Want To Get Out Of Town? How To Find “Last Minute” Spring Break Flight Options

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If you just realized that in a bit over a month your kids will be off school for a whole week [Spring Break] and you are dreaming of getting out of town with your crew, then this post is for you! If you are considering a beach vacation or visiting family and you need to find a flight I suggest trying Google Flights – http://www.gooogle.com/flights.

Google Flights is one of my favorite ways to find good flight deals. You cannot purchase flights at this site – but this powerful search engine finds you great flight options you can compare from many, many, many airlines. Then you just head over to the airline site and book your tickets out of town.

My city of origin is Denver and I used the search to look at North American flight options for my kids’ Spring Break which is the week of March 21. This is what I found when I searched in a very general way. It gets my creative travel ideas going…

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When I added the option of searching by the same dates and origin, but saying I want to go to a beach in North America this is what comes up. Again it gives me some great options and gets me thinking…

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Here is how you search for flights on Google Flights:

  1. Go to www.google.com/flights
  2. Enter your city of origin
  3. Fixed Dates and Travel Destination: If you know where you want to go enter your destination city and your dates of travel
  4. Fixed Dates but Open to Many Destinations: If you do not know where you want to go enter your dates of travel and scroll down to the map feature. Click on the map feature and you can see what your cost for travel will be. This is my favorite as it gives you lots of options.
  5. You can get more specific by listing general “Places” you want to go and/or your “Interests” for travel. You can also not if you want to travel for a specific duration.
  6. Try it out! It’s really cool. And it gets you thinking about your options for travel where ever you want to go…
  7. Have any questions about using Google Flights or searching for reasonable family travel options? Give me a shout at info@boulderfamilies.com

Happy Family Traveling! 

Zika Virus and Travel: What’s A Family To Do?

It is no secret that the CDC has issued a travel warning for pregnant women considering traveling to infected areas of the world. In fact many airlines are offering refunds for travelers wanting to change plans based on the Zika Virus. It’s not clear how Zika is impacting travel and specifically families who are traveling. It is clear that the virus is spreading rapidly and to some of my favorite places to travel!

Zika Infected Areas

The most infected areas are shown here:

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Zika infected areas include [but are not limited to]:

  1. Cape Verde
  2. Caribbean
  3. Central America
  4. South America
  5. Mexico
  6. Samoa

Infection and Prevention

It seems only 1 in 5 adults infected with the Zika Virus show symptoms which are reported to be flu-like. The biggest issue is for pregnant women because there Zika could increase the risk of birth defects in unborn children. But what about babies? Young kids? Teens? The list goes on.

Since Zika is transmitted by mosquitos it is important to prevent being bitten. How do you do that? Outside Magazine online has some great suggestions:

  1. Use repellents that contain at least 20% deet
  2. Cover up with clothing
  3. Stay inside at high mosquito times of day [dawn/dusk]
  4. Use permethrin-treated clothing

Also, Consumer Reports just published a review of mosquito repellents that best protect against Zika. These are all ways to control your exposure to mosquitos and Zika virus. And the CDC has plenty of reading on the issue including an CDC FAQ page.

Will Zika impact your family travel plans? 

 

Packing For Traveling With Kids

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Traveling with kids? Let the kids have some input and travel like a pro!

As soon as our kids could pull a suitcase or carry a backpack we always included them in the travel experience by having them take responsibility for at least some of their own gear. Especially in an airport this can make your life easier but be prepared to offer a hand if your child gets tired of carrying the items you’ve given them. My priority is to ensure they learn to love traveling not dogmatically make them carry their own gear.

Packing a Suitcase – Always pack things they like to wear. It’s no fun to have a suitcase full of clothing or shoes and have your child say they won’t wear them, so avoid this issue and pack what they like. Better yet, give them a list of things they need to pack [you can alter this list based on your child’s age/ability] and help them identify the items they love to wear – and pack those. Always pack an extra set of clothing and a little more warmth than they kids think they will need.

You can find child size suitcases at a local department store, Target, Amazon.com or at high end travel stores such as Patagonia.com. 

Packing a Backpack – The backpack has the items your kids need to have with them for comfort [e.g., a bankie or other cuddly toy for comfort] and for entertainment. The pack should be their size and fit comfortably. This is true if you are packing for a car ride or an airplane ride. When our kids were young we had things we always did for them like wrapping a few new toys for them to unwrap in the airplane. These can be simple, but engaging. Now we never leave the house for a trip without a sketchbook, art supplies, and an iPad [preferably loaded with a movie and some games since you cannot count on wifi on planes and certainly not in the car]. We also like to pack things like a hackysack or soccer ball for when we land or on a layover. Entertainment is key!

You can find child size backpacks at online retailers such as LLBean.com. I like these because they last forever! You can get fancy and have their initials or name embroidered on if you have time. The younger kids love this! 

Please share any packing and travel tips! Enjoy your family travels!

 

How To Find A Hotel Room For Half The Amex Membership Rewards Points!

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Photo courtesy of SPG Hotels and the Aloft Hotel Phoenix

Book a hotel for half the Amex Membership Rewards points! If you have an American Express card then you earn valuable Membership Reward points [MR]. These can help with purchasing from Amazon, Home Depot, as well as traveling. I am focused on travel!

When you use Amex points you have a few different ways to book your travel. The first is to use the Amex travel portal. The second is to transfer points between Amex and one of their travel partners [e.g., SPG,  Delta, etc…]. These are both good options depending on what your travel plans call for. Mine call for a hotel in Phoenix, AZ since my son will be competing in a soccer tournament there in February and we are staying an extra night to check out Phoenix!

Even though I am going to use American Express MR points to secure a hotel for us the cost in points is very different. The take home is that you need to compare options to maximize your valuable points. In this scenario I saved half my points for the same room.

My son loves the Aloft hotels. They happen to be an SPG property. I know I can book these through Amex. Time to do some research! Here is what I found:

Option 1: Use Travel Portal at Amex. Here I can purchase the night I need through the travel portal at a cost $159 [same as I could buy directly on the Aloft website] or 22,714 Amex Membership Rewards points. Aloft Room = 22,714 MR points

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Option 2: Transfer Amex Points To SPG. The SPG site says the number of points needed for a room at the Aloft for the night I need is 3,000. On the Amex site MR points transfer at a rate of 1,000 MRs to 333 SPG points. It turns out I need 10,000 MRs to get 3,333 SPG points for the room [Now I will have a few extra SPG points, but that’s just how it works]. Aloft Room = 10,000 MR points

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I am going for Option 2! I get the same room for less than half the MR points! For the same room I could pay 10,000 Membership Rewards points or 22,714 Membership Rewards points. My choice is clear! I will transfer points to my SPG account and only be out 10k MR points. I’m headed off to book my room now…

 

Free Money! Thanks, American Express!

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Want to travel for free or cheap? Want to save your family cash on a regular basis? I have the points and miles bug and I hope that sharing this info will help others save money & open up travel opportunities you never knew existed. My family has been doing it. Your family can too! Today I will start by looking at what you may have in your wallet already – An American Express Cards

Save today on things you already spend money on!

If you have an American Express card you can be saving money by simply Tweeting codes they send out. Seriously – Amex sends out codes, you use them, then you purchase items where you normally would and you get cash back. Here is how it works!

Step 1: You have sync your American Express card with your Twitter account. You can simply create a Twitter account just for this purpose. How to sync your Amex account with Twitter. It is really easy to do – don’t get intimidated! Once you sync your card and Tweet, then when you spend on your Amex you get a statement credit.

Step 2: Figure out what you already spend money on that they promote. Here are some current deals which are outlined in a Dan’s Deals post here. Tweet these codes before you spend money.

Whole Foods: Tweet #AmexWFM, spend $75 at Whole Foods on your Amex and get $10 back

Sam’s Club: Tweet #AmexSamsClub, spend $20 and get a $20 statement credit. I went online and ordered a $50 gift card for a teacher gift and got $20 on my statement immediately. I think of it as free money.

Pharmaca: Tweet #AmexPharmaca, spend $40 and get $10 back. I just purchased a gift card for $40 and immediately got the notice that I would earn a statement credit.

Home Depot: Tweet #AmexHomeDepot, spend $75 and get $15 back. I love supporting McGuckins, but sometimes there are things I can only get at Home Depot.

Other shopping options you may like:

  • The Container Store: #AmexTCS $15 off $100
  • Sur la Table: #AmexSurLaTable – $10 off $50

Step 3: Spend at these locations with your synced Amex card and you will get an almost immediate email from Amex acknowledging that you spend on a synced card. Next you will see a statement credit for the amount mentioned. I don’t advocate spending just to save money! Make sure you are particular about what you spend on.

Sync Many Amex Cards

Don’t forget you have to sync your Amex card before you spend. A trick is that you can sync as many Amex cards as you have. So if you and your spouse both have a card you can sync, tweet and spend with both cards. I did that at Pharmaca and got $20 back on a total of $80 spent because I used 2 Amex cards.

I find this a fun game! I have saved hundreds of dollars this way. It is just a small part of cracking the miles and points game that I am playing. But every bit counts!

Do you use points and miles? Do you engage in saving small amounts in other creative ways with credit cards? I would love to hear about how your family is cracking the points and miles game! 

 

 

 

The Capital Is Calling: Washington D.C. is a Great Family Vacation Option!

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Washington, D.C. is a great family vacation option! The history is rich and no matter the age of your children they will recognize some of the iconic monuments & locations in D.C. Not only is this an amazing learning environment for the kids, but the Smithsonian’s and all the monuments and memorials along the National Mall are free. Even though D.C. is not a beach vacation or an amusement park, it is vibrant and alive with tons of options for the whole family!

DC2We spent four amazing days in D.C. with our kids, ages 9 & 11. We could have spent longer, but four days worked out well. We got to see a lot, but not at a frenetic pace. My whole family agrees that we would head back without hesitation!

The Highlights of Our DC Trip:

Kids: The Flight Simulator at the Air & Space Museum in Virginia was their favorite!

Parents: Seeing the space shuttle at the Air and Space Museum in Virginia, and walking along the National Mall seeing the iconic memorials and monuments, especially the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.

Whole Family: Capital City Bikes Tours – Monuments & Memorials Sunset Bike Tour. This DC2
was an amazing tour that took us through the streets of D.C. at sunset. We stopped at the major monuments and memorials and were treated to juicy details we never would have known without the guide who was super knowledgable! Older kids can have their own bikes and the younger ones can join on a tandem.

DC Government Tours: Our trip was a last minute decision so we did not get to participate in a lot of the organized tours of the government. If you plan ahead you can request a tour of the White House and/or the US Congress. Depending on the age of your kids – these can be a really memorable experiences! Try to put in a request at least 3 months ahead of time if possible.

Local Tours: Take a bike tour with Capital City Bike Tours. They can usually be booked last minute and offer you guided tours of the monuments and memorials of D.C. You can also take a self-guided tour of the National Mall. Find a brochure from the National Parks Service.

Smithsonian Museums: I have fond memories of spending time at Washington D.C., museums.  I specifically remembered the Air and Space Museum, so I was excited to take the kids back! We spent the most time at these museums: National Museum of Natural History, the Air and Space Museum, the National Museum of American Indian. They were all great options and entertained the kids for hours. Each has a cafeteria so you can take a break, or grab something from a street vendor right outside along the National Mall. The American Indian Museum has a really great cafeteria we heard people rave about and after trying it we concur. It offered delicious food based on the different Native American regions so it was unique and educational, but the kids still enjoyed the food.

The most memorable museum – the one we had to drag our kids out of – was the Air and Space Museum in Virginia – this one you have to drive for – but this location houses all the over sized space toys like the space shuttle, war planes, bi-planes, and tons more. Also, there are flight simulators on site and the kids LOVED these. It was almost impossible to get them out!

Other Museums: There is also the International Spy Museum that is amazing and really engages the kids. It isn’t a Smithsonian so it does cost to go in. We thought it was worth the cost!

Outdoors: Take a walk on the National Mall – which is a actually a National Park – so look for Junior Ranger program information for your kids. They offer activity booklets your kids can do along the way all the while becoming a Junior Ranger replete with a badge and stamp when they complete this booklet. We found ice cream and pretzels along the National Mall which offered a great break and a burst of energy for all of us on those hot summer days. Of course you can explore the Lincoln Memorial, the Vietnam Memorial, and other outdoor locations too.

Getting There: United Airlines and Frontier Airlines offer direct flights to Washington, D.C. from Denver.

General Words of Advice:

1. Take your time! Go slowly and don’t schedule yourself too tightly. There is so much to do you will want to get it all in, but if you are traveling as a family, pick your top sites and hit those for sure. Everything else is icing on the cake.

2. If you go in the summer it can be really hot, so consider going early or late to avoid the middle of the day heat – even if you are planning to be at the museums!

3. Bring good walking shoes. Seems obvious, but you walk a lot and so good shoes helps!

Have tons of fun exploring the rich history and educational opportunities in Washington, D.C.!

How Memories Are Made: Family Travel Through Nicaragua and Costa Rica

“There is a great hotel in San Jose!”, was my son’s response to our friend’s request for suggestions of what to do in Costa Rica.

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For almost three weeks we traveled throughout Nicaragua and Costa Rica – all eight of us – two families traveling together. We intended to have an adventure so we spent our days on volcanoes, zipping through the jungle canopy of Costa Rica, surfing in San Juan del Sur, hiking through the heat and humidity of a remote volcanic island, and riding horses. It was all adventure, but not all of it as positive as others; during the course of the trip the kids’  backpacks had been stollen and the kids managed to puke all over at least two hotels. It was an amazing [multi] family adventure! It really was. Honest.

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San Jose Marriott

When I think back on our trip I remember watching the sun set on the Pacific Ocean while drinking smoothies along the coast in Nicaragua, my husband remembers “Tyler’s Place” where we stayed to surf and explore Nicaragua. BUT if you ask my kids they will tell you that there is a great Marriott in San Jose!

They did just that the other day. We have friends who scored last minute United Airlines mileage tickets to Costa Rica and knowing we had been there, asked for recommendations. I offered up mine in a detailed email. In the soccer carpool this friend asked my son this question and he offered what was most vivid in his mind – The Costa Rica Marriott Hotel in San Jose. This friend sent me an email to confirm this was his response. We both laughed. Then I started thinking about how it could possibly be that my son’s best memory of our extended family trip was of a hotel?

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The white sheets!

Until the other day I hadn’t thought about the moment when we got to San Jose, after a long drive and our stollen backpack fiasco, for a long time. It reminded me that you cannot always predict what memories will be indelibly etched in your children’s minds. What will make the biggest impact. You just never know! In this case I believe it was the contrast of the relatively rustic way we traveled for close to three weeks, the stollen backpacks, being sick, then the safety of this simply luxurious hotel.

When we walked into the hotel it felt cloistered. It felt safe. It felt welcoming. The sheets were so white. The beds so tall. The restaurant had the most amazing buffet any of us had ever seen. They prepared anything the kids requested. My kids noticed ALL these details. All of them. We had not left Costa Rica but the Marriott made us feel like we had been swept up into the best of all worlds – local culture and amenities galore. This experience is indelibly woven into the fabric of my children’s beings. They may forget the other amazing things we did on our trip, but they will not forget this simple luxury.

Family Travel in Guatemala: A Full Sensory Experience!

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A Guatemala Trip Report: Our family of four had a blast!

The jungle here in Guatemala belies the hidden Mayan culture we are about to encounter. As the kids swim in the pool at our small hotel on the site of Tikal National Park I know they cannot comprehend what is right around the corner. No way. They complain about having to hike in. Par for the course. Then we come out onto the main plaza area in Tikal where they see pyramids and monkeys and things they have no words for – we all stop to soak it in. We are standing on this sacred spot looking into the past. Reminds me of the first time I saw the Grand Canyon – it was almost incomprehensible how large it was. Then our guide tells my boys they can climb around on the site and they immediately start exploring. Guatemala is truly a land of amazement and a perfect family travel experience!

Guatemala has a special place in my heart. My husband and I traveled to Guatemala in 1990. We took time off from college and spent 3 months learning Spanish and traveling around this amazing country. The indigenous culture, Spanish, vibrant colors, mountains, and the warmth of the people in this Central American country had left me dreaming of the day I would return. Since then I have always wanted to go back. I finally got the chance and took my kids – ages 10 & 12 – for 2 1/2 weeks.

Guatemala is not luxury travel. Though you can travel luxuriously. We IMG_3656used TripAdvisor to locate hotels that were family-friendly and retained a feeling of the local culture. A few years earlier we traveled to Costa Rica and we wanted something a little rougher, but not without any amenities. We organized most of our travel ahead of time, but left room for flexibility.

Guatemala is not insular. You can really get a sense of the culture through food, experiences, and observation. We chose to travel close to the ground and spend time observing [and participating in] the local customs and events whenever possible. It seemed we were always stumbling onto something new like on New Year’s day when the people in Antigua lit off literally streets full of firecrackers. Smoke filling the streets. People cheering. Believe me, we would never do this in the US!

IMG_4156Guatemala is not tame – there are adventures of all kinds to be had. We found ourselves traveling to some of the hot spots in this country since we had under three weeks. Our family spent time in Antigua, Chichicastenango Market, Tikal, and the Pacific Ocean site of Paredon Surf House. I would add Lago Atitlan and Livingston as must see family spots in Guatemala but we didn’t make it because of our schedule and choosing to travel more slowly! So to add to surfing some of the things you can find to do in Guatemala as a family are sailing, horse back riding and zip lining.

Here are the places we spent time in during our trip:

Antigua – We spent at least a week here on and off. The town is a Worldantigua Heritage site which was the capital of Guatemala at one time. The buildings are spectacular and the fact you can get a great cup of coffee was helpful! The kids loved wandering the cobblestone streets, eating lunch overlooking the plaza or in an amazing internal courtyard, touring a coffee cooperative, and experiencing the most amazing New Years party throughout the streets of Antigua – ever! If you were dropped in Antigua on New Year Eve you would think this was a town of Pyromaniacs – this makes for happy boys.

Chichcastenango – This was our first stop. A little overwhelming for theIMG_3615 kids as their introduction to Guatemala so I would head there again, but later in our trip. The market in Chichicastenango is amazing. It is the real deal. It is not intended for Gringo Tourists – people are selling day to day goods as well as masks. The best part was the fact that we happened upon a religious ceremony that includes ornate processions, and men hanging upside down from ropes on a pole 3 stories high. Captivating for all of us!

Tikal – The most amazing Mayan ruins rising out of the jungle! We stayed at a hotel on the site of Tikal National Park. A splurge. But it was amazing to be right in the park. A walk through Tikal is nothing like it would be in USA. You can climb all around and on these Mayan ruins so it was a full body experience and with 10 & 12 year olds they really appreciated being let loose. I highly recommend Tikal for any family!

Paredon Surf House – This is a little known location on the coast of Guatemala. Our family full of culture and loved every minute, but we IMG_4156wanted to satiate our surfing desires so we did some research and found Paradon Surf House in the town of El Paredon about 2 hours from Guatemala City. It was an amazing, tranquil, out of the way location right on the water with a pool, food available onsite [so no stressing about buying ahead and making it], and surf lessons available all day long. Perfect! Beside surfing along the black sand beaches was that there were people from all over the world staying in this small surf house that held maybe 30 people max. The kids got up and surfed the first day and then didn’t want to stop!

Getting Up Close & Personal – The thing we appreciated most is how close to the culture and people we got in Guatemala as tourists. It was the coffee tour that is burned in my mind – just our family with a coffee farmer & interpreter. We ended the tour at this farmer’s house where the kids got to separate the dried coffee by using a bike powered machine he clearly created, roast the coffee over a fire, meet the kids of this family, and drink coffee. They still talk about the “best coffee ever!”

Safety – We always felt safe traveling in Guatemala. With kids we decided to avoid the local bus service known as “Chicken Buses” which was bitter sweet because we traveled in relatively more comfort than we had in our previous visit, but we had some of our best experiences on these buses sitting next to chickens. We were careful with food and simply explained to the kids about not drinking water from an unknown source and washing regularly. It was easy and no one got sick!

The kids thoroughly enjoyed our Guatemalan adventure. They have asked that on our next vacation we stay in one place longer. What they described would fall into the arena of “All Inclusive” but I don’t think this is what they mean since they have never experienced anything of the sort. Will a more tame trip be in our future? I doubt it.

 

 

FREE Shutterfly 8×8 Photo Book–limited time!

Screen Shot 2013-09-05 at 10.28.37 AMI love Shutterfly’s Photo Books! I make one every year for our family [except when I don’t–like last year]. But it looks like I may be able to redeem myself because now they are offering them for FREE. Yes, Free. This is a $23.99 value. Good through 9/11/13. I am feeling motivated by this free offer!

The best part is they make it super easy to create the photo book! You grab a group of photos [usually the toughest part for me], upload them to the website, then start arranging. Shutterfly offers all sorts of templates and makes it easy to arrange and rearrange your photos. Trust me it’s simple–once you pick your photos & upload them.

How to do it:

  1. Go to www.shutterfly.com
  2. Create a free account [if you don’t have one]
  3. Upload a group of photos
  4. Create your photo book [Remember the offer is for a FREE 8×8, but you can apply the $23.99 savings to different photo books so you can upgrade if you’d like.]
  5. Enter code: SUMMERBOOK at check out.

Enjoy!

Baby Wearing: Get Into It! [Free Class and Boba G3 Carrier Give Away]

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I know we are in Boulder so for many of us baby wearing is an integral part of our lives. It has not always been like that and it certainly is not like that in other parts of the country. Of course as soon as you cross the border [especially South of the border] you find baby wearing is simply a part of life. Baby wearing is not simply a fad. There are amazing benefits to baby wearing for both parent and child. Don’t worry, Boba G3 give away details are below.

  • Baby wearing benefits for the baby: babies cry less, get better sleep, learn more, are happier.
  • Baby wearing benefits for the parents: enhanced communication between parent and baby, is convenient, encourages weight bearing exercise, allows you to move around on all different terrain

I want to introduce Boba. They are a local Boulder, mom-owned, company that has been helping parents connect to their babies and young children. I knew they were a great company when I met their well traveled founder in a mutual friend’s studio, where she was creating pottery on a wheel when she was approximately 10 months pregnant. She told us stories of traveling with her young children and clearly baby wearing was a passion! The Boba Family lives the life and promote baby wearing for all the great benefits it bring to families. You can find more detail on the benefits of baby wearing from Boba’s founder here.

In April, Boba is offering a FREE Healthy Baby Wearing Class through the YMCA. If you are interested you can learn more and sign up here.

Boba.BabywearingClass.OnlineImageBoba G3 Give Away: Want to win a Boba G3 Baby Carrier like the one on the top photo? You get to pick the color. Learn more about the Boba G3 here. To win here is what you need to do:

1. Leave a comment here about your experience with baby wearing or your question about baby wearing AND…

2. Go to our Facebook page and “like” the page. Click here to find BoulderFamilies on Facebook.

3. Voila! You are entered to win a Boba G3, a $120 value.

4. All “entries” must complete steps 1 & 2 to be entered. Entries must be complete by March 31, 2013. Check back April 1 to see if you won! Enter now!