Thanks and looking for feedback

First off thank you to my followers and readers. I’m excited to say that my blog has been reviewed and ranked among the top 200 family travel blogs according to You can check out the complete list here: Thank you for that and I will keep writing and aim for too 100!

Now for the feedback part… if you follow me on Instagram (see below for my last few posts) then you know we were just in Arizona and I’m working on a few posts from that trip. I’m just curious what sort of posts people would like to see, trip reviews, highlights, lessons learned, etc… And also outside our our trip just wondering if there are any specific topics that would be helpful?

Anyhow, happy Friday! I look forward to your feedback and thanks for reading!

Choosing our “home away from home”

When booking vacations these days there are so many options to choose from. With our family, when possible I prefer booking vacation club villas. We are fortunate as between my mom and my husband and I we own at both Disney Vacation Club and Marriott Vacation club. This is not a commercial for either as if those types of accommodations appeal to you there are multiple ways to book them without owning there and I will include some of those below.

Part of why we love the vacation club villas is space. With having a 3 year old who goes to bed before the rest of us it is nice to be able to put him to bed and still have other rooms to be in if we want to watch a movie, read, hang out, etc. I also love having a kitchen as, not only is it more convenient to not have to eat out every meal but with things like breakfast its so much simpler. On our last vacation we went to the grocery store and spent about $250 on food for the week. We still ate out about 6 meals but it was much easier and saved us a lot of money. With most vacation clubs if you rent at least a 1 bedroom then you get a full kitchen and often a washer and dryer. Also with having a bigger unit it gives everyone their own space so my mom gets her privacy but is still in the same unit as us which is great for everyone.

With Disney Vacation Club you get all of those perks and you are right on property at either Disney World or Disneyland or you can choose one of Disney’s 3 beach front resorts. The beach front resorts are in Vero Beach, Florida (about 90 min southeast of Disney World), Hilton Head Island, or on the Island of Oahu. You can book at those accommodations directly through Disney or there are sites where owners who are unable to use their points are able to rent them and its a significant discount from booking through Disney. The one I’m familiar with is I know there are others out there. Do your research!

With Marriott there are more locations from the beach to the mountains, near theme parks, golf course, cities etc. Marriott also runs packages where you sit down with them for a presentation and you get a very discounted vacation. We did a couple of those before we bought and I definitely recommend. You do get guaranteed Marriott status with owning and your vacation club stays count toward your status for the year. You can also book stays at the vacation club properties through based on availability. You can also rent points from owners through Redweek.

I know that there are a lot of options when it comes to accommodations. What are your favorite types of places to stay at when choosing your home away from home?

Getting Organized for 2020 – favorite travel tools

As we approach the end of the year I find its a good to starting planning and getting organized for 2020 travel. These are a few of my favorite travel tools… (please note these are all my own opinions and I receive no compensation for any companies I mention)

1.) Tripit – It’s a great tool to organize and create an itinerary. All you have to do is forward your flight, hotel etc booking to their email and it puts everything together for you. If you also travel for work it connects to the Concur system that a lot of companies use. They have a very user friendly app that has often given me more current flight updates and gate changes before the airlines make the announcements. (Super helpful if traveling with people who need extra time) They have a pro-version as well which helps with re-booking if there are flight issues etc.

2) Google Flights – Not sure where you want to go or just know a region (ie Europe) you can be as general or specific as you want it will show you your best flight options. Note that Southwest does not allow their flights to be searched but otherwise its one of the best most comprehensive comparison tools out there.

3.) Viator – Visiting somewhere new and not sure whats in the area? Know what you want to do but not sure of tour companies in the area? Viator is a great source of options. I have used them in about 10 different cities and countries and had great experiences with the local guides. If you are already staying somewhere hotel concierge’s are also a wonderful source of information and sometimes have better access but if you are doing your research ahead of time this is a great source.

4.) AAA – AAA still makes their annual Tourbooks and Maps and if you are a member this is one of your benefits. If you are somewhere where you might not have internet being prepared with a map and/or a guidebook with information on places to stop can definitely be a life saver! They have lots of other travel services but the books are my favorites and take me back to travel when I was a kid.

5.) Having a physical planner where you write things down and plan them out. I am a fan of the good old fashioned planner where you can make lists and cross things out and map out your schedule. For 2020 I’m trying the Commit30 planner because the format looks like something that will help me plan better and I like the pockets and look and feel of it. It also has a lot of tools on goal setting which is good for me as I’m trying to maintain a better schedule with my blog and planning topics etc. I’ll let you know what I think as I’m using it but right now I’m excited about it!

What are your favorite travel tools?

Making a list…

And checking it twice…

When my son was first born we made an extremely thorough list of what to take with us when we traveled (since we were flying we also had a list of what we could guarantee to pick up at Target to save weight). As we’ve traveled more, we’ve been more confident and less list reliant but at the end of the day there are definitely some items we can’t live without and don’t want to have to find a store for…

1.) Favorite stuffed animal(s) – we typically bring 2 -3 of his favorite friends depending on the length of the trip

2.) 1 – 2 of his blankets and his travel pillow. There is something about the comforts of home that makes putting him to bed better.

3.) Medications – Allergy medications and pain killers just in case

4.) 24-48 hours worth of diapers. Just in case of travel delays or stores not being available.

5.) 24-48 hours worth of formula (for when he was younger) (same reasons as the diapers)

6.) Powdered pedialyte – more convenient then carrying the liquid but wonderful to have on hand if anyone has an upset stomach or is dehydrated.

7.) Weather appropriate clothes – over Thanksgiving on our trip to Minnesota we forgot the 3 year olds boots… lets just say he got carried more then usual…

8.) Toys & Books – We have a backpack that we put his stuff in. He gets to pick some of what we wants and we have some stuff that only comes out for travel which makes it more interesting when its out.

9.) First aid kit – or at minimum band-aids and antiseptic cream.

10.) A map or guidebook of where you are going. Sometimes you may not have internet so its good to have a backup!

What is on your must have list?

Learning the balance between planning and overbooking…

When planning travel, especially to somewhere you’ve never been its always extremely tempting (to me at least) to plan out various activities that we want to do. Depending on where you are traveling its not just tempting, its a necessity.

For example if you are going to Walt Disney World and it is your little one’s dream to meet Cinderella, you need to book a fast pass. Same thing with some of the more popular rides and dining. That being said you need to allow for spontaneity or it can take the fun out of the travel.

We are working on finalizing some travel over New Year’s with extended family and while there are a few “must dos” that we have already booked, I’m leaving multiple days open for now as we want to try to connect with friends and I know the kids will want to play in the pool and possibly do some of the kids activities available. They also may want to play some role in the planning of what we do.

If you want your children to grow up to be good travelers and to enjoy the process, its sometimes important to give them an option or two to choose among. My son and one niece are both 3 so while they have opinions, they also roll with things. I have another niece who is 7 and love geography and loves to learn about a place before we go so she has started to have ideas of things to do and see when we travel which is fantastic!

When you are traveling with multiple generations it is important to first take note of everyone’s needs and/or limitations. Then look at interests and see what overlaps and go from there. Remember, it is not always necessary for everyone in a group to do the same thing. Different people have different interests and abilities and that needs to be respected! At the end of the day make sure everyone gets to do at least one thing that they really want to do and you are off to a good start! Just make sure to leave some of that downtime as you may discover something while traveling that you didn’t know about when you were planning!

Travel at the Holidays…

Travel at the Holidays, especially family travel can be stressful, but it can also be extremely rewarding. I love seeing how different places are decorated and getting to experience local traditions.

Last weekend we changed our plans and spent Saturday night in the Wisconsin Dells. This change meant that we got to see some of the towns decorations as well as attend a Three Kings Market at a local church. At the market our 3 year old got try different jellies and decorate Christmas cookies and we got to discover a delightful local chocolate maker. If we hadn’t stopped in the Dells we would have missed out on those things.

Tonight we are going to our local town’s Christmas Walk which includes a tree lighting, carolers, a carousel and more. It sounds very Hallmark movieish (maybe that’s part of why I love them) but it is also a wonderful experience that creates memories.

Whether traveling in your local area or traveling across the country, traveling at the holidays can help enhance your holiday experience and open you to new traditions. What are your favorite holiday traditions?

A few thoughts on road trips and our Thanksgiving travel

Let me start by explaining that we live in the Chicago area and my sister and her family live in the Twin Cities. We are blessed to have airports with hubs but this does not mean that we have an easy time with flying to see each other. After a flight issue caused us to drive home on a windy, blowy, snowy February day we came to the conclusion that if we can, we will drive. Especially if everyone is going because at the end of the day it doesn’t take that much longer to drive if conditions are good and we have more control.

Fast forward to Thanksgiving 2019 and we decided that if weather looked good we would drive and otherwise we’d stay home. Going up, no problem, we were after the snowbelt so we had no problem. Coming back, the forecast kept changing so we were debating what to do.

The number one lesson from this weekend is BE FLEXIBLE. We had planned on staying in Eau Clare both ways to shorten the trip a bit. We ended up changing our plans and driving to the Dells on Saturday therefore getting south of most of the snow and then having an easier drive on Sunday.

I know that the drive from Chicago to the Twin Cities is doable in a day but with a three year old and my mother is it easier for all involved if we can break it into two. Also I’m not good at sleeping in the car so I’d much rather break it up and get a good nights rest if I can. Another tip I would give is especially on a road-trip, stay somewhere that provides breakfast to make mornings easier.

I do BonVoy (Marriott Rewards) which is something I’ll go more into another time, but this means usually when on a road trip I look for Fairfields, SpringHill Suites or Courtyards. I know there are lots of options and you need to do what works for you. Another thing I look for are hotels with laundry facilities. It makes the travel with the three year old much simpler depending on what goes wrong. We’ve also washed things in the sink with body wash if its only one of two items. Depends on the situation.

Last but not least, I usually rent a car. We have used our cars but if its more then 250 miles I’d rather rent because 1) why put miles on my car that I don’t have to? and 2) If I’m driving somewhere and have a problem I can contact the rental car company and get a replacement.

Whether you stayed at home or were among the many of us on the roads this Thanksgiving, I hope you had a wonderful holiday!

What are your thoughts on road trips?

The Holidays are here again… some of my favorite festive things in Chicago…

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… and truly it is a wonderful time to travel and see new things. We have a child who LOVES holiday lights. His first trip to Disney World the lights on Cinderella’s castle were the most magical thing to him. And 3 years later he still loves any opportunity to see lights!

I know its not quite Thanksgiving yet, but there are already plenty of ways to celebrate the season! Its tough to put them in order because I love them all but here is my top list of things to do…

10. Joffrey Ballet’s Nutcracker. I love the music of the Nutcracker, it just evokes memories of the holidays. That being said they changed the setting so its not quite the classic its always been. The Joffrey always does a wonderful job however so…

9. Goodman Theater’s Christmas Carol. Its a classic, they’ve been doing it for years so for many people it has become a Holiday tradition. If you’ve never seen it, definitely do.

8. Drury Lane Oakbrook’s Christmas Carol. They do a fantastic job but make it family friendly for all ages. They also offer a brunch with Santa. Its also in the western suburbs and they have a huge parking lot.

7. Holiday Thorne Rooms at the Art Institute The Art Institute kicks off the holidays with the wreathing of the Lions on the Friday after Thanksgiving but they keep it going with the Holiday Thorne rooms. The Thorne Miniatures are always worth a visit but now they showcase different holiday traditions from different eras and cultures. Every year they add 2-3 more rooms that are decorated.

6. Holiday Magic at the Brookfield Zoo. This is the 38th year which is why I have many childhood memories of attending. This year there are over a million lights. Lots of decorated trees including community trees from schools (including my son’s) and corporate decorated tree. They also do caroling to the animals. Its great family fun and also in the suburbs.

5. The Magnificent Mile Lights Festival Saturday November 23rd. It’s a day long event capped off by a parade staring Mickey and Minnie Mouse which turns on all of the lights and then ends with Fireworks. Its beautiful, magical and extremely crowded! For those who want to avoid crowds the parade is usually broadcast on WGN tv as well.

4. Zoo Lights at the Lincoln Park Zoo It’s beautiful, they have Santa, you can see the city skyline lite up. Its a wonderful family friendly event. There are various light shows throughout the event. Also as a bonus, there’s no cost to enter the Zoo, only for parking.

3. LightScape at the Botanic Gardens We got to go to a special member preview night of this new light display and its amazing!!! We all enjoyed different parts of it and would definitely recommend it. I have a feeling it will sell out so get your tickets now if you are interested. This is in the Norther Suburbs so its another nice, non-city option.

2. Chicago Symphony Orchestra – Merry Merry Chicago It this doesn’t get you in the holiday spirit then nothing will. Its a mix of classical holiday music mixed with sing alongs to carols. Local choirs are featured and Santa himself usually makes a visit! Fun for the whole family!

1. Christmas Around the World at the Museum of Science and Industry It started back in 1942 so its part of many locals holiday traditions. There are trees and displays representing different cultures and celebrations. Every weekend until Christmas they have different performances from local groups. So much to see and enjoy! Definitely family friendly!

There are so many other wonderful seasonal things to do in the area but these are some of my family’s favorites! What are your favorite traditions?

Travel with toddlers part 2…

My other half had a few additional points to add on the topic…

It’s worth having a “travel stroller” which a) you expect the airlines to kill, yet b) has good carrying capacity to aide getting through the airport plus wherever else you are going on your travels. Being able to load up his one stroller like a packhorse has been so useful to us. Our first travel stroller was the type that the car seat locked into. As that one had been lovingly treated by the airlines, we continued to use it as an umbrella stroller for awhile. Our current travel stroller was a garage sale bargain. Either way still use a gate check bag for the stroller similar to the car seat.

As to packing, I’d almost say to pack “one more outfit per day than you expect to use”, rather than simply saying two. We’ve pack more than 2/day on several occasions and I don’t recall ever thinking we excessively overpacked for him. I’ll also mention having spare clothes for one or more of the parents in your carry-on for emergencies, rather than simply packing & checking the extras for the rest of the family. Especially for whichever parent is sitting by the child on the plane…

As we start getting organized for Thanksgiving travel we may think of more but that’s all for now!