Jul
22nd
  It’s the little things that make a difference at the Roman Colosseum…

DSC05341The Roman Colosseum is the most famous and awe-inspiring monument to have survived ancient Rome. Can you believe it is some 2000 years old?

So of course you are going to fight the crowds, sizzle in the Mediterranean heat, and drag your kids to this ancient amphitheatre when you go to the Eternal City!

You just don’t want to end up like some of the gladiators when you do- beat and conquered. If you are traveling with family, then you know you need to be even more prepared because keeping children happy can be more challenging. This can be one of their favorite experiences if you do it right. I promise, I’ve lived it. Teens who have studied this at school will especially appreciate it.

By the way -a ticket to the Colosseum also gets you to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill – all must sees. They are fascinating.

Here are some things to remember to make the trip a victory… sometimes the most obvious practices vanish in the jet lag haze….

1) My top recommendation to make it an enriching, memorable experience is to bite the bullet and hire a tour guide. There are all kinds of tours you can find online, but try to get a personal recommendation from someone who has done it. If you have kids, book one that specifically states it is child-friendly – they do exist.

DSC05356

We had a phenomenal guide… we got SO lucky – she was an archaeologist, with advanced degrees, who has literally dug up parts of Rome. There wasn’t one question of ours she couldn’t answer in great detail, and she also made it interesting. I don’t usually recommend just one company, but she was so good, this might be valuable for you. This company says they only use licensed tour guides: www.walksinsiderome.com Ask for Valentina Amato.

BONUS: Amato speaks fantastic English – not a trace of an accent. We used the same company the day before at the Vatican tour, and sadly, the accent was so thick, it was not easy to understand the other guide.

2) Did I forget to say that one of the logistical perks to taking a tour is YOU DON’T HAVE TO STAND IN THOSE LOOONG LINES. Whew. Glad I remembered. If you do decide to stand in line and not pay for a tour, then definitely don’t stand in line at the Colosseum – go to the Palatine Hill or the Forum entrances for the same entry ticket, but lines over at those two attractions can be shorter because people don’t realize you can buy Colosseum tickets there.

3) Bring your own water. If you have a water bottle, or bring a collapsable one from home, you can fill up almost anywhere in Rome at public fountains. However, at the Colosseum, even the former emperors would have a hard time finding H2O there today..unless you want to be at the mercy of the peddlers trying to sell water bottles for $5. Trust me, you will get thirsty.

DSC05296

4) Bring an umbrella if you really want to stay out of the sun – the Forum and Colosseum are almost all in the sun. You will catch a patch of shade here and there in the Colosseum depending on the time of day. Sunscreen, hats, misters – all good too.

5) That being said – try to visit early or late in the day to avoid peak heat, and get better photo-taking light.

6) If you take the subway there – it is really easy – there is food in the station – but it is pretty gross. Sadly, many travelers overpay and give in to the food right there because it is easy – but if you can walk a couple blocks to the end of the Colosseum opposite the Forum, you will find a few cafes and take away places. They aren’t visible from the Colosseum, so ask a local if you need to. That’s my MO.

Have a great time. This is one destination I have visited perhaps four times, and I learn something new each visit.

 

 

 
Jun
13th
  Tips From the Trip: International Travel with Kids

DSC03943From the London files….  One very jetlagged teen, after spending only half a day scratching the surface of all the magnificence London has to offer says : “Ok – looks like we’ve seen everything. Let’s go back to the hotel.”

Ok – that happened to be my son… I’m sure other parents out there can relate. You put all this effort into what is going to be a wonderful and memorable experience, only to be met with some occasional indifference, intensified by jet lag.

Here is what I have learned – and continue to learn, even on this trip to London from which I write , about traveling internationally with kids of all ages:

1) Lower your expectations. If you think you will accomplish a certain amount in a day, cover a certain amount of ground, with kids it will always always be less than you envision. They don’t move as quickly, need more breaks, and just generally take longer. If you construct an overly ambitions plan, it could cause anxiety that you aren’t seeing all you had intended. Along that same advice, you might not want to book back to back and pay for events in advance… the stress of having to make something because you prepaid when someone is having a  jet lag melt down just isn’t worth it.

DSC03908 2) Allow time for naps – and be flexible with the irrationality that jet lag breeds. If you have to, go back to your hotel room in the middle of the day and take a short nap to refresh and hit the restart button. It is a much better plan to let a child sleep then have him or her get cranky. Because we are in a big city (London) we even pulled into a park and let our kids rest since our hotel room was across town.

3) If you like trying good restaurants and sampling foreign cuisine, I would try to plan out the restaurants in advance if you know the neighborhood in which you will spend a day. Otherwise, at mealtime you could be aimlessly wandering, unfamiliar with the area, and end up at some horrible tourist trap just because the kids really need to eat. I have found that asking locals on the street “in the moment” just isn’t good enough.

4) Always have snacks handy. Hunger just exacerbates jet lag, and keeping a child’s blood sugar steady helps.

Bringing kids abroad is hard, I’m not going to kid you, but I think it can be worth it!

 
Jun
09th
  Pet Travel: How to Make Travel Smoother for Fido this Summer.
Stella, my sweet dog!

Stella, my sweet dog!

If you are a pet owner, part of the process of planning a summer vacation involves finding a plan for your precious pet while you are away.

While there are a growing number of travelers who bring their pets – there are still others who find it easier to leave their loved animals at home. So whether you travel with or without Fido, here are some important things to think about.

TRAVELING WITH A PET: Lisa Fimberg, owner of Petpav.com, a social networking site for pets and their owners, says you really need to stop and think about how your pet can handle traveling. You know your animal better than anyone – what is his or her temperament? Do new surroundings freak him or her out? Some dogs or cats can handle being on a plane, some can’t. Same with a hotel.

If you will travel on a plane, you need to know the airline’s policies toward traveling with pets: Major airlines allow cabin travel for pets under 20 lbs that can fit in a container under the seat in front of you. If not they need to go in the cargo.

Fimberg also says if you think you can sedate your pet – that is not a good idea. The American Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals discourages it, saying some meds can have adverse reactions, especially at high altitudes.

If you do put your pet in cargo, think about the time you fly – it’s cooler in the morning and evening so your pet doesn’t over heat. Try and book non stop and direct flights.

Most importantly – know that there is a risk to flying with your pet in the cargo – Sadly, some pets have not made the journey back alive.

If you are staying at a hotel, there are a number of great hotels that allow pets – just ask about their policies in advance. Make sure your hotel allows you to leave your pet in the room unattended if you have plans that can’t include the animal. Spend a few hours with your pet in the room to acclimate him or her and reduce any anxiety .

If you are allowed to leave the pet in the room, make sure you give the front desk your cell phone number when you step out. Animals are unpredictable, so you need to take caution.

Some hotels charge pet fees so ask about that in advance.

Here are some websites that list hotels that are pet-friendly:  www.petswelcome.com www.hotelguides.com/pet-friendly-hotels.html

Kimpton Hotel, Cambridge MA

Kimpton Hotel, Cambridge MA

You would be amazed at some of the perks hotels offer our furry friends these days!

TRAVELING WITHOUT PETS:

The most important thing is to consider where you keep your pet. Fimberg says separartion anxiety is real… so if you can, take your dog to the place where he or she will be staying first to get them used to it with you there. Practice leaving for small periods of time.

The best scenario would be to have a family member of friend your pet knows to watch him or her. If you go this route, consider getting an inexpensive dog collar with the petsitter’s info so that person can be reached if your pet gets lost. If you are in 5 different time zones you may be hard to reach. A professional pet sitter is also an option.

Remember to pack your pet with his or her favorite toys and bedding to make him or her feel as much at home as possible.

If you would like to belong to a social network with other pet owners to learn more about all pet topics, check out www.petpav.com…It’s free and fun!

Petpav is also on Facebook and Twitter!  www.facebook.com/PetPav?fref=ts  @petpavpets

Happy and safe travels everyone!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
May
29th
  Hotel of the Week: Paws Up in Montana… Glamping!
Paws Up Resort, Montana

Paws Up Resort, Montana

I posted some photographs on Instagram and Twitter of a trip I took recently, and got a lot of feedback – it seems there is a lot of curiosity about Paws Up Resort in Montana.

Paws Up Resort

Paws Up Resort

And rightly so… any place that combines unspoiled, wide open, gorgeous wilderness with first class creature comforts certainly stands intriguing.

What is “Paws Up?” Paws Up is a 37,000 acre working dude ranch located in Greenough Montana, in the Blackfoot Valley. Missoula is the closest airport about 35 miles away. DSC02381

But it’s not your typical dude ranch -not a chance partner.

What makes it stand out is that it offers luxury tents as accommodations – that’s right – no pitching a little pup tent with a polyester sleeping bag as your berth- guests get a comfortable bed, headbaord and all,  with a down comforter and electric bed warmer for those really cold Montana mornings…which by the way, are super cold. It is hard to get out of that bed.

DSC02382 In addition to real beds, you get a tile-floored bathroom with a  porcelain sink and toilet with plumbing inside your tent. It makes some chain business hotel bathrooms look like out houses.

This, dear traveler, is GLAMPING.

The tents are set up for families, and ours had a separate room IN the tent for the kids-…kids all slept on cots, so the beds are reserved for the grown ups. :)

DSC02542

TIP: I really enjoyed having a tent right on the river. It’s a nice view, and we could go out and fish anytime – the resort makes the rods available with your stay. Kids also enjoyed skimming rocks on the river.

The resort also offers luxury homes to rent… but the novelty of the luxury tent is really what makes this places special, in my opinion . But the homes might be better for large family groups wanting to stay together.

Now before you get all excited  in your boots, here’s the kicker:  Paw’s Up ain’t cheap cowboy.

The tent or house rates are one thing – starting at $1200 a night depending on the season – but you’re going to want to take part in all of the activities that Paws Up coordinates so you can explore the many acres of wilderness. And that’s what you really need to take into consideration.

DSC02406 DSC02413

Fly fishing is an absolutely gorgeous experience… It is a beautiful and peaceful day out on the Blackfoot River- to relax with kids on the water, with no electronics, was beyond pleasurable. DSC02402 DSC02417

We spotted eagles, and other wildlife out on the boat, in addition to our catch of the day. My 9 year old even caught a fish.

You do need to know that no more than 2 can go in one boat at a time, so if you have a larger family you’ll have to split up. And the price is a staggering $450 a boat for a four hour ride, with a guide If you have four people in your family, that’s $900.

DSC02439

Another activity we tried is paintball in the pine trees… The resort staff takes you out in a big patch of wilderness (not hard to find here) for a thrilling afternoon of washable paint warfare in the towering trees. It was fun -& yes, it does hurt when you get hit by the paint pellets, but it didn’t seem to bother the 20 adolescent boys with whom my daughter and I played.

Other activities offered are horse back riding, kayaking, hiking, river rafting, hot air ballooning, and much more. MAKE SURE you read each activity carefully before you go- there are age restrictions for some, so plan in advance to avoid disappointment if you have younger kids who may not be able to do everything. Some activities fill up so book as soon as you can. IMG_7667

Archery  is included with your stay… as well as access to a fitness center – but who has time for a gym when you are there?

IMG_7359

Honestly, you don’ t have to take part in activities every day if you choose not to. Sitting out by the river with a book for part of the day is peaceful, and you can take unorganized hikes as a family on your own.

DSC02512

If you stay in a tent, the morning starts gathered near a campfire, while your tent butler makes you breakfast of your choice. The tents are all arranged in clusters, so you eat with members of about 5 other tents.

DSC02554

The resort is rather spread out… it is 37,000 acres large, so you really feel the vast wilderness. Although that makes it a little bit more inconvenient for getting around the resort, and getting to your activities on time, it makes you feel how big and open Montana really is – it’s the 4th largest state by area. There are shuttles within the resort to take you where you need to be.

DSC02389

The food is good, and there is a restaurant for other meals… watch in the summer though there are a lot of bees on the restaurant patio.

Paws Up offers different packages for families, and also has babysitting services if you have small children. If you can afford it, it makes for a trip the kids will love, a trip where you will spend many fun hours together with little distraction of electronics, and a trip where you will feel very comfortable in your home on the range.

For other glamping options, at different price points also try:

www.elcapitancanyon.com

www.terravelotours.com

www.pawsup.com

Happy Travels!

 
May
26th
  Booking a flight with children? Read this first…It can save you $$
From airlinereporter.com

From airlinereporter.com

The airlines these days have found ways to charge us fees for everything – at one point one airline was looking to charge us to use the lavatory!

These fees have earned the airlines billions of dollars, so don’t look for them to go away anytime soon. However, we can be smart fliers and know how to fly with minimal fees.

Econ

For instance… listen up family travelers. Most airlines – particularly US airlines, charge parents extra to reserve a seat next to children. But if you are traveling on a foreign airline with any children younger than 12, and budget is a consideration, don’t pay to reserve your seats.

I know it sounds counter-intuitive, because you need to sit next to young children on planes, but what some foreign airlines don’t tell you upfront is that they automatically place you together if you are traveling with someone younger than 12 years of age. **Please note this is for many airlines – I would call in advance to confirm your airline does this. Also double check the age where they would automatically assign seats together, because that could be different too.

I asked one airline – what if all the other fliers book their seats and there are no other seats for us together – this particular airline said they move everyone around at the gate to accommodate people flying with children – even if we are a group of five and only have one child under 12.  (Honestly, that doesn’t seem totally fair either  – moving  those have paid to sit next to a window, but that’s the airline’s policy.)

If you are the type who doesn’t trust leaving it in the hands of the airlines, make sure you do the following:

1)Enter the age of your fliers when you book your flight- especially the one under 12 so the airline will know to put you together.

2) Get to the airport early and go to the gate to make sure they know you are traveling with children. Attendants can choose your seats then… or work it out in the system.

Think about it: Most airlines don’t want kids not seated next to their parents for everyone else’s sake!

It’s actually ridiculous some US airlines still don’t automatically place families with young children together. There has been legislation lingering in Congress to change this, but it doesn’t seem to have gone anywhere.

Again, it helps to call ahead on ANY airline to research the airline’s policies. I know there have been sympathetic agents who have helped families work it all out.

Happy travels – this is going to be a busy summer season!

 

 
May
22nd
  What You Should Know Before a Beach Vacation: The Dangers Lurking

A beach vacation can be a care-free family vacation – no need to plan what you are going to do every day – you have the beautiful blue ocean right there for you.

But sometimes when we wade into a pretty new environment, we are so mesmerized with our surroundings, we can neglect cautionary facts about our location.

Did you know that according to the CDC, 4,000 people die each year in the United States from drowning? About 50-75% of them are drownings in open waters, like the ocean.

Most are preventable.

So parents – watch your kids, and take heed of these beach safety tips.

 
May
15th
  Hotel of the Week: Mod in Madrid for $200 USD

While the dollar is strong against the euro, it is time to take advantage of some of the European deals! I have been getting many questions from travelers going to Europe this summer, so am writing a lot about that topic.

Amigos, if you are heading to Madrid, there is a boutique hotel with loads of style for a very affordable price that I’d like to share with you.

Hospes Hotel, Madrid

Hospes Hotel, Madrid

It is the Hotel Hospes right in Madrid’s Plaza de Independencia…

Retiro Park, Madrid

Retiro Park, Madrid

…walking distance from the world famous Prado museum, and the lovely Retiro Park – one of my personal favorites.

The hotel was built in 1883 – that is one of the very cool things about traveling to Europe, you get to see and stay in relics with architectural significance. It was initially an apartment complex for wealthy families.

Hospes Hotel, Madrid

Hospes Hotel, Madrid

The Hospes company converted it into a very chic and current setting, yet preserved the gorgeous molding, woodwork, wrought iron and columns to give it an eclectic vibe – It is hip without being too cold.

Hospes Hotel, Madrid

Hospes Hotel, Madrid

Hospes Hotel, Madrid

Hospes Hotel, Madrid

There are 41 guestrooms – all designed differently but contemporary style – with some suite duplexes and junior suites. (The blonde doesn’t come with the room – she’s my friend :) )

Hospes Hotel ,Madrid

Hospes Hotel ,Madrid

The room in which I stayed was two stories… with a living room downstairs.

The hotel also has **Free Wifi – my personal favorite amenity when I am working on the road – along with a spa, and hotel bar. There is a restaurant too and the rooms come with breakfast, which is nice and convenient.

IMG_7144

There also are some restaurants right out in front of the hotel… Again convenient, and a great vibe sitting outside at night, but the food in my opinion was just so-so.

IMG_7081

Hospes is a boutique chain that has 9 properties throughout Spain.  Room prices in Madrid start at around $200 USD, depending on when you book and when you go. www.hospes.com/madrid-madrid/default-es.html

Buen Viaje!

 
May
12th
  Travel Tip Tues: A Volunteer Vacation for the Family: Save the Turtles, While Still Enjoying the Island Beach

DSC02655

We all go on vacation to get away from it all… be exposed to something new.. or spend time with friends and family. But have you ever gone on vacation and experienced the destination through volunteering in that place?

Although the term “volunteer vacations” is used now, you actually don’ t have to make the entire trip a benevolent investment. There are many groups that allow you to participate for a day or two out of your trip, which gives you time to see the sites and relax, and give back to a community. In my opinion, getting involved in any way is a win-win: You get a deeper understanding of your destination, and you make the world a little better place.

To get your feet wet if you’ve never done this, I am going to tell you about one way to volunteer in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina that is easy… family friendly… and oh so interesting.

Loggerhead Sea Turtle, Hilton Head

Loggerhead Sea Turtle, Hilton Head

It’s all about saving the Loggerhead Turtles that lay eggs on Hilton Head. They are quite beautiful creatures, as well as huge – they typically weigh in at  250 lbs. Yet, these reptiles are an endangered species, & need travelers’ help preserving their habitat.

The migration of the turtles is fascinating – when they are three days old, they crawl out of a deep hole that is their nest, to be guided by the light of the night moon to the ocean. Their destination ? Oh only Portugal! They will spend 10 years in the Azores off Portugal’s coast, then come back to the East Coast to forage for another 10- years until they are sexually mature to mate.

But only 1 in 10,000 make it back to Hilton Head.

The greatest threat to these reptiles is loss of nesting habitat due to coastal development, predation of nests, and human disturbances (such as coastal lighting and housing developments) that cause hatchlings to become disoriented.  Other major threats  accidental capture in  fishing, and pollution.

DSC02625

The turtles that DO make it back to Hilton Head lay about 120 eggs in one nest. There is a very sweet non-profiut museum called the Coastal Discovery Museum that leads the way in educating visitors about the turtles, and coordinates a volunteer program to help save them .

Courtesy of Hilton Head Island Sea Turtle Protection Program

Courtesy of Hilton Head Island Sea Turtle Protection Program

From May through October, (nesting season) guests can attend a very interesting and educational one night seminar all about the Loggerhead Sea Turtles… and then take a beach walk with guides. If you are very lucky you may see a turtle.. but since  they are federally protected we can’t  interact with them, and most of the turtle activity takes place in the dark of night.

Leigh West's hatchling original (4)

Things you will be asked to do is make sure holes in the sand, or old sand castles are filled up and knocked down so the hatchlings don’t fall in or are blocked when they move to the ocean. You will pick up trash that can cause problems. Some can even help finding turtle nests, that are then marked off so no one disturbs them.

Best of all, you carry this with you during your stay, so after a day on the beach having fun, you can fulfill your duties and make sure the beach is flat and clean when you leave.

Trust me – the second you see a photo or video of these baby hatchlings that can fit in the palm of you hand, you will be transformed into a volunteer vigilante.

For more information on the Hilton Head Loggerhead Sea Turtle Protection Program – and on the wonderful museum – www.coastaldiscovery.org

Make sure to watch for a more in-depth story on PBS’s Travel Detective next season.

 
May
05th
  Travel Tip Tues: Travel Abroad with Kids? Yes! Here are Stress-Busting Tips.

Because of the strong US dollar, I have been getting many emails regarding travel abroad – mostly to Europe. A hot destination this summer!

But I also hear a lot of.. “Should we bring the kids overseas,” especially from parents with young children. They worry it’s way too much trouble: jet lag, airports, long plane rides. the experience is wasted on them….or it’s too expensive.
Well I’m here to tell you it doesn’t have to be such a hassle. I admit, it’s not always easy, but you can still have a great time.

Here are some tips to make the journey less stressful.

1) The first step is getting through the airport sanely.

London Gatwick Airport

London Gatwick Airport

If you dread the thought of standing in long security lines at the airport, some foreign airports actually offer “family lanes” – special security lines for families only, offering extra assistance for parents with strollers and other extra baggage.

London Gatwick, and Sydney Australia are just two airports where you will find these helpful services.

Look for these lanes when going through immigration also – they tend to be shorter. Some airports will let you go ahead of the pack if you have children – think about it – who wants crying children standing in customs for 45 minutes? Lima International in Peru is one such example.

And ask at US airports if there is a family lane – TSA did implement them a while ago – I haven’t seen them that much but know travelers who use them & shave time off security checks, so you need to ask..especially if you travel with strollers.

IMG_7284

2) When you do go through security, know in advance what you need to take out of your bag & put on the conveyor belt… Security rules at overseas airports can be different than what we have here at home.

This can save you – and your kids – a lot of time and frustration once you get in line…

For instance -did you know that in many European airports, not only your laptop but your iPad also needs to be taken out of your bags? Many families pack electronic items to entertain kids on long flights so be prepared & check security rules before you go to the airport.

passport

3) Now let’s talk about something that can really halt your trip: an expired passport. First off, all children, no matter how young, must have one. If your child already has a passport, make sure you check the expiration date. If it was issued at age 15 or younger. the passport expires after FIVE years – not ten years like adult passports.

4) Once you are through the airport, the airline you fly can make a difference in your family’s budget.

To save money – look for airlines that offer reduced fares for children -  British Airways, Air Canada, & Air France are a few.

And if you are a frequent flier, look for airlines with programs that allow you to pool your miles with other family members to maximize your program rewards. They do exist and can really save you money by dividing up the miles so everyone can potentially fly on an award ticket without paying fees to transfer miles.

 

 

 
Apr
13th
  How to Protect Your Health on a Cruise Ship

princess cruise

Gastrointestinal craziness, as two large cruise ships report hundreds of sick passengers on their vessels.  The suspected culprit: the very contagious norovirus.

We hear these stories every so often, and ugh! What a way to upstage one’s vacation.

But with more travelers taking cruises, and the cruise ships’ environment of close contact with many people, more travelers  are at risk for gastrointestinal illnesses. The norovirus is the most common gastrointestinal infection, and it can be serious for the elderly or younger children. It is passed on through another infected person, contaminated food, or touching contaminated surfaces.

So what can you do?

1) Be vigilant about cleanliness. It may be obvious to wash your hands before you eat, after you use the toilet, after changing diapers, etc.  But, you  should also wash your hands before brushing teeth, after you blow your nose, and after coming in contact with anyone infected. Yes – go overboard (pun intended) in your scrubbing up.

2) HOW you wash your hands matters. Washing with soap and water is the BEST way to reduce microbes. Wash for 20 seconds… dry your hands… and make sure you use a paper towel to turn off the faucet and use door knob afterward.

**Many cruise ships have set up hand sanitizer dispensers around the ship for prevention – but do not slip into a false state of feeling protected. Hand sanitizer has to be at least 60% alcohol based to be effective (difficult to verify if the cruise ship is using that) AND is still doesn’t eliminate all germs like soap and water. It can reduce the number of microbes, so sanitizer doesn’ t hurt, but it shouldn’t be a substitute for washing with soap.

If you do choose to supplement with hand sanitizer, make sure you are using it properly for it to work – people often don’t use enough volume, or may wipe it off before it is completely dried. Be patient and let it dry.

3) Immediately wash any soiled clothes that could be contaminated, and if you have to handle them, wash your hands afterward.

4) If at all possible, avoid touching railings on the stairs, elevator buttons, door knobs. Wash hands immediately after if you do. Use your knuckles to press elevator buttons and have tissue handy for doorknobs.

The CDC is investigating the cruise outbreaks, and has a vessel sanitation program that evaluates the effectiveness of prevention and control strategies on board. Get this fun fact: the manual for cleaning these large cruise ships is 267 pages long! The sanitation crew has to disinfect every inch – including bedside Bibles.

Passengers who are affected, can request a copy of the CDC final report at FOIARequests@cdc.gov

All this being said – the number of cruise ship outbreaks is actually on a decline, even as more passengers choose to cruise.