Archive for Travel in the US

Summer Vacation Ideas That Are NOT the Beach

A lot of people like to go to the beach for summer vacation, but there are lots of options for people who aren’t into the beach and want to stay in the US. Here are some options that are not too far from us here in the midwest!

1. Savannah

Though there is a beach near Savannah, you could spend all your time in Savannah and not even miss the beach! Savannah has a lot of historic sites and you could spend hours just strolling through the historic district checking out gardens, mansions, and monuments from the Civil War era. Paula Deen’s restaurant is there and if you are into the supernatural, Savannah is said to be very haunted and has a lot of ghost walks and haunted tours for you to choose from. There are also some great pubs to check out in the evenings. Eric and I visited before we had kids and spent an entire week exploring the area…we loved it!









2. New York City

It’s not hard to find something to do in New York City. There are tons of sites to see, such as the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, Ground Zero, and Central Park. Or you can check out the different neighborhoods or take in a Broadway musical or a play. We haven’t personally been there yet but it’s on our list of places to see sooner rather than later!

3. New Orleans

I visited New Orleans over spring break one year in college. Like Savannah, it is known for its hauntings, but there are also many more options here. Take a cemetery tour, check out the French Quarter or the Garden District, or stroll down Bourbon Street in the evenings. And don’t forget a late night stop at Cafe du Monde for your beignets!

4. Gatlinburg


Gatlinburg can be a little cheesy on the strip, but try breakfast at one of the many pancake houses and check out the oddities at Ripley’s Believe It or Not. Then, spend a few days hiking in the Smoky Mountains. You can even rent cabins nearby if you want something other than a typical hotel room.











5. Washington, D.C.

The nation’s capital is a great educational experience, especially if you have kids old enough to understand what they are seeing. Lots of things to do here are free, including the Smithsonian museums. I highly recommend the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, but make sure you are emotionally prepared for it the day you go. I think it’s a must for everyone at least one in their lifetime, but it’s not for the faint of heart. If you want a break from D.C., you could spend a day in nearby Alexandria (Virginia) and check out the historic district for something a little different.


California 2016: Day 12

On Wednesday, we did a whale watching tour. I had never been whale watching so I was excited, because I thought our chances of seeing a whale were good. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any whales, much to our dismay. However, the tour was pretty exciting because we saw lots of other things, including a group of sea otters playing in the water and lots and lots of dolphins. In fact, one group of dolphins was really large and they were all swimming alongside us in the boat. But the highlight of our trip was the great white shark we saw that wasn’t all that far from the beach. It was apparently sleeping at the time so we got a really good look at it. We also learned that the people on the beach weren’t in much danger…according to the expert on the boat, at least. That being said, I’m not sure I would have been swimming in the water near the beach if I knew what was there not too far away from me! So while we were disappointed about not seeing a whale, I figured there will be other whale watching tours in my future, but the chances of seeing a great white shark in real life while on a boat was pretty slim.

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On a side note, a few weeks after we got back, Eric looked up sharks in Santa Cruz just to see if they had seen the shark again and we found out there was a helicopter shooting footage of it from the air, and when we looked a little closer, we noticed that it was filming the day we were on the boat and you could see us on the boat!

See what else we were up to in California…

San Francisco: Days 1 and 2

San Francisco: Day 3

San Francisco: Day 4

San Francisco: Day 5

San Francisco: Day 6

San Francisco: Day 7

Napa Valley: Day 8

Yosemite: Day 9

Santa Cruz: Day 11



California: Day 11 – Santa Cruz

The next day, we checked out of the lodge at Yosemite and headed for our last stop before heading back home: Santa Cruz. We had rented a cute little house in neat little neighborhood that wasn’t too far from the beach.  The property manager talked with me on the phone on the way there and gave me some recommendations on things to do with the kids and where to eat. She also brought over some Meyer lemons from her lemon tree!

Even though Santa Cruz isn’t that much further south than San Francisco, it was surprisingly much warmer, which I really loved. I liked San Francisco, but I have since decided that I couldn’t live there because it was way too windy and cold in June.


The kids and I hanging out at the house










After settling into our new place, we went out to explore. We drove a short distance to Capitola and ate at a little beach bar type place that had a pretty view of the water. We got there in time for happy hour and those things were strong!!


At dinner



















After dinner, we walked down along the water before it got too cold.

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Need Help Planning a Trip?

They say that January through March/April is the busy season for travel agents because the holidays have finally passed and everyone is looking forward to spring break and summer plans. Now is the time do think about what you want to do this spring/summer!

I actually (mistakenly) always thought that it was more expensive to book trips through a travel agent, but the truth is, you just might find a better deal. It’s true that for some of the trips we have planned in the past, we have been looking for a specific type of hotel and we couldn’t get what we wanted through an agent, but in a lot of situations, we actually got a better deal, so it is always a good idea to have them price something out for you. If it’s better, then it’s better, and if it’s the same price, then you’re getting out of having to do all the work and letting her/him do it for you. There is just no reason not to have your agent check pricing for you.

Here’s why.

We really want to go to Greece this summer. We’ve been thinking about it for years and I think we are really going to do it this year, but we were really discouraged by the fact that flights are almost $1500 apiece. That’s almost $6000 in just flights for the four of us and nothing else. When I looked in one of my supplier’s databases, I was able to find flights for the four of us and 3 nights in a hotel room in Athens for right around $3600. Yes, you read that right. $3600. Over $2300 cheaper than doing it outright and by just purchasing flights, we still wouldn’t have any hotels included in it. For $3600, we could get flights for all of us and 3 nights in Athens at a hotel. And this is before my agent discount. This is a deal I could get anyone. Is it the hotel we would have chosen on our own? No. It’s not. But that $2300 savings is the difference between us being able to actually go, even if we have to stay in a hotel that we wouldn’t normally have chosen, and not being able to afford to go at all. I will also add that there is nothing wrong with the hotel we would stay at. We just typically prefer smaller bed and breakfasts or apartments, and this hotel is a chain. But like I said, it is going to be totally worth it to spend 3 nights there if it gets us that kind of savings.

So, please always check with your travel agent to get pricing. You never know what you will find.

Other reasons to use a travel agent, besides the fact that they might get you a better deal:

1. They have access to all kinds of suppliers that are offering different deals that you would know nothing about. Sometimes suppliers offer deals that only agents have access to.


2. They can make sure you are booking a service with a reputable company. There are a lot of scams out there.

3. More than likely, they have a network of other agents to ask specific questions to if they don’t have the answers.

4. If something goes wrong with your trip, she/he might be able to help get things sorted out. The very first trip I booked had a glitch. I got a call early one morning from my client who was in London and had missed their flight to Vienna, which meant they were going to miss their train to Salzburg. I was able to call the supplier to have the hotel notified that they would be arriving late and I was able to get the name of the train station my client needed to go to and the times for train options that evening. I was also able to start their insurance claim.

6. Speaking of insurance, travel agents can get you a great plan…and on any big trip that has non-refundable parts to it (like flights) really should be insured in case you need to cancel for a covered reason. And anytime you leave the country (if you live in the US), you really need insurance because it’s very likely that your primary insurance does not cover you medically when you leave the country.

All this being said, please contact me if you need me to check any prices on anything. It is worth a try, and it costs you nothing to have me check something for you. You can contact me through email at I will also be adding a travel contact page on my blog that will make it easier, but that is the way to contact me for now!


California: San Francisco, Day 7

On Friday, we decided to venture to Muir Woods, which is a little ways across the bridge. However, we had to pick up a rental car to be able to get there, and we were planning to leave the city the following day. It was a good thing we opted to get the car this morning instead of the day we had planned to leave, because it took forever. I’m not sure why, but I wish I had known it was going to take that long, even with a reservation.

Once we finally got our car, we headed to Muir Woods. We had heard that parking was a nightmare and that is totally the truth. We drove around for awhile until we finally found a spot. We got to hike around the woods and see some pretty amazing trees and it was nice and peaceful for most of that walk.


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Next, we opted to stop at Muir Beach. It was definitely too cold to get in the water, but the views were gorgeous. Eric made a cairn and I got some really cute pictures of Felix making his own cairn and Anya joined in to help him with it, too.

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We did some grocery shopping at an organic store that would make all the crunchies here go crazy and then headed back across the bridge. We parked at the hotel and then headed back down to Fisherman’s Wharf. We shopped for a bit andthen had a late dinner at Joe’s Crab Shack. It was a nice way to end our time in San Francisco, but we still had another week of fun ahead of us.

See what else we did while in California:

San Francisco: Days 1 and 2

San Francisco: Day 3

San Francisco: Day 4

San Francisco: Day 5

San Francisco: Day 6

San Francisco: Day 6

This was one of our favorite days of the trip, though it was one I was most concerned about working out. Eric found a bike rental shop near our hotel so we decided to rent bikes and a trailer for the kids and bike across the Golden Gate Bridge, spend the day in Sausalito, and then bike back across the bridge. I guess a lot of people take the ferry back so they don’t have to bike it again, but we opted to just bike both ways. It ended up being a lot of fun.


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It took some time for us all to get fitted for bikes and helmets and to get the trailer hooked up to the bike. I was really nervous about riding with the kids, but we were able to ride on side streets that weren’t busy until we got to the bike trail, though I have to say that it was probably scariest riding with pedestrians across the bridge. There was supposed to be a bike lane and a pedestrian lane but people just didn’t pay attention to it. The kids fell asleep on the way over and were kind of cuddled together…




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Somehow we made it to Sausalito and parked the bikes for a few hours. We walked through a few shops and opted for lunch at a seafood place where we could order at the counter and then eat outside. Of course, we also got ice cream, but at a different ice cream shop. Cookie monster ice cream (blue ice cream with different kinds of cookies in it) was a popular flavor around San Francisco, and Felix is still disappointed that he hasn’t been able to find it here.

When we were finished in Sausalito, we rode back across the bridge and ended up riding through Fisherman’s Wharf. We stopped in a few stores, including the Ghiradelli stores so we could take turns walking in and getting free samples. In fact, Anya went in with her jacket on and then took it off and walked in again, just so she could get another sample. She thought she was so sneaky! We also stopped at Boudin’s and got sourdough bread that was amazing.

Once we turned in the bikes, we found a pizza place open late and got some dinner before heading to bed. We were exhausted!


Check out what else we did on our trip to California:

San Francisco: Days 1 and 2

San Francisco: Day 3

San Francisco: Day 4

San Francisco: Day 5

San Francisco: Day 5

On Wednesday of the first week, we had breakfast in the room and I went for a Starbucks run to get some coffee. Then, we headed for the Golden Gate Park, and more specifically, the Japanese Tea Garden. If you get there before a certain time, it is free. Otherwise, you have to pay to get in. There was another free tour that morning, so we opted to take advantage of it. The tour guide talked a lot about the architecture and what things around the area meant. It was a pleasing place to spend a morning and it had a zen-like quality to it.

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wpid-wp-1472366311306.jpgNext, we explored the rest of the Golden Gate Park, including a nearby playground where we let the kids play for awhile. Afterwards, we headed toward the area where there was supposed to be bison. We were thinking we might see several grazing in the fields, but the only ones we saw were holed up in the barn. It was actually pretty disappointing.






Our next stop was all the way to the other end of the park at Ocean Beach. There were some gorgeous views here but you couldn’t really get in the water because of the riptide and the temperatures were too cool. wpid-wp-1472366311659.jpg

Once we were finished in this area, we decided to go back to the Haight-Ashbury area and visit Loved to Death. This little shop has a lot of macabre things and is on the TV show Oddities. Unfortunately, you aren’t allowed to take any pictures, so I only have one picture of an item they specifically said we could photograph until it was sold to a band who planned to use it in their music video, and at that time, people would no longer be able to photograph it.

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We walked around the area and decided to have a late lunch/early dinner at a place called 1428. They had savory crepes that were pretty amazing. I had a pesto chicken crepe with roasted potatoes and Eric ordered a garden fajita crepe with roasted potatoes. The kids wanted macaroni and cheese, and I have to say it was the best macaroni and cheese I have ever tasted. We stopped at a local coffee shop next and had coffee, hot chocolate, and some goodies. After stopping in to a few shops, we headed back to the room. Later that night, I ran out to pick up Thai food because Eric needed a snack, but we stayed in for the evening.

See what else we did in California:

San Francisco: Days 1 and 2

San Francisco: Day 3

San Francisco: Day 4



California 2016: Day Four (San Francisco)

Tuesday morning, I ran out for a Starbucks run and stopped by a local bakery to pick up some food for breakfast, which we ate in the room before heading to North Beach, which was the site of our next tour. We arrived early so we let the kids play on the playground nearby before catching our tour.

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North Beach is the “Little Italy” of San Francisco. The tour took us through different churches and notable buildings in the area, including many of the quaint little restaurants around.

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Somehow, a little miracle happened and both kids had fallen asleep by the end of the tour and we ended up stopping at a little place called Mario’s for lunch and had a sausage sandwich. It was delicious and tasted even better because we got to eat it in peace!





After lunch, we headed to the market at the Ferry building where we bought these incredibly delicious apricots and nectarines, as well as some other goodies like olive oil herbal blends, caramel, and bread. We wandered around and ended up at a place called Soma that sells creme puffs, and then shopped a bit in China Town.

Afterwards, we visited Lombard Street, which is famous for it’s 8 hair-pin turns up and down a really steep hill. We didn’t drive down it but we got to walk down it and watch the cars slowly make their way down it.


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That evening, we made it an informal night and got burgers at a local joint.

Check out the other jam-packed days we spent in California:

San Francisco: Days 1 and 2

San Francisco: Day 3


California 2016: Day 3 (San Francisco)

The third day of our trip was a Monday and we had decided to do another tour through City Guides. This time, we opted for a tour of Chinatown, because we figured we wouldn’t know much about what we were looking at without a guide. We ate a quick breakfast at the hotel and then took the bus to the meeting spot.

This area of town was much more crowded and very different from the Haight-Ashbury area. During the tour, we even got to go into a Taoist temple and the guide told us a little about how all of that works…very interesting stuff that I didn’t know.

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wpid-wp-1469498200397.jpgOnce the tour ended, we ate lunch at the Hong Kong Clay Pot House. We had honey walnut prawns, a chicken and mushroom clay pot, spring rolls, and tea. It was delicious and the best part was that the kids actually ate the food because they wanted to try to eat with chopsticks. We shopped for a bit and Eric let the kids by play swords, despite my protests.

Next, we headed to the pier to go to Alcatraz. If you ever visit San Francisco, you must include Alcatraz as part of your visit, and you must schedule it beforehand or you won’t get in. I think the sign said that the next available tour was about a month later. Oh, and just in case you were wondering…play swords are not allowed on the ship to Alcatraz, just like I told everyone! Luckily, they held them for us and we picked them up when we got back.

When you visit Alcatraz, you meet at the pier at your scheduled time and you go through minimal security measures to get on the boat, and the boat takes you to the island where you get an audio guide that takes you through the prison. When we were there, there was an exhibit about aging in prison. The visit really makes you think about incarceration in the United States and how messed up some of the sentencing is just because of the way some of the laws are written. There are definite needs for reform. When you’re done on the island, you catch another boat back…simple as that!












When we got back, we walked down by the water to Fisherman’s Wharf and saw the sea lions, but there weren’t that many at the time. Ghiradelli Square was our next stop and we decided to ride the streetcar on the way. Did you know they give you a free sample when you walk in? Definitely check it out if you ever go. We had ice cream, hot chocolate, and amazing coffee while there. We walked around a bit as well and found some paintings to purchase. We like to buy paintings of the places we visit and hang them around our home.

We got back to the hotel later than we intended but we covered a lot of ground that day. We had dinner at an Italian restaurant named Delarosa that got great reviews and then crashed for the evening at the hotel.

See what else we did on our trip….

San Francisco: Days 1 and 2

Vacation Review

Looking back at the list of all the things I wanted to do while on vacation, I think I was able to hit them all.

1. Have my morning coffee on the balcony. Not only did I drink my coffee on the balcony each morning, but we ate every single breakfast out there. In fact, we only ate two meals inside the entire time we were there, and both of those meals were at restaurants and the weather was not so great.

2. Watch the sunset on the beach. This was a little difficult to time with dinner and the kids. However, we ended up going on a sunset dolphin cruise and got to see the sunset from the boat. I know this technically wasn’t the beach, but I think it was better!

3. Read a book while sunbathing on the beach. I definitely did this several times, though not for as long at a time as I would have liked, but I guess that’s how it goes when you have kids.

4. Do yoga either on the beach or on the balcony of our condo. This was the one I thought wouldn’t happen, but the day before we left, I actually got my butt out of bed and took a beach towel onto the balcony and did some yoga. It wasn’t a great workout, but I did some more restorative poses and it was a nice way to start the day.

5. Eat at a seafood restaurant. We actually ate at two seafood restaurants and made a seafood meal out of fresh shrimp we bought at a local market.

6. Build a sand castle with Anya. We started out building a sand castle together, but Anya’s attention span is much shorter than mine, so she kind of came back and forth between the sand castle and other “projects.”

7. Go for a walk on the beach. I went for a short walk on my own and we took an evening stroll on the beach while eating homemade milkshakes one night. We saw lots of crabs that night, too.

8. Enjoy at least one alcoholic beverage. I had several but was always able to time them so that I could still nurse Felix.

9. Look for seashells with Anya. I’m not sure there are any seashells left on that beach after how many seashells we brought home.

10. Have a picnic on the beach with the kids. We ate turkey sandwiches on the beach one day. It was kind of a mess so we ended up eating in the condo or on the picnic tables by the pool the other days.

11. Help Anya bury Daddy in the sand. We did this early on and Anya had a good time. We also caught her dumping a handful of sand in Felix’s car seat with him in it, while on the beach. She also “sanded herself up.” The only person who didn’t get “sanded up” was me:)

All in all, Okaloosa Island/Fort Walton Beach in September was perfect timing. It was quiet and nowhere near full. The weather was also perfect because it wasn’t too hot or too cold, and the water temperature was exactly what we hoped it would be. We also had an awesome condo that we got for a good price because it was off-season. If you are looking for a quick and easy beach vacation, this was a good one! Look for more posts about it in the future!


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