Day Trips with Young Kids – 5 Tips for Success

I love planning adventures with James and Julia and we get outside for something most days of the week, although we’re usually home for some downtime in the afternoons.

Day trips, on the other hand, can be daunting. There were a couple of things that pushed me into doing solo day trips with my kids. First, I decided to stay home with them after James was born, which meant my role as activity manager became full-time when Peter returned to work from parental leave. Second, Peter was unexpectedly hospitalized with a collapsed lung over the summer last year (he’s fine now – risk factor of being tall and male). When he got home, he needed a lot of rest and quiet and couldn’t lift more than 15 pounds for awhile, so getting the kids out of the house for long stretches was important for his recovery.

Planning for day trips is one of the things I get asked about most in messages on Instagram and something I’ve spent a lot of time practicing.

Here are 5 tips that usually help prevent total meltdowns (by me and the kids!):

1. Choose destinations with multiple activities

Nothing is worse than driving a long ways to an activity for it not to work out, or for my kids to spend 10 minutes on an activity I thought they would love (so unpredictable!).

When I’m planning for us to be out for a long day, I try to pick a destination that has multiple things we can do (and often even a ferry ride or other interesting transportation method). On a trip to Guemes Island, for example, we hiked to the top of Guemes Mountain, picked up takeout from the general store and then went out to the beach to play. I had also thought about driving around the northern side of the island for more outdoor exploration, but didn’t end up needing that many back-ups.

A trip to Fort Ward Park on Bainbridge Island similarly had hikes, old military bunkers to explore, a paved trail for biking and waterfront picnic tables for the takeout lunch we’d bought nearby.

2. Strategize for “ins and outs”

Particularly during the COVID pandemic, thinking about what/where everyone will eat and use the restroom is really important in the day trip equation.

I like supporting local restaurants and businesses in the areas we visit, so I usually do a very quick Google search for coffee or restaurant suggestions nearby. We usually eat breakfast and dinner at home, but plan for snacks and lunch on our day trip where I purchase one meal and pack the other.

Car snacks are also important. When it’s just me and the kids, I usually have a small bag on the passenger seat with snacks that aren’t too messy or likely to cause choking (goldfish, dried fruit, o-shaped cereal). I hand them to the peanut gallery as needed to help keep the peace.

Where restrooms are concerned, it gets a little tricky right now since many public restrooms in restaurants and coffee shops are closed. I bring Julia’s toddler potty and pack it into a giant trash bag in the back of our Outback along with hand sanitizer and toilet paper. While I’ve awkwardly crouched in the back in a pinch, I’ll usually park the car next to a restroom in a park and lock the kids inside (legal in Washington since it’s not running and I’m not going to a bar, but check local guidelines in other states) while I briefly run in with my mask on.

3. Plan for naps (or adjust other sleep)

Playing nap roulette is one of the major hurdles of a day trip for me. When Julia still napped, she was great at sleeping in the car or napping in a stroller. James has Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) and isn’t a great car or stroller sleeper, especially not when big sister might be doing something cool nearby.

What usually works for us is to put him in our LilleBaby toddler carrier (we have the Complete Airflow; it has a wider seat than the infant version of the same style) on my back while Julia and I take a hike. I have to move relatively consistently to get James to go to sleep and stay asleep, so hikes work better than urban walks and I have to plan for that.

To be honest, this is still the hardest piece. I only plan day trips once or twice a month because I have to mentally prepare to sacrifice the quiet time for me that comes with naps at home and the potential for a cranky toddler if he doesn’t nap. His naps out are usually shorter (1 hour vs. 2), so I don’t plan for an evening activity on those days either.

4. Bring back-up toys/games/books

Just like adults, kids sometimes need a quiet activity to help them reset or just to pass the time on the car ride to and from an adventure.

We typically have some combination of the following in the car for a day trip:

  • Spotify playlists (Frozen II, They Might Be Giants the “No” album, and the Weezer “Teal” album are their favorites)
  • Magnetic drawing tablet for James and a notebook with colored pencils for Julia’s drawing
  • Sand toys – they’re great for the beach, but also for filling with water from puddles or pine needles on a trail
  • Blanket/towel – we have the Rose Hip Warrior blanket from Eighth Generation that is both warm and durable, so it makes a good picnic blanket or something cuddly if it’s chilly out. I also typically have a grungy towel for wiping off dirty feet.

5. Weigh the pros and cons of company

Sometimes an extra set of hands can be really helpful when you’re out with the kids. During the pandemic while we’re not supposed to gather with folks outside our household, particularly indoors, some families like to meet grandparents as a way of including them.

Call me crazy, but I actually prefer to do day trips solo (I even like leaving my husband at home sometimes)! For me, full day adventures require flexibility and the ability to change plans quickly if something doesn’t work out as planned (the kids got tired or bored, we missed a ferry or the coffee shop is closed). That makes it more stressful if I have to rally additional troops around a new plan, or consider many people’s preferences and abilities in deciding what to do.

I also like that day trips give me time that is 100% focused on my kids — I’m not thinking about chores at home or what craziness is going on in the news that day. Leaving other adults at home also means that I can have some really wacky and interesting conversations with Julia (and sometimes James). Their behavior and attitude also seem to improve with my increased focus on them, so it’s a win-win for everyone.

Bonus Tip: Save ideas for later to make planning easier

I love Instagram and Pinterest for inspiration. Whenever someone posts something that looks like a cool day trip, I save the post for later or add it to an embarrassingly messy spreadsheet of ideas. When it’s been awhile since we’ve had a day trip together, I go back to my saved posts and try to pick something that fits our current interests/abilities/weather forecast.

What are your tips for day trips with kids? Are there any questions I can answer to make full-day outings seem more possible?


Guide To Getting A Baby’s Passport

I remembered the process of getting Julia’s passport several years ago as super simple, so when I sketched out a tentative plan for our parental leave that included a test flight to the South, followed by a European extravaganza, I didn’t really account for hiccups in the process. Given our recent experience acquiring James’ passport, I wanted to jot down some of my mistakes to help others. I’ll list steps we took, along with commentary on where things went a little awry.

*Spoiler – we did, in fact, get his passport before we left on our trip, but it was a close call

Step 1 – Get a birth certificate.

This is the first highly variable part of the process. For the Seattle area (and I assume it works similarly elsewhere) you fill out a request for a birth certificate at the hospital before you’re discharged. Then, the hospital has to send that paperwork to the county Office of Vital Statistics (King County’s website is here) in order for them to have a record of the birth. I called after James was born and the office told me that it typically takes 2-6 weeks (big range!) for this process to happen. I believe you have to pay a fee if they search and don’t find the record. When Julia was born, I didn’t realize you had to complete an extra step to get a birth certificate and assumed that simply filling out the form at the hospital was sufficient. Nope! You then have to either visit the office in person or order a copy online or via fax/phone. If you can, I would recommend going in person because you don’t have to pay astronomical “convenience” fees and you get the certificate almost immediately. They basically just do a quick search using a form you fill out when you go in. I went in when James was 3 weeks old and they had his record, so we paid $60 for 3 copies of his birth certificate (always good to have extras and avoid follow-up visits) and went home within 20 minutes of walking into the office.

Step 2 – Take a passport photo

The State Department has some nice guidelines here, but you’ll need at least 1 copy of a passport photo (they tell you to bring 2, but we’ve only ever needed one…) of your little traveler. Generally speaking, you need to:

  • Have no one else in the photo (I used a bouncy seat/car seat with a white sheet draped over it to hold both kids up).
  • Have baby facing forward, preferable with eyes open. Infants aren’t required to have eyes open, but getting them to reliably face forward is easier when they’re awake and happy.
  • Have no objects in the photo – this means no pacifiers or toys, so it can be tough if you have a fussy little one.
  • Have a neutral facial expression – this can be smiling, but no tongues sticking out, and presumably no screaming. Good luck!
  • Have a clear picture (i.e., can’t be blurry or over/under exposed). I was able to do this with James by putting the bouncy seat in front of some natural light during the day and using burst mode on my phone so that he didn’t have too many shadows and he wasn’t moving too much.
  • Have the appropriate dimensions and use photo paper (2×2″, along with some placement requirements). Peter did this for me using GIMP (a free version of Photoshop). There’s also a template on the State department website and a photo tool (you have to use a Microsoft browser) that can be helpful here.

Here are examples of both kids that were accepted:

Step 3 – Fill out the passport application

For kids under 16 years old, you’ll need to fill out the DS-11 (link to guidelines here). It’s a simple enough form, but…

Here’s where we went wrong: at the time we were applying, we hadn’t received James’ social security number yet. The directions on the form specifically say to input 000-00-0000 if that’s the case, but don’t say anything else (they also say a parent’s place of birth is an optional field when you fill it out online, but the clerk made us put those in). So, I did what was asked and we submitted our application with no issues. However, if you were to go and search through the FAQs (which aren’t on that page about kids under 16, by the way; I had to Google them to find this), you would see a question about children without social security numbers (link here). It turns out that if that situation applies to you, you also need to submit a signed and dated statement, which includes the phrase, “I declare under penalty of perjury under the laws of the United States of America that the following is true and correct:  (Child’s full name) has never been issued a Social Security number by the Social Security Administration.” We didn’t do this because we didn’t know we needed to, and it ended up being the wrinkle in our plans.

Another tip: make sure to include your e-mail address so that you can get updates from the State department about your application.

Step 4 – Visit a passport office in person

Both parents need to go to the passport office together, or submit a notarized copy of form DS-3053 (more info here) saying that the non-attending parent consents. You also have to bring the child for whom you’re applying for a passport. The clerk will need to see them, and apparently there are cameras to potentially check that they did this (according to the clerk we saw), so keep that in mind if you have your baby in a carrier and their face is snuggled up against you. You have to bring several documents with you that are listed at the above link, but basically it’s your child’s birth certificate (an original and a copy; this proves they’re U.S. citizens and that you’re their parents), your IDs (and copies; proving that you are the people listed on their birth certificate), your completed application, photo of your child, and fees. You will need to pay with check or money order for the application fee, or with check/money order/cash in exact change for the execution fee (fees are paid separately, so you’ll need 2 checks). Our clerk was super helpful about making sure we had everything (except that social security number statement…) before she accepted the application.

A note on the fees: you can pay for regular service, or expedited service. For regular service, the office will tell you that it takes about 4-6 weeks from the time your application is accepted. Expedited service is roughly 2-3 weeks, and you can also pay for expedited return shipping. Julia’s application process several years ago was so smooth and took at most 3 weeks from when we applied with regular service, so given that we were applying on April 4th and our trip wasn’t until June 2nd, I didn’t bother paying for expediting. More on how this bit us in the butt below.

Step 5 – Track that status like a hawk and follow-up often if needed

You can track the status of your application online now (link here), which I don’t think was available several years ago when we applied for Julia’s passport (we also received it so quickly that I probably didn’t bother to look). You can also call the National Passport Information Center (NPIC) for status updates (their number is at the link above).

Here’s where our saga gets frustrating. We went on our family road trip and towards the end of the trip, we got an e-mailed letter from the State department (they also mailed the letter to our house) saying that our application was incomplete because we had not provided James’ social security number. It provided a spot to input the number, or said we needed to submit a statement indicating that one hadn’t been issued, and required that we mail the number back. We couldn’t respond from the road because we have a policy of not storing sensitive things like social security numbers in the cloud, so James’ social security card was locked up in the safe from when we had received it a week or two before we left, but well after we initially applied. We also didn’t have easy access to mailing supplies, but I would have made that happen if we’d had the number. I tried calling, but they won’t allow you to provide any information over the phone. So, the day we got back from our trip, I immediately mailed the form back, but I also called the NPIC (National Passport Information Center) after a week when the online status still hadn’t changed. It turns out that in an epic display of inefficiency, we submitted our application in Seattle, but it then gets mailed to an office in Virginia to be checked, and then mailed back to the Seattle Passport Agency for review and completion. So, we submitted the application in early April, but we didn’t get the letter from the State department until May 2. We responded as soon as we got back from our trip on May 8th, but the letter with our response didn’t get to Seattle until May 16th. The first person I spoke to wasn’t helpful and when I asked for expected time to completion, just gave me the standard “4-6 weeks from when your application was complete” response (which in their mind meant May 16th, not any time prior when they had the rest of the info, or when we submitted the application). I called the next day, however, and I got a much more helpful person. She offered to collect a $60 fee to expedite the passport, but also suggested that we just go to the Passport Agency downtown since our trip was in 2 weeks and ask them for the status. She even made an appointment for us! We all made a trip downtown the next day with a printout of our airline reservation and ended up spending more time going through Federal building security than actually in the office. The helpful person at the desk verified that we were traveling soon, that they had our passport application, and gave us a will call receipt to come and pick it up as soon as the next day (but only an hour before closing, so we waited a couple of days till we got back from a short trip).

Another way that we followed up, which ended up being irrelevant because of the quick Passport Agency visit, was to write to our Congresspeople. Apparently it’s a little-advertised service to constituents, but I basically just e-mailed a signed consent form to our rep and both senators requesting help checking on the status. In each case, someone got back to me within a week to let me know they had checked on the status and give me an update (brownie points to Maria Cantwell for a response in less than 24 hours). So, in the event of an emergency, I found that to be a potentially helpful resource.

Bonus Step – Apply for a Trusted Traveller Program

I think you could probably apply without a passport, but it’s easier with one since once you have a passport, I believe you’re required to provide that information. Your primary choices are TSA Pre check ($85 for 5 years), Global Entry ($100 for 5 years) and NEXUS (includes Global Entry, TSA Pre Check and comes with entry into Canada; $50 for 5 years) and a couple of others that are less applicable (see details here). We live very close to the Canadian border, so NEXUS has been great for us because it’s only $50 for adults and it’s free for children under 18 years old (whereas Global Entry is still $100). When we applied for Julia’s, they were using a different system and I could submit her application under my own account. This time around, their new system requires unique e-mail addresses for each account and unique accounts for each applicant, so I had to sign James up for his own e-mail address at the ripe old age of 3 months. NEXUS conditional approval takes longer than Global Entry (which we had before NEXUS because I didn’t realize how much better NEXUS is) because two countries have to make sure you’re not a criminal. If you’re driving over the border, everyone in the car needs their own NEXUS card, so it’s only useful in that regard if your infant has one. However, it’s still worth it for adults because kids under 12 can join the TSA Pre-Check line with their parents and it’s less expensive than other options. As another note, make sure to bring birth certificates to your appointment. They’re only listed as an example of how you might prove citizenship, but the Canadian interviewer when we visited a few years ago tried to tell us it was a requirement and acted like it was a huge favor to approve us without that documentation (we had our passports that prove citizenship, and we had Julia’s birth certificate to prove our relationship to her, but we didn’t have our own birth certificates).

Key Takeaways

Based on our experience:

  • If possible, wait until you have both a birth certificate and a social security number for your child because it’s less complicated. If you don’t have a SSN, make sure you submit a specific, signed statement to that effect (see example above)
  • If you’re traveling anytime soon, fork up the hefty fee to expedite the application because they’re going to mail that thing all over the country before looking at it. Then you can at least get earlier notice if there’s a problem.

Other people’s common pitfalls that I’ve read about include not bringing one of the parents (or the documents that would facilitate that situation) or the child applying for the passport, having a photo that doesn’t meet the requirements, or not bringing appropriate payment methods (you can’t pay by credit card even though it’s 2019, people!).


Toddler Travel Toys

We’re getting ready for our upcoming trip to Europe and I can’t wait! Honestly, one of my favorite things to pack is Julia’s toy bag. She’s at a really fun age where she’s filled with curiosity and loves new things, so I love finding things to surprise her, while making sure to pack some old favorites.

Here’s what’s in her bag for this trip (she just turned 2, but many of these toys were interesting to her in December, and we’ve had the books since last February when she wasn’t quite 1):

Indestructibles Books that live up to the name

We have several of these Indestructibles Books and have loved them since Julia was 6-9 months old. Some have text and others don’t, so we stuck with text-free options like Mama and Baby when she was little, but now we bring along ones with more wording. Since she’s almost aging out of these, I also loaded up the Kindle with some books for her (she’s only just starting to get the hang of electronic page turning), but it’s nice to have screen free books that aren’t too large.


On our last trip in December, pipe cleaners were a huge hit, but she wasn’t quite ready to string them through the little animal cards yet. I’m bringing a few along on this trip, too, just in case. I bought these, as well as the little scratch pad with multi-colored paper, at the local Dollar Tree.

Colored pencils are also really nice to have. I brought along standard-size Dollar Tree ones on the last trip, but these mini ones were too cute to pass up at Clover (local toy shop in Ballard).

My sister-in-law gave us these adorable magnetic blocks last summer (similar here) and they’re nice to have because they are slightly less likely to fall off the tray table (although watch out, they can still be thrown).

Julia also really loves the Melissa and Doug Water Wow painting sets. You’re technically supposed to empty the water out every time, but who has time for that? Not me! For extra fun entertainment, she loves to put the paintbrush back in its little pocket and take it out again (toddlers, am I right?). The water dries pretty quickly, so she can paint the same scene over and over again.


Pictured above are most of her new toys for the trip that I’m most excited about. She loves an animal sticker book that I bought her from Target last year (no longer available, but similar here), so when I saw this Sticker Dolly Dressing Book at our local Top Ten Toys (available on Amazon here), I immediately snatched it up.

On a day trip to Poulsbo earlier this year, we saw little finger puppets and bought a couple to try. Julia loves them, so I hid more in her Easter eggs this year (another brand since the originals made by Schylling weren’t available; I like them, but they’re not as high quality so I won’t be devastated if one or two get lost).

Given her love of stickers and the fact that she’ll have her own (window) seat on this flight now that she’s two, I picked up some gel cling stickers in a fun fish assortment.

I also couldn’t resist her first real Lego set. She loves Duplos, but it’s a pain to bring along more than a few given their size. The Lego City Coast Guard set seemed to have several people to play with, an animal (she loves sharks), and a little vehicle, so we’ll have some options. It was on sale at Target ($7.99), but has since increased in price. Amazon also carries it.

I pack all of these in a wet-dry bag so that they’re easy to carry, and the bag can double as an extra bag in case we have any epic sicknesses.

I also plan on bringing her new BuddyPhones (she’s still getting used to using headphones, but they’re very soft and flexible, so I love them), as recommended by The Traveling Child, one of my favorite sources for travel tips. She’s obsessed with the mini Minions backpack that I bought in Target’s dollar section last year, so that will get packed with snacks that she can carry herself, or possibly some of the toys to make sure she doesn’t play with everything all at once.

Key genres of toys that have fit well with her age:

  • Stickers, especially if there’s some kind of associated game; she’s not as interested in just peeling them off the sheet and slapping them on paper at this point.
  • Blocks, particularly if they’re interlocking or otherwise stick together so that they’re more stable for little hands that aren’t coordinated yet (or on planes that might have turbulence).
  • Small pretend objects, in the past this has included some little trains she can push around, and it will include finger puppets on this trip. Basically anything that we can create a story with.
  • Art supplies – I can’t emphasize the pipe cleaners enough as a source of pure toddler joy, but she also loves coloring. Hopefully some recent beading/”sewing” with grandma will encourage her to work on her fine motor skills with the sewing cards.

What do you bring for your little ones as plane/train/automobile entertainment?

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) 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, 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 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 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?