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Family Travel Guide

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Family reunions have been gaining in popularity for the past several decades and show no sign of slowing. In fact, 63 percent of respondents have attended a family reunion, with 29 percent attending a reunion in the past two years, according to a recent survey by the global independent research company Ipsos. Here are some other highlights revealed by the survey:

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  • The average family reunion trip lasts five days and includes eight adults and four children.
  • Families’ most cherished reunion memories are simply made of “spending time together” (81 percent), followed by group meals (60 percent). In fact, more than half of respondents also said “cooking great food” is the best way to impress the family.
  • The top ways to offend family members are “drinking too much” (28 percent), followed closely by “paying too much attention to your phone or tablet” (26 percent) and “being a cheapskate” (15 percent).


One-third of travelers selected a vacation rental as the ideal accommodation for a family reunion. Perhaps that’s because vacation rentals are generally twice the space at half the cost of a hotel room, and offer vital amenities for families to spend time, cook, eat, play and make lasting memories together all under the same roof.


How To Plan a Reunion


The survey reveals more than half of reunion-goers begin to plan for their family’s event six to 12 months in advance. Therefore, Edith Wagner, editor of Reunions magazine and www.reunionsmag.com, says it’s never too soon to start organizing your family reunion and offers these six tips to get started:


  1. Don’t do it alone. This is, after all, a family reunion. Involve family from the start. Ask for donations to help offset early expenses. Survey the group’s skills and talents, and ask for volunteers. Can someone cater a picnic? Can teens set up and maintain Web and Facebook pages? Can a bookkeeper or accountant be your treasurer? Can moms and teachers provide games and activities for the kids? Praise them in all your correspondence and at the reunion. It will ease future recruitment.
  2. Give yourself enough time. If this is a first-time reunion and you plan to invite a large group, you must allow a year or more for planning. Members may need to request vacation time from work and some may need to save money to make the trip. Many details need attention, and the earlier you start, the better off you’ll be. There are many advantages to reserving your venue early. You get exactly what you want and, in some instances, you lock in prices before they go up. You also need time to order souvenirs (such as t-shirts), and to gather information and arrange printing for directories, cookbooks or histories. Advance planning ensures that you’ll be handing them out at the reunion, rather than devoting additional time and expense to mail them after the reunion.
  3. Set a date and stick to it. Selecting a date can be one of your most complicated tasks (unless your reunion celebrates a milestone birthday or anniversary, in which case the date is set). Check with others to see if there are any calendar conflicts: weddings? graduations? trips? Send a save-the-date message as soon as your date is set so everyone knows not to schedule anything at the same time. Do NOT change the date under any circumstances; but be prepared, because as soon as you announce the date, I guarantee that the first person you hear from will not be able to come. Tell him/her how sorry you are that there’s a conflict, but perhaps next time will work.
  4. Location, location, location. Like all things in life, location can make or break a reunion. First you must decide where that place will be … Will it be near or far away? Is it urban, suburban or rural? Will it have historical significance to your family? Will weather and season make a difference? What attractions, entertainment and sports are nearby? Convention and visitors bureaus are good starting points for researching an area, and most of their services are free. Pretty much any spot where families can go on vacation is also suitable for family reunions, so long as there is space to accommodate the number of people. HomeAway.com offers a ‘sleeps’ sort function where you can select the number of people to accommodate, which can also help with trip planning.
  5. Make your reunion affordable. One significant difference between family reunions and all other reunions is that all ages, abilities, resources and life stages must be taken into account. You must consider young families who are always strapped for cash, seniors who are living on fixed incomes and everyone in between. Make your choices with all income levels in mind so that the reunion is affordable for everyone. Some families collect donations and plan fundraisers before and at the reunion to cover some costs for members who would have a hard time affording the reunion. Others use fundraising for scholarships for the young generation.
  6. Plan something for everyone…but don’t overplan. Know your reunion attendees and their interests to plan activities that will involve all ages and passions. Then, make sure you know how/where they can do what they love to do while they are at the reunion. If golf is important to your group – as it is to 20% of reunions – make sure it is on the agenda. Games and crafts engage young members, while amusement parks are just right for teens. Shopping? Gambling? Hiking? Biking? Swimming? Even if it’s not your cup of tea, if you offer the possibility you will have happy reunion-goers. Plan events that will involve all members together and remember to include time to just sit, talk, reminisce and be together.


About the author

Edith Wagner is publisher and editor of Reunions magazine and www.reunionsmag.com.

In this day and age, when vacations are few and far between, planning a vacation with the entire family can be both be economical and a lot of fun.  Once the hard part is over (the vacation is planned), you can sit back and soak it in because the memories made will deepen the bond between generations. Why is this important? In the busy world we live in, it’s easy to forget, “our lives, both start and end with family.” And this is certainly something to celebrate – but that doesn’t mean that planning a trip for a dozen people with different agendas and ages’ ranging from 6 to 76 is an easy task (something I recently did).



Multi-generation travel is growing in popularity as families are now spread across countries. Getting everyone together can be made easy when you meet in a neutral zone – a vacation destination. By booking a vacation rental you can easily find a home that comfortably sleeps everyone and boasts communal spaces – decks, patios, living rooms, spacious kitchens and private bathrooms and sleeping rooms that everyone craves.  Below are three strategies to keeping the entire family happy on your next multi-generation trip from toddler to elders.


Pictured on the left: this is the youngest on our trip trying out synthetic skating. It was ideal after a long walk to the park because there were food trucks and picnic benches for my grandmother to watch the kids while resting their feet!


Plan ahead – but don’t plan too much


While the planning stage can be overwhelming, it’s important that you take the time to ask questions – who wants to go, what’s the destination that would work for everyone (while limiting layovers) and what are people looking for…the beach, mountains, city, or even history? A fun way to get everyone involved in the planning practice is to create a Pinterest account where everyone can pin his or her favorite images and ideas of the ultimate vacation.



For those less tech savvy or too little to participate in Pinterest, they could cut out of magazines to create a vision board of their dream vacation. From there you can start to craft something that will meet in the middle and please everyone. I always find the pre- vacation work helps to amplify the excitement of the actual vacation!


Don’t plan too much. Once you have the destination and the long list of what everyone hopes to accomplish, be realistic with what you can get done in a day and be mindful of what people can physically do. For example – a 12-hour day at Disney might be ideal for some but is too much for little ones and great grandparents.


It’s also important to leave a piece of the day un-planned so that everyone in the group can choose to relax or keep going. This is a sure-fire way to keep everyone refreshed, happy and satisfied with the vacation. For example, the boys in our group wanted to try a wild boar hunt. So while they went hunting, the ladies in the family visited a spa.


Mindful of Money


Planning a multi-generation trip can be economical as there are opportunities to share costs and even get group discounts. Before booking your destination and accommodations set a budget that is within everyone’s means.


Have conversations ahead of time about how many meals you will go out for versus eating in and share the tasks of grocery shopping and cooking so that everyone has the opportunity to both participate and save.


Many vacation rental owners offer services that will have the groceries stocked at the home before you arrive to take away the stress of shopping for a large group. If you want to make dinner interesting, my family is a fan of playing “Chopped” where another person chooses ingredients and the Chef is surprised but has to make a meal in about an hour with what they are presented.



Celebrate Togetherness

Planning a vacation with multiple generations in tow can feel more stressful then a bad day for an air traffic controller. Remember – it’s about bringing everyone together and enjoying the uninterrupted time.


So don’t stress the small hiccups of travel, be sure to power down electronics when everyone’s together and celebrate the down time. With my family our best times on vacation is when we have nothing planned and aren’t spending money. We are simply hanging around the kitchen or living room sharing stories, laughing and eating…which is what makes renting a vacation rental perfect for gatherings.


Let’s be honest, how often do you get everyone under one roof? Get planning and get ready to enjoy every minute of it!

I’ll admit it, checking into a hotel and having daily maid service is a luxury I look forward to when travelling with my family. As a Mom, there is nothing better than having someone else make your bed, bring you fresh towels and turndown your bed each night. After all, isn’t vacation is supposed to be a break from your normal routine at home? The prospect of my family of four bunking together in one room for a week never bothered me. I actually looked forward to it. The kids were little, and were just going to be sleeping in our hotel room, right? Wrong.


Somewhere around the ages of 8 and 11 it stopped being fun to share one room with our kids.  No longer did the two of them want to sleep in the same bed. Once we added a rollaway into the mix our already small room, with two double beds, suddenly just got a whole lot smaller. Pile in everyone’s clothes, shoes, electronics and toiletries and suddenly we were cramped and cranky. We needed more space. When we considered the price of a one-bedroom suite, or even two connecting rooms, it just made sense to look at renting a home instead.


We turned to HomeAway to find our prefect rental. With over 625,000 listings worldwide, we were sure we’d find the right home to suit our needs. When we started looking at the advantages vs. the disadvantages, the reasons to rent a home just started to stack up.




Size/Cost Ratio – The last 2-bedroom house we rented in the Caribbean averaged $392/night for 1900 sq. ft. A 1-bedroom suite at hotel* on the same island averages $1399/night and has only 950 sq. ft.


Multiple bedrooms and bathrooms – Hooray for space! Renting a house also allows for traveling with another family. This brings the cost down even further and actually lets you vacation together. Visiting with friends while staying in individual hotel rooms really just isn’t the same.




Full Kitchen – No more emptying out the hotel mini-fridge to make room for a quart of milk or getting dinged every time your kid wants something to eat from the over priced ‘munchie box’. Plus having your own kitchen allows you to make your own inexpensive meals. I don’t know about you, but paying $20 for a bagel, cereal and juice at a hotel drives me nuts --especially when the kids don't even finish it.


Dishwasher – When our children were little, I used to spend hours washing bottles, sippy cups and snack containers in the hotel sink. Having a dishwasher eliminates that task.


Laundry – We pack less and for Mom there is nothing better than going home with a suitcase full of clean clothes.


Games  –  Most homes come stocked with board games, books and some even have video game players.




Privacy – No more loud voices or slamming doors coming from the hotel hallways. Plus, depending on the type of property you rent, you don’t have to share a hot tub or pool with other guests.


Wi-fi – Don’t even get me started on how many hotels still charge for Internet access.


DVD players – When is the last time you relented and let your kids charge an $18 movie to the room?


Parking – Ok, so there is no valet, but there is no fee with a home rental either.


Kid friendly amenities – Lots of homes come with cribs, highchairs, pack-n-plays, beach toys, bikes and more.  Less you need to lug from home!




Room For RoverHomeAway has a “pets considered” option right in the search filters. Sure, you can find a few hotel chains now that will allow you to bring you dog, but HomeAway has 168,467 properties where your hound is welcome.






No daily maid service – However with many you can rentals you can pay for extra for this option.


No room service – Some rentals offer private chef services and grocery delivery at an extra cost.


No Concierge – In all of our rentals thus far we have had a concierge binder filled with dinning options, attractions, maps and more. Also many times the homeowner is available to answer these types of questions.


Minimum Stay - Some rentals require minimum number of nights.



Bottom Line: If you are a whatever, whenever kind of traveler then staying in a hotel is going to be a better option for you. Or if you are in town for only 1-2 nights, staying in a hotel might be more desirable. But if you want to spend less, have more room for your family and likely a better property, then look into home rental for your next vacation. Don’t let the fluffy bathrobe and mini toiletries sway you.


*The Cove – Eleuthera, Bahamas

It feels like winter has been sticking around forever, but I know that spring is just around the corner, and with it comes Spring Break. In my family, we look forward to taking this week off all year. We most often go to South Florida to warm up, but two years ago we used HomeAway to rent two condos in Puerto Rico for the week since we were traveling with my in-laws. It worked out perfectly.



If Spring Break is a vacation week that you look forward to all year, don’t let plans get tripped up by decisions like where to go and where to stay. Take the five tips below to heart as you begin to plan out the best vacation week of the year (at least according to every school-aged child).



1. Have a Pre-Vacation Planning Meeting: If your kids are older or you’re planning to travel with extended family (parents, in-laws, aunts, uncles), have a sit-down meeting or a video chat to talk through where you want to go for vacation. You want to make sure that everyone is on board and happy before you begin to book accommodations and firm up travel plans. Consider all factors including costs, travel time, airfares, on-site activities, etc.



2. Give People Space: When you travel, you don’t want to skimp on accommodations. Long gone are the college days when you would book eight people in a room that only sleeps four. Find a place to stay that gives family the room they need to have their own personal space and doors to close at the end of the evening for privacy. I like my own space, which is why we booked two condos in Puerto Rico and have already booked a six-bedroom house through HomeAway for an Orlando vacation in November.



3. Plan Out Your Meals: Decide ahead of time whether you want to cook family meals or eat out at restaurants every day. The first option is certainly cheaper and can give you more flexibility. It’s nice for kids to be able to grab a granola bar or make a bowl of cereal when they first wake up. When we travel, we like to eat breakfast at home, then eat lunch while we’re out during the day. For dinner, sometimes we eat out, sometimes we prepare meals at home in the kitchen available to us in our vacation rental.



4. Make Sure Everyone Feels Happy: What I mean by this is, make sure that everyone feels like they have their say in vacation decisions, even little ones, and that everyone is going to be able to see or visit something they really like during the vacation. You don’t want your disappointed kids and other family members moping around during your vacation, potentially ruining the trip for everyone.



5. Take Time to Relax: I’ve been on many vacations that were spent running around from attraction to attraction all day with little time spent back in the room. Maybe that was because once back in the room there was little space for each person and we were all stuck watching the one TV. Today, all that running around is a prescription for a meltdown. So, don’t rush, make time to relax. When we travel, we like to visit attractions in the morning, then come back mid-afternoon to our vacation rental to relax, read, take a dip in the pool or take a nap. Everyone is definitely happier that way.



Do you have any favorite tips for planning a perfect Spring Break family getaway? Let us know in the comments section below.


Thanks for reading!


Planning a family ski trip can be tricky. Especially when it involves young children. From the pounds of equipment you have to lug around, to managing ski school, lift tickets and navigating unknown terrain, families can be intimidated by the mountain experience. Crossing as many items off of our “prep list” as possible, my family and I recently took a trip to Keystone, Colorado and found that the stresses of ski traveling aren’t quite so burdensome when you find the right resort.


When researching our options, we settled on Keystone for the many kid-friendly amenities they offered. We were quickly sold on the "Kids Ski Free" program for families staying two or more nights in one of the resort's accommodations, which was a great selling point for our family of three since ski trips can get expensive. It was the first ski experience for our three-year-old, and we were most concerned about giving him the best introduction to a potential life-long activity.


The resort also happened to be offering "Kidtopia" family programming while we were in town, featuring activities and events including the fourth installment of the World's Largest Snowfort for kids to climb through; snow tubing for little ones of all sizes, weekly parades; fresh-baked aprés ski afternoon cookies; mountaintop fireworks; stargazing parties and scavenger hunts. This year, following a particularly blustery mountain day, we were able to take advantage of the Kidtopia indoor activities as well, including a little pottery painting at the Ready, Paint, Fire shop in River Run Village.



Accommodations are plentiful on the resort, but for ski getaways, vacation rentals are great because you can recreate a sense of familiarity even though you’re away from home. We like enjoying a few meals out at resort restaurants, but it’s nice to be able to wake up each morning and have a home-cooked breakfast around the kitchen table in our  pajamas before hitting the slopes. Vacation rentals also offer the benefit of more space at an affordable value. We were able to stay in a two-bedroom unit with a full kitchen, living room and dining space that allowed our little one his own bedroom in addition to a large master suite that allowed a little privacy for us adults—a challenging thing to find with most hotels. We stayed in a ski-in/ski-out condominium in the River Run Village area, which was walking distance to an array of shops, restaurants and ski lifts. HomeAway.com is a great resource for finding these kinds of properties.


As a family, we were also able to enjoy the new "Schoolmarm" family ski trail, which was designed specifically to engage skiers of all ages and ability levels to enjoy together with different terrain features that helped us take our skills to the next level. IMG_9474.jpg


For our little one, we took advantage of Keystone's ski school, which engages kids as young as three years old from the second they step in the door with everything from custom equipment fitting to interactive games that help build on ski abilities. Within minutes, our little tyke was up on skis and on the magic carpet conveyor belt along with his instructor for his first run. It was thrilling to see his first run down the hill - and there were many more that followed throughout the weekend.


His three-day enrollment in school guaranteed him the same instructor each day, which allowed him to transition into new learning throughout each class. As parents, we were also able to meet him at the end of each day with his instructor to pick up tips on how we could help him progress when skiing together as a family.


While it was often great to enjoy dining together in the comfort our condo, we also took advantage of some of Keystone's unique dining options, including the Bavarian-inspired Der Fondue Chessel, which hosts a family-style fondue experience at the top of an 11,400-foot mountain. To get there, you have to take the gondola up the peak, which can be pretty chilly, even with the gondola blankets the resort provides at the base of the mountain. But the festive experience is well worth the effort, and there’s really nothing quite as fun as dipping all sorts of treats into a bowl of warm, gooey cheese to warm the soul. Western-themed dinner sleigh rides are also available led by a team of Belgian Draft horses through a snow-covered valley to historic Soda Creak Homesteads. Be sure to wear warm layers for the brisk ride that leads you to a rustic cabin for a pioneer-style dinner served by friendly horse wranglers. Pre-fixe dinner options vary, but the warm cup of soup with fresh biscuits that greet you at your arrival are a mainstay of the experience.


And let's be honest, no ski trip with the kiddos is complete without a little "me time" for mom. I scheduled some time at the Keystone Lodge & Spa where they offer any number of luxury massage, facial or hand and foot treatments are available to restore a little order back to the one person who's likely organized the majority of the trip. It was one of the better spa experiences I've had! There's nothing like feeling warm and cozy during an invigorating massage or facial while watching the snowsoftly fall on the mountain terrain outside.


When it comes to family vacations, the most important thing is the memories you take away. For us, everything about our Keystone experience, from our adventures on the slopes to the quiet moments relaxing in our vacation rental, was unforgettable and will provide us with a lifetime of memories to enjoy for years to come.




Jessica Dupuy is a freelance writer with writing credits for National Geographic Traveler, Imbibe, The Hollywood Reporter, Texas Monthly, Texas Highways, Fodor’s Travel Publications, and numerous regional publications. She has also written Uchi: The Cookbook, in conjunction with James Beard Award-winning Executive Chef, Tyson Cole and The Salt Lick Cookbook: A Story of Land, Family and Love on the iconic Texas barbecue restaurant.

My father-in-law’s favorite holiday is Thanksgiving. He loves everything about making the turkey, baking the pumpkin pie and setting out the seasonal decorations. Fortunately, all of the above are easy to do whether spending the holiday at home or away on vacation.



When we travel, we most often stay in vacation rentals with full kitchens, which makes it a snap to prepare dinner as a family. Two years ago, we spent Thanksgiving week in a fantastic rental in the Orlando area with my in-laws. We took the kids to the Magic Kingdom in the morning, and had a traditional Thanksgiving feast in the late-afternoon. We enjoyed the best of both worlds being on vacation while celebrating Thanksgiving in a very similar way to how we would at home. It was perfect.


If you’re thinking about taking a family vacation over the Turkey Day holidays, but want to incorporate traditional holiday elements, take a look at the ten suggestions below. If you’re not sure where to go, you may also want to look at vacation rentals in some of the most popular travel destinations, like Gatlinburg, Tennessee, Palm Springs, California and Breckenridge, Colorado, as identified by HomeAway as holiday hotspots for November getaways.


1) Enjoy a Traditional Thanksgiving Meal: Hit the grocery store as a family, shopping list in hand, to pick up a turkey, potatoes and green beans to prepare your feast in a full kitchen in your vacation rental. Or, order the entire spread from the local supermarket or catering company. Many restaurants also offer traditional Turkey Day fare for families. Wherever you are, it’s fun and easy to enjoy a turkey and all the trimmings together as a family.


2) Create Seasonal Decorations: Have fun with your kids creating handprint turkeys, toilet paper roll pilgrims and teepee centerpieces and display them wherever you may be, whether a vacation rental on the beach or at Aunt Sally’s house. There are many fun crafts that are easy to make and don’t require a trip to the craft store. A quick search on Pinterest will help you find lots of ideas to keep your kids busy and in the spirit of Thanksgiving.


3) Go to a Parade: Just because you’re away from home in a vacation rental doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a good parade complete with floats, marching bands and baton twirling. Many towns put on Thanksgiving festivities, including parades and festivals, so pick up a local paper when you get in town to see what’s going on. It’s also fun to see how other towns celebrate Thanksgiving in their own way.


4) Run or Walk in a Turkey Trot: It’s our annual family tradition to run or walk in our neighborhood Turkey Trot 5K on Thanksgiving Day. We’ve been doing this for more than 10 years, and it’s such a great way to start the day off right as a family. Just type “turkey trot” and the name of the town where you’ll be renting a vacation home for Thanksgiving into a search engine to find nearby races.


5) Gather Around the Television: I’m not advocating a day in front of the television, but if you stay in a vacation rental over the holidays, gather up and watch football or the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade as you might do at home. Many vacation rentals have generous living areas and big screen TVs, so this is a fun way to spend time as a family.

Fall Leaves_Boys.jpg


6) Throw Around a Football: While some people spend the day watching football on TV, other families like to throw around the football on Thanksgiving Day. Fortunately, many vacation rentals have sporting equipment stored away, so be on the hunt or ask the owners if they have a football to throw around in a family game.


7) Take a Walk: Once the meal is over and we’re all nice and full, we like to take a walk around the neighborhood, which is something you can easily do while staying in a vacation rental. It’s fun to explore a new community or neighborhood, while engaging each other as a family in fun conversation.


8) Play Board Games: When we stayed in a vacation home over Thanksgiving two years ago, the owners had a closet full of board games for renters. The kids had so much fun checking out all the games for different age groups before we sat down to play UNO and Monopoly. Board games are a great way to come together as a family and many rentals have board games, even video games, for everyone to play.


9) Enjoy a Nap: Who doesn’t love taking a nap after a big Turkey Day meal? Fortunately, in a vacation home you aren’t all on top of each other like you might be in a hotel room. I love that I can close the door to my room, and to my kids’ rooms, so we can all drift off into dreamland after a delicious meal. This is one of my favorite benefits of a vacation rental!


10) Get Creative with Leftovers: Have fun with the kids creating unique combinations of Thanksgiving leftovers. Since you have a kitchen in a vacation home, it’s easy to save leftovers for meals later in the week so you don’t need to eat out in restaurants. Plus, it’s fun to see what the kids come up with using the extra turkey, green beans and cranberry sauce to eat later in the week.



Do you have any favorite Thanksgiving Day activities that can easily be done whether at home or away on vacation? Let us know in the comments section below.

Hidden Wine Country

Posted by jennifer.boden Sep 24, 2013

Napa and Sonoma are kind of like Disneyland for adults – there’s almost too much to enjoy. Wineries, restaurants, museums and castles…you can’t go ten feet without tripping over some new fun thing to do. It’s a good problem to have, but you still need to make choices, and a good way to start is to find out what the locals do. There are hidden treasures all over wine country; you just have to know where to look.



There is no wine country without wineries, so let’s start there. I’m always looking for that perfect combination of great wine and beautiful surroundings. While there are many wineries in Napa and Sonoma that easily meet these requirements, here are a few I’m particularly fond of.Chateau St. Jean.jpg.jpeg


If you want the chateau experience but don’t want to go all the way to France, let me recommend Chateau St. Jean. This winery offers a couple of different ways to sample their excellent wines. The main tasting room, in the visitor center, offers the widest variety. However, for a little bit more, you can taste some of their reserve and limited release wines in the chateau. 


Another must-see wine country vineyard is Ledson winery. Their gorgeous castle features several tasting rooms, multiple reds and whites to choose from and even a hotel. Ledson Winery.jpg.jpeg


You can book a room, set up a private tasting or attend one of their many events. This Fall will be the 6th annual Corvettes at the Castle event where you can drink wine, mingle with other Corvette lovers and enjoy a picnic under the Oak trees. Another memorable event that’s coming up is Ledson’s Holiday Open House. Cozy up to their fireplaces with your favorite glass of wine and take in the joy of season in the most royal manner.


If it’s a medieval castle you’re after, then be sure to visit Castello di Amorosa. Owner Dario Sattui spent many years researching medieval architecture, which resulted in the authentically-styled 13th century Tuscan castle and winery. Castello di Amorosa offers tours, barrel tastings and events. Have a glass while getting lost in history. Castello di Amorosa.jpg.jpeg


For something more rustic, but equally tasty, I recommend the Long Meadow Ranch Winery and Farmstead in St. Helena. This organic farm produces beef, eggs, honey, fruits, vegetables and, of course, wine. Dine at their restaurant, visit their farmer’s market or take advantage of one of their wine or olive oil tastings.

Long Meadow Ranch.jpg.jpeg

And remember, food and wine belong together. St Francis Vineyards offers amazing pairings, gourmet small plates with hand-picked wines. Be sure to make a reservation.


For a different experience, I recommend Sterling Vineyards in Calistoga. Their aerial tram is the only one of its kind in Napa Valley, offering stunning panoramic views as visitors are carried up 300 feet to the winery. At the top, guests are greeted with a glass of wine to enjoy while strolling through art galleries, overlooks, and elevated walkways that provide a glimpse into the winemaking process, from grape to glass.



Nothing pairs better with fine wine than fine music. Nestled at the base of the Sonoma Mountains in the heart of wine country, you’ll find The Green Music Center. This world-class complex includes famous performances by Chris Botti, Josh Groban and the San Francisco Symphony.


If visual arts and artisanal wines are more your style, be sure to visit Ma(i)sonry Napa Valley. This historic building features a rotating collection of limited-production wines from 20+ esteemed vintner partners, along with internationally renowned art and furnishings to appreciate and acquire.


History, Shopping and Food

One of the coolest things about wine country is that it’s no one-trick pony. Yes, there are amazing wineries, but there’s also excellent shopping and wonderful restaurants. One of the best places to go is Sonoma Plaza, in the town of Sonoma. At the center of the Plaza is a beautiful park, a great place to relax for a few minutes between destinations. Enjoy a romantic stroll or a family outing. The park is complete with a playground for kids, plenty of picnic benches, fountains, and a duck pond. Concerts, and festivals are also held there along with a Farmer’s Market on Tuesdays. Be sure to stop by the market for local gourmet ice cream, fresh cut flowers, hand-made Sonoma jewelry, and of course the delicious food. The Farmer’s Market runs May through the end of October.


Surrounding the park are historic buildings, and lovely boutiques - check out SummerVine and Sonoma Home. If wine is still calling your name, pop by a few of the many wine tasting rooms, I recommend Sigh champagne room, Roche winery, and Highway 12 winery. If you have a sweet tooth, you’re invited to a charming shop on the Plaza called Wine Country Chocolates, for a delightful chocolate tasting.


When you work up an appetite, stop by one of my favorite restaurants, the Sonoma-Meritage Martini Oyster Bar & Grille, owned by Executive Chef, Carlo Cavallo, for delicious pasta, fish, beef and an incredible raw bar. The restaurant is reasonably priced and open every evening for dinner. Yountville is another must-see town that offers some amazing activities for visitors. Book a hot air balloon ride, visit on of the fine art galleries, enjoy the Lincoln Theater, or simply savor a nice leisurely lunch or dinner. Yountville is a true culinary destination, with literally dozens of restaurants - from fine dining at Thoma's Keller's The French Laundry to more casual options. I recommend the food at Étoile restaurant, located at the Chandon winery, is spectacular. The heirloom tomatoes are to die for.


Relax in Your Vacation Home

The beauty of Napa and Sonoma is that you can do a little bit of everything or a lot of nothing. There are more places to see than you can possibly do in a week, a month, or even a year, so pace yourself. Sometimes it’s best to just grab a nice bottle of wine, some hors d'oeuvres and enjoy the sunset from your patio. There are a lot of beautiful condos and villas for rent that make the perfect home base, especially if traveling with friends or family. It’s nice to have a private pool or spa for soaking at the end of a long day and a kitchen to store the treasures you picked up along the way. If traveling in a group, you can even rent a villa on its own vineyard and prices are often cheaper than a hotel when you split the costs. Let wine country be your relaxing home away from home.


Jennifer Boden is a wine and travel expert. Become a fan of her facebook page by visiting California Wine and Travel. 

While summer is winding down, many still have vacation on their minds. While it’s tough to vacation on a budget with sky-high airfares and fast-rising gas prices, there are a lot of easy ways to save money on your next vacation. You just need to have a few tips and tricks up your sleeve. Take a look at five of my favorite ways to save money without sacrificing any of the fun of a much-deserved vacation.


Set Up Airfare Alerts

Go online to set up airfare alerts so you’re among the first to know about price drops to your destination. Two of my favorite sites for airfare alerts are Kayak and Airfarewatchdog, which can alert you once a day about current airfare prices. I also like Airfarewatchdog’s Anywhere That’s Cheap Alert for a list of the best round-trip fares departing from your home airport. This is fantastic when you’re still considering where to go for your vacation. Also, try FareCompare’s Where-to-Go Getaway Map for the best fares to global destinations that have been found in the last four hours. Since airfare can be such a big chunk of any vacation budget, it’s smart to stay on top of prices.


Book a Vacation Rental

I’m still new to using vacation rentals, but have now used HomeAway three times to book houses and apartments for my family. What I love is that homeaway_france.jpegvacation rentals can often provide twice the space for half the price of a hotel. Most recently, my daughters and I stayed in a beautiful apartment in Prague within easy walking distance of both Prague Castle and Old Town Square. The apartment was quiet, safe and even more affordable and spacious than a hotel room.


There was a kitchen, a washing machine and web access – everything we needed. Plus, it was great to have a door to close between my bedroom and where the girls were sleeping. I love my girls, but after a long day, it’s nice to have a little space of your own, and that’s not always possible in a hotel. HomeAway has more than 775,000 property listings for every budget in 170+ countries, so it’s worth a look as you plan your next family getaway.



Bring Your Own Food

One of the easiest places to trim your vacation budget is through the food and groceries line item. Don’t spend $6 on a cup of coffee and a bagel every morning. Instead, pack a suitcase full of food, like cereals, granola bars, juice boxes and snacks (especially snacks if you have little ones). Also, pack paper plates and plastic utensils if you’ll be staying in a hotel. Even if you end up paying a baggage fee, you’ll still end up better off, especially if you seek out grocery deals and use coupons.

homeaway_breakfast 2.jpg


If you’re staying in a vacation rental, it’s still a good idea to bring food with you, especially if you’ll be arriving late and may not have time to get to a grocery store your first night in town. Before you shop, take stock of what you have and make a list so you can avoid making multiple trips to the supermarket.


Get Hip to Discount Programs

It’s not hard to find discounts on just about every attraction you may plan to visit. The annual Entertainment Book is a great resource for city-specific discounts on local dining, attractions, and even movie passes, which are nice for rainy days. Another worth checking out is the Go City Card program for nine top cities, including San Diego and Chicago. Pay one fee and save on dozens of local attractions. Since you receive so many discounts, these are generally best for multiple-day vacations.activities_hiking_binoculars_kid.jpg


It’s easy to find free coupons as well if you head online to a site like Coupons for Fun, which compiles printable coupons for attractions across the country. Or, check in with your local tourism bureau for offerings like the free Monster Coupon Book, which has discounts for Myrtle Beach attractions. And, of course, don’t forget about AAA if you are a member since they offer loads of deals on theme parks, museums, water parks and more.


Seek Out Free Local Activities

Many zoos, museums, art galleries and aquariums offer free days either once a week or once a month, offering a significant cost savings for a


family of four, for example. It’s also wise do a web search for “free things to do” in the city you plan to visit. You’ll be amazed by how many fun free events and attractions are pulled up for your city. When you arrive at your destination, be sure to also scour the local newspapers for free events you may not have known about otherwise.

Do you have any favorite tips or tricks for saving money on your vacation? Let us know in the comments section below.

The family vacation experts at HomeAway recently surveyed more than 5,000 dads to find out what they really want for Father's Day. To spice things up a bit, HomeAway also checked in with the ladies to see what they think tops their husbands’ wish lists.


So just how in tune are men and women when it comes to picking out the perfect gift for Father's Day? The results just might surprise you, make you giggle, or even blush just a little.


Family vacations top dads’ wish list for Father’s Day

FAther's Day - 72%.jpg

According to the survey, dads would prefer a family vacation over any other gift for Father’s Day (35%), including new technology (11%), a new set of golf clubs (6%), a luxury watch (3%), home theater equipment (3%), or a riding lawn mower (2%), etc.


Overall, 72 percent of dads said they'd like to receive some sort of vacation or trip for Father's Day. When we asked dads what kind of vacation trip they’d like to take, the majority of dads chose a family vacation (49%) – even over a romantic getaway with their significant other (38%). Only a small group of dads said they'd prefer a guys' trip with their friends (just 13%).


Gift ideas from the kids

We asked dads what they’d like to receive from their children, specifically, for Father’s Day. At the top of the list, 31 percent of dads said the gift they want most from their kids is unplugged time with the family (no texting, social media, iPads, etc.).


Coming in at a close second, dads said they’d also like to get something homemade from their kiddos (25%). Check out the HomeAway Father’s Day Pinterest board for homemade gift ideas and inspiration.


Not surprisingly, only 12 out of 1,097 dads said they’d like to get a neck or bow tie.


And from the significant other…

On the flip side, we asked dads what they want from their significant others for Father’s Day, and then compared it to what women told us they think their husbands want from them for Father’s Day. The result? Women assume husbands want sex as a gift from their wives, when they'd really just prefer a romantic meal, instead.


According to the old saying, the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, so not surprisingly, 46% (the majority) of men said they’d like a romantic dinner from their wife.


When it comes to gifts in the bedroom, women actually overestimated their husbands’ desire for something more intimate for Father’s Day. The number-one answer women thought their husbands would choose when it comes to a personal gift from their significant other was to “make love” – when actually only 22% of men listed it as their first preference.


The very bottom of the list? Only 19 out of 1,061 dads said they’d like to receive cologne from their wives for Father’s Day.


Where to take dear old dad?

So now that you know what dad wants, what kind of trip should you plan for him this summer? According to the survey, dads want to head for a beach or lake (48%).  Surprisingly, golf (5%), gambling (2%), camping (3%), vineyard (5%), sporting event (3%), theme park (4%), and fishing / hunting (4%) trips came in at the very bottom of dads’ wish list for Father’s Day.


Here are the top 10 destinations dads said they'd like to go for Father's Day:

  1. Florida
  2. Hawaii
  3. France
  4. Italy
  5. California
  6. Colorado
  7. Nevada (Las Vegas)
  8. Mexico
  9. Canada
  10. London


For additional ideas of where to take dad, homemade gifts and crafts, recipes and more to make this year extra special, check out HomeAway's Father's Day board on Pinterest.

beach-1.jpgIt’s no secret vacations are important to families – or that they can be stressful. What is shocking, however, is 40 percent of U.S. travelers admitted to not being able to fully enjoy their vacation because of stress, according to a new survey from HomeAway.


On the other hand, according to the same survey, 78 percent of travelers wouldn’t give up their family vacation for anything – not even permanent weight loss of 20 pounds, housekeeping services for a year or dinner with their favorite celebrity.


So what’s a family to do?


Here are five ways vacation rentals can help travelers RECLAIM their family vacation, ensuring they return from their next trip more relaxed and reconnected than ever before!


- Reclaim your destination. According to research from HomeAway, choosing where to go on vacation is the number one cause of family squabbles.

In order to avoid the arguments, consider including your kids in the destination discussion early on and use sites like HomeAway.com for vacation inspiration. By browsing through the inventory, families can get new ideas for places off the beaten path, which they may not have previously considered.


Here’s a list of the most popular family vacation destinations we’re seeing on HomeAway.com for summer 2013:

  1. Ocean City, Md.
  2. Gulf Shores, Ala.
  3. Destin, Fla.
  4. Virginia Beach, Va.
  5. Bethany Beach, Del.


- Reclaim where to stay. Where you stay is just as important as where you go.

Most families automatically default to a hotel when planning their vacation. However, 80 percent of travelers agree that staying in a vacation rental helps reduce their vacation stress. That’s not surprising when you consider the amenities and features of a vacation home, which can make life easier and save you money (e.g., kitchen, washer/dryer, private pool, pet-friendly). Eating out three times per day is expensive, especially for larger families, and having the option to do laundry along the way will spare you the headache of facing a zillion loads when you get home. And, because no two rentals are alike, there’s sure to be a perfect match for every family’s styles, preferences and needs.


- Reclaim your budget. It’s always about getting more bang for your buck.

According to the HomeAway survey, the average summer family vacation costs $3,382, with $1,603 (almost 50%) spent solely on accommodations. For that much, you better be getting more than just a bed, a bathroom and a mini bar! Vacation rentals are inherently a great value, typically costing half as much as a hotel, but including twice the space. Thanks to the extra bedrooms and living areas, there’s also more flexibility to invite friends and/or other family members along and split costs. Plus, amenities like kitchens and washer/dryers, as well as free parking and Internet, spare your wallet by saving on the additional fees that tend to add up quickly at a hotel.


- Reclaim your space. While we love our families, everyone knows that too much togetherness is not always a great thing.

The best vacations strike the right balance between time and space – time together as well as time apart. Vacation rentals are ideal for this because they offer both communal areas for spending time together – playing board games in the living room or recounting the day’s adventures around the kitchen table – as well as the benefit of having your own room, and in return, the freedom to stay up and enjoy some adult time after the kids are in bed. The experience just can’t be beat, especially when you consider the alternative – cramming your family of four into one room for a week. Eeek!


- Reclaim your schedule. When staying in a hotel, you’re often forced to vacation on someone else’s schedule.

From having to wait an hour for room service when you’re starving, to just missing the pool or gym hours, to wasting time waiting for the entire family to get ready (with only one bathroom!), it’s not fun having to operate on someone else’s timeline, especially on vacation. In fact, HomeAway’s new family travel survey found that “wasting time” was one of the top causes of stress while on vacation. With vacation rentals, families have the freedom to determine their own schedules (a major plus for families with young children). Go ahead, choose for yourself when and what you’d like to eat, and hit the pool when you’re ready to swim…just maybe not one right after the other!


If you’re one of the 73 percent of travelers planning to get away with your family this summer, consider vacationing outside of the (hotel) box. With only a few vacation days per year, family trips are too precious to waste a single minute stressing over factors that can easily be eliminated by staying (in a) home!


Go on…RECLAIM your family vacation!

I travel with my two young kids - a lot - and I’ve had both good and bad experiences. Some days we get lucky and the travel gods are on our side. Other days, I’ve been the one whose child is having a complete meltdown and WILL NOT buckle her seat belt as the plane has to ****** due to bad weather!


We all read headlines and hear stories about children being kicked off flights, families not being able to sit together, additional fees popping up all over the place and even whether or not it’s fair for families with young children to board the plane early. According to what I’m seeing in the media, the perception is that families are being burdened with many travel issues, especially when it comes to dealing with new airline policies.  It seems the perception of the state of family travel is just that - a perception - that depends, quite literally, on where you sit.



One issue travelers can’t ignore is that of added fees – everything from checked bag fees, to hotel wi-fi fees, to “resort fees”, whatever those are. Today, travelers have to budget beyond the base price, since it’ll likely only be a portion of their total bill.


The airline industry, in particular, is known for charging a lot of extra fees. One reason might be because the revenue created from these fees is not generally subject to the same 7.5 percent federal excise tax levied on all airfares, according to a New York Times article published in July.


So for airlines trying to stay profitable, it’s good business sense to avoid more taxing. I can understand that. However, some of the things they’re charging for are frustrating and expensive for everyone, particularly families.


For example, Delta, American Airlines, US Airways, Frontier, Spirit and Allegiant have all implemented charges for "preferred seating,” leading some to believe that families have to pay more just to sit together.


This happened to me recently when I was buying tickets for my family of four. I got all the way to the end of the process and was given the option to select seats. But, when I was shown the diagram of the plane, there wasn’t an option for four seats together. In fact, there was only one place where there were even two seats together and those were located in what I call the “more legroom, more money” area.


For me, this is clearly an issue. We are traveling with two toddlers - neither is of lap child age, nor are they anywhere near old enough to sit alone.  Was I expected to PAY for the expensive seats just so that one parent/child combo could sit together while the other parent begged some unsuspecting passenger to trade seats? Or was I actually supposed to consider the option that my 3-year-old would be seated alone? That’s preposterous, isn’t it? Or, is it? I had to consider what I’d actually be willing to give to someone to get them to give up their good seat for my middle seat. After all, it’s not that traveler’s fault.


What’s a traveling family to do?


One mom I know swears that the key to good family travel comes with higher status. Her rule of thumb after gaining platinum status with Continental Airlines (now United Airlines) is that it’s an absolute must for traveling families to establish a relationship with one airline.


In her experience, by having a frequent flyer account with Continental/United and purchasing all tickets through that account, she says every flier gets the benefits of the account holder. As your status goes up, you gain access to perks like free baggage, upgrades to seating and access to lounges. Also the miles/points accumulate faster, earning you free tickets.


Kids on a Plane & Much ‘Ado About Candy


Much is made in the media of children traveling by air. But what is the real problem: The unrealistic expectations of childless passengers? The parents failing to actively parent their children? The children themselves? In most instances, a combination of all of these things is probably at play. 


It is not a guarantee that family members will be seated together even if their tickets are purchased at the same time; it is getting increasingly difficult to select seats near each other in the wake of extra fees for premium seating; and parents are often left to rely on the kindness of strangers. In my experience, this often works out. However, I just heard from a friend who witnessed a traveler flat-out refuse to switch seats so a mother could sit next to her child. If stories like this didn’t happen, then we wouldn’t be having this discussion. And we wouldn’t hear about parents bringing candy or other gifts to sweeten the pot for their seatmates when boarding a plane with young kids in tow.


In terms of the behavior, is an unruly child more or less problematic than an obnoxious adult? For instance, we’ve all been stuck next to the large smelly guy, the annoyingly loud teenaged girls who can’t stop yelling and giggling, or that crotch that ends up in your face while the other passenger loads his/her bag into the overhead bin. That’s never fun.


No one is talking about the millions of well-behaved children in the friendly skies. They don’t make good headlines.


Everyone’s got a perception. Mine is that in most cases, travelers are doing the best they can to be nice and treat one another with respect amidst travel policies that don’t always make traveling easy. Case in point: the lady who became fast friends with Littlest and I when flying alone this summer. If it hadn’t been for the many tricks up her sleeve to help me keep my baby happy, it would have felt like a much longer trip for all of us.


Family travel takes a village. Every village has an idiot. Unfortunately it’s the village idiots who make the headlines.


What’s your perception about the state of family travel? Share your story with me in the comments below.


Diana Heather is the Chief Mom, both at home to her two girls and at Totsy.com. You can follow Diana on Twitter @ParentingsATrip or read more at her blog: ParentingsATrip.com.

Traveling with children is stressful enough without the added pressure of having extra people around judging my parenting capabilities during some of the most difficult parenting situations - long flights, potty training days in an airport, meltdowns from the overwhelming nature of everything being new. It used to feel like the thought of my parents and/or in-laws traveling with us on family vacations to witness that show on the road only added to the pressure.

Needless to say, I’ve come a LONG way.


I have found that traveling with your extended family is one of the greatest gifts you can give to yourself, your spouse, your children and especially your parents and in-laws.


I always wonder what my mom, even my in-laws think about traveling with all of us. I knew if I asked them, I wouldn’t get the whole scoop. Recently, a friend put me in touch with a Mother and Son traveling duo, and by the time I had discussed the topic of multigenerational travel with both of them, I had a treasure chest full of perspective on the challenges and how to solve them.


Justin, a dad to two kids under five years old, regularly plans trips all over the world with his family of four and their extended family including his mom, Barbara, and her husband; his dad and his dad’s wife; as well as his in-laws.

Diana's extended family on vacation in Orlando

Incuding Justin's kids, Barbara has seven grandchildren. She’s a huge travel nut, but aside from her personal travel schedule, she regularly- up to four or more times per year- ventures out with her husband on multigenerational trips with her kids, step kids and their families.  Both Justin and Barbara shared the secrets to their multigenerational travel success. Here’s what they said:


Why take the show on the road? Isn’t it easier to just have relatives come to your house or vice versa?

Justin’s Take: When you travel someplace new with your family, you get to enjoy the sights, sounds, smells and flavors around you, and it brings you all closer together because the normal daily routines and distractions of everyday life at home fall away.

Barbara’s Take: I think doing this is very healthy- it's good for children because there is something very wholesome about all being together even if it means a little chaos. It’s a growth experience for everyone. Kids experience being a part of a larger family unit and I think that grounds them. 


Is it hard for the one making the plans to keep everyone happy?

Barbara: You really just have to ask everybody what they are looking to get out of that particular trip. What are everyone’s goals? Once you know the answers to that question, then choose a place that has something for everyone.


Speaking of choosing the right destination, how do you do that? What destinations work best for multigenerational trips?

Justin: I recommend to anyone who hasn’t done it yet to try a cruise. With a cruise, no one is ever far from a buffet or a nap, no matter who needs it. That gives everyone built in flexibility right there. Also, transportation is already taken care of. Most cruises have a variety of activities built in that appeal to all ages. 


Barbara: Pick a place that has something for everybody. You don’t want teenagers pouting in the corner while grandma is yucking it up with her sisters. Likewise, don’t drag grandma through Disney if that’s not what she wants.


What type of accommodations does your family typically look for when planning multigenerational trips?

Barbara: We’ve done it all. Rented houses, done timeshares, cruises, you name it. So, for us the answer is to switch it up and keep things unique.


Recently, we rented a HomeAway vacation rental in Cape Cod and we were able to accommodate friends at the beginning of week and then family at the end of the week. Having a house made it so comfortable and we were able to create lasting memories. Right now I can picture myself sitting on the front porch with my three-year-old grandson talking about cars. I’ll always remember that seemingly small moment as something much bigger.


Justin: We find vacation rentals to be a better value for the money, and it makes it easy to have everyone in one place. I like to make sure I’m in walking- or short driving distance from grocery, shops and other main venues.


What about the kids? Do they enjoy traveling with extended family?
My Own Take: My kids wouldn’t know their three cousins (who live in London) very well at all if it weren’t for our multigenerational trips. Sure, they see them every other year for the holidays, but that’s only for a few short days. Last spring, my family, Hubs’ parents, and his brother’s family all descended upon Walt Disney World. Because of the new adventures they shared in a new place, my girls and their older boy cousins are now connected for life. They email, Skype, send birthday cards to each other and talk about each other in a way that you’d think they were just down the street, rather than across an ocean.

Justin: Many times, a vacation can mean no meals to cook or errands to run, so kids get concentrated time with the family members they’re traveling with. For us, the travel my kids have done with their grandparents has intensified those relationships.


What are the best things about traveling with extended family?
Barbara: Entertainment and brainpower! You get to use other people’s strengths for the good of the group and you have built-in entertainment because with many people of many ages, there is always somebody doing something. You can join in if you want to.  


Justin: The opportunity to divide costs, of course and, especially if your parents are longing for that quality bonding time with the kids, some help with childcare and babysitting.


How do you handle the babysitting offers on multigenerational trips? I’ve personally had a hard time finding the balance between letting grandparents have quality time and not leaving anyone feeling exhausted or taken advantage of.
Barbara: Everyone has to talk about these things in advance and be honest with their responses. It’s up to the parents to make sure they know what their parents or relatives are looking to get out of the vacation and how much time they are willing or wanting to babysit. Also, the ‘babysitter’ has to be honest about how long at one time they are capable of handling the kids. Maybe they want the kids for a few hours each day, but they can’t handle hours and hours on end without a break. If it’s hammered out in advance, it takes the pressure off of everyone and no one will have unmet expectations about sharing the caretaking responsibilities.

My Own Take: The mistake we make is not talking about it upfront. Barbara’s spin on it is an “ah ha moment”. We have traveled with everyone under the sun in our family and sometimes Hubs and I are the selfish ones. We feel like if the family hasn’t seen the Littles that they should ‘want’ to spend all of their time with them. It’s eye-opening to understand it from all perspectives.


Barbara and Justin both agree, relationships will change over time and every new trip will have its own unique feel. As long as everyone is willing to keep open lines of communication then multigenerational trips can become the new norm for your family vacations.


Diana Heather is the Chief Mom, both at home to her two girls and at Totsy.com. You can follow Diana on Twitter @ParentingsATrip or read more at her blog: ParentingsATrip.com.

Since vacations are expensive and families often only get to take one or two a year, deciding where to go and what to do on your next family trip might feel like as big of a challenge as a presidential debate. Trust me though - it doesn’t have to be. Unlike our next “big election,” with the right voting strategy, everyone can win at the end of this great debate!


To plan the ideal vacation, include everyone in the decision-making process with age-appropriate tasks, use a democratic voting system, and ensure the whole family gets heard in the planning. Put this simple formula to work and enjoy the process as it unfolds:



1. First, have every family member submit destination ideas for the vacation ballot. My girls are too young to participate just yet, but if you have school-aged kids, encourage them to ask friends, do online research (if they are old enough) or just list out some dream destinations! This way, everyone in the family has a chance to participate.


2. From there, mom and dad pick the top three options based on distance, time and budget to make sure the destinations are feasible for their family (i.e. bungee jumping off a bridge in Queenstown, New Zealand probably won’t work for many families). This is also a chance for mom and dad to propose, or "pitch" if you will, options the kids may not be aware of and use their veto power for the good of all.


3. Create mini-itineraries for each of your three choices. You don’t have to spend hours on research, but you’ll want to hit the main points of a destination.


Example: New York


  • Day 1: Statue of Liberty, shopping in the West Village
  • Day 2: Museum of Natural History and boat tour on the Hudson
  • Day 3: Empire State Building and sight-seeing in Times Square
  • Day 4: Explore Central Park, stop in at FAO Schwarz
  • Day 5: Brooklyn – Zoo, Parks, Children’s Museum


4. Finally, based on these mini-itineraries, do a hands up/hands down classroom-style vote so everyone in the family gets an equal say.


Viola! Choosing your next vacation destination was not the act of Congress you thought it would be.


Boy do I wish my parents had used this voting tactic growing up. When I was in junior high, they decided we were taking an educational Spring Break trip to Washington, D.C. My history-buff father packed the schedule with visits to almost every Civil War Battlefield in the area. Looking back on it, I’m very thankful that we went on that trip because I was able to understand the values our country was founded upon, but if a few more shopping excursions had been added to the itinerary, I might have been a happier tween. That’s why doing a little research in the mini-itinerary stage and involving your kids in the process is so important!


Research Tips


Thanks to the Internet, you can quickly and easily find out anything you can possibly want to know about a destination, with the click of a button.


My family uses the following phrases in the search field of our favorite search engine to make sure we’ve covered our bases.

  • “Kids activities in [destination]”
  • “Things to do with kids in [destination]” or “things to do with ‘young’ or ‘little’ kids in [destination]”
  • “Family fun during the summer/winter/fall/spring in [destination]”
  • “Date night in [destination]” 5. “Indoor family activities in [destination]”
  • “Family friendly restaurants in [destination]”
  • “Tourist hot spots in [destination]”


When searching Google, don’t be afraid to go off the beaten path. The top page is populated by sites that are good at playing the marketing game, but there is often interesting, more authentic info to be found if you dig a little deeper to find lesser known sites and bloggers with experience in your destination. Or better yet, people who live there - we all know word of mouth is the best source of information, after all!


Don’t forget to check the date stamp on any article or post you use and call ahead to make sure nothing has changed. When we were in Montauk this summer, we arrived promptly for the free swimming lessons on the beach only to find out that they had ended the week earlier. Oops! Our bad.


At the end of the day, if you follow this vacation planning strategy your family will enjoy being allowed to help with the process, you’ll ensure everyone will be happy with the trip  and you can use the fun of planning a family vacation as an opportunity to show your family democracy in action!


Diana Heather is the Chief Mom, both at home to her two girls and at Totsy.com. You can follow Diana on Twitter @ParentingsATrip or read more at her blog: ParentingsATrip.com.


Image from: http://madisondemocrats.org/?page_id=23

It used to be that vacations were supposed to inspire you to unplug. Now, technology has become part of how we relax and it is integral to making travel easier. It is common to get email and text alerts for flight delays, check for traffic snarls and get walking or driving directions through a map app or GPS unit, and many large airports have a dedicated scanner at security for those traveling with truly paperless tickets that reside on their smartphone.


Everyone in my family has an “iSomething”: My Hubs is kind of an equipment-obsessed techy on his own, so you can only imagine; this travel-blogging Mommy needs to be able to do a little work even while on vacay; our oldest can run those sweet, chubby fingers across an iPhone faster than I can; and her little sister - who just turned two - is well-versed in the ways of the touch screen and even knows how to play her favorite music (“ABCD’s” on replay anyone?). But how do you keep it all from crashing your vacation?


There's an App for That


Making your technology travel well means minimizing the number of devices your family packs. Becoming familiar with new apps can turn one device into many with the click of the “install” button.


Apps we like for travel include:


I also make sure the kids' iPad (and my phone for when I'm in line somewhere with nothing else to entertain them) has their favorite games and shows, and I always add a new surprise or two in there to keep their attention.


Foolproof Plan for Happy Travels with Technology


Travel can make some people nervous and a busy mom can easily forget to charge the iPad or pack the car charger, so I want to share my foolproof plan for how you can go from tangled wires and dead batteries to a happy family with just a little thought and planning.


  • Always remember to charge everything up before you leave home. The night before a trip I stage our technology on the kitchen counter for charging and packing because I’m always afraid that I will forget my charger plugged in next to my bed. Sound familiar?
  • Make sure all of the cords are labeled and corralled (a silver Sharpie shows up great on black and white chargers) so you can match them on the run, and make sure you have enough rubber bands to keep everything manageable in your bag. Hair elastics are good multitaskers for this.
  • Also, make sure everything has its case so you can just toss all the devices in to one big Bag-o-tech for travel.


A "Bag-o-tech" might include:

  • 1 laptop (try for just one unless you and your spouse will end up fighting over it)
  • 2 cell phones (or more if your kids have their own)
  • 2 iPads (or one for each child)
  • 1 camera + battery + battery charger
  • 1 Power Strip (see below)
  • Earphones for kids and adults
  • All cases, chargers and extra memory cards for the camera or video recorder


We assign one person (usually Hubs) to carry all of our technology through security in one bag when we are flying to make sure things go smoothly. This keeps anyone in the family from being flagged for forgetting to throw his cell phone in to be scanned.


Accessorize Your Technology for Success


Cindy Richards of TravelingMom.com gave me this great tip: carry a power strip. She says everyone at the airport will love you for it because there are never enough outlets for everyone. She adds, “Use it as your charging station and you'll only have to find one open plug and significantly reduce the chances  you'll leave a charger behind when you check out.


Our iPad doubles as “kidertainment,” so we make sure to pack the iGuy when we travel. The iGuy is a super cute, kid-friendly iPad holder that is a lifesaver for keeping expensive technology safe while the kids are using it.


Above all else, remember to pack headphones for your kids. It will save both you and the other passengers from having to listen to endless episodes of your kids' favorite shows. If you have multiple children, splitters are a great way for the kids to share the cartoon goodness without having to buy a second device! Headphones are also necessary for anyone in the family who wants to check out the airplane movie or plug in to the car’s audio/video system. 


Keeping with the Apple family of devices has really streamlined our technology arsenal because they play together so well, making them ideal for our frequent trips. If Apple products aren't your thing, there are a plethora of great Android deices available. Also, Leap Frog makes great educational versions for kids including the My Own Leaptop and LeapPads for varying ages, which we also love at my house. You can even download special apps from your laptop to your kids LeapFrog devices and personalize them with your child’s name, age, photo, and more. Feeling as if they have their own devices makes my girls feel very special, indeed.


Using technology to simplify your travels with helpful apps and for entertainment during down times will help you refresh and recharge. Just make sure it doesn't take over your vacation by letting yourself work too much or not enjoying family time because you're texting, emailing and catching up on Facebook and Twitter. And, by all means, please DO turn all your technology off as much as you can. It will all still be there when your vacation is over.


Diana Heather is the Chief Mom, both at home to her two girls and at Totsy.com. You can follow Diana on Twitter @ParentingsATrip or read more at her blog: ParentingsATrip.com.

When my Husband suggested Montauk, as in, the beachy tip at the very end of Long Island, for our summer vacation my first reaction was, “That’s too close to home! We can’t go there for vacation.” (We live in Manhattan.)


Then, the beauty of vacationing near home hit me like a ton of bricks: no airport security; no long flight with toddlers; no requirement to stay gone longer than we’d really like - just a perfect family vacation to a place we’ve never been before that is known for being low key!


So, off we went to the perfect vacation rental home, on the perfect family vacation in perfect little Montauk.




Day 1


Ahhh, home sweet home!


We arrived at our amazing, contemporary Montauk vacation rental (that we found on HomeAway.com) with a sun-drenched deck, huge backyard and children's jungle gym with bikes, ice chest, and other essentials, just before noon. The homeowner met us upon arrival to give us the keys, a tour of the home and tons of advice about the area. It was beautiful. It had tons of room and natural light and was in a great location near everything we had planned.


Meanwhile, my Mom (“Nonna” to my girls) landed at La Guardia and hopped a ride on The Jitney to meet us in Montauk.


Around lunchtime, we drove in to town to pick her up at the bus stop and enjoyed a lovely lunch in the quaint downtown area, sitting outside in the breeze. We finally felt like we were on vacation!


But, it wasn’t long before we realized there’s no time to dally in Montauk! My husband had planned an adventure-packed itinerary so we needed to get started.


Day1.pngMontauk Point Lighthouse, the oldest lighthouse in New York State, was our first destination. The Lighthouse, authorized by the Second Congress, under President George Washington, is still an active aid to navigation today. Our 3-year-old met the minimum height requirement (41” or more) and was allowed to climb to the top with us to check out the view. It was peaceful and amazing all at once.


After all of that hard work climbing up and down the 137 iron steps, we headed over to the gift shop and restaurant for cocktails and milkshakes. 


Later that day, we headed over to Monday night "Concerts on the Green," a free family event sponsored by the chamber of commerce.  A few lawn chairs, some chilled wine and a pizza from the local pizzeria, and we were all set for one of the best nights we've had all year. The band was singing tunes like “Pretty Woman” and kids, young and old, were swinging to the beat. This is how a sunset was mean to be enjoyed. It was like we were in a TV show or a movie, only better - it was real!


After the Littles had their baths, we all snuggled up on the over-sized couches in the living room of our vacation rental and watched Team USA take the gold in Womens’ Gymnastics. Inspired by the win, the Littles attempted their own acrobatics solidifying a "perfect 10" for our first day of vacation!




Day 2


Our second day in Montauk started with everyone slathering on the sunscreen before we headed out to a sun-filled day of activities – mostly on the beach. (Check out my post “A Parent’s Guide to Pool Time on Vacation” for more tips on sun protection). We always make sure all of us are well-coated before we get dressed and leave for the day.


Our first stop was Gin Beach where we took advantage of gorgeous morning and skipped stones. Then we collected sea shells, driftwood and even sea greenery growing on the sand dunes to fill up three glass globes we bought to remember our vacation.  Day2Stables.png


Lunch had us heading over to Navy Beach, a famous restaurant in Montauk where the fresh seafood is really amazing. Its super kid-friendly since they can run around on the beach while you wait for your food, which makes it worth the pricey fare. After lunch, we took a quick nap at our comfy vacation rental, then we were ready for more!


Rita’s Stables was next on the agenda and the perfect place for the Littles to enjoy something right up their alley. It was so fun watching them experience their first saddle rides. It made my mom and I nostalgic for the first time my brother and I rode horseback with my grandparents in Columbus, MS. The petting zoo at Rita’s was a big hit, too. Of course, our littlest wanted to HOLD the animals (not just pet them).


Next up was a quick game of mini-golf at the local Puff & Putt to fill the gap of time between horse riding and our dinner reservation. Note to self: Toddlers don’t play mini golf. It was fun to watch anyway.



One of the best parts about Montauk is that all of the great restaurants you’re dying to visit are family friendly in the early evening hours. We ALL had a great time at Solé East in their beautifully landscaped backyard dining area. All of the money we saved by staying in a vacation rental allowed us to enjoy some restaurants that wouldn’t have otherwise fit in our budget.

End of Day2.png


I never get to hit up the Momofuko Milk Bar in NYC so I was determined to visit their Montauk outpost for dessert. We got carry-out to enjoy back at the house around the kitchen table together. 


After spotting two bunnies and four deer (that were on their own family vacation, according to the girls) in the backyard, our elated Littles enjoyed a cool nighttime romp on the jungle gym before bath time put an end to our second day.


Day 3


As early risers, we easily made the 10 am ferry to Block Island, Mass., a place I knew nothing about.


Hubs insisted we bring our bikes so we could all bike around the island together. Once I realized that there was only one ferry a day to and from Block Island, and that both directions take at least an hour, I was a little nervous that this might be an ambitious plan for our multigenerational band of merry travelers.


Hubs and the oldest Little had a great time biking all over the island, shopping, eating and hitting up yet another petting zoo. Nonna, Littler, our friend and myself had a less fun day after a series of near fatal biking accidents. Ok, maybe I’m being a tad dramatic. But there was more than one accident and there was blood. And it was mine. Enough said.




We did manage to get ourselves to the Old Town area of Block Island, where Littlest promptly put herself up for sale for fear we might put her on the


back of  another bicycle.


Leaving Block Island was more enjoyable as it included cocktails on the dock and a chance to watch real fishermen cleaning their catch of the day while we waited to board the ferry.


Not a moment too soon, Hubs had arranged for a little vacation romance on our final night!


My husband definitely knows how to plan a date! We indulged at the hottest dinner spot in town, Byron at Surf Lodge and had the best table there. Afterwards, we pretended we were slightly younger than we are and headed to Rushmeyers Electric Eel Bar for Comedy Night with Seth Herzog where we laughed and recovered from the day’s adventures. Perhaps Hubs read my post, "Rest, Relaxation & Romance" about spending quality couple time during a family vacation.


Day 4


After a lazy morning with the girls, Hubs surprised us all with the perfect souvenir t-shirts on our last day. In no time, we were packed and ready to hit the road. Montauk: The End!


The End.png


Diana Heather writes at http://www.parentingsatrip.com. She is also the Chief Mom, both at home to her two girls and at Totsy.com. You can follow Diana on Twitter @ParentingsATrip.

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