Category Archives: Something Actually Useful

Resources and Tips

Today’s Tip: Disneyland With Toddlers

Full disclosure: my first trip to Disneyland with a toddler was mostly a bust. My son was three years old when I decided we were ready for our first trip to Disneyland. He walked through the turnstiles, saw the hordes of people, heard the Disney band marching towards us-trombones blaring-and he cried. He covered his ears, asked to be picked up, and declared his trip to Disneyland was over.

So it was, that our first trip to Disneyland together involved a lot more tears and bribery through Mickey-shaped ice cream sandwiches, than the magical memories I’d hoped for. Here are the lessons I learned. Don’t laugh, I was a rookie mom.

1. Just because all the other toddlers are doing it, doesn’t mean mine will. I saw plenty of  bouncing, laughing toddlers float by me on the Pirate of Caribbean boats. They were apparently not the least bit bothered by the realistic pirates, skulls, and the cannon battles. So off we went  into the pirate’s lair. My son hated me the whole day after. In fact, he refused to go on almost all other rides-even the harmless Heimlich’s Chew Chew train (a green caterpillar cruising at 2 mph through giant fruit and yelling in a bad German accent) was too suspect for him to even attempt. I knew my child was super sensitive to most of the Disney movies at that age, why did I think going on the rides would be any different? I let peer pressure get the better of me. Just say no.

2. You will travel 7 hours, spend hundreds of dollars, and your child will want to ride the Monorail 5 times (and the Jungle Cruise 6 times). I quickly found that my very active three-year-old boy was not captivated by most of the Fantasyland rides, he would rather run around Tom Sawyer Island, ride the train, and pretend he was an explorer in the Jungle. I altered our ride plans after our first horrid day, and went with his natural interest in trains, dirt, and running like crazy through jets of water. Our day was a lot less filled with princesses and pirates, but a whole lot easier. You may not like where your toddler will take you, but just go with it.

3. There are crowds and then there are holiday crowds. I didn’t realize that the crowds during Easter week would make our visit three times harder. The seas of people, umbrella strollers, and noise were too much for sensitive little guy to handle. I wasn’t too fond of it either. If you don’t get to visit Disneyland often and have invested a lot of money into your trip, you don’t want to spend your precious time standing in line for the parking tram.

4. Plan or perish. I made a lot of mistakes on that first trip, but my lack of planning is what really did me in. The extent of my planning involved printing out a Disneyland map and checking out some of the ride descriptions on their website. I didn’t give too much thought to making a plan for our day. Because of our ill-fated first trip, I have learned a whole lot more about the best ways to enjoy Disneyland (at any age). Do your research, there are a lot of resources online to help you.

5. Nobody took my Mother of the Year award away from me. Sure, I made mistakes on my first trip, but there were things I couldn’t have foreseen. My son’s reaction was all his own, and maybe no amount of planning and preparation would have prevented it. Toddlers are lovable but unpredictable little anarchists. Do what you can to make your toddler’s first trip to Disneyland enjoyable, and if else fails buy him a Mickey-shaped popsicle. Then find yourself a shady bench.

Today’s Tip: On Winter Driving

Those long car trips with kids can be a big fat drag. When you add snow, ice, road closures, chain controls, and that bumper-to-bumper California traffic, then you have a recipe for a meltdown (yours, of course). I am not a safety or driving expert, but I can share some tips for how I have learned to make the long, snowy drives more bearable, and a whole lot safer.

1. Know the weather and road conditions before you get in the car.

If you’re expecting clear skies and roads, then skip ahead to tip number 2. If you’re expecting blizzard conditions, then you have more to consider (while you drink a soothing, calming tea). You may consider postponing the trip for another weekend, or delaying the departure for the next day. Unfortunately, most people make reservations for lodging that can’t be changed at the last minute without a cancellation fee. If you decide (or are forced to) to change your trip plans because of highway closures, call the hotel to see if they will let you change your reservation without penalty.

2. Carry the right equipment and supplies no matter what the weather forecast says.

Weather conditions change quickly, so sunny skies are not an excuse to be unprepared. Carry chains if you need them. Take along food, water, blankets, maps, and flashlights. And always let someone know where you’re going and what road you plan on taking.

3. Make a pit stop before you begin the climb up to the summit.

The traffic may be flowing, the roads may be clear, and you may be ready to get there already, but make a quick pit stop before you continue your journey to family ski nirvana. Fill up the tank with gas, have the kids take a potty break, and get some food. Believe me, I have been stuck up on a mountain highway for hours, waiting for an unexpected accident to clear up. That’s when I see people climbing through 5 feet of snow at the side of the road, looking for a spot for their potty break. I’m not painting a pretty picture, right?

4. Don’t drive at night or while fatigued.

There’s nothing worse than getting in the car on a Friday night, after working all week, and driving through a snow storm. If you’re tired, don’t get behind the wheel.

5. Timing is everything.

Driving up to ski areas in the winter can mean heavy traffic, regardless of the weather conditions. If possible, you’ll want to travel early in the morning, even if this means leaving work or pulling the kids out of school early. If your trip coincides with a school holiday vacation, then use the extra days to your advantage. You can leave early on a Saturday morning instead of a Friday night, or you can avoid the days before major holidays.

So it’s a lot to think about, I know. But it’s all worth it to see your happy skiers race past you down the hill. Well, kinda. 

What do you do if your car starts to spin, or you get stuck in the snow? I may or may not have some experience with that. If you’re looking for driving tips to help you handle snowy, icy road conditions, then this article has some excellent suggestions. No idea, if I’d actually remember what to do if my left rear wheel started to skid though.


Linking up to Talking Trekaroo’s Spotlight Thursday for other family travel news.

Today’s Tip: When You Give a Kid an iPhone

…he just may find a way to pass the time.

He’ll never be bored while waiting for his flight…

…or while waiting for his kid’s menu at the restaurant…

…or even while waiting for the big tall dude to sit down and stop shaking his pom-pom at the big playoff baseball game.

But if his mom leaves him unattended with the iPhone camera for too long, she just may have to delete a lot of very embarrassing pictures. (Sorry you’re not getting any photos of me with the clown hair and big red nose.)

Photo creations by the kiddo using Faces iMake and Squiggles apps. I found out about these apps while browsing two very helpful kid’s apps sites Moms With Apps and Best Kids Apps.

Best Family Travel Advice

I’m always quick to share my advice with friends (I’m bossy like that), so I’m lucky to be joining the team of traveling moms at the recently launched website: Best Family Travel Advice.

Some of my favorite travel blogging moms got together to share all their hard-earned travel wisdom in one place. The idea is simple: parents ask the questions and other parent experts answer them. Have you wondered how to tackle a red-eye flight with a toddler? Well, there’s an answer for that. Or maybe you want to take your young kids snorkeling, well there’s some advice for that too.

Take all of your how-to-travel-with-kids-and-not-lose-your-sanity questions to the experts at Best Family Travel Advice. The best part is that your questions may be get multiple answers. I think that one of the best parts about the site is that there’s room for different opinions and views. I may think that my advice is golden, but there are other moms out there who see things differently. Good thing.

Today’s Tip: Pack It Up

I dislike packing so much, that I am not enjoying writing the topic very much either. Wait. Don’t go anywhere. Just because the topic of packing makes me a bit grouchy, doesn’t mean it’s not an important one to discuss. Behind every other travel tale I’ve ever written about on this blog, is a well-packed suitcase. Or two.

I was never good at packing before I became a mom, and my shortcomings were only aggravated when my little travel companion (along with all his kiddie stuff) came into the picture. But I had to rise above my inability to make a packing list, carry small suitcases, and bring enough pairs of socks. It has been a learning process, but I’m just becoming more of a packing ace with every trip we take.

I haven’t packed a suitcase bigger than a carry-on for each of us for the last few years, even for trips longer than 2 weeks. I know some of you are not impressed by this, since you can travel the world for years with nothing but a backpack. But for the rest of you who haven’t stopped reading this post yet, I’m going to offer up some of my expertise.

Here’s how I pack it up.

1. I’m addicted to packing cubes. Initially, I bought packing cubes because I was looking for an alternative to disposable plastic bags. They have turned out to be a great investment. I just roll (this step is key) the clothes, fill the cubes, and easily stuff them into the suitcase. I like that I can separate items of clothing for my son and that I have different colors for his and mine. As an added bonus, the packing cubes easily come out of a suitcase and into the dresser drawer of a hotel room.

2. I choose the outfits wisely. I am not a fashionista when I’m at home, so I don’t pretend that I’m going to be one while on my trip. I pick a few basic colors for my clothes, take few shoes, and try to choose clothes that will wash easily. Luckily, my son would wear his favorite shirt every day if I let him, so he doesn’t have a hard time limiting the outfits he packs.

3. I prepare for the inevitable laundry. There is no way to pack light, travel for a lengthy period, and get away with not doing laundry. If you know of a way, please do share. I can’t afford to have the hotel do the laundry for me, so it usually means a lot of Woolite and hanging clothes to dry in the hotel bathroom. If the hotel has a washing machine on the premises (or even better, in your room) then you’ve got it made. The keys to washing clothes by hand are: to take clothes made out of materials that will dry quickly and to use a travel towel to wring them out. I love my travel towel so much, I could write a whole post about it. Stay tuned, I know you’re eagerly anticipating that post.

4. Seriously, we don’t have to take every toy we own. This rule goes for both me and my son. I realized I could live without my bulky laptop and he doesn’t have to take his baseball bat (although it may have come in handy while we were in the subways of NYC this summer). When my son was younger, I would pack up too many of his playthings for fear that he would get antsy and whiny. He never played with more than a few things, since we were always too busy on our travels. Besides, I found that it’s better to save room in his backpack for a few souvenirs.

5. If I didn’t pack it, I can always buy it when I get there. This mantra was the hardest one for me to learn and follow. I came to the realization that there were very few things that I absolutely couldn’t leave my home without (medications, documents, and my phone), everything else I could do without or just buy when I got there. I learned the hard way, that I don’t have to take enough cotton balls to fill half my suitcase.

Feel free to share any of your packing tips in the comments below. I’m always looking to improve my skills.

Linking up to Trekaroo’s Spotlight Thursday.

Favorite Summer Vacation Posts

There is still plenty of summer vacation left here in California (trust me, this teacher has counted the days on the calendar), so get out there and enjoy those long, sunny days.
Here are some posts to help you in all of your summer travel endeavors.

If you’re itching to take a road trip…

I wrote a post for the Trekaroo blog on how to tackle a road trip along the central coast of California.

So you’re ready to hit the road along the coast, just don’t forget the beach bag. Read here for some California road trip tips.

Here are my thoughts on packing busy bags and taking technology on the road.

The kids and moms will be hungry as soon as you pull out of the driveway, here are some tips on what me and other mom travel bloggers pack in their snack bag at Cascadia Kids.

It’s not summer without a trip to the beach…

If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in a tropical paradise and would like to take your kids swimming with the fishes, read some of my snorkeling tips.

I loved to snorkel in Maui’s Kapalua Bay. Please send me a photo if you do go, I’ll live vicariously through you this summer.

One of the top searches to the blog this month has been fried artichoke hearts in Santa Cruz. And it often leads readers to this post on the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. This is definitely one of my favorite places to eat fried artichoke hearts (they may not be the best you can find, but you just can’t beat the ambiance).

If you’re ready for some s’mores…

Our all-time popular post is about some favorite California campgrounds with kids.

Here are some tips for you newbie campers. Or if you’re a seasoned pro, tell me what else I can add to the list.

Rant and Rave: Hotel Edition

I have been wanting to do this Rant and Rave post for a while now. Lucky for you, I finally got around to it. Here’s the basic premise: I choose something to rant about and something to rave about. I have a lot of opinions to share, so I hope to make this a regular installment at Kids Go West.

Hotels give you lots to love, and lots to hate. This week I share one of in each category.

Rave: Hotel condos that have in-room washer and dryers.

I hate to do laundry. And when I’m trying to find places to line-dry all the underwear and bathing suits I just hand-washed in the bathtub of a small hotel room, I hate it even more. That’s why I loved the in-room washer and dryers in the condominium hotel resorts we stayed at while in Hawaii. Nothing makes my heart beat faster, than dancing over to a laundry machine with a pile of wet, sandy bathing suits while still in the comfort of my own hotel room. Except maybe, if it’s Orlando Bloom that’s doing that pile of dirty laundry for me. I still haven’t found a hotel that offers that package. I’ll be sure to let you know when I do.

Rant: Those little toiletry bottles that look exactly the same.

Give me a show of hands: who has lathered up their arms with hair conditioner before? I know it’s not just me, right? It probably is. But I hate it when the lotion bottles and hair conditioner bottles look exactly the same. I’m a busy mom, who doesn’t have time to read the small print on those labels. Hotels, please think of this flustered mom and make those bottles more distinct. I doubt the hotel industry is listening, or that this is a problem for anyone else but me. So I’ll probably end up lathering my hair with body lotion on my next trip, but at least I tried.

Today’s Tip: Saving a Bit on Your Hotel Stay

I spend a lot of my trip-planning time, trying to make my travel dollars stretch when it comes to choosing hotels. I just booked seven different hotels for one of our trips this summer and had to find a way to make them all affordable. It took time, but I’ve mastered a few simple rules for getting the best possible hotel for the least amount of money. Because I’m such a giver, I’m going to share them with you today.

1. Stay just outside the city. It’s no surprise that hotel rates in big cities are high. It may be convenient to be in the heart of the action, but for some families it’s just out of reach. I found that the most affordable hotels are always just outside the city, the cheapest options being found around airports. Some cities here in the western states have good public transportation to get you back to the heart of the city, even though you’re just outside of it. But some cities don’t. In Los Angeles, for example, you will be doing a lot of driving if you’re far from the attractions you want to visit. You don’t want to do a lot of driving in Los Angeles, so you will have to find hotels in the location you want.

2. Stay in a newly-opened hotel. Aaahh, there’s just something about that new hotel smell. I know you’re probably thinking that it would be too expensive to stay at the newer, fancier properties. It can be. But it’s not, if you book early enough to snag all those opening rates. When I browse the hotel chain websites, my eyes perk up when I see a soon-to-open property listed. If the dates match my trip dates, I look for any pre-opening or opening rates. Just know that sometimes it’s a gamble, because hotels don’t always open on time. So I book a second option (never prepaid) just in case. I love this master list of hotel openings at the website Hotel Chatter, but I’m a bit geeky like that.

3. Book early, or not. I booked many of the hotels for my June trip about two months ahead of time. I never prepay them, unless they’re an unbeatable deal, so I have time to keep looking as I get closer to my trip. There may be those last-minute deals that pop-up, so I will still keep looking. It has been my experience, though, that I rarely find a deal that’s so much better that I have to rebook my hotel. When you’re traveling with kids, you have specific room types and specifications that you’re looking for, and those are rarely the room types that show up in those last-minute deals.

4. Use your memberships. I use my AAA membership discounts at almost every hotel, the rates are almost always cheaper. Costco also has good deals, but they’re more limited in the number of hotels that are offered.

5. Find those hotel deals websites. There are hundreds of websites offering hotel deals, more than I have time to follow. I like Travelzoo and Hotwire Travel Ticker. I also have to give a special shout-out to a site that is geared for traveling in the Pacific Northwest: Northwest Cheap Sleeps.

Am I missing any other tips for saving money on hotels? Please do share.

Today’s Tip: Pop-Out Maps

I know that taking a map on a trip is not a novel thing. It’s pretty much a requirement. But these days, when you have GPS and Google maps readily available at every crossroads, you may think twice about taking a paper map. You shouldn’t.

I say: when traveling with kids, taking paper maps should still be a requirement. Why pass up a chance to give your kids a real-life geography lesson?

I have written about my kid’s map obsession before. Whether we’re visiting Sea World or New York, my kid is going to want to see the map. He just has to know where we are and were we’re going. It may have to do with the fact that on every one of our trips, it’s inevitable that we will get lost. Now that’s a post for a later date, but the point is that he wants to be part of the lively-”Where are we?”-discussions that take place in the middle of busy intersections.

So we make him part of the discussion, by giving him a chance to study the maps right along with us. You can’t do that with the map on your cell phone, it’s just too hard for more than one head at a time to study it. Paper maps are just more communal that way. They also give your family the advantage of looking like flustered tourists.

We love to take out our Pop-Out city maps while deliberating our next move on a street corner. These foldable maps are tiny, but pack a lot of information. They’re also very kid-friendly. The landmarks are easy to find, the streets are all delineated clearly enough for younger kids to be able to read them, and they’re easy for little hands to hold. We take these maps with us, even to cities we visit often. So when I hear the little voice from the back seat ask, “Where are we?”, I just toss him the map and answer (in my calm, maternal voice), “You can help us find out”.

This summer we’re visiting cities we don’t yet have Pop-Out maps for and I was contemplating whether to buy them or not. After writing this very persuasive post, I’ve decided to buy them. I know my kid is going to want to get his hands on one, the minute we hit those city streets.

I have to keep my little Marco Polo happy, after all.

Today’s tip was inspired by a post written by Tech Savvy Mama blogger Leticia Barr, where she writes about all the geographic teachable moments that came from her family walking around NYC with a laminated fold-out map. I couldn’t agree more.

Today’s Tip: Technology on the Road

I was recently informed by my (currently unemployed) eight-year-old son, that everyone has a Nintendo DSi. He  told me he’s just bored to pieces when he has to wait too long at a restaurant or when we’re in the car too long. Apparently, it’s not fun to “just listen to us (the adults) talk.”

I’m not moved by his pleas. Call me old-fashioned, but I think that being bored is just part of the fun of being a kid. What would a road trip be without the incessant whining from the back seat? It would be unnatural, that’s what it would be. Still, I like to meddle with the natural order of things from time to time. So that’s why I’ve been known to hand my son some techie gadgets to entertain himself in the back seat.

The Portable DVD Player

When he was very young, we had a portable DVD player. He was a bit of tyrant on long road trips, so I was willing to try anything to keep him quiet. An episode of Thomas the Tank Engine usually did the trick. Then it was back to whining. When our DVD player broke, I didn’t bother replacing it because the little amount of quiet time it gave me from the back seat didn’t make it a worthwhile investment. Besides, it was bulky, I had to remember to recharge it, and carry around a whole bunch of discs.

The Portable Wiggles Tape Player

It was red, shiny, and had a built-in microphone. He sang along to his Wiggles tunes for a while, I went to my happy place, but when the tape ran out it was back to whining. I would up the ante, and pop some audiobooks into his big, red boombox. That kept him happy for a lot longer. Long live the audiobooks.

The Discman

Yes, you read it right. As my son got older, I figured he was ready to inherit a family heirloom: my old Discman. He could listen to more audiobooks, but now he had graduated to shiny CDs. I didn’t really care too much if he damaged the Discman, so he could experiment with the buttons as much as he wanted. The good news was that the car did get a whole lot quieter because he was old enough for the headphones. Long live the headphones.

The iPod

One happy Mother’s Day, I decided to spoil myself so I bought an iPod classic. Our family had entered a whole new age of technology. Suddenly there was a whole wide world of music, audiobooks, games, TV shows, and movies at my fingertips. But the iPod was more likely to end up in my son’s fingertips when we traveled. I willingly gave up the luxury of listening to my tunes if it meant I would get some peace and quiet. We still use the iPod and I love that it is so small that I can carry it around everywhere. So long to the bulky DVD player, Discman, and Big, Red Boombox. Technology is indeed a magical thing.
Today I purchased an iPhone. As you can tell from my list, our family doesn’t see a lot of high-tech wizardry in our home. I expect that when I open the box and pull out the shiny object, we are likely to resemble the big, hairy crew of the Planet of the Apes. I’ll keep you updated on how this new technology changes our travels.

I also expect I’ll be visiting the site Best Kids Apps a lot more often now to find iPhone apps for kids. So many apps, so little time. That’s why I’m glad that two savvy traveling moms are reviewing loads of apps to make the job easier for us busy moms. I’m also participating in a little contest they have going on there. They’re giving away an iPad to blogging moms. Now imagine if my son got his paws on a shiny iPad….