Go out for pizza - Seattle Family Travel

September 30 2013 by Amy Graff

tutta-bella.JPGA tale of two pizzas: Dining out at Tutta Bella and Serious Pie

My husband's cousin lives in Seattle with her kids and she recommended two pizza places for dinner: Tutta Bella and Serious Pie. We tried both and liked them both but for entirely different reasons. Here's the lowdown.

Tutta Bella
Tutta Bella dishes up fresh, plentiful salads and chewy, charred thin-crust pizzas. You can start with a plate of brushetta and order a nice glass of pinot grigio. This is a place that will please adults palate but it's also kid friendly. Children can order the margherita pizza (cheese and a little basil) and choose a flavor from the gelato bar. There's also a spacious outdoor patio where families can sneak away and not be overly concerned about bothering fellow diners. We felt entirely comfortable and welcome dining here with our baby and two older kids. We could easily walk to the Westlake location from our hotel, the BEST WESTERN PLUS Executive Inn.

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Save money by purchasing a CityPASS - Seattle Family Travel

September 30 2013 by Amy Graff

Seattle city-pass.jpgSeattle is loaded with family attractions, from the Experience Music Project where you can check out George Lucas's original sketches of Darth Vader to the Aquarium where a 64-pound octopus gets fed twice daily at noon and 4 p.m. And then there's the sleek and slender Space Needle topped with a saucer that looks like it's meant for space voyages to Mars.

All of these places charge admission and if you want to do it all, you'll need to spend some money. But you can drastically cut back on the expense with a CityPASS. By purchasing admission to several attractions you get nearly 50 percent off the price. You also get to skip ticket lines.

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Go quackers on a Duck tour - Seattle Family Travel

September 30 2013 by Amy Graff

Ducks-family-shot.JPGThe best--and most--entertaining way to see Seattle is on a Ride the Ducks Tour, which you can pick up in Seattle Center just a block from the BEST WESTERN PLUS Executive Inn.

On these wild and raucous tours, a group of tourists load into a World War II amphibious landing craft that whirls around the city past the top sights and then drops into Puget Sound, offering breathtaking views of the Seattle cityscape.

Along the way a flamboyant and high-energy tour guide--who either drank eight cups of Starbucks before coming into work or is a close relative of Richard Simmons--shares facts about the city, plays funky music and cracks jokes that are laugh-out-loud funny. The tourists are all invited to enjoy the fun by blowing on yellow duck-bill-shaped noise makers.

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Take public transportation from the airport into town - Seattle Family Travel

September 30 2013 by Amy Graff

monorail.jpgWe landed at Sea-Tac airport at 4:30 p.m. Our next stop was the BEST WESTERN Plus Executive Inn in downtown Seattle.

But how to get there? If we rented a car or took a taxi we knew we'd hit the roads smack in the middle of rush hour. Seattle supposedly has some of the worst traffic in the United States.

We decided to take the Link light rail--a great decision. The clean, modern train whisked us downtown in 45 minutes and cost only $8 for our family of five (obviously the newborn was free).

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Visit the Space Needle at the right time - Seattle Family Travel

September 27 2013 by Amy Graff

view-from-space-needle-1.JPGWe arrived in Seattle on Friday night and after dinner we decided to visit the top of the Space Needle. With our CityPASSes in hand, we walked right into an elevator and in 41 seconds we shot to the top of the city's world-famous icon, originally built for the 1962 World's Fair.

Even on an overcast night, the view was breathtaking and resembled something out of a Batman movie, with twinkling skyscrapers giving the fog a yellow glow.

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20 fun things to do with kids in Seattle

September 27 2013 by Amy Graff

Seattle Space Needle.jpgTraveling to Seattle with kids? Here are 20 fun things to do.

1) Catch the octopus feeding at the Seattle Aquarium. The aquarium's most famous resident is undoubtedly Olive Oil the Octopus. She's curled up in a big ball most of the time but she spreads her tentacles and swims around twice a day during special feedings at noon and 4 p.m.

2) Go "quackers" on a Ride the Ducks tour. The best and most entertaining way to see Seattle is on one of these wild and raucous tours. A group of tourists load into a World War II amphibious landing craft that whirls around the city past the top sights and then drops into Puget Sound, offering breathtaking views of the Seattle cityscape. All along the way a high-energy tour guide, who must have consumed eight cups of Starbucks before coming into work, plays funky music and cracks jokes.

3) Enter a dreamy world of color at the Chihuly Garden and Glass. Massive brightly colored blown-glass sculptures fill this museum showcasing designs by famed artist Dale Chihuly. It's a magical world that you thought only existed in a Dr. Seuss book.

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Seattle--Here We Come!

September 10 2013 by Amy Graff

Seattle On the Go Amy.jpgOur family welcomed a new baby two months ago. For obvious reasons we spent our summer at home changing diapers. This is unlike our family. We're usually on the go in July and August.

And so we decided that as soon as Julia hit the two-month mark (the time when most experts agree babies are ready to travel), we'd leave town.

Since our two older kids are in school a long weekend is our only option.

Where to go that's close to San Francisco? Seattle!

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Spring Break: My family's ready for some Arizona sun!

March 18 2013 by Amy Graff

Amy and family.jpgOur main goal for spring break is to get some sun. Our family hasn't been anywhere warm and balmy in over a year, and most of our summer was spent freezing in foggy, cold San Francisco. Our skin seems to be turning the color of Elmer's Glue and we desperately need to soak up some rays!

But with me being five months pregnant and our budget being incredibly tight, far-flung tropical destinations like Tahiti, Barbados, and even Hawaii, are out of the question.

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3 Reasons My Kids Love BEST WESTERN Hotels

July 30 2012 by Amy Graff

Amy.JPGAny time our family is driving down the highway and my kids spot a blue and yellow sign they shout out BeWe--in our family that means you've seen a BEST WESTERN hotel! These kids, ages 7 and 9, have fallen in love with the hotel chain. It makes sense. I work for BEST WESTERN and my kids have stayed in BeWes all over the country. But there are three main reasons why this hotel chain continues to win over their hearts.

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Father's Day Getaways

June 15 2012 by Amy Graff

Father.jpgPity the dad who opens his Father's Day gift to find a pinstripe shirt or a box of golf balls. Why not surprise the man of the house with a weekend getaway the entire family can enjoy? Here are a few ideas for travel adventures geared to dad.

Catch a fish on Idaho's Salmon River
Riggins lies deep in a canyon at the confluence of the Salmon River and the Little Salmon River in west central Idaho. It's a hub for outdoor adventure and you'll find a myriad of outfitters. You can cast for steelhead or sturgeon or hop in a raft for white-water thrills. Or, take a hike in nearby Hells Canyon Recreation Area.
Where to Stay: BEST WESTERN Salmon Rapids Lodge (Riggins, Idaho)

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Get Lost In A Corn Maze

October 20 2011 by Amy Graff

CornMaze1.JPGScary movies and haunted houses--they're overrated. At least that's how you'll probably feel when you're lost in the middle of a gigantic corn maze. It's the ultimate Halloween thrill. These labyrinths cut into fields of corn are cropping up all over the country and there's probably one within driving distance of your home. To find one near you log onto the Corn Maze Directory or The Maize.

TSA Relaxes Rules For Screening Kids

September 21 2011 by Amy Graff

TSA.jpgGood news for traveling families: Today, the TSA announced that it's relaxing rules for screening children.

The organization is beginning to pilot programs that don't require children under 12 to take off their shoes or endure thorough pat-downs, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano shared before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.

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Splurging On Wetsuits In San Diego

September 9 2011 by Amy Graff

bbb.jpgHotels rooms under $100, hole-in-the-wall restaurants, cheap flights with long layovers and strange departure times. I'm used to seeking out deals when traveling. Our family can only afford to travel on the cheap.

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Montana Road Trip: We Made It!

July 27 2011 by Amy Graff

iStock_000007118560XSmall.jpgWe did it! Our family drove across Montana, zigzagging up and down the state to hit some of the best spots from the Big Hole Valley to Yellowstone.

We covered some 800 miles, ate nearly a dozen bowls of chili between all for of us, and hiked, canoed, and fished in the state's prettiest areas.

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Montana Road Trip: Billings

July 26 2011 by Amy Graff

IMG_3757.JPGWe spent our last full day in Montana driving through Yellowstone. We just hadn't gotten enough the day before and my husband desperately wanted to see the Lower and Upper Yosemite Falls. Due to heavy snow falls the rivers were higher than normal and the falls were dumping remarkable amounts of water. The water would fall down the face of the cliff, hit the river, and then bounce back up. The power of the water was tremendous.

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Montana Road Trip: Livingston

July 25 2011 by Amy Graff

livingston1.JPGIn Montana, towns with red-brick buildings dating back to the 1800s and a few guys walking around in cowboy hats are a dime a dozen. Or so we learned on our road trip through this state filled with vast spaces and spectacular scenery and western towns.

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Montana Road Trip: Yellowstone

July 23 2011 by Amy Graff

I'm from California where Yosemite is our go-to national park, and Half Dome and the valley surrounding it are beautiful. But it's really just a drop in the bucket compared to Yellowstone. The park is massive, covering over 2 million square acres, and stretching into Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. It could actually be its own state and is larger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined. And it's beauty is overwhelming. I knew that it would be spectacular but I wasn't prepared for it to take my breath away.

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Montana Road Trip: Bozeman

July 21 2011 by Amy Graff

We spend the sixth day of our trip exploring Bozeman. Here are the highlights:

1) Best Western Plus GranTree Innswimming.JPGThis hotel is right off the freeway and only a couple minutes from downtown. The staff are friendly and helpful and the rooms comfortable and clean. And the indoor pool is heated--and super fun. At least that's what my kids would tell you. They spent the entire morning making up synchronized swimming dances in the pool.

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Montana Road Trip: Helena to Bozeman

July 20 2011 by Amy Graff

After a few fast-paced days packed with driving and sightseeing we decide to spend a lazy morning at our hotel, the Best Western Premier Helena Great Northern. Our room is spacious and comfortable and its large curved windows look over the town. We take an hour to work and read. When you're traveling, sometimes you have to slow down.

Later the kids splash around in the heated indoor pool. We grab lunch at the nearby Bagel Company and the kids take one last spin on the Great Northern Carousel, just a block from the hotel.

At 1 p.m., we hit the road and drive to Bozeman.

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Montana Road Trip: Helena

July 19 2011 by Amy Graff

We wake up early and drive directly from Dillon to Helena. Montana's capital is lively little town (pop. 28,000) with lots of history. We decide to dig right into its storied past and spend the day touring historical sights. Here's what we did:

1) The Parrot Confectionary, Helena

My kids' eyes get as big as saucers when they walk inside this old-fashioned soda fountain. As soon as you pass through door, there's a colorful display of hand-dipped candies.

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Montana Road Trip: Hamilton To Dillon

July 18 2011 by Amy Graff

We wake up early on our third day in Montana because we have a packed itinerary. Our plan is to continue our drive through the Bitterroot Valley along Highway 93, and then drive over Chief Joseph Pass, crossing the Continental Divide. We'll then cut through the Big Hole Valley along Highway 43, before hopping onto 278, which will take us to Dillon, where we will spend the night.

Here are a few highlights from our day:

1) Blodgett Canyon, Hamilton
Hamilton locals refer to the box canyon just outside of town as a little Yosemite. And as we walk the Canyon Creek Trail, which follows a rushing river, we understand why. Granite peaks loom overhead. Not Half Dome, but still impressive.

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Montana Road Trip: Flathead Lake and Hamilton

July 18 2011 by Amy Graff

iStock_000014221333XSmall.jpgOn the second day of our road trip we drive an hour from Missoula to Flathead Lake and then we opt to take the scenic route on our drive to the Bitterroot Valley. Here are a few highlights from the day:

1) Mission Mountain Range
We're driving through rural countryside (lots of hay bales) outside Missoula on our way to Flathead Lake, and then, Bam! Jagged, snow-topped mountains are staring us in the face. I'm so startled and excited that I scream. My husband points out that the mountains are spectacular because there aren't any foothills. They shoot right up from the valley floor. This is the moment when I fall in love with Montana and its mountains.

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Best Western Plus Grant Creek Inn, Missoula

July 12 2011 by Amy Graff


Let me count the ways our family loved the Best Western Plus Grant Creek Inn in Missoula

- The front-desk staff is friendly. Two lovely ladies checked us in to our room. They directed us to the amazing local hike to the top of Mount Sentinel.

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Montana Road Trip: Missoula

July 11 2011 by Amy Graff

Our Montana road trip starts in Missoula, Montana's second-largest city located in the western part of the state. We instantly fall for this laid-back college town with leafy tree-lined streets and spend an afternoon exploring its riverfront park and downtown.

These are the highlights from our day in Missoula:

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Montana Road Trip

July 10 2011 by Amy Graff


My husband and I have decided to drive through the state of Montana with our two kids--ages 6 and 8--this summer. Our plan is to fly into Missoula, dip down into the Bitterroot Valley, swoop up to Helena, spend a couple days in Bozeman and Yellowstone, and then finish up in Billings.

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Tips and Tricks for Saving on Gas This Summer

May 27 2011 by Amy Graff

amy_gas.jpgMy family will be hitting the road this summer. We've mapped out a week-long trip through Montana that takes us from Missoula, down into the Bitterroot Valley, up to Helena, back down to Bozeman and then onto Billings. We'll be covering about 700 miles.

We hope to make this a budget trip--limiting ourselves to only $150 a day. Sound tight? Yes, especially with gas prices expected to go through the roof this summer.

How will we ever manage to meet our budget goal and keep our gas prices low? We'll follow many of the tips and tricks offered up in a recent New York Times article, "13 Ways to Save on Gas this Summer."

Here's a look at a few of the tips:

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Homosassa Springs State Park, FL

May 24 2011 by Amy Graff

amy_manatee.jpgIn the morning I let the kids watch a little TV while I packed up. They were fully engaged in an episode of Dinosaur Train when the screen suddenly went blank and the TV started to beep loudly.

"What happened to our show?" the kids screamed.

A message about a tornado warning appeared on the screen. A tornado just east of Tampa was spotted.

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What's Your Favorite Best Western?

May 13 2011 by Amy Graff

As the family travel spokesperson for Best Western, I've stayed at dozens of properties all over the country--and most of the time I have my kids in tow.

My children have become so familiar with the brand that they scream out, "Best Western!" every time we pass a hotel while driving.

And on our recent trip to Florida it became apparent that they're becoming hotel connoisseurs. As they were walking from a hotel to the parking lot, I eavesdropped on a conversation in which they were discussing which Best Westerns were their favorites. It was hilarious because they were comparing how many waffle makers various properties had available at breakfast and which hotels had hot tubs and which ones had fast elevators.

Later back at the hotel, I asked them to re-create that conversation and I videotaped it. The end result feels a little forced and my children certainly aren't professional actors but I still think it turned out pretty cute.

Florida's Forgotten Coast

May 4 2011 by Amy Graff

amy_beach.jpgAs I drove along Florida's north Gulf coast, I kept thinking, Where is everyone?

The flawless stretch of coastline between Cedar Key and Apalachicola was by far the most beautiful part of the state we'd seen on our trip--yet we seemed to be among only a few travelers.

I guess this makes sense. This less-touristy part of the state has miraculously remained untouched by the eager developers who have built ritzy resorts, glittering shopping centers, and exciting amusement parks up and down Florida's coastlines.

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A Sweet Spot on the Water in Fort Myers Beach, FL

April 27 2011 by Amy Graff

amy_fl.JPGThe BEST WESTERN PLUS Beach Resort sits right on the beach, steps from southern Florida's pretty pale green waters. It's the sort of place where you could easily spend a week, walking the sugary white sand beach in the morning, playing a game of shuffle board in the afternoon, and falling asleep every night to the sound of the crashing waves.

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Best Western Naples Inn & Suites

April 15 2011 by Amy Graff

amy_golf.jpgFlorida's BEST WESTERN Naples Inn & Suites sits amidst a tropic paradise.

The two-story hotel is surrounded by a jungle of palm trees, ferns, and hibiscus. Skinny pathways wind through the vegetation and lead to the two pretty swimming pools and hot tubs. Breakfast is served outside from a grass-roofed hut. And kids have a blast hitting around balls at the miniature golf course.

You could stay at the hotel all day, or walk three-quarters-of-a-mile to the pristine, white sand beach. Downtown Naples, with its shops and restaurants, is only about two miles from the hotel.

Best Western Miami: A Hip, Stylish Hotel with Quiet Rooms

April 13 2011 by Amy Graff

miami hotel.jpgThe stylish BEST WESTERN PREMIER Miami International Airport is just minutes from the airport and 20 minutes from the city. It's one of the hotel group's premier properties with modern decor, plush bedding, and 42-inch screens in all rooms. A hot breakfast, wi-fi, and rides to and from the airport are all complimentary.

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Rising Airfares: How to Beat Them

March 22 2011 by Amy Graff

amy_plane.jpgOver spring break, our family is traveling across the country to Florida in search of sun. Our plan is to fly into Miami and then trace the edge of the Gulf Coast, finishing our trip in Fort Walton.

When I first started mapping out our trip two months ago, I checked flights from San Francisco to Miami. I remember seeing a $200 flight. When my trip plans were finally confirmed last week and I booked the tickets the cheapest airfare I could find was $430. Ouch!

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How to Customize Your Hotel Room

February 25 2011 by Amy Graff

amy_hotel.jpgAre you allergic to smoke? Sensitive to noise? Traveling with a newborn? When you make your hotel reservation, don't hesitate to speak up. Most hotels happily meet special requests--all you have to do is ask. You're on vacation after all and a hotel's job is to keep you happy and comfortable.

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Have You Heard of the Isles of Scilly?

February 17 2011 by Amy Graff

amy_scilly.JPGUntil recently the Isles of Scilly were unknown to the average person. But now thanks to some royal wedding buzz this collection of British islands just 28 miles off the coast of Cornwall are suddenly in the spotlight. Rumor has it that Prince William and Kate Middleton might be honeymooning here, and now the destination's tourism Web site is busier than ever, according to USA Today.

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Best Western Introduces Descriptors

February 11 2011 by Amy Graff

Capture.JPGBest Western hotels are individually owned and each property has its own unique flavor. I know because as Best Western's leisure travel spokesperson, I've stayed in a range of properties all over the country, from the sleek President Hotel at Times Square in New York City to the rustic chic Kentwood Lodge in Ketchum, Idaho. The variety is the beauty of the world's biggest hotel family.

Now Best Western is introducing a new "descriptor" program to meet travelers expectations so they can find the right hotel in the Best Western family, at the right price, for any type of trip they are taking. Hotels will be identified as BEST WESTERN®, BEST WESTERN PLUS®, or BEST WESTERN PREMIER®.

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Best Western Turns 65, Offers Spring Promotion

February 9 2011 by Amy Graff

Best Western Logo.jpgBest Western is 65 years old, and The World's Biggest Hotel Family℠ is offering members of its rewards program several opportunities to stay, earn and win. Here are details:

Register at www.bestwestern.com/spring, stay three separate times during the promotional period, and earn a voucher for a free night toward a future stay.

Vouchers can be redeemed at any of the brand's 2,200 hotels in the United States, Canada or the Caribbean before June 30, 2011. Pay for the three stays with your Best Western Rewards MasterCard® and earn an additional 1,000 bonus points.

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10 Things To Do With Kids in London

January 25 2011 by Amy Graff

Amy_london.jpgThere are theme parks...and then there's London. This brilliant, electric city with hundreds of years of history offers a dizzying array of family-friendly attractions, that might not turn you upside down but are certain to wow and delight the kids.

There's the Natural History Museum housing the world's most awesome dinosaur exhibit, and the Tower of London where Beefeaters lead tours and tell stories of the Medieval Palace's famous prisoners such as Walter Raleigh, Guy Fawkes and Ann Boleyn.
My family recently spent two weeks exploring the city, and here's a rundown of our 10 favorite things to do in London.

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Europe's Worst Travel Day Ever

January 4 2011 by Amy Graff

amy_europe.JPG3 p.m. This story starts with a phone call to Virgin Atlantic Airlines.
"Hello, is the 5:50 p.m. flight to London delayed or canceled?"

"No, still on schedule."

"But I've heard that all flights out of SFO are delayed three hours due to weather and Heathrow is also experiencing major delays."

"On schedule. You better get to the airport."

3:10 p.m. My husband calls Yellow Cab.

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How To Put Joy into the Drive to Grandma's House

December 8 2010 by Amy Graff

Amy_grandmas house.jpgFor many families grandmother's house isn't simply over the river and through the woods. Rather it's a long, four-, or six-, or even eight-hour straight shot down the highway. For kids in the car, this can be rather...b-o-r-i-n-g. And when the kids become bored, they drive mom and dad nuts.

Here are a few tips on keeping everyone happy and entertained on a long holiday road trip:

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Should I Be Concerned About Bringing My Kids to London This Winter?

November 15 2010 by Amy Graff

Amy_london.jpgOver a year ago my father made a big announcement at a family dinner: "I'm taking you all to London for Christmas!"

He shared that spending a Dickensesque holiday with his kids and grandchildren was a longtime dream and he ordered us all to start shopping for flights. Who can argue with that? We were all elated.

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The Best Ice Cream Parlors Ever

September 27 2010 by Amy Graff

Amy_ice cream.JPGI scream! You scream! We all scream for ice cream!

Summer isn't over yet! There's still time to treat your family to a cool treat.

USA Today put together a roundup of our country's best ice cream parlors. They asked local travel experts to name one great ice cream shop in each state and the District of Columbia. Here's a sampling of the top 50, and click here for the full story.

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The Gulf Coast is Open For Business

August 26 2010 by Amy Graff

amy- obama.jpgPresident Obama and his family traveled to Florida's Gulf Coast on August 16, 2010 to soak up some sun. The family trip is part of an effort to encourage people to visit those beaches that are free of oil.

Best Western is also encouraging travelers to proceed with their summer vacation plans in the Gulf states.

Beaches along the coast in all states are open for business, and popular inland destinations such as New Orleans and Orlando foresee no impact on visitors. It continues to be safe to travel to all states bordering the Gulf.

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Hiking With Kids

July 30 2010 by Amy Graff

Picture1.jpgMy parents forced me to hike as a kid. I had no choice. I had to walk up the mountain, or they'd leave me behind.

Their strategy might sound cruel but it worked. I've grown into an adult who loves spending weekends walking a trail, and now that I have my own kids I find myself bringing my own children--and using my parent's same no-nonsense approach. (It's frightening how we all turn into our parents.)

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Drive, Fly, or Take the Train?

July 16 2010 by Amy Graff

airfare-comparison.jpgEveryone in the travel industry is talking about it. Airlines are up this summer. If you didn't book weeks ago, you're going to be hard pressed to find any deals for July, or August.

So if you're traveling on a budget, does that mean you should opt for a road trip or train travel? Are these options cheaper?

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How to Travel on $200 a Day (Yes, It's Possible)

July 13 2010 by Amy Graff

IMG_7070.JPGWe did it! We successfully traveled I-5, from San Francisco to Seattle, for 9 days on $200 a day. In fact, we came in about $200 under budget for the entire trip.

How did we do it? Here's a rundown of tips and tricks we used to pinch pennies along the road.

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Days 8 and 9: Seattle

July 9 2010 by Amy Graff

1.jpgWe spend the last two days of our budget road trip in Seattle--and we luck out because the weather is glorious. We meet up with friends and relatives but we also find time to get out and see some sights. The highlights:

1) Olympic Sculpture Park

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Day 7: Portland to Seattle

July 6 2010 by Amy Graff

1.jpgThe drive between Portland and Seattle is short and easy, only three hours. But we decide to take our time and discover some of the attractions along the way. Here are the highlights from our day:

1) Lake Sacajawea, Longview, Wa.
My grandfather lived in Longview, an hour north or Portland, and he walked around this lake nearly every day. More than 100 different varieties of trees circle the lake and he could identify them all. There are also two fountains, an island with a Japanese garden, children's playgrounds, and several bridges, including one that's just for squirrels.

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Days 5 and 6: Portland

June 25 2010 by Amy Graff

On days 5 and 6 of our I-5 road trip, we spend two nights in Portland. We have family and friends in the area so a lot of our time is spent with them, but we still get out and explore the city--even though it's raining most of the time. Here are the highlights:

oregon-zoo.jpg1) $2 Tuesday, Oregon Zoo
On the second Tuesday of the month, the Oregon Zoo charges only $2 admission for kids and adults. Perfect for our budget!

But you get what you pay for...

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Day 4: Rogue River to Salem

June 23 2010 by Amy Graff

We spent a lovely day driving through Oregon, covering over 200 miles. Here are a few of the highlights.

oregon-vortex.jpg1) Oregon Vortex, Gold Hill
If you've driven I-5 through Oregon then you've seen the signs for the Vortex and House of Mystery. But have you ever stopped?

We did.

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Day 3: Redding to Rogue River

June 22 2010 by Amy Graff

We covered another 200 miles on Sunday, and I felt as if we zipped by many great stops: Castle Crags, Burney Falls, McCloud. We should have stayed a night in Shasta before continuing onto Oregon but our plan to meet grandparents in Portland and cousins in Seattle didn't allow us to dally. No matter, we found a few sweet spots.

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Day 2: Sacramento to Redding

June 21 2010 by Amy Graff

On day 2 of our trip we covered 170 miles, traveling from Sacramento to Redding. Many would argue that this is one of the most boring stretches of I-5 but we found plenty to do. Here are six highlights from our day:

california-rr-museum1.jpg1) California State Railroad Museum, Sacramento.

We started our day at this museum in Old Town. We took our kids here about two years ago, when my son was 3 years old and obsessed with Thomas the Train. Now that my kids are older, ages 5 and 7, they're actually interested in the stories behind the dozens of trains housed here.

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Day 1: San Francisco to Sacramento

June 17 2010 by Amy Graff

There's something about the weather that ev'rybody loves. They call it the Indian spring of Sacramento. And when the sun is up in the sky The wind is blowing by the riverside most ev'ry day. You're in Sacramento, a wonderful town. Sing, sing, sing, din-di-din.
--"Sacramento," Middle of the Road

Why is it that you always end up leaving for a road trip several hours later than planned?

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Summer Road Trip 2010: San Francisco to Seattle.

June 16 2010 by Amy Graff

griswolds-june2010.jpgThe Griswolds are on the road again!

Well, not quite. It's just my family piling into the car for yet another summer road trip. Yet while my husband isn't anything like Clark and would never crash the car through closed road barriers and sail us all through the air (we hope), there will certainly be some laughs on our trip with a 5- and 7-year-old riding in the backseat.

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Don't Forget to Sign Your Kids Up for Frequent-Flier Programs

June 8 2010 by Amy Graff

frequent-flyer-miles.jpgIt's a huge mistake so many parents make--they sign themselves up for the airline frequent flier program but they never take the time to fill out the forms for their kids.

Yes, it's a hassle, but you should take the time because you don't want to throw miles out the window.

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15 Places Every Kid Should See

June 2 2010 by Amy Graff

ellis-island.jpgBudget Travel magazine has put together a list of 15 places all kids should see. This list is a great resource as you plan your summer travels.

You'll find an excerpt below and can find the full story by clicking here.
1) Ellis Island Museum, New York City: About 40 percent of Americans are descended from someone who immigrated through this station. Visiting is a powerful experience, thanks to the smartly curated exhibits--and you get a terrific view of the Statue of Liberty on the same ferry ride (ellisisland.org, free guided tours, audio tours $8).

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Venice, La.: After Katrina, Before the Oil Spill

May 17 2010 by Amy Graff

mississippi_delta_from_space.jpgLast summer: My family drove to Venice, La. This is one of the first places to be affected by the oil spill and so I thought I'd re-share this post. At the time, the area was recovering from Katrina and now they're being hit with this spill.

If you look at a satellite map and zone in on southern Louisiana, you'll see that the Mississippi River branches out into several water channels. Before dumping into the Gulf of Mexico, the channels run through skinny fingers of land, and on the last day of our road trip we take Highway 23 down one of these peninsulas to Venice. A two-hour drive from New Orleans, the town is the most southern community on the Mississippi accessible by automobile and many refer to it as the end of the world.

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Revisiting Destinations

May 5 2010 by Amy Graff

liberty-bell.jpgI like going to new places. Exploring an unfamiliar city gives me a rush.

But I'm learning that my kids are quite happy going to the same places again and again. They'd be happy going to Tahoe every summer, and my son would be quite content returning to Philadelphia again and again.

My son and I visited Philadelphia over a year ago. We spent a long weekend seeing all the sights, from the Liberty Bell to Betsy Ross's house. We had a fun time, but I never expected the excitement he expressed for the city when we revisited over spring break.

"When are we going to Philadelphia?" he asked repeatedly during our time in New York and Boston.

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9 Things to Do with Kids in Boston

April 23 2010 by Amy Graff


1) Walk the Freedom Trail. Follow this 2.5-mile painted path and you'll pass by Boston's most historic sites including our country's first public school, Paul Revere's house, and the site of the Boston Massacre. You can pick up free maps at the tourist information booth at Faneuil Hall, where the Sons of Liberty once met.

2) Fill up on mac n cheese at the Quincy Market. Adult tastebuds will be tempted by the lobster rolls and clam chowder at this famous food market, but little tummies much prefer the creamy cheesy pasta served at MMMac & Cheese, where the stuff is made-to-order in a skillet.

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We Love the Bus!

April 14 2010 by Amy Graff

bus-travel.jpgLast spring break, my kids and I took the Amtrak train between Oakland, Calif., and San Diego. We had a great trip and you can read about it in this past blog post.

This year over the kids' vacation we decided to try out a different mode of transportation -- the bus. We traveled between Boston, New York, Philadelphia and D.C. via Greyhound.

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Wickedly Cheap Tickets

April 5 2010 by Amy Graff

wicked.jpgA night at the theater is not part of the typical bargain trip to New York City. And when my kids and I visit the Big Apple next week over spring break, we'll be on a tight budget of about $200 to $250 a night.

Can we afford to catch a show?

Maybe if we get lucky.

Lottery Rush tickets for $26.50 are sold on the day of the performance for Wicked.

Here's how it works: Each day, two hours prior to show time (11:30 AM for 2 PM matinees; 12:30 PM for 3 PM matinees; 4:30 PM for 7 PM performances; 5:30 PM for 8 PM performances), people who present themselves at the Gershwin Theatre box office will have their names placed in a hat. Thirty minutes later, names will be drawn for 28 front-row seats at $26.50 each. This lottery is available only in-person at the box office, with a limit of 2 tickets per person, cash only. Photo-ID.

I think we might give it a try...

How to Survive a Red Eye Flight

March 25 2010 by Amy Graff

red-eye-flight.jpgNext week I'll be taking a red eye flight to New York from San Francisco. I'm traveling without my kids so I wanted to spend as little amount of time away from my kids as possible and so the red eye seemed like the best option. But red eyes are brutal, especially when you have to attend an event, which I do, the morning you arrive.

For some advice on how to survive my flight, I pulled some tips from various articles:

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Save Our State Parks

March 18 2010 by Amy Graff

CastleRockSP1.jpgLast weekend my kids touched a banana slug, watched rock climbers scale unusual rock formations, and learned how to identify a redwood tree.

We spent the afternoon hiking at Castle Rock State Park, a woodsy area on the crest of the Santa Cruz Mountains, about an hour and a half from our home in San Francisco.

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Big Cities, Big Savings, Big Fun

March 12 2010 by Amy Graff

family-travel.jpgWhy America's cities are great bargains for traveling families.

Known for their art museums, fancy restaurants, and sophisticated denizens, big cities seem to offer the ingredients for an expensive vacation. But actually, they provide the exact opposite. An urban escape can be an unbelievable bargain, especially for families. Here's why:

Cheap, yummy food is plentiful. It's easy to spend only $5 to $7 per person on dinner when you can choose from ethnic eateries, street vendors, and hole-in-the-walls. In Boston you can nosh on a sausage from Speed's Famous Hot Dog Wagon in Newmarket Square; in San Francisco and Los Angeles you can track down a taco truck; in Portland look for one of the waffle wagons; and in Philadelphia you can fill up with a cheese steak at Campos Deli or Geno's or Pat's Steaks.

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Always Book When You Find a Deal

March 8 2010 by Amy Graff

virgin-atlantic-plane.jpgMy father was recently diagnosed with high blood pressure. How did he deal with the news? Well, he has changed his diet dramatically but he also decided to take the entire family to London around the holidays. He rented a house near Piccadilly Circus, and now he has put me on booking plane tickets for everyone.

The No. 1 rule when booking in December is buy early for the best deals. And so about two weeks ago, I couldn't sleep one night and I found myself searching Kayak, Fly.com, Travelocity, and all the popular sites for flights between San Francisco and London.

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Where I Want to Bring My Kids Next: Oaxaca

February 26 2010 by Amy Graff

monte-alban.jpgI have always wanted to visit Oaxaca, the southern Mexico state stretching between the mountains of Chiapas and the Pacific Ocean. The rich moles sauces, the colonial capitol, the ancient ruins, the lazy beach towns--all of these things have called out to me.

After a friend brought her two children to Oaxaca the city and told me about taking a cooking class, I started to think about bringing my kids. And then I read a story highlighting Oaxaca's many kid-friendly attractions in the San Francisco Chronicle and now I'm convinced I must go. When? Not sure. But it has officially been put on my "places to go list" and moved above Iceland, India, and Morocco.

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Truckee, Calif.: A Snowy Spot for Families

February 19 2010 by Amy Graff

visiting_photo1-wr.jpgTruckee was once a place you stopped to fill up your car with gas on the way to one of the many ski resorts that circle Lake Tahoe. But now skiers are staying overnight in this small town, located about 30 minutes from Reno.

With a handful of great places to bed down, a happening restaurant scene, and a main drag lined with old Western facades, Truckee offers more charming delights than you'll find at any of the ski resort villages.

My family recently spent two days in Truckee, and we discovered a great place were travelers can stay, play, and eat.

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Book National Park Summer Vacations Now

February 5 2010 by Amy Graff

yose11a-wr.jpgWhen you're shoveling snow outside your house, it's hard to think about summer. But if you want to visit a national park this summer--especially one of the popular ones such as Yosemite or Yellowstone--you might want to start thinking now. Lodging in and around the parks books up fast, and many travelers make reservations in January and February.

Jeffrey Olsen at the National Parks Service (NPS) told USA Today, "It's always best to book summer trips sooner rather than later. If you've decided on a destination, book it."

Browse park listings here.

Cross-country skiing: Cheap, easy, and fun for kids

January 22 2010 by Amy Graff

cross-country-skiing-wr.jpgMy memories of downhill skiing with my parents as a child are full of embarrassing moments. There's the time I skied into a tree. The end of my pole hit my eye and I had a shiner the rest of the trip (thank goodness for sunglasses).

There's the time I wet my pants on the chair lift. And the time I fell off the chairlift and a boy from my high school happened to be in the chair behind me. Ugh!

I never took to the sport, yet I was frequently dragged to the snow because my parents and brother loved to ski and they were good at it. I hated the cold, the scary downhills, the long lift lines, the crowded slopes.

I decided to introduce my kids to the snow through a different activity: cross-country skiing. It's mellower, less-intimidating, and a much friendlier sport for kids (and I like it).

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Top Travel Destinations for 2010

January 15 2010 by Amy Graff

800px-Keswick_Panorama_-_Oct_2009-wr.jpgWhere will you be traveling in 2010? Lonely Planet has some ideas for you. The guidebook company released its latest title, Best in Travel 2010, a collection of the best places to go and the best things to do around the world for the year ahead.

Here's a rundown of the places LP says are hot! hot! hot!

Top 10 countries: El Salvador, Germany, Greece, Malaysia, Morocco, Nepal, New Zealand, Portugal, Suriname, and the USA.

Top 10 regions: Alsace, France; Bali, Indonesia; Fernando de Noronha, islands off Brazil; Goa, India; Koh Kong Conservation Corridor, Cambodia; Lake Baikal, Siberia; Oaxaca, Mexico; Southern Africa; The Lake District, England (pictured above); and Southwest Western Australia.

Top 10 cities: Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates; Charleston, S.C.; Cork, Ireland; Cuenca, Ecuador; Istanbul, Turkey; Kyoto, Japan; Lecce, Italy; Sarajevo, Bosnia; Singapore; and Vancouver.

Top 10 value destinations: Iceland, Thailand, London, South Africa, Malaysia, Mexico, India, Bulgaria, Kenya, and Las Vegas.

9 Things To Do with Kids in Charleston

January 12 2010 by Amy Graff

charleston-wr.jpgWith its cobblestone streets, antebellum architecture, and wind-blown forts, Charleston is one of the best-preserved cities in America. It's also a place that makes learning history fun for kids.

Over the Thanksgiving break, we spent nearly a week with relatives in Charleston, S.C. This Southern town first established in 1670 is beautifully preserved and full of history. It was captured in the Civil War without much property damage, so the old part of town has buildings that are hundreds of years old. While you might think history and kids don't mix we found that our children--ages 5 and 6--were actually quite excited about spotting a bison, stepping inside a former dungeon, and watching craftswomen weave sweetgrass baskets.

Here are 9 things to do with kids in Charleston:

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Okefenoke Swamp, Waycross, Ga.

December 30 2009 by Amy Graff

awr-1-swamp.ng_jpg.jpgOne of my favorite books as a child was the National Geographic title, Explore a Spooky Swamp. It told the story of Willie and Isabella who go on a boat tour of the Okefenoke Swamp with a guide named Johnny.

Johnny shows the children tiny frogs, a snapping turtle, and a mother alligator defending her nest. They float under a canopy of trees laden with Spanish moss.

My father read me the book again and again, and I always dreamed of visiting the swamp. But I never knew exactly where this mysterious place was until I was looking for a place to stay overnight between Charleston and Jacksonville, Fl.--I wanted to break up the drive.

Looking at a map, I noticed this great big swamp in Waycross, Ga, about an hour outside of Jacksonville. It was the Okefenoke Wildlife Refuge, and it immediately click that it was the place featured in the book. The swamp was fresh in my mind because I still have the book and I had read it to my kids only days before. I booked a hotel and packed the book in my suitcase.

When we arrived in Waycross, my daughter was the one who first spotted the Okefenoke Swamp billboard advertisement with a huge alligator.

"I don't want to go! I don't want to see an alligator!"

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10 Gifts for Travelers Under $25

December 15 2009 by Amy Graff

Looking for stocking stuffers for the traveler on your list? Check out these wallet-friendly nifty products that are sure to bring a smile to their face.

1) Klean Kanteen
The environmentally friendly alternative to plastic water bottles, Klean Kanteen is made of 100% food-grade stainless steel that will last for years. It's lightweight, holds 27 ounces and has a wide mouth for ice cubes. ($17)

2) Monopoly Go
A compact version of the classic, this game board uses clips to attach movers, houses and hotels, which means that players can pause, fold and store their game until later.. Comes with a sturdy travel case and individual player wallets to store money and property cards. ($19.99)

3) Towel Lite
Hiking in Hawaii and suddenly come upon a waterfall with a perfect swimming pool? Dive in and then pull this soft, ultralight, highly absorbent, quick-drying towel from your daypack. It absorbs up to eight times its weight in liquid, yet 90% of the moisture can be easily wrung out to speed drying time. ($14)

4) Origami on the Go
This art kit by best-selling author Margaret Van Sicklen provides a solution to "Are we there yet?" with 40 travel-inspired projects--including Amazon River Turtle, Samurai Helmet, Stunt Plane, Mummy and Chinese Opera Hat. ($15)

5) Red Eye Pack
In-flight comfort packed into one and carry-on approved, this kit contains an eye mask, soft ear plugs, lip balm, a hydrating lotion towelette, dental refresher, chiclets for popping your ears, and a bookmark in a reusable clear zip-top pouch. ($18)

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Winter Getaways: $200 a Day

November 11 2009 by Amy Graff

winter-getaway-wr.jpgLake Placid, N.Y.
This little lakeside village surrounded by the Adirondacks has hosted two winter Olympics. It's a great spot for sledding, ice skating, and skiing at the nearby Whiteface Mountain, where you can hit the slopes for $35 on select Sundays and $38 on certain Wednesdays. Play: At the Olympic Center, skate around the Olympic Speed Skating Oval where Eric Heiden won a record five gold medals in the 1980 Winter Games--costs only $5 for adults, plus a $3 skate rental. Eat: At the Lake Placid Pub & Brewery, the onion soup ($6), made with Moose Island Ale, is sure to warm you up. Also, try the steak salad ($11), and fish and chips ($10). Stay: The Best Western Adirondacks has an indoor hot tub and heated pool.

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Cookie Magazine Offers Up Road Trip Games

October 19 2009 by Amy Graff

A1-cover_cookie_146-wr.jpgAfter road-tripping with my kids this summer for 17 days straight, I felt as if I had played every car game possible with my children. License plate bingo, I-Spy, 20 Questions--you name it, we played it.

We recently visited the California Sierra for the weekend--a four-hour drive from our home--and I knew that I would need to come up with something new for the car ride. On the Cookie magazine Web site, I stumbled upon a list of 21 road trip games to keep your kids from saying "Are we there yet?" Here I found a few new games to try. My daughter kept herself busy with "100." You pick one thing--red cars, trees, whatever--and try to find 100 of it. My son had fun playing "Castle in the Sky" and trying to pick out clouds and deciding what they look like.

And both of my children loved playing Slug Bug, which is actually a game I remember playing with my brother as a kid, but I had completely forgotten about it.

See a Volkswagen Beetle and call out, "Slug bug!" One point is awarded to whoever calls it out first, but beware--a point is deducted if one is wrongly called out. Traditionally, this game involves the administration of a gentle "slug" to the shoulder of another player as the bug is called, but depending on the energy level and age of your children, you may select to forgo this part.
Click here to find the complete list of road-trip games in Cookie.

Maurice Sendak Exhibit Opens in San Francisco

October 6 2009 by Amy Graff

sendak10_where-wild-things-wr.jpgA wild rumpus has come to San Francisco's urban jungle.
Last week, the Contemporary Jewish Museum opened a retrospective of over 100 works by children's book author and illustrator Maurice Sendak, including rare and original pieces from his 1963 classic Where the Wild Things Are, the book about an angry boy named Max whose mom sends him to bed without dinner.

"There's a Mystery There: Sendak on Sendak," which runs through January 19, 2010, features original watercolors and drawings from Sendak's books, rare sketches, never-before-seen working materials, and exclusive interview footage. You'll find a final drawing from Pierre, A Cautionary Tale with the mischievous boy standing in front of the lion who eats him; a photograph of Sendak's real-life German shepherd, Agamemnon, who was a model for the dog in Outside Over There; and a preliminary drawing of the Where the Wild Things Are wild rumpus scene in which Max tries to tame the monsters as a way to control his own anger.

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Families Traveled Long and Far this Summer (or at Least Longer and Farther than Predicted)

September 24 2009 by Amy Graff

1983-Vacation_family-vacation-wr.jpgThis past summer, the media was convinced that families would stick to short, close-to-home vacations. "Weekend getaways" is the term journalists often used. But the results of Trekaroo's 2009 summer travel survey found that many moms and dads were taking off with the kids for more than five days. And while California and Florida were the top two favorite vacation spots, international destinations came in at No. 3. Canada was particularly popular with the family crowd.

Here's a summary of the survey results from Trekaroo, a Web site that's dedicated to all things related to family travel.

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How to Travel with Friends (and Return Home Friends)

September 9 2009 by Amy Graff

friends-traveling-wr.jpgWhether you're spending a week on the beach in Hawaii or road-tripping across the United States, you'll certainly have more fun traveling with friends than going solo. But group travel can be stressful because the smallest misunderstandings can break up friendships. Here are some tips to ensure everyone returns home friends.

Assign responsibilities. If you're a big group, consider designating a trip leader (ideally the most organized person among your friends) who can take on such tasks as conducting a poll for trip dates, emailing out the final itinerary, and coordinating what people need to bring. This person can also dole out responsibilities to others. You might put one person on researching restaurants and another on planning optional group activities, for example. A great resource for coordinating the group is the website Triporama.com, which allows groups to create to-do lists, chat on private message boards, and build day-by-day itineraries.

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How to Leave the Kids Behind

September 3 2009 by Amy Graff

Leavethekids.jpgMy husband and I are about to take off on a week-long trip to Barcelona. We're celebrating our 10-year anniversary...and we're leaving the kids behind. Two grandmas and a grandpa will be watching our 4- and 6-year-old. This is the first time we have left our kids for an extended period of time--well, actually for more than two nights.

Surprisingly, both kids seem entirely comfortable with the idea. No tears...yet. In fact, every day my daughter asks me, When are you going to Spain? It seems as if she can hardly wait for me to step out the door. She's looking forward to all the ice cream cones her grandfather will buy her.

How can you help your kids feel comfortable with you leaving them behind? Here are some tips.

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Budget Travel Trip #5: Opt for the Smaller Car

August 19 2009 by Amy Graff

Untitled1.pngWhen you're piling the family into a car for a road trip it might be tempting to opt for the roomier SUV parked in your garage. But if your family's fleet also includes a smaller car consider driving it instead because you'll pay less for gas. Your SUV might get 20 miles to the gallon while your little four-door sedan gets 30 to 35. You'll pay about $2.75 to drive 25 miles in the SUV and only $2 in the smaller car. If you're driving 1,500, you'll save $45 in the smaller car--and emit a lot less CO2. (fuel cost based on gas price of $2.30 a gallon.)

Budget Travel Tip #4: Stay at Hotels with Pools

August 13 2009 by Amy Graff

IMG_5113.jpgMy kids and I recently visited Disneyland. At about 3 p.m., after riding It's a Small World three times, my daughter said, "Let's go back to the hotel and swim in the pool." After paying over $200 for admission for myself and two kids, I wasn't about to give up on Disneyland. But I realized that on a family vacation all children really need is a swimming pool and they'll be happy. When you stay in a hotel with a pool, it offers great free entertainment and you can easily skip out on some of the pricier attractions.

iPhone Travel Apps

July 17 2009 by Amy Graff

AAAx.jpgMy husband got up at 5 a.m. on Friday morning to stand in line for the new iPhone 3GS. Now that's true love.

We decided to buy a phone before heading out on our summer road trip. We're driving the length of the Mississippi River, from the headwaters to the mouth, on $150 a day. An iPhone might seem like an extravagant tool for a budget-themed trip but my 4-year-old cell phone died and I was eager to try out the many iPhone apps geared specifically to road trippers.

Here are a few that I look forward to trying out this summer. Right now I'm limiting myself to the free ones.

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Budget Travel Tip #2: Never Pay for Your Kids' Meals

July 9 2009 by Amy Graff

contentRightLong-childEating.jpgWhy pay to feed for your kids when you don't have to? There are many restaurants dishing up free meals for children.

The best way to locate those places when you're on the road is by clicking on kidsmealdeals.com. You simply type in a zip code or a city name and the day of the week and presto you have a list of places.

In Austin, Texas, for example, you could take the family to the hip Japanese restaurant Zen and any kids under 12 years old eat for free. Or in New York you could fill up at the retro diner EJ's.

Packing Light When You're Traveling with Kids (Yes! It's Possible)

June 30 2009 by Amy Graff

Kid Traveling 200.jpgI remember the first time I traveled alone on a plane with both of my kids. My daughter was a toddler and my son a baby--and somehow I lugged a stroller, two car seats, a portable crib, a backpack carry-on and two rolling suitcases from the departures curb, where a taxi had dropped us off, to the ticket counter.

I attached one of the car seats onto my backpack while I carried my son in a front-carrier on my chest. I pushed the porta-crib and the other car seat in the stroller with one hand, and pulled the suitcase with the other hand. My 2-year-old daughter rolled the second suitcase.

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Budget Travel Tip #1: Collect Pressed Pennies

June 22 2009 by Amy Graff

disney-pressed-penny-dl0022.jpgPressed pennies--could there be a better souvenir for penny-pinching travelers? These coins that are flattened and imprinted by special machines cost about four quarters and one penny. And they certainly fit into anyone's suitcase. You won't be paying a fee for your extra heavy suitcase filled with your pressed penny collection.

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Travel Etiquette: Five Things Parents Need to Know

June 18 2009 by Amy Graff

Baby 200.jpgI have lugged my kids across the globe, from Paris to Bali, to Seattle and even Washington, D.C. Along the way, I know that our little family unit has irked other travelers. My son once accidentally spilled a cup of orange juice on the lady sitting next to him on the plane, and when my daughter was a colicky baby, she spent an entire night screaming in a hotel room. But while my kids are occasionally nuisances (aren't we all at times?), I always make sure that we are on our best behavior and do everything possible to not disturb others. Here are five things I have learned while traveling with my kids that all families should know.

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Four Fun Father's Day Getaways

June 8 2009 by Amy Graff

Father-Song-Fishing.jpgPity the dad who opens his Father's Day gift to find a pinstripe shirt or a box of golf balls. Why not surprise the man of the house with a weekend getaway the entire family can enjoy? Here are a few ideas for travel adventures geared to dad.

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Philly Trip: Rules #6, #7, #8, #9

November 1 2008 by Amy Graff

IMG_8018.JPGRule #6: Bells don't stand. They ring.
"What are you going to do in Philadelphia?" the man sitting next to us on the plane asked Dante.
"I don't know," Dante responded.
"You must see the Liberty Bell."
"What's that?"
"Oh you must see the Liberty Bell. It's the most important thing to see in Philadelphia..."
So of course, Dante became fixated on the Liberty Bell. When we woke up on Friday morning in Philadelphia all Dante could say was, "Liberty Bell! Liberty Bell! Liberty Bell!"
After breakfast, we walked right into Liberty Bell Center, where we shared the bell with another small tour group.
"Is that it, Mommy?" asked Dante, who was clearly disappointed by the 2,000 pounds of copper.
"Yes, that's it."
"What does it do?"
"Well, it stands for freedom."
"Mommy, bells don't stand. They ring."
"Uh...this one doesn't ring."
"Mommy, this is boring."

As we left the center, I realized we made a wise decision to visit the bell first. There was a huge line out the door and we had beat the crowds--but more importantly my son's expectation were now lowered. Everything in Philadelphia would seem extraordinary when compared to the boring bell that doesn't stand--or ring.

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Philly Trip: Rules #3, #4, #5

October 18 2008 by Amy Graff

superDante.JPGRule #3: Always travel with a superhero.

Before we ran out the door to catch our flight to Philadelphia, Dante said, "I want my cape."
"Your what?" I asked.
"My cape."
"What are you talking about?" My brain doesn't function well at 4:30 a.m.
Dante walked me to his bedroom and pointed to the silky, red superhero cape hanging on a hook. "Sure. Whatever," I thought, snapping the cape around his neck.

At the airport, my superhero and I received friendly service and lots of attention. When we went to check in, the ticket agent directed us to the shorter business class line. "He's just so cute! We can't let Superman wait in line." At security, people helped us feed all of our stuff through the X-ray machine. "Oh, Superman let me help you. You need to save your strength." And as we walked to our gate, nearly every other person stopped to say something: "Can I borrow that?"; "I feel so much safer now that I know Superman is at the airport"; "It's a bird! It's a plane..." Dante confidently marched through the airport as if he were a celebrity.

On the plane, the special treatment continued: "Superman, you need to meet the captain of the plane after we land"; "Superman, you need an extra package of pretzels so you have energy to save people"; "Superman, would you like another glass of apple juice?"

When we arrived in Atlanta (a stopover en route to Philly), the landing was bumpy and the plane dipped and dived. I nervously gripped my armrests. "It's OK Mommy. I can save us," Dante reassured me. That's when I realized that I'm always traveling with a superhero.

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Philly Trip: Rules #1 and #2

October 7 2008 by Amy Graff

philly trip 1.jpgRule #1: Never let a child pack his own carry-on.
I don't know what I was thinking when I allowed my 4-year-old son, Dante, to help me pack for our trip to Philadelphia. I divvied up the work, giving myself the job to pack the clothes and him the task to fill his carry-on bag.

While I was carefully putting together outfits for cold and hot weather and counting pairs of socks, he dumped his toy chest into his Scooby Doo rolling suitcase. Smurfs, Matchbox cars, random puzzle pieces--Dante mixed everything together.

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How to Plan a Mother-Daughter Getaway

September 26 2008 by Amy Graff

I let my 5-year-old daughter, Paris make the call to her friend Tomo in Portland, Ore. "We're coming to visit you! Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!" Paris excitedly screamed over the phone. I could hear Tomo cheering on the other end of the line.

Before Paris starts kindergarten at the end of August, I decided to take her on a special getaway to Portland, Ore., where one of her best friends recently moved. We had a busy summer with little time alone together and Paris was anxious about going to a new school. She seemed to need a few days away with just the girls.

This isn't our first vacation together. She tagged along on my work trip to Waikiki, where we swam with dolphins, took a hula lesson, and ate lots of pineapple. I find that mother-daughter getaways renew relationships and create lasting memories. Paris is always saying, "Remember in Hawaii when we..."

Here are some tips on how you can plan a mother-daughter vacation and make sure things go smoothly on the road:

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10 Things to do with Kids in Portland

September 5 2008 by Amy Graff

tram2.jpgMy daughter, Paris, and I spent last week there visiting friends, and we discovered a paradise for families. The city has it all--affordable housing (two-story Craftsman bungalow for $350,000!), public transportation, up-and-coming public schools, nearly 260 miles of bike routes, and more than 200 parks and public gardens, including 5,000-acre Forest Park, the largest U.S. wilderness park within any city's boundaries.

On our trip, I compiled a list of my top kid-friendly spots. Please add your favorite places in the comments section.

1) OMSI. At this amazing science museum, kids can shoot water rockets, fly paper airplanes in a wind tunnel, and build a block house and test its durability during an earthquake.

2) Oregon Zoo. Don't miss Lorikeet Landing, where you can feed the birds, and the Zoo Train, which takes you through the forests of nearby Washington Park, above the International Rose Test Garden, and back to the zoo.

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Unplugged Travel

August 26 2008 by Amy Graff

silverlake.JPGLast week, the kids and I escaped to California's Sierra for two nights. We stayed with friends at their cabin on Silver Lake, a quiet spot tucked behind Kirkwood Ski Resort. Here, we made homemade fishing poles from sticks, paddled a canoe to an island, and feasted on fresh rainbow trout. We also did a whole lot of nothing.

The trip was peaceful because we were amidst nature and even more so because we were without Internet or phone service. In fact, the cabin didn't even have electricity. After three technology-free days, I realized that a vacation is much more relaxing when you're not receiving calls from your boss or reading news stories online.

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Route 66 Recap

August 18 2008 by Amy Graff

Earlier this month, I talked about my family's Route 66 road trip on ABC's nationally syndicated TV show View from the Bay. You can watch the segment by clicking here.

For those visiting the site for the first time, here's a rundown of my five favorite posts from trip.

Route 66 Slideshow

It's an American Girl

Mediocre Music Makers, Erick, Okla.

Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo, Texas

Angel's Barbershop in Seligman, Ariz.

Also, here's a quick recap of our journey with some money-saving tips for family road trippers:

On June 29, my family embarked on a great adventure--driving Route 66 from Santa Monica to Chicago. We took 15 days to do the trip and we gave ourselves a budget of $250 a day--a total of $3,750.

So, did we meet our goal? Barely. Our final total was $3,709.52 (Darn, I should have ordered that chocolate pie in Tulsa!) We had some help. My parents met us in St. Louis for two days and picked up the restaurant bills, and a friend sent $40 for a bottle of wine in Chicago. But generally we pinched pennies.

Here's what we learned:

1) Leave the SUV at home. If you own more than one car, opt for the auto that gets the best gas mileage. It costs less and it's better for the environment. (If we survived 15 days in a sardine can, you can too!)

2) Lighten your load. Carrying 100 pounds in the trunk reduces a typical car's fuel efficiency by 1 to 2 percent. (My husband packed only one pair of shorts, one pair jeans, and a few shirts.) If you have cargo to haul, put it in the trunk instead of on a roof rack, which can decrease mileage by as much as 5 percent.

3) Inflate your tires. Under-inflated tires are a safety hazard and decrease fuel economy by as much as 2 percent per pound of pressure below the recommended level.

4) Drive gently. Excessive braking and accelerating reduces fuel economy, as does driving faster than highway speed limits. Teach your kids to read the speedometer; they'll enjoy making sure you stay under 70 mph.

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9 Things to do with Kids in NYC

August 15 2008 by Amy Graff

centralpark.JPGOur family trip to NYC was a huge success. If you're headed for the Big Apple with your kids, here are some things to do.

1) Slurp up noodles at Momofuku. Does bringing the kids to a James Beard-award winning restaurant seem unlikely? Well, it's doable at Momofuku, a happening noodle joint that's so loud your kids can scream at the top of their lungs and no one will notice. Kids can split a bowl of chicken ramen ($12).

2) Wave hello to Miss Liberty on the Staten Island Ferry. On board this two-level ferry, you pass right by Lady Liberty. The free 25-minute ride takes you between Lower Manhattan and St. George on Staten Island.

3) Hang with the teeny bopper crowd at Legally Blonde. Little girls will love this high-energy musical about the ultimate princess, Elle Woods, who wears only pink and carries her Chihuahua in a rhinestone-studded bag.

4) Shop for European yogurts at Zabar's. You'll find cheeses, meats, olives, candies, and all sorts of other food from all over the world in this store that takes over an entire block. Kids will love the selection of rich and creamy European yogurts and mom and dad will appreciate the low prices.

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Do Kids and Business Trips Mix?

August 7 2008 by Amy Graff

Have I mentioned that I'm actually on a business trip in NYC?

Several months back I was invited to participate in a panel on leisure travel. Only a two-hour commitment? My hotel and airfare provided? I wondered, should I bring the kids and husband along for a long weekend in New York? Why not? I booked plane reservations for four.

My decision isn't unusual. According to the National Business Travel Association, 62 percent of U.S. business travelers said they add a leisure component to at least one business trip per year. Among those travelers, two-thirds say they bring a family member or a friend with them. Why? As the American workplace becomes more flexible about letting employees juggle their duties with family life, people like me are finding it easier to bring their spouses and kids wherever their jobs may take them. What's more, family business trips are a great way to save--since the company is usually paying for a few nights of the hotel and airfare for at least one.

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