Thursday, May 31, 2012

If You Could Only Take One Accessory When Traveling With Baby...

What would it be?

For me, it would be my ERGObaby carrier.

Hiking Catherine's Pass

I'm sure many of you are already wise to the fact that a baby carrier is a very handy thing to have along when traveling.  It took me a little longer to figure this out!  After my daughter was born, I wasn't even planning on buying a carrier, but I changed my mind when I realized how helpful it could be both around town and while traveling.  After purchasing an ERGObaby Performance, my husband and I agree that it's been the single best purchase we've made thus far for our daughter.

We've used it hiking Zion's National Park and Arches National Park...

Zion's National Park

Checking out the Strip in Las Vegas:


Bellagio Fountain, Las Vegas


And countless other places!  The carrier has been great in lieu of a stroller, which we haven't traveled with so far, and it's perfect for keeping our now busy toddler contained on shuttle buses and planes as well.

I like the fact that the carrier adjusts so that we can carry her facing us, on our hip, or on our back.  And given that it can carry kids up to 70 lbs, we'll be able to pack her around until she's at least 10 (kidding, of course!)  Why no photos of ME carrying my daughter, you ask?  Although the ERGObaby is extremely comfortable for me to wear too, my husband usually takes over the job when we're together  :-)

What is the one travel accessory you would take along when traveling with a baby/toddler?  Please share in the comments below!

For more great travel photos and stories, please visit Friday Daydreamin' at R We There Yet Mom?

I purchased my ERGObaby carrier, and all opinions in this post are my own.  ERGObaby has not provided compensation of any kind for this post, and none of the links in this post are affiliate links.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Salt Lake Spotlight: Red Butte Garden



The Water Pavillion from the back


I'm so excited to share one of my favorite local hangouts with you in this week's Salt Lake Spotlight!  Red Butte Garden is located in the foothills above Salt Lake City, in the University of Utah's Research Park.  Touted as a "year round" garden, we've found that there really is something to do at Red Butte each season, whether it's viewing thousands of blooming bulbs and blossoming trees in spring, snowshoeing along their trails in the winter, watching the leaves change colors in the fall, or enjoying a summer concert and picnic in their amazing amphitheater (Norah Jones, Sheryl Crow, Diana Krall, Bonnie Raitt,  and Crosby Stills & Nash are all in the lineup this year...I can't wait!).


Springtime blossoms


Paths wind around the garden, taking you through a Floral Walk and Pear Arbor before reaching the many beautiful themed gardens, including a Fragrance Garden, Herb Garden, Medicinal Garden, Waterfall Garden, and Rose Garden.  I'm always in awe of how many varieties of flowers, plants, bushes, and trees they manage to cultivate here.


The Waterfall Garden



One of our favorite spots to explore is the Children's Garden.  My daughter can't get enough of the water features, sandbox, raspberry bushes, oversized lizard and salamander figures, and vineyard "tunnels."  There is also a Sprout House where kids can participate in learning activities throughout the year.


The snake water feature is a huge hit with my daughter


The Water Pavillion is another well-loved area.  Kids can feed the pond's resident ducks and koi (take some quarters along to buy the food).


The Water Pavilion 


Some tips for visiting Red Butte Garden:

  • Pack a picnic!  There are many lovely areas to enjoy it throughout the garden, and food is not sold here.
  • Wear comfortable shoes and be prepared for a good walk.  Since the garden is set in the foothills of Salt Lake, you will notice many elevation changes as you explore.
  • Buy a membership!  Daily admission prices for a family can add up ($8/adults, $6/kids), and purchasing a membership grants you free or discounted access to many other American Horticultural Society gardens throughout the United States. 
  • Check the Garden's online calendar for activities and events.  Also be aware that the garden closes early--5pm--on concert nights.

Do you have a local garden that you like to visit?

Please visit Friday Daydreamin' at R We There Yet Mom? for more great travel posts!


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Give Hosteling a Try!

Hostel.  Many years ago when I'd hear that word, it would immediately made me think of college kids, grungy backpackers, and European tourists.

Then one evening while on a California coast road trip with my husband, we became desperate for a hotel room when we couldn't find an affordable one in or around San Francisco due to several major conventions taking place. This was before I was a trip-planning control freak.  Heading down Highway 1 just south of San Francisco, we spotted a small Hosteling International sign with an arrow pointing toward the coast.

All of my negative ideas about hostels ran through my head as we made our way down the long driveway.  Aren't hostels just for "youth?"  Or people who are so tired from backpacking across the country that they don't mind sleeping in a bunk bed next to strangers?

Then we saw THIS:

Point Montara Lighthouse Hostel

We were greeted by a friendly hostel staffer who explained all the ins and outs of hosteling, including the fact they they have private rooms for couples and families.  Sold!

Since that first visit, the Point Montara Lighthouse Hostel has become one of our favorite spots to stay on the California Coast.  You get a million dollar view and a basic but decent room for around $75/night (at the time of our first stay the rate was $42/night...awesome!)  You would pay several hundred dollars for a hotel room with this view.  There is a little pocket beach with tidepools and great sand just below the hostel, and the entire place is peaceful and quiet.  The setting is beautiful, perfect for photographing (my photos really don't do it justice), and the hostel was even part of one of my favorite movies, Bandits.



After our wonderful experience at the Point Montara hostel, we decided to give hostels in other cities a try.  We've stayed in a lovely Victorian mansion hostel in Sacramento, California, a stunning hostel in the midst of the Redwood Forest (currently closed), and a fun, funky hostel in Seaside, Oregon (with an onsite espresso bar!).


Pocket beach, Point Montara Lighthouse Hostel

Some of our favorite things about staying in hostels:

  • They're relatively inexpensive. Private rooms are great for couples or families
  • Many have large, communal kitchens where you can store food and prepare meals
  • Most have free wi-fi
  • You can meet travelers from all over the world, and most hostelers are very friendly
  • Many hostels promote sustainability, recycling, and other eco-friendly practices
  • There is a cooperative nature about hostels that we enjoy

Hosteling isn't for everyone!  Here are a few notes to help your decide if a hostel is right for you:
  • Do some research!  Not all hostels are created alike, and some are real duds.  For guidance, I like the book Hostels U.S.A. by Paul Karr. Most hostels have basic info online. Make sure to book your hostel in advance since spaces sell out quickly.
  • Many hostels are part of Hosteling International, the largest global hostel network.  Membership offers you discounts on hostel stays, travel insurance, local discounts, and more.  We didn't join, so we paid a few dollars more per room on each stay.
  • Although many hostels have private rooms available, you may have to share a bathroom so always check in advance.  At Point Montara, one bathroom is shared between two private rooms.  At Sacramento and Seaside we had private, ensuite bathrooms.
  • Because hostels are cooperative in nature (and to keep expenses low), you may be asked to do a basic chore at some hostels.  We have usually had to make our bed at the beginning of our stay and remove the sheets at the end, as well as sweep out our room.  If you use the kitchen or other communal areas, make sure to clean up after yourself (wash your dishes, wipe counters, etc.)  We found the chores to be no big deal!  
  • To keep expenses low and give staff members a break, some hostels have a lock-out period during the day (e.g. 11am-3pm). This rule is slowly dying, but some hostels still use it.

Would you ever stay in a hostel?

Please visit Travel Tip Tuesday at Suitcases and Sippy Cups and Walkingon Travels for more great travel tips and stories!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Travel Tip Tuesday: Trip Planning Resources--Hotel Edition


I love planning trips.  My husband always says that I seem to enjoy the planning as much as the actual trip, and he's probably right!  It hasn't always been that way, though.  I used to get myself into a state of analysis paralysis, especially when booking a hotel.

What if we hate the location?


What if we pay more than we should?  Maybe I can find a better deal...


What if the room is tiny or dirty or the bed is lumpy?


All these questions and hundreds more would run through my mind.


A nice view? A definite plus, but not a necessity

Finally, I decided to come up with a "hotel picking" strategy and stick with it.  My strategy gets modified on occasion when I find a new and awesome resource, but I've been using it consistently and haven't been disappointed with any of the hotels I've picked so far!  (Full disclosure: Good hotel rooms are a priority for us. We'd rather fly as cheaply as possible--unless traveling internationally--and have a decent room to enjoy after exploring all day than skimp and have a horrible night's sleep.  However, we don't like to spend an exorbitant amount on a hotel room, hence my strategy).  :-)


But a comfy bed is a must!

Tips for picking a reasonably priced, quality hotel:

1.  Start your search on an aggregator site.  My new favorite aggregator is Room77.com, and I also frequently use Kayak.com.  Just type in your destination, pick your travel dates, and the aggregator will collect hotel prices from many different websites and display them, sorted by lowest price for each property.  I especially like Room77 because it gives so many details about each property and room, including tips for quietest floors, most spacious rooms, etc.  They also have a free service, Room Concierge, that helps you book the exact room you want (they make no guarantees but claim a high success rate).  Hint: Chain hotels may be a bit boring but often offer a lot of bang for your buck, with inclusions like free wifi, breakfast, and more.


2.  Once you have found some properties in your price range, head to Tripadvisor.com to continue researching them.  Tripadvisor is one of the better known sites for user reviews, and I have found  with the hotels I've researched and subsequently stayed at that a majority of the reviews are helpful and accurate.  Definitely take any extra low or high reviews with a grain of salt, and read a number of reviews for each property to get a good overall sense of it.  I also use Google street view to look at the hotel building and street.

3.  Hopefully by now you are narrowing down your search.  I would suggest heading over to a booking site, such as Booking.com, Travelocity.com, Orbitz.com, Getaroom.com, or Hotels.com to read more reviews.  The nice part about these sites is that the reviews are from folks who have actually used the booking site and stayed in the hotel (the website sends an email invitation to review the hotel after the stay is over).   I also double check prices on several of these sites to make sure I've found the lowest one.  You can sometimes save a bundle by booking the hotel along with airfare on one of these sites.  A few years ago I saved around $500 dollars on a trip to Mexico by doing this!  Check airfares on Kayak.com to see if you're actually getting a deal.


4. Based on all your research, make a list of your top two or three hotels (just in case your first choice isn't available). Then, visit your top hotels' company websites (e.g. Marriott.com, Hilton.com, etc.) to check if they have lower prices.

5.  Once you've found the hotel you want at the lowest price, book your room! You will usually want to book on the site where you found the lowest price, but always make sure to read the fine print regarding fees, taxes, and cancellation/change policies before you book.  Some people swear that booking directly with your hotel gets you better service, but I haven't always found that to be true.

Do you have a strategy for choosing a hotel?  What are your favorite trip planning resources?  Please share! :-)


Want to view some excellent travel tips?  Head over to Travel Tip Tuesday at Suitcases and Sippy Cups or Walkingon Travels!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Salt Lake Spotlight: Wheeler Farm


We've been spending a lot of time recently exploring our city and surrounding areas with our toddler daughter, so periodically I'd love to share some of our local adventures with you!

The "Activity" Barn

This week we visited Wheeler Historic Farm in Salt Lake City, Utah.  Established in the late 1800's, this 75-acre farm is now owned and run by Salt Lake County.  Admission is FREE! There are very minimal charges for some activities.  

Cows and geese, enjoying a snack


Granary and fruit cellar

Kids will enjoy the wagon rides, cow milking and farm chore demonstrations, general store, and farm animals galore, especially at this time of the year when all the baby animals are being born.   


Aww, babies...

And more babies!

Although I'd visited the farm many times as a child, I never realized that the it was on such vast acreage.  We loved exploring the woods and wetlands behind the working part of the farm.  It's so rare not to see another soul while you're right in the center of the Salt Lake valley.


There are miles of walking/biking paths behind the farm, and even an area for camping!


In addition to all the farm activities offered, Wheeler Farm also hosts a wonderful farmer's market every Saturday throughout the summer.


Ice House and pond

I'd highly recommend checking out Wheeler Farm if you are ever in the area!

Please visit Friday Daydreamin' at R We There Yet Mom to view great travel photos and stories!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

How (Not) To Use a Flatiron in India

My travel tip today is inspired by a funny thing that I did a few years ago while traveling in India.

Now, I'm not a high-maintenance type of gal when it comes to beauty and hair routines.  Our dry, desert air in Utah allows me to just wash-and-go most of the time.  But in India it's a different story.  The humidity makes my hair frizz up like a toilet brush , and my usual hair routine just doesn't cut it.  I spent two different trips (and my wedding there!) walking around with crazy poofball hair, so when I was planning my third trip I was bound and determined to do something different, especially since I knew we were spending a week at the beach in Goa.

Poolside at our hotel in Goa--Villa Bomfim

So I went to my local beauty supply store and bought a flatiron.  Then, realizing that the flatiron's plug wouldn't fit India's outlets, I bought a power converter with adaptor plugs. I read all the instructions and was ready for sleek, smooth hair.



The adaptor/converter worked well for charging my mp3 player during our first couple of days in India, but I hadn't had time try try out the flatiron since we embarked on our crazy road trip.

Fast-forward to our first day in Goa.  Ponytails were getting old, so I plugged in the adaptor/converter, switched it to LOW, plugged the flatiron into it, and waited for it to heat up.  Suddenly I heard a loud POP and noticed smoke coming from the converter.  Yikes!  I grabbed the flatiron to unplug it, but it was too late.  Its metal plates were hanging off, the glue completely melted.  Both the converter and flatiron were completely unusable for the rest of the trip...my sleek hair just wasn't meant to be!

Adaptor plugs and converter, post-frying.  Notice the warping.  I'm glad I didn't start a fire!!!

Some tips:

1.  Decide whether you will need an adaptor plug and converter at your destination.  If you are in the U.S. or Canada (which have 110-120v AC) and are traveling overseas (where most countries have 220-240v AC), you most likely will need an adaptor/converter.  See this site for more info on specific countries you'll be visiting.

2.  Look at your appliance (flatiron, hairdryer, electric shaver, etc.) to see what the power "rating" is.  My flatiron says 110-120v AC, so I knew that I would need to use both the adaptor plug (so it would fit in India's outlets) AND the converter (since the flatiron was only rated for 110-120v, not India's 220-240v power).  Some appliances are "universal," meaning that you can just use the adaptor plug without converting the power.

 3.  Read the adaptor/converter's instructions THOROUGHLY.  Had I done this, I would have known that the LOW setting was only appropriate for small, low current appliances, such as battery chargers or electric shavers, and that I should have used the HIGH setting.  Check out this guide for more good tips.

4.  Don't take expensive appliances!  I should have just packed a cheaper flatiron from the drugstore instead of frying my $100 one.

Have your ever used items that needed a converter while traveling?  And were you more successful than me at doing so? Please share!  :-)


Check out Travel Tip Tuesday at Suitcases and Sippy Cups and Walkingon Travels for more unique travel tips!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Road Trip in India

I've been traveling for the past two weeks, without wifi for one of those weeks, and my blog has been sadly neglected.  So this week for Travel Photo Thursday, I decided to continue my India theme by sharing an archived post on a (somewhat harrowing) road trip I took there.  Will be back next week with a post on my wedding in India!


After one of the worst travel nights of my life...

I woke up to THIS:

On the beach in Mangalore, India


The backstory:
Two days after arriving in India (and still extremely jet lagged), I set off on a road trip from Bangalore to Goa with my husband and some members of his family.  Our first day's stretch was supposed to be an eight-hour drive from Bangalore to Mangalore.

A building at the resort

Picture this: Seven adults and two kids in a rented van with a driver whose driving skills were somewhat suspect.  Indian roads (AKA more potholes than road in many areas).  One flat tire, changing time=1 hour.  One vapor locked fuel line, fixing time=2 hours in the dark.  One stop between states by local police who desperately wanted a bribe.  Our eight-hour drive turned into 14 crazy hours.  By the time we reached our destination in Mangalore, we were tired, sweaty, and starving.

A child playing on the beach

I had heard great things about the place we were staying in Mangalore and was looking forward to a good meal, warm shower, and great night's sleep.  Boy was I in for a surprise.  I'll spare you the details, but suffice it to say that NONE of my expectations were even close to being met (which is why I'm not going to name the resort).  I had a complete breakdown that night, fell into a deep sleep, and then had another mini meltdown the next morning when, after taking a much needed shower, I discovered that they had forgotten to put towels in the room.  I'll just blame my high emotions on the jet lag :-)

More of the beach in the other direction

And then I stepped out of our room and onto one of the prettiest beaches I've ever seen!  After a steaming cup of chai, a hearty Indian breakfast, and a walk up and down the beach, I was a new woman.  We headed out that day for Goa, and the rest of the trip was amazing. 


Have you had any crazy road trip experiences?

Please visit Budget Traveler's Sandbox for more travel photos and stories!