4 Holiday Packing Tips For Families

Four Holiday Packing Tips You Won’t Want to Miss!

Traveling over the holidays can be stressful and super exciting all at the same time. Here are some of my long-learned travel lessons for families traveling this holiday season.

  1. Start as soon as you can! Holidays are a busy time and will fly by faster than you know, so if you have travel planned pack as soon as you can! Obviously, this is hard if you need some of the stuff but if you live up north and are having a beach vacation get to packing!
  2. Make a list and check it twice: Just like the big man in the red, fur-trimmed suit, you need to make a list and check it twice! This will make packing so much easier for you and will ensure you do not forget anything super important.
  3. Packing CUBES for everyone: These are travel game changers and make it so easy to pack for a family. Read more about why I love packing Cubes here: Packing Cubes- The best invention for traveling with kids
  4. Delay Kit: Winter weather can sometimes delay or even cancel some air travel plans so be prepared! Set aside a “Delay Kit” to put in your carry on. In this kit should be an entire change of clothes, two pairs of underwear and small airline approved size toiletries and deodorant.

Doing these four things have significantly helped me out when traveling around the holiday season. We hope you and your family have a wonderful 2018 holiday season and a safe, joyful family vacation!

Six Tips for Taking Better Travel Photos of Your Kids

9 Things You Won’t Want to Forget When Flying with Preschoolers

Don’t Get Caught on a Family Road Trip Without These Things!

4 Tips for famlies packing


Oktoberfest with Kids! Helen, Ga. 2018

Last weekend my family and I visited a small Blue Ridge Mountain town in the Northwest area of Georgia originally developed to model a Bavarian Alpine village — Helen, GA­. I know what you’re thinking, “What?” Yes, an Alpine village in North Georgia. So, in true fashion every October the town of Helen celebrates Oktoberfest.

This year was Helen’s 48thAnnual Oktoberfest and for those of you unfamiliar with this celebration, here is a brief description of the festivities:

“German-style bands from around the country and around the world play on the stage for your listening and viewing pleasure. See the Alphorns blown, the Cowbells rung and the Accordion squeezed. Grab your partner and take a spin on the dance floor to the timeless tunes of the Polka. The Festhalle is set up with rows of long tables so you can eat and drink while watching the show.”

At first thought, kid-friendly was the last thing that came to mind when envisioning Helen’s Oktoberfest. However, after speaking with a seasoned local we figured we would give it a try.

The Chamber sets up the festivities in their Festhalle with kid-friendly amenities, such as their own dance floor. Around town, all the bars and restaurants are celebrating too, and since the town is already designed to look and feel like you are in Bavaria, the beer tents and extra outdoor seating puts the icing on the cake.

On our first day we walked the charming village and ate an early dinner at the Heidelburg, a German restaurant nestled in a multi-level building overlooking an Oktoberfest beer garden and the charming shopping area of Helen. We were lucky to get a spot on their balcony. This enabled us to take in the sights and sounds of the festivities while enjoying a beer and some German food with the kids in tow.

Our oldest daughter (four) enjoyed watching the festivities and dancing next to our table. We ordered German pancakes and the Heidelburg’s sausage sampler to share. The food was good and seemed authentic. German food tends to be heavy and less flavorful than I’m use to, so if you get bad German food it is REALLY bad. On our last night we ate at the Bavarian Inn and discovered just how bad German food can get! If you are visiting Helen make sure to eat at the Heidelburg at least once and try to get there for early dinner so you can grab a balcony table.

Another spot worth noting is the Alpine Pretzel Haus on the other side of the street but still on the main strip of Helen. The pretzels come out piping hot and the Beer cheese is some of the best I’ve ever had. My advice would be to splurge and spend the extra $1 for one more cheese — you will thank me later.

Our visit showed us Oktoberfest can be fun with young children. Helen offers plenty to do with kids, while still coming away with an authentic Oktoberfest feeling.

Aside from all the Oktoberfest, we were also able to get some hiking in at Dunes Creek and it was absolutely beautiful. We wore our Osprey carrying pack to tote our one-year-old, but our four-year-old daughter lasted the entire hike on her own! The views were stunning and the weather was perfect. We can’t wait to go back and explore more trails as a family in the Blue Ridge Mountains.


Fall in Georgia is a little later than up north but the leaves started to change in Helen during our visit. If fall leaves are on your must-have list, make sure to wait until the last week of the Fest to visit. We stayed at the Loreley Resort, a charming condo style resort right on the river and within walking distance to downtown Helen.


The property was beautiful and the accommodations fit right in with the Bavarian theme, with enough cabin feel to make it a perfect fit for your family’s getaway to Helen.

We loved our stay in Helen and cannot wait to return to experience the Christmass holiday festivities this year!

Six Tips for Taking Better Travel Photos of Your Kids

1. Lighting is key: This is true for any type of photography, whether it is on your phone or an SLR camera. Finding good light will make or break an image. In my opinion, natural light is the best, especially when traveling. The only time I would say otherwise is if you are in a dark or dimly lit location such as a restaurant or historic building. Then use your off-camera flash (attachment) and don’t point the light at your children directly; bounce it off the ceiling or wall for a more natural look.


Pro Tip: If you do not have an off-camera flash you can take a white business card or
note card and use a rubber band to tie around your on-camera flash facing it up. This will bounce the light from the flash upward and is a very cheap alternative to an off-camera flash. The difference in your lighting will blow your mind!


2. Rule of thirds: This is a basic photography (or artistic composition) rule that everyone should try to follow. Envision the image as a grid of three lines of three rectangles (some cameras even have the option to show a grid in your viewfinder). The focus or subject of the image should always be in two-thirds of the grid. See examples below:


3.  Don’t try TOO hard: The best photos are the ones where you capture the moment! Things like your children taking in an epic view, experiencing new food for the first time, and all the awesome moments of your travels and family adventures. Try not to pose them too often and just capture the magic as it happens. Sure, making sure the light and background are good is important, but once you have them where you want them, start snapping!

4. Get high and get low: Try different angles to shoot from. You will be surprised how different a photo will look when shot from up high or if you get down low (at the child’s level) and shoot. This will take your photos from typical to incredible with just one easy adjustment. Stand on a chair or ledge, sit down or even lie down on the ground.

5. Plan ahead and coordinate your outfits with the location: This is something I’ve learned over time. Make sure to scout or Internet stalk the places you plan on visiting. Identify where you want to take photos and make sure when you pack for your children that you are picking things that will vibe with the look of your location. This will also make you more prepared when you arrive. Having a game plan is key to taking great photos of your kids while traveling.

If you want a packing tip that will change your life, read our blog on packing cubes: HERE

6. Pay Attention to what’s behind them: When shooting make sure you are paying attention to what’s in the background behind your subject. If they are standing in front of a large pole, make sure it does not appear to be coming out of their head! On the beach, I’m always running into the problem of other people bending over in the background to pick up shells, no matter how early I wake up to take photos! So just be aware of everything in the picture and if you can adjust your angle or move to a better spot, then do it. There is nothing worse than an awesome picture of all four kids smiling only to see that it looks like they have a stop sign growing out of their heads!

There are so many more things you can do to take better photos, but these six simple tips will make an immediate impact on the quality of your family travel photography. Most importantly, enjoy your trip and snap away!


9 Things You Won’t Want to Forget When Flying with Preschoolers

Flying with preschool-aged children can be a challenge. Well, traveling with children of any age can be challenging, but the younger ones are harder sometimes to keep entertained, or just overall happy from start to finish. I have lots of first-hand experience with this and when prepping for trips haven’t found many useful lists for preschoolers. There’s tons of info out there for babies and toddlers, but what about after they are toddling and just becoming “kids”?

Here are a few things that help keep my daughter (age 4 going on 15) entertained and a happy camper while traveling long distance on an airplane.

1.Magic Coloring Paper: This is small paper coloring pad that when using a “magic” marker unveils the colors of the image in the book. My daughter loves them and they only require the one marker, so less to carry along in your bag. She spends hours making sure she has colored every inch. She has recently been asking me about the words and what they spell, reading them out to me.

2.Window “Stickies”: These are meant for holiday décor but can also be awesome for window seat entertainment. They can spend the entire flight decorating their window over and over — or at least 20 minutes of the flight — and we will take any distraction!

3.Snack Bag: In a gallon-size zip-lock bag put an assortment of snacks for your children to pick from. That way when they say they are hungry they have options and you avoid the complaints of not having what they want. It also gives them some freedom of choice when they can pick from whatever they want, keeping them happy campers.

4.Something New: Get them something new to play with at the beginning and a small reward to give them at the end of the flight. For my daughter, I get her a small toy to open when we take off (nothing big — something from the Dollar Tree). For the end of the flight I get a surprise I know she will be on her best behavior for! With Caroline that is a small LOL or My Little Pony Suprise figurine.

5.Water Bottle: Bring an empty water bottle with a lid for the flight. Once you get through security fill it up with water. Make sure they are drinking on the flight as air travel tends to cause dehydration, especially children. If it is empty have the flight attendant refill it or better yet, have them put some juice in it as a treat.

6.Magnetic Doodle Board: Like the magic coloring pads these are mess free! Easy entertainment on the airplane and while traveling in general. When I first got my daughter’s, I used it as the on-flight toy surprise.

7.iPad or Smart Phone:I know this one can be controversial but I am all about screen time in the right amount and right time, and long-distance travel is the RIGHT time. Make sure you download some preschool appropriate games ahead of time and if you have Netflix or movies you will need to have them downloaded as well since there is not always Wi-Fi inflight. Longer flights will have in-flight entertainment so sometimes I don’t even need to pull out the iPad but would hate to be caught without in a time of need.

8.Anything from the Target Dollar Spot: The Target Dollar spot has some great cheap arts and crafts $1 packs, and other great stuff to entertain your littles at a low cost, so make sure to hit it up before you head out to the airport for take-off.

9.Their Own Bag: Have them pack their own backpack for the journey. Let them pick a few things that you approve, but give them the freedom to decide what they bring on the trip. Just make sure it is all airplane appropriate and that they don’t bring things that are valuable or have lots of parts that can get lost and or left behind. My daughter LOVES packing for trips and will play with everything and “everyone” she brings since she is the one who decided who was coming along on the trip.

Every child is a little different from the next, so make sure to do what you think is right for traveling with your children. These are just some things that have helped us manage long-distance cross-country and international flights with our preschooler.  Many of these suggestions work for long car trips, too.

Do you have an inflight must have? Share with us in the comments.

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Our Year of Unlimited Disney!

So here’s a little background about me. I am a Florida native (I know, we are a rare breed) who grew up visiting Disney World and Universal Studios to celebrate the occasional birthday, but my dad hated theme parks, so it was always a rare occasion. That said I still got to go a lot more than your average kid, being that I lived less than two hours from Orlando. It was a quick drive for the family and sometimes we stayed one night in a Kissimmee hotel. In my dad’s defense, we DID have annual passes to Walt Disney World Resort when we were in elementary school, so we got to go at least four times a year for a couple of years.

When I had my first daughter, I didn’t envision us as a “Disney Family.” In Florida you have so many Disney-obsessed people —some residents and some tourists — it can almost turn you off. It is like living in Gainesville, FL, where you go in loving the University of Florida Gators and leave hoping it is at least a year before you hear the name Tim Tebow again (no offense, Tim).

Caroline’s first trip to Disney was around six months old. Her cousins were in town from Oregon and they spent the week at the park, so we go the four-day Florida resident deal and joined them for some family fun. She was still too small to know what was going on, so we took her back later that year when I ran the Disney Princess Half Marathon. While it was a busy weekend to visit the parks, she enjoyed the parades but that was really all she could take in at her age.

Fast-forward about a year when she was officially two and I took her to the Grand Floridian to celebrate. Her Dad had a conference there and it was a free room at one of the best hotels onsite, so why not? We went to Hollywood Studios and she loved all the Disney Junior themed stuff, and of course the Beauty and The Beast show and the classic Little Mermaid performance. Caroline loves music and singing.

It was this birthday trip that she also got to meet Minnie Mouse for the first time. I watched her turn into a fan girl for Minnie and my heart exploded. That moment something switched inside me. The excitement on her face and her response to her first encounter with Minnie legit brought tears to my eyes. I know, I know! I’m totally not that person, but kids —MAN.

Kids do something to you. The excitement, genuine joy and hysteria she experience when meeting her favorite characters was a feeling I cannot describe. I was hooked. Who wouldn’t want to provide that kind of happiness to their child? We went back with my sister-in-law that same year and got a video of her saying, “mouse, mouse,” and pointing — SO adorable!


The next month I made the plunge. We had a trip planned and I went for it. I became a Florida Resident Annual Pass holder. My logic was we go three times and it pays for itself. My parents had just relocated to Orlando and what better way to get our money’s worth at Disney and have a place to stay when we didn’t want to drive back to Gainesville. The best part was Caroline was two years old and that meant she got in for free. So now I had 12 months of park visits for the price of one Florida Resident Annual pass.WIN!

Read more about why we think you should: Stop Making Excuses and Take Your Teddler to Disney!

I started out with the Silver pass, but after my first visit, I quickly upgraded to the Gold. There were fewer blackout dates but the real reason I upgraded was for the unlimited photos via the Disney Photo Pass. This meant for the entire year, every photo a Disney employee snapped of me (even at races we ran) were available for downloading and keeping. It was so worth the extra money to have those images. I didn’t have to worry about having my phone or camera with me; they just scanned my wristband and POOF!  The photos showed up in my Photo Pass app and the online album.


Another huge perk of an annual pass is signing up for fast passes in advance. I believe it is two or three weeks if not sooner, you can sign up for your fast passes and ensure you get to hit all your favorite rides — or in our case, princesses. When Pandora opened at Animal Kingdom, I got a fast pass for one of the new rides right after it opened. They also have tons of other pass-holder perks like discounted food, hotel rooms, Disney gear, special events and park previews.

Being a pass holder also is awesome when staying onsite. We celebrated my birthday at the Boardwalk, a hotel right behind Epcot, and since we were pass holders we could walk in and out for lunch or dinner every day we were there and not worry about using up a ticket just to go have dinner. This was SUPER cool and convenient. We started at one park and would head back to Epcot for lunch, and then nap at the hotel before heading back to Epcot or a different park for dinner. If we didn’t have the annual pass, we would have had to buy a park hopper ticket for every day of our stay, and that can get very pricey.

In a nutshell, if you have small children, live in Florida, and plan on going to Walt Disney World more than once in 12 months, you must get an Annual Florida Resident pass. It will be well worth it, and you and your children will have lifelong memories in return.

There also are three options for nonresident passes and some options only are available to Florida Residents. Check out the Walt Disney World Resort passes website for information on all annual pass options.

It’s going to be hard going back this year, not a pass holder. We recently moved to the Atlanta Area and are no longer a day trip away from Orlando. While annual passes do not make sense for us right now, we still plan on visiting the parks and checking on some of the new attractions they have in store. And who knows? The Grandparents still live in Florida, so maybe there is still an annual pass in our future!