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Archive for the ‘Travel Tips’ Category

Family Travel Tips: Summer in the Florida Keys and West Palm Beach

July 4th, 2011 by bsmith | 2 Comments | Filed in Family Travel, Florida With Kids, Travel Tips

We are flying home on the Fourth of July.  Exhausted from a week of non-stop fun in Florida.    Here are a few travel tips to share if a Florida adventure is in your summer plans.

1) Sunscreen from head to toe.  Rash guards are a must.  Funny how much more powerful that Florida sun is, even for this California girl!

2)  Bug Repellent from day one…especially in the Florida Keys!  We are still scratching the bites on the airplane ride home.

3) Plan for rain, thunder, and lightening.  In some situations you can just ignore the rain, but more than once our aquatic adventures were cut short due to the threat of lightening.  Have a back up plan (We found a local bowling alley to while away a rainy afternoon)

4) Expect to do a lot of driving, especially in the Florida Keys.  It took us two and half hours to drive from Key West to Key Largo after dark.  (The speed limit goes down after dark.)

5)  Pick a family friendly home base with a great pool   We enjoyed our stays at  the Marriott Key Largo Bay Resort in Key Largo  and the Islander Resort  in Islamorada.  Both resorts had beach access, so we could wake up and go snorkeling and also  swim in thehotel  pool until bed time.


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My Top Ten Creative and Affordable Vacation Ideas

May 11th, 2010 by bsmith | 3 Comments | Filed in Family Travel, Legoland, Museums, Road Trips, San Diego Beaches, Ski Adventures, Smith Family Adventures, Snow Vacations, theme parks, Travel Discounts, Travel Tips

I have been meaning to do this kind of tip post for a while now, but my friends at Twittermom finally gave me the excuse I needed to get it done. Here are the Family Adventure Guidebooks Top Ten Creative and Affordable Vacation Ideas:

Saving Money on Food:

1) Pack a Picnic.  Whether you’re hitting a theme park or on a road trip, packing a picnic cuts down on the cost of overpriced, yucky fast food.  I am always sure to include  some special treats: berries, salami sandwiches, etc…something the kids don’t get to enjoy every day.  Eat your picnic at a local park or rest stop.  Your kids will make new friends and get their wiggles out.

2) Do it Yourself Room Service .  Supermarket delis have fun, healthy take out.  Everyone can eat what they want and if you get paper plates…no dishes.  TV Dinners are a rare treat in our family so if there is a microwave and freezer in the room I sometimes pick some up.

3) Pick Hotels that Have Breakfast Included.  Last summer our family stayed at the Holiday Inn Express in Santa Cruz for two weeks.  It was lovely to have a hardy breakfast (eggs or omlette, sausage, fruit,etc.) every day.  Since we filled up at breakfast we were able to eat a lighter lunch!

Saving Money on Lodging:

4) Time Shares Don’t buy one…rent one…!  Our latest discovery is renting time shares on a per night basis.  With a family of five, we find that we all have a happier vacation if we are able to spread out.  Renting a time share gives us extra space, a full kitchen,  and privacy for Mom and Dad at an affordable price.

5) Join the Club.  Join Hotel Chain loyalty rewards clubs and stay at only one or two chains when you can.  Also keep an eye out for stay ___ nights get a night free promotions.  Our summer Holiday Inn Express stay yielded a five day  ski vacation in Lake Tahoe.  We used our bonus nights at the Holiday Inn Express in South Lake Tahoe,  and used the the money we saved to pay for ski lessons. 

Saving Money on Themeparks and Attractions:

6) Do Your Research.  Figure out how many days you are going to spend  at a themepark, then look at all the admission possibilities including memberships.  Sometimes buying a membership is the same price or even cheaper then a number of single day admissions.  It may be worth buying a membership and making a return trip.

7) Keep an  Eye Out for Discounts and Special Events.  LEGOLAND holds a special fundraising event for the schools every year.  They also invite people to a smaller section of the park  at night to experience their Halloween festivities for less than the price of full admission.  The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk offers discounted weeknights during the summer.  Our family never misses them when we go to visit.  All rides are the cost of one ticket which adds up to significant savings if you want to ride the famed Giant Dipper more than once.

Vacation Fun on a Budget:

8.) Visit a Children’s Museum:  These are way cheaper than theme parks and are just as fun!  My friend Minnemom has pointed out that some museums have reciprocity agreements. So, if you purchase a membership at your local museum it may give you free admission to museums at your vacation destination.  Some of my favorites are The Bay Area Discovery Museum, The Children’s Discovery Museum of San JoseThe Lied Discovery Children’s Museum in Las Vegas, The Exploratorium in San Francisco and The Portland Children’s Museum.

9) Hit the Beach. You can spend a blissful day (or two or three) with your kids entertained for hours.  Just purchase a few cheap buckets and shovels, pack a picnic, slather on the sunscreen, and read a book that you brought from home or picked up at a local used book store.  If you want to splurge you can rent surfboards or boogie boards from a local business like the one run by my friends at Concept Specialty Board Shop  in Encinitas, California.

10) Play at the Park.  Here in California playground safety laws were changed a few years ago so almost every town has had to update their playground equipment.  This is a real benefit for travelers.   No trip to Monterey would be complete without a visit to the famous Dennis the Menace Park.  Our kids love to perch on top of the train.  Even less famous parks can be lots of fun.    Some other favorite California Parks  are Cottonwood Creek Park in Encinitas, Louden Nelson Park in Santa Cruz,  Holiday Park in Carlsbad, and Moonlight Beach Park in Encinitas.

Happy Trails!


“I wrote this blog post while participating in the Toyota Sienna and TwitterMoms blogging program for a chance to get a $30 gift card. For more information on how you can participate, click here.”


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Family Travel Tip Tuesday: Park Workout

April 27th, 2010 by bsmith | 1 Comment | Filed in Santa Cruz County Adventures, Travel Tips

Bridget and Jared's Park Workout

 A trip to the park with Jared today reminded me that park playgrounds are not just for kids.  Usually I just sit back on a bench and relax, but one of my goals for this new year is to get moving every day.  With appointments and homework supervision I knew I wasn’t going to find an opportunity to walk the dog or get some other form of exercise. 

There was not a judgemental grownup in sight at the deserted Leo Mullen park in Encinitas, so I seized the moment and started swinging on the swing.  Before I knew it I was climbing ladders, joggy across  the jumpy bridge and sliding down the slides.  My heart was beating fast, and I even worked up a little bit of a sweat.  Best of all Jared described this as “the best park day ever!”.  I like to think this had more to do with Mom’s participation and less to do with the ordinary play equipment pictured here:

Leo Mullen Park, Encinitas

 Looking back at my files, I realized this wasn’t the first time that the Smith grownups have enjoyed a park work out.  Here are some pictures of my husband Ken enjoying Louden Nelson Park during our Santa Cruz vacation.



Ken and Justin go for a Spin, Louden Nelson Park, Santa Cruz, Ca

 So next time you’re on vacation find a park and hit the monkey bars.  You’ll build some muscle and your kids will have a blast.

Happy Trails,



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Family Travel Tip Tuesday: Ending Those Lost in the Parking Lot Blues!

March 24th, 2010 by bsmith | 4 Comments | Filed in Travel Tips

I am an expert at getting lost in parking lots.  I have been late to get Justin’s friend home because I couldn’t find my van among the ocean of cars at a local water park.  I spent 45 minutes wandering around in the dark with two kids at Magic Mountain until we finally made it to our vehicle.

Saturday, while searching for my car in the busy parking lot of the San Diego Zoo it came to me… take a picture of the nearest handy dandy parking lot sign.  In a pinch you can find it on your camera, and you’ll know where to go.  Still, to be on the safe side, next time I head for a theme park I’m packing my compass.

Happy Trails,


P.S. If you want to know the best place to park at Legoland pick up my guidebook.  I never get lost in that parking lot ;) .


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Family Travel Tip Tuesday: Do Your Research!

August 25th, 2009 by bsmith | 2 Comments | Filed in San Diego Adventures, San Diego Beaches, Travel Tips

Our Failed Grunion Adventure

Anyone who followed me on Twitter  early this August may have noted my increasingly desperate posts about grunion ( a little fish that comes up to breed on Southern California beaches) .  I had organized a Cub Scout Grunion Run, only to discover that the grunion were not running anywhere in the San Diego area.  When I desperately contacted the leading grunion experts, they informed me that grunion are very sporadic by August.  Optimal conditions to spot grunion  occur in late April/early June.

The hard lesson I took away from my quixotic search for grunion is this, do your research!  If I  had contacted the grunion experts before I planned the outing, my scouts would have been alot happier and surrounded by fish.  Instead, as you see above, we had a blast walking up the beach at 10:30 at night, eating brownies and juice, and heading home to our beds.

Which brings me to the second lesson of the evening.  Even failed adventures can be  fun!

Happy Trails,



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Family Travel Tip Tuesday: Beyond the Diaper Bag @ Theme Parks

August 11th, 2009 by bsmith | 4 Comments | Filed in Travel Tips



Our family moved to San Diego in 2006.  We have spent the past three years enjoying all that the region has to offer including local attractions such as the San Diego Zoo, Disneyland, Seaworld, The San Diego Wild Animal Park and of course Legoland!  In the early days of our adventures we did not travel light.  A trip to a theme park included a double stroller, diaper bag, plenty of drinks and snacks to keep everyone happy, swimsuits and towels, and a sweatshirt for each family member.

Last Sunday we celebrated a milestone on our visit to Six Flags Magic Mountain.  With my youngest potty trained we did not bring a diaper bag or a stroller with us into the park.  It was very liberating.  I was able to go on all the rides without finding a place to park a stroller or stow our stuff.  I discovered that I have lot  to learn about packing light for a theme park visit.  Here are some of my revelations:

  • A fanny pack is made for theme park visits.  Now that I am traveling lighter, I have started using the fanny pack that my first boyfriend gave me for my fifteenth birthday (romantic gesture…huh? ) .  I must admit it is one of the only items that I am still using after 21 years, so David if you’re out there…thank you ;) .  The separate compartments are very practical.  I put my camera in the top one, and larger items in the bottom one.
  • Fanny packs are great for carrying hats and water bottles, but you need to plan accordingly.  Water bottles that have hooks can hang off of the fanny pack strap.  Unfortunately, it’s a bit ackward to carry a bunch, so you may need a hydration pack or more fanny packs.  All caps worn to the themepark should have a hole in the back like a traditional baseball cap.  You can thread the fanny pack strap through the hat  if your kid decides to go on a ride that prohibits hats.  Justin brought one of those military caps without a hole in the back.  I stuffed it behind the fanny pack, but it must have fallen out sometime during the day.
  • If you are trying to sneak in snacks, think small and non crushable.  Nuts or fruit leather are good choices.
  • Tubes of sunscreen or sunscreen sticks are small, light and good for touch ups.  Apply the spray stuff before entering the park.
  • Dry socks are very precious.  I had left these in the car and really regreted this.  My son’s feet got blisters from walking around in wet socks.  Sandals or Crocs might have been a better choice, although Magic Mountain is so huge, I prefer shoes with better soles.  Next time I plan to include a socks in a ziploc bag in my fanny pack.
  • After my visit I have concluded that I would like to try to bring a hydration pack like the one we take camping.  I think it would pass theme park security, keep everyone hydrated, and provide a little more room for stowing socks and snacks.
  • If you decide you need swimsuits, towels, drinks, sweatshirts, or heftier snacks, pack the lightest items you can find.  This is the time to break out those super thin beach towels that they sell in the drug stores.  Juice pouches are lighter then cans or bottles.  Thin light sweatshirts that the kids can tie around their waists are preferable to heavier jackets.  Bring plastic bags for the wet stuff.
  • For a kid who has just finished potty training, an extra set of clothes might be worth carrying.  We had one accident at the end of the day and left a little earlier than expected so we could change into dry clothes in the car.

I’m looking forward to a Disneyland adventure or two before summer is over.  Where are you off to?

Happy Trails,



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Family Travel Tip Tuesday: Counting the (Cell Phone) Minutes

July 28th, 2009 by bsmith | 2 Comments | Filed in Travel Tips

Most of my readers out there probably pay for a decent cell phone plan with unlimited calling or minutes that carry over from month to month.  However, for those of you are a cheap like me and have an inexpensive basic calling plan this tip is for you.

This month I ended up on the road for three weeks.  Much of this travel was unexpected. Since we were visiting with family and friends the trip required alot of cell phone communication to set up visits, catch up with old friends, etc.  I was shocked to open my mail box and find a bill for almost six times the amount that I usually pay!  Doing some web research I discovered that previous to the bill being sent out, I could have purchased Sprint overage relief minutes for $25 per 100 minutes.  I found a customer service e-mail, did some fancy typing, and accomplished the impossible.  Sprint  retroactively sold me overage relief minutes and the bill was greatly reduced.

Here are the lessons learned from this experience:

  • Keep track of your minutes…Sprint offers ways you can do this using your phone or on line.
  • Know your cell companies policy about purchasing extra minutes.  I had never heard that this was an option.
  • Take advantage of free local phone calls if offered by your hotel.  (This would have saved me a bundle!)
  • Be persistant with cell phone company personnel.  The first representative I talked to told me the only solution would be to upgrade to a significantly more expensive plan.

Hope you are having a great summer full of family adventure.  Keeping track of cell phone use can save you money that can go to hotel rooms or ice cream instead!

Happy Trails,



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Family Travel Tip Tuesday: Crime Happens

July 21st, 2009 by bsmith | No Comments | Filed in Family Travel, Las Vegas Adventures, Travel Tips

So sorry I missed State Park Sunday this week.  I’m really sick with a cold!  Sounds like 88% of the funding is restored, but some parks will still be closed at the Governor’s discretion no less.  I don’t think that the park closures are worth preserving the governor’s “No new taxes” philosophy.  A voluntary Park Access Pass fee would have gone a long way to keeping all the parks open and reducing the amount allocated from the general fund.

Anyway, on to Travel Tip Tuesday.  I am writing this post because our family has been victims of crime  on more than one occasion during our travels this year.  Here are three scenarios we have experienced.

Stolen Cell Phone

 On a spring trip to Las Vegas my husband lost his cell phone.  It may have dropped out of his pocket or his pocket was picked.  What scares me is that we were not together, and I continued to broadcast my location until the person who found it turned it off.  We spent an hour on the phone with Sprint, but we were able to block outgoing calls and re-route incoming calls to my cell phone.  When you travel make sure that your cell phone is secure.  As soon as you find out it is lost,  take immediate action.  Don’t expect to rely on some good Samaritan to return to phone.  It did not happen in our case.


When we were in Santa Cruz I decided to order take out from my favorite Chinese restaurant.  When I Googled it’s name the first thing that came up was a site called Menu Station.  This site contained the restaurant menu and offered online ordering.  I decided that this sounded like a good alternative to calling the restaurant and placing a phone order.  I place my order, only to discover that Menu Station had not passed on the proceeds from online orders to the restaurant management for many months!  So far, no misuse of my credit card number, but inquiries have gone unanswered and I must now pursue a reverse charge with my credit card company…Bummer.  Kudos to the restaurant for comping me the bill.  I’ll post a review of this delicious venue at another time.

Auto Break-In

It seems that crime happens in Vegas.  My husband left our cheapo GPS in the rental car at a hotel parking lot.  Someone broke the car window and grabbed it.  There was onsite security, but somehow he wasn’t passing by at the right time.  Always take in your electronics…even if you don’t think they are valuable.  According to my discussions with the security guard, even the resale of something inexpensive can fund an addict’s next fix.

Ken paid for the rental with American Express so they are cheerfully covering repairs.  We’ll have to see if there is any further financial fallout from robbery for us.  We are out a GPS though. We purchased it with Master Card a while ago and don’t have the complete receipt.  Ken suggested that we find out where they were selling all those stolen electronics and buy a new to us GPS on our way out of town.  I nixed that idea, and we will be relying on Google Maps for the forseeable future.

Hope you have a summer of crime free vacations.

Happy Trails,



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Family Travel Tip Tuesday: Schick Intuition

July 14th, 2009 by bsmith | No Comments | Filed in Travel Tips

OK.  This is more like a mommy travel tip, but it seemed worth sharing.  During a stay at the Holiday Inn Express at Monterey Bay in Seaside, California I found a free sample of the Schick Intuition Razor in my room.  I guess that Schick provided them to the hotel in the hopes of getting women hooked on their product.  Well, great marketing strategy it worked!

What makes this razor perfect for travel is that it is surrounded by a shaving soap that rubs against your skin.  No need to pack shaving cream which will make airline travel a wee bit easier.  I haven’t checked the price of refills, but may get some more considering that it would eliminate my need to buy shaving cream.  I’ve been using my Intuition razor since late June and it still has some soap left.  I’m guessing I will need to change blades about once a month during the summer.

Well, off on a Vegas adventure for the rest of this week.  I’ll try to post something on Friday. 

Happy Trails,



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Family Adventure Tip Tuesday: Lego Star Wars Weekend

June 9th, 2009 by bsmith | 4 Comments | Filed in Family Travel, Legoland, Travel Tips
Justin is Captured by a Storm Trooper

Justin is Captured by a Storm Trooper

When you are planning a visit to a theme park, it is worth checking out special events.  Such outings can transform a theme park visit into something magical.  One of my all time favorite theme park special events is Lego Star Wars weekend which is happening this Saturday and Sunday from 10 am to 5pm at Legoland, California.  Justin is definitely going with friends, and I’m hoping to make it there for a little while as well.

What make this event so special is that it turns a park that is normally geared to the younger set into a wonderland for big kids.  Elaborate Lego models constructed by kids and adults are displayed at the entrance.  You can also particpate in a  bunch of fun events including the droid scavenger hunt, costume contests and trivia contests.  The new X-Box play area is opening this weekend so I’m sure that there will be some Lego Starwars video game action as well. 

Justin and Jared Take a Break from their Droid Hunt

Justin and Jared Take a Break from Their Droid Hunt

One of the best parts of the weekend is that the whole park is teeming with  the 501st Legion of storm troopers and other costumed characters.  Impromptu battles between good and evil break out all over the park.  Kids have fun keeping an eye out for their favorite characters. Justin was on a Commander Cody hunt last year.  The storm troopers are very generous about posing for pictures so it’s easy to get some great shots or your Lego Star Wars Weekend adventures.

Captured by the Dark Side, Lego Star Wars Weekend

Captured by the Dark Side, Lego Star Wars Weekend

 May the force be with you wherever you go this weekend!  If you hit Legoland  this weekend keep an eye out for me and the boys.  (Destiny finds Storm Troopers rather scary, so she will be staying home.)

For more great Legoland special events check out my Unauthorized Legoland Guidebook .

Happy Trails,


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