Don't be afraid to travel, even with all those kids!
Hi! I'm a speech-language pathologist and new mom to a two-year old toddler. I find myself innately doing speech therapy with my son, Henry, at all hours and wanted to share the simple opportunities I come across each day in our home. Speech therapy is everywhere if you know where to look! Hopefully this blog can provide some ideas to begin improving your child's speech and language through everyday activities.
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 Sintras, Spain. This post will be dedicated to our first leg of the trip: Paris.
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 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.
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!
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.
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.
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 14-year old daughter, 13-year old son, and 3-year old son, 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.
My 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.
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
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!
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:
Lagoon chaxa (south- in Salar Atacama)
Lagoon Cejar (south- nearby San Pedro)
Salar de Tara (east)
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
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.
Our immediate family (Orlando, the four kids, and myself), my mom, and four of my siblings and their families, which added up to a grand total of 23. It was 11 adults and 12 children ranging in age from 17 years old to nine months old…!
How did we pay for this trip:
Sharing the house rental, boat rental, and costs of food by cooking breakfasts and packing lunches significantly reduced the overall cost. The biggest expense was the day pass to the White Water water park, which seemed to be the most reasonable water park near us at about $40 per person. Our drive to Branson from northern Illinois was cut in half by a hotel stay mid-way in Collinsville, Illinois.
How did we get there:
2017 Toyota Sienna SE. We bought the extended warranty for this beautiful creature because we would like it to be with us forever. Our extraordinary developing teenage children have the space they need, the wide screen movie player is very visible for everyone in the middle and back row without craning necks, the van has this option of playing audio for the driver while the kids use the headphones for the movie, the third row seats recline for goodness’ sake— It is a van that suits every age and makes you feel like you could make a road trip of any distance possible.
Where did we stay:
Branson Cedar Resort. My brother took charge of booking the house for this trip. We split the cost of the log cabin among my siblings and I. Since we were such a large group, we had to book nine months prior (November 2016).
Talking Rocks Cavern:
All of the cousins enjoyed this small cave. It was a nice, cool activity in the summer heat. I did stay behind due to the steep steps and my two-year old toddler. We made the mistake before of taking our two-year old on a two-hour cave tour in Mammoth Kentucky Caves, and while a fun memory, not something we wanted to try again.
Renting a Boat on Table Rock Lake:
This was everyone’s favorite activity. We rented two Pontoon boats that my two brothers drove. We drove the boats to a cliff diving spot, to a beach, and with the tube my brother brought for the cousins to use, which they loved. It was a great day for most everyone, minus my sister who was nauseated on the boat.
Skip the Water Park:
There’s a time and place for everything, and Branson was not the place for a water park. We have Wisconsin Dells in our backyard, and knowing day passes to water parks there are as low as $20/day with food included, it was difficult to pay $45 for one person just to enter and THEN pay for locker costs and over-priced food.
Silver Dollar City:
Most of my immediate family are afraid of heights and roller coasters, minus my 14-year old, so there was no appeal for us to get tickets to Silver Dollar City. Since we didn’t go through it, we have nothing to report on it.
We had a great time overall, but we are taking lessons learned and applying it to our second annual reunion this coming summer, 2018, in Wisconsin! We booked through Air B&B instead and found an incredible-looking tree house cabin with more space that is settled next to a hiking trail and private beach. We are really looking forward to this one!
P.S. Sunscreen, water shoes, and boat snacks (BOAT SNACK)
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 (13-, 14-, and 15- year olds) and four-year old son, spent seven days (3/22/19-3/29/19) along the Caribbean sea in the towns/islands of:
• Playa del Carmen
We traveled by air, bus, sea, and car, and discovered along the way that my four-year old is prone to sea sickness. 😃
Aeromexico flight to Mexico City
Paparazzi at Fogoncito at Mexico City airport
Excited for tacos at Fogoncito
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).
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).
Loved our morning coffee on the balcony
We were near the Cruise ship port
El Cantil Condos were beautiful inside
ACTIVITIES WE ARE RECOMMENDING at COZUMEL:
• 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.
• 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.
ACTIVITIES NOT RECOMMENDED at COZUMEL:
• 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.
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.
ACTIVITIES WE ARE RECOMMENDING at AKUMAL:
• 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.
ACTIVITIES WE ARE NOT RECOMMENDING at AKUMAL:
• 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.
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.