*The Keukenhof: world’s largest flower garden

2The Keukenhof is located in Lisse, The Netherlands. Lisse is in the center of the bulb field region of Holland – where all the tulips grow. The Keukenhof  is open at the height of spring for about eight weeks every year (from about mid March to mid May) and houses more than 7 million flowers. We visited this year – the first week of May – with our two kids (ages 2 years and 6 months). What an amazing tourist destination. If you have plans to be anywhere in Western Europe in the spring time, the Keukenhof is a MUST see. 22

Because Lisse is a small town with very few hotels or travel accommodations, the best way to get there is to stay in a neighboring city and take a day trip by bus into the festival. We 20recommend staying in Leiden because it’s a bit closer and a lot cheaper than Amsterdam. You can buy a combo bus (round trip) and entrance ticket at the Leiden Central Station for about 22 Euro. (Children under age 4 are free). 28Buses come and go from the gardens about every 25 min. There is food available for purchase inside the park but the prices are high and the lines are long. So, it’s a good idea to pack your own snacks and lunches before you go. While you can leave and re-enter the park, the Keukenhof isn’t close to anything but flowers so don’t plan on finding a grocery store or a restaurant outside the gates.

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It is a very family friendly experience. Once you are inside the gardens, in addition to the flowers, you will find a small petting zoo, a couple of play grounds (with teeter-totters, slides, and swings) and a maze. For older children the front desk offers a scavenger hunt around the park and educational information about the flowers.

26Just outside the gates you can rent bicycles for about 10 Euro per person. They offer single and tandem bikes as well as attachable baby seats and bike trailers. Mid-day, our little family took a four-hour bike ride around Lisse to see the 23windmills and the bulb fields. There is no time limit of the bikes (as long as you have them back by closing time). You’ll ride past millions of flowers planted in straight lines like Iowa Corn. You can even stop and walk through the flowers and take some pictures.

If you live too far away to get your family all the way to Holland, there are lots of regional spring time flower festivals all around the globe. Places like The Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm in Aurora, OR; The Canadian Tulip Festival in Ottawa; or The Flower Bulb Jubilee in Belle Plain, KS.  So get 31outside this spring time and behold the beauty of the earth.

If you have a flower festival in your area let us know about it in the comments section below.

* Teach Them to Swim

No matter who we are, most of our favorite vacation spots include water. Whether we are driving to the Oregon cost, camping at our cabin on the lake, or taking our long-awaited trip to the Bahamas, we love the water! And our kids love it too. That’s why teaching your kids to swim is an essential travel skill. You don’t want to have to worry about them falling into the hotel pool for the rest of their childhood. I promise that helping your kids with water safety will be a huge stress relief on vacations from now until the end of time.

h2If you have little ones, it’s a really good idea for both Mom and Dad to get familiar with child CPR. The best way to do this is to take a class at somewhere like the American Red Cross or at your local Swimming Pool. When you go on vacation there won’t always be a lifeguard around. Make sure you know what to do if your kids get into trouble in the water.

It’s also a good idea to teach your children the importance of a swimsuit. This may sound silly but if you drill it into their heads that they need a swimsuit to swim, they will be much less likely to jump into the water with their clothes on. Help them pick out a suit that they like and will be exited to wear. Make a big deal about putting on their swimsuit so that they know that swimming is something you get ready for and do together.

They are never too young to start learning. While you cannot expect that your 1-year-old is going to swim by herself, she can still
h1be exposed to the water and learn not to fear it. Take her with you in the water as much as possible. Help her get used to feeling safe in the water as you hold her. A baby will naturally hold their breath if you blow on their face. So, when you think they are ready, count 1…2…3…, blow on their face and briefly and gently dunk them just under the surface of the water. This will help them get used to holding their breath and having water over their heads.

As they get a little older you can teach them to blow bubbles, kick their legs and help them learn to float on their backs. You can do a lot of the instruction yourself but if you aren’t comfortable teaching your own children to swim, find a friend who is or put them in formal swim lessons. Vacations, especially summer vacations, will inevitably come with their fair share of H2O. Give yourself peace of mind by teaching your kids to swim well and swim early.

* There’s no place like home: Exploring your own city

It’s amazing how much time we can spend planning a trip to The Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls and yet salemwe’ve forgotten about one of the best travel destinations in the world… our own backyard. imagesIt’s true that the grass is always greener on the other side of the state line but you don’t necessarily need to go far to explore the world. Just get out and see your own home town. There’s a lot to love about it. After all, you did choose to live here once.

Practicing your exploring skills in your hometown is a great way to help your kids get used to being on the go. If they get tired you can just take them back to the house for lunch and naps. Treat your neighborhood like a training ground for traveling with your kids.hbf-brochure-1 See how they do when the stakes are low. You can help them become good travelers from the second they leave the doorstep.

Take a walk or a drive and see what you can find.  Be observant and spontaneous. When you see a new park or bike trail, write it down on a list of things “to see” in your city. 
Stop on a whim and read the historic landmark signs on the side of the road. You can use apps like google field trip to help you on your quest to find the fun and exiting things around you.

mNVMWYnqby4pqNz5qKjGiOQPretend like you are on vacation at home. What would you go see? Look up your city’s website and check out what is in your community. I’ll bet there are 10 museums within half an hour of your house that you’ve never set foot in. Even Challis, ID (population 909) and Bridger, MT (population 708) have websites with “events” and “recreation” activities. So spend some time planning a trip to “visit” the place where you live.WalkingTourBrochure_ad

You can even take a tour of the city. This might sound strange, especially if you’ve lived in the same place your whole life but a tour is a great way to learn about your stomping grounds. We often know less about the place we live than the places we’ve traveled to. So why not let someone tell you about it? You can go on a guided tour of your city. Lots of places even have self-guided walking tours. Swing by city hall, they usually have pamphlets and maps available with great information. Try to view things with a fresh pair of eyes. Buy a guidebook, take a camera, and make an adventure out of it.  

* 5 reasons why parents don’t travel with kids and why they’re wrong

#1. My kids couldn’t possibly sit still for 10 hours in a car (or a plane or a train or a minivan or whatever). Here’s why it’s a bad idea to wait. If they don’t learn to road trip as children they will only hate it more as teenagers. Teach them young and they will get used to driving long distances; wait until they are older and they will probably hate it forever. Your kids will be better travelers at 5, 12, 16 and 40 if they get used to it at age 2.roadtrip

#2. They won’t even remember the trip. I’ve heard it over and over, “we just want to wait to take them to (fill in travel destination here) until they are old enough to remember and enjoy it”. Well, with that logic you may as well not take them to the park or the zoo until they are 10. With kids you have to live in moment. They can learn things from traveling now. Their senses will get to explore new sights and sounds. They may not remember the details but they will learn new things and  love the experience.

And…Let’s say that the average person can begin recalling memories from about age 5. Then say you have 4 kids, spaced about 2 years apart. By the time your youngest “can remember” the trip, you’ve been waiting 11 years to take it! That’s 11 years too long. Bring a camera. You can remember it enough for the both of you.

#3. We don’t want to pay to bring them along.  We’re not saying that you have to take your children to every movie night and weekend get away. It’s true that paying for your kids can double, triple, and quadruple the cost and it’s ok to have some alone time. The point is, family time is important too and they want to be with you. Look for cheap tickets and travel spots with family discounts. There are plenty of ways to travel on pinched pennies. Sneak them in if you have to; lie about their age… I’m kidding (sort of). You can rearrange some funds in the budget to pay for it. Skip out on a present here or there; clip a coupon. As they get older you can even help them save up some of their own money to contribute.

#4 We can see it when they get older.  Correction, you can see SOME of it when they get older. There is a precious and small window of time when you have your children around. travelling-around-the-worldBefore you know it they will be 17-year-old versions of yourself. I’ll take my chances with the 3-year-old, thanks. But seriously, if you really want to see the world you have no time to waste. There is a lot of exploring to be done. You don’t want to look back in 30 years and realize that you missed it.

#5. It’s just too hard. There is too much planning, too much headache. It’s not worth it. Oh, contraire my friends. It’s true that traveling with children may require the skills of a small ninja and the patience of a Jedi Knight. But it IS worth it! Exploring the world with children makes it a whole different experience. The locals are more friendly and barriers come down when you have kids around. They will open doors and opportunities to you that you could have never experienced alone. So, cowboy up and get going. Start planning. You can do it!  We’ll help you.

* Camping with the Kiddies

Camping with kids can be a bit tricky but it’s possible and it’s a lot of fun. They will love getting dirty, sleeping outside, learning to fish and collecting pine cones. If your kids are older, camping isn’t too fussy but if you have wee ones (especially babies) there are a few more things to think about.

Can they use bug spray? – The CDC says that DEET based bug spray is far and away the most effective. High levels of the oil, however, are not recommended for children. For your kids, you should look for a bug spray that has less than 30% DEET and apply it just once a day. Babies as young as 2 month old can use this kind of bug spray.

suitWhat about sunscreen?The Mayo clinic does not recommend using sunscreen for babies younger than 6 months. If you have a really little one, keep them covered up and in the shade as much as possible. If you are camping near a lake and want to take them swimming, look for a swimsuit that covers up their arms and legs and make sure to get them a hat. You will also want to pick up a small life vest.

Where do they sleep? This depends on their age. If they are older than 18 months, they can probably just sleep on the ground like everyone else. Get them their own child size sleeping bag or zip them in and let them share with you. If they are really little, you might need a bit of extra gear. bedBring along a small pack n play or porta-crib and set it up in the tent. If they are small enough, we have even had them sleep in their car seat/carrier. Another option is to bring along a small cradle. Vendors like Phil and Ted Brica, and Quicksmart all sell convenient and portable travel bassinets.

What if it rains? Check the weather report before you go but know that rain is a possibility. Try to be ready. Make sure that your tent has a good rain fly. Bring an extra tarp and other rain-proof covers. Pack an extra bag with some dry clothes and blankets and keep it in the car just in case everything outside gets wet. You don’t want your baby getting cold or sick.

What else do I bring? Here’s a complete (possibley excessive) camping list of things to pick and choose from:

Kid Gear

  • Baby backpack carrier
  • Portable crib or bassinet
  • Kid-sized day pack
  • Child’s reusable water bottle
  • Potty seat
  • Portable high chair
  • Child-sized camp chair
  • Child-sized sleeping pad
  • Child-sized sleeping bag
  • Diapers and extra diapers
  • Wipes and extra wipes
  • Formula/ Baby Food
  • Plastic baby Toys

Sleeping

  • Tent (poles, stakes, and rain fly)
  • Tarp or ground cloth
  • Extra plastic tarp
  • Rope
  • Sleeping bags
  • Sleeping pads
  • Pillows
  • Mosquito net

Clothing

  • Underwear
  • Socks
  • Base layer, top and bottom (like thermals)
  • Jacket
  • Pants
  • Hat
  • Gloves
  • Rain jacket
  • Shorts
  • T-shirts
  • Swimsuit
  • Pajamas
  • Laundry bag

Footwear

  • Hiking boots
  • Tennis shoes
  • Hiking sandals (like Chacos or Tevas)
  • Flip-flops
  • Water shoes

Camp kitchen

  • Camp stove
  •  Extra fuel
  • Dutch Oven
  • Pots
  • Pans
  • Skillet
  • Cutting board
  • Sharp knife
  • Measuring cup
  • Measuring spoons
  • Spatula
  • Tongs
  • Plates
  • Bowls
  • Cups
  • Water bottles
  • Water purifier
  • Utensils
  • Marshmallow/ hotdog sticks
  • Aluminum foil
  • Plastic bags
  • Plastic tablecloth
  • Tablecloth weights
  • Tupperware
  • Matches or lighter
  • Collapsible water container
  • Coolers

Cleanup

  • Wash basins
  • Sponge and scrubbing pad
  • Old wash cloths
  • Camp soap (Biodegradable)
  • Garbage bags
  • Paper towels
  • Clothesline and clothespins

Hygiene

  • Hand sanitizer
  • Baby wipes
  • Lotion
  • Deodorant
  • Chapstick
  • Toothpaste
  • Toothbrush
  • Brush
  • Soap, shampoo and conditioner (Biodegradable)
  • Wash cloth and towel
  • Contacts and glasses
  • Prescription medication

Out Door Bathroom Supplies 

  • Small shovel
  • Toilet paper in a plastic bag
  • Diaper rash cream for babies
  • Plastic bag for trash
  • Hand sanitizer

First Aid

  • Band-Aids
  • Butterfly Bandages
  • ACE bandage
  • Hurt-free antiseptic wash
  • Small and large gauze pads
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Thermometer
  • Ibuprofen (children’s and adult)
  • Tylenol (children’s and adult)
  • Benadryl (children’s and adult)
  • Nail Clippers
  • Medical tape
  • Safety pins
  • Insect repellent
  • Anti-itch cream
  • 1% hydrocortisone cream
  • Sunscreen
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Antacid tablets
  • Cough drops
  • Eyedrops
  • Instant cold pack
  • Safety whistle
  • Emergency blanket
  • Duct tape
  • Moleskin for blisters
  • Fine-pointed tweezers

Hiking Essentials

  • Food
  • Water
  • First-aid kit
  • Matches and emergency tinder
  • Emergency blanket or large trash bag
  • Map and compass (your GPS may not work in the woods)
  • Safety whistle
  • Headlamp or flashlight
  • Extra layers
  • Rain gear
  • Pocketknife
  • Sunglasses and
  • sunscreen

Water Fun

  • Fishing rods and tackle
  • Swimsuits
  • Towels
  • Floaties or life vests
  • Canoe/ kayak

(Note: as with all camping, it’s a good idea to tell someone exactly where you are going and when you plan to be back). 

* The Buddy System: Traveling with Friends and Family

Traveling with friends and family is a great way to go. Here are a few perks of the buddy system:

Splitting the CostpigThere are many places that give discounts to groups. Look for specials on “buy one get one” type deals. Expenses like gas money, hotels, food, etc. are cut significantly when you share the burden. You’ll find that you can save a lot of money if you travel in groups and keep your eyes open for discounts.

Enjoying the Company – Make sure that you travel with people you are close to: good friends, siblings, etc.  You want to leave the trip liking them as much as you did when you began. If you choose the right partners, traveling with friends will be even more fun than traveling by yourselves.  You’ll make lots of memories together and strengthen your friendship ties.

h3Built in Baby Sitters – You can offer to cover some of the cost of the trip in exchange for some time without your kiddos. Grandma and Grandpa are great at this. They want to spend time with those babies anyway. If you have people who you can trust traveling along side you, it makes it easy to have a romantic get away right inside of your family vacation.

If you travel with another family, your kids will have buddies as well. It also makes it possible to help each other out.

Taking Turns – Your destination might be as child friendly as they come but there will always be things that little children can’t do. Take Disneyland as an example. It’s a kid heaven and yet you must be “this tall” to ride some of the rides. If you and another family travel together, one couple can be riding the tea cups with the kids while the others take on Space Mountain. When the kids have to go to sleep you can shift whose night it is to take them home and put them to bed. By taking turns, you won’t feel guilty asking for babysitting favors. This way, you all get to spend precious time with your little ones but you also get alone time with your spouses. Whoever said you can’t have your cake and eat it too?

* The Inevitable Nap Time

Nap time can be a travel time crusher. And yet, if your kiddos miss out on those precious z’s, toting them around becomes a nightmare. You have two options when it comes to nap time: Go back to the hotel and wait it out OR teach them to sleep on the go. We opt for the latter as much as possible. Start them early. As much as you want to teach them to sleep in their crib, if they learn that they can ONLY sleep in their crib… you’re done for! Help the little ones learn to nap when and where they can.

Driving  – h2Try to plan long drives from destination to destination around nap time. The distance from L.A. to San Diego is about 1 hour. Traveling is full of these little gems and a car seat can make a rather cozy cradle. The gentle rumble of the car has lulled children to sleep for decades. This is a gift to you from the travel gods; use it wisely. If your children tend to get distracted in the car, you can bring a few safety pins to pin-up sheets or blankets to make them a more secluded napping space (this trick works on planes and other means of transport as well).

Take Advantage of Quiet Time – Not all of travel is running around. You will have some natural down time. Let the kids fall asleep where they can. They don’t need a crib to have a nap. Say it with me… “They don’t need a crib to have a nap”. Find some shade and lay down a blanket at the park or a towel at the beach.(*Warning, do not leave your child unattended*) If they fall asleep in the stroller or the travel backpack…great! As they get used to traveling, they will get better at sleeping on the go. Don’t get discouraged, they’ll get the hang of it.
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Go with the Flow – With children, you just have to go with it. As fun as it would have been to see one more museum – they may have just hit their limit. So, you just pack it in for the day. That’s ok. You cannot spend your energy stressing about the things you missed out on. When you travel with kids, just know before hand that plans will change. Try to center your travel on their experience as well as yours. That way you won’t be so disappointed if you miss out on what YOU wanted to do. As a parent, you sacrifice for your kids everyday… you’ll never get a vacation from that. We all know they make it worth it!

* Taking your family to Mardi Gras. What you need to know.

Mardi Gras is traditionally associated with the scandal of Bourbon street and all that comes with it. Taking your family and kids to a place like this could turn out to be rather… shocking. That is unless you know where to take them. For the Louisiana locals, Mardi Gras is considered more of a big block party with parades and prizes.  Here are a few tips that will help you to enjoy the fun and keep it clean for the little ones in New Orléans.

1. Know where to go. m6Bourbon street and the French Quarter can be fun but there’s a lot of stuff that you might not want to see there, especially if you have children with you. There is, however, much more to New Orléans than the bad rap. At the center of the city, there is a large round about known as Lee Circle. Most of the Parades pass through it. To the NorthEast of Lee Circle, you’ll find the French Quarter and some scantily clad woman. To the SouthWest you will find St. Charles Ave. A place full of families with children, picnics and BBQ grills. At http://www.mardigrasneworleans.com you can find a list of all parades including time, date, and a map of the route. Anything marked as an “uptown” parade is located in this family friendly part of the city.

 2. Get up early and be in before dark. m5Daylight hours are usually less risqué than after sunset. So… explore the city during the day. The night crowd will be tired (even hung over) from the night before. The morning parades are less crowded which means there are more throws and prizes to go around.  If you just have to see the French Quarter and  Cafe du Monde, do it in the morning when the city’s still waking up. Listen to the performers in the street. Walk along the boardwalk and see the Mississippi River. Eat dinner early and get back to your hotel before night fall. Bring some board games, movies, popcorn, etc. so that you will have fun things to do as a family back at the hotel.

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 3. Know when to go and where to stay. While Mardi Gras itself is only one day, the season and the fun begin about a month before hand. The parades start and the city comes alive in mid January. If you get there early, the city is still exiting but you miss the sex and scandal. If you plan to stay downtown, make sure to book a hotel as far in advance as possible. The city fills up fast this time of year and prices will get higher and higher the longer you wait. Baton Rouge is only about an hours drive, so if worst comes to worst, you can book a hotel there and make the drive into the city. If this is your plan, just know that traffic will be horrendous if you hit it wrong. So, make sure to get on the road nice and early to avoid the rush.

4. Have a good time. ImageEnjoy your adventure in “the big easy”  It’s a great place with a lot of culture and fun. The food in New Orléans is amazing and the atmosphere at Mardi Gras is unlike anything else.  Take a camera, dress in costume, and save space in your bags for all the treasures you are sure to acquire.

* Invest in a child carrier or backpack

This is one of our most important pieces of advice. First off , big crowds make it tough to maneuver a stroller. Having a backpack allows you to take your kids as part of your person. You’re not worried about their safety because they are attached to you. Also, you can better weave in and out of large groups of people. If you have 2 small kids, get two backpacks: one for Mom and one for Dad. Second, popular travel destinations are often not very push chair friendly. There are usually lots of stairs (down to the subway or metro, perhaps). This increases the appeal of being able to take your kids on your back. The same principles are also true for outdoor destinations like hiking. It’s a simple but practical way to optimise the ease of transportation.

Our Top Pick: The Kid Comfort II by Deuter.

deuterThis backpack goes for about $240 and is well worth it. You can pick it up in-store at someplace like R.E.I. or you can order on-line from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk. This bag beats out the competition for reasons of  both design and comfort. The pack is adjustable  according to your height and size. With both chest and hip straps, the weight of the child is better distributed  on your body making it easier to cover more ground. The straps are well padded making the backpack quite comfortable. The kickstand makes it possible to take off the backpack and set in down without taking out your child  every time you want to stop (a very convenient feature). There are also several pockets and pouches that can store items essential for traveling with kids. Things like diapers, wipes, snacks, toys, sunscreen, water bottles, etc. We would recommend picking up the sunshade for an extra $30. There are also kid comfort’s I and III but we’ve found that the II has more storage space than the small and is not as bulky as the large. Thus, it is our star pick in child carriers.