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Savvy Travel Items: Savvy Sassy Moms

Travel savvy must haves

As a woman who travels frequently, there are certain things I have to bring along to help me stay completely mobile and organized. When packing up my carry on or large tote — whether I’m traveling solo for work or on a trip with the family — these are some of the things that help keep me sane on the go: Laptop, iPad mini, headset, snacks, lotion, lip gloss, facial wipes, external batteries for my phone, tech bag for chargers and cords, business cards, sunscreen stick, notebook, Sharpies, screen wipes and my new wanderlust journal. I also always have a sweater or scarf tucked in my bag and my travel socks handy, just in case I am wearing sandals, because my feet get so cold on the plane.


Jackery External Battery Chargers: Savvy Sassy MomsJACKERY

Every savvy traveler travels with at least one external battery charger and, depending on if you are traveling with family or solo, you may need more than one for all those devices! There are a variety of Jackery chargers available, both in size and charging capabilities.

Jackery Mini is the size of a lipstick and a great option that will literally fit in your pocket or a clutch for an evening out. This is really for a one-time charge on-the-go — it’s a great back-up emergency charger or perfect for your kids phones. The Jackery Bar is a little bit bigger and will charge your phone twice before needing to be plugged in. I like having these in my carry on because they are small in size and will not weigh you down. You can always pack a larger one in your main luggage.


Savvy Travel Petunia Pickle BottomPetunia Picklebottom Case Jackery Savvy Sassy Travel

PETUNIA PICKLE BOTTOM

Packing up the electronics means lots of messy cords and chargers. I like to put all my cords and chargers in a designated tech case and I’ve found that a cosmetic bag is the perfect fit — not only doe sit get the job done, but gets it done in style! The Petunia Pickle Bottom Cosmetic Pouch is perfect for keeping all your cords, plugs and charges all together in one pretty place.

Savvy Travelers Screen Wipes and Teeth Wipes Savvy Sassy Moms
SAVVY TRAVELERS

One of my favorite new discoveries for savvy traveling is the products from Savvy Travelers. These small, disposable pouches of travel must-haves are so easy to travel with. They’re individually packaged and super lightweight, so you can throw them in your bag without worrying about it. Savvy Travelers IN THE KLEAR are lens and screen luxe sheets for cleaning all your devices and glasses — there’s nothing worse than a smudged up screen! While the SPEAK EAZY luxe wipes are the perfect alternative to packing your toothbrush and toothpaste on the plane — give your teeth a wipe and you’re fresh and ready for meeting friends or family at baggage claim!

One Truffle Travel Accessories Savvy Sassy Moms

ONE TRUFFLE

I’ve been a fan of these clear pouches for years now. One Truffle makes clear bags that keep things organized and protected from any spills. The large One Truffle Pouches are great for protecting electronics, cords and chargers or they can be used for cosmetics or jewelry. When you have all the important items in one nice bag you can easily transfer it to different handbags in a second. The larger pouch is perfect for my notebook, iPad mini, Sharpies and my business cards!

Wanderlust Bucket List Axel and Ash Savvy Sassy Moms Travel

AXEL & ASH

The latest add to my carry on is the wanderlust journal from Axel and Ash. This book is great for documenting where you are going, what your travel expectations are and for journaling about what you see and do. I realize that many of us take notes and document things by photographs and thorugh social media, but there is something wonderful about physically writing with pen and paper what you are experiencing. These books also prompt you with questions, so you might even discover more about a place then you originally intended.

Other travel style savvy must-haves

Hand cream: Kiehl’s First Class Hand Purifying Treatment  / Facial wipes:  Yes to Cucumbers Facial Wipes / Sunscreen stick: Sun Bum Face Stick

Travel safe & stylish!
Savvy Travel packing your carry on Savvy Sassy Moms

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CityGems Logo

Living in the very upper left part of the U.S. has its perks. One of the major ones: We’re within a short drive of the beautiful lower mainland of British Columbia, Canada. Rare border-crossing hassles aside, we get easy access to all of the awesome kid fun in Vancouver, without having to endure the cost of living in this spendy little part of the world.

Taking Kids to Vancouver, BC

Here’s a collection of some of our favorite affordable kid-friendly spots in the Vancouver metro area:

The Stanley Park Miniature Train

 

City Gems: Stanley Park Miniature Train in Vancouver, BC

Built in 1964, the Stanley Park Miniature Train carries more than 200,000 passengers each year. It runs year-round but in the late fall changes to a Halloween Ghost Train (save that trip for your older kiddos!) and during the holiday season becomes the widely-popular Stanley Park Bright Nights Christmas Train. We rode the little circuit it travels on last summer and it was a blast!

The SkyTrain

Kid Fun in Vancouver, BC: Riding the SkyRail

From kid-sized train to big one. Large-scale events like the 2010 Winter Olympics and well before that, Expo 86 (the 1986 World’s Fair) boosted the need for public transportation from parts of the lower mainland to Vancouver’s downtown area. Enter the Skytrain. Above ground in the suburbs and underground in the city, just the experience of riding this train can be an adventure for little ones. We park in Richmond, BC and take the train straight to downtown, watching the sights as we go.

Vancouver Aquarium

Visiting Vancouver with Kids: Don't miss the aquarium!

A list of kid-favorites in Vancouver wouldn’t be complete without including the Vancouver Aquarium, located in Stanley Park. While you can see most of the aquarium in a few hours, it’s well worth it to visit this spot again and again. The educational shows, held in different areas throughout the aquarium, are entertaining and informative. The highlight of our last trip to the aquarium for my girls? High-fiving a scuba diver while he was swimming in the shark tank.

The beaches

The Best Vancouver Beaches for Kids

We’ve dug our toes in the sand at both Kitsilano Beach (Insider Tip: Call it Kits’ Beach to sound like a local) and Second Beach in Stanley Park. Sandcastle building for the kids; amazing people watching for the adults. Both have playgrounds located adjacent to the beach for some bonus sand-free fun.

Granville Island

How to get to Granville Island in Vancouver

Touristy? Yes. Worth it? Yes. Granville Island is a spot we visit over and over again, both with kids and without. Part of the fun is getting there: From downtown, hop on one of the tiny foot ferries to take you across busy but beautiful False Creek. Visit the Granville Island Public Market to sample of variety of Canadian goodies and pick up lunch from one of the numerous food vendors. In a separate building, the Kids Market has a giant indoor play area with kid-centric shops and eats. Granville is home to the biggest free water park in North America, complete with water slide, plus an awesome playground.

Side note: A few weeks ago, on a very hot Saturday, we decided to go on a big adventure to visit Granville’s splash park. We endured a longer-than-usual border crossing, parked in Richmond, took the Skytrain to Yaletown, boarded the Aquabus to Granville, ate lunch in an extremely-crowded spot and finally walked to the splash park only to turn the corner and find it shut down due to water restrictions resulting from the bad forest fires in Northern BC. Word to the wise: Check the website before you make this sort of trek. Both kids were toast by the time we got back to the Skytrain.  (Read: #parentingfail.)

Sans-kids bonus: Granville Island is also home to one of our favorite date-night spots, The Sandbar. There’s yummy food, a great local beer selection and best of all: an incredible view of the city from the rooftop patio. Read more about it here.

Watermania

Taking Your Kids to Watermania in Vancouver

Watermania is one of those places that’s soooo good that I almost want to keep it a secret. A hidden gem tucked less than a mile kilometer off of the freeway in Richmond, Watermania is our go-to spot in Canada for rainy days. While it has an Olympic-size pool for lap swimming, a giant hot tub, a full fitness center and two water slides, the crown jewel is the large wave pool, complete with a toddler-sized play area right in the middle of the shallow end.

We seriously love this place. It’s super clean, with family-friendly changing areas and huge locker rooms. And, it’s a great value – admission for our family of four is $15 Canadian. On our last visit, my 4-year-old went down the slide approximately 45 times. Watermania is located in Riverport Sports and Entertainment Complex which also includes an ice rink, bowling alley, IMAX movie theatre, trampoline park, laser tag area and an Old Spaghetti Factory. It’s also conveniently around the corner from the Richmond Ikea. We’ve been known to spend the morning at Watermania, do lunch in the Ikea cafeteria and enjoy a quiet ride home with two exhausted kids konked out in their car seats.

Our list of favorites continues to grow as we explore more of the Vancouver area, but these family-friendly City Gems that can’t be missed!

This post was contributed by Jessica Spencer who is part of the Savvy Sassy Mom Product Scouts program. You can find more from Jessica on her blog, The Average Jess.

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St Louis Arch

I’ve lived in St. Louis nearly 15 years and never have I loved this city more now that I have children.  St. Louis has so many amazing attractions and events for kids, most of which are completely free! This affordable, drivable, small city is packed with fun activities, beautiful parks, amazing museums and some of the best food in the Midwest. We are more than just a baseball and brewery town (although we really like those, too). Welcome to my city!

Where to PLAY

City Gems: Exploring St. Louis with Kids: Grant's Farm

Grant’s Farm: This unique St. Louis attraction combines the appeal of a zoo with the local history of the Anheuser-Busch legacy. Free to the public, admission includes a tram ride through an animal preserve, animal shows and even free beer (for adults only). This is also where you can meet all the famous Budweiser Clydesdales. Mom tip: Buy the $5 pass so your kids can feed the goats, take a carousel ride and get a snow cone. If you don’t do all three, the card can be redeemed on your next trip.

CityGems: Exploring St. Louis with KidsEckert’s Country Store & Farms (Belleville): Eckert’s is a great place to take kids and fill your grocery cart at the same time. Located about 25 minutes from downtown, it’s open year-round, but go during “Pick Your Own” season, which begins with strawberries in May and continues through fall with vegetables, apples, blackberries, peaches and pumpkins. Picking is easy for kids of all ages and they love the tractor ride to the fields.

City Gems: St. Louis Forest Park Forest Park: I don’t think anyone can do a St. Louis feature without mentioning Forest Park. One of the 100 largest parks in the country (over 1,300 acres), it houses our world-class St. Louis Zoo, the History Museum, Art Museum, Muny Amphitheater and Science Center… all of which are free to the public.  And if that wasn’t enough, it has an ice skating rink, a tennis complex, an 18-hole golf course, a boathouse (with paddle boats), multiple playgrounds, lakes, streams, running trails and wooded areas (perfect for family photos).

City Gems: St. Louis Magic House

Magic House: The St. Louis Magic House is truly one of the gems of our city. It’s packed full of fun and interesting science and problem-solving exhibits, which create a hands-on learning environment for kids of all ages. Some of our favorite exhibits are the imaginary shops, art center, outdoor construction area, 3-story beanstalk, bubble room and the giant electromagnet ball that will make your hair stand on end! Mom tip: Leave for lunch and come back to play for the rest of the day — try Dewey’s Pizza in downtown Kirkwood.

Yucandu Art Studio: This is a unique retail store and interactive art studio in Webster Groves, which is interesting for both children and adults. They provide the materials (paint, beads, paper, ribbon, tiles, etc.) and teach you the steps so that “yucandu” the projects yourself. They offer mosaic, collage and/or paint projects for a small hourly studio fee, which includes staff guidance, use of tools and brushes and complete clean-up!

Creation Station at the Museum of Transportation: The Creation Station is a hands-on learning environment dedicated to introducing children (ages 5 and under) to all modes of transportation while focusing on play, imagination and interaction. This large brightly-lit room is filled with train tables, play houses, books, costumes, cars and racetracks. Mom tip: There’s almost always a Groupon available for discounted entry.

Citygarden: Located in the heart of downtown St. Louis, Citygarden is two square city blocks long, filled with sculptures, gardens and trails, as well as fountains, waterfalls, spray parks and wading pools perfect for splashing in on a hot summer day. Within walking distance of Busch Stadium, Ballpark Village, the Gateway Arch, the Old Courthouse, Peabody Opera House, Scottrade Center and a variety of shops and restaurants.

City Gems: Ices Plain & Fancy in St. Louis

Where to TREAT

Ices Plain and Fancy: This is St. Louis’s first (and only) made-to-order, liquid nitrogen ice cream parlor. The process is totally amazing — an ice cream base and your add-ins go into a mixer, followed by liquid nitrogen and they’re quickly blended while clouds of cold smoke pour out. The mixture gets so cold it has to be blow-torched from the bowl!  Mom tip: Make dad drive and get one of their boozy drinks if you’re having one of those days.

Jilly’s Cupcake Bar: Jilly’s has won Food Network’s Cupcake Wars two times and is hands-down the best cupcake shop in the Midwest. Flavors change monthly, but some of my favorites include Key Lime Gooey Butter, Chocolate Thunder and 24-Karat Carrot Cake.

This post was contributed by Sara McCarty as part of the Savvy Sassy Moms Product Scouts program. You can find more about Sara on her blog Running from the Law

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When your family consists of more than one child, life can oftentimes feel like a survival series. Once school is back in session — with the constant stream of after-school activities, homework and getting ready for the holidays — life can seem like a tornado coming at you full speed ahead. Slow down and connect with each of your children by planning a one-on-one travel date and you’ll be amazed at how much you can learn about your kid and how much fun you can have.

kid travel ideas travel date

I have been lucky enough to take each of my kids on a one-on-one travel date and to some pretty cool spots, too. On these trips, I have had the MOST fun connecting with each of my boys and I hope to make this a regular event.

Planning your one-on-one kid vacation

When you’re coming up with kid travel ideas for your one-on-one travel date, it’s really important to focus on what your kid likes. If your kids are anything like my kids, they have completely different interests. My older one is more adventurous and athletic, while my younger one is inclined to take things more slowly. Needless to say, each of our trips will be completely different, and it’s important to plan accordingly.

Here are some tips:

  • Include your child in the planning process. What activities does he want to do? Where would he want to go? How does he want to spend his one-on-one time with you?
  • Coordinate with school. Your kid will survive a few days out of school – you’ll make it educational anyway, right? Ask your child’s teacher any work you can take along with you on the trip and carve out time daily to complete it.
  • Prep your other child(ren) for your special one-on-one time and simply remind them that their time will soon come, too. You may also need to prep your spouse (you can encourage him/her to enjoy their own special time with the kid who is staying).
  • In fact, you should encourage your spouse to take his own travel date with the kids. He will give them a totally different, completely memorable experience.
  • Choose a destination that will give you a variety of activities, and give you maximum flexibility. I  know in both of my one-on-one travel dates, I had all these grandiose plans for how things would go, but something inevitably happens. Must. Be. Flexible.
  • If you’re heading out of the country (and might I recommend Mexico or the Bahamas?), you should go ahead and order your child’s passport. Actually, go ahead and order their passport anyway (we should all have an up-to-date passport!)
  • Also, when traveling without the other parent, it is required by law to bring a notarized letter acknowledging the trip is ok. Read more about this on the US Border Patrol and Customs Protection website.
  • Record as much as you can; video, photos, journaling. Then, when you get home create a hard copy photo album and an online album, too.

I found that traveling one-on-one with each of my kids incredibly eye-opening. Come to find out my oldest is not nearly as aggravating when his little brother isn’t around, and my youngest is much more self-sufficient than I give him credit for. I was able to get to know my kids individually without the distractions of everyday life.

one on one travel date collage

Getting away with one of your kids is totally fun and incredibly rewarding. Look at that face!

Kid travel ideas

Plan a BIG trip for a particular birthday, such as Hawaii, Europe, or even a long road trip and plan to go on big adventures. (Your spouse may be jealous, but you and your special guy will have the trip of a lifetime!).

Can’t do a big trip? No problem, stay stateside. Our friend Tonya of Letters for Lucas, recently took her guy to Chicago, Keryn of Walking on Travels took her little guy on a boat in Seattle and I was able to spend a few days with my little one here at Snow Mountain Ranch in Colorado. The point is, that there are so many options for adventure when you consider the what kind of stuff your kid is into.

So, what if you don’t have the budget to fly somewhere? Consider a stay-cation in your very own community!  I have not done this yet, but I love the idea of taking one of my boys to a local hotel (that has a pool) and staying the night. We would consider local “adventures” and I would let them run the show.

Really the possibilities are endless when thinking about kid travel ideas. They enjoy the one-on-one time as much as we do.

one on one travel date collage

A one-on-one travel date will create lasting memories. I sure do love this kid!

Your family is a precious commodity and investing in life’s moments not only adds a richness, it also creates a deeper connection when you take the time to create memorable one-on-one moments. It just goes by too quickly!

What are your favorite kid travel ideas for a one-on-one travel date?
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walking-on-travelsTraveling with kids is great. It’s amazing! It’s easy! It’s perfect in every way! Ummm… no. Travel with kids, just like anything you do as a parent, is far from perfect or easy, and is sometimes just not that much fun. There are missteps, accidents, local snafus and a few awkward moments to say the least.

Stranger danger

While traveling in China on business with my son, then 20-months-old, I had an odd encounter with a woman outside of the local Wal-Mart (yes, even China has giant box stores). As I approached the entrance a she came towards us and started reaching for my son.

Normally the locals would just pat his cheek and gesture that he was adorable. This is something I was more than used to after two trips to this part of the world. However, her objective was more than a simple hello. I used every hand gesture and Chinese word I knew (I know three words total) to convey to her that no, she could not unstrap my child from his stroller and pick him up. This crossed a line that my jet-lagged brain just couldn’t handle at that moment.

Thankfully the woman quickly backed off, and understood my concerns. The people I met in China were extremely friendly, and I will say that my blue-eyed son may be a minor celebrity at this point since he had his picture taken multiple times a day. Rarely did anyone make me feel uncomfortable with his or her attention. It was a nuisance to stop so much for photos, but it was a fun experience that allowed us to meet more people than we would have on our own without my son.

Embarrassing moments

Speaking of uncomfortable, sometimes you will come across situations that you just might not be ready to explain to your kids. Jessica from Suitcases and Sippy Cups begged her boys to stop pestering her when their family was lost in Athens trying to find their hotel.

One of her sons suggested they ask the ladies standing on the corner for help. Little did her son know, although Jessica certainly did, that these were women on the night looking for their next job. Jessica’s sons were too young to understand what was going on, but Jessica was mortified and begged her husband to figure it out and get them to their hotel. Jessica looks back on this story now and laughs, but I’m sure it will go down in history as “that time we saw hookers in Greece and mom wouldn’t let us stop to ask them for directions cause she was too embarrassed.”

Walking On Travels
Accidents

Unfortunately not every travel snafu is hilarious. During our 5-week trip around Europe we were visiting Tuscany with a few friends. Our kids were playing. I repeatedly asked my oldest, who was 3 at the time, to stop playing with the gate by the steps. Apparently his ears were not working no matter how much I yelled.

A few minutes later I heard my friend gasped and I turned around. Never have I heard such a guttural cry come out of my mouth. I watch my son roll head over feet down the stone steps of the agritourismo we were staying at. I saw his neck breaking in my mind, bones shattering and losing my son forever. My heart still clenches just thinking about this moment.

I ran past him on the steps so I could catch him before he fell anymore. I scooped him up and was convinced I would never ever let him go. I got him to a chair and started feeling every bone in his body. He was fine. He had a gash on the side of his head from where he had clipped a stone edge, but other than that he was perfectly fine. He screamed more while I tried to clean the gash and figure out if he needed stitches than he did after the fall. Promises of gelato calmed everyone down. I got him bandaged up and we all headed into town. I kept a careful watch on my son to make sure he didn’t have a concussion, and yes, I woke up every hour that night to make sure he was still breathing.

Life with kids is crazy, whether you are at home or exploring a distant land. Accidents happen, cultural snafus occur and you will meet people from every walk of life. Roll with what your travels bring you, pack a first aid kit and maybe pray a little extra hard while on the road. These things can happen anywhere.

Parenthood isn’t perfect, so you better figure out where you want to do it. I prefer the back roads of Tuscany, ladies of the night and friendly strangers myself.

What crazy traveling-with-kids story do you have?
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Hawaii The Big IslandThe weather is starting to cool down. Winter is on the way. There is no better time to book a ticket to the active Big Island of Hawaii to explore the wonders it holds.

Fabulous weather

Located near the Tropic of Cancer, Hawaii, The Big Island enjoys year-round warm weather and sun. OK, well the west side of the island does! This is a tropical island through and through. While the west side of the island (Kona) will generally see a whole lot of sun, the east side of the island (Hilo) gets a fair amount of rain. Year-round the weather is generally in the 80s. The sun beats down creating the perfect beach weather, while the nights cool off ever so slightly — making it a fabulous time to take an evening stroll or dine al fresco.

Hawaii The Big Island

Cheap flights

With fabulous weather usually comes the crowds, right? Wrong. In November you will see airfare drop and the crowds thin out. Kids are in school and it isn’t quite Thanksgiving in the U.S. Once the holidays hit you will see plane ticket prices spike again — but those first few magical weeks of November, and sometimes early December, hold discounted airfares you won’t see any other time of the year. Keep an eye especially on Hawaiian Air, Alaska Air and recently Delta Air, for specials and autumn promotional rates.

Hawaii The Big Island

Low season accommodations

Airlines aren’t the only ones discounting their prices. You may see a drop in hotel room and vacation rental rates as well. Hotels and owners want to fill up their empty spaces. Now is the time to dive in, do a little negotiating and get the room you always wanted. However, book early whenever possible. The secret is getting out. Parents with young kids and those willing to pull their children out of school for a week are catching onto this price break and booking up some of the best spots. You don’t want to be left out!

Hawaii The Big Island

Great eats

The Big Island is no stranger to great food. From sushi to poke and French toast to burgers you won’t go hungry here. The farmer’s markets are a must to load up on some of the cheapest produce you will see in the islands and on the mainland. Try a fruit you have never had before, push your kids to dive into that local catch and don’t forget to indulge in the island’s favorite dessert — Tropical Dreams ice cream and shave ice.

Hawaii The Big Island

Gorgeous beaches

You will be hard-pressed to find beaches as fine anywhere else in the United States than you will in the Hawaiian islands. Discover baby beaches, a surfer’s paradise, tide pools, boogie board spots for beginners and experts, and calm snorkeling waters to get your little marine biologist out exploring.

Volcanoes National ParkVolcanic discovery

No trip to the Big Island is complete without a trip to Volcanoes National Park on the east side of the island. Be forewarned, it is cold on the volcano. Wear pants and pack at least a sweatshirt, if not a coat and hat. The altitude is higher, rain is a usual occurrence and the wind can really kick up around the park. Escape the rain in the Thurston Lava Tubes, a favorite for little explorers even without a flashlight. Don’t miss the caldera after dark when you can really see the glow of the volcano below.

With snow just around the corner what are you waiting for? Book your ticket, pack up the kids and get some much-needed vitamin D before the holidays take off. You all deserve a little rest and relaxation. With fabulous process there is really no excuse!

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pumpkin patch

It’s that time again. Time to bundle up the kids, throw on some rain boots and go mucking about in a pumpkin patch. Mentally brace yourself for the amount of mud, grass, and hay that will probably end up in your car. You may even ask yourself why you are traipsing out to a pumpkin patch when you could just hop down to the local market and pick out one of the lovely clean pumpkins they have in a nice pile. It can’t just be for the photo opps of your kids can it? Well, yes, that is part of the reason you go, but it’s also because going to the pumpkin patch signals the change of the seasons and the coming of winter. Plus, if you do it right, it could be one heck of a delicious afternoon.

Now there are a few things you need to think about before you head to the patch this year: 

  • How far do you want to drive?
  • Are there activities for the kids?
  • Do you want pumpkins on the vine or just in a pretty stack at the farm?
  • Will you pack a snack?
  • Is fresh cider and donuts available?
  • What weekend will you go?
  • If you have to go on a weekday, is it even open? Many only have weekend hours.

Once you know the answer to some of these questions you can narrow down your search. If you have no clue where to start, here are a few helpful hints that will get you to the right pumpkin patch for your family.

Pumpkins

Pumpkins on the vine

In my family this is a necessity. My husband doesn’t want just any pumpkin. He wants to bring our boys out into the field to cut their very own. This tradition is more sacred than cutting down a Christmas tree in our house. Research you local farms. Ask if they will still have pumpkins on the vines when you want to go. The closer you get to Halloween the more picked over the patch will be. Choose your dates wisely.

Fun to launch you into the season

Picking out a pumpkin isn’t as simple as it used to be. For parents who love to keep their energetic offspring entertained, they need a whole lot of fun piled into their trip to the farm. Many farms have embraced this yearly event by offering tractor rides out to the field. This brings a smile to a child’s face as they are finally allowed aboard a vehicle they have only heard about on TV or in books (especially if they are a city kid). Bonus for mom and dad: you get to put your feet up before you trek through the field.

Pre- and post-pumpkin picking activities may include farm animals to pet, hay mazes to navigate, and in the case of one of our favorite spots, a pumpkin being shot out of a cannon or catapulted into a field. Either way that pumpkin exploding as it hits the crowd is pretty darn cool. Pony rides, face painting, cider pressing, and pumpkin carving may also be found at many local farms.

Hayride

It’s all about the donuts… and cider

As I already mentioned, the art of pumpkin picking is a pretty big deal in our house. This dates back to my husband’s own childhood and possible into his father’s. I was raised picking out the perfect pumpkin at the grocery store. However, after that quick stop, we would also grab fresh cider and donuts. This is where the autumnal spirit really comes alive for me. It took about three trips to different farms in the Seattle area for me to find what I was looking for, but we finally found it. My hubby got the pumpkin patch and I got to sit down and sip piping hot cider and fresh out of the fryer donuts with a bit of cinnamon and sugar sprinkled on top. My feeling is if I can’t have cider and donuts what’s the point?

If you live in the Midwest or Northeast of the United States you will want to make sure you keep an eye out for cider donuts. These should not be missed. Pumpkin donuts can also be found, which may go very well with that pumpkin spice latte you snagged on your way to the farm; although these days, I wouldn’t be surprised if you found a latte at the pumpkin patch too.

Now that you have a few ideas to get you started, what are you waiting for? Grab the kids, throw those rain boots on with a smile and get ready to make some memories. Don’t forget the camera either. When your child tries to pick up that 40 pound pumpkin you aren’t going to want to miss it!

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Pacapod diaper bag

The Portland Pacapod

For many of us, the second that little stick pops up with a plus sign we start to think about all of the stuff we are going to need. Oh sure we take a moment to celebrate, shake off the shock that it has finally happened for us, and/or hug our partner because, well, life is now changed forever and this is something to savor.

Once you are finished your celebrations (and mourning the loss of a glass of wine at dinner every night), you start making your list: onesies, diapers, wipes, burp clothes, etc. But where in the world will you put it all? The logical answer is a diaper bag. Let me be the first to tell you, not all diaper bags are created equal. Some bags create chaos, while others, like the Portland by Pacapod, shine a light on just how organized life with a baby can be.

Portland PacapodJacqueline Waggett, the genius behind the British company Pacapod, saw a need for more organization in her own life. She didn’t want to scrounge through a monstrous bag anytime she needed a snack for her kids. After years working as a designer for outdoor gear, and cycling the world with only 2 bike bags, she was ready to tackle the diaper bag when her own wee ones came along.

What she came up with is a stylish bag that can hold two “pods,” one insulated for baby food, snacks and milk, and the other for diaper changing accouterments. No longer would parents find a dirty diaper next to their kid’s sandwich, a very unsanitary and gross discovery I assure you. Now mom could throw her laptop and wallet in the same bag as her kid’s diapers, change of clothes, stuffed animal and lunch.

Portland Pacapod diaper bagThe sleek design of this black bag was manly enough for my husband to carry with ease, while still being practical for our every day activities. Swim camp was a breeze as I whipped out a swimsuit for my oldest and a few snacks to keep the baby entertained. Yogurt stayed cool in the insulated pod all morning until it could be consumed when I dropped the kids off with their dad for a little playtime at the office. I loved that I could take out one or both pods to hand off, or even clip to a stroller separately from the main bag. Even better, there were built in hooks for each pod, plus straps for the bag if I wanted to sling my Pacapod over the grocery cart handle. Finally the baby didn’t have to share the cart seat with my huge purse.

One trick to this bag is that although you can easily find the things you need for your kids, mom’s stuff can be a little more difficult. There are pockets to hold what I needed easy access too, but with everything I had to carry, it was hard to shove my hand in there to get my notebook or even wallet out on our busiest day. The bag does expand, but it feels very bulky. I liked it better when I could zip up the bottom for a smaller, more compact bag. When we weren’t running at top speed, I could still carry the pods for the kids, while leaving the additional compartments and pockets available for my laptop, wallet, keys, lip gloss, phone, and a few pens and a notebook.

Portland PacapodThe Portland is the mid-range bag and definitely a lifesaver for anyone looking to get organized when out with their kids. If you love a little leather and want to add some fun fashion to your mama look, check out the Phoenix in the Pacapod luxury line. My heart skips a little beat just thinking about that slouch style bag.

Pacapod ZebraAnd don’t worry, if your kids get jealous of your snazzy new bag, there is one for them too. Adorable animal print backpacks for boys and girls allow you to put all their most treasured possessions in one spot. There is also a leash if you need to keep a tight hold on your little runner. A photo slot in front allows your child to personalize their bag, or just remember their favorite loved ones back home when they travel.

So is this bag for you and your little one? Well as Pacapod says, “If you have a head for organization and a heart for style this will be a bag you can’t live without. Now all you need to decide is which changing bag is for you?”

Disclaimer: I was sent the Pacapod for review. The above is my own savvy sassy opinion.

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The Gulf Coast is a mecca of flavor, culture and good ol’ southern hospitality. It doesn’t hurt that there are pockets of pristine sandy-white beaches, turquoise water and loads of coastal activities to choose from. I had the great fortune of visiting four of the five Gulf Coast states recently with my little ones and here are a few of the discoveries we made along the way.

Gator Country

Beaumont, Texas

things to do on the gulf coast, gator country

Though it’s technically not “on the coast,” Gator Country in Beaumont, Texas is still close enough – just off I-10 – for me to consider a must-do (especially if you have reptile-adoring little boys in tow). Gator Country is stocked with hundreds of alligators, crocodiles, snapping turtles, snakes and tons of other reptiles.

I knew we were in for an adventure upon entering the park, as we had to cross a wooden bridge over ferocious, snapping alligators (okay, they weren’t that ferocious just swimming around, but I swear I almost backed out when I opened a booby-trapped cooler labeled “gator food.” If you go, DO NOT open that cooler!) The boys thought it was hilarious that I was such a scaredy-cat mess, so I knew I had to keep my composure a little better.

The bridge led us to a great wooden building filled to the brim with reptilian life. We were thrilled to have gotten there just as they were feeding the baby alligators and all had a chance to pet and hold them (somehow “petting” an alligator just seems wrong, but it was still super cool) before we ventured out to meet the granddaddy of them all, Big Al, the largest alligator in captivity in Texas.

Alligator ponds scattered about the property, and were thankfully tucked behind protective fencing. Big Al was feeling quite shy in his solo-occupied corner unit, but everywhere else gators seemed to have been divided by size and were rampant (did I mention there were hundreds of alligators at this park? More than 350!) Apparently, admission includes swimming with the gators, but I was not about to go there.

The boys loved – I mean loved! – seeing all these cool creatures and had a great time feeding the alligators a snack (aka dog food, who knew alligators liked dog food?). We will definitely go back!

HINT: If you tune into CMT, Animal Planet, Bravo or A&E you may catch an episode of Gator Rescue, with the park’s owner, Gary Saurage, who is a an alligator rescuer and conservationist.

Satchmo Summer Festival

New Orleans, Louisiana

things to do on the gulf coast, satchmo fest new orleans

When you think of New Orleans most likely you think about Mardi Gras or Jazzfest, but if you’re on the Gulf Coast in the summertime you will not want to miss the Satchmo Summer Festival. Every year in early August the city of New Orleans celebrates the birthday of local music hero, Mr. Louis Armstrong.

This family-friendly festival is filled with kids’ art activities, music, local cuisine and most importantly, access to air conditioning in the French Quarter’s Old Mint. I loved showing off one of my favorite cities to the kids in this smaller locals festival, it was like a taster package. They danced to the music with their freshly decorated second-line parasols, caught beads from a mini-parade, tasted crawfish bread and rode in a pedi-cab through the Quarter. Best of all, it was FREE! I love New Orleans.

HINT: New Orleans is a surprisingly awesome family destination. You won’t  want to miss the Audubon Zoo, Audubon Aquarium of Americas and Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium.

Biloxi Shrimping Trip

Biloxi, Mississippi things to do on the gulf coast, biloxi shrimping tour

The Biloxi Shrimping Trip is more than a boat ride, it’s a hands-on excursion into the Gulf where the agenda is learning all about the shrimping business, the history of shrimping in Biloxi AND actually catching some real-live shrimp.

We learned that from the 1800’s – 1969 Biloxi was the Shrimping Capital of the World and all about how refrigeration changed the industry. We learned about the different varieties of shrimp: white, brown, pink and royal red, and that Biloxi shrimp is the Best in the World (Captain Mike and tour guide Steve both swear it’s true and I really believe them!)

HINT: This trip is a great value (only $15 for adults/$10 for kids). Try to go during shrimping season May through August.

Waterville USA | Water and Amusement Park

Gulf Shores, Alabama things to do on the gulf coast, waterville

My kids LOVED Waterville! With water slides, lazy river, wave pool, plus a roller coaster, go-carts, and game room, how could you not? I felt safe enough at this perfectly sized amusement park to let my kids partner up with some friends and do their own exploring.

HINT: Get there early to claim a shady spot. Outside food is not allowed in but tailgating in the parking lot is perfectly acceptable.

The Beach at Orange Beach

Orange Beach, Alabama things to do on the gulf coast, orange beach

I can think of no other vacation that makes my entire family so happy, for so many hours, than a day at the beach. But, not just any beach; the sand has to have the perfect consistency for sandcastle building; the water has to be warm enough to jump right in, yet cool enough to escape the heat; the waves must be big enough to body surf, yet not intimidating to little beach companions. Enter the beaches of Orange Beach (and the rest of the Emerald Coast that spans down into Florida). Spend a few days here anytime of the year and your body and soul will be forever grateful.

HINT: Find great lodging with HomeAway vacation rentals by owner.

The possibilities of options are truly endless along the Gulf Coast, whether you visit the western-most side in Texas, the southern tip down in Florida or anywhere in between, the entire coast is peppered with fantastic activities, food, music and culture. It truly is my favorite region in the United States.

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How to survive a road trip without losing your mind

The wide open road was calling my name…

Family road trips have always been one of those things I have been excited about since before even having kids. I would imagine summer vacations revolving around a packed car-full of kids, hitting up roadside attractions and loads of slap-happy good times.

So, with boys now getting to a good road trippin’ age (4 and 7), I decided to make a plan to fulfill my many decade-long (albeit, young and naive) dream of hitting the wide open road. My family road trip (sans Hubby) spanned 11 states in 17 days, and in-the-car hours totaled a whopping 56.

Wrap your head around that for a minute … fifty six hours in the car with two, can’t-sit-still, active little boys.

Needless to say, I learned a thing or two about traveling with kids on a long car ride!

Oh, but don't they look so cute and sweet?

Oh, but don’t they look so cute and sweet?

Think it is impossible without a large dose of mommy-happy-pills? Think again! It IS possible and even (gasp!) FUN. Here are some road trip tips and tricks, I learned along the way.

Preparation for your road trip is key

I’m not talking about simply figuring the best route from out point A to point B. I’m talking about planning for the meltdowns, too many questions, potty-breaks and constant wanting to buy plastic-schlock at every pit stop. I will go into detail on some of these, but in the meantime here is a list of my must-have items.

My road trip essentials included:
  • Seat back organizers with plenty of pockets, totally stocked with workbooks, healthy snacks, colored pencils and little toys
  • Headrest iPad cases for easy movie viewing (iPad also stocked with not-quite-new-but-still-fresh apps)
  • Plastic trays with storage space
  • Two rolls of quarters
  • Healthy snacks
  • Travel Fairy gifts
  • Printed kid-sized maps and state information cards
  • Audio books, including a Spanish language learning audio book
  • A bin FULL of wear-‘em-out-roadside activities
  • An empty Gatorade bottle
  • Two coolers; one for beverages and one for food
A good set up is an important part of a successful road trip.

A good set up is an important part of a successful road trip.

Setting your road-trippin’ rules

Before we headed out on our journey, I made sure to set some ground rules. There were the obvious rules: no whining, no throwing, no hitting, and no telling-me-you-need-to-pee AFTER-we-leave-the-rest stop (or they would have to pee in the Gatorade bottle – this obviously only works with boys).

Another rule was that the boys had to try local cuisine and participate in local activities, without the above-mentioned whining. But, the most important rule was that we were going to have fun (damnit!)

Bribery on the road? It works!

So, how did I get the “rules” to actually stick? Bribery. That is sad and pathetic, huh? However, it works…. like, really, really works. Here were my two bribing techniques:

  1. Money – Give each child a roll of quarters just prior to long travel days and remind them of the rules. Then, the way it works is, if they break a rule (and, I added “ be generally annoying” to the list), I would take anywhere from one to four quarters away. Whatever they had left, they could spend on just about anything they wanted (I did have to talk the older one out of a crappy, plastic $9 game, once).  This WORKED! I only took away about $1 each. And, having this little threat kept more fights at bay than I can count. Go me!
  2. Travel Fairy gifts – Prior to our trip, I – ahem, I mean the Travel Fairy – started stocking up on little, inexpensive gifts. The Travel Fairy would magically trickle these gifts during our long driving days when the boys were obviously starting to get antsy.  They got new coloring books, Legos, little puzzles and new iPad apps.
Snacks for long car rides

Sugar consumption with kids is an interesting topic. I have talked to moms who have kids that are not affected by sugary snacks (!) and I have my own experiences. One Thanksgiving my youngest had two pieces of pie and chocolate ice cream; he was a spazz for three days straight! (I kid you not.) My oldest is so tuned into it, he self moderates. It’s a good thing he knows when to stop (or maybe I’m a bit too obsessed?)

Needless, to say, I had to be careful of what kind of snacks and food to pack, especially on days when I knew we were going to be logging in five to seven hours on the road. The last thing I needed was to a) take away quarters, b) start screaming while driving – there must be a law against that, right? or c) knowingly sabotage my many-months-of-planning perfect road trip. When restaurants did not offer healthy sides, I even went so far as to bring my own carrots. Yes, I have turned into one of “those moms.”

Some of the road trip snacks I packed included: cheese sticks, baby carrots, apples, raisins, pretzels, and nuts. But, don’t get me wrong, I did allow my kids special treats from time to time, just not as a snack option in the car.

Traveling well beyond the car

Probably the most fun part of the trip was when we all got a little goofy and started making up games. My 4-year old made up a True or False game where he would throw out these random questions that would get us all giggly. Another game we played was “Would you rather?” (Ex. Would you rather eat a live snake or a dead dog?) We were entertained for hours, even though it got utterly disgusting, AND, we learned a ton of interesting facts (thank you iPhone.)

Beyond the games, we created a ton of really imaginative stories (my boys amazed me with their stories!) We imagined living in the parts of the country that we were visiting and talked about what after-school activities we would do there. We talked about the people who could have settled that part of the world, about where they originally came from, about what they could have been like and so much more. We did a lot of talking.

Roadside stops

I am blessed with two wonderful, amazing, super-fun and energetic little boys.  During our day-to-day life, I’m constantly on the go, taking them to soccer practice, riding bikes, skiing, running, swimming, playing American Ninja Warrior and SO much more. I was pretty nervous about being in a car with my little athletes for multiple hours on end. So, I decided to NOT fight it, but to embrace it! I packed a bin of wear-‘em-outables for pit stop fun.

My bin included: a soccer ball, jump ropes, scooters, a few golf clubs and balls, small tennis rackets and balls, and pool toys (for our hotel visits). On lunch stops – at local city parks or rest stops – they would get their ya-ya’s out while I prepped the food.

My wear-'em-out bin included scooters and golf clubs.

My wear-’em-out bin included scooters and golf clubs.

In addition to my wear-’em-out bin, I made sure every hotel had a pool. So as soon as we checked in, they could swim, swim, swim. Plus, pool-side dining and working in the evenings isn’t so bad!

I mastered poolside working, eating and relaxation!

Got a road trip plan? Great! But, flexibility is a MUST.

Our trip took many unexpected turns and detours; rather than get edgy about changing up our “perfect family road trip,” I know I had to go with the flow. The best detour we took was to skip a big city and opt instead for a nearby smaller town that had a Gator Park (awesome!) After our first “of the beaten path” detour, we started looking for more. The boys and I had a blast revising our trip and I learned out to relax a little.

The Gator Park was a family favorite! Who wouldn't want to pet a baby alligator?!?

The Gator Park was a family favorite! Who wouldn’t want to pet a baby alligator?!?

Having fun on your family vacation

Seems like a no-brainer, right? Family vacations are supposed to be fun! Well, that’s easy to forget when you’re in the thick of it schlepping bags to and fro, playing ringmaster to too-ramped-up-hotel-wrestle matches, and getting frustrated by the lack of healthy food options at a lot of restaurants. But, I can honestly say that being on the road with my boys for over two weeks was the best thing that’s happened to us in a long time. I bonded with my kids in a way that I can’t do during the hustle and bustle of the school year. We were able to experience new and fun activities, food, and ways of living.

This road trip provided so many fun bonding opportunities. (Now, if I could get them to stop asking for a 4-wheeler!)

This road trip provided so many fun bonding opportunities. (Now, if I could get them to stop asking for a 4-wheeler!)

We had so much fun the boys keep asking when we can do it again! And, you know what? I would totally do it again. Next time I’ll have to bring Hubby though.

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