Children, Family, travel

Life’s a beach…vacations that don’t kill me PART 5

IMG_3866.JPGSo here’s the last post in the series about vacations that don’t kill me. I thought it would be good to map out the logistics in a logical format with a “bottom line” to show what our vacation looks like to our bank account. As discussed in previous posts, there’s wiggle room in each area that can allow you to squeeze by using less money or add on if you want a some extravagance. Remember we were able to bring some items with us from our pantry so we were able to save a bit on our grocery bill for the week. Also, depending on the deal you can find with your lodging, you can shave some expense here as well…camping, KOA cabins, Groupon, last-minute discounts on condos. There’s deals to be had out there!

So, here goes:

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So, saving $55 every two-week pay period can give you enough funds to take a family of five on a beach vacation for an entire week. It takes some planning, a lot of discipline and cooperation to stick with the budget but it can be done. And with all the planning in place,  you can enjoy the moments a little more because the decision-making has already been done. You know where we are going, you know what’s for dinner and you know how much it’s all gonna cost.

FullSizeRender.jpg-3Not all vacations have to be this big or this long, but any planning and budgeting you can do no matter where you go will lead to a more enjoyable vacation you and your family will remember for years to come!

Now…bring on the summer!!

Children, Family, travel

Life’s a beach…vacations that don’t kill me PART 4

IMG_3943.JPGKids…am I right?

Kids on vacation (and by kids, I generally mean younger kids) are a job to manage during what should be your time to relax and rejuvenate your tired bones from all the adulting you’ve had to do over the past year or so. Some folks’ solution is to leave the kids at home, which I admit sounds nice. But…for those vacations where you’re all together, a little planning helps the childcare chore not seem so…”chore-y”.

Before vacation, start collecting fun things for the kids to do. Whether it’s waiting in the airport, sitting in the car for long periods of time or just in between those moments of awesome fun where you just want to rest for thirty minutes. It’s easy to put the kids in front of electronic devices and I’m not gonna dispense my position on that in this post.

The Rocket Science- The secret here is the fun longevity quotient. and to solve this mathematical enigma, you have to think like your child and that means thinking with the time frame your kid will use when evaluating the funness of the item/ object you have presented him/ her with. On top of that, you also have to consider the mess factor, the sharing likelihood, the jealousy, the impact of risk management/ loss and the damage deposit you have put on the place you’re staying in. So…permanent markers or a “how to make your own working volcano” science kit probably isn’t the way to go in this instance.

Activities- Dot-to-dot books, mazes, coloring books, blank sketch pads/ notebooks, search and find books, car bingo, kid binoculars, Crayola wonder marker sets (they only write on the special paper), library books (consider the potential loss of the book here and judge accordingly), lap pads, neck pillows, barbie dolls, transformers, etch a sketch, pipe cleaners…these are all workable fun things for the kids to play with and occupy themselves with. Check out dollar stores or even your toy box at home. The idea is to keep the activity stuff a surprise for the trip to increase the time they’ll actually be interested in it.

Have the kids pack their own back packs with their things right before- they get a quick sneak peek at the goodies they get to play with once the trip is underway but don’t let them look at anything too long. Consider taking inventory of the kids’ back packs and adding that to your packing list so that you are sure to grab all items when it’s time to pack to go home!

Exercise- Kids are little, their attention span is shorter, the ants in their pants far succeed the amount of ants in a grown up’s pants. Keep that in mind and plan accordingly. For road trips, look for fast food with playgrounds. If you’re picnicking en route, stop at a place where you can let your kids run laps in a safe area. Make a game out of having them hop on one foot from one place to another, see who can jump the furthest…anything that gets them using muscles and not just walking. The muscle usage is important to get that energy out quicker so you get some lasting results in terms of calm and patience from the kids when you stuff them back into the car.

Snacks- Water bottles! The kind where they have to suck liquid out, not just bottles with twist caps. The liquid in a cup or twist top bottle was made to be spilled on a child or the floor so the question isn’t if, it’s when. Sports water bottles…put whatever liquid you want in it, I will not judge here.

For snacks, think of the mess you’ll be cleaning up…because you’ll be cleaning up a mess. I’ll tell you we limit snacks in the car because the kids don’t need to eat all the time and we generally stop enough so that snack time is handled outside the car. But if snack time happens in the car, think about kid capability…choking likelihood of the snack object (because it’s always a treat to hear a kid struggling on a goldfish while you’re speeding down the interstate), what that snack will look like after it’s met a child’s foot smashing it into the floorboard, etc. Our kids love to eat apples and I’m cool with cleaning up an apple core, if needed.

The aftermath- Coming home from vacation can be exhausting. And kids generally aren’t much help in this area. I don’t blame them for not wanting to come home and they are really too small to help with the heavy lifting. Something that I like to do with the kids is show them some of the pictures we took while on vacation so they’ll start reminiscing about the fun they had. They retell their adventures with sparkly eyes and enthusiasm. I liken this to nailing the memory trunk shut so the adventures are securely inside.

So over the course of this little series, it may seem like common sense all the things I listed or spoke on, but this is how we do vacation. I’ll have one final post in this series and it’s the example of a completed vacation to New Smyrna Beach, Florida. Hopefully some of these ideas you find helpful and more importantly, hopefully you have a restful vacation with your young children as a family together.

Until the next post, what is furthest you’ve ever driven with your children in the car and how did that trip go? 


Don’t forget to follow our blog so you don’t miss the next installment of our summer vacation series…”Life’s a beach…vacations that don’t kill me”!


Children, Family, travel

Life’s a beach…vacations that don’t kill me- PART 3

IMG_3845.JPGLet’s talk lists!

In your preparation, you’ll have many lists in your vacation notebook and honestly, organizing your thoughts and ideas into lists goes a long way for a successful vacation. So, lists…you’ll need a list for things to pack, menu list, grocery list, activities list, things to remember to take care of before departure, etc. In this part of the series, let’s get into what some of these lists look like.

Things to pack- I’ve actually made a template in MS Excel called “Vacation Packing List”. It may seem obvious what needs to get packed but something always gets left behind. Always. What I did in creating this template is to make a column for each family member. Then I created rows of items…basically you mentally dress yourself from the undies to the shoes. Here’s our basic list…not completely inclusive and I always write things in at some point, but this helps make sure it all gets packed and blankie doesn’t get left behind!

Screen Shot 2017-06-08 at 12.48.44 PM

Also..this list? Comes with us! Because you have to get all this crap back home, right?!

Menu List: Remember here you have 3 meals to consider times the number of days you’re on vacation. Include travel days, too! Some easy lunch/ dinner meals to consider:

  • Hotdogs and beans and/ or mac & cheese
  • Cheeseburgers and corn on the cob
  • Baked/ BBQ chicken tenders
  • Spaghetti & garlic bread
  • Grilled cheese and tater tots/ crinkle fries
  • Soft tacos and refried beans/ rice
  • Fish sticks and mashed potatoes

Breakfast can be cereal, frozen waffles, yogurt…whatever. It doesn’t need to be extravagant because you’re gonna want to get out of the house and out for your activity.

Grocery List: For this list, think through all meals each day and write down the ingredients you need for each thing. Next, think of any other considerations you need for the week. Swim diapers? ketchup? bottled water? Now, look through your list and see if there’s any part of it you may have on hand and can bring with you. No sense buying a coffee creamer container when you have a giant one at home from which you can pour a portion into a Ziploc bag. Look at your meal list to see if you need any spices and try to pack those if you can so you don’t need to buy them later.

Activity List: With activities, you’re at the mercy of the weather so have options. It’s amazing what kids enjoy and so often we find that the free and low cost stuff is just as exciting to them as an adventure park. We usually don’t tell the kids where we are headed each day so the excitement builds as they try to figure out what we are doing. In this list, we have indoor (rainy day) alternatives, all-day activities, short activities…go for everything. For example, our New Smyrna Beach, Florida vacation has included things like:

  • Ponce Inlet Lighthouse -$8/ adults, $4/ children
  • National Seashore -$5 parking fee all day
  • Fishing -Free
  • Flagler Ave beach- $5 parking fee
  • Brevard Zoo- $20/ adults $15/ children…also includes a water feature- need change of clothes and towels!
  • Boardwalk park- Free
  • Kennedy Space Center $50/ adult $40/ child (yikes! Maybe not this trip!)
  • Blackpoint Wildlife Drive- Free
  • Manatee viewing dock- Free
  • Dolphin cruise- $75 family or less (look for local tourism magazines for discounts)
  • Swimming pool- Free
  • Mini-golf- $25 family or less (look for local tourism magazines for discounts)
  • Bowling- $25 family or less (look for local tourism magazines for discounts)

From your activity list you can determine the time you’ll spend and from there you can figure out what meals you want to serve each day or whether it would be necessary to eat out, etc. Don’t forget AAA, military, or student discounts. If you are a member of your local zoo at home, chances are good those passes are good at the zoo at your vacation destination if they are affiliated with the same association.

Watch out for Part 4 where we’ll talk about the kid factor before, during and after vacation!

Until then, how do you feel after you return home from vacation? Are you rested or frazzled?


Don’t forget to follow our blog so you don’t miss the next installment of our summer vacation series…”Life’s a beach…vacations that don’t kill me”!


Children, Family, travel

Life’s a beach…vacations that don’t kill me- PART 2

FullSizeRender.jpgAs promised, here’s the next installment of our vacation planning that ensures we all end up having a great time.

As the cruise director for the vacation, all responsibilities fall on you. That’s a nice way to ensure the whole week sucks for you if you don’t get everything nailed down ahead of time. In the last post, I talked briefly about many points to consider for vacation. What I didn’t really talk about is where to stay while you’re there.

Let me just advocate a house or condo in place of a hotel. You may say “oh, but the hotel is nice because there’s a pool” or “I like having room service”. But consider this: the cost of most (decent, safe, clean…) hotels is about the same cost as a house. Plus, at the beach there’s a really good chance you can find a house with its own pool (and maybe also a hot tub!). A pool you don’t have to share with anyone else…one that’s accessible right out the patio door.

You don’t have to keep telling the kids to be quiet all the time, lest the family in the room next door hears the shenanigans in your room and complains. The kids get their own rooms, you have a family room, a kitchen and if you play your cards right, a floor plan that puts the master bedroom on the other end of the house! You have a washer and dryer…something that comes in handy when little one has an accident in her pants. Imagine trying to find a laundromat and spending hours washing clothes instead of enjoying your vacation.

Most importantly, you have a kitchen…a source of saved money. This is where you save a ton on breakfast. Milk and cereal…maybe some yogurt. Let me breakdown the savings by meal type for a family of five:

  • Breakfast at a fast-food place is around $30/ day, or about $220 saved for the week
  • Lunch at a fast-food place is around $34/ day, or about $240 saved for the week
  • Lunch at a sit-down place is around $58/ day, or about $406 saved for the week
  • Dinner at a sit-down place is around $70/ day, or about $490 saved for the week

So preparing and sticking to eating at the house/ condo can save around $1,100 for a family of five for the week…that’s $1,100 that will be pooped out of your family a mere 8-12 hours later. You’ll have nothing to show for that except maybe extra pounds and less toilet paper.

Now in place of eating out, you’ll need groceries for the week. Refer back to that vacation notebook and the meal list you made. Write out everything you’ll need. If you want the convenience of no dishes to clean, get paper products and plastic utensils. Include snacks for the week, too. If you’ve got room in your car when you pack, bring stuff you already have in your pantry. In Ziploc bags, bring the sugar, flour, salt, coffee, creamer, laundry packs, etc. No sense buying that stuff when you already have it.

If you’re smart about your list and stick to only what you need for each meal, snack and supplies for the week, you should be able to get your week of groceries for a family of five for about $160- $200. That amounts to about $28.60/ day you’re spending on your whole family…or $1.72 per person per meal. This is the attitude you should have in your vacation planning and execution. This is where you save a ton of money. If you’re really gung-ho, come armed with coupons.

As you choose your house/ condo to rent, remember how much you are saving in food here. That gives you a little extra to put toward the house but you shouldn’t really need to spend too much more. Good deals are out there…you just need to hunt for them. Look for local vacation rental places, inquire about specials, schedule your vacation in the off season (this is a homeschooler’s rule of thumb since we aren’t bound to a school season so I know this is a limited approach for many). For example, go to the beach in the fall instead of the summer. Believe me, it’s still hot in Florida in September…if anything it’s less nasty hot so you’d probably enjoy it more!

As far as renting a house, for comparison’s sake we were able to rent a house recently in the Ft Myers, Florida area and it had a pool with lanai, hot tub and a private dock to a canal where we fished all for $900 for the week- 3 bedrooms/ 2 bath, two-car garage, washer/ dryer, family room, and living room. About $128 per night…like I said, comparable to a hotel.

Imagine how nice it is to not have to schlep your kids’ pool crap to and from a hotel room, or not have to walk in soggy bathing suits through a cold hotel, on an elevator and into the single room all five of you will share.

Like I said…rent a house/ condo. Enjoy the kitchen. Save the money. Be happy and enjoy.

In the next posts, we’ll chat about some details…packing, activities, plan B, etc.

In the meantime, tell me what your biggest struggle is with vacation. Is it the money? The car ride?


Don’t forget to follow our blog so you don’t miss the next installment of our summer vacation series…”Life’s a beach…vacations that don’t kill me”!

Children, Family, travel

Life’s a beach…vacations that don’t kill me- PART 1

DSC_0685Summertime…school’s out, the sun is shining, the air is warm and the itch to go to the beach is real and relentless.

Planning and executing a “successful” vacation anywhere can be daunting but it is possible. The key here is the planning part. So, I’m doing a new summer series that shows you how to do family (with young children) vacations affordably, entertainingly and so organized that you won’t be able to help but have fun along the way.

Today I’m gonna lay out our vacation preparation template.

First and foremost, you need the cash for the vacation. There’s nothing worse than having a vacation that leaves your bank account empty when you return from the vacation. After all, the point of the vacation is to relax, right? There’s no sense in getting all twisted up from insufficient funds notices or maxed out credit cards. That will not do.

What we do every pay period is budget and automatically transfer $50 to our vacation savings account. If the vacation is going to be big, we’ll up that amount accordingly. So as the vacation fund is quietly growing in the background, we know we’ll have a solid funding source come vacation time.

Next comes the planning…and this begins well before vacation time starts. We have three kids and usually travel by car. So we plan. Queue the vacation notebook.

We plan for the kids’ car activity bags and consider the mess. Are the markers washable? Do the crayons melt in the hot car? Are endless goldfish crumbs worth it? Water bottles are better than juice boxes, spill-wise. Will sharing be a problem? If so, get enough for each kid and write their names on everything. Think about slouching, sleeping kids…does their unconscious slouching make for a dangerous situation seat-belt wise? Get neck pillows. Get your brain working like this and start jotting down ideas in your vacation notebook.

Food. We plan for a seven day vacation and depending on where we go, we know there’s a few restaurants we’ll want to hit while we are there. We always try to stay in a house/ condo rather than a hotel because…well, three kids. I am not spending my vacation in the same room with 3 small children. We all need our space, but more on this later. Back to the food. We plan out meals…breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Nothing fancy, no need for Top Chef here. Hotdogs and beans are fine. But write out menus in that vacation notebook…maybe get the kids involved, too. From this, you now have a grocery list…vacation notebook.

Activities. Once you get there, you’ll undoubtedly want to go do things. There’s only so long you can enjoy the location without needing to be entertained. Scope out tourism sites, Google “cheap things to do with kids in _______” and look in the comments section. That’s where the real gold is! The article may be helpful, but nothing beats other parents’ comments on what did and didn’t work for them, what they found, etc.

Look for unusual things, look for rainy day things, look for trails, parks, playgrounds, fishing holes, bowling alley locations, museums, historical landmarks…you get the idea. These are usually less expensive options to amusement parks and the like, plus these places are more likely to be fun for the whole family instead of just the kids. Another list for the vacation notebook.

As you are assembling these lists, you’ll start to see how they tie together. Some of your activities need a picnic lunch, some will go into the dinner hour, so your options for food become a bank of choices you can assign to each activity you plan for the day. Remember the more prep and forethought you put into the trip, the less likely you will be to spend money last-minute.

We tell our kids that vacation is really for Momma and Daddy to rest. We still plan for the kids, but we try to remember to allot ourselves time and opportunities to relax and have a good time otherwise vacation is basically the same crap in a different toilet, if I can be so elegant.

Over the next bit, I’ll spell out the components of our vacations, budget, and give an example success story or two so you can see how we pull off a vacation for 5 very economically, while having a great time together as a family.

Update: Check out Part 2 here!!

In the meantime, I would love to hear of your favorite places to vacation. Where do you keep going back to?

Don’t forget to follow our blog so you don’t miss the next installment of our summer vacation series…”Life’s a beach…vacations that don’t kill me”!



Children, Family

Meet Arby’s

IMG_1154This is Arby’s.

Arby’s is a little white-tail fawn. Adopted by boy child during a family trip to the mountains, this little deer is one of many special little friends in boy child’s crew.

So, the name? Three guesses.

It’s funny how boy child finds names for his little critters. And he’s not one to flip flop on the name, with it changing each time you ask what the name is. He names his friend and that’s it’s name, end of story.

So, among others, he has Mavis the turtle, Frankie Jr., the little whale shark (not to be confused with Frank, the big whale shark), Pleasant the pheasant, Beluga (the beluga), Hootie the barn owl, Snakie…the snake. Ok, I know some of these names aren’t all that creative. But by golly, you better not call them by another name.

And then there’s Arby’s.

Arby’s…not Arby. Arby’s…like the restaurant.

Because that’s where we ate right after “adopting” the little deer. And it was good. Boy child remembers this meal because he got to have a warm salty caramel chocolate cookie as a special treat since we were on vacation. He also remembers the restaurant and every time we head back to the mountains, he is forever connected to Arby’s- the deer and the eatery! So he has all the components to remind him of this happy memory he will never forget.

Regardless of what friend boy child has chosen to bring with him on any given travel in the car whether near or far, what tickles him and the girls is that every once in a while one of his little friends gets to drive the car!!!

It takes a bit of serendipity…dropping the animal in Daddy’s seat of the car, Daddy being in a playful mood, whether the animal wants to drive, whether we are running late, traffic in general, and if everyone is paying attention to the driver when it happens.

Imagine the sight of Arby’s plowing down the highway without a care in the world and feeling the wind in his fur. And the kids are in heaven with giggles and laughter!

What do your kids name their stuffed animals?


Children, Family

Little angler

img_1130Each of our children have learned to fish at a young age and this year it was baby girl’s turn. It’s funny because nothing about casting a  lure is a natural motion and trying to convey the finesse that goes into a good cast to a stubborn three year old makes for an interesting (and potentially dangerous) activity!

Baby girl has a Tinkerbell fishing pole with an easy cast button. We attached a small whiffle ball so she could work out the timing of pushing the button and casting. I think this is the funniest part of learning how to fish. We just watch that poor little whiffle ball helplessly whip around trees, bodies or the fishing pole itself while baby girl says, “uh-oh!” each time she gets the timing wrong.

What’s interesting, though, is how quickly baby girl honed in the timing of the cast and button press. In no time at all, she was casting like a pro all the way across the yard. This is one time where I prefer just letting her work it out herself. So she can really feel the timing herself.

Fast forward a few weeks to our vacation in the North Carolina mountains. All the kids desperately want to fish so Daddy kindly gets the fishing poles assembled and the lures attached so the kids can get started…and this time, that includes a fishing pole for baby girl!

Oh she was excited to fish! She was jumping up and down on the dock with glee (I know, scaring the fish…surprisingly we didn’t have many bites on this particular fishing day!). Once Daddy handed baby girl her fishing pole with a real lure (and hook!!), she tore off to the other side of the dock to show off her casting skills.

Let me just say this…the girl can cast. It looks impressive. And she quickly drew the attention of walkers who noticed this tiny little thing casting a lure across the lake!

Now, in the midst of this awesomeness we all were beholding, we quickly realized another skill baby girl was missing…patience. She reeled that lure in just as quickly as she cast it. Every time she cast she pulled it back in without delay, completely disregarding our instruction to be still and let the lure sit in the water.

Oh well, whatever fish she missed scaring with her jumping on the dock, she managed to scare with her lure plopping into the water and motor boating back to the shoreline.

One day she’s gonna be a great fisher girl.

Children, Uncategorized

Hit the Road, Jack!

One word: Vacation!!

Now that we have three little ones in tow, vacation has leaped into a whole new kind of complicated! You see, there’s all their special “stuff” we have to bring, which leaves our loyal sedan way too insufficient in the trunk department. Nevertheless, we persevere with our lists and piles and bags and back packs and strollers and activity bags…you get the idea.

So…this is how we did it:


List of clothes, by individual: mentally dress each individual and write the article of clothing as you go. You would not believe how easy it is to forget to bring underwear!

List of toiletries: our stuff, their stuff and don’t forget diapers and wipes!!

List of special “stuff” for the children, i.e. nightlights, blankies, bears, etc. This list is a special list because you cannot pack any of these items until the morning of departure.

List of accessories, i.e. little fishing poles, baby upright seat, sun hats, water wings, etc. These items are “stuff ums’”, meaning they go in the little cracks that form when you pack bags.

List of things to do before we go: timers, water house plants, dishes and for the love of all that’s holy, empty the trash can before you leave!!

List of car activities to keep the kiddos occupied: these should be books, colors, writing…all things they have never laid eyes upon before the trip begins. That will afford you about 15 extra minutes of concentrated occupation before you start hearing “are we there yet?”

Overnight bags. We decided to stop along the way to cut the trip down, really for the sake of the baby. You see, she is helplessly wedged between a three year old and a four year old who have a raging case of the “can’t keep our hands to ourselves” so they are forever messing with her.

Now that we have all of our essentials that have to go, I have to determine the square footage of trunk space versus the amount of things that need to go in the trunk PLUS the order in which they need to be accessed at any point on the trip. This is where things get tricky.

Baby gate lays flat- don’t need that until we arrive at our rental house. Clothes for the week in a huge duffel can be crammed in the back. Now, start looking at the dwindling space but don’t be overwhelmed by the huge pile sitting on the floor, yet to be loaded into the car. Just play the game of Tetris and position/ reposition the bags and items, making sure that the diaper bag, overnight bags and stroller go in last. Don’t be afraid to squash and smash…there’s no delicate vase in there!

Finally, gently close the trunk so at any point on the way down, you can feel if something is in the way of the deck lid. If all seems good, open it again and slam it shut!

Oh, did I mention someone has to entertain the kids the whole time this is going on? The packing is generally done by one person!

After all of this and a shirt change (thanks to the sweat), we are ready to go. Each child has a bin of car activities at their feet (make sure mom and dad’s seats can go back all the way so you can rotate drivers!) and there’s a little pile of baby hanging toys for baby’s entertainment. Baby goes in first (ignore her crying…she’ll fall asleep), then big sister and brother. Are we all in?? Really?? Can we finally get this show on the road???? Car starts and we pull out of the driveway then close the garage door. Finally…vacation has started….

“I have to go potty.”

It’s always something with three little ones, I guess!