We just got back from Hawaii, and what a trip it was!
But getting there from the east coast is a journey in itself - AND not always cheap or easy!
So we decided to make the most of the long haul and planned a trip out there that wouldn't feel like just travel - but an adventure all its own!
When we were booking our flights to Hawaii, we used the Google Flights matrix to find a price and time combination we were comfortable with. The one stipulation we had was that we wanted to book with Delta for the SkyMiles perks, like free luggage & upgrades, priority access, and the miles we'd inevitably earn. There wasn't much of a price difference between Delta and the carriers, so opted to choose loyalty over anything else. The only thing was, the only flight/price combo we liked was telling us to "Book with a Travel Agent". And knowing that an agent wasn't just going to find that deal for me (some work with air consolidators and this wasn't the case here), I decided to do little research myself.
Save with a Multi-City Ticket
If you're unable to find the ticket price you're looking for, jump over to the airline site and do a multi-city search to see what options you pull up. We ended up going over to Delta's booking system and kept finding the same round trip ticket Google Flights was showing for $200 more each! So we decided to book a multi-city flight instead, only meaning that we told Delta where our layover would be rather than having the system do it for us (and marking it up along the way).
The tickets I found had us flying from Orlando to Seattle with an 8-hour layover and then flying Seattle into Honolulu later that same day (arriving 8pm Hawaiian Standard Time). So instead of searching roundtrip form Orlando > Honolulu and then Maui > Orlando, I chose "Multi-City" and entered the same information for all legs of the trip and searched. And you know what? It gave me the same exact flight but with the prices Google Flights told me I needed an agent to book! Try this trick when booking on your own, to even customize the flights you want.
Except I wasn't comfortable with an 8-hour layover. I mean, it was long enough to leave the airport and do something but it wasn't long enough to do a lot. So I did one last search to see if there was a better option of flying out of Seattle the following day. I stumbled on a morning flight that let us leave Seattle for Honolulu at 8am, rather than try to pack it all in by 5pm that same day. The ticket price was exactly the same, but let us fly out after a day of fun and a full night of rest. So instead of having a tiring almost 24 hour travel day to Honolulu, we took a day for ourselves in Seattle!
And let me tell you, it was the best thing we could've ever done! We took a portion of what we saved and used it to pay for a hotel night in Seattle instead of a plane ticket. Did we feel like we lost time in Honolulu? Not at all! Because now instead of arriving at 8pm HST (which is 2am EST mind you) and losing that time exhausted, waiting to rent a car, getting to a hotel only to go to sleep, we "saved" by staying in Seattle! Not to mention, a hotel in Seattle is SIGNFICANTLY cheaper than a hotel in Hawaii.
Make the Most of your Time!
Anything over a 6-hour layover is technically considered a stopover, which is the time that an airline won't transfer your luggage to the next flight in your segment. This worked just fine for us as we needed our bags to get ready for the next day.
But if you don't have the option of having a place to stay, most airlines offer to hold your baggage for a small fee until you return. That way you can leave the airport to explore and make it back in time to take your next flight. Utilize that long layover to leave and explore and burn off any energy so you will actually sleep on an overnight! Since that wasn't the case for us, as we'd be gaining 6 hours after arriving at our final destination, we booked a hotel for a good night of sleep and made plans for a full day of exploring!
And if you had to hang out at the Sea-Tac Airport for a few hours, it couldn't be a better place to stay! It was fairly easy to get through (though busy, so make sure you have plenty of time for security) and had great dining and shopping options. Added bonus for the littlest ones - a play area all their own!
Where to Stay?
We chose to stay by the airport only because proximity to catch our 8am flight the next morning mattered more than prime location in the city. We booked at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Seattle Sea-Tac Airport which offered free shuttle service to & from the airport AND free breakfast - both essentials on our list since we'd have an early wake-up call! We landed in the Sea-Tac Airport, grabbed our luggage, phoned the hotel and within 15 minutes were picked up by the shuttle and dropped off at the hotel.
The hotel was undergoing some work while we were there, but the front desk agent was extremely apologetic about it and even friendlier on top of that. Our room was (obviously) not ready at our 9am arrival, so they offered to hold our luggage until we returned. We had arrived before breakfast so they invited us to enjoy after check-in and before we went out exploring for the day. We used this time to plan our time there while the kids stocked up on snacks for the road!
When we arrived back later that night, the front desk agent quickly got us checked in and upgraded to a suite. Our keys were ready, our bags set aside for taking (no bell service, but carts available) and an extremely friendly agent to ensure we were set for the night. We appreciated all the extra attention and the generous upgrade offer even though we wouldn't get to use the space as it should have been - but it was a nice perk of booking through a travel planner!
The Holiday Inn Express & Suites Seattle Sea-Tac Airport is also only about a 10 minute walk from the Link Light Rail station that will take you straight into the heart of Seattle for less than $3/adult & $1.50/child (6-12) and after only 30 minutes. You board near the airport hotels at the Angle Lake Station which overlooks a beautiful Angle Lake surrounded by woods. The ride is very smooth and uneventful, and we hopped off at the Downtown Tunnels Station which put us right near the Monorail that would get us to Seattle Center.
The Seattle Center Monorail was originally constructed for the World's Fair and now still serves as a connector between the city and its more known region of Seattle Center (home to the Space Needle). And it makes for a fun ride for kids to get through the city itself in its open-air window filled cars! Worth the $2.50/adult & $1.50/child (5-12) ticket to ride this icon in the city.
Our first stop off the monorail was to the Space Needle, since that was top on the list of things to do in our less than 24 hours in Seattle. Little did we know that the Seattle Center is also home to a host of other great attractions too, including a massive playground that greets visitors on arrival.
The Seattle Center is a gathering place of entertainment, food and events in the heart of the city. This hub is not only home to the Space Needle, but also the Chihuly Garden & Glass, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Discovery Center, Seattle Center Armory, Museum of Pop Culture, Pacific Science Center, and Seattle Children's Museum to name a few. Had we had more time to spare, we would have definitely used our reciprocal benefit with the Orlando Science Center at the Pacific Science Center since it allowed all of us in for free!
We let them run their hearts (and full stomachs out) as we planned out our day with the next stop down towards the harbor to check out Olympic Structure Park. The walk is a less than a mile from Seattle Center and takes you through some of the most charming neighborhoods. Olympic Structure is a free, open to the public park created by the Seattle Museum of Art and a gorgeous way to use green space right by the water. Taking in the view from here was enough to make you want to venture to the outskirts of the city and see what there is in the beyond.
We returned to take a trip up the Space Needle to get a full view of the city from above. We booked mobile tickets while the kids played, and since they were stamped with a return time, we were able to make other plans in-between. When our time came up, we simply approached the line for a quick security check and then took the spiral up to the elevators. The wait included a visual history of the Space Needle's construction and stories from its inception. Once you've loaded up the elevator, you're taken straight to the top for some breathtaking views! We unfortunately didn't have the clearest day so couldn't fully make out Mount Rainer from up high, but did get to appreciate this city in its full glory!
Once we finished our hours of playing in and around the Seattle Center, we hopped back on the monorail to its original stop and took a small walk to see Pike Place. It was on our list of things to do, but be warned, its overrun by people and traffic so made our time less than enjoyable. But we're happy enough to say we've been there, done that - and even attempted to get a drink in the original Starbucks! But no Starbucks is worth a line of that length - so we just opted for a Starbucks in Seattle instead (it counts, right?!).
We instead walked over in the direction of Pier 53, home of the Seattle Great Wheel to have a full seafood dinner at Ivar's Acres of Calms on Pier 54. The service at this beautiful restaurant on the water was fantastic, only to be topped by how great the food was! We enjoyed our last few hours in Seattle with with a dinner of chowder, scallops and freshly caught King Salmon before preparing to head back for a full night of sleep!
We would’ve loved to explore Seattle a little more but appreciate that we even got a little taste of it! Now we’re itching to go back - to see more of the actual PNW region that Seattle calls home! We’ve started imaging plans to include to hiking to Mt. Rainer, visiting waterfalls and wineries and whale watching off the shore!
Now it's only a matter of when - and what else can we pack into to visiting this incredible place!
Planning for a Trip
What goes into planning a trip?
Some people are fly by the seam of their pants. Whereas the Type A bunch (like me!) want to have every last detail nailed down.
Regardless of your approach, here are some of our go to’s when we set out for our next adventure.
Ready to make plans? Here's our advice.
Budget - First thing's first - how much are you going to spend? You have a magical number in mind on how much you want to spend, but don't spend all that money on air and accommodations alone. You have a vacation to take! While you're researching where to go, take a look at how much you might spend while you're there and how much flexibility you have to alter your plans. Vacation spending can creep up quickly if you don't plan for it ahead of time and next thing you know your allocated budget has doubled out of nowhere.
When planning out your trip, find an amount per person you're comfortable with spending daily and add that into the total trip cost. Any tours you want to do? Price them all out and then decide from there which ones you're willing to cut out if they don't fit the budget. Add in the cost of meals - Are you planning on doing any exclusive meals? How much are you going to drink? How much do you plan to eat? Figure how you're going to get around & cost of transportation - charters or public?
Once you've got a rough estimate, see from there if this trip is really doable, even when cutting costs to save some money. You'll found that there are short cuts to make it affordable - you might just need more flexibility on when to go, where to stay and how many paid activities you do. If those are non-negotiables, then the world is your oyster and you can find another right fit place to go!
We can't state how important it is to factor daily spending in your budget. There's no point in going somewhere and not being able to do anything because you didn't plan for it. And it will also help eliminate surprises from post-trip bills. If you have your heart set on something but don't think you have the means, knowing costs can help you plan ahead to stay with your budget or encourage you to save a little more NOW so you can do everything you plan later!
Flights - There's something to be said about early bird gets the worm - if you're set on a date, then shop early if you can to guarantee you get the exact flights (and seats) you want! Otherwise, use these timelines we follow on when to book a flight - 4 months to 3 weeks for domestic flights & anywhere from 66 days to 200 days internationally.
Accommodations - We book our accommodations with the purchase of our flight because it is very important in making further plans and easy to get out of the way. We prefer hotels to vacation rentals because of the flexibility they offer and we prefer to book a flexible rate at a hotel to one with a zero cancellation policy. When it comes to exploring new cities, sometimes your thoughts on where to stay may change. I'm willing to pay a little extra for peace of mind that I can change my plans if my opinions do. And also know that sometimes the flexible rates can drop in price too - so you can always adjust your reservation to score savings! If possible, pay ahead for your hotels too - then that cost is eliminated and the only spending you'll have is on the extras during the trip.
Travel Insurance - We always, always, always purchase travel insurance once we've booked our trip (flight, accommodations and car all at once)! There are plenty of companies out there, but we prefer Travel Guard as we have found the best rates with them regardless of our journey. Travel insurance can cover you for anything from trip cancellation to trip interruption to or medical coverage if you need to visit a hospital while traveling internationally. For any of the above, just having that safety net for a few hundred extra dollars is worth it.
Once you book your flight, stay and ride (or within 24 hours), buy insurance! They need the total cost of your trip and where you're going as part of pricing your plan, so its better to know those totals upfront. Its also important to buy within the first day, because if you want or need additional coverage, you need to purchase the waiver within the allotted time period. Yes, plans change and you have the flexibility to adjust, but you need to have those elements secured and its worth every last penny in our experience. On our trip to Brazil we faced an over 12 hour delay due to mechanical issues with the plane - and though the airline provided us with an overnight hotel and meal vouchers to get us until our next flight, we still had out-of-pocket expenses incurred. With our travel insurance, we were able to write off any essentials the airline didn't cover and receive reimbursement fairly quickly after submitting our claim to Travel Guard.
If you travel often, we would recommend looking into purchasing annual travel insurance. Annual travel insurance can save on individual trip costs and the need to shop for insurance every trip. Annual travel insurance plans vary so shop around to find the best one that works for you and your traveling needs. Regardless, we can help find insurance needs!
Now that we're booked, what do we do next?
Activities - Book and plan anything you want to do ahead of time. We learned this the hard way when scheduling our trip to London. We booked back in July and then sat on making an agenda for a little too long. There really weren't tours we wanted to do - except the Warner Brothers Studio Tour of Harry Potter. By the time we got around to picking a date, we missed our window for booking this tour - we failed to find out that they sell out months in advance. We tried up to the very last minute to score tickets, but with no luck.
Try to plan ahead where you can and book when you what you must do - especially with plans that are time sensitive, like limited engagements or show tickets. All other plans you have time to shop around for the best price, like one of our absolute favorite sites for tour options, Viator. The site combines various tours into one selling hub to make shopping easy - tour information, length of time, and cancellation policy are all described in each listing. Once you're booked you're given contact information for the actual tour and you're ready to go! We love the ease of navigating the site and finding a variety of plans that can fit our needs!
Map it Out - There are so many great websites and apps for making your trip really come to life and one of our favorites is Google Maps. We love to read up and watch travel blogs on a place we're planning to visit and at the same time take note of key places we want to experience. As we read or watch, we drop pins on a Google map we've created for that city, so we can later start to make an itinerary of what we want to explore. We try to connect the dots (pins) to make realistic walking tours and also color code each day so we have a full guide map laid out. This tool has truly been wonderful in our travels; we can plan our days near each other and make sure we're not wasting precious time (or money) on unnecessary commutes!
If you rather have all your plans made for you, we love Citymappers for itineraries planned from start to finish which include estimated travel times for best planning your day. If you rather explore as you go, and you plan to travel down a road less traveled, try Roadtrippers for cool places to see as you go!
Plans & Flexibility - We lay out all our plans on a calendar, so the whole family can see what we have on the agenda & we can work around, when things come up. We found this extremely effective for our longer trips to keep us on track and to also use as a reward tracker for the kids. Yes, we're on a break from the real world, but etiquette and behavior shouldn't be. We're all entitled to frustration or slight grouchiness because of hunger or lack of sleep, but to let it ruin everyone's mood is not something we tolerate. We strive to make sure that the kids (and adults) work out any issues, shake it off and carry a positive attitude the rest of the trip. For the little ones, we make sure to reward positive behavior with stickers on a calendar - if they collect enough, they earned a special souvenir by the end of the trip.
And just as anything else in life, plans change. You may have hit a delay, or inclement weather has made your outdoor plans non-existent, or it took longer to do one thing which altered what was scheduled for later. Whatever it may be, know that plans may not go accordingly and allow yourself to accept that. You may also just run into to something much better because you weren't looking for it, and it made your trip extraordinary. Accept that you need to have a positive attitude and a plan B when traveling and it'll help your journey go smoothly.
Phone Plan - If you don't have an international cell plan and want to use your phone abroad, look for what options might work for you. Some like to go the route of an international SIM, whereas we opted to check with our provider (AT&T) for plans that work. We knew we needed at least one phone to use to call locally and access Google maps. But we didn't want to be limited on data usage (or pay for the surcharge). AT&T has a $10/day option starting from when you turn your phone on in international soil for a rolling 24 hours. This plan not only gave us flexibility to shut off during the cruise, but also allowed us to use without any wasted time.
Cash & Cards - Most, if not all places, accept most major credit cards. But we had instances where we needed cash on us. To travel, we converted Euros before departure to insure we had cash for our first transfer. Otherwise, we could have paid as we went. We bank with Bank of America who has sister banks worldwide - at those banks we could use the ATM fee free and only pay the conversion for cash pulled. We had several in our proximity in each of our destinations, and going forward we will be mindful of this and the amount we pull prior to traveling.
As cards go, Visa is king internationally Make sure you at least have access to one while traveling. Personally, we prefer to use our American Express because it allows us to travel without foreign transaction fees. Whatever option you pay with, make sure they're aware of travel plans so you don't get declined any purchases and also make sure you bring up a back up card in case one stops working or goes missing. Designate one card for charges you weren't expecting, particularly for an emergency, so you can still have a disposable amount on another card.
We feel like we've got our packing down to a science, many times traveling with just one suitcase for all four of us. What & how do we pack it?
Carry-On - We always pack the essentials to bring on board, in case anything happens like a flight delay or lost luggage. We've learned this through experience about this so we always make sure that we have the following on us to get through any delays.
Luggage - When we pack for an extended trip, one thing we try to do is pack interchangeable pieces so we can use less, more often. Below is a sample of how we packed for 17 days in Europe.
Top Kid Hacks
Here are some of what we found to be the best tricks to keep a kid happy on a trip.
Above all, pack a good sense of humor for any of the unexpected that pops up. They always will! J caught the stomach bug in Europe; or should we say, he caught the stomach bug stateside and it manifested in Europe. Talk about your worst nightmare! But luckily we were well-equipped this trip (unlike any before) with Benadryl to keep the nausea at bay and give him a few hours of lost sleep; along with patience and lots of prayers that none of us would get it on the flight home!
If traveling wasn't an adventure, then I don't know what else it would be. But how else would we ever learn what we're made of? Hope that some of our school of thought helps you as you start to plan your next adventure somewhere!
And if all this seems but overwhelming to you, we can help make those trip plans - and then just leave the packing to you!
A Rome Adventure
Our first big international trip was just this past summer with a 3 & a 6 year old on a 17 day trip from Orlando to Rome, around the Mediterranean and ending in Paris. We've done trips out of the country before, but never to this caliber.
And if I'm being completely honest, I had some reservations - let's call it the fear of the unknown. I started to make up reasons why we couldn't or shouldn't do this for an unrealistic moment. They're too young, it's too far, it's too long, it's too much. But then the spirit of adventure and logic set in. We got on our first flight, and I left any worries stateside - the adrenaline of travel is form my liquid courage.
We were flying Delta with a connection domestically to start the trip. I chose to do this as opposed to connecting closer to Rome, just so we could limit going through immigration and booking a long layover to match. We also chose to fly Delta because we found an excellent rate, in Basic Economy though. It was our first time flying on this entry level fare - no bags or prior seat selection included - but we also knew we'd have perks being Medallion members (like free bags) that eliminated the cost. Lucky for us, Delta offers family seating, so in the weeks prior to our trip I called and requested assignment as I was traveling with two young kids. The seating is in the very back of the plane, but it worked out perfectly the day of our trip. Both kids were up extremely early and both had outgrown the trick of a rocking plane lulling them to sleep, so I only had to graciously apologize to one row of people for E's pint sized punch. She actually fought it all the way through our dinner time lay over in Atlanta, until take off to Rome; where after a minor screaming fit ensued, she was no longer able to fight sleep.
Our arrival into Rome was pretty self explanatory and not at all complicated. The airport is very immaculate and the ease of getting around is a dream. Really, it was the arrival you'd want in a new country and such a welcoming start to our trip. We hired a driver for pick as opposed to waiting for public transportation or a taxi, since we wanted a secure source to get us to the hotel upon arrival. The service was fantastic and efficient; we were greeted with a sign with our name and led to a Mercedes minivan for our trip through Rome to our hotel, Best Western Hotel Spring House. Both of which I'd highly recommend.
Best Western Hotel Spring House is located right next to the Vatican, a quieter part of town, but still busy. We chose it less because of proximity to major sightseeing hubs, but more because of location - my parents were staying at a nearby B&B and we wanted to be nearby to get together during our trip. Also, there weren't many hotels available to accommodate a group of 4 (in one room). After some in-depth research, the hotel proved to be *perfect* for families. We had to book a family room/suite because of our size, which in this case consisted of dual-level room with two beds and a bathroom not of European size. The top floor loft had one king bed under skylights for some incredible morning sun when we woke; while the bottom floor had a queen, closet space, in-room safe, mini fridge, and a bathroom big enough for a family (with shower only though). Because our rooms weren't ready at arrival and as an act of hospitality, we were comped breakfast during check-in, which was a great added bonus. We prefer to book hotels that serve breakfast when possible, as morning food varieties don't matter much with kids, so we want the option to eat where we're at.The hotel including it for us was a generous gesture that makes recommending them all that more worthwhile. And for anyone questioning the Best Western brand, its not at all what I expected.
Our arrival day was made up of a LOT of walking (10+ miles) and self guided tours! We strapped on the toddler carrier for E and prepared J for a lot of standing, as we purposely left the stroller at home. We made the decision early on in our planning process to bring a carrier and started the research for one with a a higher weight limit that could also be easily be packed. We went with the Ergo, and actually found a reseller on Facebook Marketplace where we paid saved a good chunk of change on a excellent condition carrier that had been lightly used. It would have been worth every penny of full price though because it definitely getting around manageable and traveling with one less items a dream!
We created Google Maps prior to our trip, dropping pins of sites we wanted to see and then mapping out walking tours according to our pins for each of our 3 days there. Rome is very walkable - I knew it was a major city and expected traffic, but major roads are very avoidable if you want to trail down cobblestone paths. We even made it fun for the little ones by providing them with scavenger hunts in the city that the could do. J was equipped with an old iPhone to take pictures (and load games as necessary), scavenger hunts - both city specific and generic, and a notebook, both for doodling and writing his adventures. The combination of activities definitely made the trip unique for him in how he'd see the city.
We stopped for pizza at a cafe by our hotel, gelato by the Pantheon, marveled at Trevi, watched street performers in piazzas, got lost various times which all ended up being beautiful detours, and finally ended up in the Jewish Ghetto around dinner time. I had received a recommendation to dine at Ba'ghetto Milky -it looks like a dimly lit small cavern upon entering and was fairly empty, which was a welcome sight for hungry & exhausted travelers. The restaurant is meat free, offering minimal fish options, which was a bit of a surprise but also a fun change of pace (to not force our traditional selection). I ordered a fettuccine with truffle sauce and have been dreaming of it ever since; European portions are not nearly as generous as American but not was the perfect amount! Chris got a local fish dish which was delicious but quite honestly not as impressive as my pasta. And the kids ordered an eight slice pizza to share - and finished it themselves if it’s any testament to our day! Yes, we were famished, but the food was more impressive than our need to devour it and hands down we will recommend this restaurant over again. Plus, the neighborhood is up and coming district, full of rich history and stories you don't always hear about Rome - if you can carve time to get to know it personally, absolutely do.
We didn't mind the walk now that we had indulged so opted on the two mile venture back to pass spots we hadn’t yet. It was also an excellent excuse to pack in more calories in the form of dessert cannolis, a first for the the kids (and which they loved it)! We also had some beautiful views of the sun setting in Rome and a chance to enjoy the carousel in the square by the Castel D'Angelo. The unique beauties of this cities, how do I even start to explain the emotions they evoke? Rome by foot was worth every blister and leg cramp we had after the first day.
We decided to book both our tours of the Colosseum and Vatican in one day, since we had the unpredicatability of travel on our other two days there. We booked both with Angel Tours, off a recommendation, and the tour operator easily accommodated our requests and made two tours in a day feasible. We started on what ended up being a private tour at the Colosseum and ventured to the Roman forum before ending slightly before lunch. We hopped in a taxi and grabbed a bite to eat near our hotel, so the boys could change into pants (no knees for visiting the the Vatican) and headed back to meet our guide for our small group tour.
Were back to back 3 hour tours a lot? For exhausted travelers it could be. But was it worth it? Even more so. Both our guides were very knowledgable and attentive to our kids, keeping us engaged and sharing the treasures of these gems. Having an actual person to guide versus an audio recording is also the only way to go. We could ask questions to learn as they explained; and many times we were surprised with how much more we learned. Best of all, they save you a lot of time, which is worth the extra money. Otherwise, you face lines to buy tickets and lines to get in and lines for just about everything else. And this was at the end of May, which isn't even their peak holiday season yet.
We ended our day of tours with dinner in Trastevere, a neighborhood off the beaten path. We wanted to explore Rome like a local and only wish we had a little more time here, but an evening stop made up for a whirlwind day. We had fantastic dinner outside at Trattoria da Gli Amici - or Restaurants of Friends as it literally translates to. It was a cute little cafe with outdoor seating in a lively piazza. The restaurant next door even provided music for us to dine by - along with a few street musicians who came by our table to perform for spare change. The food was superb, as we ordered just about everything off the menu to build a family style meal of sharing. Bread is always served on the table and the bottles of wine at the price of American glasses were refreshing on this warm evening out. And if you need any more of a recommendation here, the restaurant does incredible things with its staff - they employ veterans and those with special needs that typically can't get jobs anywhere else. What charming people to meet and humbling to know you crossed their path & gave their job a purpose. We were the lucky ones that evening which was simply stated, perfect.
After arriving back from cruising for a week, we had one more full day planned in Rome. We scheduled this purposely so we could explore any new parts we missed, or go back and see the things we loved one more time. We opted to move hotels this time, and stayed near their financial district at Best Western - Hotel Artdeco. Though the room was spacious and the bathroom generous, this one fell short of the family feel we had at the previous hotel. We were fortunately near many shops to pick up groceries as needed. Which came as a blessing in disguise, as J had a stomach bug manifest that very morning. So after we checked in, Chris offered to stay behind (since he had a chance to explore Rome in a past life), so J could rest. E and I made way with my parents to have lunch in the city center and then walked over to visit the Spanish Steps. E, in traditional Italian fashion, ate a pizza on the steps as we took in the sights and sounds around us. And after a few hours of exploring and a scoop of gelato later, we headed back to check on the boys.
Thankful for some well heeded advice and medicines to match, J was feeling better and was ready to explore. So our long awaited trip to Villa Borghese was our next stop. We booked our hotel here, due to its proximity to the park and the fact that we had mapped out a day to check it out exclusively (obviously plans had changed). So we made the 20 minute walk over, exploring Italy on foot again, and arrived to the Italian version of Central Park. It was full of life, with skating lessons being taught, a playground full of children laughing, a train passengers to explore, and visitors strolling the tree-lied park on a mild June afternoon. We spotted tandem bikes for rent by the hour and we knew we had to explore in this fashion.
The park is full of pathways that lead everywhere - beautiful fountains, a gallery, another hidden nook or even right to the zoo. Due to our late afternoon arrival and to our kids' dismay, we were not able to visit. But had plan A worked out, we would've spent some time exploring to indulge in this park even a little more. Once we rode every crease & crevice and realized we were ending in the prime spot for the kids, we returned to the playground and let them run more energy out on the playground and play some arcade games situated nearby, with some county-fair like rides.
Our dinner plans took us back to Trevi fountain to the twice recommended Vineria Il Chianti. We gathered that the proximity to the tourist hot spot to may take away some of its local charm, but the raving reviews were enough to lure us in. There is a small courtyard on arrival where you can dine and people watch in the piazza. But if you prefer a more intimate setting, the restaurant itself is situated in a charming villa with dim lights and hidden rooms, including a tea light lit hallway that resembles a runway to the bathroom. The menu was full of amazing feasts that it made it hard for us to decide on just one, so we didn't. We had a beef steak with enough servings to feed 4, a pasta with Bolognese sauce, and the kids had the most fantastic wood-fired pizza for our one last goodbye to this Italian deliciacy.
We ended our evening's adventure with another goodbye to gelato and a trip to drop off some postcards for friends back home. We couldn't find a more loving souvenir for the kids to give then sending postcards back got friends. We tied it in with the objective of getting J to practice his penmanship and spelling by sending mail to his friends back home - a thoughtful souvenir for them, a fun activity for him, and a wonderful memory for all of us. And before we departed Trevi's sight, we hopped back over one more time, with coins in hand and wishes to be sent. We kissed our metals, threw them over our shoulders and hoped we'd soon be back to make more of these memories.
How do I even start describing how amazing this place is? It was mentioned Italians are proud people, hesitant to speak to you if you don't know their language and relatively inhospitable once they realize you are a foreigner. I didn't find any of this to be true. We had nothing but wonderful, warm interactions with everyone we met. It's everything you see out of a movie, with big boisterous greetings and dinner tables full of love. No one ever felt like a stranger and these welcoming gestures left us wanting more. From the gentleman working in the gelato shop giving E candy as she patiently waited for her cone to be filled; to the reserved waiter having a staring contest with J until he laughed. These people have left an impression on my kids and have so much more on me.
Italy has been all I dreamed of and more. There's not a magical age to do this nor know when to start. Too young? There are families literally everywhere, so no, we're not the only crazies walking around with a sleeping tot on our back. We decided what was right for us and now was perfect. Plus, now that we started, we have opportunity to keep coming back; there will be no "what if" dialogues, because we have and now we're on for more. We love this place already and if we didn’t, our last couple days have solidified our desire to adventure more.
We’ve done our fair share of traveling with little ones. Our oldest has been traveling since pretty much out of the womb. Really, he was just shy of a month old when we traveled cross country to Colorado for a family wedding. Since then we’ve flown all over the United States with him, from NY to Chicago to Texas. And then we added another baby to the mix and traveled all the way over to California, three times.
We’ve packed the car and road tripped all over Florida countless times and then ventured up north to the Carolinas. We’ve boarded a cruise ship six times with kids and made our way all over the waters to discover another corner of paradise. We’re collecting stamps in our passports from all over the world, including the latest additions of Italy, Spain, France and the United Kingdom.
So to say we have a knack for this is pretty accurate and very much a compliment. Our kids have enjoyed our wild adventures as much as we have, and though every trip hasn’t always been easy, every moment has been so very worth it.
If you’re toying with the idea of your own family vacation, here are some of my well-rounded and seasoned travel tips to save you sanity on your next adventure.
1. Expect the best. Daydream, daydream all you want! This is how you got you here! Imagine all you’re going to do & see and bring your kids into your excitement. Traveling with kids is not hard, just different than going at it solo. And the bonus is you get to live vicariously through your little people's eyes. Make plans to incorporate what you want to do, but find family friendly activities to partake in too! There really is no better way to get the vibe of a city than living like a local, and traveling with a child can slow you to that pace. There are plenty of options and travelers who share their experiences and are worth every bit of the read (even if you don’t do everything recommended).
2. Prepare for the worst. Because, let’s be honest, you’re traveling, anything could happen. One of our trips to Colorado, we all picked up the stomach flu, so with some well sought advice from a nurse friend we got ourselves back to health via allergy medicine before boarding a plane. Our latest trip overseas, I heeded that same advice and stocked up extra on the medicine cabinet. And what a blessing in disguise it was - the dreaded stomach bug hit us again! But this time, we were prepared; and there’s nothing more relieving than having the right stuff on hand, especially when you’re far from home. Make a list of all the things that could ever need and just bring what you don’t think you can easily access, just in case. And yes, you can’t prepare for everything but do what you can and it will make all the difference in the world.
3. Bring them into the planning process. There’s nothing more exciting than going on an adventure for everyone! If you talk to your kids about what you plan to see and do and consider their perspective, the whole trip will run a little more smoothly. And not for them, but for you. Sometimes sightseeing is a little too much, so the opportunity to stop and literally smell the roses is just what vacation called for. Some of our favorite memories on our recent Europe trip were finding carousels in the cities we visited and getting to ride them. Carousels are just a luxury of Disney back home, so to be able to get on one in the middle of a city, in the prime of their childhood when this means everything, meant everything in the world to us.
4. Travel schedules are everything. Planning accordingly is very important, especially in considering sleep schedules, meal times and time adjustments. If you want rested kids, book a trip around a time that they normally nap or sleep, so that a long trip won’t get the best of them or you. Our first plane trip to the west coast a family of four, we opted to take a layover in LA during lunch on our way to San Francisco. It was our lunch time, so yes, a little comical to be eating burgers a little past 10am at the airport. But once we got to San Fran, the kids were fed, well rested and that made for an easy transition to west coast time.
5. Allow them each their own bag. Regardless of what kind of trip it is, allow them a carry-on bag of their own. Fill it with activities (more on that in a bit), a change of clothes, snacks, and toiletries of toothbrush, paste, comb, shampoo (always a must in an accessible bag). Yes, an extra bag seems tedious when needing to carry it, but when it’s time to restock and you can inventory exactly who is missing what, it saves you the burden of looking for through your stuff. It also teaches your little people responsibility to make sure they’re taking care of their things, and there’s nothing more satisfying than having their own things!
6. Snacks save you sanity. Hand in hand with having their own bag, bring a few snacks they love to fill that bag. Airplane food is tough, even most adults don’t love what they serve, so make sure that you pack snacks and treats they can grab when munching sets in. TSA will allow you through with mostly anything, except liquids and gels (unless traveling with babies, toddlers, and kids with dietary restrictions). Rules always vary at each airport, so I'd double check at your departure airport before stocking up.
Same snack rules go for a car trip; make a special grocery trip before hitting the road to just fill a cooler with items to munch while on the open road. You may find that once you're cruising you won't always have a store readily available. And when pulling over at a gas station, your snack options are drastically limited in selection and strikingly doubled in cost.
Whatever you do, make sure to pack an extra "emergency" stash in your bag, in case the layover goes a little longer, or they decide to go through a growth spurt on the first day of your trip. If you pack the one thing that brings them joy, it can be the thing that saves the trip. Make sure they pick it out and allow them to bring something reasonable yet remarkable to them.
7. Activities to engage and activities to distract. We tend to head to the Dollar Store or Bullseye’s Playground at Target prior to a trip and pick up a few random activities to introduce while traveling. Coloring pages and activity books are always a huge hit because they're never ending. A good set of over the ear headphones are perfect for personal TVs, whether in the car or on the plane (a must). Then a few games to play as a family keep kids delighted on any trip. If you have the option of downloading a few movies on a tablet, do it and bring it. Particularly after arrival when waiting or commuting can get to be long, this is the time to allow them to unwind while they practice patience.
Our biggest successes on our last trips were were scavenger hunts for the cities we visited, reward calendars for excellent behavior days, and an old iPhone to serve as a camera (and app holder) to document (or distract) on the trip.
8. Comfort is key. When booking where to stay or what to do, look for what’s going to best suit YOU. For us, we prefer to stay in hotels, choose to hotel hop to stay in proximity of what we’re doing (we hate wasted drives) and find hotels that serve breakfast.
Our kids wake up hungry, so having to find a breakfast place to open can be daunting. Since going on a breakfast hunt every morning isn't something we want to be forced to do, we try to book hotels that have it on-site (and for free is an added perk)! And when we don’t find a place that fits our need, we look for a place near great breakfast spots to try out! If all else fails, we make sure wherever we stay is in close proximity to a store to stock up OR we make a stop along the way to have what we need in the mini-fridge without paying hotel prices. Figure out what your comfort point is and plan for that!
9. Embrace the chaos. Things aren’t always going to go as planned and that’s okay. Sometimes the best memories come from the plans you didn’t make. We’ve had plenty of these moments on trips where we meant to do one thing and then went for another. And then plan B turned to be better than plan A. Perspective makes a difference when traveling, there’s elements that you’re not going to be able to control – other people, the weather, schedules, delays – but you can control your mindset. So, if you choose to stay positive even when you feel like you’re going to positivity loss it, you’ll see how the road less traveled became the right journey for you!
10. Build everlasting memories. This is why you’re here, isn’t it? Regardless of what happens, make it a point to make this the best trip ever. Whether it’s your first trip or your 50th, this is going to be the last time you can do it exactly like this. In a few weeks’, months’, years’ time, your kids will be older, your activities will change, your memories will vary. So, make the best of this very moment, it’s the whole reason you’re here. To have these memories that will last a lifetime.
Trust me, traveling with kids, it’s worth it. It may take a few times to feel like you got it right, but I promise you when I say this, you’re never going to do it wrong in their eyes.
Make Air Travel Work for You
So you've decided you want to take a trip ... but now it's a matter of getting there. The hardest part is taking the leap - because looking at air ticket prices may be the first deterrent to your travel plans.
Instead of being discouraged by the initial step, we wanted to offer suggestions to make air travel work for you. There are plenty of options out there and even more flight gurus that dive deeper into working air travel in your favor. We're going to keep it simple and share what we've done to get the most out of our travel dollars.
1. Get a co-branded credit card. The majority of our air travel we've done for free - and by that we mean points. It's such a perk to look into getting a credit card that you can manage and use to earn you bonus offers - free "money" ultimately, just for being loyal! We mentioned earlier this week, the amazing promotion that Southwest Airlines has with their co-branded Visa. They're offering a Companion Pass for new account holders who spend $4000 in their first three months on one of the designated cards offering this promotion.
Our tried and true card of choice is the Platinum Delta SkyMiles American Express, which we've had for over a decade and use to pay for ev-ery-thing! We earn miles on everyday spending, which quickly adds up to free tickets. On top of dollar-for-dollar mile accrual, the card also has the added benefit of Miles Boost which earns you an additional 10,000 bonus miles for every $25,000 spent in a calendar year. Airline tickets redeemed by SkyMiles can start as low as 12,000, so you just earned a free ticket as reward for spending as you normally would. Once we get to the airport, every passenger on the main cardholder's reservation gets their first bag checked free (which can be up to a $60 value per person on a round trip flight). We also LOVE that there are no foreign transaction fees on the card, as we know we won't get hit with anything more than currency exchange rates when traveling internationally! But the biggest perk of our Platinum Delta SkyMiles American Express card is the annual Companion Certificate - we get to bring a companion for just taxes and fees. Unlike Southwest it is only one ticket a year within the contingent US, but for loyal Delta travelers its soooo worth it!
We treat our card like our bank account and we pay EVERYTHING on it - and that's a sure way to rake in points. We know that's not conventional financial wisdom, as having a credit card does require a lot of discipline. But it is free perks for spending, as long as you can hold yourself accountable. If this is something you're considering doing but you're hesitant to start, here are some tips to lead you in the right direction:
2. Loyalty Programs. As briefly mentioned above, loyalty programs are everything! If you fly it, sign up for it (it takes minutes to do so). Accrue the miles for taking the trip, because they add up quickly!
When booking your flight, most airlines have the option to sign up for their loyalty program on the spot and then input your membership number. If you forget to do it, don't worry as you can either still input the information before travel OR request mileage credit after travel. Simply put, the more you fly, the more you earn!
With our frequent Delta trips (combined with credit card spending), we've been able to accrue Medallion Status. As a Medallion, you get additional perks like priority check-in and boarding, complimentary preferred seats, partner airline benefits, faster earning potential, and our favorite, free upgrades! We've traveled a handful of times where upon purchasing our ticket, we request a free upgrade to Delta Comfort or First Class. Up to 24 hours before the flight, if space remains in either class, we get upgraded ... for FREE! When that combines with a ticket that we paid for fully in points, we're getting a few hundred (if not thousand) dollars in benefits at no additional cost to us.
With our trips abroad, we've flown Delta partner airlines and were able to receive free checked bags with our status. This goes a long way, espeically with the new Basic Economy ticket (where you get no checked bag & no seat assignment). The new pricing structure is typically $100 less than an Economy seat (which gets you a seat and a bag). For us, its not worth paying the extra because we get perks. So we book the cheaper ticket and then can choose to pay for our seat selection only (seats can typically range $30-$40 a person a segment). This still saves $60/person on flights! Rates and rules vary by airline, so check before you commit.
3. Track Flights. A good flight tracking site can make all the difference if you're flexible in travel, because even a day can have a significant in prices. For our London trip, ticket prices were at least $200 cheaper for flying on Christmas night and New Year's Day than they were a day before or after on either end. Since we had the flexibility, we chose to take it!
Sites that track flight prices range everywhere from Kayak to Hopper to Skyscanner. We prefer Google Flights as we love the look and accessibility in finding flight prices on a calendar. We can then set up alerts on any of these sites to monitor the flight prices! When using these flight trackers, try to remember to search in private browsing mode, so your search history is not tracked as flight prices could suddenly change with frequent searches.
Also, find the prime booking window for your flight. Booking early may not always be an option for you - and at the same time, the cheapest option! We have tested these tips from this CheapAir.com article on waiting for the best time to book and they've worked! If you see prices start to go up and are still outside the prime booking window, you can wait a bit and will see a drop. Though we do NOT recommend waiting if you're flying at a peak time (like the holidays or an exclusive event) or seats seem to be disappearing fast on the flights you're eyeing!
4. Off Season Travel. This may not be the solution for everyone, especially if your trip is planned for a special occasion or around set dates. But if you're flexible enough to vacation when you can, do it! There are times when unbeatable flight prices arise and the trip is every penny worth taking!
If you're not in the mood to search for the best flights, you don't have to! We love the following deal sites to find flying sweet spots. Click through the pages to follow them or sign up for alert emails. We ALWAYS keep an eye on what's out there and are waiting for the right time and place to jump!
5. Consider a Neighboring Airport. When looking for flights, don't always stick to what you know. Sometimes flying out of a neighboring airport makes all the difference And if you don't mind the drive, a neighboring city could save you a few hundred dollars on a ticket (or at least offer a better travel schedule)! You can then look into a park and fly package at a hotel near the airport. What's that? You can leave your car at the hotel for the length of your trip for the price of one night -- and sometimes it includes a free airport shuttle too! All the more reason to head over the night before, get a good night's sleep, and then easily access the airport as you head on that sunny vacation!
Consider this strategy for flying home too! You may not always find the price you want at the airport of choice.For our summer Europe trip, ticket prices were cheaper for a multi-destination trip (Orlando to Rome > Paris to Orlando) then they were round-trip to and from the same cities. We also found a better deal and flight schedule flying back home from Paris through the lesser known Orly Airport than the renowned Charles de Gaulle. We knew we wanted to see Paris, so we booked it! Both ended up being the same distance from our final stop, so accessibility wasn't an issue and we got home all the same.
6. Work with a Travel Planner. Hi, me!
I can help you to either find a deal for air travel or if you want it all, help to build a full package. Partner packages with airlines can also run cheaper as they bundle their air at a discount, a commodity that is rare to come across nowadays! Even if you decide to go and book your own flight, I can still help plan anything from transfers, accommodations and activities!
If you're already considering travel and want to take the next step, here it is! Fill out a Travel Planning form if you know exactly where you want to go and need help pricing it! If you need help finding the right trip for you, try the Adventure Seeking form to detail what you want from your trip.
You can also send me an email and I'll be in touch to help plan the rest of the details for you! I LOVE travel - to talk about it, work through it, and most importantly, DO IT! And if I can help you take the trip, I'd love to provide you with that!
A London Holiday
Did London meet my expectations? I always go into my travels with a nervous excitement, so it lowers my anticipation a bit. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled for the prospect of travel, but between balancing the logistics of a trip and “blindly” planning to visit a new place, I simply go in expecting to have a good time, whatever that may be. Sure, we didn’t know what to expect but it definitely was not what we got; we fell in love with London more than we ever knew we could!
For an outsider’s perspective, the easiest place to compare London is to New York City. It’s a very vibrant, cultural melting pot with non-stop action and excitement, much like NYC. It has distinct neighborhoods laid out similarly to a map of the Big Apple, each having its own unique appeal. It’s an older city that has the charm of preserved history meets the state-of-the-art infrastructure that gives it new character. London above all has a timeless beauty to rival that of NYC, and the pride in which its citizens have to keep the city pristine is inspiring.
Now don’t get me wrong, I will be the first to shout from the rooftops about how much I love the city that never sleeps! But from the architecture to the people to the activities to the food, we were truly blown away by all London has to offer!
So how’d we get here?
We caught the Europe bug this summer after spending 2 ½ weeks visiting a handful of countries. We knew we wanted to come back soon, but never anticipated how soon. We had started looking into trip options for the week between Christmas and New Year’s in July, knowing we were cutting it close in the affordability window. All our searching was turning out empty, as every option we considered sat on costing more than what we were willing to pay. I then stumbled upon direct flights on Virgin Atlantic to London Gatwick from Orlando using Google Flights and the price hit our sweet spot.
We quickly jumped over to do a search of hotel prices to see if it was too good to be true, and sure enough it wasn’t! We booked a refundable option until we solidified all our trip plans, and then after some more research and waiting for the Europe flight prices to hit their lowest point, we booked!
We knew from the start it was going to be a Christmas surprise – we always talked about how the kids have too much stuff and the next holiday trip was going to be their gift! We were originally considering a Disney cruise as our New Year’s plan, but because of the peak week and higher demand, the cost rose beyond what we wanted to pay. We would cruise Disney in a heartbeat, but we wanted to ring in the New Year in a way we never had before, and since we had done already cruised Disney, we searched for something with a price point we felt was reasonable. And in turn, this trip ended up costing us LESS than that cruise would have.
Unbelievable, right?! We were able to take our family across the pond for a Christmas week holiday for less than cruising the Gulf of Mexico right next door.
Sound like something you want to do?
Here are some things we took note about London that we feel will help make this a trip for you!
1. Flying into London is EASY and cheap! There are DIRECT flights from Orlando (MCO) to London Gatwick (LGW) for cheaper than flying into some US cities. We booked Virgin via Delta and scored a price cheaper than going to NYC, San Francisco or even Phoenix (to watch the UCF-LSU game) for the same time period. We did book an Economy Light ticket, which is a new pricing structure most major airlines introduced to make traveling a bargain. But very important to note, it eliminates immediate seat selection and a checked bag. Yes, we know it’s not for everyone, especially those traveling with kids (we’re crazy, right?)! But having loyalty to an airline allowed us to check our one bag free (Delta Medallion status via their AmEx credit card). And Virgin made seat selection a breeze thanks to their loyalty program, Flying Club, which allowed us to select our seats 72 hours before our flight departure. All you have to do is register and apply your membership number and you're granted an additional 48 hours to choose (you'd otherwise pick an available seat at check-in).
2. London is relatively inexpensive. We came into this hearing the exact opposite, but after living it for a week, we beg to differ. Yes, a last minute trip to London can cost you, especially when it comes to flight and lodging prices. But if you start planning early, you can find a bargain on hotel rooms or vacation rentals. Once there, the average pricing is pretty standard, if not cheaper, than stateside. Granted the exchange rate hurts a little since it favors the GBP; but “dollar for dollar” prices were not what you expect from a BIG city, a la that of NYC, Vegas or San Francisco. Most meals we kept under the $50 mark for all 4 of us. We did take an occasional splurge on something fancy, like attending a West End show or partaking in a unique activity, but more than made up for it with $3 (or 2 GBP) drinks.
3. They accept credit cards virtually everywhere. No need to worry too much about hitting the ATM up before traveling, as most major cards are accepted from the minute you get off the plane (but do make sure you have a Visa or Mastercard handy). They do not take the US dollar and you will need the GBP if you wish to make cash purchases.
If it gives you peace of mind to have cash on you, then bring a minimal amount of pounds. We like to avoid the currency exchange shops with higher exchange rates and pesky transaction fees, so we find a bank partner ATM and make the withdrawal there. For us, we bank with Bank of America and they have a partnership with Barclay’s. For any cash needs, we could use a Barclay’s ATM and only get charged the currency conversion (no transaction or ATM fees)! Most major US banks have a partnership with international banks, so find out if your bank offers one to save you any additional fees.
4. Skip renting/chartering a car, public transportation is the way to go! The train into London was the easiest mode of transportation we’ve ever taken leaving an airport. We left customs, found a kiosk to buy tickets and then headed to the South Terminal to catch the train one floor up. The National Rail runs every 30 minutes and is roughly a 30 minute ride to London; from there you can hop over to the local Underground that will get you to your destination.
We highly recommend getting a Visitor Oyster card, as not only does it give you a capped Underground fare per day, but also allows you discounts to many attractions. You can prebook a Visitor Oyster card and have it mailed to you, but you will pay the shipping fee from the UK to US (roughly $4 for standard untracked or $12 for Express tracked shipping ). If you rather not pay for shipping, you can purchase one on arrival ONLY at the airport (there is a 5 GBP fee for the card either way) and all you need to do is “top it off” with the amount of fare you need to travel. And best of all, kids under 12 travel free on most trains so you will only need a card for each adult (though a 5-11 year old may need a National Rail ticket to get into London). Once you’re done with the card, you can return it to receive any unused funds back (it will come in pounds though).
5. You can’t go wrong with where you stay. London is so vast and spread out that unless you intend to stay and play in one area ONLY, then really where you stay is of no concern. The area that sees the most foot traffic and is the true hub of the city is Piccadilly Circus (the Times Square of London), but everything else is either a walk or short tube ride away. We opted to stay over in Tower Hill in the City of London (aka their financial district). Sure, it wasn’t in the heart of everything, but it had one thing that could not be beat – an Underground station one block away that got us EVERYWHERE! We could not be happier with that perk, because at the end of a long day, nothing tops walking ONE BLOCK back to your hotel from your train.
6. Find a place to stay that suits your needs. As mentioned above, proximity to the tube station was enough for us. We’re walkers (no pun), so we knew we’d be exploring on foot wherever we went (seriously, we logged 80 miles of walking on this trip). But we had to get there first. There was no main reason for us to stay in one neighborhood over another as we intended to explore the whole city.
We also prefer a hotel to a vacation rental, particularly with little kids – because the convenience of on-site dining and disposable amenities a phone call away eliminates the stress of finding an open store in the middle of the night. We did make pit stops though and stocked up on snacks to have, and our hotel had a decent size mini fridge in the room that was filled with tea, coffee, and water bottles every morning. We stayed at the Novotel London Tower Bridge and we were impressed with the brand, particularly the simple practicality of the room; the clean, crisp boho contemporary look of the hotel; and the price tag that came with it. It was cheaper than most AirBNBs in London and got us all that we needed!
7. The city is extremely family friendly. Bring the kids, they’ll LOVE it here! From riding the tube to looking at Christmas lights to playing in parks to finding random holiday markets filled with goodies … you name it, there was plenty to do! And they enjoyed every minute!
There are several FREE museums in London to explore, including the Natural History Museum, Victoria and Albert (museum of art & design), British Museum and Tate Modern (art museum) to name a few. If you don't mind dropping some pounds (no pun), visit the famous London Zoo and get an up close and personal experience with the animals that call it home. Or make time to visit WB Studios to see THE Harry Potter movie sets (be warned, tickets sell out fast, so this is something that needs to be booked months in advance)! Or just do a Harry Potter walking tour to see the actual places that inspired the movies - there's nothing like being there in person! If you want to see London from above, visit the London Eye; there are several other attractions including the SEA LIFE Aquarium and Shrek's Adventure! nearby.
And if all else fails, there are several parks with adorable playgrounds to keep them entertained while you rest your feet from all that exploring. Our kids played on the wooden sculptures of St. James Playground with Buckingham Palace as their backdrop. They climbed a rope course in Regent's Park (the park that is said to be the kite flying playground of the Banks children in Mary Poppins). And they made friends with Londoners at Hyde Park as they raced around the various playground delights. Bonus for parents, these parks are extremely clean and their restrooms are CHILDREN ONLY, which we felt was a gracious gesture to assure that these sacred play spaces were preserved for our little ones.
8. Come during Christmas! It is absolutely beautiful! Just about ever corner of this city has something the rings the Christmas spirit. Despite us traveling after the actual holiday, it still felt like we were gearing up for the big day with the excitement that surrounded the city dressed up in lights.
And if there wasn't enough to do already, the city has Christmas markets everywhere, along with carousels and ice skating rinks to stop you in your tracks! We enjoyed skating at the Natural History Museum in particular. Above all, make sure to visit the Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park. Or if you rather not ruin a fair experience for your children (or yourself, really) ever again, don't visit it. We will never be able to go to another fair without having to significantly lower our expectations after our over the top afternoon there!
9. If you can’t come during Christmas, come during spring/summer. We’d absolutely take this city on with warmer weather, a little more sunshine, and the excitement of soccer (better known as football) to match! We'd love to see how the city scape changes as the new seasons bring in new beauty! And the new appeal of more outdoor activity with mild weather! The cold didn't keep us from doing anything, but we'd also love to see how much more we could do when its warmer out and it beckons outdoor play!
10. Pack appropriately! Winter was cold here, but not dreadfully cold. We lucked out and didn’t get rain, though we think we only saw the sun for one day. The weather is funny; sometimes the coldest days felt warmer than the ones projected to have higher temperatures. And it all dealt with cloud coverage, moisture and wind. Best advice, layer up – we wore an undershirt, sweater and jacket, with warm socks, gloves, a hat/beanie, and good walking shoes. I would usually bring a scarf for additional clothing to pass on to the the kids (if needed) and would suggest packing an umbrella if you’re worried (or just buy one there).
We managed to take everything we needed in one suitcase for all 4 of us – and I’d recommend packing light too! There are plenty of shopping options there in case you forget something, including a TK Maxx (yes, TK not TJ) for some discounted brand name shopping.
11. Try the staple foods! You can’t miss out on traditional feasts like a Full Monty breakfast (we recommend the one from The Breakfast Club), fish and chips (you HAVE to go to Poppie’s for that), or Indian cuisine (eat at Delhi Brasserie) to name a few. Pret A Manger was a wonderful on-the-go stop for fresh eats every morning and we enjoyed shopping the food corrider at Harrod’s, where we grabbed fantastic cronuts from Bread Ahead! We also couldn’t resist the beckoning charm of Chinatown near Leicester Square and had a wonderful dinner at Canton.
But THE one thing you HAVE to do is afternoon tea – what a fantastic tradition that rivals no other. There are various locations that offer a host of adorable theming options, but we chose to go with The Winter Wonderland Tea at Chesterfield Mayfair. Their menu hosts a variety of options inspired from the candy of Hardys, the famous London candy shop which inspired the likes of Honeydukes. We sipped tea flavored like candy, dined on delicious sandwiches, and devoured sweets to match the theme. All at your leisure and with unlimited supply. Once done, you can head to the candy cart to take sweet treats from Hardys home! It was amazing and more than we could ever expect from this timeless tradition.
12. Make sure to write a bucket list and tackle it. Here's a quick preview of some of the must-do's from our list:
13. Map it out. If you're a visual person (like me) and rather have a mapped out version of what to do, we use Google Maps to create day trips and plan activities in the same vicinity. This made sure we weren't hopping all over the place and also helped us to check off all the activities we wanted to hit. We could then pop open the map while we were out and about and had a true gauge of where we were going with landmarks labeled!
Feel free to borrow the one we created (or we can help customize one to fit your vacation needs)!
You guys, London was AMAZING! And with kid its was very manageable (no stroller and all)! Put it on your bucket list to visit, if it's not already there.
And if you need help planning this trip (or any other) - from finding flight deals, a home away from home and/or planning activities, let Adventure Somewhere help get you there this year!