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Posts Tagged ‘Family Travel Tip Tuesday’

Family Travel Tip Tuesday: Choose Their Own Adventures

March 30th, 2010 by bsmith | No Comments | Filed in San Diego Adventures, San Diego Day Trips


Batiquitos Lagoon, Carlsbad

This morning I attemped to take the dog and a very reluctant preschooler on a walk at one of my favorite spots, Batiquitos Lagoon here  in Carlsbad.  Jared started out being unwilling to participate in our adventure, but  a promise that we might get to pet some dogs along the way allowed me to coax him out of the car.  Once at the lagoon, we listened for birds and spotted some bunny rabbits. Our adventure didn’t really get rolling however until I started to let Jared take the lead on our hike.

“Where do you want to go,”  I asked.  Surprisingly he pointed to a path thatwound up a steep hill.   So, off we went, up the hill and along a ridge overlooking the lagoon.  We listened to the bird calls and tried to interpret their messages.  Jared decided that they were saying it was a beautiful day or maybe they were in church.  We admired the brillant purples and yellows of the spring wild flowers.  Eventually it was time to head back.  Jared decided to return to the path another day with his brother, sister, and a picnic.

Unfortunately I forgot my camera so the picture above is of Jared on a Batiquitos lagoon hike almost precisely one year ago.  We will return within the next few days to capture those wild flowers in photos and share them with you in a future post.

I am a mom and a travel blogger.  I love to plan and execute elaborate adventures for my kids.  Time after time,  however, I find that the adventures that have the most success are the ones where the kids can take the lead.  The  power of choice is almost magical.  It makes the difference between an ordinary day trip and a true adventure that the kids remember long after their return home.

So this week have your kids lead you on a spring adventure.  Get out and enjoy the sunshine!   Until my Batiquitos Lagoon post is up here is more information about this beautiful, kid friendly place to get outdoors and enjoy an adventure.

Happy Trails,



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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: 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: Join the Club!

May 12th, 2009 by bsmith | No Comments | Filed in Travel Discounts, Travel Tips

A few years ago, we took a fabulous Florida Vacation while my husband attended a conference.  We had the opportunity to stay at the Tampa Mariott Waterside Marina and Luxury Hotel.  We had so much fun staying at this Mariott ,  Ken joined their rewards program.  (By the way, if you ever stay there,  the Cafe Waterside had a delicious oatmeal creme brulee with fresh berries. I’ve never tasted anything like it. It was one of the least expensive items on the menu, and I had it for breakfast every day during my stay.)

Whenever Ken travels on business he tries to stay at a Marriott.  This works out well, because although Mariott has beautiful luxury hotels like the one in Tampa, it also offers more affordable options for the budget business traveler.  When traveling with the family we prefer properties that offer suites like The Fairfield Inn, The Residence Inn, Towne Place Suites, and Springhill Suites.  The small kitchens, continental breakfast, and other ammenities really come in handy when traveling with the kids.  Since we are rewards members we also earn free hotel stays.  If you pick an out of the way location those points can really go a long way.  On our recent visit to Seattle, my husband and I stayed at the Towne Place Suites in the picturesque town of Mukilteo, Washington.  It was a drive into the city, but the property was very close to the water.  It had an extensive continental breakfast, a basketball court, umbrellas in case of rain, as well as the usual pool and workout room.  You could even rent a fish to keep you company during your stay!  Ken and I used reward points to stay all three nights!  Without the free room our Seattle adventure would have been much shorter.

Sign up for the Mariott Rewards Program or choose the hotel chain that your family uses the most and sign up for their loyalty program.  With any luck you can enjoy a few extra affordable family adventures with your free hotel stay.

Our Seattle trip also showed us how important it is to  be enrolled in those car rental preferred member rewards clubs, and to keep your info updated.  Ken thought he had a membership with Dollar Rental Car, but his membership was so outdated they had changed the name of the club and he was no longer in the computer!  We waited about 20 minutes to get to the front desk, just to do the paperwork for our rental.   Then it was off to an off-site building to wait again to pick up the car.  If the kids had been with us it would have  been torture!  Dollar Rental Car had rock bottom prices, but the service was slow.  Here’s the link to sign up for their Dollar Express program.  Do it now and save yourself some rental car hassle.

Happy Trails,



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Family Travel Tip Tuesday: Snacks to Pack for Theme Park Adventures

May 4th, 2009 by bsmith | 2 Comments | Filed in Legoland, theme parks, Travel Tips

Many theme parks like  Disneyland let you bring your own food into the park.   Others request that you don’t bring food, but do not search your bag or otherwise stop you from bring food into the park.  Bring lunch or a few snacks can be crucial in order to keep costs low and ensure that you have something that a picky kidd will eat..  So go ahead and pack a backpack or insulated lunch box when you’re getting ready for a  theme park visit.

 Here are some of my favorite lunch items and snacks to pack for your day at the themepark.  I don’t necessarily limit my kids to healthy food on our visits.  To me, a day at a theme park is a time to indulge a little and it prevents my kids from constantly begging for treats:

  • Fruit Leather (These are great to slip in your pocket when you aren’t bringing a backpack or stroller)
  • A can of squeezie cheese and crackers (Easy to carry, fun, and doesn’t spoil)
  • Salami alone or with crackers
  • Apples
  • Home made cookies (Pack these in a container so they don’t crumble.  I’ve learned the hard way)
  • String Cheese
  • Water Bottles
  • Water or juice pouches (These are not welcome at zoos and other places that have animals due to the straws.)
  • Strawberries or melon slices in a container.
  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
  • Carrot or celery sticks
  • Grapes
  • Nuts like peanuts or pistachios
  • Chips
  • Pretzels
  • Orange Slices

What are your favorite foods for a theme park picnic?

Happy Trails,


P.S. Thanks to Stacey at San Diego Bargain Mama for featuring The Unauthorized Legoland Guidebook in her Made for Moms section.  If you live in the San Diego be sure to check out her blog for the latest bargains.


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Family Travel Tip Tuesday: Make Custom CD’s with Your Kids

April 27th, 2009 by bsmith | 4 Comments | Filed in Family Travel, Road Trips, Travel Tips

The Smith Family makes at least two eight hour roadtrips per year.  Sometimes Dad tags along sometimes I travel solo with kids in tow.  I have even carpooled all the way from Carlsbad to Santa Cruz with my former neighbor and his 11 year old son.  Pre-tricked out SUV, we did not have much success with DVD’s.  We have a little portable DVD player, but it was too small and there was no place to mount it.  Even today, I prefer listening to music.  It’s more fun for the driver and the kids seem to get less bored.

Here are my tips for the perfect road trip CD:

  1. Keep the songs loud and lively.  I love the sweet folk ballads of Kate Wolf, but they bug my kids and make me sleepy on the long drive.  Perhaps bring the slow songs along to listen to on your ipod at the beach.
  2. Include something for everyone.  We usually make at least 3-5 CD’s they are all an eclectic mix, but each usually slants to a particular age group in our family. The more CD’s the better, it is always nice to have something fresh to listen to on the way home.
  3. Give each CD a distinctive title using  genre, family member,  trip etc.  For example, Country Music/Santa Barbara, or Justin’s CD/ Disneyland.
  4. Involve your kids in the process.  We have taught my ten year old how to select his own songs and burn his own CD’s.  I also make some mixes because his tastes tend to run toward heavy metal, but I have also really enjoyed some of his choices.  He does surprising things like include Christmas carols in the middle of a summer road trip CD.
  5. Driver has the final say in choosing the CD.  If there is a particular track that bugs you, feel free to skip it.  You can also select CD’s by mood.  Be sure to override your kids if there is something that you can’t drive to at that particular moment.

Here is a Top 10 Hit List from the Smith Family Travels:

  1. “We Will Rock You”, Queen
  2. “I Get Around” , Beach Boys
  3. “Who Let The Dogs Out”, Baja Men
  4. “Schools Out for Summer”, AC/DC
  5. “Taking Care of Business”, Bachman Turner Overdrive
  6. “Dancing Queen”, Abba
  7. “California Girls” Beach Boys
  8. “Star Wars American Pie Parody” Weird Al Yankovic
  9. “Hamster Dance”,  Hampton the Hamster?
  10. “We Are the Champions” , Queen


Off course for a multi hour road trip, you need more than 10 songs.  Feel free to comment with some of your road trip favorites.   I would love to add to my list!

Happy Trails,



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Family Travel Tip Tuesday: Find a Food Court

April 14th, 2009 by bsmith | No Comments | Filed in Family Travel, Road Trips, Travel Tips

Sit down restaurants are one of the hardest things to tackle when traveling with kids.  No matter how hard we work on manners, my preschoolers find it difficult to wait for the food to arrive then have good enough to eat in public manners to finish up the meal.  On our trip to Disneyland, we stayed at a The Marriot Newport Coast Villas.  After enduring a time share presentation with two tired preschoolers and a very embarrassed grade schooler, we were rewarded with a gift card to the upscale Fashion Island Mall in Newport Beach.

After a long day at Disneyland, we decided to use the gift card to buy dinner before returning to the hotel.  We weren’t ready to shell out more money for overpriced Disney food!  The kids were tired and grouchy.  Ken and I were at the end of our collective ropes. 

We considered the Cheesecake Factory and other semi kid friendly alternatives at Fashion Valley, but ended up going to the food court.  Good choice!  Everyone feasted on what they wanted to eat.  I was tickled when Justin ordered a salad with his pizza.  The kids got their food right way, then had a chance to walk around nearby while the grownups finished their meal.  The one challenge was keeping Jared away from the fun escalators!  We were able to choose a table away from the other diners, so they could watch my children’s antics from afar with amused looks on their faces rather than scowls.  The food was somewhat healthier than fast food.  We topped off our meal with delicious gelato (unfortunately we discovered that the gelato place does not take Fashion Island gift cards!) 

Even if we had paid full price for our food, it still would have been a good deal.  The food court offered affordable prices on a wide variety of foods, and there was no waste from leftover bags of french fries etc, that I find when we rely on fast food restaurants.

So next time you are traveling with tired hungry kids, find a food court.  It can be an affordable relaxing way to wrap up your day.

Happy Trails,


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