NOTES FROM THE ROAD — Our first book published!

Not every journey is intentional, or physical.  When we embark on the great adventure of having children, we hurdle along a road at differing speeds with unpredictable twists and a confused itinerary filled with laughter, rainstorms, drama, challenges, thrills and unique experiences.  It’s not too different from a very long road trip.  This past year, we discovered writing and blogging fit into this frame as well.

Today, we proudly announce that our book (Explore The World With Your Kids!) offering parents travel advice is available on the iBooks platform!







The book provides to readers everything we know and have learned so far about traveling with kids, with specific ideas, strategies, and recommendations for discreet age ranges.  It also provides advice on how to approach resort travel, packing (including the dreaded stuffed animal dilemma), road trips, gluten-free dining, dining budgets (where strategy is essential when traveling with teen boys!), airplane travel, souvenir strategies, and security (both physical and internet/privacy issues).  It’s not merely about gear and babies.  It also covers ways to make travel fun and interesting for your elementary school kids, tweens, and teens.

Download it today and help us launch this daring adventure with a strong sales start!  Proceeds from the book will help cover the costs of the website.  If we manage to make a profit after a year, we have designated the Make-A-Wish Foundation as our preferred charity….so help us reach our goal of helping out that great charity as well!

If you had told us 18 months ago that we would become self-punished indie authors in the family travel sector, we would have laughed.  We are accidental tourists here.  It sort of feels like the morning after a long drive on a long road trip that involved an unanticipated late-night stop at a roadside hotel.  You wake up and the first practical questions that come to mind are: where are we and how did we get here?

Unlike the passing-through road-trippers, however, we are here to stay.  We know how we got here.

Last spring, we were discussing with friends family travel to the world’s great places with small kids.  We were in particular convincing one friend that it is never too early or too difficult to take small kids to major metropolitan centers like Paris, NYC, London, DC, etc. The friend then said:  you should create a website and share what you know!  Kate found the thought intriguing and looked into it on a whim.  It became quickly obvious that everything she wanted to say was too much for a website.  Work on the first draft of the site was abandoned.  This book was written by Kate, edited by Mike, and reviewed by Marguerite.  And then we went back to the website.  This website and this blog are, thus, a second edition.  They are designed to help others put into practice what the book recommends.  Even that was not enough, and so the Pinterest boards began to proliferate.  Then came the Twitter presence.  Then came the Facebook presence.  Then we added Tumblr to the party last week.

We hope the book and companion website/social media tools are helpful, particularly to young families and expats starting out on the great adventure known as traveling with kids.  We know from experience that a few simple steps and a focus on the bigger picture can help make travel with kids easier and fun whether your kids are pre-walking, pre-teen or pre-college.  We hope the book and tools we are assembling help you have more fun on the road and become smarter consumers of travel goods from gear and tech to great adventure packages and accommodations.

In the month that we have been online, we have already found a rich, welcoming, fun, and oh-so-interesting community of family travel Twitterati, bloggers, forum hosts, and people.  We look forward to getting to know everyone better.  We look foreword to contributing to the conversation about engaging family travel that inspires a thrill to explore the BIG WORLD among you and the LITTLE EYES in your family.  We have been loving the engagement so far and look forward to more of it as we continue along this unanticipated and thrilling journey!


NOTES FROM THE ROAD — Welcome to #NewYork!

Yesterday, we were so focused on Brussels (see our post here) that we missed the massive controversy!

Regular readers of this blog know how much we love New York City.  We love its energy, its creativity, and its drive.  We were focused on Europe, when New Yorkers started doing one of the things they do best: gripe.

It all started with a relatively new New Yorker writing a new song about being new to the city.  Here are the lyrics (we shortened it a bit):

Walking through a crowd
The village is aglow
Kaleidoscope of loud heartbeats
Under coats
Everybody here wanted something more
Searching for a sound we hadn’t heard before
And it said

REFRAIN: Welcome to New York
It’s been waiting for you
Welcome to New York (3x)
It’s been waiting for you
Welcome to New York (2x)

It’s a new soundtrack I could dance to this beat, beat
The lights are so bright
But they never blind me, me


When we first dropped our bags

On apartment floors
Took our broken hearts
Put them in a drawer
Everybody here was someone else before
And you can want who you want
Boys and boys and girls and girls


Like any great love
It keeps you guessing
Like any real love
It’s ever changing
Like any true love
It drives you crazy
But you know you wouldn’t change Anything, anything, anything…



What’s the problem exactly?

It seems many in Manhattan despise the idea that the song was instantly adopted by the NY Tourism Board. And they are not crazy about the promotion of the classic “if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere” mythology.  And they really despise that a “talented” singer/songwriter has stooped to writing dance tracks.

Kate suspects that really what they despise is the revival of the 1980’s upbeat pop sound that reminds the world the 1980s were fun.  Kate laughed out loud when the news broke that Taylor Swift has donated ALL of the proceeds from this song to the New York Public schools.   

If that isn’t a good reason to buy the single RIGHT NOW, we don’t know what is.  Here is the iTunes link. Make up your own mind about the song and help the NYC public school system in the process!

Here at BWLEtravel, we cannot resist the opportunity to participate in the fun.  So here you will find….

BWLEtravel’s Top Five Reasons to Love Taylor Swift’s New York Song


1.  It now benefits the NYC public schools.

Seriously, it’s a good cause.  The schools in New York City need help.  Funding will help more kids learn to read, and you know how much we love books here at BWLEtravel.  Books provide a terrific opportunity to travel without leaving home or the local library or the local school.  If you are going to have an opinion about the song and its link to Manhattan, you might as well listen to it and have an informed opinion.  Here is the iTunes link.  Let us know what you think here or on Facebook.

2.  It will inspire a whole new generation to travel to, or live in, NYC.

Look at the lyrics above (preferably, while listening to the song).  For every adult reading this blog post, there are at least 10-15 tween and teen girls enjoying the song right now. These girls will grow up knowing that New York City is a city of reinvention (“Everybody here was someone else before” and “Everybody here wanted something more/Searching for a sound we hadn’t heard before”) and magic (“The village is aglow/kaleidescope of loud hearbeats”).  We agree! At its core, this is what makes New York and New Yorkers strong and marvelous.  This song will inspire a whole new generation of young travelers to The Big Apple.  We love this.  So will your tweens and teens.

3.  It challenges conventional thinking.

Regular readers of this blog know that one of the many reasons why we love NYC is that it has been home to disruptive innovators for over a hundred years.  Here is our post on the disruptive innovators of the early 20th Century that built the skyscrapers that now define much of the City.

New York rewards people that do not fit into boxes, that do not conform to convention.  And that is why if you love New York you HAVE to love this song.  It teaches your kids about the value of being an individual.

Let’s be brutally honest.  Music snobs hate the 1980s pop music genre in general.  Music snobs that remember fondly 1980s music will refer wistfully to David Bowie (a Greenwich Village resident!), Lou Reed and David Byrne and the Talking Heads.  They sneer at Madonna and all the dance pop music makers.  They feel betrayed by Taylor Swift.  She is a pop artist with roots in country music. She moved to NYC and now she is making 1980s dance track music? How disappointing.

Encourage your kids to think for themselves.  Encourage them to celebrate the guts it takes to go in a different direction and challenge conventional thinking (in this case, music critics).  Then take them to NYC on a tour of the Art Deco District (use our post here as your guide) or the High Line (use our post here as your starting point) or the epicenter of disruptive innovators….downtown Manhattan with its Revolutionary War history and modern-t. day treasury hunting options.  Play Swift’s song along the way.

Remember that America’s revolutionary tradition includes permission to challenge hipsters and music critics in pursuit of happiness defined by the individual, not the collective zeitgeist. The “pursuit of happiness” is one of the rights mentioned upfront and center of that radical document, the Declarations of Independence.  Need a refresher course?  Book a trip to Washington DC and the National Archives, using our recent post here as a guide.

4.  It’s daring and smart, both classic NYC traits.

1989 was quite a watershed year in America.  We were one year into the first term of the very first Bush Administration.  The Berlin Wall came tumbling down.  The Cold War was finally over.  New York City was finally turning a corner after over a decade of decline.  It was the year Lou Reed released the album music critics love, entitled, “New York,” which Mike sees as the quintessential New York rock album.

Taylor Swift could have played it safe.  She could have continued the trend following the 1970s music revival that has been all the rage these last two years.  She could have stayed true to the pop self-absorbed focus that has dominated her recent music. But NO!  She went in a different direction.  She chose to revive her own classic sound. And she was a smart businesswoman, striking strategic alliances with the NYC at every step along the way.

Inspire your kids to think big with NYC and this newest music drama as your backdrop.  Here are a few of our favorite books for kids that capture the imagination, daring, and ambition that make NYC the great city it is today:


Come on, New York…you love brash businessmen!  Embrace the boldness!

Traveling families, take this controversy to teach your kids about the value of entrepreneurship, reinvention, hard work, and imagination…even when you are at the top of the charts.  Share this post and the song with your kids.  Take the opportunity to talk about all the journeys in life that do not require a passport but DO require the courage to buck conventions and expectations.  Never stop striving and never stop pushing your limits.  Then book at trip to Manhattan to show them what all the fuss is about.  For advice on what do with your kids when there and while planning your trip, check out our page here and our recent blog post here.

5.  It’s fun.

This is the best part.  It’s a pop song.  Don’t take it so seriously. Just have fun and enjoy a smile thinking about the mythology of Manhattan.  Does every person with talent make it in NYC?  No. Is it a hard place to live?  Yes.  But we all need dreams and goals.  It’s so much more fun when they are delivered with a catching dance track and smart business judgment.  Take your kids to NYC and see if they agree.

DISCLAIMER:  No animals or plants were injured in the production of this blogpost.  But Kate and Mike did have quite a difference of opinion on the topic.  Mike is a music snob, says Kate the writer.  Mike says “Taylor Swift is very talented and this is a very well made album…for what it is. But she has much better material in her.”  Mike might be right, but Kate was having too much fun enjoying the music and the message of the song to think about it too much.  Kate doesn’t need angst and drama right now.  To quote another 1980s pop diva (Cyndi Lauper), Kate just “wants to have fun.”  This music is fun.  Let us know what you think.

NOTES FROM THE ROAD — Top Ten Tips for #FamilyTravel to #Brussels

When planning a trip to Europe with kids, most families naturally gravitate to the large, legendary cities of Paris, London and Rome.  This is understandable.  They are amazing places.  But they are so large and so rich in experiences that they can be hard to take in for only a weekend getaway.  And sometimes you are not in the mood for a city that big.

Welcome to Brussels, the home of the Smurfs and of Tin-Tin….a whimsical place where history takes a deliberate back seat to gracious architecture, unique museums, seasonal special events and truly amazing food.  The quiet humor and commitment to beauty goes back centuries, to the days of the father-son Breugel painting dynasty.  It is the ideal place to visit with kids at any time of year.  Just remember that the country is not far from the North Sea so pack warm, water-proof clothes.  We had a lovely time there with our girl when she was little, and we look forward to returning with her now that she is older.

BWLEtravel’s Top TenTips for Family Travel to Brussels

1.  How To Deal With The Weather — Pretend You Are Playing Roulette

We won’t sugar coat it….Brussels is a rainy place.  We are not talking a polite London mist.  We are talking downpours often powered by the North Sea wind, particularly in winter.  We are talking a sturdy umbrella and a warm raincoat often all the way into June.  The wind will make mince-meat of your short little folding travel umbrella.  You need an umbrella with extra struts inside.  Don’t have one?  Don’t worry….you can buy one in Brussels.  We are talking about a place where the light fades into blue and gray in mid afternoon and, in winter, does not appear for the day before 8:30 am.

Do NOT let this description deter you from discovering Brussels!

A trip to Belgium involves a fair amount of strategy, surprise and luck.  Belgians know they don’t live in Southern California.  These are smart people.  They have a sturdy, cozy culture structured around comfort foods and a broad range of marvelous indoor options.  A trip to Belgium even in a downpour provides an opportunity to immerse yourself in the comforts of this city and to introduce your kids to a really unique and wonderful place.

Then there is the sun.  In summer it shines beautifully, in winter it shines weakly and intermittently.  Whenever the sun appears, abandon all plans for indoor pursuits and head directly for items 2, 3 and 6 on the list below.  Congratulate yourself on your good luck and flexibility.  Congratulate yourself on showing your kids how to be flexible when it comes to travel plans.

If it pours the entire 36-72 hours you are there, congratulate yourself for teaching your kids how to remain positive. And congratulate yourself for reading the rest of this post and being prepared for anything.

A special note for ladies about shoes in Brussels

The lovely, distinctive square slate cobblestones throughout Brussels are guaranteed to ruin any shoes with heels.  They also become incredibly slick in the rain.  Save your shoes and your ankles, plan to walk around in sneakers or similarly flat shoes that will give you traction.

2.  The Grand Place

The Grand Place appears on the top of everyone’s list for things to see in Brussels for a good reason.  It is one of the few intact medieval squares in all of Europe.  The Brussels city hall (hotel de ville) was built in the 1400s, followed by the rest of the square.  It was almost all destroyed by artillery in 1695 and then rebuilt.  Today, it plays host mostly to cafes and shops that cater to the tourist trade.  As the picture below (compliments of By Karel at cs.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons) indicates, it is at its most stunning at night:


Don’t be a snob.  Take your kids and go have a look.  Tucked away amid the tourist traps are some truly fine restaurants (see item 7 below) and some centuries-old weavers of the finest lace and tapestry on the planet (see item 10 below).

3.  The Sablon

The Sablon is actually two different small squares, divided by a main street (rue de la Regence).  At the top is a park known as the “Petite Sablon.”  It is a small, lovely, late 19th century park dotted with statutes.  These were the great men of their day, the Belgian heroes that fought against Spanish occupation.  Today, its a nice place for kids to stretch their legs and run before you take them across the street into an exquisitely small and lovely cathedral.

Brussels_Petite-Sablon-2   Brussles_Petite-Sablon-1

Behind the cathedral lies the Grand Sablon.  On weekends in summer, the square is filled with antique vendors and an upscale flea market.  Kids LOVE it here, but you need to keep an eye on them to be sure they do not wander away from you.

Brussels_Petite-Sablon-church  Brussels_grand-sablon-2

Families will love it for another reason: you are now at the epicenter of the Brussels chocolate culture.  Interspersed between the chocolate shops are a steady succession of excellent little restaurants and cafes from the low key “L’Entree des Artistes” to the modern Lola.  All are wonderful.

4.  The Chocolate Tour — Sablon to Place St. Catherine

Chocolate in Brussels is legendary for good reason.  It is an art form.  If you are pressed for time, the major artisans of chocolate are all located here in the Sablon.  We will have a separate post on the different chocolate houses.  For now, know that you could walk between at least six legendary chocolate shops here, acquiring wildly different and all excellent chocolates along the way.

If you (or your kids) seek the ultimate chocolate experience, you will have to devote a bit more time to seek out two additional artisans: Mary and Blondeel.  Stay tuned!

5.  Eight Major, Imaginative Museums To Choose From

Great news parents!  A rainy day means your kids might actually become excited to visit a museum!  Even better news….when you are in Belgium, you have an amazing selection of museums to choose from. Our favorites ten appear below.  We will do a separate blogpost reviewing these museums.  For now, the main point is to know that you will not be bored!

Museum of Ancient Art (Breugel, Van Eyck)

Musical Instruments Museum

Military History Museum

Dinosaur Museum

Magritte Museum

Comic Strip Museum

Victor Horta Museum

Toy Museum


Automobile Museum

Links to the museum official sites are embedded in the list below, just in case you cannot wait for our reviews!

6.  Best Playgrounds

Like their cousins to the south in France, Belgium has amazing playgrounds for kids.  Two are conveniently located near museums and provide lovely large places for kids to play on great equipment (when weather permits).

Cinquentenaire Park:  This park is a large, multi-acre affair in classic French 19th century style: large lawns, long graveled walkways beneath rows of trees set out in military style.  You would come here mostly in order to visit the Military Museum or the Automobile Museum.  But as long as you are here, check out the playgrounds!  Both are tucked away in corners.  Just behind the museum is a set of equipment suitable for older kids (like 5 or 6).  If you walk along the pathway away from the Military Museum along a straight line, you will dead end at a large sandbox with fabulous equipment for younger kids (ages 2-5).

Royal Park/Parc Royal: In between the parliament and the palace and just a two minute walk from the Musical Instruments Museum sits a lovely formal park.  Tucked into one corner, near the metro stop (yes, the “Parc” metro stop) you will find a lovely playground.  Actually, use your ears to find it….the sound of kids laughing happily will tell you where it is long before your eyes see it.

7. Moules, Frites, Gaufres, Waterzooie, Carbonnade!

If ever there were a place to introduce kids to culinary tourism, this is it!

You are in the country that invented waffles.  In fact, take your kids to the art museum to see the Bruegel paintings and challenge them to find the kids eating waffles in these paintings from the 1400s.  Then treat them to a waffle (“gaufres”).  Many restaurants will make them, but the classic experience involves having a warm waffle from a street vendor on a cold day.

You are in the country that is mad for fries (“frites“).  Again, many restaurants will include them with the dishes.  But for the classic experience you need to venture forth to a fries shack and then slather them with one of the many mayonnaise-based sauces.  We will write a whole blog post about this!

Waterzooie….the name alone is enough to make an english-speaking child laugh.  They will stop laughing when they taste this classic Belgian dish made with a béchamel sauce, carrots and chicken.  It’s a delicious comfort food even the most finicky kid will love.

Carbonnade…again, a great name for a classic dish, this time beef stew made with the other Belgian culinary delight: beer.  This is a stick-to-your-ribs hearty beef stew for the coldest of days.  The alcohol burns off during the cooking process.

Moules….we have not yet met a kid daring enough to try this last delicious national dish: mussels.  Perhaps it is the black shells.  Perhaps it is all the work required to pry the mussels from their shells (cue the music).  Kids just don’t go for this right away.  But you should try it with a nice glass of white wine and one of the many creative sauces.

If you are looking for healthy, low-fat options you will look long and hard.  Don’t try.  Embrace the culture. Treat your kids to a weekend of waffles and fries and cozy stews.  If you want to be fully authentic, finish the meal with some chocolate!  You will all have a great time.

8.  Royal Greenhouses at Laeken (Spring)

Every spring, the royal family opens its greenhouses to the public.  It’s worth the trip to the edge of town to check it out, particularly if it is a nice day and your kids have a great deal of energy.  There’s plenty of space to run around both inside the greenhouses and outside of them.  There’s a Japanese pagoda built for the Paris World’s Fair and then installed here at the end of the 19th century.  Tweens and teens interested in architecture and engineering will love this place for a different reason.  It was designed by the man that taught Victor Horta everything he knew.  Every surface is beautifully embellished, even when serving a functional purpose.


Brussels_Laeken-6   Brussels_Laeken-2 Brussels_Laeken-3 Brussels_Laeken-4 Brussels_Laeken-5  Brussels_Laeken-1

9.  Royal Palace (Summer)

If you are visiting Brussels in late July, you will be there when Belgium celebrates its national day (July 21) and the royal family opens up the palace in town to the public.  Visiting the palace is FREE!!!  No photos are permitted inside, but trust us….it is worth the trip.  The palace is stunning not only in the traditional way but also in the way that the royal family has modernized some rooms in a most avant-garde way.  It is amazing.

After touring the palace, check out the small museum beneath it.  You can go down into the Roman-era foundations year-round.

10.  Bring It Home! Lace, Tapestry and the Galerie de la Reine

Tapestries made by the Gobelins family adorned castles and cathedrals across Europe during the Middle Ages, some woven with gold thread.  They continue that tradition today, but with a decidedly broader clientele.  Their shop just off the Grande Place is filled with lovely things large and small.  We still have a small pillow we purchased there.

Belgian lace is legendary, of course.  But finding high quality lace is a bit harder to do.  Ironically, the store we loved the most was right on the Grand Place:  Rubbrecht.  They had truly beautiful table cloths and blouses.  But if you want something small, the lace handkerchiefs there were lovely as well.  Our second favorite lace store was nearby, in the Galerie de la Reine.  The Manufacture Belge de Dentelles has been making lace by hand for centuries.  It’s shop has been in this location since 1847.  It doesn’t get any more authentic than this!

The Galeries Royales Sain Hubert, also known as the “Galerie de la Reine,” is worth the two minute walk from the Grand Place for more than just lace.  This is a glass-covered 19th century mall filled with a broad range of luxury goods from chocolate, to a flagship shop by Belgium’s leather goods artisan Dalvaux.  Kids love it because it is lovely.  Anyone who loves to shop will have a great time here….unless you are looking for bargains.

We hope you enjoy the trip!


NOTES FROM THE ROAD — Three Secrets to Happy #FamilyTravel During Holidays

The unofficial start of the holiday season looms this weekend!  The day after Halloween, we are all propelled forward relentlessly towards Thanksgiving (in the USA), end of term (in the UK), Hanukkah, Christmas and New Years.

You know what that means, right?  Confirmed travel junkies know EXACTLY what this means: large blocks of time (4-14 days!) without school, sports, music lessons, or pesky work commitments.  It means free time to travel with your kids!!!!!

Seasoned family travel aficionados also know what this means: your desire to explore runs headlong against the reasonable expectation from parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and other family members that you will use that time to travel to visit with them.  You may also face resistance from kids who want to spend some unstructured time at home.

Welcome to the Family Travel Holiday Challenge!

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to balance family commitments with your wanderlust.

Your goal is to fulfill this mission without hurting anyone’s feelings and with the maximum of fun.

Here are BWLEtravel we take this challenge annually.  And so today with share with you the three top secret we have learned (sometimes the hard way) about how to meet this challenge.

BWLEtravel’s Top Three Secrets for Happy Family Travel During Holidays



1.  Avoid travel on the big event day (Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas, Hanukkah, New Years Eve)

This bit of advice actually has nothing to do with avoiding crowds. If you are traveling around the edges of these major holidays you are going to be journeying with the masses no matter which day or time you choose.  Our focus here is on the kids.

Even the most free-spirited kid finds it comforting to know that some traditions in the family occur reliably, year after year.  This grounds them in who they are.  Small kids particularly will want to be home on the big event day.  Surprisingly, so will many tweens and teens.  Many adults may also find it dispiriting to travel on the event day as well.

We know it sounds great on paper. Travel on the big event days often come with discounted prices and near-empty airports and train stations.  So efficient!  So cost effective!  And so dull.  Half the fun of travel is the adventure of being in a space filled with energy as other travelers bustle towards their own destinations.  An empty airport can seem empty and can cause at least one in your traveling party to commence the trip longing for the comforts and traditions of home.  This is NOT the way to start a holiday adventure.

Trust us.  Avoid the event day.  Travel just before or just after it (like December 23 or December 26).

2.  When visiting family, be sure to plan some solo adventures and side trips.

You know this scenario.  You would rather be skiing in the Alps or in Colorado.  But you could not avoid the obligation to go home.  And even though you would rather be skiing in St, Moritz, the truth is that you really wanted to see Aunt Millie or you want your kids to have unstructured free time with cousins and family.  And so you book your full year-end holiday (10-14 days) with the idea of having a warm languid visit with the people you love.  Or maybe all of you decide you will rent a vacation house together for the holiday.

Here is the most important secret you need to know about this plan: it is DANGEROUS.

If you are traveling to see family, it means they live far away from you.  It means they have their own rhythm and schedule to their days without you.  It means at a pretty basic level that even though you are family, you are still a guest that will need to be entertained.  They will be too polite and nice to tell you.

It means something else a well.  After about a week, everyone settles in to being just family.  It’s wonderful to be together, of course.  But suddenly even planning a trip to the mall or dinner out must accommodate two or three times as many personal wishes.  This is an exponential escalation function.  At home, when you make plans, you only need to balance a handful of personal priorities (3, 4, 5 people).  When you visit with family, that number automatically doubles or triples.  It becomes a negotiation.

At around day 7 or day 8 you will see the tell-tale signs that yes indeed you are with family.  Little annoying personality traits you remember from twenty years ago will start to bug you again.  The kids will start behaving like siblings.  This means bickering.  Your warm holiday wishes will evaporate quickly as everyone transitions into more daily interactions.  Neighbors might be overheard asking: are they STILL here?


If you are booking a long year-end stay with family, then you MUST book a side-trip just for your core family.  Go away for the day or even for the night to a nearby town.  It will give you, your spouse, and your kids some time to decompress.  It will help everyone feel like they had a real vacation and a small adventure in addition to visiting family.  And it will give your extended family a break.  They will be glad when you return.

Beware the “me too” instinct as well.  If you read this blog, the odds are pretty good that you love to plan wonderful, imaginative trips.  You are prepared for the holiday challenge this year, so you let everyone know your plans.  And then…..they ask to come along.  This rather defeats the purpose, doesn’t it?  If you are in this scenario, consider seriously booking two separate day trips (one with extended family, one without).  Just like couples need alone time away from the kids, trust us….you will need alone time just for your family on an extended holiday trip.

3.  Travel gifts!

Many of the year-end holidays involve gift exchanges.  If you are planning a trip during these holidays, take the opportunity to let that guide your gift selection.  Small kids will still need toys to unwrap, of course.  Kids large and small will have great fun with gifts selected for use on the trip.  A holiday trip is also a great opportunity to bundle up experiences along with the physical gifts.  Some things that have worked well for us in the past include:

  • Books:  Give everyone in the traveling party a book about your destination.  Board books, coloring books, chapter books, young adult books, historical fiction, history, architecture, art….take the opportunity to inspire the imagination of your entire family with lovely images and wonderful stories about your destination.  There is a bonus to this approach as well.  We wrote this summer about the joys of the family dinner hour while on vacation (you can read that post here).  If everyone has a different book to read, it means your dinner conversations while on the road will be that much more interesting as everyone shares a tidbit or two from their book.

If you are traveling to London, NYC, Paris, Washington DC, or the Grand Canyon during the holiday season, check out our Pinterest boards filled with selections of our favorite kidlit from board books to young adult novels specific to those places.

  • Gadgets:  A big holiday trip justifies giving outrageously practical gifts.  Do you live in South Florida or the Gulf Coast and a trip to Minnesota or Maine is your holiday destination to visit family?  Are you taking that trip to the Arctic that we have been talking about here?  This is the year to give your kids stylish gear or a GoPro camera to help outfit them for the trip.  Last year, we took a big trip to the Grand Canyon at year-end and so Mike gave Kate a new Nikon D5300 and a tripod. It doesn’t have to be high adventure gear either.  A year-end trip to New York or LA could be the perfect occasion to give your tween or teen girl a sharp new purse.  Heading to the beaches?  Splurge on fun beach gear out of season and put sunscreen in the stockings.


  • Experiences:  Here at BWLEtravel, we value intangible gifts as much as material ones.  We believe deeply that imaginative family travel is one of life’s great luxuries and that it is one of the finest gifts parents can give their kids.  The experiences one has on the road often cannot be gift-wrapped or touched, even when they touch your heart.  So if you are heading out to a destination at year end, give your family gifts of experiences specific to the location.  In major cities, this can mean a surprise splurge on show tickets, like the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall in NYC.  But it can be more low key as well.  Book a four hour cruise if you will be near the water.  Book lessons for the whole family (surfing, rock climbing, zip lining, tennis, golf, art, photography, star gazing with an astronomer) or a family portrait.  The point is to do something together that is new to every one of you and is unique to the location.


  • Music:  Most places on this planet have musical traditions unique and specific to their location.  Take the opportunity of a family trip at year-end to introduce your tweens or teens to a new musical tradition by giving them a few iconic songs to play on their preferred device.  They don’t have to love the music (they probably won’t, especially not right away).  Heading to Europe?  Plan at least an afternoon to check out the local cathedral or castle and give your child a few Gregorian chants or some medieval music to listen to while walking through the place.  Heading to California?  Give them a few Beach Boys songs.  You get the idea.

We hope these ideas help you manage some fun family adventures during the upcoming holiday season!


Here it is folks…..our favorite stories, images, quotes and videos from the past week as well as our top-performing posts.

In this week’s edition, we feature

hotel technology: 4 stories

Autumn travel inspiration (Sleepy Hollow, NY; Oklahoma, Virginia, Theme Parks

Disney (including a rave review from Slate!)

Weekend Trip inspiration

Tips and travel inspiration for big cities (Houston, Chicago, Philadelphia, NYC) and smaller towns (Bruges, Salzburg, Wilmington NC, Savannah GA)

Tips on saving money and time

Cruising in Alaska and Norway

Airline Nannies


Relocation Advice

Let us know which story you liked best.

MIKES MUSINGS — #Roadtrips #Technology & #Kids

Greetings fellow travelers!  Mike again.  Focused on the road trip & technology & tweens/teens.

Oh the joys of traveling with tweens and teens! The whole purpose of family travel is to travel as a family – the clan experiences the trip together. In seeking to develop their independence, it sometimes seems that the single goal of tweens and teens is to fire the family.  This is often the opposite of what you want when traveling as a family.  Modern technology has not helped the situation, especially in the car on road trips.

This post is going to make a pitch for what may be a controversial idea – only one sound system in the car on road trips, with no headphones.

When your kids are younger the parent is in charge.  The parent controls the audio system and the choice of music. Access to alternative technology is limited.

This equation changes when you have a tween or teen.. The parent is still in control of everything (although the tween/teen may try to challenge that fact), but your child will have their own agenda about how they want to spend their time in the car.  It may not be your agenda.

Surely many parents will disagree with me, but smart phones and tablets distract from road trips in the car.

These devices clearly have the benefit of occupying the attention of the younger (and sometimes older) members of your family while you are driving down the road.  But they can also distract from a key purpose of family travel.  At the very least they change the experience in ways that, in my opinion, have debatable merit.

Have you ever driven a group of tweens/teens in a car and asked a question, received no response, and then discovered that each of them has their own individual headphone on with their eyes glued to a smart phone tv screen?  You are in a quiet car with little communication or interaction between the occupants.  You are sharing a car but you are not sharing an experience.

This is not a big deal for a daily commute or for many day to day activities.  However, if you are on a family road trip you want a shared experience.  Your children will not be aware of it now, but your time together as a family is precious and so very fleeting.  Children grow up and leave the nest.

The best memories require interaction.

You may have wonderful trips with your children once they are adults, but you want to create memories of family travel when they are children.

As a kid I remember taking very long road trips across the U.S.; Canada; France; and Scotland.  I remember that I was often bored.  I don’t remember all of our conversations, but I remember some of them.  I remember a few arguments; a few surprises; a few adventures; and some family jokes and stories that arose from spur of the moment events or conversations.  I remember many specific places, but I often more clearly remember the drive..

I know that my parents were very generous in frequently letting the family listen to my music once I became a tween/teen.  It was not their taste.  I also know that every once in a while I had to listen to some of their music and that at first I hated it.  I now love Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, and Frank Sinatra. Perhaps I would have discovered them on my own as an adult, but I did not need to thanks, in part, due to road trips.

Most of all, I remember a shared experience traveling in the car with my family.

Perhaps I am wrong, but I doubt that your tween/teen and any other family member can share the same type of experience if they have headphones plugged in to a portable devices isolated in their own electronic world rather than sharing the same experience with the other family members sitting in the car.

Smart phones, IPads, and music devices all have their place on road trips.  Use them on trains; planes; and in hotel rooms.   However, road trips in the car provide you with the luxury of undistracted family time together.  Use it wisely.  Listen to music – both the music you like and, if it is different, the music your kids like.

Or try something new to everyone. Listen to audio books – they are a wonderful way to engage the family on a road trip. Ender’s Game was a wonderful audio book that we listen too on a recent road trip through Arizona and New Mexico.  We ultimately could not get into the audio book of Gulliver’s Travels but we had a very good family conversation on why we thought we did not like it.

 Most of all, use the opportunity of being on a road trip to have conversations with your kids.

There is a chance that they will make noise about not being able to stare at their smart phone with their headphones on while in the car, but I guarantee you that they will thank you years from now. Modern daily life presents few opportunities for extended periods of time where families can spend time together doing the same activity and engaging in conversation.  Road trips in the car are one of those times and, as such, should be used to full advantage.

NOTES FROM THE ROAD — Top Five Reasons to Visit Wilmington NC

The first time we went to Wilmington NC, it was almost by accident.

We were looking for a place halfway between the Washington DC area and Kiawah Island, SC.  While the drive between these two places can be done in one day, on that trip we wanted to explore. So we looked at a map and chose Wilmington as a midway point.  No research.  We booked a room at a Hampton Inn, arrived at night, and thought we were done.  We drove out the next morning as planned.  We drove by gorgeous old Southern mansions.  We drove through a cute downtown waterfront area.  We vowed to return.

The second time we went to Wilmington, NC (this past summer), we went on purpose.

But it still was not the ideal trip.

We arrived very late due to constant pouring rain on our driving day.  The following day was a Sunday….and in the morning nearly everything is closed in the morning.  We had two blissful hours without rain in the morning while we wandered the town’s deserted sleepy summer streets before the heavens opened again.  What we saw, we liked.  We will have to return.

In the meantime, here are….

BWLEtravel’s Top Five Reasons to Visit Wilmington NC with Kids

We could just condense the list and tell you that this is a great way to explore with kids America’s history on a small scale.  But that would be boring and it would not do justice to the stories and the charm of this town.

1.  The Architecture Is More Than Just Antebellum Colonial

The premier home to tour here would be the Bellamy Mansion.  It is truly stunning.  But it is closed on Sunday mornings.  So if you go to Wilmington plan on being there on a day other than Sunday if you want to tour the inside of the house.


   Wilmington_Bellamy-Mansion-askew Wilmington_Bellamy-Mansion-side-view


The neighborhood nearby is filled with gracious old Southern style homes as well.


  Wilmington_architecture-marker  Wilmington_blue-house  Wilmington_house-with-curved-front-stairs

But there is so much more to the architecture of this town that just the Antebellum South. The downtown area is a homage to early 20th century America, with all the curves and colors lovingly restored.  The South’s famous charm can be seen in the sign just outside the Dixie Grill, which was one of the few places open at 8 am on a Sunday morning.  It reads: “If you are going to rise, you might as well shine.”  We just love that sentiment! Wilmington_colorful-glass   Wilmington_street-askew

  Wilmington_street-scene Wilmington_tall-building

Wilmington_Dixie-Grill Wilmington_facade

This downtown area buzzes at night with lively activity around the many restaurants (see Item 5 below).  The point is that this town is not a mere museum piece.  The architecture is relatively small scale, with the rounded corners and flat store fronts we have seen in so many movies about America between 1920 and 1970.  This town may have been the supply depot for the Confederate South, but the downtown shows a town that re-built, re-structured and survived. The riverfront walk is firmly rooted in the 21st century, complete with modern sculptures and an old-style paddleboat that runs magic show cruises and murder mystery cruises. Wilmington_river-boat Wilmington_modern-flower-sculpture


Personally, we don’t get the attraction of Venus fly traps.  But we noticed that everyone walking past the sculpture stopped and smiled (including us).  We love the juxtaposition of old and new styles.

This place must have a million stories and dramas from its turbulent history.  The terse historical markers all over town hint at those dramas.  But the buildings tell the stories as well….as do its streets.  Tween noticed that the old cobblestones themselves had been marked.  We both went on a photography spree.  Tween’s pictures are the ones with the yellow tones while the Nikon rendered a truer blue and red set of colors.


Wilmington_bricks-1 Wilmington_bricks-2 Wilmington_bricks-3 Wouldn’t we love to know the stories of those brick manufacturers, how their bricks ended up here, and how they are still on display today on what looks like an ordinary street.  The South is filled with stories.  We will have to return to learn this one.

2.  George Slept Here (The Revolutionary War)

Wilmington is NOT just about the Confederate South. This town had an active insurgent history against the British long before shots were fired up north in Lexington and Concord.  The marble plaque below commemorates the pledge that the town’s citizens made in 1775, bound by  “every tie of religion and honor” to defend the town’s “freedom and safety” whenever the “continental and provincial councils” require.  That’s right…NOT King George. This was a pledge to resist British rule.  How do we know?  Because the people who took this oath were “ready to sacrifice our lives and fortunes” in fulfillment of the oath.  That phrase should ring a bell.  It’s the closing line of the Declaration of Independence written one year later.  Have your kids read this carefully, if you dare.  You might end up with your own young generation of disruptors once they realize how audacious the words are. Wilmington_Revolutionary-War-Stone This place was a hot-bed of revolution as early as 1765.  Wouldn’t we love to know the reason why and how the King’s official was ousted from office, and why an historical plaque still commemorates this long-ago event.  We will have to save this for another trip. Wilmington_Revolutionary-War-sign Whatever they were doing here in Wilmington, it must have been important.  Once the war had been won and the Constitution completed, President Washington came for a two-day visit. Wilmington_Washington-marker

3.  The Civil War, Up Close & Personal

The town may have an illustrious revolutionary history, but its Civil War history will always be more problematic.  Wilmington and its port were the key strategic supply line for the Confederacy throughout the war. Wilmington_Ironclad-marker The town’s affiliation with the Confederate leadership is impossible to avoid along the streets that host the town’s loveliest old homes. Statues still stand honoring Confederate leaders Wilmington_George-Davis-Statue while this marker commemorates the drama of a Confederate spy: Wilmington_Civil-War-Marker-2 The South is also known for its feisty women.  This historical marker shows that danger, drama, and daring in a handful of words.  We are willing to bet that whoever Rose Greenhow was, she must have been quite formidable. Wilmington_Presbyterian-Church-and-fountain   Wilmington_Civil-War-marker Wilmington_Presbyterian-Church

It strikes us that this is a good place to continue (but probably not start) a conversation with your kids about the Civil War.  This is a place where the Civil War can be seen up close and personal.  It’s not a large empty field or an old abandoned fort.  It is a place where the war was fought, one person at a time.  It was occupied, but like Savannah and Charleston, NOT burned.  How did the occupying  Union troops turn things around enough so that 50 years later when the next century began the town could start looking again towards the future.  How did the town go from commemorating blockade runners to building Main Street USA and where American flags now fly proudly from the porches? Wilmington_porch-with-USA-flag

These are stories we will have to learn another day.

4.  The Battleship

Most people start their list of Wilmington NC sites with The Battleship.  That would be the USS North Carolina.  Kate and Tween did not want to go visit an old World War II navy vessel.  It sounded boring.  It was pouring rain again.  But Mike really wanted to go.  Part of being a family is going along with the adventure, deferring to family member wishes.

We are ALL glad we went.  There is a good reason why this Battleship is often listed as the #1 attraction in Wilmington.  Have a look.


 Wilmington_battleship_glistening-decks   Wilmington_battleship_plane

The ship is bigger on the inside than it looks.  But it is also more cramped.  The technology inside looks antiquated to modern eyes: Wilmington_battleship_typewriters   Wilmington_battleship_gun-ready-guages

Visiting this ship is not about glorifying war….it is about understanding how serious and hard and unpleasant war is.  Look at the sailors’ sleeping quarters, with bunks stacked to the ceiling. Wilmington_battleship_bunks

Look at the way that the missiles were loaded for launch, in hot cramped areas…by hand.  The white cardboard figures in the missile chamber were placed there with partnering pictures to show just how hard the job was…and how dangerous.


The site is designed so that you visit the museum on the way in to the battleship. Boys and military history buffs can easily spend 30-40 minutes here learning the history of the previous USS North Carolina and the honorable sacrifices made on that ship during World War II.  We think those sacrifices are so much more impressive after having been inside this massive impressive ship….and it isn’t even an aircraft carrier!

Wilmington_battleship-museum_medals  Wilmington_battleship-museum_model-ship

5. The Restaurants

Celiacs will be thrilled to know that there is at least one safe restaurant in this charming little town.  We reviewed it in August.  You can read our review here through this link here.  It was wonderful.


NOTES FROM THE ROAD — #Luxury #Travel #Technology

Last night, Kate had great fun sharing tips and learning new tips on the Monday night #TMOM (travel moms) Twitter chat.  The topic was travel technology.  The focus was on practical things: corralling charger cords, trade-offs between the phone and the cameral, challenges of balancing technology and being “in the moment.”  We did not manage to scratch the surface of how much technology is changing travel today….and how much travel will be changing technology in the near future.

We are still thinking about the technology issues a day later, with a focus on the luxury side of the equation because this is often where early adoption and roll outs often occur.

What counts as luxury travel technology?

Our starting point is that the biggest, most extravagant, most valuable luxury good any person has is time.  When families travel together, the most valuable thing they are doing is spending time with each other.  So every bit of travel technology needs to find a way to enhance the time together (rather than distract from the family) in order for it to qualify as a luxury good in our book.

Automatically, this means we are not at least initially talking about hardware and machines.  The tablets, the phones, the GPS, the e-readers, the cameras are fun toys, of course.  But for many of us they are part of our daily lives now. This makes them a bit mundane.  The luxury comes in HOW the technology is used.  To count as luxury for us, the technology has to deliver

  • something new that we would not have at home,
  • something that feels like a splurge,
  • a “WOW” moment, AND…hardest of all to deliver
  • an enhancement to the family experience, not a distraction.

These are high hurdles.  An impressive gizmo that results in one or more family members being glued to a screen in a hotel room (no matter how lovely) is NOT a luxury travel technology item.  It is a time bandit.

One benefit of having started this blog in late June is that we read much more about the travel business as a business.  We are really intrigued by what we have been seeing these last few months.  We cannot wait to try some of these things out.  The items below hold the potential for profoundly changing the travel experience.  Listed below are the top four luxury travel technology items that have caught our eyes.

Top Four Luxury Travel Technology Items 2014 — Robots, Flashdrives, Cell Phones and Apps


This summer, Aloft Hotels in Cupertino, California introduced the first robot bellhop:  Botlr.

It is designed to deliver to your room small items that you may have forgotten, like chargers or toiletry items, or items that the concierge may have acquired for you while you were out (like theater tickets).  The front desk programs the robot, it calls you on the phone in your room when it is in front of your door, and the hatch opens up when you press a button on the interactive screen.

So efficient!  So cute!  This leaves the front desk and the concierge with more time to focus on their other jobs and it ensures that what you need is delivered quickly and efficiently.

Botlr certainly meets all of our standards above.  And yet we have a few reservations about it.  The biggest reservation is about security and privacy.  Is the robot equipped with a camera?  Do staff monitor its progress?  How can they tell if the robot has encountered an unanticipated impediment?  We are sure Aloft has thought of these things.  If life ever takes us to Cupertino, we look forward to checking out the bellhop.

The more ephemeral reservation is about the overall experience.  Sure, its a novelty and its wonderful that technology can deliver this kind of convenience.   The robot is cute.  It may be the future, but it is a little cold.

This summer, the bellhops that delivered our luggage at both the Waldorf=Astoria and the Grove Park Inn were wonderful.  Both had been with their hotels for over a decade (the bellhop at the Waldorf Astoria had been working at the hotel since the late 1960s!).  They both provided wonderful stories about the history of the properties.  The warm humor made these massively large luxury hotels seem a little bit more cozy.  Ten years ago on a business trip, Kate had the pleasure of traveling to Asia.  Both the Shangri-La and the Mandarin Oriental provided butlers for their guests.  One trip was a three week around-the-world business trip.  Asia was at the end of the trip, which meant a fair amount of laundry needed to be done, some of it quickly for the next morning’s meeting.  A robot cannot do any of these things.

Maybe you don’t want to engage in conversation with the bellhop delivering your toothbrush at night (Kate certainly would not want to do so!).  For every person that enjoys the history provided by a bellhop there will be another one that just wants to be left alone.  One of the hallmarks of a luxury experience is the personal touch, the personal engagement.  Balancing the efficiency gains against these traditional features of a luxury hotel experience will be the challenge for the next five years we believe.


In late August, Kate and Tween stayed at the Waldorf=Astoria.  The hotel was wonderfully welcoming.  Knowing that we had just started up this family travel blog, the hotel kindly gave us branded flash drives.  It’s a thoughtful gift for a travel blogger.  Who doesn’t need additional memory?  It makes the process of transferring files from the trip back on to the main computer at home so much more helpful.  And it provides a nice reminder of a lovely trip when you Bring It Home!

Of course, not every mobile device has a port for a flash drive.  But the successful launch of the Surface 3 a few weeks ago suggests it is far too soon to lament the demise of the laptop.

We love that the flash drive was blank, and ready to be filled with our own content.  But it strikes us that the technology has so many other possibilities.  It could include some pre-loaded content from the hotel.  For traveling families, the content could include suggestions for family-friendly activities in the location or kid-focused content like a scavenger hunt.

Cell Phones

Automation from your cellphone is being rolled out faster and farther than robots. This summer, Hilton Hotels announced plans to do away with hotel room keys.  Instead of being given a key at check-in, your cellphone will receive the hotel equivalent of a boarding pass.  The cell phone will communicate with a panel on your room door.  No more lost keys!  More importantly… more keys that have lost their charge because they were accidentally next to the credit cards in your wallet.

Hilton is not alone.  A leading hotel in Brisbane, Australia (NEXT Hotel) has launched an impressive smartphone integration that only empowers your cellphone to serve as your hotel key but it also empowers the phone to control the lights and the climate in the room.


Before Botlr, before cell phone room keys, before personalized climate control, way back in 2012…..feels like the Stone Age, doesn’t it?……there was the Shangri-La Hotel.  They launched an app.  We are not just talking about a portal to make reservations, track and use loyalty points, and schedule of wake up call (does anyone do that anymore?).  It had a built-in QR scanner so that app-happy clients could grab information about the hotel as they spied it.  This strikes us as the luxury equivalent to geo-cacheing.  The app includes native integration not only to the  main public social media channels but it created social interaction options with other members of the Shangri-La loyalty program (the Golden Circle).  The idea was that a hotel guest could “get travel tips, read and share travel so tires with Golden Circle members.”

Their expansion plans are impressive as well, aiming at uploading the full room service menu and hotel directory onto the app, facilitate bill review and check-out without going to the front desk, local weather, and integrated restaurant reservations.  Some of these expansion options seem duplicative with existing apps like Open Table and The Weather Channel of course.  But the point is that Shangri-La is thinking outside the box and deployed early with a dynamic, content-based and optional social platform designed to enhance the visitor experience.

At some point, we could see the app becoming the first stop in exploring options before ever talking with the concierge.  Some might imagine the concierge being eliminated altogether but we do not see it that way.

We believe that a human concierge will remain indispensable in luxury hotels. A human concierge can take a look at your family and help you choose from three equally wonderful experiences or restaurants after a quick conversation.  A human concierge can pick up the phone (remember those things?) and get you and your family the last seats where an automated system will show those last seats unavailable because they are on hold for concierges all over town.

But the app idea is wonderful.  It makes it easier to make decisions as a family about what to do next based on innovative programming.  It makes a broad array of information available at a guest’s fingertips without spending hours surfing the internet.  We would like to believe that every family will have researched their trip using our site and the site of our blogging friends.  But the reality is that most people just show up at a luxury hotel and decide on the spot what they want to do.  In addition, if excellent opportunity or weather present themselves, plans can fly out the window quickly (as it did when Kate and Tween were in New York in August.)  The family travel extensions to this app seem obvious to us.

Privacy Issue Questions

Kate and Mike had quite a discussion over the cell phone and app options.  Yes, these luxury travel technology options create real convenience and fun.  They use your own hardware to deliver quickly specialized content and functions specific to the luxury hotel.  They expand the scope of the growing mobile ecosystem.

But there is a downside.  The apps and the cell phones will provide permanent access to your phone/tablet to the company issuing the app.  The company will know every time you open your door (which is probably the case with electronic keys already), every time you access the app, and every interaction you have on the app.  This is true for all apps.  This bridge was crossed years ago when we all became app-happy.  Does it make a difference if the app owner also happens to be your hotelier?  Do you feel the same insouciance about the data sharing when you are traveling abroad?

We don’t know the answers to these questions ourselves.  We love the ability to provide specialized content and useful information in a trusted ecosystem.  We know that the app universe is here to stay.  But it still gives us pause.  What do you think?

NOTES FROM THE ROAD — Foiled by Mother Nature!

We had  it all worked out.  Monday was a day off for everyone.  It’s the middle of October.  We are a short drive from the beautiful Shenandoah Mountains, only 75 miles away.

What better way to experience the autumn except to drive out to the mountains ablaze in the reds and yellows of the season, with a crisp breeze rustling the leaves.

The plan was simple:

  • Head out at mid-morning
  • Stop at Front Royal, take in a few sites, and have an early lunch.
  • Drive along Skyline Drive
  • Take a short hike along the many trails
  •   If we were really ambitious, then we would find the route to President Coolige’s mountain hideaway

But Mother Nature had other plans.  Yesterday was gray and drizzly.  Today it rained.  And rained.  When it stopped raining, it was soggy and gray everywhere.  The sun never made an appearance today.

Our autumn day trip to the the mountains to enjoy fall foliage has been FOILED!

Walking around the woods in the rain is not Kate’s idea of fun.  We looked for alternatives.  Mike suggested a screen saver for the Mac with fall foliage leaves.

We REFUSED to retreat to our individual tech-infused electronic cocoons!

We gathered at the 21st century hearth.  We trained for summer vacation rainy days.

That’s right, folks.  We watched a movie at home.  It was fun.  It was cozy.  But as a consequence we don’t have a single photo of beautiful autumn foliage.

We’ll be back tomorrow with more adventures.

In the meantime, here are the resources we used to plan the trip.  We hope you have better luck with the weather when you plan your trip our there!

Best Tools for Planning a Day Trip to Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park:  The National Park Service has an excellent website filled with helpful tools and interesting facts regarding the national park.  It is an indispensable tool and should be your first stop.

If you are an avid hiker (unlike Kate) and you are inspired to attempt to climb Old Rag be ready!  It may be a short hike (only 8.8 miles), but it is well-known in the DC are for being extremely challenging.  The National Park Service indicates that “the Ridge Trail takes you across a strenuous rock scramble to the summit.”  Strenuous rock scramble IN THE RAIN?  Not for us.  Tween loves the great outdoors, so we may end up trying this in the future.  Stay tuned.  You know it won’t be in the rain since the park forbids it.  Think we are wimps?  Watch this National Park podcast (less than 5 minutes).

National Geographic:  It’s hard to beat the beautiful pictures and professional presentation from this wonderful publication.  It’s kind of hard to believe that its only an hour from Front Royal to Berkely Springs, WV, however.  We have been to the wonderful Homestead Resort in Berkeley Springs and we could have sworn the drive was longer.

Family Travel Network:  Has a good informative site with the basic information one would need for planning the trip, with good tips on less challenging but nice hikes.

The Lollipop Road:  Has a good page with nice pictures that provides a good sense of the terrain and the options (including advice on which trails will be stroller-friendly).

Discover Front Royal:  The town at the gateway to the national park is a lovely small town. They have an excellent website with really helpful information on restaurants, events, and things to do. This website made it possible to plan out a late morning of exploring followed by lunch

FLIP IT! MAGAZINE published!

Another Sunday, another collection of our favorite blog posts, news stories, and tidbits from the front lines of family travel….oh, and our best performing posts this week.

Mike’s Musings was released on Thursday, and it is already climbing quickly to the top of the leader board this week!  Let us know which is your favorite story.

MIKE’S MUSINGS — Top Ten Family Travel Tips from Columbus

Since Columbus Day is coming up, we have come up with a list of 10 travel tip essentials inspired by his voyage….these are essentials for any traveller, whether your’e traveling in 1492 or 2014!


Photo Attribution: Columbus Map, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, via, via Wikimedia Commons

When Columbus sailed the ocean blue in fourteen hundred and ninety two, he did not have a handy GPS.  He did not know that he would “discover” a new continent.  He did not know that he would end up in the history books and that a new country would celebrate a day in his honor.  He certainly did not anticipate the Internet or this blog.  While many have written about Columbus the explorer, what we want to write about are the travel tips that we can draw from Columbus’ trip.

Tip One – Research your trip.

While we are fans of spontaneous travel, a well-researched trip is often essential to a good trip, especially if you are traveling with other family members.  When traveling as a family it helps to know points along your trip and at your destination that will keep your family members happy.  Just as with Columbus’ crew when there was no prospect of land in sight, your family members may get cranky if they don’t have a clear idea of what the trip is about.  Check out our web pages on favorite destinations in Europe and the USA to help you get started, in addition to our blog.  Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for inspiration!

Tip Two – Have a good map.

Columbus thought he was traveling to India.  He bumped into a continent that was in his way.  It eventually worked for him.  It probably won’t for you.  Have a good map.  Use it.  Enough said.

Tip Three – Budget appropriately.

Someone has to pay the bills. Columbus persuaded Queen Isabella of Spain to finance his trip.  He had to explain what he needed and why.  You do too.  Not having enough funds for your trip will leave you shipwrecked.  Plan accordingly.

Tip Four – Communicate with your fellow travelers.

Columbus was the captain of his fleet.  He still had to explain to his crew members where they were and why they weren’t finding India.  If you are doing the trip planning and don’t communicate with your fellow travelers you will have a mutiny on your hands.  You also undermine the whole purpose of traveling as a group.  Keep everyone informed.

Tip Five – Admit when you are lost.

Guys, this is for you.  Columbus told fibs to his crew about where they were.  He ultimately got away with it.  It does not necessarily work the same way when you have a map and are in the car and/or walking down the street in a strange city.  Especially with a GPS in the car or a smartphone operated by your partner or your tech-obsessed teen.  It’s best to admit when you are lost.

Tip Six – After admitting that you are lost, be optimistic.

Columbus had to deal with fears of sea monsters and the edge of the earth.  Those are pretty good reasons to keep your crew in the dark.  Not so if you can’t find Space Mountain at Disney World.

Tip Seven –  Be open to exploring your new destination.

Columbus did not find a new route to India, but after being lost he discovered a new world.   Being lost sometimes presents its own opportunities for discovery.  If you go down the wrong street in a European town and discover a small church, walk in and explore.  It may be the best thing you see on your trip.  Can’t find Space Mountain?  There are lots of other rides at Disney.

Tip Eight –  Bring something to eat while traveling.

Columbus had the benefit of fishing but he could not count on that.  He also had to bring food, especially oranges and other citrus fruits for vitamin C.  When on the road trying to reach a destination, having healthy snacks in the car will help keep your young crew members happy, even if you don’t have to worry about your crew contracting scurvy.  There is nothing worse than a mutiny in the car.

Tip Nine –  Always keep your spirits up!

This is different from tip 6, be optimistic even if your lost.   Columbus had to be optimistic in ALL circumstances in order to keep his crew happy.  You do too. Stuck on I-95 in a 40 mile backup?  You finally found Space Mountain but it has a 2 hour line?  Keep your spirits up.  You will have a fonder memory if you find someway to be positive when obstacles get in your way.  Of course, if you had read our book, you would know how to avoid some of these pitfalls in the first place!

Tip Ten – Ask the natives for directions.

We are not 100 percent sure that Columbus fully relied on this tip, but it’s still a good one.  Locals know where the good restaurants are; the best stores; the best beaches; the quickest routes; and the places to avoid.  When in doubt about what to do or where to go at your destination – or along the way – ask a native.


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