Explore. Imagine. Love.

Purposeful parenting amid a world of sugar, screens and schedules.


Family from Small-ish Hippie Town Visits Swanky Hotel in Larger City

We live in a sort of hippie, outdoorsy college town of about 65,000 people.  People bike everywhere and there are bike lanes everywhere for them.  Breastfeeding, baby wearing and home births are normal.  Chacos are worn with any outfit, even when dressing for a wedding or job interview.  In order to be super cool here you need to drive a subaru and own a dog…and take that dog to the local ice cream shop downtown for a doggie ice cream cone…and be loyal to that ice cream shop and no other ice cream shop even if you have to wait in line for an hour.  There is an ordinance that buildings and signs have to be under a certain height in order to preserve the natural beauty and mountain scenery.  We have one of the largest numbers of nonprofits per capita because people are so passionate about causes.  People love buying local and taking part in local events.  This is my town.  hehe  And although I don’t own a subaru or a pair of chacos and I don’t love dogs or biking…this is where I am comfortable.

Now switch gears to me visiting, well, just about any big city at all, and I am suddenly completely out of my comfort zone.  People really care about their clothes and their vehicles and purses and shoes…?  Everyone has a smart phone and they are on them all the time.  There are a lot of people…everywhere…and it’s exhausting.  Finding a parking spot is like a sport- you have to stalk people and stop traffic with your blinker on and claim your territory.  And it takes at least 30 minutes to get anywhere.  Am I right?  😉

My husband needed to travel to a bigger city in another state to attend a work conference.  The city is actually not as big or as different as I described above, but it is still a bigger city than I am used to.  Since he was going to be gone for five days, we decided to go with him.  The hotel and gas were paid for, after all, why not jump at the chance for a practically free vacation?  I looked up all these fun things I could do for cheap with the kids while we were there and we all had a really good time.  But I just have to tell you about this hotel.  It is known for it’s swankiness and the cheapest rooms run normally around $180 per night (they gave everyone attending the conference a discount so it actually didn’t cost any more than any other hotel in the area…but either way, we didn’t have to pay for it!)

Family from Small-ish Hippie Town Visits Swanky Hotel in Larger City

So I’m super pregnant, right?  I mean, I’m about 7 months pregnant but look more like 8 or 9 because it’s my third kid and I’m pretty sure this boy is going to be huge.  (I hope that I am wrong about that!)  Because of this, there is no way I’m roadtripping in normal clothes.  Loose gym shorts, tank top, and sports bra.  My kids also have comfortable travelling clothes, plus they’ve been sleeping, sweating, and eating snacks…like trailmix with chocolate chips.  So their hair is messy and they have chocolate faces.  We pull up to the hotel and they have valet.  Seriously?  Valet?  Isn’t that something they just do in the movies? 😉  Of course we want to avoid paying for something like that but we also have a ton of stuff to unload so we pull in and ask what to do.  They say we can park there long enough to get our stuff out and then we need to go to the parking garage across the street (for $15 per night, by the way…so much for a free trip!)  I ask if there is a cart we can grab since we have a lot of stuff (five days with two kids…we have bags of food, a cooler, toys, luggage, a pack’n’play…) so they send a bellhop over to help us.  My husband takes the van across the street and I follow the guy and our cart of luggage up to our room on the 11th floor.  But first we have to go past a swanky restaurant, a little cafe, the hotel lobby, and a lot of beautifully dressed people.  I am holding Big Sis’s hand and she is holding Little Sis’s hand and Little Sis is carrying a baby doll.  As I look at my adorable, messy children, my huge belly sticking out under an old gray tanktop and black sports bra, and the little train we have formed as we walk through this fancy pants hotel, I can’t keep the huge grin off of my face.  Between my smile and the cute kids, the people we walk past can’t help but smiling back.

When we get to our room the anxiety of having someone help me with my luggage sets in.  Am I supposed to tip him?  How much?  Do I have any cash?  Before I can figure out what to do, he has unloaded everything and is on his way.  Oh well.  haha


Then as I’m organizing all of our stuff I realize that there isn’t a fridge or a microwave!  What?  I’ve never stayed in a hotel that didn’t have those things that I can remember.  We always have a cooler full of food and I always look forward to having a microwave because we don’t have one at home (by choice) so it’s a treat for us to have microwave popcorn and easy mac!  hehe  I actually brought some with us.  But no microwave.  Luckily I had just had this conversation with a friend earlier that day.  He had said that some hotels will bring you a fridge.  I was skeptical that a nice hotel wouldn’t have fridges in the rooms, but he was right.  And he was right about them bringing us a fridge too…for $7 a night plus tax.  Not what I’d like to spend my money on, especially since this hotel was supposed to be free and parking is already going to be super expensive.  But it’s better than letting our food go to waste.  Especially since it costs $11.50 to get some juice, two pastries, and a coffee here.  Come on, where’s the free continental breakfast?  😉  Also, the water bottles they leave on the table have a little sign that says they are $2 each.  And there are very few channels on the tv- you have to pay a ton of money to watch most things.  Does it really make sense for a hotel to be so expensive but offer way less than a cheaper hotel?  I’d much rather be staying at a Best Western or something!


I say all this though because I think it’s fun to share our experience and I find humor in my family staying at such a place, not because I want to complain.  Amazingly comfortable beds, a fun view from the 11th floor, and a fantastic location.  We were downtown and could walk to a lot of the cool places I wanted to take the kids.  It was SO fun to get out of town and the girls were thrilled to stay at a hotel- they did great too with sleeping and nap time and not being rowdy.  It was a really fun trip.  We visited a lot of fun places- they had a great children’s museum a few blocks from our hotel.  That and swimming at the hotel were probably the girls’ favorite parts.


It never stopped making me laugh to walk through the lobby with my silly kids while all these fancy adults were there to eat at the fancy restaurant.  We didn’t see any other kids there until the last day- we happened to be in the lobby when another family showed up in their normal clothes carrying their pack’n’play and a cooler- and I recognized the expression on their faces as they walked through the swanky lobby. I think that although we felt a little out of place, we were a welcome site.  We got smiles wherever we went.  A lot of people we came across were men on business trips and some of them would tell us that our girls made them miss their kids back home and that it was hard to be away from them for more than a day or so.  And I bet the housekeepers get a kick out of cleaning our room.  Toys, cereal boxes, a sheet to divide the room for naptime, and we’ve decorated the tv with photos from Chuck E. Cheese.


I hope you enjoyed my random ramblings about our trip.  Thanks for reading!



Camping In the Rain

I hope you all had a fantastic father’s day.  This year we went camping with some friends who have decided to start a father’s day camping trip tradition.  It was our first camping trip of the year and we were all super excited, despite the fact that the weather forecast predicted quite a bit of rain.  We brought lots of tarps and lowered our expectations for sunshine and swimming.



We had a great time with our friends…exploring nature, sitting around the campfire, playing board games under the tarp, throwing rocks in the lake, and making delicious campfire food.


I have to say though, despite how easy I might have made camping with small children sound in some of my previous posts, this was not an easy camping trip!   It was still super fun and I’d do it again, but it was not easy.

I should have packed twice as many clothes as I did.  Big Sis didn’t make it to the potty on time TWICE, which I just did not anticipate…she has not had an accident in a long time.  Then with getting wet in the lake and getting sticky with marshmallows and getting muddy just by falling or sitting or playing around the campfire, we really did not have enough clothes for them, so I found myself saying “no” a lot more than I would have liked in order to keep they warm and dry.  Shoes were a problem too.  Even though I had the tennis-shoes next to the door at home, they never made it into the van so we only had our keens.  Keens are fantastic but when they got wet, which was inevitable on this trip, they stayed wet for a long time.  The girls didn’t seem to mind, but I worried about their cold, wet feet.  Next time…pack twice as many clothes as I think I’ll need and remember multiple shoes!



I’ve mentioned before that Little Sis is very strong willed.  This was our first camping trip with her as a sort of “big kid.”  Last summer she was mostly crawling, just starting to walk, and she was pretty easy to manage.  But this year it was challenging to balance trying to give her some freedom to wander around and explore, but stay within our limits.  We were constantly having to take off after her as she ran somewhere she wasn’t supposed to go, after we had just asked her to come back.  By the end of the camping trip she was starting to listen more often, sometimes without us even having to tell her to.  She would reach the “getting too far, please come back” point and look up to see if we were watching her and then casually bend down to pick up something and would head back toward us.  It was a lot of work and I can see how some parents might choose not to go to the trouble of dealing with it and just not go camping because it’s too hard (I admit that it’s tempting!) but the challenge is definitely worth it to me.  I remind myself that I want my kids to experience camping and I want them to learn to listen, even when it’s so fun for them not to!  I think the more we do it, the easier it will get.


I am getting pretty pregnant.  At this stage of pregnancy with my first, I was still tiny and “cute pregnant.”  But with my third, I feel like a giant and am not surprised at all when people ask me if I’m due soon.  Camping while pregnant is not a big deal at all until the night comes.  Sleeping is always the worst part of pregnancy for me.  It actually wasn’t too bad the first night we were there.  I was thirsty because I didn’t want to have to get up in the cold night to go to the bathroom, haha, but it wasn’t too bad.  The second night though my body decided to start having symptoms that I haven’t had yet this pregnancy, so that made the night pretty rough.  Heart burn, leg cramps, and some difficulty breathing while laying down (not sure about that last part…maybe because of sleeping on an air mattress…maybe because of the cold damp air?).  But it was worth it to me.  Snow can be fun, fall and spring are lovely, but summer…camping/hiking/swimming season…is my favorite of all.  And, you know, day trips are awesome, but I just love sleeping in a tent.  When I was in college I rented a house with some friends and they all left for the summer so I was there alone.  I didn’t want to go camping by myself so I set up my tent in the backyard and I camped out there rain or shine for at least a month!  I loved it.  Of course I caused a tent-shaped brown spot in my yard.  Whoops.  Anyway, pregnancy can make camping rough, but my love of sleeping in tents, especially now, snuggled up with two beautiful girls and my sweet husband, is too deep to give in and not go!  We are going camping again in a couple weeks and I’m going to try to remember to drink more water during the day, bring something for the heart burn, and do plenty of yoga  🙂  It really helps me to sleep.


I’m so glad we got to camp and had such a great time with our friends despite the challenges of rain, lack of warm dry clothes and shoes, a crazy disobedient toddler, and pregnancy challenges 🙂  I am looking forward to going again in a few weeks.  Hopefully it will be warmer.  I think that will make a big difference.

Do you have any Father’s Day traditions?  Have you gone camping yet this year?  How did it go?

Thanks for reading!

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Flying With Small Children

Tips for Flying With Small Children

Our six month old looking out the window of a plane.

As part of my Traveling With Small Children series, here are my tips/thoughts on flying with little ones.  I debated whether or not to include it because once our oldest daughter turned two and we would need to pay for a seat for her, we stopped flying and started driving everywhere.  So we haven’t flown in a while.  But I learned a lot during the times that we did fly and decided to go ahead and include this post.

FREE LAP CHILD.  Children can sit in an adult’s lap for free until they turn 2, when they are required to have their own seat.  If you have a really squirmy toddler, you might hate yourself for being cheap and choosing to do this 😉  But if you’re like us, it’s the only way you can afford to fly!

DIRECT FLIGHTS.  We found that flying with our small child would get more difficult the more planes we had to be on.  Because we live in a small town, our favorite option was to fly Alegiant (allegiantair.com) because it was a cheap airline that flew out of our town and got us closest to our destination without having to change flights.  Sometimes that means having family pick us up a couple hours away, but driving a couple extra hours is easier than having to switch planes.  Kids can scream, sleep, play loudly, or be entertained in the car without bothering other passengers, which was a huge stress relief for us.  So we were able to get really close really quickly with one flight and drive the rest of the way.   Not as ideal as one direct flight to our exact destination but better than switching planes a bunch.

LONGER LAYOVERS ARE YOUR FRIEND.  During the few times that it was not cheaper to fly Alegiant and we had to go on two or three different planes, we discovered that it was a little easier to have some time to move around rather than to jump right onto another plane.  It gives the kids a chance to run around, be a bit more loud, watch airplanes out the window, talk to other kids, etc….stuff kids need to do but can’t do on an airplane without frustrating everyone around them.

BABY CARRIERS ROCK.  I’ve raved about our Ergo baby carrier before.  This is one of those times where some sort of baby carrier can come in super handy.  It’s nice because it takes up next to no space- just roll it up and throw it in a bag or even keep it on your back like a backpack or if you have a sling you can keep it over your shoulder.  You never know when it might come in handy.  Especially with really small children.

Flying With Small Children

Our daughter asleep in the Ergo baby carrier as we wait to board our plane.

USE YOUR STROLLER AND CHECK IT FOR FREE AT THE GATE.  Even if our daughter did not want to ride in the stroller, it functioned fantastically as a bag carrier!!  When you are traveling with kids you need more stuff and it’s not fun to lug it all around.  The stroller was incredibly handy for this.  You simply use the stroller right up until you get on the plane, and you fold your stroller up and leave it with all the other strollers (wheel chairs, etc.)  Make sure to get a tag for it from an employee at the gate before you line up to board the plane.

CARSEATS CHECK FOR FREE.  If you are paying for a seat for your child, you will probably want to bring the carseat onto the plane so your child can sit in it.  But if you have a free lapchild, you can check your carseat with your bags for free.  That way you can have your own carseat when you get to your destination.

NURSE DURING TAKE-OFF AND LANDING.  I have heard that in order to help little ones deal with the pressure in their ears during take off and landing, you should nurse them or encourage them to suck on something like a pacifier.  This has worked super well for us.

Tips for Flying with Small Children

Tiny baby! We went to my brother in law’s wedding when our daughter was two months old. We were nervous to fly with her but it turned out to be the easiest time to do it. Not very squirmy yet and slept a lot of the time!

FOOD.  Baby food, bottles, stuff like that can all go through security as long as it’s well labeled even though it’s a liquid- read up on the requirements for this so you’re not surprised. And don’t forget snacks…for your kids and yourself too!  I sometimes forget that it’s ok to bring food.  Airport food is expensive.  Bring sandwiches, crackers, granola bars, muffins, etc.  (Anything not liquid!)  Also bring empty water bottles and sippy cups and fill them at the drinking fountain.

THINGS TO DO ON A PLANE.  Of course you don’t want to have a million toys to keep track of or carry around with you.  So choose wisely.  What do your kids love?  What will keep them occupied for the longest period of time?  For us it was books, a magnadoodle, a baby doll and the ipod.  We downloaded toddler games on the ipod like with farm animals and drawing.  And we also bought a few shows off of itunes.  Elmo and Blues Clues…her favorite at the time.

Tips for Flying with Small Children

Our oldest daughter just LOVED books. And her baby. Here she is reading a book to her baby. We were at the airport and she also was enjoying climbing in and out of her stroller.

Tips for Flying with Small Children

Here my daughter is sitting on her daddy’s lap watching a show on the ipod. My husband fashioned an old beanie hat with some old headphones inside of them to make it easy for her to wear them and hear it.

How about YOU, do you have any good tips for flying with kids on planes?  I haven’t flown with multiple children or children over the age of two.  Let me know what kinds of things you do to make traveling easier with your family.

Thanks for reading!  Happy traveling 🙂


TIPS FROM READERS!  I asked and you delivered.  Here are some tips from other moms who travel often:

The CARES harness. You can use it to turn an airplane seatbelt into a harness. It’s great for when you’re going places where you are going to have a car seat provided and don’t want to bring yours along. 

Security check points generally have a special line for people traveling with children. They’re almost always shorter than the general security line.

Small regional jets and discount airline planes frequently do not have changing tables in their bathrooms. Something to be aware of when traveling with infants.

On most airlines, you can get water for free from the flight attendants that you can use if you need to mix formula while on a plane. It’s a much better deal than buying water in the terminal, and easier than getting it through security. Check to see what’s complimentary on your airline before your trip.

Wear your baby/toddler through security! TSA will not make you take your child out of a carrier. You will be flagged through a metal detector, and then will have your hands swabbed. This also has the upside of getting you out of having to go through the full body scanner.  

Bring some snacks that they don’t get often, and emergency suckers.  Suckers can help with the ear pressure during take off/landing.


Camping With Small Children

As part of my Traveling With Small Children series, I am going to talk about camping with little ones.

camping with small children

When we had our first born, I was hesitant to take her camping as a newborn.  I was worried about a crying baby waking up everyone else in the campground, and I felt like I needed to figure out the whole mom thing first.  Understandable concerns.  I had a late June baby.  If I had had a spring baby I’m sure I would have felt like I had things figured out enough to go, but with a June baby there wasn’t much time.  I’d barely figured out breast feeding by the time camping season was over.

But my second child was a different story.  My first day with Little Sis was totally different than the first month with Big Sis.  I already felt like an old pro.  I think Big Sis’s first camping trip was her second summer, when she was turning one.  Little Sis’s first camping trip was when she was three weeks old.

Camping at Three Weeks Old

Little Sis napping on the picnic table on her first camping trip (don’t worry- someone was sitting there with her!) 😉

No matter what the age of your child(ren), it is going to be trickier than camping without kids.  And it’s different every time.  Even if we went all the time last summer, this summer is going to be different.  A toddler brings different challenges than a baby.  It is a constant learning experience.  But I do think it gets easier and easier the more you go.

I thought I’d share some things that we’ve learned over the years.  Here’s my Camping With Small Children TIPS:

  • Make sure everyone is warm.  It might be summer, but you’ll need to dig out some coats and hats and bring plenty of warm blankets for when the sun goes down.
    • For babies, I make sure to bring a little hat, some warm pajamas that cover their feet, some socks, a nice warm blanket good for swaddling.  If they are swaddled, they’ll probably sleep better anyway, but they’re also sure to stay warm and you don’t have to worry about a loose blanket creeping up over their face…and mom can rest easy.
    • For toddlers, I bring a hat, warm pajamas that cover their feet, socks too, their special blankie, and a sweatshirt (my toddlers don’t keep blankets on so usually need socks and sweatshirt for sleeping.)  I worry the most about my toddlers staying warm, but at least they are old enough to move or snuggle up to me if they get cold.
    • For preschoolers, I bring warm sweat pants, a long sleeve t-shirt for sleeping in, plenty of socks, a zip up sweatshirt with a hood for when they get up in the morning…don’t usually sleep in it but good to have just in case they need to, and warm blankets.
Good morning!

This was a chilly morning. I nursed Little Sis and hung out with Big Sis, drinking juice boxes in the tent while Daddy and our friends made breakfast on the campfire.

  • Have a plan for bedtime
    • My family sleeps all together snuggled under the same blankets.  We all sleep on a big air mattress that takes up pretty much all the space in our tent.  If there is a nursing baby, the baby sleeps right next to me and the older kids sleep on Dad’s side.  If the baby wakes up, I am right there to nurse and I don’t think we’ve ever woken anyone else up.  It goes pretty smoothly.  And if our older kids wake up with a bad dream or something, being right there to comfort them makes that go pretty smoothly too.  The only thing that really disrupts sleep is when someone needs to go potty.


    • Sometimes we’ll stay up by the campfire with friends and snuggle the kids, nurse the baby to sleep.  But we’ve discovered that there isn’t much point in trying to get a toddler to go to sleep in a tent when the adults are still up talking, so usually we all go to bed at the same time.  Bed time when we do it this way usually goes pretty smoothly.  Toddlers are the hardest, they like to climb around the tent…on everyone of course 🙂  It’s hard sometimes to get them to lay still and go to sleep.  But swaddled babies are a piece of cake and my preschooler is easy too.
  • Understand that some sacrifices might have to be made.  
    • For example, we always used to stay up late around the campfire and now that doesn’t always happen.
    • We might not be able to do a longer hike.
Super Dad

Hiking three weeks postpartum…I was not able to carry the baby the whole way. In fact, I was lucky I made it all the way to the falls and then all the way back to the car myself. So Jason ended up carrying both girls- baby on the front and toddler on the back- more than half the way.

    • We might have to plan an activity around nap time.
    • But this is not a surprise…that’s how parenting is!
  • Nap time can be tough.  
    • If we’re hiking, our kids will sleep in the baby carrier.

Little Sis on a hike last summer.

    • If we are driving, our kids will sleep in the car.
    • Otherwise, we attempt laying them down in the tent and see how that goes.  On a camping trip last summer we put our one year old in the tent and told her it was bedtime.  She crawled around and yelled a bit but was really tired and ended up laying down for a nap.  I was a little surprised how well it worked.  If that doesn’t work, sometimes it works to go in and lay down and take a nap with them.
Sleeping camping baby

I took this through the tent window screen so it’s a little dark, but oh man, I love it.  Little Sis last summer.

  • Having small children does not need to stop you from camping, and neither does PREGNANCY.  I’ve heard a lot of people say that they are afraid to tent camp so they consider spending WAY more money renting a cabin or forgo their family camping adventures all together.  Just get a good air mattress.  And if you had a rough night, sleep in while Dad gets breakfast for the kids.  Can’t hike too far?  That’s ok, just go on short walks and hang out by a lake.

Big Sis and I when I was (very) pregnant with Little Sis.

  • Some things we like to bring:
    • The obvious things: tent, sleeping bags, camping food, etc.
    • Extra blankets and an air mattress.  Before we had kids we liked to rough it.  Now it’s really important to stay warm and comfortable if we want a good night’s sleep.
    • Extra tarp or an outdoor blanket for kids to play on/picnic on, lay on.  They don’t usually stay on it, but it’s nice to have.  And I do try harder to keep them on it if they are in the stage of putting everything they touch into their mouths.

Big Sis and Little Sis hanging out on a tarp while we load the van on a camping road trip last summer.

    • Bumbo and tray- this is such a great thing for camping.  If they are just learning to sit, they like to be able to sit in it and see what’s going on while you’re making dinner or whatever and can’t hold them.  If they are older it’s a great way to keep them still when you don’t want them crawling into the fire or eating dirt.  But mostly I like it because ours has a tray and it works as a great on-the-go high chair.
    • Giant umbrella.  We just love this thing.  If there ever isn’t enough shade, this is a life saver.  We don’t want the kids over heating, especially the tiny ones.


    • On that note, don’t forget hats, sunscreen and lots of water to drink!
    • Ergo baby carrier.  I think Ergos are just fantastic anyway, but they are so handy when you want to hold a baby and still have your hand free to do other things.  Plus when they are really little, this is the best way to take them hiking.
    • Kelty or some other hiking carrier.  I like kelty’s for the older kids.  When they are big enough to sit up really well, a Kelty is great because it rides high on your back so the child can see everything as you walk and it’s far enough away from your body so that you don’t end up with a giant soaking wet spot on your shirt and a sweaty baby.
    • Some toys and books.  Not a lot but just a few they can really enjoy.  My preschooler will sometimes go sit in the tent with the door open and read books and play.  But I mostly, encourage them to play in the dirt and with sticks and stuff 😉
    • Camping chairs.  My kids just love sitting in their own little chairs.

Big Sis on her first camping trip.

    • Pack’n’play?  We don’t ever bring this, but I can definitely see how it would be helpful.  Sometimes when I’m gardening and I have a baby who has just started crawling and puts everything in her mouth I’ll set up the pack’n’play for them to play in so I can get things done while they play.  But when we’re camping, we’re usually  just all hanging out and can hold them and watch them and keep them from choking on rocks.
    • Healthy snacks.  Check out my eating on road trips/camping post.
    • Swimming stuff.  We love to camp by creeks and lakes so we can play in the water.  If you are going to just be playing in a creek, swimsuits, towels, hats and sunscreen are probably all you need.  But if you are going to be at a lake, I find that a baby floaty toy is pretty important.  Something that the baby can sit in is so helpful.  And life jackets that fit your kids properly if you plan on being in any boats.


    • Don’t forget baby bowls, silverware, snack cups, sippy cups, etc…anything you will need for the meals you have planned.
    • If your baby is used to listening to music when she sleeps, it might be good to put her favorite music on your phone or ipod or put new batteries in your cd player and turn it on at nap time to help them sleep.  I don’t know that we’ve done this camping but we do it a lot when we lay our babies down for naps at other people’s houses.

I am SO EXCITED for this summer.  I can’t wait to camp with my family.  If you are hesitant to take your kids camping for the first time and have specific questions, feel free to ask.  I’m not expert but I sure love to camp and would love to help.  And if I don’t have experience with your particular question, maybe somebody else who is reading this blog has some good advice!



*Update* Read about our first (rainy) camping trip of the year here.

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Family Vacations on a Tight Budget

As a part of my Traveling With Small Children Series, I am going to talk about saving money while on a trip.  You might think that between hotels, food and attractions, it is so expensive that you might as well not even try to go on a family vacation.  It’s not true!  You might need to re-think the idea you have of a vacation, but you can have a great time with your family for not a whole lot of money.  These are some things that we do to make this happen:

  • Stay close to home.  You don’t have to go to Europe or DisneyWorld to have an awesome vacation.  There are probably some really fun places within 3-10 hours of where you live!
    • If you live in a smaller town, even a city that’s just a little bit larger can provide fun things that you don’t have…amusement parks, water parks, zoos, aquariums, science centers, museums, theaters with awesome plays or concerts, historical landmarks, professional sports, great restaurants, neat stores, etc.
    • Beautiful lakes, mountains, national parks and awesome places to camp are most likely within a day’s drive of where you live.  Go explore!  (I will write more about this further down in my camping section and I also plan to do a post specifically on tips for camping with small children)


  • Save Money on Food by bringing your own!  I love trying new food while I travel…and I know from experience that it is a very easy way to quickly break the bank.
    • One of the easiest ways to  save money while you are traveling is to cook your own dinners, pack sandwich fixin’s in your cooler, and to snack on fruit and veggies and  homemade cookies, muffins, granola bars, etc.  that you made before the trip.
    • Drink water 🙂
    • If you can, I like to budget for a designated number of restaurant meals and some ice cream stops and plan to eat frugally the rest of the time.  That way we don’t feel completely deprived and end up giving up on our goals and over- spending.
  • Save Money on Accommodations by…
    • CAMPING.  Camping does not have to be just for rugged, outdoor vacations.  You can camp anywhere.  Most state camp grounds have showers and so do national parks and KOA’s.  KOA’s are everywhere and although they are pricey as far as camping goes, they are much cheaper than hotels and how I grew up doing almost all of our family vacations.  A lot of them even have other fun things during tourist season like campfire cookouts, petting zoos, swimming pools, pancake breakfasts.  Every KOA is different so get on their website and see what is available in the spot you are thinking about going to.


    • STAYING AT TRUCK STOPS AND WALMARTS.  Ok, you have to be totally committed to being frugal to go this route.  It’s probably not so bad if you have an rv or camping trailer.  But we did it just with our van and I think most people (including me) would think that we are a little nuts.
      • PROS:  Truck stops and WalMarts allow over night parking and have security so it is safe.  It is completely FREE.  Sleeping in your vehicle is a great way to save money and can actually be quite comfortable.  My husband practiced packing everything in the front two seats of our van and strapping things to the ceiling before we left to make sure everything would fit.  We laid our preschooler down on the back seat, which we moved up against the front seats, and our toddler slept on the back floor with us on a memory foam mat.  We had sheets up in the windows so that people couldn’t see in.  Truck stops have nice bathrooms, coffee, gas, and fully expect travelers to come in with bed head to brush their teeth 🙂
      • CONS:  Although the light helps with the safety aspect, I find it very hard to sleep with so much light streaming through our windows.  So I bought one of those things that go on your eyes to keep light out.  Another thing is the noise- truckers coming and going, security cars driving around…and with my mommy senses I am always ready to bolt upright and defend my babies against someone trying to break into our car.  haha  I do NOT sleep well when we do this so we limit it to a few times each trip when there aren’t any decent campgrounds around.  But I think I would like it a lot better if we had a camper trailer or something.  Great way to save money if you have one.
    • STAYING WITH FRIENDS.  This is a no-brainer.  If you know someone who lives where you are going or on the way to where you are going, you can visit them and save money.  Win-win!
  • Save Money on Activities.  Disneyland, SeaWorld, etc…they are great fun but not for people with a super tight budget.  But just because you can’t afford popular tourist attractions doesn’t mean that you can’t go on vacation!
    • Find FREE things to do.
      • Find cool places to hike or walk to in nature.
      • Hang out at a lake or tidepools or a beach or a river.  One of the most fun things to do on a vacation, I think, and it’s free!


      • Research where a good place to see wildlife is.  There are some beaches, for example, where you will almost definitely see seals.  Then you can skip on spending money to go see, for example, the sea lion caves (which I think are over priced!)


      • Find a cool park.  Balboa Park in San Diego, for example, is huge and you can spend a lot of time just walking and enjoying the scenery.  Smaller, cool parks can be a lot of fun for the kids.  Especially if you’ve been driving a lot or doing a lot of tours and stuff- they need time to play!

This is a park we found in Eureka, CA. I thought this was such a fun town, really close to the Redwoods. This park had a great area for nature walks and even had a slide built into a tree.

      • Walk around downtown or at a neat mall or at a farmer’s market.
      • Do your research and find out what is going on at the time you will be there- free concerts, free museum days, etc.
      • Tour something…like a cheese factory (and you even get to sample some free cheese!)


      • Geocache!  Does your phone have a gps?  If not, maybe a friend has one you can borrow.  Get on geocaching.com, type in an area or zip code, and go on fun, FREE little treasure hunts with you family.
    • Find CHEAP things to do
      • As you are wandering, you might come across something that looks fun.  If it is affordable, do it!  We found a beautiful mini golf course on a nice day and hardly anyone was there.  It provided the whole family about an hour and a half of great fun.


      • Do your research- are there places that are normally too expensive but on certain days of the month are half off, free for kids under a certain age, offer AAA or military discounts or discounts for students?  What kinds of things are available where you are going?  If you sit in the cheap section of the baseball stadium, can you afford to go see a game?  Can’t afford a whale watching tour, but are there good whale watching points on land you can look for whales from?…bring some binoculars!
      • Can’t afford Sea World, but can afford a small aquarium?  Going on a long road trip through multiple cities and can’t afford the big zoo, but can afford the little zoo?  We were traveling all the way down the west coast one time and knew the San Diego zoo would be too expensive, but the Portland zoo was absolutely beautiful and so affordable.


      • Stores are free, but I will put them in the “cheap” section because you will most likely buy something.  Try to find some really cool stores where you are going.  For example, Powell’s in Portland is the most amazing book store you will ever visit…you can easily spend half a day there.  You can come out of there with a big bag of great used books for a really decent price.
  • Save Money By PLANNING and BUDGETING
    • I like to not have every moment of every day planned out.  I like to find fun things to do as we are out and about and have the flexibility to do those things.  But it is still a good idea to do a lot of planning before you go.  I like to make lists of all the free/cheap things I can find to do and have a tentative idea of what we’re going to do or not plan anything but refer to that list when we have some down time.  If you ONLY do the things you come across, you could miss out on some really fun things or end up doing things that cost more money than you had planned to spend.
    • Stick to your budget.  A certain amount of money allotted for groceries, for gas, for eating out, for attractions, etc.  Dave Ramsey’s cash system is great, but I understand not wanting to take a lot of cash on a trip.  So have some sort of fantastic way of keeping track of it all and stick to it.  If you run out of restaurant money, that’s it.  Stop eating out!  You should probably have a decent emergency savings account just in case, though.  You never know what might go wrong!

THANKS FOR READING.  Come back next week for a post about camping with small children!

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Eating On Road Trips- What We do to Keep Things Healthy and Inexpensive

Roadtrips!  Oh how we  love road trips.  As part of my Traveling with Small Children Series, I am going to be talking about eating healthy/cheap while on the road.  It’s something we really have to think about and plan for, especially for a longer trip.  Eating out gets expensive and often is not very good for you.  Not only are most restaurant foods packed with fat and carbs and are low on veggies…but there’s also sugar in everything.  We took a trip recently and ate out pretty much every day- it is part of the fun of being in San Diego- lots of good food we don’t have in our small town.  But I came home craving veggies.

FOOD TO PACK-  A lot of good snacks are essential.  My kids tend to get bored and want to eat.  I might not encourage that normally but I understand how it is on road trips where you drive all. day. long. and don’t mind letting them eat as long as it’s not just a bunch of junk.  I do allow them to pick something fun from the gas station at some point along the way (they always get M&M’s) but mostly I pack my car with healthy-ish things.  This time I did…

    • Drinks: milk, almond milk, water, some juice boxes for fun
    • Snacks: granola bars (home made is healthier!), veggie straws, grapes, bananas, oranges, pineapple, carrots &peas &ranch, corn chex, string cheese (I usually make something like almond butter cookies or banana oat muffins but didn’t this time.)
    • Breakfast: For this road trip we stayed in a hotel that had continental breakfast but normally I would bring yogurt (plain because any kind of flavored yogurt has a lot of sugar) and eat that with fruit.  I make healthy muffins to bring along.  I particularly like these banana oat muffins and these buckwheat muffins because they are tasty but also not very sweet (so a lot of people who are used to sugar in everything might not like them!)  I also bring bowls and spoons and we do cereal.  If we are camping and not in a hurry we might do eggs or something.

Breakfast…camping in the Redwoods

    • Lunch: ham, salami, cheese, bread, peanut butter, jelly (mixed with some snack food like the veggies and ranch or fruit)  My kids also still really like baby food so I get those baby food packets that they suck on and there’s very little mess.  They love it.  Often times I will also make tuna or chicken salad (I really love curry chicken salad similar to this) and eat that as a sandwich or with crackers.  We get those multigrain Food Should Taste Good cracker/chips from Costco.
    • Dinner: On a short road trip we don’t bother spending money on food for dinners usually because we’ve learned that we tend not to want to eat what we’ve brought.  We want to get out and stretch our legs and eat at a restaurant of some sort.  Especially if we are trying to cover a lot of ground.  If we have more time we might stop at a park or rest stop and bring a little travel bbq grill and cook up some hot dogs or something.  When we are camping or if we are trying to save money on a longer trip, we do a lot of campfire cooking.

Tinfoil packets on our mini travel bbq grill.  You can use that thing anywhere!  At a rest stop….truck stop…or on the beach (which is what we are doing in this photo.)

EATING OUT– Eating out is difficult to do healthy.  I think if you’re eating out you are more likely doing it because of the experience of eating awesome food than trying to be healthy.  But here’s some tips just in case:

    • Salads. Wendy’s has some good salads.  The pecans on the pecan chicken salad are totally covered in sugar and even some gluten so you might want to avoid those, but they are yummy 🙂  Places like Whole Foods, Denny’s or even Chuck E Cheese (my kids LOVE that place.  We don’t have one where we live) have a salad bar or good salad options.  Subway has salads but I’m never impressed.  They usually use shredded lettuce, which I am not a big fan of.
    • Burgers without buns. This idea is not going to appeal to everyone, but I eat gluten free and it is one of the tips I use most often when eating out.  I have tried ordering cheeseburgers at pretty much every fast food place, asking for lettuce instead of a bun.  And besides In’N’Out (order it protein style), which is only located in a few places, surprisingly McDonalds is the only one I really had any luck with getting big pieces of lettuce to serve as a bun.  All of the others just throw the burger in a bowl with some shredded lettuce and a fork.  So obviously a McDonalds cheeseburger is not healthy, with or without a bun, but at least it’s low-carb/gluten free.  At an actual restaurant, Red Robin and Fuddruckers are great places to go for this.
    • Veggies. Ask for extra veggies.  On anything.  I did this at a Thai food place and although it’s possible the sauce had a lot of sugar, at least I had a really large portion of fresh veggies.
    • And then all the usual advice– there’s a healthier section on the menu at places like Taco Bell or nicer restaurants have like a weight watchers section. I think being gluten free helps me to make healthy choices because I don’t get anything that’s breaded/fried and often just end up getting some sort of meat and veggies.  It doesn’t have to lack flavor though…for example the curry at the Thai food place was amazing and so flavorful.  We ate a lot of Mexican food at taco shops when we were in San Diego and I got chicken tacos with homemade corn tortillas, grilled chicken, cilantro, onion and guacamole.  It might not be full of veggies but it doesn’t seem that bad for you either.  So good!  Sushi is a good healthy option too.
    • For Kids.  I really like going to places with salad bars because not only can I get healthy food, but there’s always things like peas, pineapple, carrots, cottage cheese and diced ham for the girls.  I also try to bring my own food for them- the baby food packets and whatnot.  I find it incredibly hard to feed them healthy things otherwise.  They always want mac and cheese or a cheeseburger or a corn dog.  Although I got them phad thai at the Thai place and they really liked it.  Maybe not the healthiest, but it has good things about it and it’s at least gluten free!
    • Grocery Stores.  If you are just in need of some warm food on the road and don’t want fast food, grocery stores usually have some baked chicken along with their fried chicken.  Lemon herb or garlic are yummy.  And sometimes besides potato salad they will have a broccoli salad or something a bit more healthy.  And although it’s not great quality, sometimes they will have sushi options in the deli with all the sandwiches.  Some grocery stores have amazing food though- like salad bars, sandwiches, etc.  Whole Foods is expensive but I just love going there for lunch.  They have gluten free sandwiches and pizza and you can have them made however you want.  I get mine with pesto and lots of veggies.

CAMPING FOOD we just love to camp and we love camping food!  Besides all the normal snacks and sandwich options, these are some of our favorite camping meals:

    • Tinfoil “hobo stew” packets– you can really do anything with this…use whatever you have.  But our favorite is ground beef, onions, carrots, pepper, potatoes, garlic and kechup.  You need something to keep it moist or it gets really dry.  So if not kechup, then something wet like bbq sauce.  My friend uses cream of mushroom soup.  We do bacon sometimes and instead of ground beef, ground sausage or ground turkey is really yummy.  We’ve used all sorts of veggies…corn, asparagus, etc.  Just wrap it up and throw it on the fire.  Turn it regularly.
    • Plain ol’ meat.  Pork chops are one of my favorite things cooked over the grill.  They don’t even need any spices.  Just the smoke flavor is so good.  Chicken of course.  Fish…mmm…we aren’t fishermen, but I like grilled fish.  It’s taken some time for me to like it.  I had to start with salmon first and work my way to fish that tastes a bit more fishy 😉

Camping with some friends.  This definitely wasn’t one of our healthiest meals, it was our last night and we just threw on all the food we had left.  The corn is cooking in husks down below on the right.

    • Hot dogs and hamburgers are an obvious choice.  The downside is that they aren’t the healthiest and are usually eaten with some sort of bread.  But I just cut the hot dogs up and have the kids dip them in kechup.  Or we splurge on gluten free buns.  I would rather have my kids eating questionable meat than lots of gluten or sugar.  I get Nathan’s hot dogs or Hebrew Nationals which seem to have less questionable ingredients.  And I either bring gluten free buns or lettuce to wrap the cheeseburgers up in.
    • We prepare fun things in advance and keep them in tupperware.  Fajita fixins.  Marinated meat.  Or even justleftovers like curry.  So good cooked over the campfire.  I also prepare side salads like broccoli salad or asian coleslaw, etc. to go with them.
    • Corn on the cob.  Not it’s own meal of course but so yummy cooked over the campfire.  You can just wet the husk down and throw it on.  Or take the husk off and wrap it in tinfoil and throw it on (on the grill or on the outskirts of the fire.)  Great with some butter and salt and pepper.  Mmm, the pepper really makes it amazing.

We love dipping chips in avocado mixed with some salsa.  Not a good on the road snack but makes a great camping snack!  Our kids love it too.


Although we eat as healthy as possible, we definitely do fun things once in a while.  Here, our three year old is roasting her first marshmallow!  We eat them with chocolate chip cookies.

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Road Trip Tips (Traveling with Small Children Series)

DSC04667I love to travel.  I am a lot more limited to where I go now that I’m married with kids than I was in my high school and college days, but we still make it a priority for our family.  Whether it’s just a five hour drive to see my family, a two day drive to see Jason’s family in San Diego, a two week vacation, or a weekend camping trip…we get out a lot.  This is  the first “tips” post in my Traveling with Small Children Series.  

I’m starting with road trips because we just got back from a road trip.  There are all sorts of different road trips and it’s a little difficult to do a list of tips when we do such different things each time.  It just depends on your purpose for the trip.  When we do a road trip vacation, we travel short periods of time each day and make lots of fun stops and camp a lot.  When we are just trying to get to a specific destination we drive all day and make few stops.  A road trip with just my husband and kids is different than a road trip with other people.  We did a big trip one time visiting family with my husband’s parents and we drove through the night…making the trip much shorter on my daughter who was just turning one at the time.  Driving at a time when the kids sleep can be a great tactic…if your kids will sleep.  My 1 1/2 year old really fought it and spent a lot of time screaming when she was tired on the trip we just went on.  When she did sleep it wasn’t for as long as usual.  So that made things a little more rough than usual.

My 1 1/2 year old fought going to sleep…insisting that she was hungry, not tired. So I gave her a granola bar and she fell asleep with it. Silly kid.


    • Forget the schedule.  If you are going to be in a car all day, maybe they eat more often than at your regular snack time.  Maybe they sleep from 11-1 instead of 1-3 (and with some kids…you might just be thankful if they sleep at all.)
    • Point out cool things.  Older kids, like preschoolers, can have fun enjoying the scenery or playing “I Spy”
    • Hopefully you are travelling with both parents (kudos to anyone brave enough to travel alone!) and you can have one adult able to get to all the food, toys, dvds and be able to turn around and interact with the kids.  Sometimes they just need some attention.  Singing songs or playing a game.  My toddler this trip really fought going to sleep and sometimes she just needed me to hold her hand or rub her leg in order to relax and fall asleep.


  • For the Kids
    • Toys they love.  Favorite stuffed animals, books, etc.
    • Toys that do things- toys that are small enough to be held in the carseat but have fun buttons that make sounds or do things.  Or do you have kids apps on your ipad/iphone/etc.?  This can keep them entertained for a while
    • Toys that encourage imaginative play- A metal cookie sheet with some magnets are fun- I printed out a bunch of fun Disney characters on cardstock and made them into magnets for my kids.  I brought a little purse with some mini princesses for my preschooler and a little polly pocket to play with.
    • A magnadoodle and/or a notebook and pen for drawing.
    • Surprises- for really long trips I like to buy things at the dollar store and wrap presents or just bring them out one at a time when the kids are at their breaking point.  New toys can entertain for a really long time, even if they are crazy cheap and probably won’t last past the trip.  One time I bought a little purse and put some “make up” in it- chapstick, really light eye shadow, some really light face powder and a mirror.  That was a big hit.  Another one that went over really well was a pinwheel.  You could hold it up to the AC vent and it would spin really fast.  A notepad and stickers.  Anything cheap that could be entertaining for a while.
    • Music- fun kids cds that they can sing along with.  Or put down whatever it is you’re doing and sing with them.  My kids LOVE it when I sing with them on roadtrips.  One of their favorite things is when we sing a song normal and then sing it fast.
    • A travel dvd player with their favorite dvds.  I save this until nothing else is working.  If they are tired of the old dvds, you can rent a Redbox dvd anywhere and return it down the road.  So convenient!
    • Multiple children.  If you only have one kid, you might want to consider having a second.  Because they entertain each other.  If you like road trips, you better get on this 😉
  • For Grown Ups– I thought I would do a fun post on things that Jason and I do to have fun on road trips.  Stay tuned!
  • Food–  A lot of good snacks are essential.  My kids tend to get bored and want to eat.  I might not encourage that normally but I understand how it is on road trips and don’t mind letting them eat as long as it’s not just a bunch of junk.  Stay tuned for my Eating Healthy During Road Trips post.
  • Items I Find Helpful
    • We bought a little travel tray that goes around a car seat.  It’s handy for when they are playing with something like the cookie sheet magnet toy or her polly pocket and usually use it for when they are watching a movie.  It’s nice to be able to set the dvd player on it and for her to not have to hold it.
    • Baby carrier.  This might not be necessary during a road trip that you’re just trying to get somewhere fast.  But if you want to make stops to hike or hang out at a beach or something…especially if you have a tiny one that can’t walk yet…I find that it’s super helpful.  With the right kind of carrier, you can even breast feed while walking on the beach.  So much nicer than sitting in the car to do it!  We have an Ergo.
    • Snack cups- I brought those little snack cups with the lids that you can put your hand into but do a pretty good job at keeping things from spilling.  And I brought old baby food containers for ranch dressing and such.
    • Paper towels, some silverware for cutting fruit or spreading mayo or peanut butter, etc.
    • Gallon zip lock bags.  You can put ice in it for your cooler so you don’t end up with water all over the bottom and your food floating in yucky water.
    • Plastic sacks for garbage and etc.
    • Maps or a gps.  Most people have smart phones these days and can figure out anything they need to know at any time.  But we don’t.  I tend to just know where to go because we mostly just go visit family or places we are familiar with.  But I forget sometimes that it’s a bit more complicated.  After a mess up that ended up taking us to Seattle instead of Portland, we decided we needed to buy some maps.  Maps at gas stations can be pretty expensive.  Plan ahead and print out directions, grab a road atlas, or bring your gps.
    • One of those adapters that plug into the cigarette lighter for usb or regular power cords.  We use it for our portable dvd player, for our computer, for charging phones and cameras, etc.  So handy.
    • A camera, of course!
  • Need to make some stops to stretch those small legs?  Find a rest stop.  Or a park.  Or a mall.  Sometimes we just walk around a grocery store or a truck stop.  In nice weather we prefer a park or a rest stop and we bring a ball to kick around.
  • Going on a longer vacation?  We make all sorts of fun stops and go to the extreme sometimes when it comes to saving money.  I plan to do a post on free/cheap ideas for stops along the way and ways to keep a vacation super cheap.  One of our favorite free things to do is geocache.  Stay tuned for more ideas!

What kinds of things do you do to make road trips easier on your family?  Come visit Explore Imagine Love again for more tips for traveling with small children!