Quintana Roo (Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico) with the kids

Late last night, I returned from a much needed spring break with my husband (O) and four kids.  My husband and I, along with my three step-children teenagers and preschooler, spent seven days (3/22/19-3/29/19) along the Caribbean sea in the towns/islands of:

• Playa del Carmen

• Cozumel

• Akumal

• Cancun

Mexico spring break quintina roo with the kids

We traveled by air, bus, sea, and car, and discovered along the way that my four-year old is prone to sea sickness.  😃

AIR TRAVEL: O set up price alerts on Google flight and Kayak to notify him of cheap flights to Mexico City (CDMX).  We found $360 flights into Mexico City and then took another flight to Cancun ($100).  (We usually aim to pay $270 for flights from Chicago to CDMX).  All flights were through Aeromexico.  My in-laws joined us later in the trip, however, they took a direct flight from Chicago’s O’Hare into the Cozumel airport on American Airlines.  Aeromexico provided lunch/supper on the longer flight and snacks on the shorter flight, which we appreciated with insatiably hungry teenagers.  In addition, each seat had their own individual movie screen with a wide choice of movies/TV.  We arrived in Mexico City Friday night and stayed nearby in the airport’s Marriot hotel.  Free breakfast was included (always a must for us).  Saturday morning we woke up early for the breakfast and our morning flight to Cancun, and we were pleasantly surprised when Aeromexico offered us $1500 to take the earlier 9 am flight due to the 11 am plane being overbooked.  It was fortunate that we stayed close to the airport because we quickly took the complimentary Marriot shuttle to the airport and paid for our next spring break trip in advance.  😀

GROUND TRAVEL:  After we took the earlier flight and landed in Cancun, we walked briefly to the bus depot at Terminal 2 in Cancun airport to take the Ado bus for $10/person to Playa del Carmen.  O bought Ado tickets on-line.  Since we arrived early, he asked if we could take the earlier bus, and they had no problem with it.  The buses seem to drive the 45-minutes out to Playa del Carmen every 30 minutes or every hour.  Very comfortable spacious buses made for happy kids.  Saving money with two flights made for happy parents.

SEA TRAVEL:  The Ado bus dropped us a few blocks from the Playa del Carmen ferry stop.  We had an hour before our 4 pm ferry ride so we spent time at the little park near the beach.  There were two ferry choices; Ultrajet and Winjet.  We bought roundtrip tickets through Winjet and rode on the top deck (however on our return trip, discovered the bottom deck to be more comfortable).

Playa del Carmen downtown
The bottom deck of the Winjet ferry

TAXI / RENTAL CAR TRAVEL:  We arrived in Cozumel after the 45-minute ferry ride.  While it was a bumpy ride and we had a few complaints of sea sickness, no one needed the aid of dramamine.  Our condo for the three nights on the island was slightly past the cruise ship port, but in the 80 degree weather and with all of our luggage, we chose to pay for an overpriced $7 five-minute taxi ride to El Cantil Condos.  This helped us decide to rent a car for the day that we would be exploring since taxis were a little pricey.  The next day we paid $100 for the day for an eight-passenger minivan.  We had to put in $10 in gas, but drove half-way around the island (past Punta Sur to El Pescador restaurant).


• The Money Bar: great food, live music, snorkeling at their beach while you wait for your food to arrive and during sunset.  Best time I have had with my step-children.

Sunset after snorkeling

• La Pescadora restaurant and beach: isolated restaurant (we ordered fried fish to be on the safe side) with a beautiful beach for swimming and snorkeling. We chose this free activity over paying $16/adult and $8/child for entrance to Punta Sur.  We brought our own swim shoes and snorkel gear.  My daughter was tired, so instead of swimming, she took a nap on the beach chair outside the restaurant.  Perfect place for swimming or napping.


• Chankanaab: nothing special.  When we paid for our entrance fee, we were told it included dolphins for the kids, but found out it was an additional $99/person to swim with dolphins.  While our teens enjoyed the snorkeling, it was similar to the free snorkeling we did at the Money Bar.  I saw no reason to pay an entrance fee as nothing was exceptionally different.  We made an amateur mistake by paying for an exclusive beach when there are many free beaches on the island to dive into, or better yet, get lunch at a beach-side restaurant and use their beach to snorkel.  We brought our own snorkel gear and swim shoes with us.

Initially excited upon entering the park

SEA TRAVEL to CAR RENTAL:  The guy who rented us the minivan offered to give us a ride to the ferry, so we saved on another taxi and tipped him instead.  We sat at the bottom of the Winjet ferry and arrived in Playa del Carmen.  We took lunch at one of the many restaurants and then walked the small pedestrian streets to the car rental company, America.  We rented a Surburban and were pleasantly surprised with the low cost of the car rental insurance ($80 for three days).  We drove to our next reservation at Bahia Principe residences in Akumal.  All of our drives were about 30 minutes apart.  When we arrived at the four-bedroom house we rented in Bahia, we were given a three-bedroom by mistake due to technical problems with the air conditioning.  When they offered a credit, we asked if they would consider offering the day pass at the Bahia Akumal resort instead.  They gave us eight free day-passes ($60/person), which included three meals and access to the resort’s two of three locations (Bahia Coba and Bahia Tulum).  They also offered 10% off our total booking price.  It was fortunate that the air conditioning broke because we were able to access all of the resort perks while also enjoying the larger house we reserved and its private pool.  Because we booked through hotels.com, we also received two free hotel nights from this vacation.

Car rental in Playa del Carmen


Using the Bahia day pass at the Bahia Tulum & Coba resorts


• Dos Ojos Cenote: $15/person (but our four-year old was free) and worth every peso.  It’s an incredible value.  We brought our snorkel gear and while this was our first time cave snorkeling, we saw incredible things, especially in the second eye.  Although it is intimidating, you must swim past the rock in the back of the second eye and dive to see the underwater cavern.  It helped that the scuba diving tour was happening as we were in the water and their lights shed more clarity on the submerged underworld.  Incredible beyond words.  Highly recommended for teens and adults.  Grandma and grandpa watched our four-year old as the water was too cold for him.   There were many cenotes to choose from, but we recommend Dos Ojos.

Dos Ojos
The dry cave
The first eye
Don’t miss the tiny sign on the tree pointing to the “Second Eye”.  We nearly missed it. The second eye is the best eye, so it would have been a shame.


• Playa del Akumal: O and I snorkeled at this once public beach seven years ago, and we were fortunate to see many sea turtles feeding on the sea grass.  It was the best snorkeling I had ever done.  We took the kids with this expectation in mind and found out the beach had been privatized.  Turtle snorkeling tours were being offered at $35/person in addition to the $5/person entrance fee to the beach.  I understand how it can conserve and protect the turtles, but we had not budgeted to spend an additional $175 for turtle tours, so we had to pass this one up.  It took forever to park and walk to the beach.  People were constantly trying to sell us life jackets and tours.  In hindsight, we wished we had skipped Playa del Akumal all together.

Initially excited to see turtles at Playa del Akumal


CAR RENTAL to BUS RIDE to FINAL STAY:  We drove our Surburban rental back to America car rental in Playa del Carmen, but stopped for gas along the way first.  The gas lines are long in Playa del Carmen.  We then dropped off the grandparents at their ferry going to Cozumel.  We drove to America car rental and the guy was so kind and offered us a ride back to the bus depot.  Highly recommend this car rental place.  We then rode the comfortable Ado bus back to the Cancun airport at $10/person (bought on-line).  Our hotel in Cancun did not have a free shuttle, so O booked through a shuttle company, who was there 20 minutes after we arrived by bus.  No bathrooms in the bus depot area of Cancun airport, so make sure your toddler uses the Ado bus bathroom.  The shuttle took us to our Cancun hotel, The Royal Carribean, which was were we spent our last night of the trip swimming and playing at the beach.

The Royal Caribbean hotel
Late night swims at the pool
Leaving 😦

Our trip to Taiwan and the Philippines!

March 2018




Orlando, Emily and a married couple.

How did we pay for this trip:

We bought tickets 6 months prior to the trip. We looked up locations on Google Flights that were less than $650 per ticket for the Month of March. We found tickets for under $650 on EVA airlines. We recommend using Google Flights when you are on a budget and have no set location.

What Airline(s) did we fly on:

We flew economy on EVA Arlines. So far, it has been one of the best airlines that we have ever flown on. We decided to give EVA Airlines the following ratings:

Comfort: 8/10 – Pretty spacious seats for basic economy. Emily is 5’7 and petite and Orlando is 5’7 and weighs about 165 lbs.

Food: 9/10 – Tasty food, plenty of snacks and drinks.

Service: 9/10 – Friendly faces everywhere.

Kid Friendly: 8/10 – Although we didn’t take any of the kids on this trip, we saw plenty of young kids with their parents.

Entertainment: 9/10 – Plenty of movies to make the time pass by. Wi-Fi is available for $20 dollars, although we didn’t try it.

We flew economy on Cebu Pacific from Manila to Boracay. Cebu Pacific is your standard low budget airline. You have to pay for a seat assignment, luggage, food, water, etc. Tickets were reasonably priced at $150 round trip.

Comfort: 5/10 – Not bad for a 1 to 2 hour flight, pretty comparable to United Airlines.

Food: N/A – We did not try the food since you have to pay for it.

Service: 9/10 – Friendly faces everywhere.

Kid Friendly: 5/10 – Not being able to choose a seat unless you pay is a pretty big problem.

Entertainment: 5/10 – No entertainment available, but the flight attendants conduct a guessing game during the flight (in English).

Where did we stay:

Monaco Resort in Boracay, 5 star hotel. Overall, one of the best hotel stays. The staff goes out of their way to make sure you are taken care of. Gym, restaurant, outdoor pool, a private beach and ocean views from your balcony.

Price: $300 per night for a 2 bedroom suite using a time share discount provided by our family friend.

Family friendly rating: 10/10

The Fullerton hotel in Taiwan, 4 star hotel. Overall, the location is great and the free breakfast is reasonable. The hotel claims that your stay includes a free minibar. Don’t be fooled by this, you get water, 2 soda cans and fruit. No alcohol.

Price: $130 per night on hotels.com.

Family friendly rating: 7/10


Taipei Airport:

Don’t be afraid of long layovers at the Taipei Airport. Taipei airport has a free gym facility, free showers, souvenir shops and plenty of restaurants. The free gym is right next to the Adidas Shop in Terminal 1 and the showers are right next to the gym. You do need to buy a towel from the pharmacy nearby as the airport does not provide towels. Towels are $2 dollars though. You can walk from Terminal 2 to Terminal walk in about 30 to 40 minutes.


Book a flight with a 24 hour layover in Taiwan and leave the Airport. Taipei is an amazing city and although 24 hours may not be enough time, it gives you a chance to see the night markets and the city. Make sure to pack some clothes in a carry-on as your baggage will not be available to you until your last destination (unless you asked for it to be available for your layover). Rent a bike with a credit card! make sure you have a Visa or Master Card for each renter as the machine will not allow to swipe the same credit card for 2 different bikes. Visit the Memorial palace, elephant mountain and Taipei 101. If you are planning on visiting the secret Starbucks on the 35th floor, call ahead to make reservations (Google Taipei 101 Starbucks how to make reservations).


Stick to Filipino food, otherwise you will be disappointed. There are tons of foreign restaurants that promise to be good at (insert food type here), but really, it’s not the same. Stick to Filipino cuisine and try an Ice Mango from the Mango place (you will know what place we are talking about once you see it… and the line), or Halo-Halo from a local Coffee Shop.

Avoid the typical tourist activities, kite surfing, kayaking, parasailing, etc. you can do that anywhere else in the world, why do it in such a pretty place? Do go on the island hopping tour. Crystal Cove is amazing and a must see!

Lessons learned:

We were a little bit afraid about taking a 3 year old on a 16 hour plane ride with multiple connections. However, we think he would have been OK. Next time, we won’t hesitate to take the 4 kids on such a cool adventure!

P.S. take lots of sunscreen and water shoes, you will thank us later.

Cruise to the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas

In March of 2022, Carnival was having an amazing sale, so we booked eight tickets for our teenagers, six-year old, and in-laws. We specifically chose this cruise because of the sale and the destinations. We had yet to see Turks and Caicos or the Dominican Republic. Sadly, there was a health emergency for one of the cruise passengers, and Carnaval had to make an emergency stop in the Bahamas. We didn’t realize a cruise’s destination could change, and we were a bit sad we didn’t go to Turks and Caicos. We had done one cruise before to the Bahamas when the kids were all much younger. While we enjoyed this time at the Bahamas and Dominican Republic, and especially how our teenagers could roam about independently (where were they going to go?), we have decided against booking another cruise in the future. We definitely prefer being in control of our vacation and not being stuck on a boat. Maybe there are better cruises out there, but we have found we are not cruisers 😆

How did we get there?

Given that we booked this trip last minute and plane tickets were extremely high, we decided to make a road trip out of this. We drove from Chicago to Florida, with a stop in Georgia.

Where did we stay?

On our way to Florida, we stopped in Macon, GA, and stayed at the *most awful full priced hotel we have ever booked, the SureStay Plus. The hotel was torn down and had plenty of insects, including cockroaches. It was too late to find another hotel, so we stayed the night on top of the blankets, but we wanted everyone to know to avoid it at all costs. Once in Florida and before boarding the cruise, we stayed at the Holiday Inn Club Vacations. The resort made up for the horrible experience we had in Macon. The Holiday Inn resort had plenty of things for the kiddos to do, and they offer multiple-bedroom condos. Once aboard the cruise, we stayed in the inner cruise rooms, which had no windows to the outside. We regretted this since it made some of us prone to sea sickness. The cruise rooms can accommodate up to 4 people, and although they look small, they have plenty of space.

Spacious and a daily animal in our room

Lessons learned

  • Cruises are not for everyone! Make sure you know what you are getting into. We did not 🙃
  • The pool gets really crowded, and it becomes almost impossible to use
  • Food and drinks are unlimited, which teenagers loved (especially breakfast buffets and made-to-order late night pizza)
  • The destinations are not guaranteed, and the off-boat times were kind of weird. We had to leave the boat at 6 am to see DR before it left again at 2 pm. No one wants to day drink before breakfast
  • We guess a cruise is partly for the entertainment and the value, not really for the destinations
Stop in Nassau, Bahamas


Cruises are not for us. Our teenagers enjoyed the independence and our youngest loved the Ocean Club and couldn’t get enough. O and I however, are not extraverts, so we found ourselves outside on the patio most nights checking out the stars.

If you like to be outdoors and prefer hiking rather than spending the day sunning on a lounge chair, then a cruise is also not for you. We definitely preferred the time off of the boat, and especially my youngest’s aspirations to become an island boy:

Building a fort in DR
Leaving Dominican Republic at like 2 pm to keep to the new schedule

Escape to Colorado

During the summer of 2020, we carefully planned an escape to the mountains with our kids, parents, in-laws, and sister-in-law. We drove from Chicago to Colorado in two vehicles. My mother hadn’t been back to Colorado since her early 20’s, so we planned a week of sightseeing at Pike’s Peak, Royal Gorge, Sand Dunes National Park, Mesa Verde National Park, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Telluride, and Aspen.

At the top of Pike’s Peak
Our first adventure: driving down Pike’s Peak in a hail storm!

From Colorado Springs, we drove 1 1/2 hours to Royal Gorge Bridge & Park. It was $20/adult, and while I prefer National Parks, it did make for a fun activity for all ages, exploring the bridge, zip lining for the teenagers (extra cost), and a bird of prey predator show for the youngest.

After that, we left Canyon City and drove through 2 1/2 hours to reach The Great Sand Dunes National Park before dark. The drive had no places to stop (gas/food), but thankfully we had snacks in the car. We arrived to the dunes before dark, but stayed well past dark, as it was amazing in the moonlight. My husband and kids climbed the dunes while I walked at the base with my mom. This was my husband’s favorite national park experience! There was no extra room in our car, but we noticed other travelers brought their own winter sleds for the dunes, which seemed like a fun idea for kids. Our kids are pleasantly surprised when there’s an activity other than hiking 😉

We stayed the night in Alamosa, and in the morning drove about four hours to Mesa Verde National Park, which was my personal favorite. I took many pictures with the kids, but here are a few:

We drove to the ski resort town of Telluride, where we booked a cabin for two nights in Mountain Lodge Telluride. This by far was everyone’s favorite part of the trip. Mountain Lodge was a very family friendly resort. We took the complimentary gondolas to Telluride, and some of us hiked a 15-mile trail (Bear Creek Trail) to a beautiful waterfall. The cabin we stayed at really made these two nights beautiful; walking out on the deck in the morning and smelling the evergreens with our coffee. We all fell in love with this area.

Next we had plans to check off another national park, The Black Canyon of the Gunnison. We didn’t have much time to hike, so we mostly drove through and took a few beautiful pictures of the plummeting canyons. Highly recommend.

We made our way to Aspen, where we stayed in Snowmass Mountain, which was in the heart of the commercial area of Aspen. Our teenagers liked this more, but my husband and I escaped on a hiking trail through a gorgeous grove of aspen forest. We had considered biking to see Maroon Bells, but we had to make rental reservations in advance due to covid, and it was alright that it didn’t work out. We took the gondola up to the roller coaster and rock climbing wall, where the kids had fun.

Lastly, we had time after check out from Snowmass Mountain to explore White River National Forest, which was nearby. It was beautiful! The kids enjoyed stretching their legs before the long drive home. It was too long of a walk for my mom to the ice caves (in the summer, “grottos”), but there was plenty of benches in the shade to sit next to the river. We saw others swimming and jumping in from the boulders in the water. Of course our teenagers lamented the opportunity.

After we returned home, I recognized a few places advertised in the Colorado magazine that we receive!! It made me want to go back. We loved visiting in the summer. Onward to the next adventure!

Park City weekend skiing trip with four kids and one exchange student

December 2019

In the fall we welcomed a Norwegian exchange student to our home, and it was a wonderful experience. We truly enjoyed hosting him, and thankfully this was prior to covid. We had hosted a short-term summer student from Spain before, and our rotary club asked about a long-term student. We got so lucky because it was a great semester. We traveled more than ever too, since we wanted to show him around the states. We drove to Niagara Falls and New York City over winter break, and on a free weekend in November, we ventured out to Park City.

How did we get there?

We ended up using Delta miles for some of the kids and the companion certificates we get yearly through Delta. We ended up paying for two tickets only. Salt Lake City is a Delta hub, so there are plenty of affordable direct flights from Chicago. We also rented a full-size SUV through Advantage RAC, and it was a pretty good experience (and affordable).

Where did we stay?

We stayed at the Lodge at the Mountain Village. The cost of a two-bedroom unit was only $200/night, which was a steal, given how spacious the condo was. The property was also right at the park, so we didn’t have to worry about transportation there.

Lessons learned


The lift tickets were pricey when not bought in advance, and our kids gave up shortly after their first try. We have found that more affordable skiing trips are a better fit for us since we don’t ski/snowboard often. (E.g. A few years later we drove to a closer place in MI and brought some used snowboard items to save on the cost of renting). On this trip, however, we spent the next day exploring Antelope Island. It was so cool! Like a giant playground for climbing. It also serves as a conservation area for rebuilding the buffalo population, so we were on the lookout for the herd.

The main road that leads to/from Antelope Island


Park City is a beautiful mountain town and if we were *billionaires*, we would buy a house here! We have been to other ski resorts such as Breckenridge, Aspen, Telluride, Whitefish, and others in WI and MI, and we highly recommend Park City!

Seville, Spain in four days

It was 9 pm when our driver pulled into a small alleyway in the historic center of Seville. The kids were exhausted from the day of travel but peering out their windows- unusual for teenagers. A pleasant woman from Seville Luxury Rentals welcomed us and gave us a brief tour of the condo, a map of the old town and new town, and some recommendations for supper. Seville was like another world. We quickly descended the iron staircase with map in hand to enter the beautiful historic old town, and walked down a lively street to find a late night supper. Our kids were falling in love as they questioned why so many families and teens were out late at night. We ate at a small tapas place that welcomed us like we were family they were expecting. That night, we all fell in love with the culture, flavors, glass window panes, and historic city of Seville.

The kids eventually found sleep, which began a new sleep-wake cycle for our family (late nights, late mornings). We started our day at a simple breakfast place across from the Seville Cathedral. We planned to spend the day at the Cathedral and the following day, at the Plaza de Espana and Parque de Maria Luisa.

We did some shopping and found amazing deals on Spanish clothing brands. If you’re familiar with any Spanish brands, they were even more affordable from the Spanish stores. My favorite clothes are still my five-year old’s Spanish sweaters. Such good quality and so detailed. After much shopping, we steered towards Bartolomea restaurant for tapas. They were everything we had hoped for. Also- the Sangria in Spain is like no other.

The next day, we began with a simple breakfast, but discovered our youngest’s little cough had developed into a dysfunctional cough and subsequent wheeze. As he spewed his microbes to poor unsuspecting breakfast diners, we altered our plans for the day to include a stop at the hospital for a quick check-in. Many hours later, we shuffled grumpy teenagers to the pharmacy to collect the doctor’s prescribed medicine to treat our youngest’s wheezing and constant cough. Looking back, we do wonder if Henry had contracted the Coronavirus, as he had fever, wheezing, and flu-like symptoms. We ended the long day the best way we knew how; renting scooters that our teenagers could whiz around Plaza Espana and Parque de Maria Luisa.

We were able to turn the day around and headed back to the Seville Cathedral neighborhood. We had made reservations a month ahead at Milagritos. It was for tapas and a Flamenco performance. It. Was. Amazing.

“The dancing lady”

It was easily the coolest experience for me. We walked back to our hotel and prepared ourselves to say farewell to the amazing experience that is Seville.

Happiness is Seville.

London, England in three days

Suspended whale skeleton in the Natural History Museum

I had a lovely chat with a Parisian woman, who happened to be a speech-language pathologist too, before we boarded the underground train to London. We spoke about our two countries politicians and my youngest’s artwork. I love meeting people during our travels. We parted ways and followed the many signs and guards pointing us in the direction of our train. We arrived at King’s Cross Station in London to a rainy afternoon and the surprise that our oldest had left his luggage back in France. He submitted a missing item form on their website and we hoped for the best. Unfortunately, we never saw that backpack again.

We made our way to the condo that we rented south of the River Thames for the entirety of our stay. The rain let up and we walked to get supper near Buckingham Palace. I made the mistake of taking my four children to a traditional Pub, thinking it would be a cool experience and better than the chain-looking restaurants we were passing. There were many older gentlemen smoking cigars and no other children around. The polite host gave us a quizzical look and promptly seated us in the back room. The food was delicious, but still my teens were relentless.

The Phoenix. Looks super cool, right??

We walked to Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey that night. Big Ben was unfortunately closed for repairs. We spotted old telephone booths and picked up a sweet treat for the morning.

Next morning, we walked to the most amazing free museum I have ever visited: The Natural History Museum. Our dear Chicago has incredible museums, but for our family, it usually costs $200 to enter. My husband wasn’t too jazzed about going to a museum, but it was rainy and he conceded. No regrets!

The Natural History Museum

We walked the rest of the day through Kensington Gardens from the museum and ended up in Piccadilly Square, where we bought a few souvenirs at a Christmas market and ate a giant meal. We walked back home and slept very well. Our place at Chelsea Bridge apartments ended up being in close walking distance to the sights in London. The next morning we left for Seville, Spain.

Overall, the kids enjoyed seeing the sights in London, but the weather was very rainy most days. This was a fun trip for teenagers. I can’t recommend the Natural History Museum enough, especially for a rainy day.


Three days in Paris, France

It’s Thanksgiving break 2019, and my husband, three teenagers, preschooler, and I took our first family trip to Europe.  We flew from Chicago to Paris, boarded the underground train from Paris to London, and flew from London to Seville, Spain.  This post will be dedicated to our first leg of the trip: Paris.

Brotherly love in the city of love 

We loved Paris.  During our three days in the city, we walked and photographed all the major landmarks in the city (Notre Dame, Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Luxembourg Gardens, Seine River), which were all close to our hotel, Grand Hotel St. Michael, in Place St-Michael.  I used various walking tours of Paris from Pinterest to walk efficiently to the best spots in the various arrondissements.

My favorite parts of the city were the playgrounds where my four-year old could play and the older kids snacked on decadent pastries and espresso purchased from a nearby cafe.  See pictures below!

Once we were done walking through Luxembourg Garden, we toured the Eiffel Tower.  Henry and I played in a park near the tower while the older kids and dad tried to find a bathroom.  Hint: searching “public bathrooms” on Google Maps saves a lot of time!  We watched the night show of the Eiffel Tower before walking back to the hotel for the night.  The kids were exhausted and slept so well needless to say!

The next day we enjoyed brunch and more sight-seeing.  We missed the Paris Catacombs, however, which were something the older kids really had their heart set on.  My regret is that we didn’t buy tickets in advance.  That night, the kids were relieved when we took an Uber to the Christmas Market outside of the city.  The kids tried (and enjoyed!) escargots before we inhaled a box of beautiful macaroons.  We visited Santa and bought a few souvenirs before leaving the festivities to return home before our early morning train ride to London.

IMG_1066All the macaron flavors you could imagine! Lessons learned in Paris:

  • Buy a durable, compactable, travel stroller before the trip like your husband suggests (and not in a Paris mall on the second day of the trip because your toddler refused to walk and your arms were burning from carrying a 50-pound child across the city!)
  • Eat early in Paris on weekday nights because places suitable for kids closed unexpectedly early (and our teens prime hunger time seems to be after 9 pm)
  •  Enjoy the afternoon tea time that many hotels observe, where they set out pastries and coffee for their guests
  • Purchase Catacomb tickets prior to your trip
  • Double check that your oldest son has his luggage in the Paris train station when it’s time to board the 6 am train to London!

Road trip with the Tesla Model 3 (mid range)

Traveling from northern Illinois to southern Illinois is a common trip for us. It’s usually a five hour trip, unless you drive a mid-range Tesla model 3 in 30 degree weather. While I enjoyed our adventurous weekend, I won’t be driving the *eight hours* one way again.

Below are pictures from our first stop in Bloomington, Illinois. The Tesla chargers are on the third or fourth floor (past the electric chargers on the first and second). This was a great charging stop in the town’s Amtrak station with clean amenities and a subway inside. Parking is free for the first hour and $1 every hour after. We walked in the little town square and received (free) cookies from Insomnia Cookies. We tried to make it to the subway on our northern-bound trip since it was late, but the Subway closed at 9 pm on Sundays, even though station closes at 9:30 pm. The video below is of the beautiful Christmas music we encountered once entering the station:

Then we discovered the world of Scheelys in Springfield, Illinois. This was the last Tesla Supercharger before hitting St. Louis. It was a cool store to look around, and inside was a small cafe. Merry Christmas! Adults received free brewed coffee.

Hugging puppies to destress

In St. Louis, I used the Tesla Destination charger downtown, which charged a tiny 27/miles per hour and was being used as a valet parking spot by the Magnolia hotel. We saw Wicked at the Fabulous Fox, and afterward crossed back into Illinois with 30 miles. The night chill ate away my battery, and we woke up with seven miles. My insurance covered part of a tow to St. Louis County Mall, where we began our long trip back home, hitting Springfield, Bloomington, and Bolingbrook superchargers again.

This trip proved a good lesson in:

1) always bringing a spare charging cable

2) consider buying the long-range models if you drive small road trips

3) how cold weather affects electric road trips

Not my proudest moment admittedly, but I learned a good deal, and most importantly enjoyed my time with the kids. I’m sure they won’t forget this trip.

Washington State: one week, three kids, and four National Parks


Hi!  We spent our 2019 spring break exploring and hiking an enormous amount across Washington state.  We would now like to move there immediately.  We explored North Cascades National Park, Mount Rainier National Park, Mount St. Helens Volcanic National Monument, and Olympic National Park.  We brought our teenaged daughter and son and preschooler, but only paid for the three kids’ tickets because O and I both had vouchers to use.

We flew into Seattle, picked up the rental car, and immediately drove the three hours to North Cascades National Park.  Right away, we bought the National Parks pass at $80/year for all the entrance fees (usually $30/per park).  We had limited time (four more GIANT parks to go), so we chose to stop at the visitor center, an overpass of the Skagit River, hike at Thunder Knob trail, take photos at Diablo Lake Overlook, and hike/photograph at Washington Pass Overlook.  Of the hundreds of pictures I took, a few are below in that order:

Next, I drove a beautiful route (about five hours) through gorgeous orchards and hilly landscapes around rivers (reminded me of Iceland) towards Mount Rainier National Park.  We made it to our next hotel, a Great Wolf Lodge, by 2 a.m., and spent the next morning letting the kids play in the water park.  We spent the afternoon at Mount Rainier.  We stopped at the Grove of Patriarchs, Reflection Lake, and hiked part of the summit of Mount Rainier.

The next day we spent time at Mount St Helen’s Volcanic Monument, aka The Johnston Ridge Observatory.  We brought sunscreen, sunglasses, and lots of water for the Boundary Trail that leads to the blown crater of Mt Helens.  We are avid hikers, but in the heat, we barely made it to Devil’s Point (2.2 miles one way).  Pictures below!

We drove up to the northeast side of Olympic National Park the next day.  The plan was to end in Hurricane Ridge that evening.  We made plans to see Hurricane Ridge, Lake Crescent, and Hoh Forest across three days.  It was too rainy that evening to spend in Hurricane Ridge (HR), so we packed HR and Lake Crescent together in one day.  We stayed mid trip at the Kalaloch Lodge.  My favorite part of the trip was Ruby Beach (hence a hundred pictures from Ruby Beach- see below).

It was pouring on the last day of the trip.  We left Kalaloch Lodge (no wi-fi and wood-burning stoves made for an awesome night for teens!) and attempted to see Hoh Rainforest for the morning.  It continued to pour, so the kids were miserable in their ponchos and we left early.  I didn’t take any pictures for fear of dropping my phone in the puddles, and instead I attached are a few pictures from when O and I visited on our anniversary trip in 2018 instead:

That afternoon we drove the couple of hours to Seattle to check-in to the hotel for our last night.  I made reservations the next morning at 10 am at Neko, a coffee and cat cafe.  The kids have always wanted a cat, but O is “allergic”.  It was a cute experience.

We barely had time to return the rental and catch our flight home.  The kids and I jumped on the airport shuttle from the rental car area while O stayed back and sorted through the rental papers.  We were terrified we would miss our flight.  We ended up making it alright.  But it does take a long time to get from the rental place to the Seattle airport.

We still need to go back to see parts of Olympic National Forest with my mom, plus all the millions (billions?) or acres of forest to explore.  We also need to go back to live there. It’ll happen eventually.

Happy travels!

Weekend in Arizona

0D948B75-FDC5-4F01-BB49-7B267696DBCAMy four-year old and I followed O to Phoenix, Arizona in late August for a short weekend trip.  My husband was there Monday through Friday for work, and we joined Thursday night.   Tickets were through AA at about $300/roundtrip.  After a morning swim in the 100 degree Friday weather (glorious) and visiting a train-themed playground in Scottsdale, we left Phoenix and headed to northern Arizona to see the Grand Canyon.  O extended the rental and booked a hotel in Tusayan.  The drive was neat.  The immeasurable amount of “cacti!!” near Phoenix suddenly change to lush pine forests in northern Arizona with the higher elevation.

Oh, before leaving Scottsdale, we stopped for lunch at a Mexican restaurant, then grabbed Alien Donuts and Coffee Cartel coffee for the drive north.  Big hit with the four-year old.

On Saturday morning, we spent some time in the Grand Canyon Village, which was 15 minutes from the hotel in Tusayan.  Pictures from the edge:

We then decided (spontaneously) to drive the four hours from Tusayan to make it to the Grand Canyon Skywalk on the western side of the park.  We stopped by the Visitor Center and retrieved maps.  We also asked about stopping by Supai to see the blue waterfalls (the havasupai falls), but sadly were told they required reservations and were booking a month in advance.  Highly recommend looking into these reservations.  We wish we did.

We drove the four hours through the desert after forgetting our car chargers and barely made it to the Skywalk on time.  It was extremely expensive at $80/adult and $65/kid to walk the bridge and sight see, but it was a great experience and beautiful views on this particular reservation.  No regrets!

We hiked a little, too, which was a little terrifying with a four-year old near a canyon.  We were not allowed to take any pictures on the Skywalk bridge.  But the hike ended up being nice.

It was late when we drove back to Tusayan, but we took the extra 20 minutes to drive along Route 66.  We so enjoyed the route- highly recommend.  We stopped the car and viewed the starlit sky.  Just incredible.

On our way back to Phoenix airport on Sunday, we tried to stop in Sedona to eat lunch at a restaurant with views of the red rocks.  After sleeping in a bit, we ended up in Flagstaff at a diner called “The Place” off of Route 66, which was still pretty cool.

Lessons learned:

1) book closer to Grand Canyon National Park

2) book reservations at havasupai falls in advance

3) Take route 66 at all times anytime you can

4) Make time to stop by Sedona and eat lunch at one of the restaurants with stunning views of red rocks

Happy travels!

Anniversary in Chile!


My husband O and I celebrated our five-year wedding anniversary this past August 2019 by doing something new.  We went to South America when we could, which meant a five-day trip from Chicago to Santiago to San Pedro, Chile.  It might sound like a hot minute, but it felt like a full week’s vacation!

Seeing Flamingoes at the salt flats in Lagoon Chaxa

We both loved this trip.

Our travel time mostly consisted of sleeping on overnight American Airlines flights.  We started Friday night with a small layover in Miami, followed by an overnight flight (two meals included) and then arriving 4 am in Santiago.  We found showers in the VIP lounge ($45/person, included showers and food) and left via a $100 Sky airline flight to San Pedro, where the Atacama Desert is located.  We regret not paying the extra $100 to bypass the Saturday morning layover in Santiago and arrive sooner to the desert.  We arrived by 5 pm.



We then quickly got our rental (Econocar) and spent Saturday evening by checking into the beautiful Hotel Poblado Kimal, dining at their delicious restaurant, and exploring the desert around the town for sunset and star gazing.  The hotel and quaint town of San Pedro was close to everything.  We loved this little town.  Good night life, too.  Never have I ever seen so many people dancing and drinking in beanies and sweaters in a bar.



We then spent the next two days checking out:

  1. Moon Valley
  2. Lagoon chaxa (south- in Salar Atacama)
  3. Lagoon Cejar (south- nearby San Pedro)
  4. Salar de Tara (east)



Driving to Salar de Tara

Moon Valley

We had a 7 am flight back to Santiago on Monday, and then a 1/2 day layover in the city.  During our layover in Santiago, we checked out:

1) Plaza del Armas

2) Saint Lucia

3) gelato!





Lessons learned:

1) pack more pants and sweaters for Chile when visiting in early September

2) American Airline flight attendants might be incorrect when they say the overnight flight only gives snacks, so don’t bring additional food on the plane

3) order the rica rica, but stay away from the governor

4) watch out for nausea as a result of higher elevations in Salar de Tara 🤢

5) enjoy your partner for as long as you can. everything can change in an instant.

Em & O forever