPad for reading on the plane. I also purchased this Logitech iPad Keyboard that is my favorite gadget of all for travel. It basically makes your iPad into a mini laptop. I am able to answer emails and update my social media channels, but it also acts as a fantastic holder for holding my iPad to watch shows or for reading on the plane (I just rest this on the tray or on my lap).  If you are looking for some great books to read on your next flight, be sure to visit our book review section of the site!

Carry-On Bag Essentials Ideas from MomAdvice.com

Items to Freshen Up

I try to keep a couple of items to freshen up with when traveling on long flights. These Listerine PocketPaks are a great substitute for brushing your teeth in the tiny lavatory. I also use these Yes to Blueberries wipes that I buy off of ePantry (I love drugstore deliveries) for a fake shower, wiping down and refreshing. I also am a big fan of my Burts Bee’s lip balm (did you see the documentary on this guy- that is one interesting man!).  After a little refreshing, I feel a lot better after hopping off my flight.

 

What are some items you always carry in your carry-on bag? Share them below!

Choose Your Own Adventure Travel Idea

Thursday, June 4th, 2015

Choose Your Own Adventure Travel Idea from MomAdvice.com

As my kids get older, we have found that they need and want less and less.  We have also found that we desire less clutter and more moments with our kids so my husband and I hatched up a Choose Your Own Adventure gift for the holidays this year that we gave them in lieu of gifts.

Do you remember the Choose Your Own Adventure books? They were my favorite when I was a kid because each time you read a book, you could make a choice that would take you down a different path. I think I reread this one a million times, returning the well-worn pages back to the library, only to to check it out again.

That idea of choosing your own adventures still lives on and I decided that this year, our family would make travel a top priority. I want my children to have big adventures and see the world so at Christmas, we gave them the unique opportunity to, truly, choose their own summer adventure with us as a family.

I tell you this now instead of in the winter because this one requires a chat with your kids about gift expectations and it also requires saving money for your adventure. 

Choose Your Own Adventure Travel Idea from MomAdvice.com

We asked our kids if they would like to do a vacation instead of gifts this past Christmas and they were so excited to do this which thrilled us to no end.

Since my husband is a web designer, he came up with the genius idea to create a retro travel brochure (complete with a typewriter smear) that would make it look like this package was designed just for them that they could open on Christmas morning. Since there would be no gifts under the tree, we really wanted to give them something to enjoy on Christmas morning and to create a new tradition of gift-giving in our family!

The Mom & Dad Travel Agency (making dreams come true since a few minutes ago- ha!) cover sheet was designed with their names on it and placed on top of the gift.

Choose Your Own Adventure Travel Idea from MomAdvice.com

The first package they opened outlined the rules of the adventure.  If you decide to do something similar, you can create your own rules, but these were the rules we set up to make sure that things went smoothly. 

Found below are the rules we gave our kids! 

Rules for Our Choose Your Own Adventure Travel Package

ONE- You must agree TOGETHER on the trip. We know that this will be tough, but it is also a great opportunity to work on your teamwork skills. Take your time coming to your decision and read through each of the files carefully. In it, we have outlined how you will get to your destination, where and who you might visit, as well as the exclusive adventure you will get to take.

TWO- Although we will do our best to book the places we have outlined for you, these will also be subject to availability. Do you know what that means? It just means, it depends on if the places or owners have space for us. For example, if the place we show you ends up not being available when we are able to go, we promise to find something as close as possible to what we have shared with you. That is the MOM & DAD TRAVEL AGENCY guarantee.

THREE- We will book the destination of your choosing as soon as possible, but the trip will be taken in the SPRING (sometime between the months of MARCH-MAY). Again, all of this will hinge on the availability and the ideal weather for wherever you select.

FOUR- HAVE FUN! Again, the MOM & DAD TRAVEL AGENCY is so pleased that you want to do something with… well…, your MOM & DAD as a gift. How many parents get to say that? We are so proud to take this trip with you and look forward to serving all of your travel needs.

Choose Your Own Adventure Travel Idea from MomAdvice.com

Choose Your Own Adventure Travel Idea from MomAdvice.com

Choose Your Own Adventure Travel Idea from MomAdvice.com

Choose Your Own Adventure Travel Idea from MomAdvice.com

I designated one file folder for each package idea and my husband created retro cover sheets for each package. For our family, the three destinations were to Florida (Universal and our Mimi), Boston (renting a houseboat and seeing where my son was born), and California (to see the Redwood Forest). Each package was wrapped individually so they had three files to open in the morning.

Choose Your Own Adventure Travel Idea from MomAdvice.com

Choose Your Own Adventure Travel Idea from MomAdvice.com

Choose Your Own Adventure Travel Idea from MomAdvice.com

I then typed up travel itineraries that we hoped the kids would love reading together in the morning. We really wanted to make each of these special and a true gift in the morning.

Upon opening all three, they had a little conference session on their own to decide the trip that they wanted to do.  As outlined in the rules above, they had to decide together.  We knew this might be tough, but there was also the option of one picking one year and the other picking the next year.  

In fact, we are planning to recycle one that wasn’t chosen (that seemed to get a lot of buzz) and add a couple of new options.

Choose Your Own Adventure Travel Idea from MomAdvice.com

Over our annual Christmas Tree Cinnamon Rolls, they shared that Universal was the chosen holiday for the year. I am proud to say it wasn’t really about seeing the Harry Potter world at all… it was, in fact, getting to see their amazing Mimi that really sold our Mom & Dad Agency package.

Choose Your Own Adventure Travel Idea from MomAdvice.com

Choose Your Own Adventure Travel Idea from MomAdvice.com

I hope this idea is inspiring to your family! We are so excited to take adventures with our kids this year and in the years to come and are so happy they enjoyed this gift as much as we enjoyed creating it for them!

*This post contains affiliate links!
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Family Disney Travel Tips

Thursday, June 4th, 2015

Note: this is a combined post from our first article about the tips-and-tricks to get the most out of a Disney trip and the follow-up I wrote a few years later of all our best Disney tips. Together, they provide the best family Disney travel tips that goes along perfectly with our June M Challenge on Travel! I know a family Disney trip is high on most of your wish lists, so I hope that these things we learned and still use will be helpful to you in planning your own Disney trip!

Family Disney Travel Tips on MomAdvice.com

Our family has LOVED our Disney trips, and one of the reasons we’ve ALL loved them is because we have learned a few things that make the planning, preparation, travel, and time at the park much more enjoyable. Once you take your first trip, you learn a few “insider tips” and my hope is that if you’ve never been to Disney, you can use these family Disney travel tips to make your first time run as smoothly as if you were a seasoned Disney traveler!

Our Best Family Disney Travel Tips:

Preparation is Key

1. Financial Preparation- Set aside money into a separate savings account to prepare for your trip – consider talking with your bank about opening a special account. Have an automatic transfer made for $25 or more each month put into this account all year long and then you will have the money saved when it is time to make your family trip.

Savings can be had when booking your travel through places like AAA and additional savings can be found while visiting in Orlando by printing a free Orlando Magicard to take with you when visiting restaurants and attractions while you are in Orlando.

2. Safety Preparation- I don’t need to tell you that Disney is a big place and safety is very important when visiting theme parks.  Each child was assigned a buddy to be their partner throughout the days and they were to hold their buddy’s hand while we were there.  We took additional safety precautions by printing out recent pictures of our children to keep in our wallet and bags just in case something should happen and they were separated from us. With a handy Sharpie, I wrote my cell phone number on their arms so if they were separated from us, someone could call us and reunite us quickly.

3. Meal Preparation- You can bring snacks and drinks into the park with no problems. We packed fruit snacks, granola bars, and bottles of water for our day in a bag with no objections. Rely on these snacks and bottles of water to help cut some of the costs. I recommend visiting this MouseSavers page to find the best cheap eats while you are at the parks.  We did get table service for the evening, but you want to call ahead since reservations can be made up to 180 days in advance of your vacation. Since we called the reservation number that morning when we arrived, we ended up at the Plaza. The table service was about twelve dollars more than the fast food service in the park and quite a bit better with a lot more food included with our meal. If you want to explore the menus before you go, you can view all the menus for the parks here.

4. Souvenir Preparation-  Souvenirs are a big expense and children can be plagued with horrible cases of what our family lovingly calls, “a case of the gimmies.” At the same time, I remember the amazing souvenir ears I got and how much I wanted those items when I went to Disney.  I hit the local Disney store for t-shirts and small toys which were a third of the price as they were in the shops and a girlfriend recommended picking up ears at a local party store (only $5.99 each). The kids were thrilled with their ears and shirts which they wore throughout the park and they did not even ask for anything while we walked through thanks to this little bit of preparation.

5. Navigation Preparation- When you pick up your tickets, you can pick up a handy map of the park. Thanks to my iPhone I was able to get some reinforcement on the map with Disney’s Magic Kingdom Tour Guide GPS+ from CXI Gaming (cost was $1.99) that helped us navigate the parks easily and find what we needed quickly. We also had everything in our GPS before we left for getting to the park and how to get back to where we were lodging.

Disney Family Travel Tips

Getting the Most Out of Your Ride Time

1. Make a Plan of Attack- Along with your Navigation Preparation, discuss as a family what rides are most important to you and order them in a list of importance. The rides with the longest wait times we rode first so that we could make sure that we got those out of the way before the crowds and wait times got really long.  If you aren’t’ sure what rides would be best for the age group of your kids, I do recommend buying the Disney’s Magic Kingdom Tour Guide GPS+ from CXI Gaming (cost was $1.99) because this actually gives you a plan for your day based upon your age group. Oh, and one brilliant suggestion from a reader is to start at the back of the park and move forward while most other people will be doing the opposite!

2. Use FASTPASS to Make the Most of Your Day-FASTPASS isn’t anything you need to sign up for, it is simply a way to place a reservation on rides with long wait times. On your map that you receive when you come in, it will have a FASTPASS icon next to the rides that you can FASTPASS. Head to those rides specified and a machine will be available to insert your ticket and a receipt will print out when you can come back to the ride with a one hour window that you can cash in on. Head to other rides with shorter wait times and then come back at the designated time to go through a faster line.

3. Add a free Wait Time App to Your Mobile Phone- No need to invest in a pricey Wait Time App, just the free Disney World Wait Times app will work perfectly since all wait time information is user generated. Check the wait times on the rides and use that to help decide which rides you want to go on.

Disney Family Travel Photo Tips

Capturing the Magic

The last thing you want on your kid’s magical day is terrible pictures that don’t showcase just how amazing the day was.

1. Capture Their View-  When Emily saw the castle for the first time…well, I could start bawling just thinking about it. I wanted to see that moment over and over so I captured her first gaze at the castle and then got to her eye level and took a picture at her level at exactly what she was seeing.  Having pictures of your kids seeing this magical beauty and the magical beauty itself are things that your family will never forget.

2. Capture the Movement- How can you capture the hilarious and dizzy feeling of some of those rides without movement in the picture.  Capturing motion in photography is so much fun especially when riding on moving things like the teacups. My tip is to focus on one thing (like a bag, etc.) as you spin. I recommend this article if you are looking for more tips on how to capture motion blur in your pictures.

3. Take Fun Pictures on the Go-  My camera equipment can get awfully heavy so we took turns with the big camera and I relied on my mobile phone when I wanted to capture details quickly and easily. I love Camera+ and Instagram for sharing fun pictures on the go. It is such a fun way to take a quick photo, add an effect, and send it to family and friends to keep them updated on how your day is going.

Disney Family Travel Tips for Photos

4. Get a Family Photo- I looked for someone who had a camera like ours to take our family picture. If you have a point-and-shoot,  finding someone to snap a picture should be really easy. When I handed off my camera I switched it to Aperture Mode (Av on my Canon) and changed the Aperture to f/7.1. I then used a photo editing tool (like PicMonkey) to crop as many of the background people out of our picture.

They also have people all over the parks taking pictures and you can have them snap your picture for their portrait and then ask them to take one with your camera too. They know the best spots with good lighting and backgrounds for your family photos. Best of all, they know how to work cameras.

Disney Nighttime Photo Tips

5. Capture the Nighttime Magic- Nighttime magic was tricky to photograph and may require a little research on your part. When I took pictures of the castle I was so disappointed. The colors were off and lights were blurry. It was not the magical pictures I had hoped for.

Over dinner, I went on this Disney Photography Blog and found this information how to capture the nighttime parade. I took test shots after our dinner until I was happy with the lighting and able to capture some of the nighttime beauty at Disney!

So, to recap, here is a condensed version of our family disney travel tips (just in case you’d like to print them out to help you prepare!):

1. Advance Preparation Tips

  • Financially: start saving and looking for deals as soon as you start thinking about your trip.
  • Safety: print out current photos to carry of each child, bring a sharpie to write cell phone numbers with, and assign buddies.
  • Meals: plan for snacks and drinks before heading to the park.
  • Souvenirs: buy them at a local Disney store or the party store and pack them with you!
  • Navigation: load all needed GPS info beforehand.

2. Ride Tips

  • Make a family plan: list the rides everyone wants to go on by importance.
  • Visit rides with longest wait times first.
  • Use FASTPASS to get through longer lines faster.
  • Add the Wait Time App to your mobile phone to check ride wait times.

3. Photograph Tips

  • Capture your children’s view – not only of them seeing things, but how they see it (get down to their level).
  • Capture the moment – as many of the hilarious ride moments as you can!
  • Take pictures on the go, too – in the car and at the hotel – using both phone and regular cameras.
  • Remember a family photo: scope out someone who can take a picture of your family in front of something you like.
  • Capture the nighttime magic – do a bit of research in advance to know your camera settings so you can get some good memory shots of the fantastic light displays.

What would you add? (Head to this post and read the comments for even more tips!)

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