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!

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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!

 

FLIP IT! MAGAZINE

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

http://flip.it/YJKka

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

and

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.

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

 Wilmington_Bellamy-Mansion-and-fountain

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

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  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

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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.

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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.

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 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.

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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!

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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.

Enjoy!

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

Robots

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.

Flashdrives

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…..no 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.

Apps

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.

http://flip.it/YJKka

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!

ColombusMap

Photo Attribution: Columbus Map, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, via http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_Columbus, 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.

NOTES FROM THE ROAD — City ===> Country: Best Family Travel Weekend Day Trips

Two working parents plus school age kids creates major hurdles for families that love to explore the world around them.  There’s that inconvenient thing called earning a living.  And then there are school obligations, and sports, and music.  To add insult to injury, as kids get older they create their own social life with their own friends….which means they want to spend weekends at home.

It’s enough to tempt some people into the home-school option.  Oh the allure of freedom!  The allure of seeing the world as your classroom!  We are not that daring.  And we somehow don’t think we could command the same respect as the classroom teachers.  Besides, as we mentioned, we have day jobs that we like and that require our presence.  We think most people are like us….living in urban centers with annoying logistical constraints.

It’s time to get crafty to execute the Great Escape during the school year.  We are here to help.

Planning the One-Day Escape — The KISS Principles

Today’s post focuses on the surgical strike.  Not every trip needs to be a major expedition to far-flung lands involving plane travel.  Think about taking snacks….day trips to nearby locations.  Fortunately, we have lived in a number of major metropolitan areas and so we are in a good place to recommend specific spots.

The key is to keep it simple.

  • Choose a spot no more than three hours away by car or train.
  • Choose a spot that does NOT require advance reservations.
  • Focus only the day….this way  you don’t have to pack.  You can be spontaneous.
  • Choose a spot that has interesting history and looks very different from your own home city.
  • Travel on Saturday….that way a late arrival back home is not a disaster when returning to the regular routine on Monday morning.

With those parameters in place, here are our suggestions for the best family travel weekend escapes from five large cities we know well (Washington, DC, New York City, London, Paris, Brussels) based on actual trips we have taken with our daughter at various ages of her life so far.  We don’t have good pictures from all the locations, however.

Washington DC

Strategically situated in the mid-Atlantic, plenty of options arise for exploring history and the great outdoors.

Charlottesville, VA:  Home to President Thomas Jefferson and the university that he founded.  Touring Monticello is a wonderful experience for adults and kids.

Front Royal, VA:  The gateway to the Shenandoah National Park and the Blue Ridge Mountain Parkway.  Plenty of hiking trails of varying difficulty.

Gettysburg, PA:  Check out the famed Civil War battlefield.  One of our blogging friends was there recently with kids using “augmented reality” which looks like a fabulous way to add texture and detail to the trip.  And yes, for tech-obsessed kids, it seems every experience can be enhanced so long as it has a little “i” in front of it.  We have not tried it yet, but we will!

Brandywine Valley, PA:  If you and your kids love the great outdoors, head to Longwood Gardens.  It has acres and acres of gardens, arboretum areas, topiaries, greenhouses and special events.  More interested in historic homes (or interested in an escape during winter)?  Then head to Winterthur, the DuPont estate.

Philadelphia, PA:  An easy train ride away from both Washington and New York.  This is a dynamic, terrific city with its own unique character.  We love it there!  It’s a place worthy of breaking the no-reservations rule since advance tickets are required if you want to go through Independence Hall.  Beware the Franklin Institute…..this is the most engaging, interesting, and fun science museum we have ever visited.  But it will require major discipline on your part to limit your visit there to two hours.  This is the kind of museum kids hate to leave.

New York City

Philadelphia, PA:  An easy train ride away from both Washington and New York.  This is a dynamic, terrific city with its own unique character.  We love it there!  It’s a place worthy of breaking the no-reservations rule since advance tickets are required if you want to go through Independence Hall.  Beware the Franklin Institute…..this is the most engaging, interesting, and fun science museum we have ever visited.  But it will require major discipline on your part to limit your visit there to two hours.  This is the kind of museum kids hate to leave.

Hyde Park, NY:  A short drive outside NYC, in Poughkeepsie.  This is President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s home on the Hudson.  Touring the house takes about an hour, and provides excellent insight into the President’s background.  The Presidential Library is also on site.  Touring this can take longer, particularly if you have kids that ask many questions about: polio, the Depression, World War II.  It is an impressive, wonderful, often interactive museum.

Hyde-Park_statue

Hyde-Park_elevator   Stockbridge, MA:  This town, in the foothills of the Berkshires, feels slightly larger than Woodstock.  It is also utterly charming.  Your excuse for a day trip is the Norman Rockwell Museum, which is just outside of town.  Head to Stockbridge in the morning, have lunch in town, go to the museum in the afternoon and return home that night. Saratoga Springs, NY:  A classic late 19th century town not far from Albany.  Quaint and lovely, but certainly not undiscovered.  Check event calendars in town before going, especially in summer.  If you are visiting during a week that a major performance or a horse race is underway, you can expect many people.

Paris

Chantilly:  A beautiful chateau less than an hour from the city center, where whipped cream reportedly was invented….which is why in French restaurants they still refer to whipped cream as “Chantilly.”  The horses stables are marble.  The whole building.  It’s amazing. Chambord:  The hunting lodge created by the legendary King Francois I, with staircases designed by Leonardo Da Vinci. The Sun King slept here as well, as did his son before the monarchy was deposed by the Revolution.  It’s a stunning, large, impressive and surprisingly bare chateau that still maintains the air of the kind of place a bunch of (very wealthy) guys would go to for a hunting weekend.  The grounds are stunning as well not because they are manicured but because once you leave the castle compound its all woods. Chambord-7 Chambord-3

Chartres:  Only head out to this legendary cathedral on a sunny day.  We were there on a gray and drizzly day in March, at the start of a road trip farther south.  It was impressive on a dismal day, but it would be stunning when the light shines through those windows.  The town is charming as well.

Chartres_window

Chartres_vestry Chartres_sepia

Chartres_B&W

Rheims:  Probably our favorite cathedral in Europe, in the capital of Champagne.  This is the cathedral where France’s kings were crowned.  It was the engineering marvel of its day, with soaring arches and a space filled improbably with light amid all that ancient stone which in many places really shows its age.

Rheims_interior

Rheims_entrance Rheims_colonnade

Disneyland:  Don’t laugh.  Yes, there are amazing cultural treasures a short drive out from Paris.  Yes, Europe is filled with amazingly beautiful and authentic old towns.  But kids are still kids.  We have yet to meet a kid that does not love Disney.  Give yourself permission to be a kid again with them and enjoy the flat-out-fun of the amusement park.  One of the great things about this property is that, unlike Orlando, it is a manageable size.  You don’t need to strategize how to spend your time across multiple properties.  You don’t need to worry about the heat in Orlando.  There is a bonus as well, if you are traveling with kids between the ages of 4 and 6.  These are the Imaginative Years.  Especially in the younger years, these little eyes in your family don’t draw sharp distinctions between reality and fantasy.  Disneyland and the actors in it are real to them in ways they will never be for we jaded adults.  Trust us when we tell you that the smile on their face when they meet a character in real-life 3-D is pure magic.  Really.

London

Hampton Court:  The home of Henry VIII and all his wives, then William and Mary who modernized the place.  The grounds are beautiful, which makes for a nice walk.  The palace maintains a maze on the grounds where families can get merrily lost.  Even Paddington Bear has been here, and kids will love this little book about the visit which includes the bumbling bear actually being a hero and figuring out how to avoid being lost in the maze.  Be sure your kids read the book before they go. Winsor:  The home of the current queen and the famous boy’s school Eton.  It’s an incredible palace. Canterbury:  OK, we have not been here….but its only 90 minutes by train from London and the cathedral is legendary.  It has to be on any short list for day trips from London.  Bonus points if you give your teens the Canterbury Tales to read before the trip.

Brussels

Bruges:  OK, everyone goes to Bruges.  It’s easy to see why.  We devoted an entire page to this wonderful town on our website.  But it’s not the only place to go for the day from Brussels. Bruges Bricks and Water

Ghent:  Smaller than Bruges, but no less charming.  The town has a full medieval fortress and no less than three major cathedrals plus plenty of charming restaurants.  In the basement of one cathedral you will find a piece of art that was revolutionary in its day for its 3-D effect achieved with a technological innovation in paint by the artist as well as its sheer beauty.  It has been stolen multiple times.  Check it out before someone takes it again.  Opposite the cathedral, kids love climbing to the top of the belltower.  And just around the corner is the restaurant where reportedly Belgian waffles were invented.  We loved Bruges.

Ghent_castle-interior

    Ghent_castle   Ghent_Corn-Market

Antwerp:  A charming, edgy, city  that remains true to Belgium’s deservedly good reputation for great restaurants.  Art lovers will enjoy the chance to tour Reubens’ house as well. Dinant:  A tiny town perched on the banks of the Neuse River, at a strategic location.  We cannot decide which is more stunning: the onion-domed cathedral or the massive fort overhead.  Either way, its an excellent day trip from Brussels.  In addition, the drive will take you through parts of Belgium that featured prominently as battlegrounds during the Battle of the Bulge.  During summer, the roads can sometimes be clogged with WW2 replica jeeps as military history buffs re-create the battle during the kinder summer months. Dinant_from-above Dinant_church-from-river

Dinant_church-from-fort

Aachen, Germany:  A charming jewel of a town just across the border in Germany with a stunning cathedral.  The cathedral is the opposite of the French ones.  Much of it is dark and evokes the much older days before the Middle Ages, except in the Sanctuary where light floods in from everywhere.  Kids love to see the glittering tiles and walls in the dark and in the light.  It has a really unique atmosphere.  The town and this cathedral were the center of power for the only King in Europe who successfully united the entire continent: Charlemagne.  Bonus points if you go during the month of December, since Aachen has one of the most famous Christmas markets in all of Europe.

Aachen_gold-1

  Aachen_Arches   Aachen_atrium

  Aachen_cafes   Aachen_Dom-1

Maastricht, Netherlands:   You know all those euros that you are carrying around in your pockets?  The decision to trade in pesetas and francs and deutschmarks etc. was made (and a treaty was signed) in this Dutch town.  The town is a throwback to an older period, however, with fine old stone buildings and churches that grab the summer light beautifully, well into the  later hours of the day.

Cologne, Germany:  Koln is an easy day’s drive from Brussels.  We were there in December one year, for the Christmas market which was spectacular!  It stretched for what seemed like miles, emanating from the Cathedral plaza.  Warm drinks, great food, artisan handmade gifts that we still treasure….this was a wonderful Christmas market.

 

Enjoy exploring!  Let us know if we missed your favorite town.

GFREE! — The Capital Grill (Washington DC)

Last weekend, Mike and I went to our favorite steakhouse in Washington DC:  The Capital Grille.

This restaurant has been in Washington since the 1990s and it has become an institution.  The Capital Grille is a national chain restaurant, decidedly on the luxury end of the scale.  We have only dined at their Washington DC restaurants, however.It is loved for its excellent steaks and its wonderful staff.  The service is always warm, professional and lively without becoming too personal.

But how would it handle the GFree! test?  It sailed through with flying colors, and only one small disappointment.

Superb Steaks and Service

A steak restaurant is always a safe bet for celiacs, of course.  But even in this category the range of kitchen practices varies.  Kate was immediately at ease when the maitre d’ saw the reservation notes that a gluten-free diner would be at the table, and so they whipped out the special gluten-free menu. They did NOT make a big deal about it.  In fact, when we sat down Kate asked for the gluten-free menu only to be told that it was already in her hands. Understated, efficient, professional service.  We just love that.

The excellent experience continued throughout the ordering process.  Kate did not even get through her usual list of questions regarding food prep practices….because the waiter was totally on top of the situation.

The steak and sides?  Fine aged beef, grilled to perfection with a lovely glass of red wine and some sautéed spinach on the side.  The restaurant was lively and full of laughter. We saw plenty of families, including one family with a baby.  Everyone was having a good time.

One Disappointment

The disappointment?  Sadly, like so many restaurants, the Capital Grille makes dishes gluten free by omitting the sauces.  One could make the argument that a steak this good should not have a sauce at all.  Kate often makes this argument at home.

But this is an expensive luxury restaurant.  It’s wonderful to dine well and safely, without worry since the staff is so professional and clearly cares about getting it right.  But at the end of the day knowing that you are missing out on a part of the dish is slightly dissatisfying and disappointing.  We love this restaurant and we will be back.  We will remain hopeful that somehow, someday the restaurant will figure out how to make at least one sauce without gluten.

Notes for Traveling Families

This is a splurge restaurant.  Dinner here will set you back a fair amount, but the quality of the food and the atmosphere is worth every penny.  Coats and ties are not required for the guys, but we would strongly recommend you go back to your hotel and change clothes rather than show up in shorts and dusty from the Mall.  If Congress is in session when you are visiting, you never know who you might see in the restaurant.  This is one of many restaurants that Washington’s policy wonks, politicians and media elite love, for good reason.

When we travel, we usually save the splurge restaurant for the last night of the trip as a special occasion.  This place fits the bill for Washington DC.

The restaurant in DC is located at 601 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW.  It’s nearest neighbors are: the International Spy Museum, The National Archives, and the Newseum.  You can find their website here;  https://www.thecapitalgrille.com/pages/locations/

 

NOTES FROM THE ROAD — The Road Thus Travelled So Far

We have been in business a full quarter!

When we started down this blogging road, we did not know what to expect.  We are still learning the ropes.  We are learning daily from new friends we are finding on Twitter and Facebook and Google+.

THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU to our Facebook fans and our Twitter followers and our blog readers, our Google+ followers, our Pinterest followers and our FlipIt! readers.

Just as we were taking stock over the weekend of progress so far, we received news that we would be part of the Smilebox affiliate program!  Perfect timing!

Quarterly News

So dear readers, here is a nifty digital newsletter we created using our newest affiliate, Smilebox.  We will be playing around with all Smilebox has to offer in the coming months, just like we will be featuring Magic Treehouse books, Yes Video! and various tour options provided by our affiliates at the Gray Line, CitySights DC and CitySights NY.  Stay tuned. In the meantime, hit the play button, turn the volume on for your speakers and enjoy this little newsletter.

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Next Steps

Tell your friends.  Pick a channel and follow us.  Rely on our affiliates.

The larger we are, the more other vendors will want to reach out with deals for our new and growing community that cares passionately about showing kids the wonderful BIG WORLD out there through books, great family movies and, of course, luxury family travel.

Please be sure to click on the links below and use the services of our affiliates.  It’s a way to let them know that  you like what we have been providing to you.  If we can manage to make a profit, remember our promise: we will donate funds to the Make a Wish Foundation so that sick kids that really need a trip can get one when they really need it.


Smilebox ecards, scrapbooks, slideshows

CitySights NY

124x124 YesVideo 20% Off Coupon Special

As for the wonderful Magic Treehouse books for early readers that want to travel through time and space, the best we can do is offer you this link to our blogpost that spelled out which specific books are best for which specific countries.

Magic Treehouse Travels infographic.001

 

Thanks again for a great first quarter!

 We hope you are having half as much fun as we have been having so far.  Stay tuned…..we are only just getting warmed up!  If you see something you like, let us know and we will respond.

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