Category Archives: Travel

Visiting the northeast – our fabulous substitute vacation

Whew!  It’s been a busy couple of weeks – but they’ve been fun ones!  First, there were birthday celebrations for two of our kids who were born 5 years and 4 days apart.  Then a week of vacation.

This wasn’t just a regular vacation, but a last-minute-change-of-destination kind of vacation.

We were planning to go to Florida up until the day before we were supposed to hit the road.  Then we looked at the weather forecast.  Rain chances of 50-60 percent all week.  Two years ago we tried going to Florida despite that type of forecast.  That time, we got caught in a tropical storm that caused flooding all around our hotel and blocked the roads.  We spent some anxious time in our hotel room before escaping for South Carolina.  We were not going to take that chance again!

So it was 6:00 at night before we were scheduled to leave in the morning, and we were scrambling to cancel hotels and come up with a new plan.  The new itinerary revolved around the weather forecasts for any potential locations.  The weather looked clear in the northeast, so that’s where we pointed the car!

Our spur-of-the-moment trip was a lot of fun!  The kids had a bit of lingering disappointment over the canceled plans in Florida at the beginning of the week, but they enjoyed visiting a new area they had never been.  They’re all tracking how many states they’ve visited, and this trip added five new states: Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine.

We stopped in Pennsylvania for lunch with my hubby’s brother and his wife, then arrived in Providence, Rhode Island as our base for the week.  Hotels in Providence were less expensive than those in Boston, and it was a lovely, convenient location for exploring around New England.

We had a great time visiting the historical sites in Boston along the Freedom Trail walking tour.  It was a lot of history and walking, so it was definitely more appropriate now that we have older kids rather than littles!

Old South Meeting House

Boston’s Old South Meeting House.

Paul Revere gravestone Old Granary Burial Ground Boston -

Paul Revere’s gravestone at the Old Granary Burial Ground in Boston.

Paul Revere statue Old North Church Boston -

Paul Revere statue at the Old North Church in Boston.

Of course, we had to stop in Boston’s North End for cannoli.  Mike’s Pastry on Hanover Street had delicious cannoli that we enjoyed while stopping by the Old North Church.  The delicious cannoli was a highlight while visiting the northeast!

Cannoli Mike's Pastry Boston -

Cannoli from Mike’s Pastry in Boston.  Yum!

I did not enjoy walking across the Charlestown Bridge to get to the USS Constitution and the Bunker Hill monument, since the metal platform allowed me to see through to the river below.  Luckily the bridge was not too long.  And the USS Constitution and Bunker Hill monument were worth the trip across the bridge!

USS Constitution Boston -

USS Constitution.

Bunker Hill Memorial Boston -

Bunker Hill Memorial.

After walking through the city in the day, we tried the Boston Ghosts and Graveyards Tour in the evening.  My hubby, oldest son, and I enjoyed it.  Our two youngest kids were a bit afraid of the ghost stories during the tour.  For their sakes, I’m glad we took the earliest tour at 7:00 when it wasn’t completely dark!

Old Granary Burial Ground Boston -

Old Granary Burial Ground in Boston – seen at night during the Ghosts and Graveyards tour.

Since the trip from Boston to Maine is just a couple of hours, we headed north for part of a day to see the iconic Portland Head Light at Cape Elizabeth.  I had always wanted to do a Maine trip to visit the lighthouses.  We only stopped at the one lighthouse this time, but it was fun to visit!

Portland Head Light Cape Elizabeth Maine -

Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth Maine.

I didn’t use any filters or editing on these pictures from Maine.  It was really that beautiful when we visited.  Amazing!

Portland Head Light Cape Elizabeth Maine -

Another view of the Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth Maine.

In Rhode Island, we spent a lovely day in Newport, which is a short drive from Providence.  It was a beautiful destination with a huge number of Colonial houses and big, beautiful mansions, along with a busy wharf, quaint shops, and even small beaches.

Historic homes Newport Rhode Island -

Historic homes in Newport, Rhode Island.

Mansions Newport Rhode Island cliff walk -

Mansions lining the Newport, Rhode Island cliff walk.

Easton's Beach Newport Rhode Island -

Easton’s Beach in Newport, Rhode Island, as seen from the cliff walk.

Newport Rhode Island wharf -

Boats at the Newport, Rhode Island wharf.

On our way back south, we stopped in Mystic, Connecticut and enjoyed lunch at Mystic Pizza – famous for the movie of the same name, of course.  It was good pizza and the town was lovely.

Mystic Pizza Connecticut -

Mystic Pizza in Connecticut.

The drive through Connecticut and New York on Interstate 95 was very slow on our way back home.  The primary backup was getting across the George Washington Bridge to New Jersey.  My brother-in-law had warned us that it was a very congested route, even though that’s what the GPS selected as the best way.  We learned our lesson and will take an alternate route on any future trips.

Traffic aside, we enjoyed our spontaneous trip to New England.  Apparently the rain in Florida wasn’t too bad on the days we were scheduled to be there, but no regrets on our substitute trip.  We made great family memories visiting the northeast for vacation!

Ten essentials in the car for traveling with kids

We tend to spend a lot of time in the car with the kids.  Whether it’s a family road trip (always an economical choice for vacations) or just an everyday type of outing, we log plenty of drive time.

Traveling with kids can be fun.  I love having the time together to chat.  But it’s not always easy.  From the “are we there yet” chorus to potential problems along the way, it takes some planning to travel well with kids.Car essentials for traveling with kids -

I like to be prepared.  Over the years, I’ve learned to keep 10 essential things in our car for traveling with kids – whether nearby or far from home.

Top 10 car necessities for traveling with kids

1. Travel first aid / road assistance kit.  I consider this the most essential item on this list.  We’ve used the travel first aid kit in our car many times.  Thankfully, we’ve only needed it for minor injuries – a bandage and some antiseptic ointment here and there.  To be safe, I have a AAA road safety kit (affiliate link) with lots of different components in case of various situations.  This kit includes jumper cables, flashlight, gloves, and more.  I have a sense of security with a first aid kit and roadside safety tools my car when I’m out with my kids – but I’m glad when we don’t need to use them!

2. Napkins.  When we stop for fast food on the go and the kids grab a mountain of napkins, I take the extras with me instead of throwing them away.  I stash them in my car glove box so they’re handy when we inevitably need them.  We use them all the time.  As much as I would love to ban all food and drinks from my car, I have to be realistic.  Snacks and drinks can’t always be consumed before or after a drive when you have a busy family.  And spills happen in the car.  Those napkins come in very handy.

3. Wet wipes/sanitizer.  Even after we cleared the diaper stage, I kept wet wipes in the car for the inevitable sticky situations that happen with little kids.  Now that my kids are older, I’m past the wet wipes stage, too.  But I’ll always carry sanitizer.  I consider it a mom’s best friend when the family is out and about!  The sanitizer handles all my germy and sticky situations now.

4. Plastic bags.  These are useful for stashing trash (like the napkins/wet wipes from numbers 2 and 3 above) until the next pit stop.  They’re also necessary for the carsick kid.  One of our kids gets motion sickness sometimes.  We’ve tried both Dramamine and sea bands for road trips and still found ourselves passing a plastic bag to a sick child.  We never know when or if it will strike, and it’s usually in an inconvenient place, where we can’t stop – like driving through the mountains in the rain, miles from the nearest exit.  Yep, plastic bags have been necessary many times in our car.

5. Sunscreen and sunglasses.  Even when you’re heading out on a cloudy day, the weather can change in an instant.  I vowed that I’ve been caught out in the sun with no sunscreen or sunglasses for the last time!  I just keep these things in the car now.  We all have multiple pairs of sunglasses, with one pair designated to stay in the car.  I also keep a small, inexpensive sunscreen in the car glove box.  Since I’ve read that sunscreen can become less effective being left in the extreme temperatures of a car, I don’t keep it more than a season, and it’s not our primary sunscreen.  It’s there just in case we don’t have our regular bottle of sunscreen.

6. Music/audio books.  For everyday driving, I have a family friendly selection of music handy.  For longer road trips, we always try to get some new tunes on deck for our listening pleasure.  Portable DVD players are also great for entertaining kids.  However, traveling with a child who gets motion sickness means DVDs are out – since looking at something stationary in the car can trigger the nausea.  Audio books are a great alternative to DVDs.  Classic audio books are fun for the whole family, while children’s books can cater to individual kids with their own ear buds.

7. Blanket.  I keep a blanket in the car during the winter in case of car trouble that leaves us out in the cold.  But I leave the blanket in the car during the summer, too.  It’s handy when someone’s too cold and others are warm.  It also makes a great pillow, and it’s perfect to use as a cover for things you want to leave in the car discretely while you’re out (like an iPod or a purse), especially if the blanket matches the interior car color.

8. Portable air compressor.  Along with the standard spare tire, jack, etc. that come in a car, I’ve added a small air compressor (affiliate link) that plugs into the car’s accessory power outlet.  We have used it many times on tires that get low on air.  I bought one for every driver in my family since I have found my portable air compressor so handy for dealing with my tires.  It’s also super convenient for pumping up balls for the kids at home or at the park.

9. GPS.  I think this is standard for most women these days.  We don’t have any problem admitting we need directions.  My hubby, on the other hand, does not like the GPS.  The voice drives him crazy telling him where to turn.  He tries to always look up the route in advance to get where he’s going without the aid of a GPS.  But when there’s a road closure, detour, or change in plans, even he will admit that the portable GPS navigator (affiliate link) is helpful.  It stays in the car, even when hubby doesn’t think we’ll need it.  I don’t go anywhere without it – just in case.

10. Cash/change.  Although you can find ATMs almost everywhere these days, I like to be prepared for those unexpected moments you need cash or change.  Sometimes you find yourself at a parking meter or garage, at a toll road you weren’t expecting, in need of a tip, etc.  It’s always good to have some money tucked away in the car for just such an occasion.

Be prepared! Ten essentials in the car when traveling with kids. #traveltips

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What about you?  Are there other things that you keep on hand in your car for traveling with kids?

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Visiting Chicago with kids -

Visiting Chicago with kids

My husband and I have decided that we’re in our prime traveling years with the kids.  They’re 8, 11, and 13 now – all old enough to appreciate, enjoy, and remember new places and experiences.

Last fall our kids were excited to visit New York City as a short side trip when we went to Pennsylvania for a wedding.  Since that trip was a hit, we decided to head to Chicago for a short visit over spring break.

We had 48 hours to pack in as much as we could see and do in the Windy City.  These were our kids’ favorite attractions from the trip.

1.  Willis Tower Skydeck.

The former Sears Tower was their favorite stop for several reasons.  They were at the top of the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, and the elevator ride to the 103rd floor showed them various landmarks they were passing in height as they ascended.  Walking out onto the glass ledge, they were suspended over Chicago at 1,353 feet, looking down at the city streets below.  It’s an unforgettable experience!Chicago Willis Tower Skydeck April 2014 -

2.  Boat tour on the Chicago River.

We all enjoyed the Wendella Chicago River Architecture Tour, a 75-minute guided tour of the beautiful architecture in the city.  The views were amazing.  Despite the cool temperature and wind chill on the top deck during our April 1 visit, we didn’t want to go below into the closed cabin and miss anything as we experienced the impressive Chicago skyline by boat.  The tour guide did a great job informing us about the history and architecture of the places we could see from the river.Chicago Skyline from Chicago River Boat Tour April 2014 -

3.  Shopping on Michigan Avenue’s Magnificent Mile.

As soon as we began walking along Michigan Avenue, we started seeing American Girl dolls and bags.  My daughter could not wait for the American Girl experience, when she could immerse herself in all the dolls and accessories in the two-story store.  Meanwhile, my husband and boys checked out the Lego store next door.  The guys weren’t quite as excited about the shopping options as my daughter and I were, but they were good sports.  We did more window shopping than purchasing, but the variety of stores meant there was something for everyone to see while we were visiting Chicago.Chicago Michigan Avenue April 2014 -

4. Millennium Park and The Bean (Cloud Gate).

We skipped the Art Institute of Chicago on this trip since our kids are still too young to appreciate it (and frankly it didn’t appeal to my husband either), but they all enjoyed the public art outside.  The Bean (Cloud Gate) sculpture in Millennium Park fascinated the kids with its mirrored surface.  The plaza was crowded with visitors enjoying this Chicago icon, and my kids loved finding spots to take pictures.Chicago The Bean April 2014 -

5. Wrigley Field.

While we were in Chicago, the Cubs were playing out of town.  The stadium offers tours, but none were available while we were there.  Although we couldn’t visit inside Wrigley Field, my husband and boys were not deterred from driving out to see the historic stadium anyway.  They loved just visiting the site, which is celebrating its 100th baseball season in 2014.Chicago Wrigley Field April 2014 -

6. Rainforest Cafe.

Ask my middle child his favorite part of Chicago, and number three on his list is the volcano.  He’s referring, of course, to the dessert at the Rainforest Cafe with ice cream, brownies, and hot fudge with a sparkler in the middle to add some extra pizazz.  It was their first visit to a Rainforest Cafe, since the wait was way too long when we tried to eat there at Downtown Disney in Orlando.  I’m glad they finally got to experience the fun of eating at Rainforest Cafe.  I think I need to try a copycat recipe for the Sparkling Volcano dessert this summer for some extra fun at home!Rainforest Cafe Sparkling Volcano Dessert -

7. Indoor pool.

After a day of visiting Chicago attractions, our kids couldn’t wait to jump into the hotel pool.  We stayed at the Omni Hotel on Michigan Avenue – a nice hotel in a great, central location that allowed us to walk to most of our destinations.  The hotel was comfortable for a family of five, with a spacious sitting area.  The indoor pool was somewhat small, but the kids enjoyed it.  They also appreciated the milk and cookies that were delivered to our room in the evening.  It was a nice touch for the kids!

More attractions for our next visit…

Chicago has plenty of other attractions that we would have liked to visit with the kids if we had more time – and warmer weather in some cases.  We’re looking forward to a return visit to enjoy more of Chicago!

  • Navy Pier.  We saw the Navy Pier from our boat tour of Chicago, and our tour guide said this is the top attraction in Chicago.  We had planned to go, primarily since our daughter wanted to ride the Ferris Wheel, but we saw from the boat that the Ferris Wheel was not running.  We decided to leave the Navy Pier for our next visit in warmer weather.
  • John Hancock Center.  Our hotel was close to the John Hancock Center, but we decided to visit the Willis Tower this time.  We’re planning to go to the John Hancock Center and the newly renovated 360 Chicago observatory next time we’re visiting Chicago.
  • Shedd Aquarium, Field Museum, Adler Planetarium.  These indoor attractions all sound great and aren’t dependent on good weather, but we were limited on time, so we’ll have to wait until next time to explore them.
  • Lincoln Park Zoo.  It’s one of the oldest zoos in the country and gets good reviews, so I would love to visit the Lincoln Park Zoo.  The problem is that my kids are getting past the point of interest in zoos.  They have a “been there, done that” attitude toward all zoos now. *Sigh.* Since this is a free attraction (love those!), I’m hoping I may be able to talk them into a short visit in the future.

What are your favorite attractions when visiting Chicago?