Wednesday, March 27, 2013 Review and Giveaway

I am far from an interior decorator, but I do enjoy adorning my walls with travel memories. My dining room features a canvas print of this picture. My living room is decked out in photos I have taken on various trips to Europe. My hallway has black and white prints from Paris. When we decorated Big Arrow's big boy room, we chose airplanes as a theme. We use a blanket my husband got in India as our bedspread. I love to be inspired by and reminded of travel adventures all over my home.

Because of our upcoming move to England, one of my goals for 2013 has been to be braver. I know this experience will force me out of my comfort zone in so many ways. But I want to embrace the experience with open arms. When else in our lives will we have this chance? One way to encourage this is to, once again, surround myself with positive messages.

So when (you might know the site as a popular place for wedding invitations) contacted me to host a review and giveaway, the first thing I did was type "travel" into their search feature. When this print popped up, I knew it had to be the first thing to hang on the walls of our new home in England:

Monday, March 25, 2013

We're Heading Back to England... And Plan to Stay Awhile

As you may have read, a couple of months ago my husband and I traveled to England without our sons. And while it was a kid-free getaway, it also involved househunting, school touring and attempting to learn to drive on the other side of the road.

Because we're moving to England!

My husband works for a large, Fortune 500 company. And while working for "the man" (as I like to tease him) has its drawbacks, one of the perks was that we might have an opportunity to move internationally for a period of time. We've desired that kind of experience for our family for years. With facilities all over the world, we didn't know where or when something would come our way. And then I got the text that changed our lives back in November when he was there on a routine business trip.

(Please note my husband's calm, matter-of-fact tone, complete with practical details like train ride duration. Then note my tone. It appears I'm having a panic attack. This is us in a nutshell.)

And now here we find ourselves, planning to set off "across the pond" for the next three years.

A little FAQ to sum up the situation:

Friday, March 22, 2013

Mad About March

It's March Madness, and this is Indiana... so what else would I post on a Friday other than this?

From my son's preschool field trip to Hackman's Farm Market. No barn in the Hoosier state is worth its wooden exterior without a hoop, right?

In all seriousness, our family basically closes up shop and shuts down business for the NCAA men's basketball tournament. Afterall, my degree hails from basketball powerhouse and small-school-done-good Butler University.

Enjoy the tournament, whoever you cheer for! (As long as they're not playing my Dawgs...)

Monday, March 11, 2013

What We Spent on Spring Break

Cost of family travel is a common topic among parents. And this recent article in the New York Times definitely got the family travel blog group I'm a part of buzzing. In it, $4,500 is given as the cost of a "budget" trip for spring break.

Say what?! I don't know about you, but $4,500 and "budget" don't belong in the same sentence as far as I'm concerned. So I thought I'd take a look back at what our trip to Florida for spring break last year cost our family of four.

I outline our expenses below. You'll see that we spent well under $2,000. And by no means did we keep a tight watch on our wallets while there. We ate out often (at least once each day, usually at sit-down restaurants). We still went to major attractions, like the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa. And we stayed in a 2-bedroom condo across from the beach. I didn't even really think of this as a budget trip. 

In fact, this was the most expensive trip we took all year. The rest of our travels in 2012 involved driving, staying with family, or both. So we were comfortable taking on the expense of this vacation, knowing that our other travels were significantly less.

COSTS for 2012 Trip to Madeira Beach, Florida

Dinner out at sit-down restaurant:                                                                                        $50
Groceries:                                                                                                                                  $103
(included diapers, wine, beer and beach toys in addition to food supplies)

Toll at Fort De Soto Park:                                                                                                          $0.50
Lunch at sit-down restaurant:                                                                                                  $45
Dinner (pizza take-out) :                                                                                                            $14

Day 3
Expenses at Farmer’s Market:                                                                                                   $10
($5 for 2 empanadas, $5 donation for balloon animal)

Lunch at sit-down restaurant:                                                                                                    $32
Dinner at sit-down restaurant:                                                                                                  $60

Day 4
Zoo admission:                                                                                                                              $48
Lunch at zoo cafe:                                                                                                                         $27
Seafood dinner take-out:                                                                                                            $48
Ice cream:                                                                                                                                      $10

Day 5
Lunch at sit-down restaurant:                                                                                                     $35

Equipment rental:                                                                                                                         $48
(Included jogging stroller, baby swing and pack n play. $48 is after I used a $20 gift card.)

Rental Car:                                                                                                                                      $306
(included 2 car seats for 5 days)

Vacation rental:                                                                                                                             $406
(2 BR, 1 bath condo across the street from beach for 4 nights)

Flight to/from Indianapolis/Tampa for 3 people + 1 lap child:                                               $538      
1 checked bag:                                                                                                                      $40 ($20 each way)

TOTAL:                                                                                                                                             $1820.50
You spent HOW MUCH to take me to Florida?

Ways we saved:
·        Free fun at places like Fort De Soto Park and hours spent on the beach across from our condo.

·        A trip to the grocery store meant we always ate breakfast at the condo and the adults had an adult beverage each night when kids were in bed, instead of drinking at restaurants or bars.

·        We stayed across the street from the beach instead of beach front. We also only stayed 4 nights instead of a full week. With kids so young, we find this is a good length of time. Plus, my husband doesn't have to use as many vacation days and we can take additional trips throughout the year.

·        Our condo did not have a pool, which was a huge price break when comparing similar properties in the area.
·       My parents dropped us off and picked us up at the airport, so we had no parking expenses.

Ways we splurged:
·       We rented car seats, a stroller, pack n play and baby swing. We also checked a bag. I despise lugging stuff through the airport and it was much easier to have those items waiting for us upon arrival.

·       Our 2-bedroom condo. We avoid staying in hotels for more than just a night or two because our kids are so young. Everyone sleeps much better this way.

·       When pricing flights, there were several options that had one stop which were $50-$100 less than the direct flight we booked. But it was so nice to have my toes in the sand within hours of leaving Indy.

·       We love to eat out when on vacation, so while we could have had more lunches and dinners at our condo, we enjoy trying out great restaurants in the area.
You can't put a price tag on memories like this.

This post is a part of Travel Tips Tuesday at Walking on Travels and Suitcases and Sippy Cups.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Road Trip Tip: Plan A Picnic

Many families I know are deep in the preparations for spring break road trips. Even if you're not heading somewhere in the next few weeks, perhaps you're thinking about hitting the highway this summer.

One of the most challenging aspects of a long road trip is that young kids (and even adults!) start to feel awfully cooped up in such a tight space. There are no opportunities to move or get the wiggles out while strapped in a car seat. And yet you don't want to waste too much time stopping for play breaks, when you'd rather be forging ahead and arriving at your ultimate destination as soon as possible.

Here's where the picnic pitstop saves the day. You've probably got to stop and eat and take a potty break at some point along the way, right? (If not, kudos for being a robot!) Instead of forcing your kids to continue to sit still at a restaurant, pack a picnic. Then they can run around, play on a playground, etc., while eating lunch or dinner.

This is also great if you've got a baby in the mix. A picnic is a chance to spread a blanket and let the little one roll around, lay on their back, and get a change in scenery from their car seat, even if they're not mobile yet.

On our 7 hour ride to Pinconcinng, Michigan this summer, we were thrilled to learn that a fabulous state park was just off the exit near the halfway point of our drive. There, our oldest explored the playground while running back to the picnic for spoonfuls of yogurt and bites of sandwich. Our youngest, then 8 months, jumped all over daddy and rolled around on the picnic blanket, and then enjoyed drinking a bottle in the great outdoors on a bench instead of crammed in a restaurant booth. In total, we stopped for 45 minutes. It was the only stop we had to make because we accomplished three essential goals: bathroom, lunch, and play.

A few tips for the perfect picnic pitstop:
  1. Pack your meal the night before. There are plenty of other things to do the morning you depart. You won't want to be making PB&Js, so do it the night before.
  2. Choose foods that don't require utensils. Or pack plastic ones like we did for yogurt. And don't forget the paper plates and napkins. You'll want to just toss everything in the trash when you're done eating, and not clutter your car with dirty items.
  3. Find a park if possible. Probably nicer than a rest stop, although that would work fine in a pinch. Research where you are likely to be a few hours into the trip, or where you anticipate being around a mealtime.
  4. Once you're on the road, apps like Road Ninja tell you what you'll find at approaching exits on your route, in case you have to make a change in picnic location on the fly.
  5. Get a waterproof blanket. Soft and cozy on one side, waterproof on the other. Perfect to spread if the grass is a little wet or muddy when you stop. It can then double as a beach blanket or fort-making device once you've arrived at your destination.
  6. Have a rain plan. Picnics can be tricky in inclement weather, but with a little planning, still possible!
    • Maybe there is an indoor play center along the way. My town has one, called The Commons, that's just a couple of miles from a major interstate exit.
    • Or perhaps the park you've planned on visiting has shelters you could use. Your kids could still run around under the roof. (And maybe pack bubbles and sidewalk chalk as an activity to keep them out of the rain.) 
    • Many museums let you bring in food. Even if it's not one you had on your must-see list, it likely has at least an exhibit or two that your kids could explore before or after eating.
We're embarking on another lengthy drive in a few weeks on our way to Lake of the Ozarks. I'm certain we'll be making another picnic pitstop, perhaps with the St. Louis arch as our backdrop!

This post is a part of Travel Tips Tuesday at Walking on Travels and Suitcases & Sippy Cups.