Succeed sightseeing with your youngsters

Bolzano - Main PlazaLast year we had the opportunity to take my 7-year-old son to Italy.  I was excited to show my son a piece of the world outside of the US, but nervous.  He can be a ball-of-energy and hard to reign in.  Travel with him is sometimes difficult because he wanders and is impatient  with waiting, delays or the unknown.  He is a picky eater and a complainer when he is tired (jet lag!!)  I was uncertain about so many things.  My husband and I don’t speak Italian and had never been to Italy so we weren’t sure what to expect ourselves, let alone with our son.

However, the trip went SO much better than anticipated and my son LOVED it. Our memories of this one-on-one trip with him are amazing.  I recommend taking a child with you whenever possible!   We still had plenty of couple time and relaxation without our littles around.  And my son passed on his love of Italy to his sisters and they are begging to go.

Here is how we prepared and what worked wonders with him.

Sleeping and Jet Lag

To help alleviate jet lag, and make sure your body will sleep when it is suppose to take Melatonin (Doctor approved for us!) Get up really early (5 am) the day you flying out, even it you don’t leave until the evening. On the plane take melatonin 30 mins before you want to sleep and try to lay down. Jackson Sleeping on way to VeniceMy son laid on the floor where there was white noise and darkness. Within an hour, he was asleep for the duration of the flight. When we touched down in Europe about 3 am our time, we woke him up and started going on our day. Stay up on the first day until it is night time where you are. Take melatonin every night (30 mins before you want to sleep) to help get to sleep quickly in unknown places and time zones.
They make Melatonin in gummys that taste delicious! My kids loved them, but BEWARE! My kids became monsters 30 mins after they took it because they got SO tired.



Venice - On the Water BusWe found our old point-and-shoot digital camera and gave it to him before the trip.  I wasn’t too worried about him losing it or breaking it since we hadn’t used it in several years.  The camera was essential in keeping my son engaged and looking.  I didn’t care how many pictures he took and what they were of.  It was very entertaining that he got pictures of several door knobs, garbage cans, flowers and every pet and seagull we saw.  While we were  looking up at the Roman Forum, he was taking a picture of the trap door we were standing on.  His perspective was blocked by tall adults so he noticed different things than we did and this

Pisa - Jackson & Jamie at the Leaning Tower
Funny pictures make site-seeing more enjoyable for kids

actually enhanced our site-seeing experience.  Every night as we talked about our day we would have Jackson show us his pictures and talk about his favorites.  His pictures were HIS and what he saw and focused on.  This helped us to relate to him better and for him to communicate to us what he liked better.


Side note:  We thought we would get better pictures of us as a couple since Jackson had a camera, but we mostly just got shots of us and sky in the background.  Or with Dads head cut off. so have a stranger take your picture if you want a good one!

Renting a car vs. public transportation

Bolzano - Overlook Drive (1)We debated this for quite a while because we were only doing a one way trip (expensive for a rental) and the train system in Italy is really good.  But I am so glad we opted for our own car.  Having a car gave Jackson the down time he needed and gave us the freedom to come and go at our leisure.  We probably paid more for the car/parking/tolls (and parking tickets!) and gas than a train pass would’ve been, but we also go to see and experience more of what we wanted when we wanted it.  I noticed that when we got in the car it was like a traveling home for us.  Jackson could be louder and get down time playing with his toys, books, souvenirs, etc.  It gave us time to re-group and plan our next step.  It was a perfect way to break up the site-seeing and being in public with some relaxation time without us feeling like we were wasting precious time in a foreign country.  My husband and I could continue to site-see from the car and my son could take a break.

“Treat” budget

Florence - Gelato ChoicesWe budgeted $50-$100 for gelato.  Typically, we try to save money on food and especially unhealthy foods, but in this case it was worth it!  We knew our son would look forward to ice cream!  We made a goal with him to try as many flavors as we could (and we wrote them all down in his travel book with a rating next to it).  This helped us to motivate him to hike faster, walk further, count a certain number of statues seen or steps cliRome - Gelato with the Covingtonsmbed, etc.  It kept him engaged and he didn’t even notice feeling weary when he was licking a gelato.  Whatever your vacation provides that your child will enjoy, plan on splurging a little to make a better experience for them.

Our friends who lived outside the main city of Rome, showed us that we were paying triple the price for gelatos than what they pay at their corner market.  But convenience is worth the cost, unless
we could bribe Jackson to wait until we got home.

51xUsnZz9WL._SX385_BO1,204,203,200_Tourist guide book

I found a travel book for our trip just for kids.  It had bits of historical information, things to find at each site, some Italian phrases, and some games. Jackson loved looking at his travel book in the car before and after sites.  He especially loved trying out the Italian.


At the end of every day we would glue in our ticket stubs (yep I brought a glue stick for him), rate things we ate, and write a bit about our day.  We bought a journal to help guide our thinking about the events and give my son space to write, but I bet you could make a little journal yourself.  I liked helping my son go over each day and all the things we did and saw.  In one day of sight-seeing there is more to remember than a month of the mundane!


The people we were staying with in Rome lent us a scooter for our days there.  This was such a blessing for us.  It folded up and had a strap so we could carry it if needed.  There were a couple times we couldn’t take it in places and so we found a locker for it or had to stash it in a bush and hope it was there when we returned (it was both times!) Jackson absolutely loved it.  He lasted for 10 hours through the city of Rome.  I think we walked 8 miles or more and he just kept on scooting!  He was so entertained and we were able to see all the things we wanted without hearing a minute of complaint.  We actually wore out before he did!

Rome - Riding a Bike in the Villa Bourghese
See a site in a different mode of transportation to rest weary muscles or feet

Listening entertainment

My son doesn’t love movies and after several on the plane, I didn’t want him to overdose on screen time.  I filled an old ipod with audio books, kid-friendly comedians (Jim Gaffigan, Brian Reagan, Bill Cosby) and music he would enjoy.  Sometimes he listened with headphones on his own and sometimes we plugged it in to the car speaker and all got a laugh.  We had to set some rules for when he could listen because he kept wanting to listen as we saw sites (which meant he wasn’t looking and would wander off).  Once the newness of having his own ipod wore off it worked wonderfully!

Hotel fun Bolzano - Swimming Pool in the 4 Peak HotelOur first hotel had a pool on the roof top!  Unfortunately, we didn’t figure this out until after we checked out (but we went back to swim and enjoy the view of the alps for a bit).  Make sure you check your hotel amenities first!  We had to wait a couple of hours for dad to work and wish we could’ve gone swimming to pass the time.

Our next hotel was built on the cliffs ofCinque Terra - Hotel on the Cliff (2) the Mediterranean Sea which was amazing for us, but it also had a pingpong table, game room, outdoor playset, etc.  We didn’t schedule enough time to play on it so we had to take a stop after we were done with our site-seeing so Jackson could get enough play time.   Finding hotels that offered something for him was not on purpose, but it added fun and excitement for his trip.

Our next hotel had a queen bed and a single bed.  I don’t think American hotels offer this, but a triple room was so perfect for us!

Finally, we stayed with a friend that had a yard for soccer and a boy his age with a few toys to play with.


When we encountered our first souvenir stand, I realized that Jackson wanted to buy EVERYTHING!  My husband and I collect magnets so we usually don’t waste a ton of money on souvenirs.  We quickly set a standard for him.  He could get one postcard from each place we went.  He could buy something for under $10 for each sister and find something for himself he could buy at the end of our trip.  We helped him figure out the currency rate so he knew how much things cost(Mathematical application anyone?).  He also helped us pick which magnets.  This gave him something to look at without constantly begging for more things.  We also bought shirts for all the kids.

Humanitarian We gave Jackson a handful of coins to pass out to the homeless in the city.  This really helped Jackson to look around and see people and their situations.  He had the opportunity to interact as he gave a few coins to each person.

Venice - Dipping Feet in the Grand Canal
Dipping our toes in the Canals of Venice.  Say yes, if you can to kids requests.

Make it a game  We counted steps,skipped stones, threw pennies in fountains, named statues, found differences in churches and tried to turn everything into a game for Jackson.  My husband is great at coming up with ways to engage him in what we want to do. Rome - Exhausted Jackson

My son was exhausted after the Vatican museum.  In this photo we are waiting in line to hike up to the top of Peter’s Basilica.  I never thought he would make it, but dad made up a game and Jackson made it up to the top by counting each step to see if it was more than the last building we climbed (971 steps.)


Rome - Jackson Climbing the Basillica
Counting steps at the top of the Basilica
Rome - Jackson at the Colosseum (1)
We told stories of what might have happened at each of the ruins to help him to get a picture in his mind.  Here he is being a gladiator.

Photo Journal after the trip When we got home I compiled all of his photos (and mixed in some of ours) into a book.  You can make them on Shutterfly, Arts Cow, Snapfish.  He loved showing his book to anyone who would look and this made the trip last longer than a week.

Cinque Terra - 1st City - Winding down to the Train

Food Jackson is pretty picky eater, but I felt like Italy was a great introduction since we could find pasta and pizza anywhere.  Your vacation may be a bit more challenging.  I kept snacks (especially with protein) on hand.  Travel packets of peanut butter, granola bars, apples, raisins, beef jerky, trail mix, or crackers are perfect to fill a belly when a meal isn’t coming soon.

One of our first stops was a grocery store, which was fun to see the differences from America.  We let Jackson pick some snacks he’d like and picked up a flat of water so we’d never be thirsty the rest of the trip.


Club at PHL (2)
A LONG layover can be fun when you find a playplace and get ‘free’ food at the airport club.

Rome - Pringles Goooooaaaalllll


We had an amazing trip thanks to these tips and ideas.  What else do you do for your little ones on sight-seeing trips?

Venice - Jackson Eating Pasta
Finding food he likes!!

Junior Ranger Programs at National Parks

Leaving Phoenix - Carlsbad Caverns (10)
Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico


We LOVE national parks.  We have never been disappointed in our visits to these spectacular pieces of our country.  They are well-preserved natural habitats.  The cost to get into the park are a small fraction of the amount of things to do and see and experience.  It is well worth the money!

At EVERY major national park, there is a Junior Ranger program for the kids to complete Usually it is free, although we did have to pay a couple of bucks for one at the Smokey’s because there was not park entrance fee.  There are usually 2 different programs, one for readers (6 yrsold-12) and one for younger children.

Tennessee - Jackson takes a photo of black bearTaking a picture of a bear for his Junior Ranger Program.Our first stop at a National Park is always a visitors center.  We watch a movie, see some of the displays, grab a map, talk to the rangers about kid-friendly outings or any info we need to know and then ask for a Junior Ranger Program.  The kids work on these activities in the car and on our outings.  On our way out of the park, they like to return to any visitors center, show the activities they’ve completed and be ‘sworn in’ as a junior ranger to get their ranger badge.

Olympic Nation Park - Under the Tree
Olympic National park



Getting Sworn in at the Everglades National Park, Hats and all!

They are all specific to the things they will be seeing in that park and have pictures, puzzles, games and kid-friendly information.  I feel like these are most secretive than they should be!   You always have to ask for them and the rangers are usually like, “Oh yeah!  Those!”  why don’t they just have them out to take?  Anyway, my mission is to get the word out to our junior members of society to make our trips to National parks more meaningful and memorable!


Maine - Hallie & Jackson in the Forest
Acadia National Park Junior Rangers
Hawaii - Family at the Lava Tube (2)
Hawaii Volcano National Park Junior Rangers


The Folly of Flying by the Seat of our Pants

MOST of the time, I love last minute planning and ‘on the fly’ adventure travel.  Usually, we find awesome places and things to do and see.  When we finish a trip, I frequently say that deciding on the spot made the trip better than pre-planning it.  However, our most recent trip showed us the disadvantages of not planning, preparing and researching carefully for a trip.IMG_1685

As we drove toward the ocean, swimsuits on and ready to rock the waves,  I looked up family-friendly beaches in Miami. I had heard that some beaches that were nude, gay, party  beaches, etc.  So I thought I would make sure it was family friendly.  Those 2 words should do the trick, right?

South Beach came up as the most popular IMG_1686beach; NOT to be missed.  I also read about a little park, Lummox park, on 12th street and Ocean, that is a great place for kids to play around.  Seemed like a no-brainer.  My husband dropped the kids and I off at the park.  I sun-screened everyone while they played and he parked the car.  Together, we went right behind the park to the ocean.

All the ingredients for a successful day on the beach were present.  Hot sun…check; rolling waves… check; warm water….check; gorgeous, clean sand…. check;

We were absorbed in keeping our family together and finding a quick place to plant our stuff so we didn’t have to roll the stroller through sand any longer than absolutely necessary.

IMG_1683We plopped down, spread out our stuff and the kids and I ran to the ocean as fast as we could.  Dave was occupied getting Whitney to stop crying and go to sleep despite the heat and sun.  It was a moment of chaos for our family.  And thus, we were completely oblivious to those around us.

When things finally calmed down and we looked around, we piece-by-piece discovered that we had unknowingly stumbled on to the gay-est beach in town.   To our left, there were hundreds and hundreds of male couples sunbathing in speedos and short-shorts.  To our right, lesbian couples tanned.  The four lesbians right next to us (like 5 feet away) were sunbathing topless facing up. There wasn’t a child to be seen for miles.  Men in skimpy swimwear showing tanned skin and feminine walk, chatted gayly (and I mean that in the happiest way).   Women in thong bikini bottoms (*and by bottoms, I mean they didn’t actually have a bottom) caressed their partners.

We slowly realized that we had just planted our family in the middle of people who were not wanting to see a big Mormon-family with tons of kids running around.  We felt so out-of-place with our 4 kids, a baby, our white un-toned bodies, my one-piece workout swimsuit and missionary hair-cuts.   While those around us were lathering their bronzed bodies with bathing oils and donning the latest fashion sunglasses, we were sun-screening around hand-me-down stretched-out kid’s suits in the shade of our just given-to-us-umbrella.  The closest I came to fitting in was when I breastfed– without my cover on!  While we were not exactly shunned,  several couples obviously picked up their stuff and moved 20 feet down the beach, away from our noisy children.  We realized we were in the minority (or rather the ONLY) and felt very uncomfortable.   But, because we only had an hour before we had to head out to the airport, we just stayed put and tried to enjoy the beach despite our obvious differences.

See the wide space we were given on a crowded beach?  How nice, right?

True to form, and much to our chagrin on every other part of our trip, our kids were oblivious to the people around them.  They didn’t seem to notice anyone or anything except the waves, water, sand and toys.  They didn’t miss having other kids to frolic in the waves with (but did miss the same-gender couples making out in the ocean because I started a seaweed war to distract them).   My 4-year-old did beg to take her swimsuit top off, but as far as I could tell, that’s all they noticed.

As we left the beach, we were still wondering if it was, in fact, a gay beach or a special event or WHY there were so many in that area.  We then noticed the rainbow flags flying loud and clear and soon learned via google that 12th street beach is the #1 Gay beach in Florida (and has been for 25 years).  So glad we didn’t miss it, LOL!

And someday we will tell our children the story of the day we took our family to the Gay Miami beach.

Air Travel Tips with an Infant

Today I was asked about advice for traveling with a baby.  Lucky for me, I’m leaving tomorrow with my 3-month-old (and my older kids) so I am prepared for this.

My first piece of advice is always, RELAX!!  Travel with babies is great because:

  1. They sleep SO much!
  2. White noise on planes and in cars is amazing for them
  3. They don’t need toys to entertain them (mine currently stares at her hands for hours a day)
  4. People love to see little babies and will be very forgiving of any cries because they are so young and innocent and their wails are adorable.

So breathe!  This will go better than you expect.  (**If you are nursing you NEED to relax because your anxieties will transfer to your baby through you milk and cause upset stomachs, etc, so RELAX for the sake of the baby!)


Pack 2-3 outfits per day, 8-10 diapers and 3 bibs/burp clothes and lots of wipes. If you are going for a week or so, buy a pack of diapers and wipes once you get there so you don’t have to pack them all.

Packing baby clothes
Always carry plastic or ziplock bags to put soiled clothing into.  You can pack babies new oufits into ziplocks and put the old ones in the sack.  Inevitably, the biggest blow out/spit-up you’ve ever seen WILL happen on this trip, so be prepared and when it comes, say “yep!  This is it! I’m ready for this!”  It may be a good idea to use old bibs/onsies that you can just trash once their purpose is fulfilled.

You may want to skip the bows, shoes, and accessories, especially for the traveling part.  Anything extra frequently gets in the way and becomes another item to hold and lose.  Try to simplify as much as possible.

My third baby LOVED her binky.  So I needed it handy ALWAYS.  It was so hard to have it dropping out of her mouth and rolling down the plane as we took off, so always have 3-4 extra in an EASY -to-access location.  I love this little binky holder, just so it stays clean and easy to find in a diaper bag or backpack.


Binky holder for easy access
My favorite nursing cover slips over my head and covers everything.  This is so convenient for that moment when I’m sitting next to a 20-year-old-never-wants-kids and I’m suppose to feed my baby.  It also doubles as a carseat cover for blocking out the light and wind later on the trip.

My babies this young didn’t take bottles, but if yours does bring travel size packs of formula and several empty bottles.  Fill with water after security.  You can also ask the flight attendant for hot water (they have it for tea and coffee) and mix it with colder water to get the right temp.  You CAN take formula and milk through security, it just has to be tested for explosives, which means you have to open the bottle for a minute.  It can be messy.   Also anything frozen can get through security without a problem so if the flight is long, freeze a bottle for later.

Airport travel tips:

Strollers and carseats DO NOT count as luggage on the major airlines.  You can check them for free.  So you can stroll right up to the gate and down the jet bridge before disassembling them to get on the plane.  You will meet up with your stroller right as you get off the plane for easy transport.   They are a bit of work at security.

We travel stand-by so we never check bags in case we don’t make it.  So I have to push a stroller AND pull a carry-on at the same time and sometimes hold another kids hand.  Is your stroller friendly to one hand pushing?  I love a jogging stroller, but they do take a lot of space in a tiny rental car and may be ruined by the baggage handlers and the amount of movement, so you want to decide if you are ok with it possibly being beaten up.   I really love my snap-and-go for travel.  It is lightweight, easy to fold one-handed and perfect for transporting the baby in a car seat.  I also love stroller straps for easy access to the diaper bag.

At security you want to have a wrap/sling/backpack on.  Put the baby into the wrap and then you’ll be hands free to move luggage along, take shoes off, etc.  You are allowed to walk through security with a wrap on.  They will swab your hands for dangerous materials, but it is usually a quick process (do not apply lotions or sanitizer right before the check, they can flag the explosive category…don’t ask how I know lol).  it is nice to have a wrap so there are options if baby isn’t liking the car seat.  I put my backpack in the stroller and carry the baby.

The snap-n-go with a carseat cover on the beach.

On the plane:

  • If you are able to take your car seat on the plane (i.e. you bought a seat for the baby or were told that there is an empty seat next to you) I suggest you do it.  It is nice for the baby to sleep uninterrupted and for mom to get some hands-free time if possible.  (not to mention it is safer than being held).  It is a bit awkward to get the carrier down the narrow aisle, so be prepared.
  • wear a wrap/sling.  You aren’t allowed to have the baby in the wrap on take off and landing, but it is great for hands free and keeping baby calm next to you.  Also, if you have to go to the bathroom a wrap is a must.
  • In my experience, little babies on planes don’t really need earplugs, but I always throw in a pack of silicone ear plugs in case the captain is that annoying loud-speaker-lovin guy that needs to remind you of the latitude and longitude of the flight every few minutes.
  • Make sure to put the diaper bag with all baby supplies as the bag under the seat in front of you.  You never know when you’ll need something or how long you’ll be stuck on the tarmac, unable to get up.
  • bring a plastic changing mat for when you need to change on your lap, or on the floor.  easy to clean. Use the vomit bags for soiled diaper disposal.
  • Have an extra outfit for yourself  in a carry-on in case of extra liquids coming from baby or spilled drinks.  Wear an easy-access nursing top, in tight quarters with a cover on it can get pretty tricky to get a good latch especially with a new baby.
  • extra ideas to pass the time: lullabys, bouncing, shushing, a swaddle, nursing a lot, and kisses and tickles,
My first flight with baby #4 (3-week-old) my husband didn’t get a seat so I went alone at 10 pm.  You can do this! 




Olympic National Park Highlights

Olympic National Park was absolutely incredible.  Perfect for the kids.  This park has a variety of things to see and experience.  We went from the sandy beach to the highest peak with an overlook of the mountain range.  Then two hours later we hiked in a rain forest to a waterfall.   I loved the mixture of water, overlooks and forest!  We came from a hot and humid summer in Texas it was hard to imagine anywhere being chilly, but we used our jackets everyday so bring some warm clothes!  There is only one main road around the outside of the park.  Most of the sights I describe here were 15 mins to 45 min  drive off the main road.  We started from the Seattle side of the park on the North and worked our way all the way around the park and back to Seattle.

Our family woke up in a hotel a few hours from the park, but since we were too tired for the pool last night we had to take a short morning dip and have the hotel breakfast (Free buffet breakfasts are always the highlight of my kid’s day).  We headed out for a day of driving and seeing.  We split up the trip so that we had a stop every couple of hours and it was a perfect itinerary!

Dungeness Spit

Olympic Nation Park - Mariah on the Beach.JPG

This is not an actual part of the national park, but was so interesting and beautiful (once we found the correct location…don’t trust gps on this, navigate to Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge).  There is a $3 fee per party  to hike out to the Spit and we didn’t have cash (how do you go on vacation without cash you ask?  I don’t know, but somehow we survive every time).  We picked up an envelope and promised to send it later as we started hiking.  (To be honest, here was a moment one of the kids was throwing a tantrum and dad and the perp when back to the car while the rest of us meandered slowly waiting for them.  Travel with kids is tricky sometimes!)  We originally brought kites and we had to leave them behind.  This place is a refuge for animals so no playing allowed.  (There are great beaches to use kites later on so hold on to them! ) The hike was so beautiful.  The trail split into two trails: One is paved,wide and easy sloping, the other trail is a natural hiking trail, narrow and through more brushes.  The natural trail was longer in mileage, but still not very long.  We sent our slower 3-year-old with Daddy and Mommy hiked faster with the older kids and the little girl still beat us.  Once you get to the actual spit it extends 5 miles out into the ocean.  There is a great view from the end of the trail, along with binoculars to see the lighthouse near the end of the spit.  You have to hike down a fairly steep dirt hill to get to the spit.  Some people were walking further out, but we just got to the sand bar and started playing with the smooth stones, the driftwood and the sand.  It was really windy and cold, but there were places of refuge where we played with the kids and hid in driftwood ‘forts’.   It was quite a bit wider than I thought it would be, so its not like you could touch or see both sides of the ocean at the same time.  Our kids imagined and created with the rocks and driftwood for nearly and hour, while daddy skipped rocks into the ocean and I soaked in the relaxing sounds of the ocean and delightful giggles of my children.

Hurricane Ridge

Olympic Nation Park - Hurricane Ridge (4).JPG

We stopped at a visitors center at the base of the ridge and got a Junior Ranger program as well as info about what we were going to see.  The drive up Hurricane Ridge was so foggy and it began raining.  I thought we were wasting our time driving, but my little one was napping (and even I grabbed a short nap) so I tried to be ok with driving through fog just for the sake of driving.  The older kids were listening to an audio book… car sanity saver!  However, as we continued to climb and climb we emerged on top of the fog and there was a spectacular view of many, many mountains and valleys and glaciers.  I was so happy that our 45 min drive was worth it.  The visitor center showed a short video about the area and had a topographical map showing us the different mountains we were looking at. The view from the lodge was spectacular.   Then behind the center we hiked to up a small hill (felt like a giant mountain with no oxygen).  My children wondered aloud if we would possibly see a deer just as we turned a corner to have a deer within feet of us crossing the path.

Olympic Nation Park - Hurricane Ridge (7)Olympic Nation Park - Hurricane Ridge (6)

This would not be the last deer (or elk) we saw and the kids were elated.  We reached the top of the ‘hill’ a bit out of breath, but in awe of the perspective and grandeur of it all.  Apparently, on clear days you can see out the the ocean, but our views were somewhat diminished by the lower fog.   We encountered a marmot (thank you visitor-center-movie for teaching us what a marmot is) on our path and saw several more deer, squirrels and birds.  As we drove down the ridge, I thought surely the fog had lifted since we had such great views, but it was still waiting for us as we dropped down in elevation.

Olympic Nation Park - Hurricane Ridge.JPG


Lake Crescent

Olympic Nation Park - Cresent LakeThis was right along the road we were traveling so we just stopped and jumped out of the car, dipped our toes in and took in the views.  Traveling right along the shore gave us many amazing views.

Sol Duc Waterfalls

Olympic Nation Park - Sol Duc Falls (3).JPG

It was getting late as we arrived, so we opted to hike to the falls and not to soak in the water at the little resort.  It was $14($10 for kids)  to swim (although we were late enough to get twilight $10 for 2 hours).   It looked less glamourous and more like a dirty swimming pool than the website would have you believe.  Still, I wish we could’ve experienced it.  Despite being late and tired, our kids did great on the hike.  They got into their own little world playing with each other and walked along with no complaints.  The falls were pretty.  It was beginning to get dark so we were rushing to get back to the car, but also didn’t want to ruin the magic of kids enjoying themselves in the wild outdoors.

City of Forks

Olympic Nation Park - Forks

Made famous by the vampire series, Twilight, this little sleepy town was just as written about.   I loved exploring a little.   We found a 2 bedroom motel (6 beds!) and our kids immediately went into the second room, closed the door and got some alone time without mom and dad.  I ran to the store for dinner.  The kitchenette was great for any cooking we needed to do.  Sometimes eating out is such a hassle and it is nice to eat in a place where we can be comfortable (not to mention the cost effectiveness). Breakfast was also from the local grocery store and we got some of the best donuts I’ve ever had!  I we discovered that our kids love the hard boiled eggs you can buy at the deli.

Olympic Nation Park - Hotel in Forks

Hoh Rainforest 

Olympic Nation Park - Family in the Forest
Our first stop the next day was the rainforest.  We had a taste of the moss hiking last nights, but this rainforest was even more covered than Sol Duc.  This is the only rainforest in the continental US.  Weve been to the other rain forests (Hawaii) but this was so different and interesting.  We hiked the Hall of Mosses.  It was a quiet and dense feel.  The sun was almost completely hidden.  The trees were huge with many logs to crawl into or on tops of.

Olympic Nation Park - Kids in the Forest (2).JPG


Ruby beach  

Olympic Nation Park - Ruby Beach (4).JPG

We ate lunch on the shore as we flew kites, dug in the sand and played with smooth, round stones.  The views here were incredible.  (Have I mentioned that I was 5 months pregnant on this trip? My energy was low and I relaxed and  took in the view as often as possible.  My husband did more playing around with the kids). This beach had big boulders in the ocean that gave this such a unique beach feel.

Olympic Nation Park - Ruby Beach (2).JPG

Lake Quinault 

Olympic Nation Park - Hiking in the Forest.JPGOur last stop was a little hike around Lake Quinault.  The map was a little hard to decipher and I’m still not exactly sure where we hiked, but it was beautiful and enjoyable.  Olympic Nation Park - Kids in the Hollow Log.JPGWe spent another few moments soaking in the crystal waters with the giant mountains surrounding it before calling it a great trip and heading to the airport back in Seattle.


The thing that stood out to me in this park was it VARIETY.  Every stop was something new and different and we never got ‘bored’ of too much of the same sights.  This National park is worth getting to!

A day in Seattle

We arrived in Seattle late at night (2 am our time) and crashed in a slummy hotel just north of the airport.  No problem, it had 2 large king sized beds, a kitchenette (which we didn’t use) and free breakfast which is the only thing our kids need to be happy.  I crashed putting the girls to sleep and Dave fell asleep with Jackson.  We both spent the night uncomfortably being kicked in the back by our children.  We usually help them fall asleep separately and then move them… note to self.. ALWAYS move the kids together!

At 5 am I was up (it is 8 am our time)  I started using my phone and next thing I know my 3-year-old is next to me and in the most motherly voice said, “It’s not time to use your phone, Its TIME to be in bed!”  I promptly obeyed and headed back to bed with her.  She fell asleep for another hour until everyone started waking up around 6:30.  I am always proud if my kids sleep past 7 or 8 our time.  When I was a young and inexperienced traveler, I would stress and worry about the amount of sleep my kids got, now I know that tired and not well rested kids are just part of the first days of travel and I try not to stress about what I can’t change and try harder to be prepared to help them through those tired times.

You know your living in a high class motel when you can only shower from the belly button down!

1. Pike’s Market Place

We started the morning where everyone told us to go, Pikes Place Market.  I must not have done enough research, because I expected only a fish market with workers singing and moving all over the place (‘FISH‘ book anyone?) But really it is a multilevel giant mall, with portions of it being in open air on one side of it.  We entered from the parking garage on the water side We really struggled finding the center famous part of it.

TIP#1 : Use the downtown parking website or app:  This helps you know the cost of parking and where to find close parking anywhere downtown.  It saved us at least $10!


Mini Donuts for breakfast (because the toast and jam and muffins at the hotel weren’t enough carbs to start the day)


This picture is a great memory because the kids were all sorts of worried about these fish  here, they wouldn’t approach them and they kept asking if they were dead.  I assured them they were and told them to get in a picture with me.  They reluctantly joined me, but kept their eye on the fish.  Then right before the picture this fish in the background jumped up!  Scared the kids (and me) to death.  The kids went screaming and crying away as the stranger with the phone snapped this.  Turns out the fish is attached to a chain and can be pulled from the other side of this display.  We had all sorts of fun with it later on (after the tears were dried).  and other families got their laughs and giggles as we pulled it and scared their kids… so pay it forward!


I finally convinced one of the kids to touch a fish.
Rosie the Bronze piggy bank found around the area.

Once the day got going, the market was really crowded (and this was a Thursday morning.  We had trouble staying together with so much to look at and so many people.  The kids were begging for lots of things and my husband stopped to buy Brats and Salmon (packed with lots of ice so it could last until dinner time). We ended up walking on the outside of the market and looking at the sculptures and bridges from the market to the other side of the street.

2. Gum Wall

This really is just a part of the market place, since it is just down the stairs from the central fish market.  The gum wall was gross!  I thought I would really like it, but I was grossed out.  Luckily,.my kids are old enough to NOT TOUCH when I commanded it!
We all left our mark. The kids just liked that we got to chew gum!

TIP: Bring gum or buy it before going down.  We left ours in the car and bought more in a shop upstairs.  BRING SANITIZER!

We wandered down the hall of the market and Dave found some German Brats we bought by the link, so we tried every kind.  Jackson of course ordered the Italian one.  Our hotel had a grill so we planned on making it for dinner that night.  We also bought some king Salmon to complete the random meal.

Seattle was so interesting!  We found art pieces, waterfalls, sculptures etc all around the city.

3. Waterfront

Behind Pikes Place we wandered down to the waterfront.  It was beautiful and there was ping pong, the giant ferris wheel ($13/adults $9/kids), the Puget sound and the aquarium ($25/adults, $17/kids)  if interested.  There was also a really cool blue path that I thought would be fun to bike if the kids were bigger.  We only spent 30 minutes enjoying the sites and sounds of the area and didn’t spend a dime (except in our parking that went over by 2 minutes and we paid another $3.)




This was part of the waterfront and the building the the back is the aquarium.
Another interesting sculpture.  Always something fun to look at here!

TIP: Bring a Sack lunch and eat on the provided picnic table with a fantastic view and the kids can roam or play ping pong.

4. Hiram Chittenden locks

We parked at the “locks’ and realized the kids and I were really hungry.  The place to eat only had fish and chips and I wasn’t sure how that would go over with the kids, but they loved it!  It always makes me a little nervous to take my picky eaters to new towns so I pack a lot of snacks, but I love finding food they will eat!

We then headed through a nice little park to see the Hiram Chittenden locks (free) where the ships enter and it fills up or lets out water to move them from one lake/canal to another.  We were there just in time to see a few boats rise within minutes.  The kids thought it wasn’t real, so it was fun to try to explain it.

Unfortunately, we missed the salmon swimming upstream season by a week, but there are windows into the canal so you can see the fish trying to jump up the stream to get back to their nesting ground.  We saw a few fish swimming around. IMG_20160721_125450536_HDR

TIP: Research the weeks that Salmon are running and this would be more entertaining

5. Discovery Park

We headed across the canal to Discovery park (Free)  I didn’t realize that during the week you have to check out a parking pass to go down to the beach and lighthouse.  There are only 8 parking passes!  One was expected back within 45 minutes so we decided to wait.  There was a small, but fantastic kids play area with puppets, tunnels and a few other things to look at and do.  It was a perfect down time for us and the kids.  The parking pass came right as we were ready to go and we headed out to the Puget sound for some tide pools.

TIP: Research when the tide goes out and get a parking pass early if possible. IMG_20160721_133116045

The water was coming in.  I didn’t see much of anything in the tide pools, but the kids liked exploring.  We walked around the lighthouse and it was much colder and windier around the point.  There were some great views and the kids always love a beach. IMG_2337

6. Seattle Center: International Fountain

We headed back down town for Seattle Center.  Here you can find the children’s museum ($10/person), the space needle($22/adults, $14/kids), Chihuly glass garden($27/adult, $16/kids), the international fountain (free) and lots of art and gardens (free) to see and explore.

This international fountain was amazing.  Look at the little people next to it.  Even though I had researched it I thought it was a small splash pad.  It is HUGE.  The fountain is choreographed to music so it is unpredictable and exciting.  One song the fountain sent water spraying SO high I got wet sitting above it and a hundred yards away.  It was so entertaining and fun.  Despite the weather being mild (in our humble Texas opinion) the kids were delighted to get soaked and run and play.  Such a great time was had here.  (and yes, my daughter is picking her nose for the pic… reality of having kids)

TIP: Swimsuits and a towel on hand would’ve been great!  It worked out just fine since kids are amazing, but if you are more prepared, stash some suits in your pack.IMG_2347

The space needle was a bit underwhelming.  It wasn’t nearly as high as I thought it would be.  The cost was astronomical though, so we passed.

We went into a “Center of the center” Seattle armory to find a restroom and in the process saw a lunch area with a bunch of places to eat.  There were giant games set out to play for free.  Giant scrabble (complete with beanbags for participants, connect 4, chess, checkers and other games).  I wish we had time to stay and eat and play.  Looked like a blast (for free too!).  We met a balloon guy and left the center with happy kids, ready for a rest.

TIP: Eat lunch or dinner at the Armory while the kids can be free to roam and play games here. IMG_20160721_153907039_HDR

 7.  Ferry ride across the Puget Sound

An hour ferry ride getting across the Puget sound would take 1 1/2 hours (waiting time) and driving all the way around would take 1 1/2 hours.  I was so glad we opted for the more expensive ferry ride ($32), because it was a fantastic experience.  Mariah fell asleep on our drive to the ferry and was able to stay asleep in the car while we waited.  The kids and I explored around the ferry waiting area and looked at motorcycles and different cars (and changed into dry clothes).  IMG_2351IMG_2353The ferry views were indescribable.  Seeing the Seattle skyline and then the amazing homes along the Puget sound was so beautiful.   We even got to chat with a local about how his experience was moving from Cali to Seattle.  I loved getting an insider’s perspective.

Snacks to tide the kids over until dinner

8.  BBQ at the Hotel

You’ll have to  check with your hotel to see if they have a grill or eating area, we called while we were in line for Brats at the public Market.  Without any  intentional planning on our part, our hotel (we got free with Marriott hotel points) was only 3 minutes from the ferry port.  Once at our hotel, I  set up the hotel room and headed out to set up dinner near the grill, while Dave headed to the grocery store to get some extra fixings.  We couldn’t visit Seattle without a little rain, so with no warning and beautiful blue skies, the rain started falling moving our BBQ inside.

Our knight in shining armor tames the fire-breathing dragon for dinner.

Salmon, brats, chips, grapes, pickles and juice.  I LOVED having our own space to enjoy dinner together without having to get on the kids for perfect restaurant behavior.  This was the perfect end to our day.  We really wanted to swim, but it was late (and even later in TX) so we headed to bed with visions of Seattle city in our heads.  This time we split the kids up to fall asleep and then moved them together for the night.


In all of our travels, we’ve found that we don’t enjoy the city scene as much as others, so we tend to hit the main sites in a day or two and call it a success.  There were many family friendly venues we could’ve visited, but we felt like we got a great overview of this city in a full day of adventures (and only spent money on a bit of food, ferry ride and parking, maybe $65 total!!) and we were ready to take a road trip out to Olympic National park in the morning.

Travel Options

Deciding where to vacation

Because we fly stand-by our trip planning is often done quickly. We tend to change plans according to when and where flights are open, so we try to do a lot of research to be prepared for any number of situations. We plan on leaving on Thursday for a trip. Here is an insight into our planning

#1 Where to go?

We really want to go to Glacier National park. It looks incredible and this is the best time of year to be there. However, It is really difficult to get to! American has one (full) flight a day to Bozeman (which is a 5 hour drive to the park). NO flights to Kalispell (which is technically in the park, but still 3 hours from where we want to go. So we could pay to fly stand-by on another airline.  At $33 per person per direction it’s a great deal, but adds nearly $500 to our trip. We could also fly into Calgary which is only 3 hours from the park, but unfortunately, the girls passports haven’t arrived yet, so we can’t do this option this week. We should’ve been prepared with passports!! Also, flying home from Calgary would cost $50 per person so this adds to the trip. (International flights we pay taxes and fees). We decided to wait until we could potentially fly to Calgary once the girls passports get here. Hopefully, we get there someday. Glacier trip is put on hold. I did do a bit of research about the park and what to do with kids, so if last minute we decide to drive or take the flight from Seattle we will be prepared with a few things to do.

We also thought that upstate New York would be a great option. Once again, the girls birth certificates are in the mail to get their passports, so we couldn’t even drive to the good side of Niagara. Plus, the pull of the fall leaves and their colors in New England are inviting us to wait until fall and hope we can take a quick trip over Labor day.

We loved taking Jackson to Yellowstone when he was 2 and really want to recreate that trip. This is so close to our hometowns in Utah that we would love to do this trip when family could join us. So we will save this one for when we can drive from Utah. Maybe next Summer? (Although with a baby it will be much more complicated!)

With our top options down we are looking into other fun places. Because Seattle would be the stopping point if we went to Glacier National park, we looked into things to do in Seattle. Turns out there are 2 national parks close by. It is perfect and cool weather this time of year and there are 12 flights a day from Dallas to Seattle.

The problem with researching this many places to go is you end up finding many MORE places to go. We thought about driving to Portland and flying home from there, but the things we really want to see in Oregon are the coast and that would add significant time to the trip. As of now, I don’t want to add Portland, but Dave is still hoping we could fit it in, so we will see. Dave tends to want to do more and I want to take it a little slower and enjoy where we are and we try to find a middle ground.  I’m hoping we put this trip on hold and stick with juts Seattle and surrounding areas (although without passports and birth certificates we can’t see Vancover and Victoria like we would want to.)

And of course, we always check Hawaii and it is actually open this weekend! This makes it a very enticing place to go, but after a ton on research on a NEW place to visit, a long trip to Hawaii which we’ve already seen, probably won’t happen. (Although my sister will be on her honeymoon there that week, so maybe we should…)

Writing this article reminded me that I didn’t check out one of our most desired destination that has only a few flights and a very short travel period… ALASKA! The flights are mostly full and since I don’t have much time to research, we probably won’t do this one (not to mention, we want to go withOUT the kids!)

After disagreeing on how we want this vacation to play out, my husband also suggested, St. Croix in the Virgin islands, Mount Rushmore, the Oregon Coast and Utah (Where our family lives)

Wow. Doesn’t this just make your mouth water with the possibilities of great places to take a bite out of?!? It is so difficult to decide where to go when you don’t have a specific reason to go anywhere. How do you choose where to vacation?

#2 Flight Loads and date/time options

Since we fly stand-by we have to see if there are enough seats to get us places at the times we want to go. MORE importantly,  is there a way home and other options if there are cancellations or flights fill up. Going to a remote place means you may have to rent a car and drive to a different airport if you can’t get out. All of these are factors in which trip we take. We don’t get to choose exactly the dates, times and places we want to go like those lucky people who have to pay for their flights.

#3 Hotel prices and options

Next, we look at hotel options. We have a few credit cards with bonus points on them so we look at Marriotts, Starwood and Hiltons. Then we see if there are cheaper options on We don’t mind a Super 8 or Days Inn if it saves us money (and the kids love the free breakfast). We really try to go cheap on hotels. We usually only sleep there one night and then move on, so it isn’t worth paying for nice amenities we don’t use. We have used points for resorts and nicer places, but the fees, taxes and parking make it so expensive it still feels like we aren’t getting our money’s worth. Everyone travels differently, so I understand those who love the relaxation and peace of a resort. But that isn’t our travel priority, so we stay as cheap as possible.

#4 Car prices

Different places and times of year the rental cars prices can be really high or low. This isn’t really a deal breaker for where we are going, but it is something to consider when thinking about the cost of a trip. Now that we are having a fourth child this will significantly increase the cost of our trip since we will have to either rent 2 cars or get a van for every trip!

#5 What to do

While we are deciding where to go we do some searches and map out different possibilities of things to do in each area. We have taken a few very last minute trips where I’ve done no research and we just look in our hotel room the night before and find somewhere to go. Thank goodness for the internet and so many travel blogs. Hopefully, this blog becomes a good resource for other fellow travelers.


How do you decide where to travel? What are your travel priorities?

Before I traveled a lot, I dreamed of Rome, Paris, New York and the big city travel draws. Now that I’ve done quite a bit of traveling, I’ve discovered I don’t really enjoy city travel. I like slower paced places, fewer tourists, off the beaten path hidden gems and mostly I enjoy the seeing nature and the outdoor sights.

We’ve decided we like nature more than the city life (which is unfortunate since airports are always in big cities and nature is a road trip to get to). We travel as cheaply as possible so we can afford to take more trips. We try to see as much as possible which means we don’t necessarily drink deeply of any one area, but take a sip of as much as possible. Knowing what will make you satisfied and happy will help you get the most out of your vacation and travel.  Once you know what you like on a trip, you can find something that works for everyone your family

***UPDATE: We went to Seattle AND Hawaii! We did Seattle City for 1 day, Olympic National park for 2 days, took a day to travel to Maui (through a over-night layover in Phoenix) and spent a day on the beach and resort pool (Yep, we splurged and spend ALL of our hotel points on one night in a resort). We were planning on staying another day in Hawaii but we were burnt and exhausted so we called it a success and headed home on day 5. (Post of the trip coming soon!)

To Bag or Not to Bag?

Tomorrow, I fly home with my 3 kids (ages 7,5,3) so today I pack their travel bags. When they were younger I NEVER let them carry their own bag that would just become another thing for me to tote around a keep track of.  After preaching this philosophy until I was blue in the face, my kids grew up a little and now I’m changing my tune.  I use to pride myself in carrying only 1 backpack and 1 carry-on, but now I’ve joined the circus of tons of luggage and it definitely has its advantages.  I realized that having their own bag allows them to determine when to play with what and they don’t have to ask me for every toy, treat and thing once on the plane. They have been fairly responsible with getting it through the airport, but it is annoying when they are all sleeping AND I have extra luggage.   We have rules that they can’t open the bag until we are on the plane (or we have a long wait in the airport.) The three kids tote around three separate bags and have the freedom to get into it at will on the plane.


My  current travel bags include:

  • Tablet &Headphones
  • Coloring/activity book & crayons/ colored pencils (in wipes containers)
  • baggies of snacks (pretzels, fish, cereal, fruit snacks,apples, bagels, and vegi straws are the most common) & an empty disposable cup with lid like this
  • Magnetic builders like this
  • Travel games (Monopoly and trouble) & Card games (Uno,matching & pictureka) (These are used for the hotel and airports mostly)
  • Softback Book for reading (usually from our kids meals at Chick-fil-a)
  • An action figure/Barbie/my little pony from $ store
  • A small container of playdoh
  • Sheets of stickers
  • Chapstick, lotion &sanitizer(my 3 year old loves these)
  • Wikisticks or Bendaroos

I also throw in other odds and ends from my travel box that I constantly stock with little activities, games, or knick-knacks from carnivals, parties, happy meals, etc.  I’m a mean mom and I take away items they get before they can play/get bored of them and put them in my travel box.

Most trips, I trade out the toys and games so there is always something new for entertainment, but the tablets, snacks and coloring items are always present.

Note to self: MAKE SURE THE TABLETS ARE CHARGED!  Also, I’m glad I threw in a USB charger with both the AC adapter charger and  a plug because our plane happen to have a few AC plug-ins under the seats (look at the seat letters for a lightning symbol, that means there is a plug in under the seat.) so we were able to keep Jackson’s tablet charged and the girls and I made it through without screens.


This was Christmas day when we had to do 2 layovers in order to get home.  I let the kids bring all their loot so they were VERY entertained, but traveling through the airport (2 securities!!) was stressful and I was worried about losing all of their new items. (Yes, airport security let the kids through in a leotard, a swimsuit or even barefoot.)Christmas Day - In the TUS Airport







What is Flying by the Seat of your Pants?

In the past, airplanes weren’t equipped with the instruments and functions that they now have.   To fly pilots had to steer by the feel in the ‘seat of their pants’.  Thus, started the idiom that has come to define our family.

I’m Jamie.  I am a normal, run-of-the-mill, stereotypical stay-at-home mom.  I have 3 kids, ages 7,5 and 3.  I make home-cooked meals, I drive to soccer and dance lessons. I do a load of laundry a day.  I try to save money, eat healthy, work out, read books, volunteer at the school, teach boy scouts, serve in a church community,  have play dates, go to the library, be close to God,  be close to family, stay in touch with friends, and be the best mom I can be.  Usually, I feel I am failing in all areas simultaneously because I spread myself thin, trying to do it all.

Family Pictures - Nov 2014 - Family (2).jpg
This is Jackson (6) Hallie (4) and Mariah (1) with my handsome travel partner, Dave in 2014

There is one thing that I do that is different than many other stay-at-home moms I know.  I travel.  With kids.  A lot.   Our family has been on 70 flights in the past year.  I mostly travel with my whole family, but I’ve been known to take trips alone or just the kids and I and also as a couple, with my husband.  I have always dreamed of a stable home and predictable life.  I  knew being a mom would be my most important calling and job in my life.  But I never could have imagined it would include seeing the world in so many ways while fulfilling my role as a mother.

San Diego, California                 Maui, Hawaii                  Las Vegas, Nevada

Five years ago, I had only taken a handful of flights ever.  I was the oldest of seven kids and although my parents took us on road trips each year and showed us the world (or rather the US of A) as best they could,  taking nine people on a flight together was a bit out of their financial reach. Because I hadn’t flown much, I was actually a {bit} terrified of flying.  I had seen that show in the 80s that shows the top of the plane being ripped off and flight attendants flying out of the plane… terrifying!  On the  only international trip I had taken, I remember thinking I was going to die. I gripped my seat in terror for 16 hours of the flight.

Chicago, Illinois              Denver, Colorado            Fort Myers, Florida

But five years ago, all this changed.  My husband was hired by US Airways in their corporate office.  He had just finished an MBA and was searching for jobs to use his sparkling new degree.  We had no hopes or dreams of working for an airline, it just happened.  And when it did, our eyes grew wide at the possibility of exploring the world more fully and we began to dream.  We made lists of places to go and things to see.  We put up a map and talked and planned night after night together.  Working for an airline we get to fly for free in the US and for a small fee internationally.  However, we fly stand-by, meaning we only get the left over seats IF there are any.

Boston, Massachusetts        Washington DC          Rotenberg, Germany

Because we fly stand-by we have the opportunity to fly for a fraction of the cost.  However, stand-by is not actually ‘free’.  You pay in uncertainty.  In being flakey and uncommitted when visiting family or friends. You pay with stress of never knowing if you will make it to a desired destination and never being able to plan in advance.   You pay with anxiety as you watch the seats on your ideal flight filling up.  You pay with disappointment and packed bags that never lift off the ground before returning home.  You pay because planning ahead and ‘getting the best deal’ is not usually possible.  You pay by booking something you may never get to use.  You pay with making plan a,b,c and d and usually doing z (and being grateful it worked out that way).  Most airline employees know this and have experienced these stresses. In fact, many decide it is not worth it to travel stand-by and buy confirmed seats just to by-pass the madness.  However, for us, we love a good deal.  We also love being together as a family and want to include everyone in the fun, so traveling frequently at cost would not be possible for us.

New York, New York           Indianapolis, Indiana           Nauvoo, Illinois

We are never quite certain what day or time we will arrive in which airport or in which city.  Thus, we’ve learned to travel ‘by the seat of our pants’. We’ve learned to be totally flexible and last minute.  Our extended family has learned to not be shocked by a call saying we will be visiting in a couple of hours. Frequently, we wait to get on the plane before we book a car or hotel.  More frequently, we sit outside a hotel and book from our phones before heading in to check in.  We usually book several rental cars in many different locations and times just to cover our bases.  Most of the time, we don’t know exactly which flight we will be taking home.  We just have to check in and see what feels like the best fit for us at the time.  We sometimes have to take early,early morning flights waking our kids up.  Sometime we fly late into the night, hoping that ours kids will sleep on the flight and wake up enough to walk off the plane and through the airport.   Sometimes we take a red eye through the night and pray we all get to sleep.  You see, we don’t get to choose the prime time for traveling, we take the left over seats that no one else bought.  We make do with what we get.

Big Island, Hawaii                Snowbird, Utah               Portland, Maine

This blog is meant to pass along the many things I have learned traveling with small children without being able to plan for our trips in depth. I often get asked travel advice for being on a plane for little ones.  I have typed up countless novels for people. This blog is meant to get everything I’ve used and learned is all in one easy to access place.

Carlsbad Caverns, NM              Saguaro NP, Arizona           Austin, Texas

Traveling is valuable for our children and our families.  I want to show families that it can be done… quickly, easily, without too much work and provide memories and connections forever.  Sometimes the thought of travel is so overwhelming that moms don’t want to do it more than one big trip a year, but smaller more manageable trips are possible (and even desirable!)

So plan (or don’t plan) your next adventure and lets experience this world as a family!

17 budget friendly travel tips for Machu Picchu Peru

My husband and I recently had the opportunity to travel to Peru for our anniversary.

Machu Picchu - Dave & Jamie in the Ruins (7).JPGI spent many hours researching for the trip, but there are some things you can’t prepare for without experiencing it.  For non-Spanish speakers traveling to South America for the first time, our eyes were opened in a few ways. Here are a few ways you can be more prepared than we were.

  • Travel:
    1. Spanish speaking.  Most everyone said that it would be fine to not speak Spanish and all the people working in the tourist town would be able to help us in English… not so!  Both of our hostel workers spoke NO English.  Even the word ‘map’ was unrecognizable to him (its ‘map-a’ in Spanish).  We had a difficult time finding maps or guidebooks in English at the Cuzco ruins, or even menus in English at the Lima Airport. We just had to point to something and hope it was good.   Bring a dictionary or a translator.  Luckily, my husband remembered just enough from his college course to get us through.
    1. Keep your immigration form handy:  When you go through immigration they stamp a form and then hand it back.  Whether they told us in Spanish and we didn’t understand or not, we didn’t keep the forms and upon going back through immigrations you have to show these forms or pay $10 per person to get new ones
    1. Lima airport doesn’t have free wifi, you can pay $10 for 24 hr access.
    1. The train to Aguas Caliente.Aguas Calientes - Train RideFor tourists to go to Machu Picchu, the trains are VERY expensive.  We paid around $300 for both us round trip (1 ½ hour ride each way).  You can save some money by buying a round trip upfront, but we weren’t sure when we would be ready to go home, so we paid a little more for 2 one-way trips.  This gave us more flexibility, but you run the risk of it being sold out.  There were only a few seats left when we bought our return trip so we weren’t able to sit together (Until someone traded seats with us.)  The Vistadome on Peru rail is more expensive than the Expedition.  Vistadome serves a snack and drink and the windows wrap around the top of the train to give a fantastic view.  However, the Expedition also serves a (smaller) snack and drink and has windows on the top.  I didn’t notice a huge difference and as a money saving tourist, would not have paid more $ for the Vistadome, except that it was the only option we had in the afternoon.   Inca rail was smaller and more affordable when I looked online, but in person was $75 each way, with fewer time options. It did look like there was another train option that all the Peruvians were taking.  I’m assuming a smaller train, cheaper and more stops, but I didn’t look into it since we couldn’t speak much.
    1. Expenses.  After you’ve already bought your flight to Lima and then to Cuzco, the cost of transportation to Machu Picchu is still very high.  Most people book a tour which means the tour company takes care of all the details of getting you around, you just have to meet with them.   After pricing everything out, I found it is still much cheaper to travel on our own.  I like this option better as well, because I have tons of flexibility, I can go or leave when I want and don’t have to wait for others or hurry up for others.  However, this means I have to make plans and hope they work and it can be a bit stressful.  It obviously up to you and what is most important.  But we chose the option of flying-by-the-seat-of-our-pants and traveling on our own.

    Cost breakdown for 2 people

    • Taxi to Ollaytantambo $55
    • Train to MP $120
    • Bus up the mountain $24
    • Macchu picchu tickets with mountain hike  $87
    • Tour guide $60
    • Bus down $24
    • Train back to ollaytantambo $150
    • Minibus back to Cusco $30
    • Taxi to airport $10
    • Total: $530 (not including airfare)

At Machu Picchu

  1. Make sure you have a PRINTED ticket to Machu Picchu.  They require the printed tickets at the top of the mountain (and they do not sell tickets there) and your passport.  I bought tickets at home right before we left for the airport.  I don’t know how accessible printers are in Peru and didn’t want to wait and find out.  There are several places to buy tickets to Machu Picchu in Cuzco, but I didn’t want to pay a taxi driver to take us there so I bought at home.  I did read that they sell out in high season, but there were plenty of tickets available for us on the day we went in late November.
  2. Inside the gates at Machu Picchu there are no toilets, water or food.  The hotel right outside the park sells some snacks, water, ice cream and food (buffet for $40/person and outrageous prices for everything else, too) but once inside the park there is no option for food or water.  The booth to check in for our hike did sell small water bottles for 5 soles.  The bathrooms outside the park cost 1 sole to go in.
  3. Mountain Macchu Picchu is a 4 hour round trip hike. (Wayna Picchu is 2 hours round trip). Machu Picchu - Dave & Jamie Overlooking the Village.JPGWe pride ourselves on being fast and fluid hikers, so we did it in 3 and 1/2 hour, but it was really, really hard. Over 3000 steps and a huge elevation climb. We were huffing and puffing and taking frequent breaks. Only a few steps after our breaks and we would be right back to breathing hard. We were so sore at the top and then hiked all the way down (including down the part where you can take a bus if you opt to). The sore muscles lasted for several days. I am not in the best shape of my life, but I am also working out several times a week. The lack of oxygen and the many steps made this hike very difficult. All that being said, the view from the top is fantastic and indescribable. Photos never do it justice. The reward of our hard labors was worth it. I just wish I would’ve done the stair master at the gym a few times to prep for this.
  1. Do Not go into Macchu Picchu without a guide! Machu Picchu - The Tour Guide.JPGWe first entered without a guide, looked around and then went back out to get a guide to tell us what we were seeing and answer all our questions. There are plenty of English speaking guides at the gate hoping to get a tourist for the day. The tour is about 2 hours and you will not regret knowing more about the ruins and getting to ask all the questions you want. As cool as the site was, I didn’t really know WHAT it was, so having a tour was critical making our trip worth it. Patrick (our tour guide) told us he would wait at the ruins FOREVER, so you could always ask for him. (We paid $60 for a 2 hours tour including a small tip).

Packing Tips  

  1. When a hotel advertises wifi and breakfast, it may not be what we expect in the states.  Both our ‘hostels’ served a roll with butter and Tampico orange juice for breakfast.  Aguas Calientes - Breakfast at the HotelWith the price we paid ($36  1st night, $24 second night), we weren’t going to complain, but I was glad that I packed oatmeal packets to add to hot water to make a more complete meal.  The wifi was only in the lobby at one hotel and was very spotty in another hotel.  I had to ask 3 times for it to be restarted.  They were friendly and kind about it, but it was annoying to have to go ask them.
  1. Bring your own toiletries.  Maybe you will stay in a nice hotel that provide these amenities, but we choose to stay in cheap places so we can afford to travel more frequently.  Both our hostels had no shampoo, conditioner, or lotions, or hair dryers, etc.  Our hotels did have toilet paper, but many of the public bathrooms did not, so pack your own! None of the public bathrooms had soap so if you want to stay germ free, bring hand soap and/or hand sanitizer. Bug spray was pretty costly ($7 for a small bottle) so if you can bring your own this would save money.  Sunscreen was also costly and since I thought it would be raining we didn’t bring any or buy any.  Our skin peeled for 3 weeks after our hike up Macchu Picchu mountain!
  1. Toilet paper:  You cannot throw the toilet paper in the toilet which is pretty gross.  Any bathroom outside of the airport didn’t have any toilet paper in the vicinity (so bring your own) and the toilet didn’t have a seat on it (just the bowl part). so practice your squat holds!
  1. Soles.  When we traveled, Soles were about 3 times dollars (so 1 dollar=3 soles) this math wasn’t easy to do in my head when they would say “40 soles” and I was trying to figure out if I was willing to spend that much money on an item.  In some cases, we spent more that we wanted and in others it was much cheaper.  Our first meal in the country we paid about $8 per meal which we thought was reasonable, until we walked down the street of Ollaytantambo and found hamburgers for 10 soles (or $3.50).  I thought Machu Picchu tickets for 2 were $300.  AFTER I purchased them and it appeared on my credit card bill as $87 (300 soles) I was so happy!
  1. Don’t believe the weather report. We had 90% chance of rain all day, everyday and it only rained from 3 am to 5 am. The misty mountain cleared of completely by 10 am.  Wear sunscreen! Bring sunglasses! We burned so quickly and deeply. Our skin peeled for 3 weeks after our trip. Our ponchos were a waste of money, but we were worried about rain breaking out, so we bought them before we headed up the mountain, we should’ve bought sun screen.

Other things to see in the area

  1. Auguas Caliente is the town at the base of the mountain up to Macchu picchu.  It has no cars in it, just a walking town.  It is quaint and cute and quiet. Aguas Calientes - Misty Town Square I loved that we spent our first night there and were ready to go up the mountain first thing in the morning.  I would definitely recommend this travel itinerary (taking the afternoon train into Auguas Caliente and spending the night), but it is a tourist trap.  Souvenirs here are nearly double what you will pay elsewhere. There is more selection there than in Cuzco or in Ollaytantambo, but it is costly. The food was reasonably priced.
  2. The ruins in Cusco are amazing too, but the price is high as well.  We paid $40 to see Sacqueshuaman.  Cusco - Saqsaywaman - Dave by the RuinsThe hand carved giant boulders made into a perfectly smooth wall were spectacular!  We paid a taxi driver $30 to drive us around to the other 3 smaller sites (on the same ticket) as well as take us to the airport.Cusco - Ovewrlooking the City
  1. If you are traveling on your own, they you may not be able to take advantage of seeing the ruins in Ollaytantambo without paying a high price.  You can only get tickets to see the ruins there by buying a combo packet that include 3 or 4 other places.  It was $40 for the combo pass and we knew were weren’t going to make it to any of the other sites, so we didn’t do it.  If you had the time and taxi, these places may have been interesting, but paled in comparison to Machu Picchu, so you may want to do them first.Cusco - Saqsaywaman - Lady Posing for Picutres

I know I don’t travel like many who save up, book nice hotels and a tour to make it all easy, relaxing and enjoyable. We choose the budget- friendly route so I can continue to be a stay-at-home mom to our kids and we can keep going on more and more trips.   Our philosophy is, “The less we pay on this trip, the sooner we can go on another one!” Also, we like exploring on our own terms and conditions coming and going when we feel ready and not when our itinerary tells us to.

If you want to ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ it is definitely doable.  Hopefully these tips help!

I’m so glad I got to see this amazing wonder of the world!  I sat in the grass here and soaked in the view (and rested my aching hiking legs) for over an hour!  Machu Picchu - Overlooking the Village with Llamas

For details and pictures of our trip and itinerary you can read it on my blog