Travel Planning: Researching A Trip

Travel Planning: Researching A tripLast week I wrote about how you can add more travel into your life, but for many people, it’s the travel planning that is a huge barrier to actually getting out the door. Being a researcher at heart (and through training, I have a Masters in Research Psychology), this is one of my favorite parts of travel. However, I know that travel planning is insanely daunting to many people, including my dear husband!

To help you add more travel to your life, I wanted to also provide you with some of my how to’s for planning a trip, short or long. The first post in this series is researching a trip.

One of the best parts of trip planning for me is the research aspect. I love reading about travel, learning about destinations and checking out photos of places around the world.  I have lists and lists of places I want to go and things I want to see for pretty much every country in the world. This part of researching for a trip is an ongoing process. I love my Listography app where I can easily jot down thoughts, locations and ideas when I see them.

I realize though that not everyone has these massive lists to inspire and guide their trip planning process. Instead, they feel overwhelmed and need a lot of help to plan or research a trip. If that is you, then continue reading for my tips on the first step of travel planning: how to research for a trip.

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7 Tips on How to Travel More

I often get asked how I am able to travel so much with my son. Do you homeschool? Are you loaded? Is your travel free? All valid questions. Traveling with a family is difficult once children are in school and have limited time off, but it is not impossible. Travel is also much more expensive than solo travel when you could sleep in less than stellar hostels or easily couchsurf and travel in dodgy local buses. But, again it is possible for most families to add more travel into their lives with a few small changes in their lifestyle and knowing where to look for cheaper travel options.

I am a travel blogger, which means I do get to go on some trips for free (or actually I would say for a barter if you count the countless hours I spend writing about them), but by and large most of the trips I take are self funded in some way or another. So how do I do it?

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2017 Travel Dreams

2017 Travel DreamsHappy New Year!! I hope your 2017 is off to an active and exciting start. For the 3rd year in a row I am laying out my travel dreams in writing. I haven’t quite gotten prepared enough to actually purchase any tickets this year, but I am putting my lofty aspirations out there so the universe can work it’s magic!

Last year I was able to do quite a bit from my 2016 Travel Dreams list. San Francisco, Seattle, London, South Africa and Ireland were all crossed off the list. Unfortunately Yellowstone was not. Instead, we added Central Oregon, which was amazing. Either way, it was a fantastic year for travel. I also did not get to do many of the things on my personal to do list, but I will try again this year.

Being obsessed with travel means having a never-ending list of places to visit. Since this list basically includes almost everywhere in the world, it is hard to actually narrow it down to what will happen THIS year. Right now, based on our family’s interests these are the top priorities that we hope to make happen. But I already know some are pipe dreams in the works, that we hope to accomplish in a few years! We do not have any set in stone trips planned for this year yet, so I am not quite sure what the year will turn out to be, but it will be fun and full of adventure even if it’s closer to home than it was last year. 

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Year in Review | 2016 Summary

1-photos-for-end-of-year-postThis year for many has been a tumultuous year. With the election and feelings of uncertainty moving throughout the world, 2016 has just felt hard for many of our friends and family. Even though we have had a fantastic year of travel, I have to also admit that it’s been a hard year for us. Between buying our first home, renovating it, my 40th birthday and our beloved Xena kitty’s death, it has been a busy year filled with ups and downs, lots of stress and lots of excitement.

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Exploring Saguaro National Park in One Day

Saguaro National Park in One DayOne of our main reasons for our recent visit to Tucson was to explore Saguaro National Park. And to get a other junior ranger badge of course! Reading the name saguaro, you might not know exactly what it is (or even how to say it!), but once you see the iconic cactus often associated with Arizona and specifically the Sonoran Desert it will click. Considering how iconic this cactus is, you might be surprised to learn that this is the only part of the world that these famous catctus grow. The national park itself houses over 2 million saguaros, making it the most dense population of saguaro anywhere.

Researching the park was a bit confusing because the park bookends the city of Tucson with an east and west section. It is the only national park in the US that is not connected fully. Driving between the two districts takes a little more than an hour, so it’s important to know which area you want to visit if you have limited time. While reading about the park in advance of our trip, we couldn’t figure out which section was best, so we decided to explore it all and share the results with you here.

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Visiting Manzanar National Historic Site with Kids

Visiting Manzanar Historic Site with Kids
Photo via Flickr

If you follow us regularly, you know we are national park obsessed. But it’s not just nature parks that we love to go to, we also enjoy visiting many of the monuments and historic sites that are part of the national park system. Through these other parks, we have been able to learn more about the history and culture of this great country.

On our recent visit to see fall colors in Bishop, we passed by Manzanar National Historic Site. As soon as my son saw the NPS badge on the road sign, he was obsessed with stopping to check it out. In researching our trip along Highway 395, I had read about Manzanar, so I wasn’t exactly sure if it was appropriate for my 6 year old. I gave him a brief history of the site and then we decided to see if they had a Junior Ranger program for him to complete. I felt confident that if they had a program, they must feel it is accessible to younger children. However, I admit I was nervous about our visit and wondered how it would impact him.

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Copenhagen Card – Should You Purchase It?

Copenhagen CardOn my first trip to Europe as a backpacker I was given a sound piece of advice that I’m honestly still not always great at following: Don’t fret over the cost of attractions. Recognize that you may never visit again and the cost of seeing something that is a little over your budget is much cheaper than going home and living with regret for years that you didn’t do it only because it was a few dollars more expensive than you had planned.

I still struggle with this occasionally. I sometimes get so caught up in the moment of saving money that I forget that I am on a holiday and this may be the only time I ever visit. Given this propensity of mine, I find that city savings cards aimed to save travelers money are often good bets for me.  This allows me the ability to see more than I would pay for as individual admissions and allows me to let go of the saving money stress for just a bit!

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Medieval Times or Pirate’s Dinner Adventure

Medieval Times or Pirate's Dinner AdventureVisitors flock to Southern California for vacation looking to fill their days and nights with as much fun as they can afford! If you are visiting Buena Park or nearby Anaheim you probably have on your itinerary to attend an interactive family dinner. The decision is which one to attend – Medieval Times or the Pirate’s Dinner Adventure. Having visited both, I will say they are both fantastic and provide great fun for the family, but there are some differences to keep in mind depending on your children’s interests, ages and what you hope to get out of the experience. To help you make your decision, we have outlined the basic information and our pros and cons of each.

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Top 3 Boutique Hotels in Kerala

Top 3 boutique hotels in KeralaOne of my favorite things about traveling in Asia are the amazing luxurious hotels at reasonable rates. During our years in India, the country in general was often behind the game when it came to boutique hotels, which meant most of the time we were trained to look for the international chain 5 star hotels if we wanted some luxury. However, Kerala was a different story. The southern most state of India always seemed to have a leg up on the rest of the country with an abundance of cute, inspiring boutique hotels. On our last visit, we had the opportunity to stay at several that we think are well worth checking out.

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8 Great Things to Do in London with Kids

Are you heading to London? Overwhelmed with all the things to do in London with kids? If so, this is the post for you!

It goes without saying what an amazing, world class city London is. Having visited many times prior to having a child,  I was excited to see it anew through my son’s eyes.  There is no shortage of things to do in London with or without children. Rather, the challenge is to narrow down what you can reasonably accomplish in a short visit.

Coming from another major metropolis, I tend to shy away from things that can be found in many cities – zoos, aquariums, etc. Instead, I look to do things that are unique about the destination. Even taking things like the Natural History Museum (which I hear is fabulous still!), the zoo, etc off the table, we were still overwhelmed with how much there was to do in London. Loving everything we did in London, it’s hard to come up with just a few, but below are the best things to do in London with kids in our opinion.

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29 Palms: A Joshua Tree Hidden Gem

29 Palms OasisWe have been to Joshua tree too many times to count, but we continue to find new areas to explore. On my most recent trip, I had the opportunity to stay in Twentynine Palms near the Oasis of Mara entrance. In all my times to the park, I have only visited this area twice. Now I have a new reason to return.

The city of Twentynine Palms is a wonderful destination as well as place to stay while exploring Joshua Tree. The town itself is super cute, bursting at the seams with a creative vibe that is inspiring. This part of Joshua tree is less touristed than the main visitor center, but there are plenty of reasons why you should make put Twentynine Palms on your must visit list.

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Exploring Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland

Exploring Giant's Causeway in Northern IrelandEver since I first visited Ireland in 2004 I have wanted to get to the north to see the Giant’s Causeway. Even though my husband was born and bred in Dublin he had never made the 3 hour journey to the north due to growing up during ‘The Troubles’. A visit to the north wasn’t super high on his list which meant it has taken me 12 years of visiting Ireland to finally get there.

Days before our departure friends began to tell us that we shouldn’t get our hopes up, it wasn’t that impressive. I started to worry that I’d been building it up all these years even before the popularity of Instagram photos luring people places. However, after visiting it, I have to say it was spectacular, and totally worth the wait to do it with my rock climbing obsessed 5 year old.

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Witnessing a Lion Kill on Safari

Witnessing a lion kill on safariThere are many reasons people go on safari in Africa; but, it’s safe to say, the main reason is to see animals in their natural habitat, untamed and free to be wild. Not every person comes to see the same thing, either. Some come for the close-up photo opportunities, some for the less well known mammals or birds, while some go on safari for the exhilaration of seeing a kill.

Prior to our trip to South Africa, we spent weeks checking out the Mala Mala Instagram feed surveying the animals we would soon see in person. It is there that we first saw a video of lions attacking a buffalo. It was horrifying, mesmerizing and addicting. I was too squeamish to watch with the volume on, however, my 5 year old was hooked. Seeing the circle of life in action quickly became the *must see* on his South African adventure wish list. Mine was a bit simpler.. only to see a herd of zebra grazing peacefully on the open savannah. But would either of us get our wish, we weren’t sure when we set off on our adventure across the world. 

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A Perfect Weekend: Things to Do in Huntington Beach

Things to Do in Huntington BeachWhen most people think of Southern California, the image that comes to mind is of golden sand beaches running for miles, beautiful sunsets and surfers galore. This is exactly what is waiting to greet you in Huntington Beach! From relaxing on the beach, to adventure sports and delicious restaurants, Huntington Beach offers something for everyone, making it a great destination for families who love to sit back and relax or get out and explore.

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Finding Adventure in Dinosaurland

Last summer we took a 10 day road trip through Arizona and Utah with our family friends from Texas. While researching that trip I came across Dinosaur National Monument in northern Utah and western Colorado. We weren’t planning to be anywhere near that area so I stored it away for any future trips in the … Read more

Where to Eat in Cape Town with Kids

Where to eat in Cape Town with KidsOne of the most stressful parts of travel for me is figuring out where to eat. Somehow I manage to research and plan most aspects of our travel, always forgetting to look at food options. However when you travel with kids (or a mama who gets hangry!) this is kind of important.

We typically find ourselves in situations with almost no choice or like in Cape Town, an abundance of options. To be honest, I found Cape Town to be a bit overwhelming in the food department because there were just so many choices everywhere we looked. However, on closer inspection, many of the places don’t have kiddie menus which means paying full price for a meal your child may or may not eat.

On our quest to find family friendly restaurants, we lucked out and found a few gems we would highly recommend to others. Below are our the top 5 restaurants we ate at in Cape Town that not only provided delicious food for children, but also helped to entertain them!

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Family Day Trip to Muir Woods

Family Day Trip to Muir WoodsThe Bay Area is one of my favorite places on earth. Not just because I lived there for almost a decade, but because no matter where you turn you are surrounded by so much beauty. The abundance of beautiful scenery, picturesque streets and my favorite, the fog rolling in each day can’t be beat.

There is so much to do in San Francisco itself, that many visitors find it difficult to even leave the city. However, there are some great day trips that are worth taking time to explore. One of our favorites is spending the day across the Golden Gate Bridge, checking out the view points and exploring the wilderness in the Golden Gate Recreation Area as well as Muir Woods in Mill Valley.

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Where to Stay in Cape Town with Kids

Where to Stay in Cape Town with KidsCape Town is one of the most spectacular cities I have visited in my many years of travel. From its picturesque beaches, abundance of outdoor activities and vibrant local culture, Cape Town offers something for everyone. Kids especially will love taking a cable car up the mountain, watching penguins play on the beach and exploring neighborhood playgrounds. It’s a beautiful, friendly and accessible city that welcomes visitors easily, much like my other favorite city, San Francisco. Cape Town is a wonderful place to base yourself, for as long as you possibly can!

The problem is knowing where to base yourself! While planning our trip to the city, we were stumped about what area would be best for families. There is not a ton written on exploring Cape Town with kids, so we took a gamble and chose the safe bet of the V & A Waterfront. It has its perks, but after thoroughly exploring the city, I have even more recommendations on where to stay in Cape Town with kids.

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Where To Go in Nicaragua

Where to go in NicaraguaNicaragua is high on my travel to do list (well what isn’t really?). When a friend took off with her husband and 20 month old son for a 2 week trip, I was captivated by their adventures! I loved following their journey on Facebook and Instagram, so I asked them to share their trip with us. Selfishly it’s partly so I will know exactly where to go when we finally make it down, but also I thought others might enjoy learning more about an up and coming family destination that is easily accessibly from Los Angeles. Thank you Misti for your contribution![hr]

Nicaragua is a geographically diverse country, filled with volcanoes, lakes, beaches, jungles, mountains, coffee plantations, islands, wildlife, cities, villages, markets, lovely people and endless options for a travel itinerary. Deciding where to visit was difficult and involved loads of pouring over our Lonely Planet and various sites on the internet. We chose four varied destinations, deciding to spend a few days in each; a colorful colonial city, a peaceful volcanic island in Lake Nicaragua, a tiny and secluded Caribbean island and a hip but relaxing surf village on the Pacific coast.

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Best Urban National Parks for Families

Many famous and well visited tourist sites in the US are classified under the national park system, however, most visitors don’t even realize it. Monuments, places of historical significance and battlefields are just some of the types of places you will find within the NPS.  Many times, the most famous of the national park system’s … Read more