family vacations Archives - 2 Dads with Baggage
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Things to Splurge on During Your Next Vacation

Things to Splurge on During Your Next Vacation

Everyone likes to save money when traveling, but there are some things you just need to spend a pretty penny on. Certainly when our family travels, we know not every vacation will put us in the lap of luxury. Still, we try to find at least one splurge on each trip to make it feel even more special. Whether it’s a delicious meal, an exciting excursion, or a place to stay, there are plenty of things to splurge on during your next vacation. Sometime we let the kids choose one thing each.

snorkeling with DePalm Tours in Aruba

Boating in tropical places like Aruba tend to go with snorkeling adventures and colorful fish.

Ava might choose an excursion, and Triton might go for a fancy meal. Sophia will want to go clothes shopping, and you can pretty much find Jon getting a massage. Whatever floats your boat doesn’t have to break the bank.

Things To Splurge on During Your Next Vacation

Local Cuisine

Grocery shopping and food trucks are acceptable during your journey, but when you travel pick one meal that showcases the local flavors. We’re not talking the tourist traps. Ask residents where they eat that really showcases what their city is all about. In Omaha, Nebraska, it’s absolutely V. Mertz, where the chef uses fresh, local ingredients to create a spectacular menus in this hidden Midwestern gem. In Midtown Manhattan, there are several places within walking distance of most hotels, including Joe’s Shanghai for dim sum. Ask a local in New Orleans for the best place to find Creole or Cajun cuisine, and it most likely will not be the famous ones.

lemon dessert at V. Mertz

Ordering a decadent and delicious dessert is a great way to splurge.

Your meal may be moderately priced or on the higher end, depending on the city you’re visiting and what the locals suggest. Go for broke if you must, in order to experience the best and most delicious meal on your vacation.

Get Adventurous

There are always those once-in-a-lifetime bucket list experiences you simply cannot put a price tag on. Going rafting in New Mexico down the Rio Grande or sailing in Kauai are two amazing, authentic local experiences perfect for our family. We always try to do a boating trip on visits where there is water. It’s such an incredible way to experience sea life and the oceans when you travel. Double points if there is snorkeling or kayaking as part of the day!

white water rafting adventure

Vacation adventures like white water rafting may be pricey, but they deliver memories to last a life time!

If you’d rather experience the scenery by air, try a helicopter tour. There are many places that take you above the city to see a different view of your vacation destination. We loved our experience in Las Vegas, where we buzzed above the Grand Canyon, Colorado River, and the Las Vegas Strip! Even small towns may have helicopter tours available. Don’t hesitate to ask the locals or a concierge at your hotel.

front of helicopter in Las Vegas

Sightseeing in helicopters is like nothing else – the views are incredible.

Where to Stay

When you decide to splurge on your hotel stay, your experience is bound to be unique and flawless. We’ve stayed at many fantastics hotels, and the very best give you a vacation-worthy experience without ever leaving the hotel. Resort hotels often offer photo-worthy architecture, activities for the whole family, and dining experiences. Check out hotels that include breakfast, have complimentary happy hour, and concierge services. You may even consider a resort that includes food or spa accommodations on site, an all-inclusive hotel where meals and drinks are included.

Dining room at Tamarijn Resort Aruba

Expansive buffets like this one at the Tamarijn Resort in Aruba make all-inclusive resorts a wonderful splurge.


Even if you have a strict budget for your vacation, there are places in your financial plan where you can stretch a bit. Try that one local meal that tickles your taste buds, or add a little bit of adventure to your trip with an outdoorsy escapade. Don’t forget that a great hotel can make a vacation perfect. These things to splurge on during your next vacation have made our trips memorable and exciting.

What are your favorite indulgences on vacation?

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Packing List Essentials for a Family Vacation

Packing List Essentials for a Family Vacation

Whether you think the best part of a family vacation is a journey or the destination, I think we’re all in agreement that packing is the worst part! Getting ready to take your whole family on a trip can be frustrating, but when you plan ahead, your vacation can start out without a hitch by using these packing list essentials for a family vacation.

If your family is anything like ours, it’s a mad scramble at the last minute. Things get packed and then unpacked, outfits are assembled and ultimately missing one important item when we get there. Often when packing, the girls forget important beauty products like a hair brush or deodorant. It’s crazy making!

suitcases in trunk of car

Even at the last minute, things can get shoved into an already overpacked suitcase.

That’s why we now have lists for our lists. We share these few tips here to help you avoid some of our previous travails!

Packing List Essentials for a Family Vacation

Don’t Forget the Electronics

I know we are contradicting ourselves here, and moderation is key to the kids’ use of electronics. As much as we want to have our kids “unplug”, having our devices (and chargers) can be an asset on vacation. We nearly ALWAYS forget the chargers, or a specific cord, or a cube to plug into.

Keep these electronic components on your list for what goes in your luggage.

One nice things about taking a road trip in a Kia Cadenza is the readily equipped Apple Carplay or Android Auto. There are fewer gadgets to pack as your devices easily connect to your Kia!

Bring Layers

Even if your destination has a fairly predictable climate, the places you visit while there may not. Indoor restaurants, hotel rooms, and museums can get downright chilly when they are being liberal with the AC! Make sure each member of the family packs at least a sweater or hoodie to layer on top of clothing. We usually make the kids bring them on the plane if we are flying somewhere. It’s almost always too cold or too hot inside a plane, especially when that lady sitting in 11C has her air blasting right in your face.

organized man's suitcase

Yeah, our suitcases never look like this inside.

If the weather is expected to be cold, don’t forget the winter gear. Here are the minimum packing essentials for clothing regardless of the weather.

  • undergarments
  • shirts
  • pants and/or shorts
  • sneakers
  • flip flops and/or dress shoes
  • socks
  • pajamas
  • sweater/cardigan/light jacket/hoodie
  • gym clothes/shoes (yeah maybe)

Packing clothes can be challenging at any age. You may not know what types of outfits to bring for your trip, and with family photos at every turn, you want to look your best.

Triton and I recently rid ourselves of this stress with Stitch Fix. This worked so beautifully on our recent trip to Santa Barbara! Their ready-made vacation wardrobes are perfect for men and women, and you can even have the Stitch Fix box delivered directly to your hotel. No fuss, no muss!

car trunk packed full of suitcases

Boy did we pack that cargo area, but we brought everything and the kitchen sink!

Safety First

Always pack a first aid kit! You can get a ready-made kit or shop for individual items essential for a safe trip.

If you’ll be outdoors, make sure to pack the sunscreen and bug spray. Keep burns and bites away with high-level SPF lotions and Deet-free bug repellant. When we are traveling to an exotic destination like Playa Del Carmen or Costa Rica, we head to REI to grab some heavy duty bug juice. We even tried the treatment where you spray your clothes before packing them, and it works!

Keep the Kids (And Yourself) Entertained

You’ll definitely want some stuff for everyone to do during the journey or even on vacation downtime. (Remember, we’re discouraging the use of electronics all the time!) Bring some books that your teens will love to read. You may want to pack a few easy, fun reads for yourself or your spouse as well!

reading at the beach

Our girls love a good book at the beach, and sitting under a tropical palapa is the perfect place to read.

If you want to laugh, try David Sedaris’ latest release, Calypso, stories of his Carolina vacation home.

If you’re ready to laugh, cry, and think, try A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, a story of an old curmudgeon who strives to find meaning in life.

Not an in-the-car or on-the-plane reader? Play some family-friendly car games (if you’re not behind the wheel) or listen as your family has some hilarious fun! Exploding Kittens is a family favorite. Players draw cards until they find the “exploding kitten” with lots of hilarity in between.

Another favorite of our family is UNO, which we just played while visiting family in Seattle. The competition can get pretty fierce – it’s so much fun!

Starting with these packing list essentials for a family vacation will help your journey and destination be smooth for all members of your travel crew. Keep safety, comfort, and fun in mind, and you’ll be ready to travel anywhere!

Check out some of these favorite packing essentials that help us fit everything perfectly with our family of four!

OEE 7 pcsOEE 7 pcsSpaceSaver Premium ReusableSpaceSaver Premium ReusableThe Chestnut 12The Chestnut 12Autoark Standard CarAutoark Standard CarArxus Travel LightweightArxus Travel Lightweight

*2DadsWithBaggage participates in affiliate marketing programs, and even though those terms are outlined on our blog we like to say so here anyway.

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5 Family Activities at Taos Ski Valley in the Summer

5 Family Activities at Taos Ski Valley in the Summer

*This experience was hosted by Taos Ski Valley, and all opinions expressed here are our own.

Taos Ski Valley is world renowned among top ski resorts as among the best skiing there is in the US. Families flock from all over for the amazing New Mexico snow, the pristine mountain conditions, and the down-home family vibe at this unique resort. In the summer the resort has even more activities to offer. A recent visit helped us discover many family activities at Taos Ski Valley in the summer.

pool at The Blake, Taos Ski Valley

The pool at The Blake hotel in Taos Ski Valley overlooks gorgeous pines and a clear running stream.

The new management at Taos Ski Valley has made enormous improvements over the last couple of years. Even more is coming this season, with many more additions over the next three years. A major focus has been to program more activities for the off-season months of May-November, when the snow is melted and the mountains are green with grasses, trees and wildflowers.

5 Family Activities at Taos Ski Valley in the Summer

With such beauty, history and adventure at its doorstep, there are plenty of family activities at Taos Ski Valley in the summer. We strongly recommend connecting with a local guide. We were so fortunate to have Angelisa Murray from Heritage Inspirations to lead us through our itinerary. She was beyond our greatest expectations, and made our whole experience extra special.

The Blake Hotel Taos

Perched at the bottom of Taos Ski Valley’s slopes, The Blake is a 5-star resort hotel.

Here’s our top 5 recommendations:

1. Exploring Downtown Taos

Downtown Taos is small enough that it’s easy to walk around the entire area at leisure. With so many interesting shops, galleries and restaurants, a family can easily spend an entire day exploring.

Taos Artists Colony

Taos has long been known as an artist community, dating back to the late 1800s. On a trip to document the Great Southwest, Bert Phillips and Ernest Blumenschein discovered Taos and settled there. Other artists soon joined them to form the Taos Society of Artists, the most famous of which is Georgia O’Keefe. Her masterpiece paintings of the raw land, colorful vistas, bones and flowers were all conceived and created from her experiences in the Taos area.

Much of these early artists’ inspirations have fueled an entire colony and economy based on original art. There are many shops and galleries where art and photography can be purchased, and even a couple where the kids can get in the act. The Harwood Museum of Art is a good place to start for children’s programs.

tasting chocolates at _____

In downtown Taos, Chokolá allows guests to taste their varieties of special housemade chocolates.

Art in Other Forms

Other businesses have grown from this fertile community as well, including an amazing chocolatier called Chokolá Bean to Bar. Here you can sample several varieties of chocolate, made from beans roasted in-house and then mixed into nibs and then bars. Our favorite was from Ecuadorean beans, while others liked the Venezuelan chocolate best. Kids enjoy ogling the many flavors of truffles and chocolates, or gobbling up some of their high end gelatos.

Another interesting place we visited was Tres Estrellas Designs.  This is a unique gallery specializing in the art of historic Native American woven blankets, serapes and rugs. Colorful examples of this art form hang from the walls, with price tags from several hundred dollars up to more than $20,000. They also have an impressive collection of old Western artifacts for sale. Watching someone demonstrate the working loom is mezmorising, as she weaves the threads according to certain patterns.

loom with Native American blankets

Learning how to make Native American textiles using a loom and natural threads at Tres Estrellas.

2. Hiking the Rio Grande Gorge

If you prefer a view from above, there are several easy hikes along the rim of the Rio Grande River Gorge. We decided on an easy, flat hike for roughly 2 miles along the Orilla Verde area on the Vista Verde Trail. Getting an early start is recommended, so the sun isn’t too hot yet and the animals are still foraging for food. After slathering up with sunscreen, we grabbed our hats and water bottles to head down the trail.

Rio Grande Gorge hieroglyphics

Angelisa pointed out a great example of local hieroglyphics on along the Rio Grande Gorge.

Just a few hundred yards in on the left, Angelisa steered us toward an impressive example of hieroglyphics from ancient times. Carved and painted on the side of a huge boulder, the writing was faded but clear enough to make out the symbols. It was a drawing of a local cactus in flower! It was amazing to think about the meaning this must have had for whomever painted it and their tribe.

Big Horn Sheep on Rio Grande Gorge

This young Big Horn Sheep kept a wary eye on us as we hiked around him to avoid disturbing his zen.

Flora and Fauna

Just down the path we entered a clearing full of bunnies, their ears angled carefully to pick up the sound of our footsteps. Remarkably unconcerned at our interruption, the adults and babies went on feeding, nibbling the green bits of new growth on low plants. Later we happened upon a young Big Horn Sheep, who took a liking to our gang and followed us for quite a ways.

The views from this vantage point are breathtaking. From the edge, it’s possible to look up and down the Rio Grande River Valley.

deserted road in Taos, New Mexico

The high desert roads near Taos, NM are often completely deserted except for the occasional photo model getting in the way.

3. Touring the Taos Pueblo

Not to be missed, the Taos Pueblo is a remarkable combination of modern day needs and ages-old traditions. In fact, the Pueblo has been maintained in its original condition for more than 1,000 years. As we walked through the grounds, we visited the dwellings, the stream that feeds the area, the beautifully decorated church and the graveyard. The Catholic church, St. Jerome’s, was built in 1850 after the original church from the 1600’s was destroyed in war. Now the church is cared for by a special group of women that regularly change the adornments of the holy figures at the alter. These themes follow the seasons, with colors that match the turning of leaves or the flowering of spring.

Historic Significance

Taos Pueblo is very special, as it is the only living Native American community designated both a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and a National Historic Landmark. The Pueblo is the oldest continually inhabited Native American community, having never been overtaken in war or conquest.

Original dwellings at Taos Pueblo

Blue skies, green mountains and clay-colored adobe dwellings are beautiful contrasts at historic Taos Pueblo.

There are many, many impressive points of interest and things to learn on a guided tour of Taos Pueblo. Local merchants sometimes sell their handmade wares, created in the tradition of their ancestors. There are toys, jewelry and mica-flecked pottery of all shapes and sizes. We enjoyed touring the site, seeing how adobe bricks are made and watching as residents climbed traditional ladders to reach their upper-story dwellings.

4. Rafting Down the Rio Grande River

The Rio Grande River cuts through a chasm in the high desert terrain just outside of Taos. The effect creates a dramatic gorge containing rocky walls that tower more than 1,000 feet in some places. In the spring and summer, the melted snow feeds waters into the River that create fun rapids perfect for rafting. Several local rafting companies offer fun-filled rides down the Rio Grande, with an average rapids rating of 2. This means there are a couple of wild spots to get your heart racing. Mostly, the route contains moderately moving waters that are easier to navigate without drama. Kids love the roller coaster-like effect, and the cool waters are a nice respite from the hot summer days.

Check out Cottam’s Rio Grande Rafting to inquire about different tour options and pricing. Stand Up Paddleboarding is also available in calmer areas of the River. Some places offer funyaking as well, with boats sized for one, two or more people.

Williams Lake near Taos, New Mexico

The hike to Williams Lake yields tremendous vistas.

5. Hiking the High Wilderness to Williams Lake

Starting at Taos Ski Valley, this trail leads to high elevations that rise above the forests and qualify as true wilderness lands. As high as 11,000 feet, these hiking trails are more a bit more aggressive and probably not best for little kids. Older kids (maybe 9-10+) and adults will love the views from here, like no others to be found in the area. The trails lead through the pines and up to meadows full of wildflowers and green open land. A few yards more, and Williams Lake comes into view.

Williams Lake Trail

The Williams Lake Trail in the summer is a thing of beauty. Led along by our intrepid guide Angelisa, our gang set out in the morning for the two mile hike. When we reached the meadows, the flowers were in full bloom and the air was so clean and fresh. The lake is not large in the summer, and can be easily circumnavigated in short time. Sitting at the edge was one of the most peaceful experiences of the whole trip.

Tons of Family Experiences

With so many cool things to do in Taos Ski Valley, we need to go back and repeat all these experience and add some more! Planning for  such a long list of must-sees, we are already scheduling our next trip for great family activities at Taos Ski Valley in the summer.





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Visit Hearst Castle with Kids

Visit Hearst Castle with Kids

Hearst Castle is one of those iconic California destinations that seems taken from the pages of a fairy tale. It’s hard to believe the amount of wealth and resources it required for William Randolph Hearst to build a magnificent estate of this grandeur in the 1930s. By today’s standards, it would hardly be possible. Our family loved our tours, and to visit Hearst Castle with kids is a glimpse into a bygone era.

Outdoor pool at Hearst Castle

The Neptune Pool at Hearst Castle holds more than 345,000 gallons of water.

Visit Hearst Castle with Kids

To call it a museum is really a disservice – it’s an experience in history. The architecture, interior design, furnishings, art collection and grounds are each eye-popping in their own right. Hearst even imported his own zoo, and kept exotic animals on the acreage surrounding the Castle.  His personal zoo included zebras, giraffes, lions, tigers, monkeys, bears, ostriches, kangaroos and more. Even today, you can see zebra herds still grazing in the grassland near the park entrance.

Some helpful hints for when you visit Hearst Castle with kids:

Buy your tickets in advance

Tours are popular, and the number of guests in each tour is limited to keep the facilities and grounds from being overrun by visitors. It’s best to book at least one month in advance and pre-purchase your tickets.

Hearst Castle main entrance facade

The front facade and main entrance of Hearst Castle was patterned after medieval European cathedrals.

Plan at least two tours

The buildings and grounds are extensive, and one tour does not cover it all properly. We booked two tours back-to-back, and it was just enough for us to feel we got a decent viewing without the kids spinning out of control. Still, this took about three hours.

We enjoyed the Grand Rooms Tour, which covers most of the opulent rooms in Casa Grande (the main house). Our kids marveled at the enormous living room, with a fireplace so large you can walk right into it. Another favorite was the indoor Roman Pool, complete with real gold tiles among the azure blue designs.

Don’t miss the Upstairs Suites Tour, which features the insane Gothic Suite, the Library and many of the bedrooms. Even the stairways and servants quarters are unbelievable to modern eyes.

Visit the beach before or after

The coastline in this area of California is stunning, and right at the base of Hearst Castle’s driveway is a sweet and quiet respite called William Randolph Hearst Memorial Beach. The ships that brought many of the workers and supplies to San Simeon during construction were moored here, and now still remains a wooden pier, long sandy beach and the occasional sea lion.

Beach near Hearst Castle

The rustic pier on the beach in front of Hearst Castle.

Just up the coast a few miles is another sensation – the elephant seal sanctuary at Pierdas Blancas. During the time of the year we visited, the creatures were not on site but best viewing can be enjoyed January, April and October. These are those gentle giants with the big floppy noses that like to laze on beaches and bark at the waves.

Food is a challenge

Food choices around this area are scarce, and food and drink are strictly forbidden in the exhibit areas outside the visitor center. The Hearst Castle guest center has a few choices, and the food wasn’t bad – not inexpensive, but the quality and menu choices were decent and family friendly. Another option is to bring a picnic lunch and enjoy the many coastline stopping points, including the beaches described above.

Hearst Castle view of California coast

The view from Hearst Castle is breathtaking, when you know all your eyes can see was once part of the Castle grounds.

Take your time!

Relax and take your time, enjoy the drive and leave plenty of time to stop at some of the vistas along the way. This part of California is beautiful and unspoiled, giving a sense of what it was like before our modern craziness.

We hope you enjoy a visit to Hearst Castle with kids as much as we did. In fact, we are planning to go back so we can take the other tours and see more of this amazing and legendary enclave.

Historic pier at William Randolph Hearst Memorial Beach

This rebuilt pier at the nearby was once the dropping off point for supplies that helped build Hearst Castle.

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Istanbul with Kids is a Feast for the Senses

Istanbul with Kids is a Feast for the Senses

Istanbul has been on our bucket list for as long as I can remember. The sights, sounds, smells and tastes of this amazing city have always captivated our imaginations, and the real thing did not disappoint. It’s a perfect family destination, and truly Istanbul with kids is a feast for the senses.

Istanbul with Kids is a Feast for the Senses

Colorful History, Colorful City

At one point in history, the Ottoman Empire controlled much of Europe and Asia all from Istanbul (then called Constantinople). On each street of the city you see examples of culture from hundreds – sometimes thousands – of years of Imperial Dynasty rule. There is so much history on every block the tour guides rolled their eyes when we asked about a building that was “only” 500 years old. Go figure.

Dolmabahce Palace view from the Bosphorous Strait

If you have time, take a boat tour of the Bosphorous Strait in Istanbul to view the city from the waterways.

Not to miss:

Hagia Sophia – Remarkable history as a Christian church, then a mosque. Now a museum with pieces of all those backgrounds still intact. Enormous and breathtaking.

The Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Mosque) – It was amazing to view the inside of this gargantuan mosque, covered with blue tiles hundreds of years old. How solemn and inspiring it was for us to hear the call to prayer from outside its walls. Then we were allowed inside where prayer activities were quiet and reverent. Heads up: women have to cover up with headscarves and skirts out of respect for the culture. (They supply them for free at the entrance).

Tokapi Palace Istanbul

At the Tokapi Palace, we explored the history of the Ottoman Empire.

Tokapi Palace – If you are a history junkie like me, you will love the Ottoman Empire era Tokapi Palace. There are suits of armor, scimitars, jewel-encrusted daggers and battle gear on display. Or just skip into the Imperial Treasury to gaze at the 86-carat Spoonmaker’s Diamond. Impressive, to say the least!

Dolmabahce Palace – On the shores of the Bosphorous, the “new” palace (1860s) became the official modern home and office of the ruling Sultan. It features 285 rooms, the largest ballroom I’ve ever seen, and a whopping 4.5-ton glass chandelier. Opulent doesn’t even begin to describe it. We were even treated to an Ottoman marching band, performing some of the Sultan’s favorites out in front of the palace. The kids loved it!

Ottoman Brigade at Dolmabahce Palace

Out of nowhere, a traditional Ottoman Brigade appeared at Dolmabahce Palace to serenade us on our tour of Istanbul.

Where Europe Meets Asia – Food Extravaganza

Istanbul straddles the Bosphorous River and sits one side in Europe and one side in Asia.  This is literally the place where the historic Orient Express crossed from Europe into the Orient to continue its journey. Istanbul has always been at a crossroads of cultures. Its foods are a tasty example of this mix.

Authentic Turkish Coffee in Istanbul

When enjoying an authentic Turkish Coffee in Turkey, don’t forget to ask for sugar. That stuff is STRONG.

Culinary musts:

Turkish Coffee – Some places served a better cup than others, but this coffee lovers’ treat was omnipresent. When ordering, ask for sweet, more sweet or very sweet. I highly suggest you do not try it without sugar. (We learned that lesson the hard way.)

Fresh Seafood – At the meeting point of the Marmara Sea, the Aegean Sea, the Black Sea and the Bosphorous River, Istanbul’s fisherman can practically reach into the water and pull out a fish with their hands. The seafood is so fresh and delicious! Local restaurants are proud to serve it to you prepared many different ways. The kids were mesmerized in many restaurants, as they brought a basket of fishes to our table for us to point to the one we wanted.

Istanbul colorful streets at night

These colorful streets of downtown Istanbul were perfect for al fresco dining on a summer night.

Turkish Delight – Who knew there were so many different options? Turkish Delight is a sweet combination of dried fruits and nuts in a sliced roll. The traditional option is made from apricots and pistachios, but we found all kinds of variations to sample. And sample we did, every chance we got! The kids became legit connoisseurs.

Kebabs – With everything from traditional spiced lamb or chicken to more unusual combos – eel, anyone? – you’ll find kebabs everywhere in Turkey. Those from fancy restaurants and street vendors are equally tasty. We feasted for very little money with various treats on a stick.

A Shopper’s Delight

In a city known as a mecca for shoppers, there are a few highlights worth the visit even if you don’t spend a single lire.

Grand Bazaar Istanbul colorful Turkish lanterns

You can find all sorts of cool things at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, including these colorful Turkish glass lanterns.

Some of our favorites:

The Grand Bazaar – Yes, it is both grand and bizarre, and you must see it. Like something out of the movies, it’s a labyrinth of tiny shops selling wares from the far corners of the Near East.

Spice Market – There are few places I feel overwhelmed, and this was one of them. It’s easy to get lost among the sea of options, piles of spices and choices of teas. So many colors, smells and tastes to choose from, and definitely worth a stop.

spices at Istanbul Spice Market

The Spice Market in Istanbul is full of sights and aromas that tantalize the senses.

Rugs and Lanterns – Pretty much anywhere you walk, there is a rug merchant and, close by, a lantern store. Both are alluring, and it’s hard to know where to start. Just dive in and start talking. You will learn a lot, and by the third or fourth stop you’ll be negotiating like an expert.

Which brings me to my most important point: nothing in the shops should be purchased at face value. It is inherent in Turkish culture to bargain with the merchants. It’s a fun game, and the trick is to be willing to walk away. They will always come after you with a better offer.

Happy hunting!

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Low Tech Things To Do On A Road Trip

Low Tech Things To Do On A Road Trip

Summer road trips are our family’s jam. We love to hit the road for long weekends, visiting fun California places within easy driving distance like Santa Barbara, Palm Springs, Hollywood and more. If you are traveling by car with your family this summer, you’ll want to plan some on-the-road activities that don’t involve staring at a screen. It’s easy to let our kids get lost in their smartphones while on the road, but a family trip is also an opportunity to connect and engage in some low tech things to do on a road trip.

2018 Kia Cadenza

We are ready to hit the road in this snazzy new Kia Cadenza, outfitted perfectly for any road trip. #KiaPartner


Here are a few of our favorites:

Low Tech Things To Do On A Road Trip

1. Good old-fashioned reading

Ebooks are easily accessible on the road, but there’s something to be said about the feel of paper and reading a book jacket to find out what you’ll find in the pages. Whether you use a bookmark or dog-ear pages, there’s something special about reading a book. Our daughter Ava loves to read, and she’ll pack some of her trusty  young adult favorites for the road.

desert road sign to nowhere

Whichever way you choose, it’s about the journey not the final destination.

2. Sing-a-long

Although music involves electronic components, there’s no need to bring out the phones or tablets when the Kia Cadenza has a premium stereo system and available Sirius XM Satellite Radio. Your kids might roll their eyes a little when you blast the ‘90s on 9, or you can turn up the latest pop tunes and partake in some carpool karaoke. (Cue teen eye rolling).

3. Scavenger hunt

Before you hit the road, have your family make a list of things you may see on your route. Pick some obvious items for the younger kids (like semi trucks or slug bugs) or more obscure items like a labrador in a truck or a red Ferrari. Try to plan out some monuments or special tourist attractions along your journey. Using our Kia Cadenza’s state-of-the-art navigation system, we were even able to map those locations and make it easy for the driver to find the stops along the way.

pin in a map for road trip planning

Having the kids be part of planning the road trip route helps them be interested in following along from the back seat.

4. Journal

Writing about travels is a great way for your family to reflect and make memories. Encourage your kids to free write about the trip. You may want to pass a notebook around so everyone can share their own special memories as you drive across the country or region. The best part is looking back years later on the fun times you shared. Add pictures when you get home to document your journey with both words and photographs.

journal about travel adventures

When driving to multiple road trip destinations, the time spent in the car is a great opportunity to journal about the trip.

5. Crack the code

Have one family member choose a code word before you begin your trip. Pick something that is not too common but likely to be said somewhere along the journey. Once one person cracks the code with the secret word, they become the new code word creator until another person says their word. This is a fun way to pass the time on a trip while having fun, engaging conversations!

6. The license plate game

Since our girls were very little, our family has loved to play the simple license plate game. Just calling out the name of the US State when you see it first can get pretty competitive. The girls have gotten very good at spotting license plates from faraway places like Maine and Florida, or more obscure ones like Alaska or Hawaii. Me? I never win because I’m usually the driver and keeping my eyes on the road for safety reasons. I just randomly yell out “Alabama!” so they think I’m still in the game. (I think they are on to me).

New Mexico license plate

Some license plates are more colorful than others. Extra points?

It’s not necessary to break out an iPad or fancy phone to keep your family occupied on a long drive. These low tech things to do on a road trip are fun and easy ways to interact or entertain your family on your journey.

Enjoy your vacation with your family with these unplugged activities!

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Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort Great for Families

Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort Great for Families

* We were guests of Hilton Hotels & Resorts for this stay and as always, these are our own thoughts and views.

Santa Barbara is one of our family’s favorite places, and over Memorial Weekend we visited this beautiful beach city along the California Coast for a little getaway. We were told the Hilton is a Santa Barbara beachfront resort great for families, and we set out to see for ourselves.

We have actually stayed at this property a couple of times before, when it was formerly known as the Fess Parker Doubletree Resort. With a recent remodel and room upgrade, the property has been reborn as the Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort. And as Hiltons go, this is one of the best we’ve experienced in the US.

SUP in Santa Barbara

A stand up paddle board lesson on the calm waters of Santa Barbara Bay, taken from Stearns Wharf.


There’s a bunch of reasons why the Hilton is a Santa Barbara beachfront resort great for families:

Fantastic Location Across from East Beach

I lived in Santa Barbara years ago, and one of my favorite beaches was always East Beach. The Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort is directly across the street from this beach, with green lawns on either side. A short walk down the sand is Stearns Wharf and the base of State Street. Triton and I got up each morning, grabbed a Starbucks from the lobby and enjoyed a nice quiet walk at the waters’ edge. Later in the day when things warmed up, that same beach served as the ideal spot for some sunbathing and splashing around in the Pacific Ocean.

Helpful Hint: Ask for a room on the third floor for the best ocean views.

sunrise East Beach Santa Barbara

This little seagull friend helped us greet sunrise at East Beach in Santa Barbara.

Activities to Keep the Entire Family Busy

The pool and spa at the Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort are spacious. Families with kids of all ages played in the water and lounged poolside with cold drinks. Nearby on property, the bicycle rental beckoned us to go for a spin down the boardwalk. We happily rode along under the palm trees, watching a band of standup paddle boarders practice their moves. Out on Stearns Wharf, visitors can spy the occasional dolphin swimming among the sailboats headed out to the Channel Islands. Or pop into the Natural History Museum’s Sea Center to see some ocean life up close.

Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara

From Stearns Wharf, you can see the beach, the Santa Barbara Riviera and mountains beyond.

Later, we enjoyed a stroll on Lower State Street, checking out the cool shops, restaurants, and historic train station. Also not to be missed is the gigantic Moreton Bay Fig Tree – awarded as the largest and oldest in the country.

Moreton Bay Fig Santa Barbara

This Moreton Bay Fig tree in Santa Barbara is thought to be the largest and oldest in the US.

Helpful Hint: Right next to the train station, pop into the lobby of the little known Ronald Reagan Museum. Right inside the front door, they have the largest piece of the Berlin Wall in existence outside of Berlin.

Fresh New Rooms

The remodeled Hilton Santa Barbara has all the bells and whistles, and our kids are the ones that notice the most. Both girls inspect a hotel room as though they were the management. We find them looking in every drawer and opening every closet and cabinet.

Balcony view at Hilton Santa Barbara

Our balcony at the Santa Barbara Hilton overlooked a grove of olives, a string of palm trees, and the Pacific Ocean.

My pet peeve is when there are not enough outlets for charging our many (many!) devices. These new rooms had plenty of options. Now if we could just get our girls to stop draining the batteries on their phones from overuse!

Helpful Hint: Each room has a nice mini fridge that fits snacks and drinks. Just down the street is a produce market, where you can buy fresh-picked organic fruit for snacks in the room.

Friendly Staff That Remembers Your Name

To me, hotel staff makes all the difference in the quality of our stay. When team members remember us from previous visits and go out of their way to remember our names? Well, that is hospitality at its finest. From the valet to the doorman to the housekeeper, the team here is exceptional. Real authentic smiles from people that look you in the eye are so rare these days, and our entire family was impressed by this team.

Helpful Hint: Valet park your car. It’s only $6 more per day, and the staff is so wonderful you will appreciate them having your car ready when you want to scoot out.

Close to all the Action

Want to play some beach volleyball? It’s right across the street at East Beach. Or perhaps try some of that famous Santa Ynez Valley wine? There a scores of wine tasting rooms scattered throughout Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone, the coolest neighborhood in the city. The Funk Zone is filled with trendy restaurants, fun cafes, craft breweries, galleries and shops, all within walking distance of the Santa Barbara Hilton.

Wine tasting in Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone is a blast when you’re with your friends.

A short car ride away and we were able to reach downtown Santa Barbara in minutes. The shops of State Street, the gorgeous architecture and gardens of the County Courthouse, and the historic adobes of the original settlers are all here. Up the hill a bit is the gorgeous Santa Barbara Mission and its ocean views.

Helpful Hint: If you visit the County Courthouse (and you really should) go all the way to the top for views from the tower. This historic landmark has some surprisingly beautiful tile work and other adornments that make it a must-see for any Santa Barbara visitor.

How to Get There:

  • Car: 2 hours from LAX (without traffic) and 3.5 hours from San Diego.
  • Train: 3 hours from Union Station in downtown LA.
  • Air: Santa Barbara International Airport welcomes flights from many major US cities and beyond.

Where to Stay:

The Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort offers rooms starting at $ and suites starting at $.


East Beach Santa Barbara

Sunning in the warm sand at East Beach in Santa Barbara, looking cool in my new StitchFix clothes.


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Road Tripping: Sedona in the Summer

Road Tripping: Sedona in the Summer

Beautiful Sedona, Arizona, is a must-stop for any family trip through the Southwest. We love road trips and although temperatures are rising, our last visit proved it’s easy to have a great time in Sedona in the summer. Just make sure your car has AC! We piled the kids and all our stuff into the sporty Kia Sorento with room to spare, wheeling down the roads armed with Starbucks and an excellent sound system.

Kia Sorento road trip

Our sporty Kia Sorento was a comfortable ride for our summer road trip to Sedona.

Hope you enjoy our suggestions for how to enjoy Sedona in the summer with kids!

Sedona in the Summer With Kids

Take a Jeep Tour

Sedona is postcard-famous for its amazing red rocks and gorgeous canyon scenery. One of the best ways to see it up close is off-roading with Pink Jeep Tours. The 4-wheeling can get a little wild, and sometimes it felt more like being on a rollercoaster instead of a jeep. Still, we were securely belted in and grateful for the shade canopy as we explored dirt trails and streambeds. The drivers are also knowledgeable guides, and we were surprised to learn the whole area was once at the bottom of an ocean!

Pink Jeep Tour in Sedona

The Pink Jeep tour was a highlight of our visit to Sedona in the summer.

From the canyon floor, we wound our way up rock faces and through narrow gullies. Our driver perched us on top of a gigantic boulder – the perfect spot to get out for a closer look and some Insta-worthy pics.

Tip #1: Put the kids in the back where the ride is bumpiest. They laughed and giggled throughout the whole trip, while the adults rested more comfortably in the calmer seats.

Visit a Real Western Ghost Town

If you want to have a great time in Sedona with kids, there’s no better way than to visit an authentic Old West ghost town. Jerome, Arizona is just an hour’s drive away from Sedona and it’s true Old West mining town. With lots of local color and many tales of historical fiction, Jerome may be a ghost town but it is far from dead. We toured several fun (air-conditioned) restaurants, shops and galleries on the downtown streets. If you read my post about the Haunted Whaley House in San Diego, you know our girls are fascinated with ghosts.

ghost town tour in Jerome Arizona

Abandoned lockers at the old Jerome High School haunted me in more ways than one!

To raise our chances of seeing some spirits, we booked a guided tour on the Ghost Town Tours’ Spirit Walk. Although we didn’t see any apparitions, the kids were definitely spooked when we walked through a deserted old high school. It was a ghostly site complete with creepy locker rooms and abandoned gym.

Tip #2: Try to visit mid-week when the summer crowd is even less, and you may end up with your own private tour guide like we did.

Morning Hike at Bell Rock

You can’t talk about having a great time in Sedona with kids unless you include a morning hike. We like to head out before the sun gets too hot. (Our sleep-until-10 a.m. girls grumbled a bit about having to wake up early until they saw the spectacular sunrise.) We drove the Sorento to the trail head, and  kicked off our hike through the red rocks and twisted junipers of Bell Rock.

Bell Rock in Sedona Arizona

The beauty of Bell Rock is just breathtaking, and yes this is a photo I actually took.

Choosing one of the easier hike options, we spied tons of desert flora and fauna along the way. Colorful birds, hawks, bunnies (awwwww!) lizards and butterflies all came out to greet us. The fresh morning air, nature show and the desert in bloom made for some pretty amazing photo opps. It felt like a mashup of True Grit combined with Snow White. (Triton expected at any moment a bedraggled cowgirl would appear with blue birds resting on her shoulders.)

Tip #3: Bring bottles of water, a hat and some granola bars in your backpack. It’s easy to work up a sweat and hunger, and you’ll avoid the kids wanting to run back to the car.

Stargazing in the Desert

One of the things our family loves the most about the desert is the clear night sky, which our kids just don’t get to see in our urban home. Sedona is a designated International Dark-Sky Community, with very few streetlights and far from any big city. The night sky in Sedona is pitch black, making it one of the best places to stargaze in the US. We booked an evening sky tour with Sedona Star Gazing. We geeked out when they heard it would be led by a former NASA engineer, using a real telescope. Plus there was no hiking involved—bonus!

stargazing in Sedona

It was sooooo cool to look through the telescope and see Saturn and her rings.

Sitting in an open field in comfortable lawn chairs, we took turns looking through an enormous telescope. Our guide used a laser pointer to point out one amazing star after another. We even saw Saturn and her rings, Jupiter and some of its moons, and tons of stars and constellations.

Tip #4: Sedona in the summer is colder at night than you might expect, so bring long pants and sweatshirts for extra comfort.

Shopping in Downtown Sedona

When the tours are over, make sure to leave some time for souvenir shopping. We quickly got used to the misters that keep visitors cool as you stroll downtown Sedona. Offering an eclectic mix of art galleries, crystal shops, restaurants and more, downtown Sedona is a bustling scene. The kids had an especially great time in the rock shop. Checking out the large variety of colored rocks and stones, they picked out some special ones to bring home as gifts for friends.

Tip #5: Plan the jeep tour and shopping downtown together. The starting point for the jeeps is right in the middle of the main downtown area.

The cliffs and rock formations surrounding Enchantment Resort are just stunning.

Whether gorgeous scenery, hiking, exploring history, or stargazing, there are lots of ways to have a great time visiting Sedona in the summer with kids.

How to visit Sedona:

Sedona is just over two hours north of Phoenix by car. It’s a beautiful drive as you climb though the Tonto National Forest and into red rock country. The Sedona Visitors Information website has tons of great info and links to hotels, restaurants, and attractions.

Where to stay in Sedona:

There are many fantastic hotels, resorts and B&Bs in Sedona, and we can recommend a couple that we loved:

Enchantment Resort & Spa – This luxury accommodation is tucked into a picturesque red rock canyon, offering rooms and suites decked beautifully in the desert theme. Their spa, Mii Amo, is world renowned and we could totally see why. Summer rates start around $379.

Hilton Sedona Resort at Bell Rock – With views looking out over the desert floor directly aimed at Bell Rock, this Hilton comes perfectly equipped. The hotel is decked out with a spa, tennis courts, large pool area, spacious rooms and more.  Summer rates start around $212.

Prickly Pear Margarita at Enchantment Resort

The signature Prickly Pear Margarita was a nice greeting at the Enchantment Resort in Sedona.