As a kid, I trotted around the United States exploring the national parks and learning to appreciate our country from the comfort of a car. During the day, we wandered along hiking trails and explored quirky and significant roadside attractions, but by night we always camped. At least a few weeks out of every summer I slept in campgrounds. I learned to love the smoky taste of baked beans and hot dogs for dinner, and I grew comfortable sleeping on an orange inflatable mat in a tent shared with my sister and dad.
A number of years have passed since those days, but my love for camping has been a constant. I received a hand-me-down tent from my dad while I was in college, and I slept in my bulky sleeping bag for a long time before I upgraded at an REI garage sale just a few short years ago, though I still own that orange inflatable mat. Because my love for camping continues to flourish, my husband and I seek out opportunities to pitch our tent every year. For lots of people, camping is a production. They have to acquire gear, find a way to pack it into the car and then hope to high heck that they didn’t forget something.
Mardi Gras has a reputation of being a days-long, drunken party with barely clad women, obnoxiously hammered men and long nights filled with noise, debauchery and heathenism. Don’t get me wrong: I would love to get into the true Mardi Gras mix at some point in time so I can truly appreciate all the madness, but I can also appreciate the need to keep things a bit more even-keeled.
Certainly Carnival season has its moments that could be rated PG13, R or even NC17, but it’s actually possible to enjoy the festivities with kids in tow. You might not want to set up shop on Bourbon Street in New Orleans for the duration of Mardi Gras if you’re looking for good, clean, family fun, but there are plenty of ways to enjoy the holiday’s spirits devoid of all the adults-only entertainment.
Think about safety first.
Mardi Gras festivities can be crowded, loud and a little overwhelming. Have back-up plans on where to meet if you’re separated in the swarm of people. Also, make sure that younger kids have contact information on their bodies — in a pocket, around their neck — in case they’re separated from you.
Stick to family-appropriate activities.
Mardi Gras celebrations feature a number of parades, some of them especially geared for families. And, during major parades particularly in New Orleans, there are parts of the parade route that are more appropriate for kids. (Lake Charles, Louisiana, which holds the second largest Mardi Gras celebration in the state, seems designed with families in mind.) Look beyond the parades, though. Find gumbo cook-offs, visit museums featuring Mardi Gras costumes from years past and search out fun, often overlooked local traditions that offer a unique peek into the holiday. This a great time to talk about Mardi Gras and all of the customs that have been born because of it, so make it an educational opportunity as well.
Though I appreciate the opportunities I’m given to stay in super swanky hotel rooms while I’m working, when I’m traveling with my family, I prefer to stay in vacation rentals for many different reasons. First, the amount of space per person is usually much greater than a hotel room. Second, I love having our own kitchen. Even if we don’t eat in, being able to make a snack or at least have the option to make a light meal can be a huge money saver. Third, I have found the price of vacation rentals in general to be far more competitive and a better buy than hotel rooms, especially given the plentiful amenities that come with them.
Several months ago, I learned about Wimdu, a vacation rental service that allows users to search for apartments, villas and homes all around the world. In need of a close-to-home getaway, we decided to take a bit of a getaway to San Diego over the Thanksgiving holiday. It was a great opportunity for us to share Southern California with our latest foreign exchange student, and, as I was just coming off of a conference immediately followed by a press trip, it gave me the chance to create a self-imposed writing retreat.
My dad used to tell this story about how, when I was young enough to fly for free, I’d go with him on business trips to Iowa. I’d ride on his briefcase through the airport terminal and sit on his lap in the airplane. He’d drop me off at my grandparents’ house and then, I presume, go from business meeting to business meeting. I don’t actually remember these trips; I don’t know how often I went or how many I went on.
Stories of early adventures with my dad have been enhanced with additional anecdotes as the two of us have taken more trips together, and my mom and I have started creeping into the travel world together as well, most recently with a road trip from Wisconsin to Pennsylvania.
I am fortunate to be able to travel every couple months as a result of my job, but I’ll be the first to admit that day after day, week after week on the road wears me thin. Perpetual travel can be exhausting, and I’m grateful for the fact that I have a home base, a bed and a daily routine. My travel schedule — which is peppered throughout the months — tends to space itself out well enough that I’m always just a bit itchy to travel in the weeks leading up to my trip and also pleasantly relieved to be able to spend time at home once my trip is over.
I realize that every traveler is different, whether you travel with family, travel on your own, travel for business or only get out when you have vacation time. I also know that, regardless of the travel style, there is an opportunity for burnout. Travel can feel stale and lose its novelty. The wide-eyed wonder that once accompanied your passport is left behind. Where you used to find interesting local experiences, you now encounter pushy touts, street kids and people who want to rip you off in the market.
Losing the lust to travel can be akin to ripping out a piece of yourself. What happened to that love you used to have? Why do you dread packing your bags and boarding an airplane? If you find yourself feeling this way, it’s time to reboot and rekindle that passion that once compelled you to travel to new places, eat new food, chat with new people and experiment with a new language. It’s time to let your next trip feel like your very first one.
If you usually travel alone, buddy up with a friend or go with a tour group. If you normally stick to the comfort of an all-inclusive resort, plan a trip that involves piecing together your own travel details. If you normally go to the beach, head for the mountains. If you always find yourself at the airport, plan a road trip instead. In other words, shake things up so you don’t feel like you’re doing the same old things every time you leave home.
My husband and I don’t have kids, so we’ve never done any traveling with children in the traditional sense, but we have been host parents to foreign exchange students, so we’ve learned a bit about traveling with teenagers. Teens are at an interesting stage in their lives — they’re old enough to be independent but still need supervision and guidance to a certain extent. And though there is the possibility that they may be mortified to be seen with their parents (or host parents), chances are they’ll appreciate the value of the traveling experience if not today, at least at some point in the future.
If you’re debating about whether to travel with teens, the very best advice I can provide is YES, DO IT! But if you need some help working out the nitty gritty details on how to make it work, here are our best tips:
> Involve them in the planning process. Ask your teenager where he or she wants to go and what he wants to do. This can be a very broad question, and the response ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I don’t care’ is likely, so it may be better to narrow down the destination or type of trip and then provide options. While planning a trip, find out what kind of activities your teen is interested in (i.e. camping, hunkering down in a vacation rental, doing more adventurous activities). Once you’ve narrowed down what type of trip you’d like to take, ask what your teen would like to do and provide options instead of leaving the question open ended. When we had a free day during our Spring Break trip to Southern California, we didn’t just ask our student and her friend what they wanted to do, we provided them with options. In the end, your teen has input within the confines of a trip that you ultimately plan.
While we were planning our recent trip to Iceland, an email landed in my inbox that piqued my interest. It was from Roomorama, a company that offers short-term rentals on apartments, homes and rooms. It’s essentially a meeting place for people who want to put their private accommodations up for nightly or weekly rental and those who want to stay somewhere other than a hotel. Some people call these vacation rentals. I call it convenient.
Roomorama invited me to try its service in exchange for a voucher, and since I was looking for somewhere to stay near Reykjavik for a few days, I decided to give it a try.
The Roomorama website is easy to use. I’m immediately turned off by sites that are crowded and cluttered, but Roomorama’s is simple to navigate. You can either search generally by destination, or you can focus your search with a city, dates and the number of people traveling with you. Search results return a clean listing of the lodgings that include a picture of the property available, the type of property, number of rooms and the maximum of people the property can accommodate. Prices are listed per night on the right hand side in big, bold font. This, of course, is probably what is most important to a lot of people, so the fact that it’s front and center is awesome.
That’s been a lot written on how to save money for travel, and certainly the fact that traveling can be quite pricey is a legitimate concern. However, I am of the belief that some quality experiences cost money, and it’s okay to pay for them. I understand that lots of people take pride in traveling on a budget, but I also know that some of these people miss out on a lot because they don’t want to spend money. They don’t take tours, don’t visit significant sites, always take public transportation and cook in the hostel kitchen when they could be eating stellar local meals … all because these things cost more than they want to spend.
I’m sure that some people will disagree with what I have to say on this subject, and they’ll say that they have fantastic travel experiences without spending a lot of money. I am not denying what they have to say, but I would argue that it’s also perfectly okay to splurge when you travel. I do it, and I don’t regret it. Here’s why:
Freedom costs money. As much as I enjoy riding trains, I thoroughly enjoy having my own set of wheels. Renting a car in other countries has given me the ability to go places that public transportation doesn’t go. It’s allowed me to visit places at times when tour buses aren’t there and given me the freedom to leave when tour buses arrive.
A disclaimer: I make no claims to be an expert in the hostel life. Hostels aren’t my preferred kind of accommodations, though I have stayed in a fair share in my days — in Peru, in Vietnam and even stateside when I was a poor college student.
But a few weeks ago a friend of mine, who was heading to Spain for a solo trip for the very first time, asked my advice about what to pack to stay in a hostel. My initial response was that I certainly wasn’t qualified to answer that question, but then I realized I actually had a bunch of advice on what to pack to stay in a hostel. If you, too, will be staying in a hostel for the very first time, here are a few things you should pack before you check in:
Sleep sack – Some hostels supply sheets, and some do not. In any case, it’s hard to say how clean the sheets might be, so I always pack a compact silk sleep sack, which I sleep in, and then I drape any available sheet over top. You can make your own sleep sack by sewing two twin size sheets together, but these are a bit bulky, so I suggest you invest in one of the compact ones. They’re light and warm, and they don’t take up much space.
Being eco-friendly is all the rage these days, but what, exactly, does that mean if you travel? Certainly there are many ways to minimize your eco-footprint in all stages of the travel process, but choosing earth-friendly accommodations is one of the biggest choices you’ll need to make if you want to enjoy an environmentally conscious holiday.
Keep in mind that hotels that are eco-friendly aren’t always easy to spot from the outside. This is because many environmental concerns are managed behind-the-scenes so that guests can have care-free stays, regardless of the carbon footprint. Nonetheless, there are a few telltale signs for how green your hotel is simply by a few design features and service policies that have been put into place.
Many hotels claim to be eco-friendly to get your business because they know that environmental consciousness is an increasing concern with today’s consumers, but this façade (known as greenwashing) often only confuses people. As an eco-conscious consumer, the most important thing you can do is choosing a property that has made a commitment to go green, supporting that property by paying the (possibly) higher price that may be affiliated with it and sharing your findings with others. Only then will all hotels feel the need to take steps to help preserve the environment.
So what should you be looking for in a true eco-friendly hotel? Here are a few signs that your accommodations really are going green: