Our Trip to Mars...J/K Southern Utah & Nevada

The southwest landscape (of the USA) feels like you are out of this world, especially Nevada! It’s so amazing what lava, water, wind, and God did to create such a magnificent area of land. It really does feel /look like what I imagine another part of the universe to look like!

Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

There is so much to see in this world, but honestly, right here in the USA, there really is such a diverse amount of beauty to take in and appreciate. Traveling within the US is like a relationship, it’s close enough for you to nurture it, develop it, and spend quality time with it!

Utah is one of the most beautiful states. I used to frequently visit Salt Lake and the surrounding areas for work. There are so many national parks, so it’s a state that we definitely plan to re-visit. We decided on Zion and Bryce Canyon for this trip. I’ve heard so many cool things about both, but the one I was most excited about was Bryce. The one that I ended up falling in love with after it was all said and done, was Zion National Park. It is INCREDIBLE! I think it is now at the top of my list of national parks. Las Vegas is closer to distance to the parks than Salt Lake and we got a really good flight deal (under $100 each way from Houston Hobby on Southwest). We went in June, which was not as bad as I expected, temperature-wise.

We decided to stay in Cedar City, Utah for the time that we were visiting the parks and then we wrapped it up for the final night in Vegas. Cedar City is a cute town, beautiful mountain views, the most AMAZING Peruvian restaurant, but it was a good drive to both parks. I think if we could do it again, we would stay close to one park, then commute, preferably Zion National Park. In terms of miles, Cedar City is close, but in terms of the actual drive time (I guess due to the mountains), it is a couple hours to both.

Zion National Park is a place where you can spend days, easily, even without having the ability to do all the trails. There is something for everyone, including wheelchair/stroller friendly trails - Riverside Walk and Lower Pool of Emerald Pools. My favorite of the 2 is Riverside Walk. You look up and there’s the most gorgeous rocks I’ve ever seen, plus lush greenery all around, and then crystal clear baby blue water. It is an easy walk with a paved trail. You can continue past this one and do the Narrows, but you will need water boots, and it is probably better suited for adults/older kids. I am coming back for it!!! To back track a bit, as you approach the park, there is a whole zion national park village full of shops, dining, trading posts, and hotels/lodging. We dined at an excellent pizza/thai place. Such a strange combo. You can park and catch a shuttle to each trail in the park, it is very well structured, and an easy to navigate park system. The boys just loved the freedom of being able to run around. We even saw a few animals. The only bummer part, is that there is terrible cell phone reception. We even tried the hotel, but even there the WiFI was spotty. I am including several pictures for your viewing pleasure!

On the drive to Bryce Canyon, there is a scenic highway that includes the Red Canyon. It was such a pleasant surprise. There are plenty of areas for you to pull over and take pictures of the canyon (or climb or just stare at it). As you approach Bryce, there is a small village and shopping/eateries. The weather was cooler as the elevation is much higher in Zion. Once again, you park at the visitor center, and you can shuttle into wherever you want. We stayed around the rim. We did try to go down, but it was a bit too uncomfortable for me. Ethan was getting too close to the edge for comfort, and the lose gravel had me concerned. There are no rails, even on the trail that is marked as easy. Thinking back, I do regret not just biting the bullet and doing it. The boys were a bit tired that day, so I did not want to push it anyway. They wanted to run around more, and at Bryce, it is a bit difficult to do that in the areas we were. We did dine within the park at one of the lodging areas, another pizza spot. Now the big question, is Bryce more awe-inspiring than the grand canyon? Honestly, it’s hard for me to compare as they are different. The grand canyon is huge and I think that is what makes it so breathtaking, and Bryce is not as large, but it is stunning in it’s own way. I am curious to know if you have been to both and what your opinion is? The drive from Bryce to Cedar City had the most beautiful views I have ever seen. The mountains really do make the best backdrops.

In Nevada, we visited Valley of the Fire State Park and ended in Vegas. I HIGHLY recommend Valley of the Fire. It was extremely hot, so definitely no time in the summer. Most of the trails, including the Wave, were not recommended for hiking due to the heat. There is a nice path to drive and stop and see each area of the park, which will lead to the trails. We spent most of our time at the visitor center. There is a cute museum, as well as snacks for purchase. We dined and walked around the park area behind it. As we drove through the park, it seriously does look like what I imagine Mars to be like. It is filled with bright red rock, and just has terrain that is hard to describe.

Las Vegas strip with kids was a first and last for me. My husband had never been so I wanted him to get a chance to see it. We planned to just do the mall, but I ended up wanting to show him more. Our first mistake, was thinking it didn’t rain in the dessert. We got soaked. Next mistake, is not bringing a double stroller. Honestly, that mistake carried on throughout the whole trip, especially since there were stroller friendly trails in Zion. After we walked the mall, dined, and got ice cream, we walked so far down, that we -could not even fathom walking back to our hotel (which was off-strip by a block). Thankfully, Vegas has a monorail. The kids were free, so we just purchased our ticket (I think 2.50 each) and it saved our feet! I have never taken advantage of this, but will definitely use it next time. Our hotel was cool as it had a trundle bed under the sofa, which Ethan loved. We stayed at the Spring Hill Suites Convention Center, great place!

All in all, it was a great trip! Utah is stunning, we passed through a corner of Arizona on the drive to/from Vegas, and it was gorgeous! My eyes were happy, the boys were happy, we all had a great job! It definitely turned out to be a family friendly affair.

As always, thanks for reading, XOXO!

Featured Post: Family Trip to The Holy Land

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Israel—a land of mystery, holy essence, political intrigue, conflicting cultures and mass chaos, amongst absolute serenity.  It is a land of contrasts, and a land of one-ness.  With everything.  Being in Jerusalem changes you, and everything feels profound—and it is—no matter what your religious spectrum of beliefs happens to be.  You can just feel the profundity and magic in the air.

Logistically, getting there is hard.  Staying there is expensive.  It is old, it is the Middle East, and no one cares about your Marriotts or your In and Out Burger addiction, despite it being painted as “just like Europe “ (which it isn’t).  We flew through Frankfurt, and in FRA Tel Aviv has its own permanent gate with extra security, so getting in and out is hard.  Once you’re in, you’re in.  As tourists you can move in and between Palestine and Israel, but your about next Jordan, Syria, Golan Heights, Lebanon—everywhere you turn there’s a (hostile) border and you have probably just done twenty crossings you didn’t even realize, forbidden to local citizens.

 Israelis are from everywhere—all you need is one Jewish grandparent to qualify for citizenship.  But no matter where they are from, they are ardently—Israeli. Proud of their holy land, and proud of the amazing technological hub their country has become over a mere seven decades of existence.

 Everyone knows that the country is holy.  Most may not know that if it is full of the most amazing food and hummus and falafel you will ever find. Another thing that most don’t realize is that the wine is spectacular, and there is also a huge host of “foreign influences” from the many Former Soviet Jewish folk (about a third the population—Russian is a national language) and from even corners of the world like Ethiopia—leading to amazing Ethiopian, Georgian, Armenian foods as well.  And the physical beauty of the country is also amazing.  Nature like one has never seen nature before, in a tiny, hotly contested, strip of land about the size of New Jersey.

We traveled with my four year old son, and it is extremely family friendly.  People not only tolerate children, they love children, and they are welcome everywhere.  Considering the short distances, tours take a very long time, but again lots of crossings to avoid border crossings and security issues that add on to the time. This is maybe and ironically the safest place on earth, with weapons and military pervasive and strict control over everything.

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 We stayed in Jerusalem the entire week, and did four major tour excursions:  The Dead Sea, the Sea of Galilee, Bethlehem, and Haifa and the North, so we got to see a little bit of everything.  Floating in the Dead Sea was a little scary, waving hi to Jordan, trying not to fall, with a scared toddler floating on the water, but it was also amazing.  Dining on St Peter’s fish in the Sea of Galilee and drinking the local amazing wines, while getting baptized in the River Jordan—just a typical Tuesday.  Seeing where Jesus was born—the site being split between the original Orthodox church and a much later Catholic church—right in the middle of Palestine—and seeing the amazing Roman Ruins, vast history, and amazing cliffs up at the Lebanese border. This is a thriving country proud to show off its beauty to anyone who will open their minds to it.  We used Guy Tours, which was perhaps overly organized, but organized there is good and what you need, especially to be safe with a child in tow.

I will stop here because I could go on for hours and hours, but suffice it to say: venturing into Israel will forever change you, and the holy land will always awe you.


 The above is written and experienced by my friend, Jenee A. She is an avid traveler, professionally and for leisure.

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Thanks for reading. XOXO

A Tropical Paradise in the Middle of Texas - Son's Island

Yep Blake is grabbing Ethan’s face (lol)

Yep Blake is grabbing Ethan’s face (lol)

We took our sons to Son’s Island ( I had to do it). From social media ads (proof they work), I discovered Son’s Island. We had such a great time that I wanted to share our experience. This trip was unique for us as we had friends come along with us. It was perfect as our kids are very close in age. I think this place is perfect to get a group of friends/families together to go hang out for the day or two. Heck you can even camp in air conditioned tents overnight! I am down to try almost anything, but I think doing that with 2 little kids is not on my list. Maybe if it was just adults or older kids.

We drove from Houston, which took us 2 hrs 15 mins. It is very close to San Antonio, which is where we decided to stay the night. It is also close to New Braunfels, which is a really cute town with lots to do. I am not going to lie, when we drove up to the place, we were not sure if we were in the right place as it seems you are driving through a neighborhood. If you skip the paid lot and follow the signs around, you will see a Son’s Island sign and gate. Before you enter, an attendant will approach you to sign a waiver. Despite filling out an electronic waiver, we had to fill out one there at check-in. After this part is done, you are instructed to enter. I don’t know why, but I was surprised to learn that Son’s Island is an island. You have to drive over a bridge, one car a time, to get on the island. You are allowed parking for 2 cars per cabana (otherwise there is paid parking for $20 for the extra vehicles).

After all that, the fun begins!!!! Oh wait, restrooms, they have air-conditioned portable restrooms. They are not as bad a porter potties but definitely not a dream restroom to use. That is minor details though, it gets the job done. We rented a cabana that was near the water but not directly on it. We still had a private dock with water access that included a lawn chair. The cabana has several outlets (YAY), a fan (YAY), a bar table with bar stools, a hammock, a BBQ pit, and ample seating. It’s a really nice and comfortable setup. We decided to not grill, but we did bring lots of snacks and drinks. Papa Johns delivers, so we decided to go that route! Kids love pizza. There’s no food for sale (minus some snacks). I think it would be super cool if they had food trucks come. Besides the cabanas, there are non-motorized water activities - paddleboards, lilypads, kayaks - for a fee. The life jackets are FREE (Yay). Apart from this, other activities I saw were sand volleyball court, frog slide, over-sized games (like connect 4, bean bag toss, etc.), a small ampitheater (where they do live music), and I am sure there is more. We stayed pretty close to our cabana, occasionally venturing to the frog slide.

Enough about the logistics, what I wanted to share is what we loved most. Being outside, being in the water…and not just any water, clear pretty water, being with family, and being with friends is what made the day so special. They created a very beautiful space for you to enjoy a day away from it all. I seriously felt like I was transported to a carribean jungle and was relaxing on a river there. It’s a scenic space, with great ammenities. We rented a lilypad, which was perfect! It was so large that both of our families could fit on it (think it was $45 and we got it for a good amount of time). We jammed good music, made/bought refreshing drinks (bring an ice chest), watched the kids play together, played in the beautiful water, and just enjoyed a relaxing day in the middle of Texas. There is no glass allowed so keep that in mind (no dogs allowed either). We did bring wine, but did not have a bottle opener.

To sum it up, my recommendation of things to bring (apart from the obvious like food):

  1. water shoes - The bottom of the lake is rocky, like most of Texas rivers and lakes

  2. mosquito repellent (we lit a citronella candle)

  3. sunblock

  4. ice chest with ice

  5. cash (or card, they do take cards)

  6. hand sanitizer

  7. plastic-ware

  8. paper towels

  9. wine opener or a twist top bottle (if you choose to have wine of course - prob best to keep the bottle in the car if glass and transfer to a container)

  10. phone chargers

  11. speakers

My RECOMMENDATION: Try to rent a cabana on the canal side. The water is really pretty, it is more calm waters as there are no speedboats or jetskis flying by, and it’s close to the froggie slide ( and closer to restrooms).

Their website offers a wealth of information! I just wanted to share from my mommy perspective! If you live in Texas, it is worth the drive! If not, add this to a must see list, and enjoy other things the area has to offer. This is a great summer getaway, even a fall getaway, since it stays hot in this part of Texas until like Feb :).

We finished up our trip by spending the next day at SeaWorld, which was only about 45 minutes away.

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Thank you for always reading! XOXO

Comment, like, share, please.

My Top Bucket List Destinations - What's Yours?

I am a dreamer, my dreams are big, they are overwhelming. Often times, I let fear hold me back. BUT other times I act on them, the safe tangible ones mostly (haha). In 2009, I literally lived through the worst year of my life. I not only lost my dad and my memom, but I lost a handful of other people. They say death comes in 3’s but that year, death came in 9. I learned a lot from the pain. I am not saying I completely understand it, and at times I hardly can accept it, BUT it taught me how fragile life can be. I want the time left on Earth to be impactful, to be meaningful, for God to use me, and to live life to the fullest while I am here. God’s creation, his art, is the best art and I want to see it all. Once you get the taste of travel, you begin to crave more of it. There’s something so exhilarating and magical about seeing new places. I have a HUGE bucket-list, about the “whole world” places long, but to spare you, I am going to list the top 5(ish) places on my bucket list. Maybe you guys can hold me accountable. Or maybe you have been there!

Bora Bora

This has been a dream spot since I first laid eyes on it (via picture)….over-the-water bungalow..yes, please. It looks breathtaking! I always imagined my honeymoon here, but when I got married, the way our bank account was set up, it just was not a realistic option. We ended up in Bavaro, DR, still magical. I will get to Bora Bora, maybe for our 10 year anniversary, which is a little over 3 years away, OMG!

Antarctica (Peninsula)

Cause why not?!??! To me, it’s completely fascinating. It’s like a mystery! No one knows exactly what’s under the ice, what kind of life is there, how it lives, etc etc. Of course as technology advances and the continent is further explored, more is being revealed. The Peninsula is of interest because in the summer, it gets fairly warm. In some parts it gets up to 60 degrees F, can you believe it? I could go from Argentina (it’s on my list) and cruise down to the peninsula.

Halong Bay, Vietnam

It is visually stunning. It has the perfect mix of nature - you’ve got towering mountainous rocks, foresty vegetation, crystal clear water….just amazing! It truly is a natural wonder. Honestly, there is quite a few places in Vietnam that I would want to see, thankfully it’s not that big, so maybe I can do it all. Ho Minh City would be next spot on the list.

Chengdu, China

If you know me, you know I am panda obsessed. I want to visit the Giant Panda Breeding Research center. They have programs where you can be a panda keeper for a certain amount of time. It would be a dream come true. Rural China is gorgeous, so from there I would explore more. Have you seen Disney’s Born China? It is a good glimpse of the beauty.

Bagan Myanmar

I would love to take a hot air balloon over the Bagan Temples. It’s known to be one of the most exquisite archaeologist sites in Asia. Learn more here.

Avenue of the Baobabs, Madagascar

Honestly, there are so many places in Africa that I want to see. It’s extremely hard to narrow it down. I think it is the most naturally beautiful of the continents. I love trees, so this place makes it on the list. These Baobab trees are unique. There used to be a rich forest of these in Madagascar, but now they have narrowed down to dozens. Another place with super cool trees is Hawaii, they have trees with rainbow trunks (Rainbow Eucalyptus Tree). I just want to hug them all or plant them in my yard!

Please google all of these places if you have not heard of them to see more. I had to pick free non-copyright pictures as I have never been there.

SO….what’s on your list? Have you been blessed enough to visit any of these places?

As always, thanks for reading!!!

XOXO

Tips to Find The Best Flight Deals

I just wanted to share a few tips on how to find the best deals on flights for your next trip. It would be great to have an airline connection, that’s the best way, but we do not. We make the most of it though by taking advantage of following:

  • Search the airline low fare calendars

    It’s best to plan travel without having an EXACT date in mind. If you can narrow it down to a month, head over to the airlines, search their low fare calendars and choose dates based on the lowest fares.

  • Purchase/Book your trip on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday

    From what I have read, booking on a Tuesday at midnight is the lowest, but honestly not even sure the timezone. Usually airlines release their discounts on Monday and by Tuesday, the deals are low and airlines are competing for lower rates. It seems booking 21 days ahead or 3 months ahead seem to give the best deals!

  • Plan to depart or arrive on a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. or Saturday

    Flying out or in on one of the dates above, is a great way to find good deals. I know people are probably side eyeing my Saturday, but I have found some of the best deals on Saturday.

  • Sign up for a reward program and let the points stack

    The miles add up, save them, and use them! If you sign up for a credit card, that is an even quicker way to stack up on points. Through the credit card programs, they give you additional ways to earn flights even faster.

  • Use a flight deal scanner app/website

    Apps that scan airlines, looking for best deals and flight glitches are really worth taking advantage of. The few apps/sites that I frequent are: Skyscanner, Hopper, Google, Secret Flying, and Hitlist. I am sure there a great deal more, so feel free to share them (drop a comment below). If you are local to Houston, like me, checkout EscapeHouston.com.

  • Travel to destinations during the off season

    This one is pretty self explanatory, but booking flights and even hotels to destinations when it is not a popular time to venture there, you can often find really good deals.

  • Fly hub to hub

    A hub city is where an airline’s operations and facilities are located. Nonstop flights tend to be cheaper and airlines frequently fly from hub to hub throughout the day. I have found that these tickets are lowest. For instance, flying from here to phoenix on Southwest, both of which are hubs, I find the lowest rates, often times under $100 each way.

  • Flights during the school semesters are lower

    Airlines crank up the flight fares during summer, spring break (esp to spring break destinations), and holidays. It is really unfair because flying with kids is expensive within itself, but hey, its a business and sadly that’s just how it goes.

  • Take advantage of airline specials

    Southwest does a big one twice a year (give or take a sale). I have seen united and american do them around holidays like fathers day. I feel Southwest has the BEST sales with seriously low fares, and United has great last minute flight deals. I recommend signing up for email notifications through your preferred airline(s) so you can be the first to know of these deals.

I hope I did not overload you with these tips, but they really do help! If you know any other tips, please share them!!!

Thanks for reading, xoxo

Texas Parks: Stroller or Carrier?

We love the outdoors, and contrary to what many may think, Texas has some really nice parks and recreational areas. As a frequent visitor of these parks, I noticed that there is little to no information about whether you should bring a stroller or carrier for the little ones. I think carrier is always the safest choice, but it can be uncomfortable and hot, especially in the Texas heat.

I have compiled a list of parks in Texas, along with my recommendation of stroller or carrier. I hope this helps as much as it would’ve helped me prior to going. My learn is your gain! This will be a running list and I will keep making updates as they come.

Lost Maples State Park: Definitely a carrier (Not stroller accessible)

Garner State Park: Carrier (with exception of the Old Entrance Road Trail it’s paved)

Photo Taken fr om Garner State Park  Site

Photo Taken from Garner State Park Site

Hamilton Pool Preserve: Carrier

There is a hike down of several steps to the natural pool

Enchanted Rock: Carrier

Photo Taken From  Enchanted Rock  State Site

Photo Taken From Enchanted Rock State Site

McKinney Falls State Park: Both, Stroller for Onion Creek Hike and Bike Trail

Photo Taken by  McKinney Fall State Park  site

Photo Taken by McKinney Fall State Park site

Big Bend National Park: Carrier

I have not had the pleasure of going here yet, but hoping to rent a RV and go in the fall. There are 2 trails noted as wheelchair accessible - Panther Path and Window View Trail - so I bet a stroller could be used.

Photo Taken by  National Park

Photo Taken by National Park

Palo Duro Canyon: Both, Carrier for all trails EXCEPT Pioneer Nature Trail

Did you know that these are the second largest canyons in the U.S.? Yes, in Texas. No I have not been here, but I felt this one was worth mentioning as well.

Photo Taken from  State Park  site

Photo Taken from State Park site

Brazos Bend State Park: Both, Stroller for Creekfield Lake Nature Trail, Carrier for all others

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Krause Springs: Due to stairs, a carrier, but you could carry a small stroller down the steps.

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Guadelupe Mountains National Park: Both, Stroller for Manzanita and Piney Trail

Photo Taken by  National Park  site.

Photo Taken by National Park site.

Monahans Sandhills State Park: Carrier

Never been but looks super cool!

Taken from the  state site

Taken from the state site

There are several other parks and recs, I will work on continuing to update this list. If it is stroller friendly, it is also wheelchair accessible. I hope this list helps!!!

Since we are on the topic of carriers, wanted to share one that I like, HERE.


Thanks for reading! XOXO

The Breathtaking Turner Falls & More

With summer just around the corner (or if you are down south, like me, it feels like it’s here already), Turner Falls (a 77 foot waterfall) is the perfect family getaway. When I travel for work, I always try to find nearby places to explore. I used to have to travel to OKC for work and I stumbled upon this place in my search. It is about 1.5-2 hours south of OKC and about 1.5 hours north of DFW. I had no idea that there were rolling hills (or mountains) in Oklahoma, and nestled amongst the Arbuckle Mountains is the super beautiful Turner Falls area.

We stayed in Ardmore, OK, as there were other places we wanted to venture to, but the way our boys cut up this trip, we did not get to do nearly as much as we wanted to. Despite this we did have a good time. We drove there from Houston, and conveniently the half way point was Waco, so we visited the Silos Magnolia Market and found a really neat Mammoth National Monument in the area. Waco is a really cute town, especially the area around the downtown- Silos area/Austin District, there are lots of cute little dining and shopping areas. There is also a Fixer Upper tour (self-guided), that I would have loved to do, but the boys were not interested in the slightest bit. The Magnolia has a lawn with activities & bean bags, there are several food trucks, a garden, shopping, bakery, so much. The best part is that it is designed to perfection, such a visually pleasing place. If you only buy one thing, I recommend it be a cupcake from the bakery, AMAZING!!!!

The Mammoth National Monument is given by tour only. All of the bones are real (with the exception of 2). There are no wholly mammoths, only Colombian mammoths. There are about 24 of them that were found and their cause of death is unknown. It is believed that humans were involved. This is a stroller friendly tour, and they even offer golf carts for those who have physical limitations. I personally found this place fascinating and my 4 year old loved it. Blake got a good nap for this tour.

We headed up to Oklahoma, which was about 3 hour trip. We stopped in Fort Worth at an outlet mall to stretch our feet and grab food. I love Fort Worth BTW, it’s so pretty.

As you enter the area, there is a blue swimming hole on the right hand side. When I went previously, in the summer (work trip), it was super packed. There is an entrance fee , that you can find here. The boys were free, whoop! Sadly during this trip, a cold front blew in, so we were unable to get in the water (the main swimming hole at the base of the fall was closed), but we were still able to hike around and hang out on the grounds of the area. This place is a one stop shop. You can stay on the grounds, they have cabins, RV, camping, a trading post, and a few areas to dine. There are several hiking trails and caves that can be visited as well. I personally, am just so drawn to the beautiful crystal clear water, that that’s where I wanted to be. We spent most of the day here, despite being able to get in the water. Ethan likes to look at the fish and try to catch (and release) them. The entire area is stroller friendly, but if you want to climb up behind the waterfall, you definitely will need a carrier (if traveling with baby), and I think even hiking sticks. My husband climbed up and wanted to explore the cave above the fall, but it was very narrow and was somewhat crowded.

If you do go in the summer, I recommend getting there early as the place does have a maximum capacity. You can also buy your tickets online in advanced. Bring your own floats as they do not have these available. Just before you enter the path to the waterfall, there are 2 things I wanted to mention.

  1. The castle - it was made of native stones by a Dr. Collins that served as his summer home and the Bar C Ranch HQ (whatever that is ha).

  2. There is a food stand. They sell hot dogs, nachos, chili pie, sandwiches, funnel cakes (was not impressed with it), drinks, etc. It is CASH only, so be prepared.

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These pictures do not even do this place justice! It is definitely a place to visit. With it being so close to OKC, you could take on some of the things to offer there or even piggyback it with a trip to DFW area.

On the way back from Turner Falls to our hotel, we stumbled across a town called Paul’s Valley. Since my husbands name is Paul, he said let’s stop and get a picture. This town was super colorful and cute. I literally felt like we stepped back in time, they had a Radio Shack guys, but also this cool Toy and Action Figure Museum. There were diners, art galleries, and a cute boutique. The Toy and Action Figure Museum was pretty nostalgic for me. There were so many figures, like Ralph, that I have not seen since I was a kid. There is a dress up area and of course lots a gift shop. I think what I love the most were all the blooming trees. This was about 30-40 minutes from Turner Falls, and I definitely think it is worth a stop.

Plan your trip and let me know if you have any questions. I would love to hear if you have been or do go!

Summer day (from my first trip there)

Summer day (from my first trip there)

As always, thanks for reading XOXO.

Glamping: Our Tipi Stay

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I love to try new things and have never “glamped” before. For those who are not familiar with this term, it is glamorous camping. The accommodations may or may not be up to the level of a nice hotel, but certainly better than a tent (and probably better than a motel). I found these Tipis on Groupon, and thought it would be a good adventure for us. Thankfully my easy going hubby is always down. The tipi researvation is located in Canyon Lake which is just outside of New Braunfels (which is somewhere between Austin and San Antonio, TX). These tipis were located by the Guadalupe River amongst the rolling hills of the hill country. This is a perfect summer getaway!

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Here is a list of what’s included inside the tipi:

  • Air conditioned tipi with running water and a kitchenette

  • Toaster Oven, no microwave

  • Mini refrigerator

  • TV with cable

  • Ample outlets

  • No bugs!

  • Private fire pit in front (you can purchase wood in the office)

  • Private bbq pit

Here is a list of what is included on the reservation:

  • Private restroom that is located off-site - This was the only drawback for me as I go frequently at night. I was too scared to go and had to come up with a solution in room (don’t ask ha), but if you are in the same boat and are too scared to leave the tipi at night, plan accordingly. You could also request a tipi closer to the bathroom facility.

  • Gameroom with ample seating outside on deck. The gameroom includes family board games, jenga, a microwave, and large TV

  • Access to the river (not a large shore area, most of this area that the reservation is located by is privately own) with upper deck

  • Tube rentals

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Next time we go, we will do more shopping prior for things to grill, and water shoes for the river. The closest store was the Family Dollar, it was a life saver, but did not have the best options. We made it work.

Some nearby activities we checked out were:

Comal Park in Canyon Lake - There’s a rocky beach area, picnic tables, playground, and access to the lake (roped in). I researched and this one seemed to be the best part of the lake to swim in. You also get views of the dam.

WildLife Ranch located on the edge of San Antonio - This was about 30 minutes away from the tipi reservation. Ethan and I had been before but he was really little, and we went more for me the first time. This time was for him and it was his absolute favorite part. There are 2 sides: safari side and the cavern side. Both are incredible. For the safari trek, you get a bag of food, and you have the option to ride in your own vehicle or take the safari vehicle (for $10 more per person). We chose to stay in our car with the windows down. There are over 500 animals. Beware of the Emus, they attacked the bag of food in my car lol. I am officially terrified of them. The property is breathtaking! There is a cafe on property, along with a petting zoo portion. My favorite were the baby goats!

Wildflour Bakery and Grill is located within minutes of the tipis and it was adorable and extremely delicious. I had my first honey and lavender latte there, which was unique. We love brunch and this place was the quintessential brunch spot. Oh and the customer service gets an A+.

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The Gruene in New Braunfels is picture perfect! My camera cannot even capture a portion of the beauty. There are mom and pop style shops, a dance hall, restaurants, and a wine bar. It is about 20 minutes from the tipis. We ate at GristMill on the river. The food was delicious and the architecture and scenery were very eye catching. There is also a nearby amphitheater music venue called Whitehouse Amphitheater.

On the way down to the Tipis, we stopped in Austin to see our cousin cross the finish line for the MS150. This is a fundraiser for multiple sclerosis that entails a bike ride from Houston to Austin. My cousin is in her 60s and did this ride, this was so inspiring for us! Paul hopes to join her next year!

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While we waited for her to arrive, we went to my favorite view spot in Austin, The Oasis. The food is decent, but the view is priceless. It overlooks Lake Travis and it makes me feel like I am in Europe…but the food is more Tex-Mex.

That pretty much sums up the trip. It was a great time and hope it inspires you to take your family!!! The tipis are great for family, great for friends, great for girls night, great for couples! Have you glamped or camped before?

P.S. Check out  Kammy Kids Boutique , that’s where we got this adorable romper.

P.S. Check out Kammy Kids Boutique, that’s where we got this adorable romper.

Thanks for reading. XOXO

Baby in the City

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New York City is one of my favorite cities, there is absolutely no place like it! If you are wondering if it is a good place to visit with kids or better without, the answer is BOTH. Its a great place to go with friends, significant others, and even your kiddos.

Since we flew on Southwest, we had to fly into LGA. Upon landing, we decided UBER would be the best route. The cool thing about UBER in NYC is that you can get the option with a carseat. These are not infant carseats, they are convertible car seats for kids ages 12 months and up with a weight minimum of 22 lbs. There is a $10 surcharge, but for us, it beat having to carry around a huge carseat that we would not use for any of the trip. If you do have to bring your carseat, check out the carseat bag we use, it’s our favorite.

We stayed in the financial district. There was no reason for this decision, other than the fact that we found the best deal on our hotel. The hotels can be SUPER pricey in NYC, but we got ours for a really good price. How you may be wondering? I took advantage of the Marriott low fare match program. I booked the hotel through Marriott website and I actually found a lower fare! Marriott is kind enough to honor that lower rate + give 25% off. The only drawback to staying in the financial district is that most of the food places close early and were not open on the weekend. The best part, besides the price, was that there was a ZARA and a Gap right below our hotel. I packed clothes, but totally found better at these stores…you know how that goes lol.

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I forgot to mention that it was CHRISTMAS TIME. If you’ve never been during Christmas, and LOVE Christmas like I do, you HAVE TO GO EXPERIENCE CHRISTMAS IN NYC. There is Christmas decorations EVERYWHERE. The weather was kind enough to even offer us a cute snow (definition of cute snow- a sprinkle of snow flurries that fall delicately to the ground and stay). It rarely snows in Houston, so that was perfect for us!

Here are a few kid/tot friendly activities NYC style that we did and recommend:

  1. Stroll through the AMAZING Central Park (FREE.99!)

  2. Central Park zoo ($19.95 per adult, kids under 2 free) - If you purchase tickets online, there’s a 10% off code.

  3. There are so many museum options, here is a list of them all and prices vary. If you are museum lover, consider a NYC Museum pass.

  4. Boat tour around the statue of liberty. We found tickets for free using the GoldStar APP.

  5. Broadway show, like Lion King (probably better for the older kiddos)

  6. If traveling during the holidays - Mariah Carey Christmas Concert at Beacon Theater!!!!!!! Ethan loved it, I love it, we all loved it!!!

  7. If traveling during the holidays - Macy’s to see the windows and meet Santa (I am pretty sure i enjoyed this more than he did). Warning: the line to see Santa is long. They have lots to look at but our tot struggled in the line.

    *We got to see some friends who moved there and they have twins boys around the same age as Ethan, so that was a BONUS.

  8. Time Square - all the lights and screens had him mesmerized (FREE)

  9. Rockefeller Plaza ( to see the tree, eat, and ice skate)

  10. Toy stores! His favorite was the Lego Store right next to Rockefeller Plaza.

    If you have a friend that lives in the city, I bet they can recommend even better options!

We traveled mostly by foot (stroller) and by subway. I recommend bringing an umbrella stroller. During peak subway times, it is difficult to navigate with a larger stroller. Or of course, you can wear your child. By that time, Ethan was too heavy for us to carry, especially with all of the walking and standing we didi. Check out an umbrella stroller similar to what we use, here, it’s the newer version. Ethan LOVED the subway and we got to see some unique entertainment.

New York gave us a good balance of stuff we enjoyed that allowed us to bring our little guy along. My mom did tag along this trip, so Paul and I were able to get a date night in (the trip was around our anniversary). We went to a tasty cuban restaurant that had live music and we got to see our first show on Broadway - Phantom of the Oprah. It was so good!!!

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I cannot wait to go back!!! Thank you for reading.

XOXO

Mom on Mission: Africa Edition

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If you have never gone on a mission trip, I highly recommend you try it, at least once. I have a heart for mission. I had the wonderful opportunity to go on my first mission trip to a country in Africa, Botswana. It is right above South Africa. At the time I went, I was not yet a mom, but the passion and desire to be on mission still remains the same. In this season of my life, my mission is here at home, but I have found a few local opportunities to serve.

This trip to Africa occurred in 2008, so I am not able to recall all the details of the logistics, but I wanted to share how the experience made an impact in my life and changed my perspective. In my small Bible study group, we completed a wonderful study book called What Makes you Happy. The part that hit home for me the most of this series, is that one of the 6 parts of what makes me/us happy is…being selfless (giving ourselves away through caring for others, teaching others, protecting others). Have you ever helped someone and felt bad after it? I think for everyone, the answer is no. Sure you may feel sad about the circumstances, depending on what it is, but you generally feel a sense of purpose and reward. Another thing he, the speaker/author Andy Stanley, referenced was the Dead Sea. It is a unique body of water as it is being poured into, but unlike other bodies of water, there is no place for the water to pour out, so it sits there. The even crazier thing is that it is drying up, like up to 1 meter per year. Now there are several scientific reasons as to why this may be the case, but it is a good analogy for people who do not pour out to others, you feel empty and purposeless. We cannot fulfill our own happiness, no thing can fulfill our happiness, we are designed to be in community.

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Just before the trip, I remember feeling tired of my reality. I just had so many surface level relationships and I was working two jobs and in school plus other activities. I just felt like everything I had, it did not seem to be enough. Like I had needs that were not being fulfilled. Ok fast forward to the trip…. I went with a small group of young adults through a local church, (you know that small church called Lakewood? Ok yes, not so small, but it was their first young adults trip of this type). Getting there was a nightmare. We ended up having to land elsewhere and be diverted to Dubai for the night, when were originally planning to stay in Johannesburg, South Africa. It was unfortunate we did not get that experience, but that just comes with the territory of traveling. Sometimes things go as planned, sometimes it does not. The main activities for the trip was to really just be the hands and feet of Jesus - identify needs and fill them and share the love of Christ. Little did I know that this trip would change my life! First of all, culturally it was a new experience, somewhat of a shock even. The country itself is not very populated, 80% of it is covered by the Kalahari desert. We stayed in Maun. There is a huge HIV/AIDS population in this country and there is a huge need for medication. I think it gave me an appreciation for the things I have here. Like the ease of taking a shower (vs a sponge bath in a bucket) and going to the restroom in a real toilet (vs digging up a hole in the ground).

During the trip, we connected with a family, who’s roof of their home, the hut, burned down. Most of the people live in mud huts with thatch roofs. We were tasked to re-build the roof and repair the damages. I worked with the thatch, which was so cool to learn. In addition, we walked around the village and helped with whatever we could. Let me tell you what was shocking, the kids, little ones, like 4 years old, walked around by themselves. There is no safety risk. There is just freedom. I can barely let my son out in the front yard without having to stand over him. To make this easier to read, I am going to try to bullet point my emotions. I am not the best with words, but here is my attempt.

  • A piece of my heart remains there and I think it forever will. I am so eager to go back and serve. The value here in america seems to be placed on acquiring wealth and status, only to find that it is not enough, you will want more. And you will still feel empty. There, despite not having a lot, they really had everything. The value is placed on relationship. There is a strong sense of community. They loved hard, they welcomed hard, they served hard, they cared hard, they were there for each other above all else, it was refreshing. It was honestly just what I needed at a time when I just felt there was no hope for humanity.

  • They are free! They were not confined to all the written and unwritten rules that we have here. I think this also relates to the strong sense of community they have in each other. Some kids ran around with clothes, some didn’t. Everyone looked out for each other and their kids. They had freedom to express themselves, freedom to worship God without regard to what the other person may be thinking. Again, another refreshing observation.

  • The wildlife is scary!!! OK this is not heartfelt, but this is a warning! They had these flat spiders everywhere (harmless but scary looking). They have huge snakes, bugs I never heard of, and the animals are, well I am sure you have heard or read about it or maybe even experienced it. This required me to be more brave than I could ever imagine. I remember one night, I was sitting outside and bat flew right over my head. While at the moment, my reaction was not that of a brave woman, I survived and am here to tell you this tale. That counts for something right? I know the wildlife alone is enough to deter some people from wanting to visit. Try not to let it.

  • I felt at home. The hugs, the love, the singing, the dancing, it just made my heart smile. I want more of that in my life. I want to go back. I want to bring my family with me. I fell in love with everyone I met. There is a little girl there that I wanted to take back with me so bad. Her name was Tebogo. Both of her parents were sick with AIDs and were not being properly treated. She was the cutest, sweetest little girl and I instantly connected with her. There is not a week that goes by that I have not thought of her, that is how big of an imprint she made on my life. I hope to one day see her again.

There are two cool things we got to do, that I highly recommend:

  1. Visit the Okavango Delta. The lesson I learned from this is that when flying on a 9 seater plane, do not sit at the back. I spent most of this flight sick and even after it took me a long time to recover. The Okavanga Delta is really unique as it a vast ecosystem that is untouched by man and is home to some of the world’s most endangered species.

  2. A safari! We stayed overnight in a tent with the wild. I definitely had to take nyquil to help me sleep. I was terrified. Seriously I do not think there are any words for this experience. I would do it again, but probably not stay overnight haha. The guys who did the tour did not even have weapons. The only thing I did not get to see on it that I (kind of) was hoping to see were lions. It was their mating season.

One thing I was just reminded of while writing this is how proud of me my dad was. He passed away less than a year after I took this trip. He not only helped me unload my bags but he parked and walked me as far in as they would allow. Hard not to tear up as I reflect on this memory. I hope I am still making him proud today as he looks down from heaven.

All these years later, I still feel the impact of that trip on my life. My encouragement for you reading is that I know life gets busy, but try to remember to make time for others. It not only will benefit someone else, but you yourself will feel even better! I will say this again, we are designed for relationship. What are some things that hold you back from helping others? Have you gone on a mission trip or do you serve locally? I would love to hear your experience.

As always, thanks for reading.

XOXO

Favorite Baby/Tot Travel Accessories

I have said it before and I will say it again, traveling with small kids can be TOUGH. It is important to try to make traveling with baby and/or toddler as easy as possible! The pack will never be light, but make sure you pack with purpose. I am sharing my favorite travel accessories for traveling with baby or toddler.

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Bjorn travel crib - This has been a game changer. We first were using a playard and Blake hated it. He is extremely picky about where he sleeps. He was up all night off and on and it made us very tired parents on the trip. My big sister was kind enough let me borrow her travel crib to see if it made a difference and it totally has!!! He slept almost the entire night like he does at home. It comes in a bag that is ready to travel, and includes a mattress and sheet. Totally top of my list because getting sleep is super important!

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Portable potty - When your kiddos are learning to potty, they can sometimes be picky where they potty. For the longest, Ethan would only pee on a small (Ethan size) potty. I used to carry the seat, but he was not comfortable on the big pot. My big sister, again, shared these portable potties and they are amazing as you can use them at home, on the road, and on the go.

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Portable jumper & playard - The jumper is amazing for you to keep your little entertained, whether in the hotel room or on out on the beach. It even has a sun shade. The playard has saved our lives at Ethan’s soccer games and we cannot wait to take it on our first trip. Both of these come in bags and are quick set up and take down.

Stroller bag - The bag people at the airport, do not care about your stuff. There is just too much of them and they have to move to quickly to show each item tender care, so I don’t blame them. I found this bag to be extremely handy, not only to protect the car seat, but also it is great to transport your car seat as it has wheels and a pull on it. This is probably not right, but we even sneak extra items that cannot fit into our bags into this carseat bag.

 
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Ergo 360 baby carrier - We use this for almost everything. Babies like to be close and sometimes it is just easier to wear baby vs strolling baby around, especially in instances where there are large crowds. I specifically like this one because it is slightly more ergonomically friendly than other carries, and you can wear baby in multiple ways. It also lasts for a long time, up to 45 lbs. We have the one linked. It is similar to the one photographed below.

 
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Lightweight stroller - In some instances, we do like to use the stroller. Plus it is nice to access the storage at the bottom. I specifically noted lightweight as these tend to be easier to open, close, and store. We have a Maclaren Triumph, which is basically a fancy umbrella stroller, and a Harmony Urban Deluxe. I am not sure they still sell those anymore, but its been with us on some good trips. It is something between a standard stroller and an umbrella stroller.

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Backpack diaper bag - These are easier on the back and for on the go! Plus they tend to be more gender neutral, so my husband does not mind carrying it. I linked one similar to the one we use.

 
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Medela quick clean steam sanitizing bags - I use these for not only pump parts, but also bottles, pacifiers, and baby toys. The steps are easy to follow and allow you to sanitize your baby stuff in just 3 minutes. Most hotel rooms come with a microwave so this is perfect for on the go.

 
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Munchkin Arm & hammer pack wipes - When you do not have water, and you need to clean something small, these are perfect. I use these for pacifiers, toys, and any other small items. It is very safe way to clean and sanitize baby/toddler items with no harsh chemicals.

 
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Medela pump cleaning wipes - I use these for larger items and when I do not have access to sink. I use them for breast pump parts, restaurant high chairs, changing tables, toys, bottles, and so much more. They are unscented, alcohol free, and bleach free. Winning!

 
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I’d love to hear what some of your favorite travel accessories are for your littles!

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Thanks for reading.

XOXO

Life with My Traveling Mom: Husband Edition

Several blogs and articles talk about motherhood and raising children and are usually written from a mother’s perspective. Many mothers have read these and found comfort knowing they are not alone in the universe. They are able to unite with women around the world that they don’t know, yet share life stories and experiences. Well, this post is a little different. As a husband, I would like to share what it’s like journeying through life with my traveling wife, while balancing work, children and my love for the Houston Rockets!

Lets be honest from the jump, it’s more difficult with our two boys when she is away traveling. It was hard before we had kids. Ashley is nothing short of amazing and when she’s away, her presence is definitely missed and the tasks of caring for the kids and holding things together are more difficult. What I’ve learned along the way is to suck it up, get it done and do so with a smile.

Ethan and Blake are nothing short of joys in my life. I cherish the moments spent with them and as Ethan gets older, there are lessons in life that I’ve been able to teach him. I have had the opportunity to see both kids have a respect for me and the things that I do to make sure they are safe, happy and feel loved. When Ashley first began frequent traveling, Blake wasn’t with us yet and even with 1 child, it was still difficult. I wasn’t accustomed to doing this on my own, even despite her efforts to try to make everything as easy as possible while she was gone. Honestly, before Ashley, I struggled taking care of myself! Ashley could tell the stress I allowed myself to endure and it affected her. She already said she felt mom guilt from being away, but she began regretting her trips and not enjoying being away. Overtime, I realized that the real issue was me.

Now, it’s not easy to admit that the root cause is yourself. Accountability is something we all need to have, though. One day, I had the opportunity to speak to an older gentleman in my Bible study small group, who expressed something that would change so much. He was having trouble at home with his wife and kids who needed his help when he arrived home from work, but in his mind he worked a full days work and all he wanted to do was rest. He didn’t want to wash dishes or bathe the kids. Just grab a beer, watch the game and relax in his recliner. God touched his heart one day and told him, “Serving isn’t something we are born wanting to do, it’s something that requires purpose and sacrifice”. This message hit me deep. My dad always talked about and walked the walk of a servant, so I already had an example set before me. It was time to be what God wanted me to be, to serve my wife and family.

WOW! That made a huge difference. I began taking things off my wife shoulders. Even when I knew I was dead tired, I found myself sacrificing and placing her and our kids before my own selfish desires. Now I’m no where near perfect and there have been recessions, but I’ve seen the positive affects this has had on my family and I. Stress levels have decreased. Ashley now goes out of town knowing I have everything under control. I know I’m really serving well when she says she feels like she isn’t helping enough (which is never the case)! Now that’s a medal I like to hang! Plus the more I do it, the more I am used to it. We have a good routine for the kids that I am actively apart of on a daily basis, so when she is gone, I am not like “a deer in headlights”.

Before I go, I want to add one more thing about traveling with the family. This is by far one of the best times in our lives. Ethan loves everything airplane related. Blake needs some patience…okay a lot of patience ha! He isn’t a fan of planes, car rides, being in the stroller, or sleeping anywhere that’s not his bed. Ugh. Ashley is pretty self explanatory, she loves traveling so much she blogs about it. When we travel we like to make sure everyone gets to do something they want to do. Sometimes its a restaurant, a dinosaur park or just relaxing on a beach (well as much as you can with kids).

I’ve heard through the grapevine, some husbands restrict or produce negativity towards anything that takes their wife away from being with the kids and leaving them alone with the kids. I pray they are given a servants heart and understanding that they are equally a part of the parental pair. We must always continue to lift each other up and make sacrifices for each other’s happiness.

I leave you with a motto I live and work by: “Teamwork makes the dream work!”

Written by Paul Lilly

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Thanks for stopping by! Please share, subscribe, comment, and/or connect me with me on Instagram.

XOXO

Featured Post: The Land Down Under

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Let me introduce myself, not just as Ashley’s friend, but also a partner in travel-loving crime.  I grew up abroad, studied abroad, lived and worked abroad as an adult, and I have been traveling extensively around the globe since I was my toddler’s age.  Heck, I even built an education and career around being able to travel! So when I found out I was pregnant, not only did I go to nearly every continent with my son in utero, but I knew it would never stop.  People always ask, why waste the money when he won’t remember it?  But the travel is for me, for us, for training, for life, for spirit and teaches us all so much more as we evolve through it.  Plus, we have pictures, those count as memories, right?

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So I am here to tell of one of the more daring trips I took with my son, Nikita, when he was 18 months old—all the way to Australia from Texas.  Yes, the trip was 24 hours, and yes, we arrived with a 104 fever.  Lessons I learned on that trip:  United doesn’t actually reserve the bassinet seat for you, it’s a fight to see who in that row gets it, and always hoard antibiotics for hard travel. My son at the time had chronic ear infections, so prior to our departure, I reached out to the pediatrician to see if he could call in a prescription for us for just in case purposes. I am so glad I did this!

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The upsides are, it is FREE!  His seat is FREE!  This is amazing.  We found a way out of the double booking of the bassinet, and arranged to switch seats with others so we and the woman with the newborn could each have one. And we had antibiotics on hand so he was fine after we got them in him.  The other great thing about long trips is there is plenty of nighttime hours and thus sleeping time!  Once you get them cozily in the bassinet they can play there for hours on end and mommy can relax!

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We enjoyed Melbourne, we saw the aquariums and the festivals and all the sights and sounds, he loved.  We moved on to Sydney and decided to take the short 13-hour train ride to minimize flights—thinking it would be a fast train and he would like it. It was not fast.  He did not like it.  And they only took cash so we had limited wine we could purchase to offset the pain…this was much, much, much worse than the plane rides, so I highly advise thinking through logistics since at the end of the day, those are everything! I recommend for any international trip to bring a carrier, it is a lifesaver. It is easier to use as the stroller can be difficult to navigate on rough terrains and difficult in crowded spaces.

 

But once there, we enjoyed the opera, and the architecture, and the Asian influence, and Nikita was the highlight of all the older Asian ladies, with whom he took hundreds of posed pictures, batting his eyelashes for them.