12 Tips for Awesome Travel with your Kids

Disclaimer: my posts contain affiliate links, which means I might receive a commission if you click on a link or purchase a product. I only endorse products which I have used and enjoy!

In my last post, I gave you all my best arguments for why I think you should travel with kids. To further convince that you it’s doable, I’ve put together 12 tips for how to make traveling with kids easy and stress free.

Be Prepared. Traveling with kids is not necessarily different than traveling with anyone else. Preparing is the key to ensuring a smooth trip. Here are some essentials for prepared travel with kids:

    1. Children of any age need a passport for international travel. Read up on the State Department’s rules so you don’t waste your time making more than one trip to the passport office.
    2. Look for travel gadgets that make traveling with kids easier. If there is something you’re having a hard time planning around, I guarantee someone else has had this problem and invented a solution. My new favorite is one I learned about from another mom friend. I dread lugging a car sear around a long vacation where I’ll only need it sparingly. This vest offers safety in 1000 times more convenient fashion. I can’t wait to use for my family’s upcoming cruise!
    3. The only time you’ll probably be pressed to entertain your kids is during the “travel” leg of the trip. So, bring stuff to do for the car or plane ride. New toys will entertain them the most.
    4. Research your vacation for kid-friendly amenities. Know what food options are available. Know what kids’ activities are offered. Know the minimum ages for kids to participate in activities so they won’t be left out of things they are looking forward to. Tripadvisor reviews typically offer a ton of behind the scenes advice from other travelers, as well as parent forums. Also consider using a travel agent if this research seems daunting. (Travel agents typically receive their commissions from the companies you book through them,  so you don’t pay them directly for their services.)

Set the Vibe. Your kids will react to your energy. If you’re nervous and stressed, or really worried about how your kids are going to behave, you can guarantee they will act like donkeys. Here are some ways to keep yourself calm, which will in turn add to your kids’ calm:

  1. Tell them and yourself what to expect as you’re moving through the trip. The uncertainty can be unnerving to you all. Letting everyone know what is happening and what is coming next can go a long way in soothing anxiety.
  2. Enjoy the process. Relax and take in what’s going on around you, even if you don’t consider it the “fun” part of the trip. My daughter’s excited “oooooooh!” as the plane lifts off the ground is pure joy for me, and relaxes me into enjoying the anxious parts of take off.
  3. Take your time if you need to. If you think you’re holding other people up, invite them to go around you. We all know that kids move way slower than we do, so giving yourselves the extra time will help you keep your head on straight without getting frustrated with yourself or your kids and losing your cool.
  4. Prepare for the people around you. If you think your baby may cry during a flight, and it may stress you out, consider what you can use as a peace offering to your fellow travelers. Maybe a set of ear plugs with a note and some candy for those seated near you. Chances are, the other travelers won’t be as bothered as you think they will, but you will be calmer feeling like you’ve connected with them a little, and they will undoubtedly appreciate the gesture.

It doesn’t have to break the bank. Adding one or more kids to your travel mix definitely adds up, but you can save money in several places if you’re deal saavy.

  1. Sign your kids up for travel rewards. If you’re paying for them to travel, they are eligible to receive the same travel rewards you are. My 3 year old has her own Delta Skymiles account, so she’s racking up miles just like we are.
  2. Shop for credit card rewards. Many “travel” credit cards will offer a one time or recurring benefit for opening the card. You might get a free companion airline ticket every year with your paid ticket, you might get enough bonus miles or points for a hotel night or plane ticket, etc. Then with every purchase on the card, you earn additional points or miles. I use these often and strategically to plan all my travel. When I’m gearing up for a trip, I will use one of the travel cards to start banking points on a particular hotel or airline.
  3. Familiarize yourself with your airline and hotel offerings for traveling with kids. Some examples? Kids under 1 can usually fly free if you hold them. Most airlines don’t charge you to check a car seat or stroller. You can also check your stroller free at the gate if you want to use it in the airport. Many hotels will provide a roll away crib or pack n play of some sort for free.
  4. Find out if there is a free or reduced price amenity for children under a certain age. This can save you hundreds of dollars when you’re traveling with young kids, from plane fare to park or excursion costs to meals. Many places allow kids under 1, 2, 3 or 4 to participate for free, so always make sure to check a website or ask.

I’ve put together what I consider to be the most important thoughts for traveling with kids, but I know you have more! What tips or questions would you add to the list? Let me know in the comments.

Beginner’s Guide to the KY Derby

Disclosure: My posts contain affiliate links, which means I could receive a commission if you click a link or purchase a product. I only endorse products which I have used and enjoyed!

I’ve lived in Kentucky my entire life. I’ve been to the Derby several times, and have celebrated it many more times at parties in people’s homes. I’ve put together some Derby essentials for anyone attending the Derby for the first time or wanting to add some authenticity to their own Derby party. Seasoned Derby goers will also find some great shopping tips, drink recipes, and a brush up on betting.

Fashion for the Gals

When I think of Derby fashion, the first thing that comes to mind is outrageous hats. The point of a Derby hat is to be noticed! Whether you choose something in the smaller fascinator variety or something full scale, be bold in your choice. Wear something that stands out and sets your outfit off. If you haven’t thought about a hat at this point and are actually attending the Derby, there has never been a better time to use your Amazon Prime membership and have Derby hat arrive at your house in 2 days. You simply have to wear one. End of story. If want to add the option of trying them on beforehand, Macys and T.J. Maxx always have a nice, affordable hat variety, too.

Beyond “wear a hat” there is no other real rule for Derby fashion. I would dress for a nice daytime spring or summer wedding, with a mind toward dressing to impress. A great thought for the opportunity to wear something designer without paying the designer price is a service called Rent the Runway. They overnight you a designer dress to rent for an event, costing a small fraction of what you would pay to buy the dress. For a small additional price, you can even add on a backup dress to make sure you get something you like. I used Rent the Runway to attend a formal function last year, and had a great experience. My most fashion-forward friend Kasey introduced me to it, and swears by it! Check out their selection of Derby appropriate dresses, and if you see something you like, you can use this link to get a free backup size or this one to get 20% off your first order.

Me and Kasey Renting the Runway
Me and Kasey Renting the Runway

Drinks

As I’m sure you know, the traditional drink of the Kentucky Derby is the Mint Julep. It’s basically a combination of bourbon, sugar water and mint. So, let me be clear, if you don’t like bourbon, you won’t like Mint Juleps! Mint Juleps are sold at the Derby, in a very cool commemorative glass that is updated every year. I don’t like bourbon myself, so the glass is the highlight of the experience, for me. If you’re having a party at your house, you can serve them in their traditional serve wear, a silver Julep Cup.

My bourbon drinking friends tell me that the best Mint Juleps are the ones sold at the Derby, which makes it lucky for you, if you’re trying to replicate it. The Kentucky Derby website  details that the Mint Julep served at the event is Old Forester Mint Julep Ready-to-Serve Cocktail (which is sold in liquor stores) served with fresh mint and crushed ice. The site also offers the following recipe, if you’d like to make them yourself:

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups water
  • sprigs of fresh mint
  • crushed ice
  • Old Forester Straight Bourbon Whisky
  • Silver Julep Cups

Make a simply syrup by boiling sugar and water together for five minutes. Cool and place in a covered container with six or eight sprigs of fresh mint, then refrigerate overnight. Make one julep at a time by filling a julep cup with crushed ice, adding one tablespoon mint syrup and two ounces of Old Forester Kentucky Whisky. Stir rapidly with a spoon to frost the outside of the cup. Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint.

For those of us who aren’t bourbon drinkers, there is another, newer traditional drink that still fits the occasion. The Kentucky Oaks, which runs at Churchill Downs the day before the Derby, is a similar race for fillies (female horses). The Oaks has become a “celebration of the ladies” with pink décor and a much more palatable pink drink, the Grey Goose Oaks Lily. This drink made its official debut in 2006, though the race itself has been around since 1875. The Lily also comes with a cool souvenir stemless wine glass, and can be easily duplicated using the recipe, also published on the Kentucky Derby website:

  • 1 1/4 oz. Grey Goose vodka
  • 1 oz. sweet and sour mix
  • 1/4 oz. triple sec
  • 3 oz. cranberry juice

Once the ingredients are mixed, place the pinkish cocktail in an Official Oaks Lily glass (stemless wine glass) with crushed ice, add a straw and garnish with a blackberry and a lemon wedge.

Betting

Betting the Kentucky Derby is like any other gambling event. Sometimes people win out of sheer luck, and other times people win because they’ve skillfully studied the field and calculated the odds. You don’t have time to learn those skills and shop for your hat, but you can learn the basic betting lingo so you can sound like you know what you’re doing! Making a bet is made up of a few pieces of key information with specific terms for each :

  • How much you’re betting per horse, per finish
  • What horse(s) you betting on
  • How you want those horses to perform in the race
  • What order you want them to finish in relation to each other

I’ll take these out of order to make more sense of the idea. First, a horse can finish the race in first, second or third place in most betting schemes. These are known in betting speak as win, place, and show. So you can bet on a single horse to either win, to place, or to show. If you think the horse could do any of those, you can bet it to do all three, which is called betting on a horse across the board. You can also place a win/place or a place/show bet.

The minimum bet for these basic bets is $2, but note that your betting amount is multiplied by the number of positions you bet the horse to finish. So, if you bet $2 on a horse across the board, you’re betting $2 for it to win, $2 for it place, and $2 for it show, so your bet would cost $6.

The amount you win back is determined by the odds of the horse winning at the time the race starts (this changes as bets are placed, so watch the screen at the track rather than relying on your paper betting program), how much you bet, and how difficult your bet was. For instance, if you bet a horse to show and it wins, you still get paid back, but because you had 3 chances for the horse to finish, you get less than a person who bet the same horse only to win. To figure out how much you’ll get back on a $2 win bet, multiply your odds by 2, then add $2. You can refer to this cheat sheet, too.

Choosing a single horse to finish a race can pay well if the odds are low that your horse will win. Low odds are reflected in a high number, like 50-1, and people call the low odds horses the long shots. The better opportunity to make a little bit more off your horses comes from what are known as exotic bets. In these scenarios, you group together the horses that you like, in order to choose the horses that will finish in the win, place, and show. If you want to choose just the win and place horses, that is called an exacta. If you want to choose the win, place, and show horses, that is called a trifecta. You can even choose the first four horses to finish in a superfecta.

If you name the horses in your exacta, trifecta or superfecta, they will be taken down in the specific order that you name them, and they have to finish in that order for you to win. If you would like to add the option of the horses finishing in any order, you can box your exacta, trifecta, or superfecta.  The minimum bet for an exacta is $2, for a trifecta is 50 cents, and for a superfecta is often 10 cents. However, keep in mind again that you’re multiplying horses and positions, so these bets can get expensive. My favorite exotic bet is a 10 cent superfecta box. It will cost you $2.40 because you’re betting so many horses in so many options, but it will often pay at least $75 if you win!

So, putting all this together, when you go to make your bet, it should sound something like this: “I’d like to bet (give the race number and the racetrack if you’re not betting on the upcoming race at the racetrack you’re in), $2 on horse 5 across the board.” or “I’d like to bet a $2 exacta box on horses 6 and 8.” You’ll pay and a paper ticket with your bets listed will be handed to you. Check the ticket before you walk away to make sure it is correct, because once you walk away, it’s too late to make changes. If you win, you come back to the betting windows to cash in your tickets.

Hopefully I’ve given you enough information here to participate in some Kentucky Derby fun like you know what’s going on! If you can’t make it to Kentucky, consider having your own Derby party!

 

4 Awesome DIY Updates Under $50

Disclosure: My posts contain affiliate links, which means I could receive a commission if you click a link or purchase a product. I only endorse products which I have used and enjoyed!

I’ve been in my house for a little over 10 years now. I’m at the point where there are lots of things I’d like to replace. The furniture I bought in 2005 is not in style anymore, my daughter is getting bigger and needs better dedicated space to “kid,” and I would like for the adult spaces in my house to feel more current. Unfortunately, I don’t have a million dollars to spend buying all new furniture and redecorating. So, this year my husband and I have been focusing on affordable updates we can make to our home to give it a modern feel without breaking the bank! These are some of the easy, fun projects I’ve been working on this year, with detail about how I did it, what supplies I used, and helpful things I learned that can save you time or money. As you know, I’m a lawyer and mom (and now a blogger), so I don’t have a ton of free time. I’m also not particularly crafty. So, I share these projects with the underlying message that if I can do them, you can certainly do them, too! HUGE BONUS, I didn’t spend more than $50 on any of them!

Crystal Chandelier

DIY crystal chandelier update

 

I want to start with the easiest, and perhaps most visually appealing finish of all, the chandelier in my dining room. The chandelier pictured on top came with my house, as the builder installation. I’ve never thought much about it, until I started tinkering around Pinterest, and seeing the lighting in some of my trendy friends’ houses. I realized I could add some bling and dark lamp shades for a much more updated look pretty easily. I bought this long strand of crystals (which was enough to do this project and the next one and still have a fair amount left over) and these crystal tear drops.

The only other thing I used for this project was a can of black spray paint. I found it much easier and cheaper to paint the lamp shades black than to buy new ones. The painting was probably the longest part of this process, because I had to spray paint, let a coat dry, and then paint again until I got the coverage complete and dark enough. The how-to on the rest of this one was simple. I didn’t even take the chandelier down to decorate it with the crystals. The crystal garland is strung together with removable loops, like what you find on a key ring, so you can make strands any length you need them to be. My chandelier has a large circular loop at the top, so I clipped one end of the garland strand to that loop, ran it down and across base of the electric candle stick, and just back up to the circle. I went around and did this for every candle, so that crystal was going up and down both sides of the candle, hanging at the length I thought looked best. I made sure each garland strand was the same length, so the chandelier would be even. The crystal drops also come with the same loops, so I just hung them off the natural loops of the chandelier. If you’re considering a project like this – my advice is to just work with the design of your chandelier the best that you’re able, in order to minimize your work and keep it simple. You can also change the color of the chandelier itself from gold to silver, or to an any other color easily with spray paint. For maybe an hour’s time and roughly $25, I could not have been happier with how this one turned out.

Crystal Entry Way Light

entry boob light

My entry way hall lighting is another piece that I hadn’t thought much about until doing the same perusing of Pinterest and my more fashionable friends’ home décor that I discussed above. I saw this blog post on Pinterest and followed the instructions exactly for this project. The light on the left above is the original builder grade light in my entry hall. I bought the “boob light” on the top right at the Habitat Restore for $5, since the project required a light with a center piece to link the crystals to, and spray painted it from gold to silver. I used the same strand of crystal garland I bought from the previous project, and still may have enough left over to do one more light. My lesson learned on this project arises from how tedious it was to put small holes all the way around the light and the center piece. Especially the center piece. I used a hammer and nail to put the holes in the light and my husband used a drill to do the ones around the center piece. If I were to do this project over, I think I would skip changing to the “boob light” and just string crystals from one side to the other of the original light (top left). I plan to try this with my remaining crystals, so I will post an update once it’s completed.

Breakfast Table

Collage 2016-05-04 22_01_18

This project was probably the most involved, and the one that I’m still having the hardest time getting right. BUT, the table itself is a hand me down, so I also have nothing to lose in experimenting with this until I get it right. I’m hoping that by learning on some pieces I have nothing invested in and don’t care to potentially ruin, I can learn enough to move on to updating all of my bedroom furniture. This table started off as a black table with matching chairs. My daughter stuck stickers all over it, the surface was worn and chipping from too many wipe downs, and it was just generally an eye sore.

old table

So, I started with the idea of just painting it. I removed all the stickers, and spray painted the table and the chairs gray. No biggie, they turned out pretty well. Although I do have to say, it’s hard to spray paint and not get drips. So, if you take this route, be patient! Spray in light coats over and over, allowing each coat to dry before adding another, and giving yourself sufficient space from the furniture. Patience is not my strong suit, so my furniture has drips. I would be upset if this were a nicer piece. After the spray painting, again drawn in by the lure of Pinterest, I decided to mask some of the drama on the surface by stenciling an intricate design onto it. The design is lovely, but I have lots to say about stenciling that can help you bypass some of my mistakes.

I tried a couple of different paint methods with the stencil. Using regular latex wall paint left the design too thick and peeling.

stencil paint is too thick

Using spray paint left a much more even design, but please observe the following tips meticulously! The stencil HAS to lay totally flat to the surface, or you will end up with this!

stencil not laid flat

I used this stencil adhesive to get a much better result. Also make sure you have every surface around the stencil completely covered before you spray. Spray paint travels horribly. Next, the bigger the stencil, the less you’ll have to repeat the design. This can REALLY speed the pace of a project like this in which you’re having to wait for every design to dry before moving on. Hobby Lobby has some really nice large stencils. Finally, have more than one stencil, especially if you have an intricate design. This allowed me to do different parts of the table while waiting for another area to dry. My stencils also ripped after a few uses, so I had to replace them anyway. Having extras allowed me to keep going without another trip to the store. All in all, this project has a great look, but you should really practice on a throw away surface with the stencils and spray paint if you want to try it out. It is a slow moving project, so give yourself lots of time. Once you get the surface done, you’ll need to coat it with some kind of clear coat (spray paint lacquer does not cover a flat surface like this well, so think brush on here) to give it the protection it will need for every day use.

Playhouse

DIY Playhouse update

Last, but not least, we decided to update a playhouse that we were able to score from our neighbors when they sold their house. The playhouse itself is sturdy, but all the stain and paint were worn and really in need of refreshing. My daughter, like many 3 year old girls, loves all things princess. So, I decided that if I was going to be redoing this thing, I may as well do it in a style that she would love rather than the standard log look with green accents. I consulted with the paint professional at Lowe’s, who advised me that any outdoor paint would work well for this project. I decided on the Valspar Storm Coat and chose a light gray, though it looks more white in the outdoor light. Keep that mind if you use color, and go for something darker than you want so it won’t appear too light in the natural sunlight.

I contemplated sanding or power washing the entire thing, but the cost and effort seemed a little prohibitive. Plus, I sanded a few truly rough spots, and did not see a substantial difference between the sanded spots and the non-sanded spots when I started painting over it.  So I just decided to paint over the whole thing without giving it a full once over. I realize this might not yield the best result in the long haul, but I’m not necessarily going for a professional look here. The paint is much thicker and covers better than a stain would, so sanding to perfection won’t show as much with paint anyway. Once I got started, this was pretty much like any standard painting project. I used a brush for corners and edges, and a short 4″ roller for the planks with no problems. Easy as pie.

I used pink and purple Valspar spray paint for the previously green accents: climbing rocks, handles, and steering wheel. (I’m still considering whether to paint the slide purple or leave it green.) My only real take away is that flat spray paint did much better than glossy for the pink and purple accents. (I used pink glossy and purple flat because that’s all I could find). The flat paint dried quicker and more evenly. So if you can take the time to find the colors you want in flat, you’ll get a better look. If you decide to go with non-traditional colors for you playhouse, also know that Amazon carries a whole host of accessories in every color! These would push the cost of this project over the $50 mark, but would really set off your playhouse if you wanted to take it up a notch or had a gift card to spend.

I hope these projects have your wheels turning about how you can upgrade some of your own outdated pieces on budget. Pinterest is full of great ideas for projects like these. I have tons pinned to my Pinterest boards so feel free to check out ideas I’ve come across and look for others that you like (follow me while you’re there and invite me to follow you!). Get creative and find pieces you can practice on! I’d love to see projects you’ve done or hear what you’ve decided to try…