What Time Of Year Should I Travel?

“Winter, spring, summer or fall,
all you have to do is call,
and I’ll be there”

– Carole King, “You’ve Got A Friend In Me”

Carole aptly describes how I feel about most travel. That being said, there are some definite pros and cons to traveling in each season and they can influence the quality and value of your trip. I’ll try to lay out some of what I consider below and some examples of trips we’ve taken in each season.


Rajasthan 2014
February in India: I think my baby fever started when a lovely Indian woman asked to take a picture of me holding her baby. Look at those cheeks!

Confession: I have never skied, and my limited foray into snowboarding (twice, junior high) was pretty disastrous, so I’m waiting for the day when I can “chaperone” a ski lesson or two for Julia and pick it up since all my friends are either not interested or already doing Black Diamonds and they don’t want to kill time on the bunny slopes. My job slows down a bit in February and I’m usually dying for a little break from the Seattle gray. So, while everyone else in the Pacific Northwest heads to the ski slopes or Hawaii, we’ve been to India, Egypt/Jordan and Spain/Portugal. What we’ve loved about those destinations:

  • Sunshine! I’m not even a sun addict, but while the weather can be unreliable in any place, these destinations all offered us sunshine at least 50% of the time we were there, which is significantly more than we would get back home.
  • Friendly locals – February is not peak season in Europe, so we felt like we got quieter streets and saw many more locals out and about when we went to Spain and Portugal at that time of year. People seemed more relaxed and were extra nice to Julia as a result. Also, India, Egypt and Jordan are still relatively less traveled destinations. Given the recent political turmoil in all of those places, it seemed like people were really looking out for us and had a sincere interest in making sure that we enjoyed their country. We always felt safe, and while there were touts in India and Egypt who only talked to us with a financial incentive, many people just wanted to practice their English or smile at a stranger.
  • Low season- because of the season and/or the lower cost of living than in the U.S. (Lisbon has got to be the most economical European city I’ve ever visited), we were able to spend more time traveling because we saved money on flights and accommodations. We also leveraged this on our babymoon to New Orleans by going the week after Mardi Gras.


Lambs in Ireland
April in Ireland: we saw lambs from the roadside EVERYWHERE

Commonly considered a shoulder season, I think it’s a great time to be in Europe (there’s a reason there’s a song about April In Paris). Peter proposed to me in Paris in May and we went to Ireland in late March/early April for our first anniversary. You can also still find snow, as we found out when we went to Banff shortly after Julia turned one. Here are my favorite things about spring travel:

  • Everything feels fresh and new – whether it’s lambs bounding across fields in Ireland, flowers blossoming in Paris, or the tulips coming up just north of us in Skagit Valley, spring brings a feeling of optimism that is really helpful when traveling (especially if you run into hiccups). I always feel like I’m more likely to look for the good in people and places when I’m around something green and lush.
  • Good for travel with young kids – older kids are still in school (with maybe a week of Spring Break), so you don’t have to compete with everyone for travel resources. It’s also not too cold, so if your little ones want to see snow, but aren’t up to super cold temperatures, it’s a great time to introduce them slowly. Banff still had snow when we went, but there were beautiful sunny days and we were able to keep baby Julia safe and warm while still enjoying the outdoors.
  • Spring food! – ok, this one isn’t specific to travel, but eating seasonally is a bigger deal outside the U.S. If you’re venturing abroad during the spring, you’re likely to be able to get some really tasty local specialties (asparagus, peas, artichokes, or maybe some cherries) at restaurants or local markets.


Family at the Colosseum
Two weeks in the summer heat of Europe and Dad is already voting us down. Luckily he didn’t know yet that a thumbs down probably meant “spared”

It’s high season in most places, but you may need to travel in summer because of school holidays. My family came to meet me in Europe in August when I studied abroad. It was crowded and hot (especially in Rome), but here are some tips for how we still enjoyed our trip:

  • Accommodations – putting four people in a hotel when you only have a single income is tough! I would never have guessed that the typical dormitory-style hostel would be suitable for families, but we saved money by staying in family or private rooms in hostels. I’m not sure I would recommend this for people with young children who might be bothered by frequent comings and goings, but my forever-young dad loved that he could chat with all the cool guys in the common areas. We typically shared a bathroom, but had a 4-bed room all to ourselves. Hostel hosts are also typically extremely friendly and able to provide budget-friendly restaurant and activity recommendations.
  • Schedule – take advantage of the jet lag. We got up early and stayed up late, often taking a siesta or a leisurely lunch in the middle of the day so that we could avoid the heat and the crowds. While I was living in France, being out later also meant that I could take advantage of night hours at local museums when they weren’t as crowded (e.g., the Louvre stays open until 10 p.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays).
  • Delegate – Constant togetherness can be challenging, especially if you don’t have a vested interest in the day’s activities. We each chose a location or two to stay and the chooser was responsible for picking activities for their city. This was my mom’s brilliant way of making us feel we had a stake in the game. It kept us all much more cheerful and engaged knowing that either we had planned the day, or that our chosen activity was coming soon.


Another shoulder season! Now that we live in Seattle where the weather is beautiful in September/October and we actually have changing leaf colors (such a refreshing change for this California girl!), I love to stick around and enjoy the season change. However, September is the end of my company’s fiscal year, so I often find myself in the pleasant position of having one or two extra vacation days to “spend.” Several years ago, I visited a friend who was working in Thailand when I got a surprise week off in my public accounting days, and we have also done long weekend trips to San Francisco. Here are the perks of traveling in the fall:

  • It feels deliciously like playing hooky – older kids are starting to go back to school and the weather is starting to get cooler. Taking a mini weekend vacation feels like ditching 6th period because the beach was calling and you couldn’t say no. And who doesn’t want to feel like a rebel sometimes? If I had good grades (which could be based on the prior year), my parents would sometimes let me have a ditch day to have a family adventure. I plan to do the same with Julia when it’s her turn.
  • It’s rainy season in Asia, but you can still get good deals – Flights to Thailand when I went were pretty inexpensive because it was September (rainy season). We had torrential rains several of the days I was there and the humidity was enough to make even my friend’s trademark smooth hair frizz up, but we still had a great trip. We had little to no competition for the top sites, we were able to snag a relatively cheap flight to Bali for a few days for even better weather, and we took advantage of the cheap massages to spend two hours out of the rain.
  • Weather – if you’re like me and can’t handle high heat, this is a good time of year to head somewhere that might have been soul-meltingly hot a few months prior. My husband’s family is from the South and we took a long Labor Day weekend trip to see them, driving from St. Petersburg to South Georgia and enjoying the less humid scenery along the way. You can extend the late summer a little longer, too, if you travel somewhere like San Francisco or San Diego in September/October (there are still 70+ degree days as late as December in Southern California).

Hopefully the above pros (there are so few season-related cons for me, except for heat. *shudder*) above convince you that you can go almost anywhere, almost anytime as long as you set expectations ahead of time.

What’s your favorite time of year to travel? Did a trip ever become extra special to you because of the season you traveled?


Travel Planning Websites

My go-to tool for travel planning is and will probably always be Excel. However, there are a few sites that I use frequently for planning travel:

1. Google Flights

This is a new addition to my arsenal. I had previously used flight alerts on Expedia (and their family of brands), but found their e-mails to be less than helpful because they e-mail you the lowest price for a route, but not necessarily the itinerary you’re interested in. That might be fine if you’re mainly just price sensitive and are willing to take a less convenient flight in exchange for the cheapest price. However, traveling with a toddler and a full-time work schedule means that I also need a flight that won’t conflict too much with bedtime and won’t mean I take a day off just to spend half of it flying. With Google Flights, I’m able to track the specific itinerary that works best for me and view the tracked prices on a graph. When you’re ready to purchase, Google will provide you with links to the airlines (or multiple links when it’s a flight offered by partner airlines like Delta/Air France/KLM) so that you can book directly.

For our upcoming trip in April, I tracked a multi-city itinerary from Seattle to Rome, and then from Paris back to Seattle (I was already planning on using a small carrier to get from Rome to Paris) as well as our intra-Europe flight from Rome to Paris. I’ve kept tracking the flights after booking so that I can keep the info in mind for our next travels. The inter-continental flights were trending in the $4,000 range for the 3 of us on Air France’s website, but I bought them for $2,770 and they’ve still been trending down (the risk you take by booking 3 months in advance). The intra-continental options have been trending up, so I’m at least happy to have saved money there! One other tip, if multiple links are offered, check all of them. The Air France itinerary was still higher than Google’s quote, but the KLM website worked appropriately. I think it better understands the child fare, and does better at looking at the varying levels of fare classes.

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2. MyMaps

This is another Google product. I haven’t found the mobile app very helpful (it seems to have trouble with multiple layers, for example, and I don’t find it easy to edit a map in-app), but the desktop version is great for a couple of purposes:

a) I use it when I’m initially planning a trip to help me decide where to stay. I make a list in Excel of the attractions that I think we might want to see. Then, I plot them on MyMaps to see where they’re concentrated. We love to walk as much as possible when we’re vacationing in a city, so we prefer to stay near our priority “to dos” and good transit. As an example, I loved the place we stayed in Lisbon (The Lisbonaire Apartments) because we could easily walk or take transit to most key destinations. It also offered a simple bus from the airport within blocks of the door. Once I nail down an area to stay, I use the layers feature to add in our accommodations, restaurants, and key transit stations. You can customize the icons and colors to make it easier to see layers on the map.

b) Booking.com used to allow you to see your “favorites” on a map when you had saved them, but seems to have removed that feature. I now use a temporary MyMaps layer to plot key contenders so that I can see where they line up with the things we want to do. I’m often willing to pay a little bit more for an apartment or hotel if it’s going to save me money on a cab from the airport, or time crossing the city.

Example from our Spain/Portugal trip last year:


3. TripCase

This is a mobile app that I love for keeping travel confirmations together on my phone. I still usually print out an Excel spreadsheet with the information to have on hand as a back-up, but this has been the easiest way to see things quickly on my phone. Once you’ve registered, you just forward the e-mail confirmation for your flight/hotel/car rental to trips@tripcase.com, which is then scanned for key information and available in a user-friendly format. It does have trouble with some of the less common confirmation e-mails. For example, when I got a confirmation e-mail from VRBO recently, TripCase stored it in a new “Inbox” feature, but couldn’t pull out the key details. I was able to add them in manually (much easier to do with the desktop version), but just something to keep in mind if you’re going to be booking a lot of boutique lodging. I also really like this app for storing travel information that our families forward. I frequently find myself frantically trying to figure out what time my in-laws are supposed to arrive because I can’t find the confirmation e-mail that they kindly forwarded 6 months ago. If I’ve remembered to forward it to the app, I just pull it up and typically can see if it’s delayed or on time.

Desktop view of an excerpt from our trip to Spain and Portugal last year:


In addition to the above, I still primarily use Booking.com to book accommodations for our trips because I like their user interface better than most other websites (better filters, easier to search with children added, lots of reviews). I typically cross reference it with TripAdvisor and the hotel’s own website (if applicable; I have to Google to find it because Booking.com doesn’t show the website) to make sure I’m getting the best deal.

What are the travel planning websites and tools that you find the most helpful?

Travel Gear for Toddlers and Under

When we were first expecting Julia, I went mad with researching all of the baby gear we would need (Lucie’s List was one of the best sources out there and I recommend it to everyone I know who’s expecting). Since I didn’t want to stop traveling just because we would have an additional carry on, part of that research included what we should own for future vacations. We’ve always packed light, so while other blogs I read recommended a host of travel items, I wanted to make sure that the things I was buying could fold up small and were absolutely necessary for traveling with a baby. One other key criterion was that whatever we bought had to work for both my husband and me. He’s very tall (6’5″) and I’m of average height (5’6″) and curvier than him, so we prioritized items that would work for a wide range of body types and that were gender neutral.

Here’s what we ended up with:

  1. Diaper Bag – Jujube “BFF”

a166d0ndiyl-_sx522_I bought mine in the Herringbone “Queen of The Nile” print from Amazon, but it’s also sold at Nordstrom and I’ve now regularly seen it sold for less on Zulily. I was so excited about this bag that I actually bought it when I was only 2 months pregnant so that we could use it on a trip to a friend’s wedding in Peru, where it made an excellent day bag. It was, however, my first foray into the “baby tax” (aka take a normal thing, associate the word “baby” with it, and add about $100 to the price), but I feel like we’ve gotten our money’s worth. What I love about it:

  • It converts to a backpack or messenger style bag, so it’s easily interchangeable
  • It comes in prints that are a little more adult, so my husband/brother/dad don’t mind carrying it, and it also doesn’t scream “I CARRY POOP CONTAINERS” in the same way that other bags do.
  • Unlike most backpack-style diaper bags, it is wider than it is deep, so you don’t have to blindly navigate through an abyss when you desperately need that hand sanitizer.
  • There are enough pockets that I didn’t need to buy separate organizers for the inside, and the lining, while not waterproof, is easily wiped down if your toddler squeezes an entire pouch of pureed apples and spinach in it (not saying that happened to me, but if it did….).
Machu Picchu with Diaper Bag
Hiking through Machu Picchu at 2 months pregnant with a diaper bag. Bottle pockets also make great scarf holders for when the wind picks up.

2. Umbrella Stroller – Summer Infant 3D Lite


We bought this from BuyBuyBaby with one of the 20% off coupons that you magically start to get in the mail when you’re expecting (note: you can also use Bed Bath and Beyond coupons there, and some of the more generous store employees will let you use multiples) and bought the blue color since it was less expensive than the more popular black (which does go on sale on Amazon for around $70). Here’s why it has worked for us:

  • It’s tall enough for my husband. He’s about 6’5″ and didn’t like some other popular strollers because they were uncomfortable to push
  • It’s lightweight (about 12 lbs). I’ve carried this thing up and down multiple flights of stairs by myself and I’m not going to win any bodybuilding competitions soon
  • Unlike many lightweight strollers, it reclines (as in, you can change a diaper if you need to)
  • Storage – significantly more space available under the seat than other light strollers as well as a cupholder (great for holding your sangria in Madrid’s Mercado de San Miguel or your coffee for a walk around the black) and a small velcro pocket on the back that’s useful for storing a map or some spare napkins.
  • The price was right – the next closest option for us was the UppaBaby G-Lite, which was almost twice as much and didn’t recline or have much storage (although it was also tall enough for my husband). I’ve seen the way baggage handlers throw strollers on the ground to meet that 20 minute baggage guarantee, so I’d rather have them wreak havoc on a less expensive possession.

One downside is that the wheels aren’t the best on this guy. They are perfectly functional and have withstood cobblestone streets in Europe, but they’re not going to be a good choice for soft surfaces (like sand and dirt) and the front wheels have a lot of trouble on the smooth concrete floors that some places have. One other thing that would have come along with a more expensive stroller is a bigger umbrella top. This one will provide some sun/rain coverage, but we’ve used a light muslin blanket for more coverage when needed.

Loving her carriage ride through Lisbon

3. Infant stroller – Chicco KeyFit Caddy


Plain and simple, this guy weighs next to nothing and was compatible with our infant car seat (the KeyFit 30). It can practically carry an elephant in the storage bin, has convenient cupholders and a small closing compartment near the handles and can be opened/shut with one hand. We used this for most of our stroller needs until Julia was about 9 months old and we had to switch her out of the infant car seat. We bought ours at BuyBuyBaby with another 20% coupon, but it’s widely available.

4. Baby Carrier – Beco Gemini/Lillébaby CarryOn Airflow

2 weeks old at the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival


We tried on SO many baby carriers before landing on the Beco Gemini. I rejected a lot of them if they were difficult to put on by myself (the Ergo was this way for me, although many people love it) or if they had to be adjusted in a very involved way to fit both my husband and me (also, I never did get the hang of a sling even though I desperately wanted to own a beautiful linen one. It was like merlot wine – everyone kept telling me I should love it, but I just couldn’t). The Beco was a great option for us because:

  • The cross straps made it easy to put on and tighten for both my husband and me (note – it is very comfortable as a back carrier, but the cross straps do make it harder to put on by yourself in this position)
  • It doesn’t require an infant insert for newborns. Because who needs another piece of equipment when babies already come with so much crap (pun intended)?
  • The waistband and shoulder straps are very sturdy and padded, so they’re comfortable for long wear

The Gemini has been with us since day 1. Julia is about 25 lbs now and quite tall (she was 33.5″ at her 18 month appointment), so I’ve recently started the transition over to a Lillébaby Toddler Carrier (the Carryon Airflow) and love it so far. It provides more back support for front carrying and is easy to put on by myself for front/back carrying. It also has a pocket and a hood, which were sorely lacking on the Gemini, and a wider seat for a bigger kid. We haven’t traveled with it yet, but will update this post when we do.

Things we bought and didn’t use, or didn’t bother to buy:

  • Travel crib – we have a Graco Pack and Play that we used for the first 4 weeks at home, and that we use when we have baby guests, but we opt to stay at hotels or apartments that can provide a crib or pack and play. If Julia has trouble sleeping, it’s usually jet lag related, rather than a specific bed.
  • Travel tub – we registered for a tub that got used once before I figured out that just getting in the bath with Julia was easier. No travel tub here!
  • Travel highchair – we purchased a fabric one for our first trip to Europe last year that never got used. It’s not bulky by itself, but we just didn’t really want to carry it around and there were plenty of high chairs in Lisbon (and the seating in Madrid wasn’t conducive to a high chair where we went). Nowadays, Julia mostly wants her own seat, or to sit on my lap, so while we might bring it again for our trip this spring, I don’t picture her using it.
  • Car seat cart – we bought the Brica Smart Move Car Seat Transporter from Amazon at the recommendation of a blog that I love (The Traveling Child). It arrived and even though it only weighs 8 lbs, it felt SO heavy that we returned it. Also, we would probably never bring it instead of a stroller, and most of our long distance travel has been to larger cities where we didn’t need a car seat (and we choose not to use one on planes). I could see this possibly being useful if you had several kids, were traveling for a longer period of time, or were planning to bring your car seat on board a plane.


We started with the basics I listed above on a domestic trip from Seattle to Philadelphia when Julia was 2 months old. While the things we need may change as Julia grows or we expand our family someday, these items were a great start and enabled us to make traveling with a baby as simple as possible. What are your travel essentials with kids?

Seattle Museums With Kids – Woodland Park Zoo

Around this time of year in Seattle, I start to run out of parks where Julia will willingly go down the rain-drenched slide or coffee shops where she can improve her immune function by licking all the shared toys. That’s when we turn to the wealth of museums available in the Pacific Northwest. I plan to do a series of posts with each focusing on a local museum (we still have many yet to explore). Starting off the series is our old time favorite, the Woodland Park Zoo.

We became zoo members when Julia was less than a month old. Like many things you do with young kids, it wasn’t because I thought she would remember seeing a giraffe at that age, but because I wanted to visit a beautiful place regularly without feeling like I had to stay all day to make it worth the price of admission.

Julia Joins The Zoo
The littlest zoo member on the day we joined, just before her 1 month birthday

At first, it was a great place to practice breastfeeding in public on a quiet weekday while I was on maternity leave (an orangutan thought we were pretty fascinating with our tangle of covers), or to take non-strenuous walks while I recovered from childbirth. Since then, it has developed into our default destination when I have an afternoon with her. There are ample places to get her wiggles out (even outside of the popular Zoomazium) and viewing areas that feel less like a goldfish bowl and more like an invitation into the animals’ homes. Baby animals are born regularly and Julia loves to visit and watch them grow. Her current favorites are Aibek, the snow leopard cub (she can actually pronounce his name and it’s heart melting), and Yola, the gorilla infant that was born about 4 months before her. The zoo is also one of the few largely outdoor spaces that is still easy to visit on a rainy or cold day because there are evenly spaced retreats from the weather.  Oh, and did I mention you can bring your own food so you don’t have to rely on overly priced chicken tenders when the hangries inevitably kick in (it’s okay if you’re the hangry one)?

I also feel like the zoo has offered the best value of all of the memberships we have. Julia is still free because she’s less than two, so we have a named membership ($49/year) and a flex guest ($69/year) that allows Peter or an adult visitor to come with me or take Julia on their own. I can also bring two extra guests for 50% off. Every year there’s a Black Friday code to save $15 that we’ve now applied twice, and they also offer coupons for advanced purchase WildLights tickets.

Julia WildLights 2017
Julia checks out the butterfly garden display at WildLights 2017

The zoo offers a number of different “extra” activities, but so far we’ve only taken advantage of WildLights, which is their annual after hours holiday light display that makes an excellent stop for out of town guests. We did also get early admission to the new butterfly garden when it opened last year around Mother’s Day. We still plan to someday take advantage of ZooTunes and the Member Appreciation Night, but those may need to take up another post!

What are your favorite zoo animals? Are there Seattle museums you would like to see reviewed for kid-friendly status?