The Traveling Mom- Part Two: Adele Hixon-Day

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Today we’re bringing you our second of four “traveling moms,” each with their own perspective on balancing family and work. Adele Hixon-Day is a fundraising professional, mom of four, and resident of Memphis, Tennessee. She’s a fellow mother of twins (though hers are her two middle children), and she works hard to be a successful businesswoman and mother. Though a new position has allowed her to travel less often, she has some great tips for working parents.

Tell us a little about you and your family.

My husband and I have four kids; 9,5,5,18 months. I am a Director of Development (fundraiser) and my husband works in banking. Working in fundraising there are a lot of nights and weekends when I have to be away from home. I am fortunate to work for a family oriented non profit where I can bring my kids to some events to help out or they can hang around the office when school is out. My 9 year old is officially a Jr. employee with all the help she provides (child labor???) :^)

I understand your job includes some travel. How often do you travel, and how long is your average trip? What is the longest you’ve been away from your kids?

The longest I have been away was 7 days and it was terrible. When traveling for work I had to learn what my threshold was for being away from my kids. Most of the time they cared that I was gone, but I also need their hugs and kisses to make it through the week. When I was traveling for work I would be gone for 3-5 days a month every other month. There is a bright side to traveling for work that I miss. Quiet nights in a hotel room by yourself is quite restorative.

What are some things you do before you travel to keep your household running smoothly? Any tips for other parents who need to travel?

Being a tightly wound “type A” individual I would set their clothes out for the week for my husband, make the meals and freeze them, (always something easy for him to throw in the oven) and ask my mother-in-law to check in on my husband and the kids. Most of this was to make me feel better about leaving them. My husband enjoyed the ability to have cereal or Eggos for dinner while I was gone.

What about once you are out of town? Is there anything that you try to do from afar to help your kids and spouse?

Facetime is KEY. I would call to wake them up, or they would call me, and I would call to put them in bed. With four kids in three different after school activities, I would reach out to some of the other moms to check in in case my husband needed help with drop of or pick up. Sometimes we would choose to skip activities that week if it was too much.

Do you ever find it difficult to get into work mode and out of mom mode? Any tips for utilizing your time well and learning to compartmentalize? 

I am always in mom mode. Sometimes when I am super stressed at work I send old pics of the kids when they were babies to my husband to reminisce and make me happy. My cell phone (apple watch) is always on and the school or daycare’s number are set to ring no matter what. It can get incredibly stressful; working, mom”ing” and being a wife. A lot of my kids classmates don’t work so I feel additional pressure to attend their events at school so they won’t be the only one without a parent there. I missed a Valentine’s Day party once and I still hear about it today. I also try to manage my kids expectations. When I know I can’t be there at a program I lean on the teachers or other moms to send me pics so I can still see it and let the kids know that even though I wasn’t there I know what happend. I try to let them know ahead of time that I won’t be a parties or programs if I know I can’t make it. I also love bringing them to (family friendly) work events so they can see me in action and see that work is important and fun for me as well.

Quiet time is very important to me. As a mom and a supervisor I am constantly solving problems, putting out fires, and keeping an eye on what is coming up. I like watching TV to decompress (Scandal!!). I also try to carve out time at work to get personal stuff done. It’s hard to pay bills or review homework at home because everything is a coloring book with my toddler and any paper is fair game for my son to turn into an airplane. I also find I am in a more organized mindset sitting behind my desk than I am at the kitchen table.

I also depend on my friends and other moms A LOT. I believe it takes a village to raise a child and it takes a tribe to support a mother. I am never afraid to ask for help or check in to see if I’m being crazy. Above all I try to remember what is most important and that time is fleeting. I want to enjoy every laugh, tear, and sibling squabble.

Have you ever had a total traveling parent fail? Anything that didn’t work or that went really poorly? 

Being gone for 7 days was a fail for me. I was a complete mess couldn’t concentrate on my work, and I was really grouchy because I just wanted to be home with my family.

Do you have any advice for parents in general, but especially moms, who find themselves balancing a demanding job and parenting? Any words of wisdom?

My advice is you can do it! Stay organized and be flexible. Being a working mom is so hard, but for me it is so worth it. I love what I do, I love my work team and I absolutely love being a mom and a wife. I couldn’t do any of it without my husband and I try to praise him every chance I get. Also never be afraid of asking for help. Reach out to people on FB or other moms and dads at the kids school. Teachers are a good resource too because they have seen it all!

The Traveling Mom- Part One: Ellie Holcomb

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Raising Explorers is all about intentional parenting, and that often includes being intentional about the time you spend away from your children. Many of today’s careers include necessary travel, which can present interesting challenges for parents. We’ve had the opportunity to speak to several moms who travel for work, and we love the advice they have about balancing your time and preparing your family for success. (Dads, we love you as well, but we feel that the traveling, working mom demographic is underrepresented). 

To kick this series off, we’re talking to Ellie Holcomb, a singer/songwriter, wife, mom, and friend. Ellie’s job is unique, but the challenges she faces and the perspective she brings to balancing her time are oh-so-relatable. 

Tell us a little about you and your family.

Hey! I’m Ellie. I’m married to my best guy friend whom I swore I’d never date. Real glad we got married! Going on 12yrs this June. We have two sweet kids, Emmylou (5),  & Huck (2). My husband (Drew Holcomb) and I are both singer/songwriters who travel both separately and together making music and playing shows all over the country.

You have a very unique job that obviously requires some extensive travel. How often do you travel, and how long is your average trip? What is the longest you’ve been away from your kids?

Our jobs are somewhat seasonal and ever-shifting. Depending on the year and whether or not we’ve released a record that year, our travel changes. Drew travels with his band The Neighbors about 80-100 days a year , & I travel about 50-75 days. Drew’s trips are often 4-5 says, but some tours last up to 20 days at a time! I’m usually gone anywhere from 1-4 days at a time.

Drew and I never go longer than 2wks apart, but we’ve had a few stretches where he has been gone for 20+ days from the kids. My longest stents away from the kids are 7-10 days. I start missing them pretty badly at 4 days away, so 10 is always a real stretch for me !

What are some things you do before you travel to keep your household running smoothly? Any tips for other parents who need to travel?

We have an incredible community of people (an amazing nanny, sweet friends & family) who love us and our kids while we are both at home and away. We’re very aware that it takes a village, & I’m always deeply grateful for that village especially when Drew and I have to travel. We do lots of things to help our kids process where we are and how long we’ll be gone .

We have a big family calendar with both my schedule , Drew’s schedule , & our family schedule written and color-coded. Below the calendar we have a dry and erase map of the country. It’s been really fun and educational to have the kids draw where dad or mom is and where they are going. It also gives them a visual of how many days until we come back home. We’ll go through the travel schedule before we leave and the kids keep up with it as we’re gone .

If I am really on top of it, I’ll make a meal calendar for whoever is keeping the kids & have all the shopping done for them. This does NOT always happen though 😉

What about once you are out of town? Is there anything that you try to do from afar to help your kids and spouse?

My daughter often gives us some token of her love for us to travel with (an animal, a picture, or a toy). As she gives it to us, she always tells us to take it so “we don’t forget her”! Hilarious, but it’s oddly comforting for her to get pictures of us with these objects wherever we go.

We’ll often bring back a small token or souvenir from longer trips we take (shells or rocks or some souvenir) from the place or places we traveled to work , & that has been a fun thing for them to look forward to as well. It’s not usually anything fancy, but it helps them know we’re always thinking of them when we’re gone. If I ever see a train, I take a picture or video and send it home as well because my son is obsessed with them.

We also keep our kids enrolled in a Mother’s Day out program a few days a week and a few activities that they love as well to keep them plugged & social while we’re away, which always seems to help when they don’t have to pause their lives while we’re gone .

We love FaceTime as well, which is a huge gift.

Do you ever find it difficult to get into work mode and out of mom mode? Any tips for utilizing your time well and learning to compartmentalize?

It’s easier for me to get into work mode when I travel. My mindset is that if I’m on the road, I’m working, so I get a lot of writing and email work done while I travel , which is wonderful.

It’s harder for me to put on my work hat while at home . I have a vey non-traditional job, so scheduling work hours for Interviews, writing, blogging, & emails is a game changer for me. Otherwise, it all blends together and I end up not doing the mom thing or the work thing very well.

I am a late night person as well, so often I’ll get most creative or schedule co-writes at my house after I put the kids down for bed.

Have you ever had a total traveling parent fail? Anything that didn’t work or that went really poorly?

Too many to count!! 😂 Our kids are very well traveled and are generally flexible souls , for which I’m grateful, but man I have made some  mistakes! The mistake I make the most often is packing too much, which turns especially airline travel into a much more stressful situation than it needs to be! I’ve learned that it is always important to pack LOTS of snacks when you travel. I’ve booked several trips that didn’t give us time to actually eat a meal all day, & those travel days were NOT my favorite.

I’ve also learned to never overload the stroller because when the kids get out , it completely falls over. Actually, I still overload the stroller… but I make sure the kids are buckled in and don’t get out until I unload the stroller  first 😂 .

I can also tell you which airports have great places to pump if you are a nursing mother away from your baby…random things you learn on the road !!

While work takes you away from your kids sometimes, I know it’s also given you and your family some amazing opportunities. What are some things your kids have gotten to experience with you because of your career?

We are so thankful for the opportunities we’ve had to travel with our kids. They have both had the chance to visit about 20-30 states, & when we have them out with us, we go visit all sorts of museums and parks, and we always try to learn something about the city we’re visiting.

My favorite tour we’ve brought them on was one this past fall when Drew was opening up for Willie Nelson. They had the opportunity to meet Willie , to watch several of his shows, & to see the beautiful way a crew and team can work together on tour. Willie’s team has been with him for over 50 years, & they are truly like a family on the road. They get to interact with and meet so many people from so many places, which is always a gift.

We also got to take the kids on a cruise we were playing a few weeks ago. It was like a music festival on a boat! That was a beautiful thing to get to expose them to so much music , & to see Mexico and Belize while we were at it!

Since your husband also travels for long periods for work, you also have experience as the parent on the home front. Has being at home alone with the kids changed the way you approach traveling for work? Are there things that a partner can do before leaving for a trip to help?

Yes! Our schedule is absolutely crazy. We both have stents of single parenting while the other is working on the road, & so there is a pretty beautiful understanding of both the exhaustion that comes from holding down the home-front alone and from touring and playing shows. Gratitude is a game changer. We try to be intentional about acknowledging what the other spouse is doing, whether it’s keeping the pace of a crazy work schedule or taking care of the kids at home.

Drew is an incredibly intentional human as well, which is huge. So during seasons that are really busy , he is always scheduling rest and fun for our family on the days we do get together. A lot of times , because our work schedule is non-traditional, our “weekend” is on Monday/Tuesday. I’d say that intentionality with the kids and with each other before you leave and when you get home is a big deal.

We also try to set each other  up for success before one of us leaves. For example, Drew will always try to do an extra load of dishes and take out the trash before he goes, and those small acts of kindness go a long way. He’ll also try to have the house somewhat picked up before I return from a trip , which is a huge gift to a momma, so you don’t feel like you’re cleaning up a disaster zone when you get back from a work trip!

Also, if there are ever longer stents when one of us is keeping the kids alone, we try to schedule some childcare so the parent at home gets a few breaks and also has time to keep up with the work we have to get done at home.

Do you have any advice for parents in general, but especially moms, who find themselves balancing a demanding job and parenting? Any words of wisdom?

1. You are not alone.
2. It takes a village. One of the things I love about working is that there are many other loving adults in my kids lives, whom they learn from and benefit from knowing. I remind myself of that often when I get sad that I’m not with them at home.
3. You are more than just a mom, whether or not you’re working, you have passions and gifts and ideas that make up who you are and I think it’s a really beautiful thing to let your kids see you for who you are as a complex human being.
4. My faith has been a huge part of my role as a mom, mainly because if I can remember that before I am a working mom with lots of responsibilities, I am first and foremost a beloved daughter of God, it changes my perspective on everything. I love better when I remember that I am already deeply loved.
5. One of my favorite things that Drew tells our daughter when she gets sad we are leaving for work is that we go to work to use the gifts God has given us because one day we want her to go use the gifts God has given her to make the world a more beautiful place. It is a sweet thing to see her get excited about the adventures she’ll take one day, & it shifts her perspective on us having to leave as well. We want to be role models for her and her brother, putting family first , but also going out into the world to offer what we can to make it a better place.

Mexican Get-away

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This summer we took our first international family trip to Riviera Maya, Mexico, just south of Cancun. We stayed at the Azul Sensatori Beach Resort, which was a fabulous family-friendly option. I must admit that I was a little nervous before we left, but it was probably my favorite family vacation we’ve ever taken. I could say so much about this trip, but in the interest of readability I’m going to offer some bullet points for anyone considering this resort (or Mexico in general).

What we loved about our hotel:

  • This whole trip began because my son wanted to meet the Ninja Turtles. This hotel has a contract with Nickelodeon and has character entertainment with the Ninja Turtles, Dora and Boots, and Spongebob and Patrick. I cannot say enough about how much my kids loved this! The two highlights of the trip were probably having breakfast with the Ninja Turtles and getting slimed! Some activities included meet and greets, learning a dance from Dora, and hide-and-seek with the Ninja Turtles. The only day with no activities was Monday. If you were planning a trip, I would ask for the Nickelodeon calendar so you can be aware of what activities are being held on which days.
  • In addition to the regular pools, this hotel had a kid’s play area. There was a 3 feet deep pool with water slide, a one-foot deep pool, and a splash pad area with sprinklers. This was separated from the bigger pools and even had kid-sized lounge chairs. We loved this area!
  • We had never done an all-inclusive option with children, and it honestly made a huge a difference in the enjoyability factor for my husband and me. For five whole days I didn’t fix a single snack or meal, or clean a single plate! When we go to the beach in Florida, we typically get a condo and are still making many meals. Here, we were totally taken care of!
  • The food was very good and very kid-friendly. There were several restaurants we didn’t try because they opened too late for our early-eating crew, but the buffet restaurant was always a hit.
  • The pools were designed so well! There was no “kiddie pool” per se in the main area, but there were several rounds areas that were different depths, with some seeming as shallow as about 1.5 feet. Even my two-year-old could find a pool that worked for him.
  • There was a small playground on the beach, which my kids went to everyday.
  • Each afternoon (until around 2 or 3) there was a soft-serve ice cream machine on the beach–such a fun afternoon treat!
  • All the bartenders were very helpful with making the kids fun drinks. And the margaritas were truly amazing!
  • Our room was perfect for our family. Many hotels have trouble accommodating larger families, and this hotel had a family option with two connecting rooms. One room had a king bed and one had two queens, and both had a nice balcony. The balcony was great because we could sit outside and hear the ocean or entertainment even after our kids had gone to sleep.
  • The hotel and pools were pristine, and spotting iguanas was super fun!

A few drawbacks:

  • We felt like the hotel could/should have had more snack options. There was a only a two-hour window each day when no restaurant was open, but most food was more meal-like than snack-like. With kids who are accustomed to snacking often we had to get a little creative, but it wasn’t a huge deal.
  • Communications before we arrived were a little confusing. For instance, I couldn’t get a straight answer on which characters would be at our breakfast.
  • We had pre-booked a few things, but then our bill showed them again. At this or any resort, be careful to check your bill for any double charges.
  • This resort is not the best place to actually swim in the ocean. Some people did, but there was lots of coral and other underwater structures, so our kids did not get in. We didn’t miss it at all, but it’s definitely something you want to know before you go.

Our thoughts on visiting Mexico:

  • We absolutely loved visiting Mexico. The people were nice and hospitality, the area was beautiful, and we felt completely safe the entire time.
  • We went off resort one day to go to a local market in Puerto Morelos. This was such a wonderful experience! We checked out several market shops, went to a local grocery store, and strolled the beach and dock. While it was still a touristy area, it had a bit more authenticity than a resort, and I know our kids will remember that fun adventure.
  • The flights were easy! We were able to get a direct flight on the way down, and only had one stop on the way home. It was a great test run for bigger trips.
  • One thing that was a bit overwhelming was finding our car when we exited the airport. Even though we had directions to the car we had hired, it was still quite confusing. Make sure you have VERY detailed directions to the correct area, as there are so many tourists and car services that locating the correct one is difficult.

Advice from A Disney Planner

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Planning a trip to Disney World or Disneyland is fun and exciting, but it can also feel overwhelming and a bit stressful. These trips are not cheap, and you want to make sure you use your time wisely while visiting a Disney property. I get a lot of questions from friends about Disney (since I’m literally obsessed and we go way too often), and I love offering my advice, but I thought hearing from a professional Disney planner would be helpful to many of you. 

Audra Owens is an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner. She has planned several trips for my family, and she is an absolute joy to work with. Below she shares some insight regarding how best to plan a Disney vacation. She can be contacted at audra@atimetotreasuretravel.com, and she is on Facebook at Audra Travel-Planner Owens and instagram at audraotravels.

Q: I know you plan all kinds of vacations, but tell us about your role as a Disney Planner. How long have you been doing this and how did you get started?

I became a Disney vacation planner just a little over four years ago. The owner of my travel agency, A Time to Treasure Travel, was actually my family’s Disney planner for several years. I asked Tammy (our owner) how she began, and knowing my Disney experience first-hand, she offered me a job! It has been such a wonderful gift to learn from her and grow my love for family travel into this business.

Q: How many times have you been to Disney World? Have you been to other Disney properties?

I have been on 10 memorable trips to Walt Disney World. I don’t count in that number the day trips, where my family has stopped to spend a day in one of the parks before moving on to another Florida destination. I have also been to Disneyland, on two Disney cruise ships, and to Aulani on Oahu. An Adventures by Disney tour is on my bucket list.

Q: As you know, I planned several trips for our family myself, but now I LOVE having your help. Tell us some of the advantages of using a Disney planner.

I offer concierge travel planning services free of charge. I help find the perfect resort package to fit your family’s needs and budget. If discounts become available after you book your vacation, I work to apply the savings to your current reservation. I rise early to secure dining reservations and FastPass+, arrange transportation to and from the airport if you need it, help customize Magic Bands, and I am a valuable resource for asking questions as you prepare for your trip. Many of my clients are first-time Disney travelers. I also have quite a lot of clients who have planned their own Disney vacation in the past, who love handing over the stress of planning to me, so all they have to worry about is enjoying themselves

Q: When you’re helping someone plan their Disney vacation, what is the ideal time for them to contact you to start the process? What are the big dates that people should be aware of?

I love when new clients contact me early – at least 7 to 8 months in advance – so that I am able to reserve the best dining experiences for them 180 days prior to travel. Everyone’s job and circumstances don’t allow for that. I have planned fantastic trips with much less advance notice. The next big planning milestone is FastPass+. If you are a Disney resort guest, these can be reserved 60 days prior to travel. If you are staying elsewhere in Orlando, FastPass+ can be planned 30 days before each of your park days.

Q: If you could give people three tips about their Disney vacation, what would you say?

  1. Have a plan, but be flexible. Lines can be longer (or shorter) than expected. Timing doesn’t always work out exactly as you may hope, but if you can be flexible and adjust on the go, you will still have a wonderful time.
  2. Have realistic expectations. Don’t assume you can do everything in just a couple of days. With four theme parks, that’s a nearly impossible feat. Every time I visit Walt Disney World, I experience something new. In all my visits, I have still not seen it all!
  3. Enjoy yourself! Walt Disney created Disneyland (and Walt Disney World) as a place where imagination comes to life, and where families can spend time together. It’s easy to get wrapped up in where you “need” to be next as you tour the parks. Slow down. Let your kids linger and play. Skip down Main Street, U.S.A. Ride *it’s a small world* 16 times if that’s what your little one wants. Treasure your time together.

Q: One question I get a lot is what the advantages are to staying on property. Can you tell us a bit about that?

Staying on property is the best! If it fits your budget, I highly recommend it. All Walt Disney World resort packages include Disney’s Magical Express service to and from the airport and luggage delivery service (if you are flying), transportation to and from the parks, complimentary WiFi, online check-in, free parking at all four parks (if you bring a car), Extra Magic Hours, and Magic Bands for each member of your party. When you stay on property, we are able to make dining reservations for your entire stay 180 days prior to your arrival. (Off-site guests can make a reservation 180 days in advance, but they have make the reservations for each day separately, as 180 days before each day of the trip pops up on the calendar.) On-site guests are also able to reserve FastPass+ for their entire stay 60 days prior to arrival. (Off-site guests can reserve these 30 days before each day of the trip.)

Beyond all that, I adore being surrounded by Disney magic during my entire vacation. The magical experience from the resort to the parks to the restaurants…it is seamless.

Q: We took our middle child on his first Disney trip at 6 months, and our youngest first went at 9 months. In your opinion, are kids ever too young for Disney?

I do not think anyone is too young (or too old!) for Disney. There are many attractions and shows that children of all ages (and sizes) can enjoy. Your 9-month-old baby may not remember their first visit, but those will be memories that you cherish forever. There is nothing sweeter than a little one meeting or discovering their favorite character for the first time. A client recently shared a video of her baby boy cooing and grinning at Tigger as they dined at The Crystal Palace. I don’t think they had any idea he would enjoy Tigger so much. I know they will never forget it.

Plus, kids are free at Disney until they turn three! Why not take them young and take advantage of the fact that you won’t have to buy an extra ticket?

Q: What’s your favorite thing about a Disney vacation (I know it’s hard to pick just one)? Any favorite family memories you want to share?

I love the nostalgia and magic I feel when I visit Disney World or Disneyland. I feel like a kid again. My worries melt away. I love that I can spend time with my family and be silly, something I don’t always remember to do when “real life” gets busy. I have many family memories that I could share, but my greatest wish is for you to make your own!

“Go With Daddy,” part two.

Today we’re bringing you part two of our interview with Millie Minton, who is the mom behind http://www.gowithdaddy.com. This family is a true inspiration for anyone hoping to raise explorers–not only do they always look for exciting daily adventures, they have also already taken three trips abroad with their young children. In part one, Millie shared where they have been, and in part two below, she is sharing some lessons and best practices that she has learned. We hope you enjoy their story, and you can follow along with all their adventures on their Instagram account (gowithdaddy)!

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Q: Thinking back to the first trip…how were the flights? What did you do to prepare?

When flying, we have always tried to plan around the kids’ schedule.  We want to give them every opportunity to be their best.  Overseas flights are no different! So, we take night flights as it helps the time go by faster when they sleep for a good portion of the flight.

To Australia, it was a 16-hour flight. God was looking down on us when our 15 month old slept 13 of those hours and our 3 year old slept almost 10. We did, however, have a plan for when they were awake. We had a small backpack of toys to occupy them…bought mostly from Family Dollar Store so we didn’t care if they lost items. My daughter knew the expectations for the flight to sleep, play with toys and eventually watch a movie. We tell everyone what the agenda for the flight will be to set expectations. Backing up a bit, we always put them in pajamas (and a sleep sack on my son when he was really small) for the night flights to help get their mind ready to sleep.

I also got some great advice from a friend who lived in Australia with little children. She said, “Momma sets the tone.” Meaning, whatever mood I’m in will dictate how calm, jittery or stressed the children. I tried very hard to stay relaxed and it definitely showed in their behavior.

Q: And then for the second trip, did you do anything differently for the plane? What did you figure out that worked well? 

Honestly, we didn’t really do anything different as what we did on the first flight worked well for us.

Q: One thing that scares parents of preschool-aged children is time change. We all know how important a schedule is for our little ones, and going through multi-hour time change can be tough! How did you approach adjusting your schedules? How long did it take your kids to get back into a groove, both on your trip and after arriving home?

Yes, a time zone change of any kind definitely disrupts your schedule.  First, we tried to get the kids on right schedule starting with the plane ride.  We timed when they would sleep on the plane based on what the new time zone would be. It’s like ripping a band-aid! During an overnight flight, everyone went straight to sleep which normally meant sleep for about six hours to wherever in Europe. When we all waked, they served breakfast and the kids watched a movie.  When we landed in the afternoon, it was much easier than when we landed in the morning in a location. It’s easier to make it through only part of the day dazed from jet lag than a whole day. Each day following, especially the first four or five, I worked hard to get us all on the right time zone. I would make sure we got up, no matter how tired we all were, to start our day and then be back in the room for afternoon naps. For the first few days we all would take 3-4 hour naps (when they only take 1.5-2 hour naps normally at home) to catch up on our sleep. After that I make sure we take proper naps in our beds anytime Cory is working. When he’s not working, we make sure that, at the least, every third day’s nap is in a bed not car seat or stroller. It took about the same amount of time to get on the right time zone as it did to get back on our home time zone.

Q: I know on your first trip both children were quite young. What type of stroller did you travel with? Did you find Australia and Europe to be stroller friendly?

On our first trip to Australia, we used a Bugbaboo Camelon stroller with a glide board attached.  The glide board was where our three year old stood while the 15 month old sat in the stroller.  It worked great as my daughter couldn’t walk that long.  The only problem with this stroller is that it is two pieces plus having the glider board so it was quite bulky!  Its biggest pro is that it fit into a vehicle easier since it broke down into three pieces.

On both our European trips, we have used our single Baby Jogger Summit and were happy with the decision. Our children are getting bigger but they both still need a seat sometimes. So the youngest sits in the seat while the older one sits on the foot rest. It’s not the easiest to push but it’s doable. Using the jogging stroller with big, rubber tires was a huge plus since Europe has so many cobblestone streets. It does fit through all doorways; however, it’s not the easiest to navigate with such a tight squeeze.

Another side note is that strollers that you travel with will take a beating! Ours looks like it’s been to Europe twice and through many other airports.

Q: Was there any product or piece of equipment that you found to be a lifesaver?

Yes, the Kidco PeaPod Plus was a lifesaver for our son! We didn’t transition him to a big boy bed until this spring. We did not want to fight him staying in a bed while we were traveling. It’s a zip up little tent that folds up to the size of a big suitcase (or a carry-on suitcase if you get the regular size tent). It gave him such consistency each night that he never had a problem with moving to different hotels.

Another item to note is one I already mentioned…car seat or booster. Again, Europe has no cap for car seat rental prices. We chose to buy booster seats, which we got for 50 Euro each; then we brought them home and will use them here when they’re big enough. European booster seat weight limits are 30lb instead of 40lbs in America.

Finally, Melatonin for both you and your children. It’s a safe way to aid everyone in getting proper sleep to help you get on the right time zone faster.

Q: How did you balance historical or cultural sight-seeing with more child-centered activities? Any tips for avoiding a screaming child in a cathedral?

I try and save all the major, historical places for when my husband can go along with us especially in cities where we haven’t been before. We normally hit the top three to four tourist things when Cory is off during the weekends. We have also found that you cannot do back to back days of museums. Our children, as good as they are to go with the flow, are still just children. You don’t want to have to tell them “don’t touch” and “get down from there” a hundred times. It’s not fun for anyone! On the days when Cory is working, I tend to lean toward more kid-friendly activities. Parks are still fun as their equipment in both Australia and Europe were different than what we have in America. Zoos also have different animals. We saw a lot of koalas and fed a lot of kangaroos in Australia! For cathedral visits, we made sure and visited first thing in the morning when our kids were at their best and weren’t already tired from other activities. If you must go during nap time, take a stroller or baby carrier to let them sleep without having to hold them.

Q: Do you have a favorite memory or a story that really stands out?

We have a few favorite stories!

When we were in Australia, our son learned to walk! And he did so to the “mom” that hosted me twelve years ago when I lived there. It was so special!

On my third time to Paris, we decided to see the Eiffel Tower at night. Sitting on the lawn with my husband and children watching the sun set and then the Eiffel Tower sparkle took my breath away! It didn’t go along with getting the kids to bed early to help them get on the right time zone faster but it was worth staying up for!

My husband has two favorite memories and both of them are centered around just being together as a family. His first is the day we rented the SUV of bicycles in Amsterdam and rode around the city. We went to four different parks that day to let the kids play and we truly pretended to be locals. His other favorite memory is from the day we landed in London on our most recent trip. We took the Tube to Kensington Gardens and the kids ran through the grass with the sun beating down on our backs. It was so relaxing!

Q: I’m sure there are lots of cherished memories…but any epic fails? Was there anything that you thought the kids would love that ended up being a total flop?

I had to go back and look through my notes to see which things didn’t go over very well. The good part about epic fails are that you don’t tend to remember them! I’d say our epic fails were two cities in general but with different reasons. Berlin was an amazing city where we saw fun zoo animals and had dinners with such hospitable people. However, the culture of Berlin was too advanced for children our age so we didn’t get to enjoy seeing much of it. And Venice…it is not a stroller friendly city at all! Each little canal has a quaint little bridge walk way over it. We managed since Cory, my mom and aunt were with me. But if it had just been me, I’m not sure what I would’ve done when I needed to lift or bump the stroller over the stairs. Both cities will be amazing to visit again one day without a stroller and when our children are more mature.

Q: Your daughter is five now. How much of the latest experience do you think she retained? Does she bring up your adventures?

Bea still talks about things we did in Australia so I would say she has retained way more than I would’ve imagined. She also often sees things that remind her of places we’ve been or things we’ve seen and says, “I remember when we went to X or saw Y.” It’s pretty incredible! Leading into your next question, we do talk about our trips a lot too which I’m sure helps.

Q: Have you done anything to preserve the memories for your kids?

Cory started a tradition of buying a magnet in new cities that we visit. They go on our refrigerator when we get home so the kids see and play with them daily. It’s been a great way to jog their memory! They also love to look at pictures on our phones and tell something they remember about different pictures. Another thing we started is buying a flag patch from each new country and put it in a shadow box on our wall. As gifts, the kids received maps of America as well as the world that they can scratch off different states and/or countries they have visited. We have enjoyed having different outlets to give us an excuse to talk about where they’ve been and what they’ve seen.

Q: What advice would you give to parents considering a trip to Europe with their young kids?

Just go for it!  If you can take the time, there’s no reason to wait to travel.  I would, however, start by traveling closer to home to get your kids accustomed to it.  Then a trip to Europe won’t seem any different (travel wise) to them than a trip closer to home.

“Go With Daddy,” part one.

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Today we’re bringing you part one of our interview with Millie Minton, who is the mom behind www.gowithdaddy.com. This family is a true inspiration for anyone hoping to raise explorers–not only do they always look for exciting daily adventures, they have also already taken three trips abroad with their young children. In part one, Millie is sharing where they have been, and in part two on Wednesday, she’ll be sharing some lessons and best practices that she has learned. We hope you enjoy their story, and you can follow along with all their adventures on their Instagram account (gowithdaddy)!

Q: Tell us all about “Go With Daddy” and how it got started.

Go With Daddy is all about a family going along with Daddy on business trips to places hither and thither.  Daddy is Cory (also known as the “Big Data Beard”) and his work in Big Data has him speaking at conferences and meeting with customers all over the world.  He’s been a traveler his whole life and is a road warrior of the highest order, but the idea of doing all the traveling solo is out of the question.  Momma is Millie and she is a full time Momma who really enjoys her job.  Millie was a traveler as a young woman, choosing overseas exploration in her studies, and her love of adventure is the biggest reason why this family does what it does.  Kiddos are Bea and Teddy and they are the best little travelers.  Bea got fully immersed in travel life in her first few years of life, racking up more than 40 flights before the age of 2.  When Teddy came along, the Go With Daddy adventures really took off…by age 3 Teddy had spent roughly 10% of his life overseas!

The family calls Birmingham, Alabama home and loves it.  It’s a charming southern city nestled at the cross roads of their family’s journeys.  They chronicle their adventures on Instagram (@GoWithDaddy) and in their blog, www.GoWithDaddy.com.  We hope our adventures inspire other families to do the same…be together and be adventurous.

Q: You’ve taken your two young children to Australia once and Europe twice now! Tell us how that came about and what inspired you to travel so far with little ones.

My husband and I have always enjoyed traveling.  Soon after we moved to Birmingham, he took a position within his company that had him traveling overseas more often.  In 2015, his company enacted a Parental Leave Benefit (four weeks of paid vacation) and made it retroactive if you had a child in 2014. So, we mixed this four weeks of vacation with a couple weeks of Cory working to make a six-week trip to Australia when our children were 15 months and 3 years old.  Our children did such an amazing job traveling that we kept our ears open for more opportunities to “Go With Daddy.”  My husband was invited to speak at a number of conferences and our trip last fall came up quickly.  Having taken a six-week trip overseas the year earlier, we knew we could pull off a three-week trip since we didn’t have to reinvent the wheel on preparation, packing and planning.  We took a third overseas trip earlier this summer for six weeks to Europe; the older our children get (our son turned 3 on this last trip and our daughter was almost five) the easier each trip becomes.

We have always traveled a lot as we lived a flight away from all family when our daughter was born.  My husband traveled mostly domestic trips at that time and had racked up the points as a Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards A-Lister (https://www.southwest.com/rapidrewards/overview?clk=GSUBNAV-RR-DETAILS).  They have one of the best domestic travel rewards programs giving him a companion pass on each flight he took and (with all airlines) a child under two travels free as lap child.  So, my daughter took almost 50 flights before she turned two with SWA (hence the feature in their external and internal magazines).  It was always so fun to travel with her and now adding our son as you see completely different things from their point of view.  So, the two main reasons we take trips are first to broaden their scope of the world.  We want to teach them that the way we do things in Birmingham, AL is great but it’s not the only way.  The second being, it affords us more time as a family, when otherwise my husband would be traveling and us at home.

Q: What was your itinerary for each trip (cities, number of days)? Did you have any overlap between the two trips?

Our first European family trip was only three weeks; after we took younger children on a six-week trip to Australia, this amount of time felt short!  All of our trips mostly include cities where my husband worked…ie the reason we get to “Go With Daddy”!  However, we try to bookend our travels and take some long weekends in cities where we can all explore.

Here was our itinerary for our first European trip last fall:

3 days in *Paris – This was an all play city! We arrived at 2pm on a Friday afternoon and we soaked in the sites of Paris for 2.5 days before taking the Chunnel to London. When we have less time in a city and it’s our first taste of it with the children, we ride the City Sightseeing (https://city-sightseeing.com/en/home) as kids 3 and under are free and 4-13 year olds are half off. This helped us hit the major highlights (Eiffel Tower, The Louvre, Arc de Triomphe, Notre-Dame Cathedral, Seine River and Champs Elysees) in less time.

4 days in *London – Cory worked here so our days look a lot different when it’s just the three of us. I get my exercise pushing two children in a stroller! While Cory worked, we walked through parks (Kensington, St. James and playing in Princess Diana Memorial Playground), rode the Tube, rode the London Eye, saw a children’s play, hunted for Paddington Bear and walked across the Tower Bridge. Before we left, we were able to snag Cory to join us and tour the Tower of London.

3 days in *Amsterdam – This was also an all play city! We took a long weekend to explore Amsterdam. To hit the major highlights here, we took a canal tour, which we thought was quite appropriate, and walked around the city. The next day we joined the locals and rented a European bike where the kids rode in a box on the front then hit four different playgrounds. We also ate as many Amsterdam pancakes as possible.

4 days in *Frankfurt – Again, Cory worked here as most people would say this isn’t a typical destination city. I fell in love with its mix of charm, modernism and walkability! It probably didn’t hurt that we were in a great hotel in the center of it all! On our first German trip, we ate a lot of sausage and schnitzel, found more playgrounds, Trick or Treated, visited the zoo and Natural History Museum (written in all German), explored the downtown sites with old half-timber buildings, oldest suspension bridge and church chimes. In this city, I also did laundry which is inevitable if you’re going for a few weeks.

5 days in Bavaria – The rest of our trip concluded Cory’s work and it was vacation time!  We rented a car and drove down the Romantic Road.  Not before we bought booster seats!  In Europe, there is no cap on car seat/booster rentals so it was less expensive to buy new ones (since we didn’t want to haul them from America this time).  Our first stop was Wurzburg to see the Residentz; the gardens were definitely more exciting for the kids than the inside of the sprawling castle.  Rothenburg ob der Tauber for the most picturesque town I’ve ever seen!  Here we took a night watchman tour, walked around the town and on the wall (in the rain) and ate in a building dating back to 900.  We drove on through quaint towns (Dinkelsbuhl and Nordlingen) and onto Augsburg which is a bigger city with a university.  Augsburg was close to our destination the next day of the Linderhof Castle.  However, we woke up to a snow globe and their first snow of the season!  Teddy had never seen snow so this was even more fun for him!  We drove to tour Linderhof Castle where we had a private tour!  When you travel in the off season, there are pros and cons.  This was definitely a pro!  Cons are that some things have shorter hours or are closed.  We stayed in Fussen that night which is right beside Neuschwanstein Castle.  We weren’t able to view it that night due to the early closing but we visited it the next morning.  We went early that morning and took a horse and carriage up to the castle; Bea wore her princess costume and felt like the bell of the ball!

4 days in Switzerland – Then we got to see family! I lived in Australia in 2004 with a family and one of the daughters now lives in Switzerland. It took about five hours to drive to Lauterbrunnen where Jess lived. Over the next few days, we played in the snow, took cable car rides, visited a nearby town and soaked in time with Jess and her future in-laws. They treated us like family and cooked all suppers and our last breakfast for us! We have been so fortunate on all three of our trips to see familiar faces with such hospitality.

Here was our itinerary for our second European trip this summer:

6 days in *London – We arrived early Sunday morning so we took a couple hours to rest before we spent a very relaxing day roaming around Kensington Gardens. The kids got to play in the Princess Diana Memorial Playground again and show Cory all about it. It was really fun to have some overlap cities from our trip in the fall so it could reiterate our travels. This trip we rode on the big red double decker bus, visited the Victoria and Albert Museum, London Transport Museum, London Zoo, a playground and saw a couple repeat things including Paddington Bear and London Eye. We also rode the Chunnel again this time to Paris.

5 days in *Paris – Cory also worked in Paris but we did plan a weekend to enjoy the city together first. We had a bit of a hiccup when we arrived when the hotel wouldn’t allow all four of us to stay in the ‘family’ room we had booked. With Cory, we visited both Jardin des Tuileries and Jardin du Luxembourg with great playgrounds, ate at amazing cafés, saw the lights sparkle on the Eiffel Tower, trained to Disneyland Paris, hit Roland Garros (French Open tennis tournament) and Chateau de Versailles. The last two items we got to enjoy with our cousins (from Nashville, TN) who were also in Europe traveling!

4 days in Berlin – It was mostly work for Cory here. I say mostly because a colleague of his showed us so much hospitality at dinner two different nights with his entire family. We went to a children’s museum and Berlin Zoo without Cory. Then he joined us to see the main, kid-friendly highlights of Bradenburg Gate, Reichstag, East Side Gallery and Check Point Charlie.

5 days in *Amsterdam – On to another work city for Cory while we enjoyed this kid-friendly place. However, the first couple of days Cory had to fly Spain to work so we were on our own. Luckily, we were at the same hotel as we had been in the fall so it helped me navigate the area a little easier. We hit some familiar places in Vondel Park, visited NEMO Science Museum and Royal Palace of Amsterdam, had a down day in the hotel room and did more laundry.

2 days in Athens – Next was the vacation part of our trip! We had never been to Greece so we again rode the sight-seeing bus to explore the Acropolis, Parthenon, Temple of Olympian Zeus and Mt. Lycabettus.

7 days in Corfu – Next was more vacation on an island of Greece with friends! This part of the trip was spent enjoying friends while at the many amazing beaches, swimming at the pool or riding boats to see caves. We also viewed the island from overlooks, ate delicious lamb, sampled local wine and olives and attended a traditional Greek Orthodox baptism ceremony of our friends’ precious baby girl.

5 days in *Frankfurt – Back to Frankfurt we go for Cory to work again. We stayed in the same hotel from the fall so again I navigated the city to a nearby playground and the picturesque downtown area before my mom and aunt joined us for the rest of our travels. Teddy also had his birthday here so we celebrated by taking him to the Frankfurt Zoo. With the extra help, we also visited Frankfurt Botanical Gardens.

3 days in Venice – On our long weekend in Venice, Cory was able to play the whole time with us. We rode a boat taxi to St. Mark’s Square where we saw St. Mark’s Basilica, Doge’s Palace, Clock Tower, Bell Tower, Peggy Guggenheim Museum and Grand Canal and Rialto Bridge on a gondola ride. It was a wonderful time but not stroller friendly with all the stairs over each side canal.

1 day in Milan – We only had one day in Milan while Cory spoke at the university. Of course, we hopped on the sight-seeing bus to see the cathedral, La Scalia Opera House, Giardini Pubblici, Castello Sforzesco and Arc Della Pace. We had a hard time with American supper hours since they eat much later in Italy than we normally do.

2 days in Pisa/Lucca – Another work town for Cory but we enjoyed ourselves when we saw the Leaning Tower, the cathedral and Battistero. We drove to the neighboring town of Lucca for a relaxing breakfast, stroll, bookstore shopping and gelato.

2 days in Rome – To end our trip, we went to this huge tourist city where we couldn’t possibly see all the sights in our short time frame. But we sure tried when we toured the Vatican Museum seeing the amazing Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Colosseum and the Pantheon. We walked down the Spanish Steps, tossed a coin in Trevi Fountain and enjoyed the Campo de Fiori (market). With every Italian city, we enjoyed so much gelato!
*designates cities that overlapped on our two European trips

mermaid breakfast

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Ever wanted to touch a mermaid’s fin? This morning our littles got to do just that, as well as hug them, take pictures with them, watch them swim, and listen to them talk about keeping our oceans clean. Friends, this was a huge hit for our kids, and I think it would be with almost all very young boys and girls, as well as with older elementary school girls (many of whom I saw in attendance).

The breakfast was at the Aquarium Restaurant in Nashville, Tennessee, and I’ll be honest–it was not super cheap. It was, however, very well done, and we felt it was worth the price tag. When your family walked in, you met two mermaids and had a chance to hug them, grab pictures, ask questions, and even touch their fins (which felt thick and rubbery). Then we were shown to our table while one mermaid swam around in the large center tank around which the restaurant is positioned. Breakfast included a buffet of eggs, potatoes, pancakes, waffles, sausage, bacon, biscuits, pastries and fruit, and while the food was not exactly five-star worthy, it was quite tasty with plenty of variety.

For the main show, two mermaids were in the tank, and it included a portion where they “talked” about keeping the ocean clean and about what they enjoyed doing. Before the show, my sweet girl asked me if the mermaids were real. This is always a tough question, and I try to respond consistently with an “I don’t know, I guess we’ll have to see what we think.” Well, the talking convinced my whole crew that they were definitely real, and they found the show to be quite magical.

The mermaids were really great. We’ve been to shows where the characters were questionable, but these girls really sold it. They went to the surface about every 30-40 seconds to get oxygen, but while underwater they flipped, hugged, moved their mouths, smiled, waved, and never seemed phased by the crazy fish around them. If you were little, you really believed. If you weren’t little enough to believe, you were still impressed. I noticed girls as old as 10-12 shimmying around the tank for a better look!

If you want to check this out, go to the restaurant’s website. It looks like there is another breakfast in Nashville in October and one in Denver, Colorado in November. There are also Aquarium locations in Houston and Kemah, Texas.

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floats and buckets and all things beach

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Nothing says summer (or end of summer) like a trip to the beach, and as all parents of young children know, a beach trip with kids requires gear. Lots of gear. With four kids in the pool and several beach trips this summer, I knew our beach gear budget could easily get out of control, so I hustled a bit as soon as summer products were stocked to ensure that we would have fun gear at a low price.

For a trip to the beach, we find it easier if each child has their own bucket for the sand and float for the pool. And once you blow up that float or fill that bucket with sand, you know it’s never going to pack correctly again. Below is the strategy I used this year that worked really well for us.

  • In the spring, get a good idea of how many times we would go to the beach this summer. For us, we were looking at three or four trips.
  • For each trip, I plan to get one bucket and one new float per child. So, I was looking for 16 buckets and 16 floats for our family trips.
  • Watch your local Dollar Tree and hit it up as soon as they stock their pool supplies. Their floats are just $1 each….with four kids, that’s a huge savings! We’ve found some really fun designs there, including pizza, orange slices, watermelon, donuts, and ocean creatures. They also have great buckets and usually have more than one style. This year our favorites were the glitter buckets and the tie-dyed ones that looked like castles.
    • One note on the Dollar Tree floats is that they are not the best option for bigger kids. They typically stock 20 inch and 30 inch round floats, which are idea for kids up to around 8-years-old.
    • If you have older kids, I would check out the selection at Five Below. They have some adorable summer floats that would even work for adults, with nothing costing more than $5–still a great price! (They still have several options in stock on their website!)
  • Purchase the number of floats and buckets you need all in one trip. The one downside of discount stores is that they usually don’t restock, so you have to grab seasonal items while they are available. I bout all 32 of my buckets and floats in May, and while I may have looked like a crazy person walking out of the store, I only spent $32 on all the beach necessities for our summer trips!
  • While you’re in the store, check out the other goodies. You can usually find diving toys, water squirters, and all sorts of other fun items!
  • Store the buckets and floats somewhere that your kids won’t get into them. The whole point is to have clean, nicely folded items that are easy to pack!
  • When it’s time for your trip, simply pull out one set of goodies–your kids will be excited and you’ll be thankful that you aren’t scrambling around or purchasing things at overpriced beach stores!
  • Note- I even take our own buckets on plane trips. If you stack them together and pack clothes inside, they barely take up any room, and since they were only $1 I don’t sweat leaving them at the hotel at the end of our trip. While in Mexico, we noticed that buckets in the resort gift shop were around $8/each, so we saved $28 by packing our own!

While this information is most useful in the spring, many families still have one more vacation planned or are heading somewhere tropical for fall break or the holidays. Hit up the end of season sales, grab some summer goodies before they are all replaced with pumpkins, and rest easy knowing that you’ve already prepared for your adventure.

Exploring not-so-child-centered museums.

This morning we spent an hour exploring the Lane Motor Museum, a local museum in Nashville filled with unique antique cars, motorcycles, and a small kids area. This is NOT a traditional children’s museum, and it’s definitely not going to keep kids occupied for a whole day, but my littles were intrigued by the different types of cars (especially the one powered by a propeller and the one with snow skis attached). In a short time they learned a few things, played with a few toys that we don’t have at home, and gained the confidence to explore a bit on their own.

It’s easy to find children’s museums, but discovering places to explore beyond the child-centered that are entertaining yet age appropriate can be a challenge. When trying to move beyond the children’s museum routine, there are a few extra considerations. Below is our list of tips for visiting not-so-child-centered museums.

  • How to find them:
    • Google, of course, is your best friend. Try a google search for museums, taking out the “children’s” or “kids'” modifier. You can then quickly browse the results and look for names that pop out as things that might interest your children.
    • Follow parent-related Instagram and/or Facebook accounts that are specific to your city. One great place to find adventure ideas is in Instagram stories. If a local blogger shares a picture that intrigues you, don’t hesitate to send a message and find out where the picture was taken!
    • Scan your local parenting magazine’s events pages. If a venue is holding an event for children or families, chances are that would be a great place to visit with kids anytime! You may not be able to attend the noted event, or you may simply want to avoid crowds, but you can add the venue to your list of things to explore in your city.
    • Talk to other parents! The most fool-proof way to find local places to explore is by recommendation. Ask other parents at school, the park, or even online if they know of any must-dos in your city.
  • Know before you go:
    • While children’s museums are usually accustomed to goldfish crumbs in their floors, the policies at more adult-based museums are likely different. Check the museum’s website before you go and know whether snacks are allowed. Also, check their “touching” policy and warn your kids beforehand if exhibits are hands off–no one enjoys being kicked out of a museum!
    • Speaking of snacks…check to see if the museum has a cafe or snack machine, or come prepared with snacks in the car. We all know how quickly a preschooler can go from happy to hungry, so it’s best to have a plan in place for food. I like to use my maps app to locate a restaurant nearby and have a plan for where we might grab lunch or dinner after our visit.
    • Check the website to see if the museum has a kids’ area. Even a small space with a few toys can save an otherwise disaster of a day!
    • Check the admission prices before you go. Unless your kids are far more cultured than mine, a trip to a non-child-based museum is probably not going to last too long, maybe 1-2 hours. Add up your expected admission and make sure you are okay with the financial investment to potential enjoyment ratio.
    • Most importantly, adjust your expectations. When trying a new museum that is not designed for children, realize that it may be amazing, but it may also be a total bust. Remember that the failed adventures often make for the best memories!
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making our best race car faces