Posts Tagged ‘Travel’

Family Travel: Exploring Wilmington, North Carolina

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

I got the opportunity to travel to Wilmington, North Carolina for a trip with Homewood Suites by Hilton to explore the family-friendly attractions and budget-friendly travel that you can find there. The trip was hosted by Homewood Suites in conjunction with the Wilmington/Cape Fear Coast Convention & Visitor’s Bureau. I had no expectations for what to expect from the trip, other than the opportunity to have a little getaway and I was thrilled when the company said that I could bring along a guest. Unfortunately, the kids had already started school and  my husband would need to stay with them. It is rare that I get to share a trip with anyone else so I was excited to bring my best friend along for the weekend. Who could turn down a girl’s weekend that is all-expenses paid?

We set off for Wilmington and got to stay at the beautiful Homewood Suites by Hilton Wilmington Mayfaire which was a short 5 minute drive to Wrightsville Beach. I have stayed at a lot of hotels over the course of the years with my business, but I have never stayed at a hotel that offered more amenities to their guests than this one.

Room rates start at $120 a night and the company admits that they are not the cheapest in town, but that they do strive to offer the best service and the best amenities for their guest.  I am used to paying for my internet, some dry cereal for breakfast, and paying for any extra frills that I might desire so I really was genuinely shocked by what the hotel offered.

All of the rooms offer a full kitchenette that includes a full-size refrigerator, a two-burner stove, cooking utensils/tools with service for four,  and a dishwasher. For no additional charge (other than the actual price of groceries), you can call ahead and have them stock your refrigerator for you before you even arrive for your trip!

The hotel offers a free huge hot breakfast seven days a week and a bigger bonus for family’s on a budget, was a “Manager’s Reception,” dinner Monday through Thursday for free, that included a full delicious dinner, a kid’s buffet for dinner, and wine/beer for the parents while you are staying there.  As an example of the dinner choices, two of the offerings the nights we were there were tortilla-crusted tilapia and home style meatloaf including two side dishes. I have never been to a hotel that offered a full dinner and full breakfast  for free for its guests and this is available at any of the Homewood Suites locations.

The rooms also offered DVD players and (for no charge)  you could select a family-friendly movie to watch with your kids. Baskets of cookies were available for a free late night snack and a free coffee & tea bar were always open. These little inclusion are the things that I love to look for in hotels especially when it comes to keeping my children entertained and fed well.  The coffee bar is a tired vacationing parent’s dream and it is the first time I have actually loved coffee at a hotel.

Other important inclusions were free wireless internet, grills on-site if you wanted to grill for your lunch, and they even had a little putt-putt golfing for the kids near the pool and hot tub that didn’t cost an extra dime.

Yeah, all of that starting at just $120. I figure just the breakfast, kitchenette in every room, the family entertainment, and the free dinner with beverages would really help to keep our family on budget.

If you were wondering just how pale I am, this picture speaks a thousand words. I was really missing my giant beach umbrella, but used the shadow of my friend Becky and an expert tuck and pull to allow my dress to keep me covered at the beach. I always chant to myself that someday I will be a beautiful old lady and everyone will envy my pale skin… at least that is what I like to tell myself!

In all seriousness the beach was simply stunning and I loved dipping my toes in the water and collecting shells for the kids while enjoying the peacefulness of the ocean. It was beautiful and it was so nice that it was only minutes from the hotel!

The Wilmington/Cape Fear Coast Convention & Visitor’s Bureau were so gracious to allow us the opportunity to explore Wilmington’s family-friendly offerings. We toured the Battleship North Carolina, The Children’s Museum of Wilmington, the Cape Fear Serpentarium, a horse drawn tour of downtown Wilmington, North Carolina Aquarium Fort Fisher, and sampled delicious seafood chowder at Michael’s Seafood, took two boat tours of the beautiful beach, downtown shopped, and enjoyed all of the town’s offerings.

I can’t wait to share with you more as it gets closer to vacation season about my experience in both North Carolina and Orlando for some fun ideas for family travel. I will say that of the places we visited, I loved the Children’s Museum of Wilmington and the North Carolina Aquarium Forth Fisher the absolute best and can’t wait to revisit them for a trip with my own family. The enthusiasm of the employees was enchanting and I know that we could spend a whole day just visiting these two spots alone.

I have to say my favorite part was just getting the opportunity to relax! We spent an evening window-shopping in the Mayfaire shops, grabbed a delicious pizza one night, popped popcorn and watched silly girl movies like, “Fame,” and ate ice cream cones. I loved everything about Wilmington and can see it as a new destination for our family!

In full disclosure, while I was there, I found a new place to write and will be joining the SuiteTrip website for the next few months (through Homewood Suites)  to share ideas on budget-friendly travel and ideas for making travel enjoyable as a family. I can’t wait to share more ideas with you there! It was an unexpected new freelance job that I am really looking forward to!

Disclaimer: We were invited by Homewood Suites in conjunction with the Wilmington/Cape Fear Coast Convention & Visitor’s Bureau. for an all-expenses paid trip to experience Wilmington, NC  and share with our readers about our experience. All-expenses paid means that our travel, hotel stay, visits to area attractions, and food were covered by the company. We will receive no other additional compensation for this particular project and are asked for our honest opinions without any further obligation. To find out more about how things work here at MomAdvice, please feel free to visit our official Disclaimer page!

Where is your favorite family vacation spot? Where is somewhere you would like to explore? Feel free to share!

An Orlando Treasure: GatorLand

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

Ethan and I had a fantastic time in Orlando and I am looking forward to sharing about some of the attractions that we visited and ways you can save on enjoying many things in Orlando while you are there. We truly enjoyed our visit to Orlando and the experiences and memories we created together were just priceless.

To start this series, I wanted to share with you my absolute favorite place that we visited and some ideas for ways that you can save on your ticket to this attraction and many others that you might be visiting. You might be surprised to hear that it wasn’t Disney that holds a special place in my heart. In fact, it wasn’t anything that I thought would be that exciting, but I was quickly proven wrong by an amazing little theme park called, “GatorLand.”

GatorLand definitely is not a new attraction to Orlando residents, but we had never heard of it before and my little guy was so excited to see a few Florida gators for himself. GatorLand might sound  like a quaint touristy spot to visit, but it is, in fact, a 110-acre theme park and a nature conservatory for the city of Orlando.

When I say theme park though,  it isn’t the kind of theme park that you might think of when heading to Orlando. They have no big relationships with corporate companies, real animals (not mechanical ones) are located there, real people are guiding you and sharing about the animals, and kids are gobbling up every minute of these beautiful animals and their stories.

Upon entering, we were introduced to the four very rare white alligators that are currently residing in the White Alligator Swamp. These are not Albino alligators, but a very rare breed that actually have blue eyes and the white pigmentation to their skin. It is thought that there are only a dozen of their kind in the world, and four of them have happily made their home there. Technically, they are named leucistic (loo-SIS-tic), which is basically a genetic defect which produces their white pigment and the bright blue eyes that make them so unique.

While there were many alligators there, there were perhaps a few hundred more birds that are located on the property. They had everything from herons, to wood storks, to vultures that were happily residing near the alligators that were lazily swimming in the water. Our tour guide informed us that the birds love to make their nests and be near the alligators because the alligators protect them (and their eggs) from other predators. The alligators have no interest in bothering the birds and the birds know that they can make a home there.

The spot is a hot one for photographers and people come from all over the world to photograph the birds there. Photographers can buy a  pass and come in the early morning hours to sneak a peek at the birds. It was quite unbelievable all of the varieties of birds that were on the property. It would be a great place to bring a trusty bird guide and discover birds with your children!

Kids can get a closer look at the alligators in their “Gator Wrestlin’ ” arena. No worries, there was no wrestling other than the wrestling required to get the animal out of the water and give kids the opportunity to learn more about these fascinating creatures. They offer survival tips on what to do if you are ever in the path of a gator and share facts about what makes alligators so unique. Stunts, like the ones pictured above, showcase the strength of the alligator’s jaw.

For an additional $5, they offer the chance to pose with a real alligator, in the arena, which my son was very eager to do. The extra five dollars goes towards the care and food for the animals. This was all done under the watchful care of their trainers.

If your children love the creepy crawlers, then they won’t want to miss the Up Close Encounters Show. You never know what kind of animal you might be introduced to next as they unveil a variety of different snakes and spiders from behind the crated boxes. Volunteers are brought up from the audience for the great unveiling which the kids will definitely get a kick out of… especially if their mom is the one that gets selected!

There is so much more to do that we didn’t even get a chance to see while we visited. They offer a train ride around the property, a water park that the kids can play in to keep cool, and you can even sit down and have lunch or a latte there.

The price of admission is as follows:

Adult- $22.99 (if purchased online, $19.99)

Child- $14.99 (if purchased online, $11.99)

To save a little more on your visit to GatorLand, head over to print out a free 2010 Orlando Magicard which provides year-round savings at more than 75 area establishments including attractions, accommodations, restaurants, dinner theaters, ground transportation, golf courses, and cultural arts.

The Orlando Magicard is free and can be downloaded at, requested for mail delivery by calling 1-800-551-0181, or picked up at The Official Visitors Center in Orlando. The 2010 version of the card provides expanded offers including theme park deals and other significant savings options such as free nights plus additional free amenities at area accommodations; buy one ticket, get one free offers at attractions; or straight discounts up to 50% off.

If you use the Orlando Magicard at GatorLand, you can score a free train ride for each paid admission.

As a parting gift, on our way out each child got to hold a baby alligator.  The kids were so excited and were all amazed at just how tiny these alligators start out.

I was so taken into the moment that I even took the opportunity to hold the baby alligator myself. If you know me at all, you know that this is so not like me. I will say that my son couldn’t have been more proud of his mommy and I am so proud of myself for stepping out of my comfort zone a little!

We would like to thank GatorLand for giving us the opportunity to explore and learn more about what they offer and to experience a place in Orlando that we would have never known about. It is a hidden gem that I highly recommend if you are ever in the Orlando area.

Disclaimer: We were invited by the Orland/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau for an all-expenses paid trip to experience Orlando and share with our readers about our experience. All-expenses paid means that our travel, hotel stay, visits to area attractions, and food were covered by the company. We will receive no other additional compensation for the project and are asked for our honest opinions without any further obligation. To find out more about how things work here at MomAdvice, please feel free to visit our official Disclaimer page!

Do you have any hidden gems that you have found in your state or in another that you highly recommend visiting for a family vacation? Please feel free to share cool things about your own town or links to past entries on great places to travel!

Notebook Experiments: Can I Make My Hotel Stay Better?

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

Experiment: Can I make my hotel stay better?

Experiment Taken From: Notebook Entry 10.30.08

Materials Needed: Please see Digital Bliss for the full instructions. This post was written by Angie, over at Blog Coach, so please be sure to check her site for additional great blogging resources!

Results: While I am off traveling, I wanted to share with you two of my favorite sites to use while I am away from home. If you are ever away (with kids or without), give these sites a try… especially if your room comes with free Wi-Fi!

iSerenity was perhaps my favorite resource on that list because I hate all the sounds from my neighbors and out in the hallways of hotels. In our house, each of us has a sound machine in our rooms so I really love having some type of white noise when I sleep. I tuned into the sounds of the ocean and it helped so much to cut down on the background noise so I could get some sleep. This would have been a great resource too when my children were smaller to help them sleep better too.

The other site that I used was Kukuklock. Is it just me or does anyone else have trouble figuring out how in the heck to set these alarms in the hotel rooms? A little manual would be helpful! I set my alarm on my phone in my room, but I like to have a back-up alarm just in case. I went ahead and set it to the rooster setting and it was as easy as pie to set.

I headed to bed and woke up to the sounds of the ocean with roosters crowing over the waves. Yeah, it was pretty freaky and I thought I fell into an alternate universe for a moment there, but it worked like a charm.

I plan to use these sites every time because it helped me sleep better knowing I would wake up on my time and I could eliminate the background noises in my room. I hope you can check these out on your next trip!


I am so excited to open our Notebook Experiments up to everyone and I hope that you will be able to participate this week or in weeks to come! I will be posting this each Wednesday so please mark your calendars if you plan to participate. You can post your entries at any time throughout the week and then leave your entry in the links below.

We have this handy banner that you are more than welcome to use, but it is not a requirement! It is just something you can add to add a little sparkle to your entry.

Rules for Participation:

1. Choose anything from any of our notebook entries (past or present) to do with your family. We have hundreds of bookmarked links of crafts, ways to save money, and organizing ideas.
2. Complete an experiment from the notebook and share about it on your blog or website. We would love to see pictures of what you accomplished or a detailed description of how your projects turned out. Please include a link to this entry, a link to the original posting of the entry (at the original craftster’s blog), and (to help us relocate the project) the date or link of the notebook entry where you found it. You can use the same formatting as our entries or you can just include that information in your post in your own unique way!
3. Post a link below. Please include your name or blog name & a fast description of your project. Example- MomAdvice (WHO bread)

I can’t wait to see what you create and what you find inspiring!

Suave Glamour Reel Moments Event: Premiere Night

Friday, October 17th, 2008

My last full day in L.A. was when all of the real excitement started happening. We began the day with a beautiful brunch at our hotel, the Sofitel, and what a brunch it was! Trays and trays of food- eggs, hash browns, fruit platters, croissants, egg sandwiches, yogurt with berries… it was beautiful.

This brunch was a chance to listen to a panel of the wonderful people who made the Glamour Reel Moments experience possible. Included on the panel were Kirsten “Kiwi” Smith (a first-time director); producer, Francesca Silverstri; Glamour Associate Publisher & Glamour Reel Moments Executive Producer, Leslie Russo; and Glamour Reel Moments directing alum & moderator, Andrea Buchanan. Thoughtfully, Michelle from Scribbit, used her Flip Camera to record the entire event so you can read exactly what was shared on this panel.

At the end, as we were leaving, I noticed that Kirsten was also heading out and in my nicest voice, asked if she would mind having her photo taken with me. Happily, she obliged and Michelle also felt brave enough to ask too- so here’s our moment. Notice how teeny she is? Finally someone who I can see eye to eye with!

A group of us (Liz, Beth, Michelle, & Dawn) all decided to hit the road and squeeze in some site-seeing. Beth, from Role Mommy, caught all of the moments on her Flip Camera so you can view her funny video here. At least, I thought it was pretty darn funny, but it might be one of those things that you just had to be there!

We headed back to the Chinese Theater for the gals that hadn’t gotten the opportunity to see it. I was so glad we went back because we were able to see everything that we hadn’t gotten to see before because it had been blocked off for a premiere.
Another Camp Baby reunion- two in one week! My new BFF’s- Liz, from This Full House, & Dawn, from Because I Said So.

Next we hiked it up to the Hollywood sign. When in my life will I ever get to do this again? I was loving the view, even though I am a little afraid of heights.

Liz enjoyed the view from very far, far away! Michelle, on the other hand, was tap dancing dangerously close to the edge giving us all heart attacks.

Next we dipped our toes into the freezing cold water of Santa Monica Beach. It was so beautiful there and I spent most of the time with my camera out taking tons of pictures. After that, we headed over to the pier and ate at Bubba Gump Shrimp before busting our tails to get back to our car, cutting our time way too short to get ready. We literally got back about a half hour before the cocktail hour so my look had to be pulled together quickly. I am pretty slow when I get ready so this was a stretch, but I wouldn’t have changed anything about it.

Here is what my dress looked look- I just love this dress! I scored this dress through my wonderful & sweet friend, Kathy Friend, who writes over at Fashion Questions & Answers. She let me model in a premiere for a local boutique that opened in South Bend, Flourish Boutique. They gave each of us a gift card for modeling and I used mine to buy this little
number. Kathy also loaned me some killer shoes so I would look even more stylish for my big night! Now that is a TRUE friend!

I headed down for the cocktail hour that was sponsored by Suave before we headed out. They thoughtfully made sure that we ate plenty since they knew it would be a long night for us!
We received our invitations and headed over to the Director’s Guild Theater! I think I was shaking when we walked in.

Here was our big moment walking down the red carpet! Doesn’t everyone look stunning? We were all so nervous and excited as we got our photo taken. (Photo Credit: Lester Cohen/Wireimage for Glamour)

Our view after our moment looked like this. Most of the celebrities walked by us though to enter the theater and that is where we got to see everyone- Matthew Perry, Sheryl Crow, Jennifer Aniston, Lisa Kudrow, the entire Arquette family, Kirsten Dunst, and so many more celebrities. I so desperately wanted to ask for an autograph or just talk to them, but just stood in awe at what an amazing opportunity this was.

Then we headed into the theater to catch all the movies. You can watch them all on the Reel Moments website. All of the films were really great, but my favorite though had to be Streak, directed by Demi Moore!

The car came to get us and then we headed over to Chateau Marmont for the after party. There I bumped into Matthew Perry a couple of times, murmured a gracious, “You did a great job!” to any celebrity who turned in my direction and enjoyed circling the place a few times to make sure we saw everyone.

At the stroke of midnight, our car came to pick us up and we headed back to the hotel. As we waited for our elevator, it opened and one of the Jonas Brothers came out of it. It is as though our brains couldn’t process it and as the door shut, Liz said she should go back down and see if she could get an autograph for her daughter.

I headed to my room to pack and the next morning made the long flight back to Indiana. I returned to pouring rain and realized that my cell phone was stolen from my carry-on luggage. The laundry lay waiting for me, the fridge was empty, the library books were overdue, and the diapers would need changing again.

My husband & children were snuggled up with me in the morning and Emily kept stroking my face, as though she couldn’t believe I was there. The kids kissed and hugged me and my husband kept saying how glad he was to have me home.

That is when I knew that I was right where I belonged!

Thank you again to the entire Suave Team for making me feel so at home in California! It was an opportunity of a lifetime & I will never forget a moment of it!

Suave Glamour Reel Moments Event: Days 1 & 2

Friday, October 17th, 2008

When I am normally invited to PR trips, it is usually packed with information and meetings about the brand and what it is or is not doing for our family. There are discussions, speakers, noteworthy & (at times) tiring days filled with focus groups, but the Suave sponsored mommy event was NOTHING like any of that! Perhaps it was because they had so many moms within their company letting them know that all they would want to do if they had a few days away from the kids would be pampered and have time to themselves to explore the city. Other than a short little informal chat before getting my hair styled, you would have just thought the gals from the company were some wonderful friends who had great connections.

The company hooked us up with car service from our homes to the airports. They had to use a different car service than normal because apparently there are not a lot of great car services in the middle of nowhere Indiana. Imagine my embarrassment, when a fancy sedan pulls up and a man gets out dressed to the nines with a handlebar mustache to take me to the airport. In an ironic twist, the whole neighborhood apparently was outside for the event and the faces on my neighbors was the exact face I would have been making.

It was a long day of flying, but the car service & an amazing Suave representative met me at the LAX airport to greet me and get me settled at my hotel. As we pulled up to the hotel…NO WORDS! Swanky and right across the street from the Beverly Center, the beautiful Sofitel. French & chic!

I checked in and tucked into my room was a beautiful basket with the most thoughtful inclusions. There were snacks, water, spa slippers, tons of really great Suave products, movies that included each of the directors from the movie event in some way, a map of the city, a listing of great places to visit, a pink Flip camera, and even a card with their contact information that we could tuck in our wallet. What a greeting! There was so much thought put into all of the things we would need including spending money for lunches & incidentals while we were sightseeing.

I didn’t sleep the first night with excitement and the time change so I stuffed my silly with the ridiculously overpriced room service and anticipated the morning.

I started the morning out with coffee with Liz & Michelle. Unfortunately, they had to head to their salon appointment and I didn’t know anyone else to hook up with yet so I spent the day alone until my salon appointment. I headed over to the Beverly Hills Center though to do a little window shopping, which was great!

As if my husband was not a good sport enough, he thoughtfully included a t-shirt for me that he won through a contest. My shirt, although backwards in the picture, says Los Angeles because he said he wanted me to look just like a celebrity.
Nothing says celebrity though like a big ol’ scarf in the middle of the blazing heat. This addition is a $5.80 steal at Forever 21. Who says Indiana girls have zero style? The only thing I forgot in my packing were my favorite sunglasses because that would have certainly helped to complete the look. Off to the Beverly Hills Center I went…

Obviously, there was a lot of WINDOW shopping going on, but I browsed around the same affordable stores that we had at home until Liz & Michelle were done with their appointment. We got together to head over to the Chinese theater and eat a little lunch.

We couldn’t really see anything because the theater was blocked off for the Max Payne movie event, but we still enjoyed walking around aimlessly and chatting. All of our chatting was mostly geared towards learning more about each of our blogs, how we were doing with our businesses, and more talking on blogging shop. It was so great to enjoy all that sunshine and have such great conversations.

I then went to get my manicure, pedicure, and have my hair done by stylist to the stars, Luke O’Connor, at Lukaro Salon in Beverly Hills. Luke was the nicest guy in the world and agreed that I had a good length and cut, but he just made my hair do exactly what it was supposed to. He said to use very little products and recommended a line of Suave products that would be best for me. Suave took all the pictures though so when I get those, I will be sure to post my transformaton photos when I get them.

Off to dinner! We went to the very chic & famous, Club Nobu I had never eaten sushi before, which is why this first course floored me. Isn’t it supposed to be all rolled up and disguised with rice and seaweed? I made a pact to myself that I was going to try everything and I did. Every. Single. Dish. It was not as bad as I thought it was going to be, but still preferred the rolls and cooked dishes more. We dined family-style and I swear there were sixteen courses so we practically rolled out of there after all of that good food.

Luke O’Connor himself dined with us! As you can see, he definitely improved my look a bit! He gave me a little swing to my hair that I certainly could not have achieved on my own. Here’s hoping my stylist here will be able to keep up my Los Angeles style.

Tomorrow I will share more about our last and most exciting day!

In the meantime, check out all of the bloggers amazing sites. I think I made some of the best friends of my life- I feel so darn blessed!!
Beth Feldman

Dawn Meehan

Michelle Mitchell

Liz Thompson

Lianne Farbes

Cindy Bokma

Nadine Haobsh

Frugal Family Vacations

Saturday, August 23rd, 2008

I know that you all are really going to enjoy this guest post from another one of my favorite bloggers! Stephanie, at Keeper of the Home, has agreed to share her traveling expertise with our readers and I think this post will really help those of you who are planning your family vacations! Be sure to visit her blog for wonderful tips for naturally inspired living for the Christian homemaker.

If you are interested in submitting a post on frugal living, creative/crafty parenting, or organizing, you can email your entries to me at Please include a bio with a link to your site and (if you would like) a picture of yourself to include.

If you’re a frugally minded mama like myself, and you and your family have thought of vacationing beyond the local campground, you may be wondering how to go about planning an affordable yet still fantastic family vacation.

Here are a few things that I have learned in my experience of planning both domestic and international trips:

General Tips

Research, research, research!

This cannot be stressed enough! Do not settle on any tickets or reservations until you’ve researched at least 4 or 5 options.

Initial research should give you an idea of general flight, hotel, and car prices, as well as the attractions that you are interested in and a skeleton itinerary. Start by using online travel services such as Travelocity, Expedia, Hotwire and Priceline to begin to gauge prices. Use travel sites such as Lonely Planet or Fodor’s to start to get some ideas about the place you will be traveling to, as well as simply googling things like “travel arizona children” or “attractions grand canyon”.

From here, put together an estimate of what the cost of your trip will be. If it’s coming up too high, consider what areas you can skimp in. For us, we don’t care about fancy accommodations. We would prefer to have more money to allow us the freedom to eat without stress, and do all of the activities that interest us. You may feel differently. What are the priorities for your family?

Once you’ve worked through these steps, you can get down to business and really dig in to find the absolute best deal on each part of your trip.

2) Booking together isn’t always cheaper

Through the travel companies would love to be your one-stop shop by having you book your flight, hotel and car all in a neat and tidy package, you will most likely be missing out on some deals by going that route. If you do some careful comparisons of these “deals” (compared to finding each component of the trip individually), you will see that they really aren’t the deals they’re cracked up to be.

3) Bidding for a deal

It’s now become one of the more popular ways to try to find rock bottom deals for traveling. Sites like Priceline and Sky Auction encourage you to either bid against other would-be travelers or to “name your own price”. These sites have the potential to be very valuable to you if:

  • You’ve already done the research and know exactly what a good deal would look like
  • You’ve determined your bottom line. For example, when using Priceline you don’t get to choose your flight time, specific hotel, etc. You set your price, win it, and then find out what you’ve already bought. It’s important to consider these unknown factors, compared to the available deals that you already know are out there, and then you will have the ability to pick and choose whether bidding is worthwhile. If an extra $10 a night is worth it to you in order to know exactly which hotel you will be staying in, set your Priceline limit at $10 below what you’d like to be paying, and resolve to walk away if that bid isn’t accepted.
  • You are very aware of the fees and taxes that will be added on. Always, always check and know exactly what your total costs will be before making any decisions.

Tips for flights

  • Children under 2 fly free, on a parent’s lap, so plan your dates accordingly if you have little ones nearing their birthday
  • If you can, keep your dates flexible. Often it is cheaper to fly on a Saturday, while the Friday may cost $15 more a ticket. It doesn’t sound like much, but it can add up fast if you’re buying children’s flights as well. Some travel sites have search options designed to let you search using flexible dates. A great option to use is Expedia (be sure to check the box that says “my dates are flexible”). I just did a sample search on flights from Atlanta to Fort Lauderdale in August, and came up with a price range of $191 to $309, within an 11 day span- that’s a big difference!
  • Look at smaller, independent airlines as well (which are usually not included on the major travel site searches). A few examples are:

  • When you find a great deal, snag it! Good deals don’t last for long, and if you wait, you may just miss out (I know this from experience!)

Tips for Accommodations

  • First, consider the many varied options out there: Hotels, motels, camping, yurts, hostels, house swaps, B&Bs;, etc. There is so much beyond the traditional hotel, and many of the other options are much cheaper, and can even be more enjoyable! Personally, we will be staying in a private room at a hostel in Flagstaff for our upcoming Grand Canyon trip, where we will have kitchen privileges, hot breakfast included, laundry machines and more, for a mere $45 a night!
  • Do consider bidding for hotels on sites like Priceline. I just scored two nights at the Crowne Plaza in Phoenix for $50 a night! Just remember- do your research first!
  • Change it up! When we went to Europe 2 years ago, I found that different types of accommodations were cheaper in different cities. In Rome, we stayed in a very small but lovely private hotel. In Florence, we opted for a camping hostel, where the tents are permanently set up on raised concrete, and include cots and basic bedding. In Edinburgh, we stayed in a quaint Bed & Breakfast, where we had a gorgeous, clean and very large room, delicious hot breakfast (could have done without the blood pudding, though!), for the same price as a private hostel room, and half the price of the cheapest hotels. While living in Japan, we went even cheaper than a hostel and chose to take the train out to the country each night to camp (we carried our tent on the bus we took up to Kyoto).

Tips for Rental Cars

  • Go with the smallest car that suits your needs. You’ll save on rental costs, as well as gas most likely!
  • Avoid most of the bigger name companies. They tend to be significantly more expensive, unless you come across an amazing deal.
  • Again, try your hand at bidding to “name your own price
  • Compare many sites. In my recent search for the cheapest rental car, my favorite comparison sites were Hotwire, Travelocity, Expedia, Priceline and CarRentals. I looked at the individual rental company sites, and generally they weren’t cheaper than the travel sites, with the exception of a few smaller companies that were not always included in the searches. Try Fox, Advantage and Dollar.
  • If you have AAA or BCAA, or even an Entertainment book, check the types of deals and discounts that are offered for members. You may find a free upgrade on a weekly rental, or perhaps a 20% discount, etc. Just make sure you compare it to the other deals out there, as these discounts are usually for the bigger, more expensive companies.
  • Consider whether you need a car at all! Some cities have
    excellent public transit, and if you choose the location of your
    accommodations carefully, you may find that the need for a car just

Tips for Attractions

  • Get an Entertainment book or online membership! You will find many 2 for 1 entrances to attractions, as well as 2 for 1 entrees at the local restaurants.
  • Look for a city pass. These passes are your entrance ticket to the most popular attractions in a city or area, for a discounted rate. By buying the one pass, you can go to any attraction included over the course of one week (for example- it varies from pass to pass). Some examples are the Seattle CityPass, ShowUp Now for the Phoenix area, and the Go Los Angeles Card. Visit CityPass for several other major North American cities available.

Tips for Eating Cheaply

  • As mentioned above, the Entertainment book can help you make the best of having to eating out (or depending on your perspective, getting to eat out!) by offering 2 for 1 entrees.
  • Try finding an accommodation that includes a breakfast, or even one that allows kitchen privileges (such as a hostel, or some B&Bs;) or a motel with a kitchenette.
  • If your hotel has a mini fridge, find a local grocery store (which just adds to the experience of visiting a new place), and stock up on breakfast foods (unless included), and lunch and snack foods so that you can brown bag it as much as possible.
  • Bring a stash of easy to carry snacks that your family enjoys. To Arizona, we will be bringing fruit leather or bars, rice cakes, granola bars that are wheat free (as we are all sensitive to wheat), and a box of mineral drinks mixes to add to our water bottles.
  • Bring a water bottle for each family member, and fill them up each time you’re able to. Buy large bottles of purified water from a local grocery store to keep in your hotel room, or the trunk of your vehicle, to do refills.

Lastly, once you are there and you have done everything you can do to make your trip as affordable as possible, just relax! Enjoy your vacation, knowing that some extra expenses will pop up unexpectedly (as they always do), and choose to cherish every minute of the trip that you have worked so hard to plan and save for!

Despite how it may appear, Stephanie does not spend most of her time planning vacations! She is blessed to be a wife, mother to two young children, homemaker, and home schooler. In her “spare time” she maintains the blog Keeper of the Home, gardens organically, studies nutrition and natural living, and enjoys cooking up nourishing foods for her family.

WSBT-TV: Cheap Summer Day Trips

Tuesday, May 6th, 2008

On WSBT, this morning, we discussed ideas for cheap summer day trips. This is about the only way we do family trips anymore and I share my tips for getting the most bang for your buck.

Sound Off: Do you have any family day trips planned this summer? Where are some of your favorite places to visit?

WSBT-TV: Planning for a Cheap Getaway

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

Today on WSBT, I share some tips and tricks for planning an inexpensive getaway with your family. I suggest some frugal alternatives for vacations and ways to make some memories for your family on a budget.

Sound Off: What are your plans this year for Spring Break? How are you making your travels more affordable?

Travel Tips from Tracy Gallagher

Tuesday, March 11th, 2008

Travel Channel expert Tracy Gallagher offers a wealth of insider information for every aspect of leisure travel, from family vacations in the United States to exotic trips around the world. She is best known as the host of the upbeat interstitials that have aired for years on the Travel Channel to promote various aspects of the network’s programming.

Tracy also happens to be working with Hanes and is helping to provide parenting tips for their website.

We got the chance to interview Tracy on traveling with children and asked her how to make those family trips a tad more bearable… and even really fun!

Many parents find traveling with children very challenging, what are some easy ways that parents can make travels less stressful?

It’s all in the mindset. If you start off worrying how hard it is going to be instead of focusing on the adventure, it will be more trouble. Stay calm – if you get stressed, your kids will get stressed. Get your kids involved from the beginning: ask them to help plan and depending on how old they are, carefully explain that traveling can be tiring and hard and that you as parents need their cooperation. There will be times when everyone is tired, possibly can’t understand the language, and when the kids get a bit bored, but they really need to do their best to not get grumpy.

First thing’s first – make sure the kids are comfortable! Long gone are the days when moms dressed their kids in dressy clothes just for a plane ride. Get your kids in comfy clothes – I always make sure mine are wearing Hanes underwear; they love the super-soft waistband and the tagless design to eliminate in-seat squirming, especially on long trips. I also encourage them to wear layers; from airports to rental cars to trains, everywhere has a different temperature. A Hanes hoodie lets them put on or shed a layer whenever they want. Finally, I always pack an extra t-shirt or pants depending on how much room I have. That way, if your kids spill (and chances are they will!) you’re prepared and won’t have to face any future complaining.
Get the kids in on the action by having them carry something, especially if you’re traveling by train or plane. It makes them happy and involved and it can also help spread the burden around, especially if they are bit older. Even younger children can carry their own kid-sized backpacks with all their stuff. Kids love to emulate their parents and having their own suitcase or backpack actually makes them feel empowered and like a big kid!

If you have more than one child, be strategic with how you sit on the plane or train. If your son loves to poke your daughter on a regular basis, it might make sense to separate them into two rows (if you can) to cut down on time spent both refereeing and apologizing to nearby passengers. A car poses closer quarters so try to keep your kids entertained with fun games and toys – code words for distractions.

Once you’ve arrived, give your kids choices of things they’d like to do on the trip- they are less likely to complain about something they choose. I also encourage my kids to start a scrapbook, so while we’re visiting different places, they can also keep busy looking for things to fill their scrapbooks. Last resort – it is always good to have a portable DVD…or now you can even play movies on a computer or iPhone! Kids are kids and can only take so much moving around. Some downtime in front of a movie to unwind isn’t a bad thing, and if you are in a hotel it gives you a chance to plan the next day of your trip…or just relax yourself!

One of my biggest concerns with traveling is the amount of money we are spending on our travels. Do you have any money-saving tips that you could offer to parents?

Spend some quality time preparing for your trip by looking for things that are free to do in each destination. Look for locations that might be hosting free concerts, carnivals or festivals during your stay; research local trails to hike or free beaches to explore; determine which zoos or museums have free admission and when. Use your hotel concierge – ask when the best and least expensive time is to visit local tourist hot sports. Or, inquire about those hot spots off the beaten path – maybe there is a local bookstore that hosts a reading for children or an arts & crafts store that holds a free class each week – you never know!

Try a home exchange – that gives you free lodging, plus a house with a kitchen so you don’t have to eat every meal out. Travel off-season by going when the crowds are thin, especially if you can take your kids out of school a few days. Get a hotel room with a sofa bed for the kids so you don’t have to get an extra room.

What are some fun ways to keep children entertained when going on long trips?

In our car, we pack all kinds of music so the kids can sing, which helps keep them engaged and happy. We also do brain teasers. We talk about our destination and what each member of the family is excited to do once we get there. At the top of each hour, we break out special present or snack (but, no chocolate! If it melts, it gets everywhere!).

On planes, word searches, magna doodles, a deck of cards, are all invaluable. I also like books that allow kids to change the endings allowing for multiple reads. And once again, a movie is not a cop out.

One of my favorite ideas, no matter how we’re traveling, is putting together customized travel kits for each of my kids themed according to our destination. Just grab a brown paper bag, put their name on the front and fill them with all sorts of goodies. From healthy snacks to stickers to comic strips, their travel kits don’t have to cost much and are like spontaneous presents.

Finally, no matter how we’re traveling I like to encourage my kids to take something from home with them. Kids love the routine of home and so a favorite doll, pillow or blanket will put them at ease while on the road.

How can parents save money when it comes to dining on their travels?

Again, do your research. Look for hotels where kids eat for free or offer kids menus. A lot of places also offer free breakfasts. Stay in a home or hotel room with a small kitchenette so you can cook some meals yourself. That is a big money saver – even if you just eat one meal here.

Try not to order room service – that translates to higher prices and service fees…instead, pack your own snacks and put them in the hotel fridge. Explain to your kids (and husband) that the mini bar is off limits!!!

What are some fun and family friendly destinations that families should definitely visit?

Alaska – for the great outdoors…kayaking next to otters and bald eagles is amazing.

Washington DC – so many things are free like the National Mall and all its beautiful monuments.
The U.S. Mint is so cool to see money being made and the Smithsonian museums are top notch.

Hawaii – on Maui, we went zip lining, hiking, kayaking…it’s not just about sitting on a beach, but you can do that too! Lots of hotels also offer morning or all-day camps for the kids.

Galapagos Islands: for older kids.

And of course – Orlando and San Diego! C’mon! It may not be that original an idea, but they are only kids once :)

Do you have any tips for keeping your children safe when embarking on trips?

I make copies of their passports and keep an extra copy at home and another copy in my suitcase. I try and dress each child in the same color each day, so if in case anything did happen to one of them, I could tell the authorities what color they are wearing by looking at my other children.

Always talk to your children about the dangers associated with being in a new place…unfamiliar surroundings, new way around, etc. Make sure to come up with a plan if someone gets lost, and also give your child the name of where you are staying and a phone number on a piece of paper for his or her pocket.

Sound Off: Is your family embarking on a trip for spring break? What is your best travel tip?

Disney or Bust

Tuesday, February 19th, 2008

Normally, I ignore the majority of the press releases that come through my inbox, but I thought this one might be interesting to parents who are planning to travel for the very official and oh-so-expensive Spring Break! Yeah, baby!

finding Dulcinea has put together a web guide for how to do your Disney vacations on a budget. Here is a link to the web guide for how to get your mouse ears… and not lose your tail in the process. On our site, we have included the ten best children’s activities to do in Disney.

I am sure that many parents have made their pilgrimage to Disney so I am curious how you saved money on this vacation? Do you have any Disney tips or tricks that you are willing to share with our readers? We would love to hear them!