All things Europe, half the cost. Valencia is the artists dream, a historian’s playground, and a place to “tranquila” like no other. Here are 10 suggestions for tours and things to do in Valencia, the fact that they’re free is just an added bonus:


This isn’t your grandma’s pastel-colored-parakeet Lladro – there are some really neat and modern pieces at Lladro that will blow you away. A free guided tour takes about 30 to 50 minutes and starts in the morning every weekday. You’ll get the history of the famous porcelain maker, a demonstration of the careful molding process, and meet the incredible artists who hand-paint details and flowers the size of a tic-tac.

courtesy of

Be careful bringing children under 5 as your free tour could quickly turn into 50k in breakable goods! The tour is either full because of cruise ships or completely private. Call or email to make a reservation as early as the day before using this link. If you require your tour in English – make sure to specify. The factory is in Alboraya – about 4 kilometers from the Valencia city center and is a quick taxi ride. Be careful putting “LLadro” in Google Maps as there are lots of Lladro retailers in Valencia…including a discount store if you don’t want to pay the prices at the showroom on Plaça Redona, 2, 46001 València, Spain

Mon-Fri: 10:00 – 18:00
Saturdays: 10:00 – 14:00 Sundays: Closed


In the heart of El Carmen, the Rocas museum is located on Calle Roteros 8 and allows visitors a chance to see Valencian “festivo” culture. The Rocas date back to 1355 and is celebrated the 8th Sunday after Easter but you can see the “Big Heads”, over 12 feet tall, and feel like you were a part of the festivities. This museum has a neat video on the 3rd floor and you can get through the entire museum in about 30 minutes.

This is only steps away from the Serranos Towers *see #5 and should be combined with an Acai bowl from the best people at Almalibre Acai Bar

Monday: Closed
Tuesday to Saturday: 10 – 14:00 and 15:00 – 19:00
Sunday: 10:00 – 14:00



This contemporary art museum, housed in a former factory from the 1930s, has an air-raid shelter (“refugio”) used during the Spanish Civil War, beautiful gardens, a 14th century wine cellar, and a 2 star-rated Michelin restaurant: Ricard Camarena 

Book a free guided tour here in English of the Art, cellar, gardens, and shelter. The tour takes about an hour and takes you through the entire premise. Also note that ONCE a month the gardens are open to the public.

Make sure you make a reservation ahead of time and note that this museum is a bit north of the old city – about a 20 minutes walk.

July-September Hours:

Monday and Tuesday –  Closed

Wednesday – 11:00 – 14:00 and 16:00 – 20:00

Thursday to Sunday – 11:00 to 14:00h and 17:00 to 21:00h



If you only have one day in Valencia – this is how spend it. Formerly a river bed, Turia Park is a 10k/6mi park that runs through the city with unique and gorgeous bridges about every 200 yards. Go to the Central Market (see #6) and get some fresh cheese, fruit, wine, and jamon and have a picnic in the Turia. A 20 minute walk will take you from the old town/El Carmen all the way to the Arts and Sciences buildings. You won’t need a map, just follow the many tree-lined walking/biking trails and enjoy a beautiful stroll to the futuristic and iconic buildings, built by famed architect Santiago Calatrava. They are beautiful on the outside and a bit pricey on the inside. Enjoy walking around the pools and under the Umbracle for free.

This complex houses an IMax (Hemisferic), Aquarium (L’ Oceonagrafic), and the Arts and Sciences building with rotating exhibitions. Don’t feel like you are missing out by not buying the entrance to the building…it’s impact is best felt strolling the grounds.






All city-owned attractions are free on Sundays! This includes the iconic Towers: Torres Quart and Torres Serranos. Built in the 12th Century, the towers are a cool way to learn the layout of the city and see the famous Turia River park from high above the city. You only need to plan about 30 minutes at the towers in order to climb up to the top and get a great aerial view of Valencia. If you are afraid of heights, skip this. If it’s blazing hot – make sure to do this first thing in the morning. If you’re choosing between Torres Quart on the west side of old town or Torres Serranos on the north side of old town, they are really similar.

Monday do Saturday: 10:00 – 19:00
Sunday: 10:00 – 14:00 *FREE

Here’s a long list of all of the fabulous city-run museums, monuments, and parks that open their doors for free on Sundays, and are not expensive Mon-Sat – usually only 2 euro. I recommend the Fallas Museum to learn about one of the most special and grand celebrations in all of Europe!


Dating back to 1839, the Mercado Central is always a great place to get some fresh-squeezed Valencian orange juice and anything else you’re in the mood for. The building itself if a stunning mosaic of colors and detailed tile work and the hustle and bustle of the market is always invigorating. If you can get up early, you’ll see the locals buying produce and restaurants curating their menus. After 10am the crowds of tourists start to roll in.

Don’t forget to visit the fish section so you can watch what really fresh eel looks like as it’s pulled from the water and decapitated. eek. Plan your visit because it closes at 3pm.

Monday – Saturday: 7:30am to 15:00







The orange vest and umbrellas mean you’ve got the right tour. These can be booked here and there are THREE different and awesome tours to take! Mornings are the “Valencia essentials” and afternoons are the “Valencia Emblematic”. The El Carmen neighborhood is famous for it’s street art and there’s a free “Street Art” tour in the afternoons too! Each tour is 2 hours and 30 minutes and you must make a reservation ahead of time online.

The licensed guides are knowledgeable and work on tips so be sure to bring some euro to show your appreciation for a job well done. These tours are rated #1 on TripAdvisor. Don’t miss!

Monday – Sunday: 10:30am and  12:00pm

Saturday 6:00pm



Enjoy the sun, food, and sand on the beaches of Valencia. There are a few sections of beach to choose from but if you’re looking to add a little culture to your beach day, head to the Cabanyal neighborhood. Famous for the colorful Spanish-tiled building facades, this old fisherman’s neighborhood includes a local market and is worth a stroll before you unpack your beach towel. Read more on Cabanyal here.



A combination of grit, street art, and European charm the neighborhood of El Carmen is a labyrinth of eye porn. Local street art will surprise you at every turn so spend at least 2 hours getting lost on the small streets of El Carmen. Stop by Plaza Tossal, Plaza del Carmen (see #10) and get a daily “menu” for under 8 euro.

Ruzafa also has a local market with its own boho flavor. Delicious cafes, great nightlife, and unique shopping make for a fun afternoon wandering the streets of this trendy neighborhood.



Formerly a convent and school to famous Valencian artists, the Museo del Carmen houses multiple rotating art exhibits. The courtyard and building itself is worth popping in and you can stroll through this museum in 20 minutes or get lost for hours. This museum is very close to the Torres Towers *number 5 and Rocas Museum *number 2. If you want to get off of the tourist path a bit, this is a great plaza that’s a bit off of the tourist loop. Check out Museo del Carmen at night too for great concerts in a 14th century courtyard. There’s no shortage of bars surrounding for a pre-party drink or 5.


Thanks for reading amigos!



No…we are not there yet. And no. You can not have a screen.

There ya go…just put that on repeat like that keyboard in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and you’re set to jet for your next road trip.

Remember the fun times you had on road trips as a kid rolling around the back seat of a suburban with no seat belts or Batmobile TV screens that folded down from the ceiling of your pimped-out mini van? Your kids deserve that misery, danger, and excitement too;)

Of the 15 ideas I’m sharing, only 3 require you to spend a little money and none are messy. I’m not a fan of “busy bags” – little kids will have rifled through this bag in 30 minutes and claim boredom. Idea #1 was my saving grace driving from Nashville to Detroit 2x a year for over a decade of little ones:

  1. COUNTDOWN POST IT NOTES. Write individual numbers on each post-it note for the amount of hours that your road trip will take. 6 hours – 6 post it notes. Stick them on the ceiling of the car, window, or back of the seat for your child. For each hour of the trip they can pull down a post it note and there will be a coordinating activity with that hour. Ideas for each hour:
    1. a small candy/snack
    2. library book tim
    3. small surprise toy
    4. call a friend/relative
    5. rest time
    6. journal/draw/printable time
    7. pick out a snack at the gas station
    8. a playground pit stop
    9. podcast or book on tape time
    10. WikkiStix time!! (see below)
    11. kids control the radio time

This blog written in partnership with mama friend Bridget of Follow her for recipes, toddlering, and more. @mommaofdinos.

**Pulling down a sticky note each hour is a mini-countdown of fun but you could also do a paper chain. I never decide what each sticky note/chain link represents ahead of time. Instead, call the audible as you see what your trip (and your nerves) can handle. Also, kids can’t tell time so when they wake up just make something up. Meltdown on the horizon – “5 more minutes until we get to pull a new post it!”

2. Get LIBRARY BOOKS about your destination. Don’t let your kids read them until you get on the road to save a bit of the excitement.

3. Download a PODCAST or three. My kids love “Circle Round” which is a story telling and fable podcast. They are transfixed by “Wow in the World” an NPR production that explains everything from farts to why cats land on their feet. Also check out “Brains On!”to get lots of cool kid curiosities answered.

4. BOOKS ON TAPE/AUDION BOOKS. Also at your local library. It’s fun for them to have the book and pictures in front of them while they listen in and of course the audible chime that tells them to turn the page is too fun. Here’s a link to a great and diverse Disney collection with super fun voices and sound effects.

5. Anticipation JOURNAL/SKETCHING – Ask your kids questions like “What do you think that camping will be like?” or “How do you think that polar bears eat?” “What kind of food do they have in New York?” etc. See what they come up either through drawings or sketches and then revisit their answers on the way back. Cheap clipboards or activity trays are great to have on hand for trips.

6. WIKKISTIX are a fun and cheap way to bring new manipulatives along without the mess! WikkiStix are wax covered yarn sticks that can be bent and stuck together easily. Check out this fun travel box on Amazon. This is a guaranteed 30-50 minutes of focused, creative fun.

7. Family GAMES! My kids love word games like “Starts With Ends With”. Take turns example: Snake, elephant, Tiger, Rattlesnake, Egret, Turtle, Eagle, etc), the dot game keeps us entertained for hours and so does the classic “Eye Spy”

8. PRINTABLES. Forget activity pads that cost…here are some great free printables from Artsy Fartsy Mama . Low odor dry erase markers and sheet protectors in a binder are great but a clip board and some crayons is just a good.

9. FAMILY DJ ROUNDS. Take turns picking out songs and go around the car playing your favorite song. Everyone gets to jam when it’s their turn and no one monopolizes the radio!

10. THANK YOU NOTE. This is a great idea for the way home. Thank your host with a kind note or drawing and send it to them when  you arrive home.

11. MINI TRAVEL GAMES. Check out your local grocer’s gaming aisle for some great pint sized travel games. Most will come in tin boxes with magnetized pieces so they can’t be lost. Our favorite travel editions: Guess Who, Hangman, and Spot it. (click for links)

12. FINISH THE LYRICS. Start a song and stop it…see who can finish the lyrics.

13. PLAY FAVORITES. Think of categories like candy, animal, book, movie, trip, person (outside the car, ha), famous person, singer, color, etc. and everyone tells their favorite.

14. FLASHCARDS. Find these at the Target $1 bins, National Geographic flashcards linked here.

15. OLD CALCULATOR – this can become a phone, a cash register, or anything else they dream up. It’s a fun way for kids to bang away and use their imagination. Check out your local Goodwill.

**BONUS: The quiet game. yeah riiiiiiiight

Don’t succumb to the temptation of the screen, or at least don’t succumb to it for more than a couple hours;)

Kid: “I’m bored”.  Me: “Life’s boring”.

Safe travels amigos!!


As parents, we try to create culturally enriching experiences for our kids and global awareness as much as possible. We want to get them out of the protective bubble to see that so many of their complaints and wants are first-world problems.

However, cultural experiences in suburbia are often limited to Chipotle and the local library and world travel with little ones isn’t always in the cards so I wanted share a way that we are able to provide a little perspective from our own dining room table.

In 2016, I learned about the organization who partners with youth and elders across the globe to help families become self-sufficient. My kids and I sat down at the computer and sifted through profiles of boys and girls from all over the globe until we found Emilson – a boy that was my son’s age who liked soccer and wanted to go to school but couldn’t afford it.

Why Emilson? He had a mud floor. My kids couldn’t get over it. They were so troubled and determined to get Emilson a proper floor. Probably the last on the “needs vs. wants” lists as it goes in rural Guatemala – but hey, they were passionate to help.

Every couple of months we sit down and write Emilson and his family a letter. We tell them about our lives, ask questions about Guatemala, practice our Spanish, and think about what life is like in a Central America. Our favorite part of this process has been getting his letters. We squeal and rip open the letters to see what drawings he’s done for us, what school is like for Emilson, and what life in Guatemala looks like.

I know programs like these exist but I initially picked Unbound because it came highly recommended personally by a friend that did a trip to meet her sponsored child.

Also, 92.7% of their money goes straight to program support. Children can handwrite notes and snail mail them or create an online account to set up recurring auto payments and send e-letters with uploaded pictures. With the online portal, you can search for a child based on age, birthday, country, etc and everything is digital. Look at this precious Rica in the Philippines. I want that haircut and she shares a birthday with my good friend! Am I the only one that gets attached just by reading the profiles?!


It was also important to me to choose an organization that isn’t pushing Christianity in developing nations. I’ll just leave that right there.

As a mom, my favorite part of the sponsorship is the way that Emilson has been weaved into our lives as almost a pseudo brother. The kids make comments when doing chores like “This is easy compared to Emilson” or “Why can’t Emilson FaceTime us?” I like to see them thinking outside of their veiled view.

Our last letter from Emilson, his mom wrote that they had been saving some of our money to buy some farming equipment and now they are able to harvest the fields more efficiently and use the machinery to help their village. It’s rewarding to see that our $36 a month has an impact on so many people.

Every holiday and birthday we give him extra money and you’d think that we sent them a Ferrari. They are always writing with such gratitude and love for our family. We feel the same.

Beyond the nostalgia of having a pen pal, I love this relationship for these reasons that I don’t think I need to elaborate on. It goes way beyond sponsoring a child. You’re teaching…

  1. Language
  2. Perspective
  3. Understanding the Value of a Dollar
  4. Geography
  5. The value of hard work.
  6. Education is a gift.
  7. You can always be a helper.
  8. Your words matter.
  9. Establishing a long-term travel goal.
  10. Family is everything.
  11. How to type and format letters/emails.

Start a sponsorship now to have a relationship that will make traveling meaningful. Unbound organizes trips all over the world that are very affordable. Example: A week in central America for $650 (not including airfare) to stay with locals, meet your sponsored family, and learn about their life and customs.

Check out these affordable trips with destinations all over the globe that are rich in culture and will leave your family with incredible perspective and lasting memories.

We’ve done a lot of traditional travel destinations and now that the kids are a bit older, I’m ready for them to see parts of the world that don’t have souvenir shops at the exit gates.

So while you may not be able to take your kids to far off lands – you can make lifetime friendships. I’m not sure when we will see Emilson and his family but it’s going to happen. Believe that.

As a Girl Scout troop leader, we sponsored a girl from Guatemala through Unbound. After much deliberation our troop voted on Claudia, an 11-year-old living with her blind mother and elderly grandmother. Each girl in the troop brought $4 a month that they earned themselves through selling toys, lemonade stands, and doing household chores to give Claudia. I just love watching what the giving and connecting has done for those girls. Maybe think of ways that you can do this with another friend, family, or group?

Thanks for reading. If you chose to sponsor, please use my link and let me know! I promise that this will be a lasting, meaningful, and fun experience for the whole family. It’s easy to get caught up in our own lives and forget the millions of other corners of the world.

Please send me a picture by tagging @UnboundOrg and @hickeys_everywhere. If you donate over $50 or sponsor a child using the link above I’m sending you a a few fun travel things from my “Ultimate Gift List“!! 


Swipe right, swipe left, whatever – just swipe!!

Here’s my #1 travel hack: Find a card that meets your needs and than put EVERY SINGLE PURCHASE on your card. I’ll swipe for a $1 Costco churro. Know that.

I’m not saying spend money but you can chose to use cash/debit that won’t reward you or pay with a credit card and earn points! I chose the latter every time.

Before reading any further know that the only way to make a credit card work for you is by doing the following and maintaining an amazing credit score:

1) Pay on time. I set a calendar reminder on my phone. Late fees are not saving money.
2) Pay your entire balance every month. If not, then you need to either find a card with 0% APR which will limit your reward options or you’ll be paying interest and that’s not cool.
3) Pay attention to fine print to make sure you meet the requirements and deadlines to earn your bonus.

This whole concept can be super confusing but I’ll try and break it down. Here’s a list of what matters in selecting the right card:

1. APR – interest rate is important just in case you have a hard month and can only make your minimum payment. You don’t want to be gauged with a high interest rate.

2. BONUS – Do you have to spend $1k in the first month? $3k in 5 months? Make sure that whatever that stipulation is – you meet in on time so you can reach that milestone to get your rewards!! Again, calendar reminder.

3. REWARDS/MILES – Easy to use? transferrable? 1 mile per dollar? How does it work?

4. ANNUAL FEE – $90 annual fee is not a problem as long as the rewards make up for it (mine do).

5. FOREIGN FEES – If international travel is not your thing, this is not as important. I needed no fees for all my Spanish churros.

Based on the above 5 criteria – I’ll break down my 2 favorite cards:


1. APR – 15 – 25% depending on credit score
2. BONUS – 50,000 miles (roughly $600 travel dollars) by spending $3,000 in the first 3 months
3. REWARDS – this is my favorite thing about this card. I DO NOT mess with spending miles for specific airlines or hotels. I use their “purchase eraser” and once I come home from travel I “erase” Uber rides, meals, flights, hotels, etc until I’ve used all my miles up. Forget planning around my points. Now I travel how I want and erase the purchases once I’m home. Takes less than 5 minutes!
4. ANNUAL FEE – 0 for the first year and $95 after
5. FOREIGN FEES – none


1. APR – 18 – 25% depending on credit score
2. BONUS – 50,000 points (roughly $900 of travel) by spending $4,000 in the first 3 months
3. REWARDS – earn 2x points on all travel and 1 point per $1
4. ANNUAL FEE – 0 for the first year and $95 after
5. FOREIGN FEES – none

Most credit cards offer travel advantages like luggage insurance, car rental insurance and more! When you book travel with your Chase Sapphire, you’re eligible for up to $500 in reimbursements for delayed travel and up to $10,000 in reimbursement for prepaid, nonrefundable expenses if your trip is canceled. Sapphire Preferred cardholders can be reimbursed up to $100 a day for up to 5 days when their checked bags arrive 6 hours late, or up to $3,000 for lost luggage. These perks exist for lots of travel cards, you just have to know “what’s in your wallet” to be able to take advantage of them.

Love a specific airline or hotel chain? Find their card. Marriott has the “Bonvoy Brilliant American Express” and Hilton has the “Hilton Honors Aspire” card from American Express that is awesome! (Bonus of almost $900 and one weekend night in a Hilton each year).

I don’t want to be limited to any one hotel chain or flight carrier. Find a card that works for what you need and then put EVERY purchase on it. You’ll rack up points and take a big chunk out of the cost of your next trip. Already have a credit card that’s not working for you? Pay it off and open a new one that does or transfer the balance.

If you want to read more on the topic check out The Points Guy The Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards of 2019.

Happy swiping and happy rewarding! Any tips I missed? Leave them in the comments.


For many travelers and adventurers, what you “allow” to be a part of your limited cargo is very personal and thought out. I put together a list of unique, affordable, personal, and out-of-the-box ideas to spoil your travel-savvy friends and family. In no particular order, enjoy this comprehensive gift list. Click on the highlighted links in each product to purchase or find out more about each *non-sponsored gift idea:

1) LIFE STRAW WATER BOTTLE is a great idea for the adventurer, outdoor enthusiast, or just anyone who’s thirsty;) This bottle removes 99.99% of bacteria and parasites with no chemical aftertaste. You’ll enjoy this bad boy for 260 gallons before you need a new filter. Get yours, with a handy carabiner, in any color on Amazon. Also, for every bottle sold they give one child clean drinking water for a year.


2) TRY THE WORLD food subscription. What better gift than a box of food or snacks every month? This is a great way to try the world and makes an awesome family gift. You can choose between a “Snack Box” or a “Country Box” and each month a delicious selection of food from around the world is delivered to your doorstep.

Try The World uses all-natural ingredients and you’ll get to taste and discover other countries via small-scale producers. Deliver a smile with 6 yummy grab-and-go snacks in each box. Pick your payment plan and rest assured that you’re buying something that will get USED and appreciated throughout the year. Each box costs around $15 and includes shipping.

3) PORTABLE CHARGER. There are so many to choose from! Travel and Leisure wrote a comprehensive article on the best in each category. For me, it’s the fact that you just need one. Period. They range from $18 to $100 so think about your phone’s battery life, the duration of your flights, etc. I only recommend that you remember to pack it in your carry on and that you buy one with multiple USB ports. This will save your life and some precious Kodak moments at least once!


4) PERSONALIZED MAKEUP BAG/DOPP KIT. This is my favorite item on the list that will be a travel staple and that can be personalized. The leather Veeshee bags are chic, quality, and practical. They are highly personalize-able: choose the leather color, the interior pattern, and embroidery colors/fonts. I bought one for a girlfriend years ago…”Of course I still have it! I love it,” she texted me yesterday. The men’s dopp kits are fantastic too. The bag below is $43.

5) A WORLD ADAPTER KIT. Most of these are the same and you can find adapters at Target and Wal-Mart ranging from $8 – $30. Here’s my favorite from Amazon because it has USB ports too. The size is a compact size at 2.7 x 1.95 x 2 inches and it comes with a zipper case and includes all major travel destination adapters.


6) PILL CASE WITH MEDICINES. Now you can bring the entire medicine cabinet! I’ve got a free printable and a how-to here. If you just want the pill case. Don’t you want to be the reason your loved one narrowly escapes diarrhea and vomiting!?


7) BOOKS are a great way to get excited and prepared for travel. Still my favorite are all the Lonely Planet books and you can find them for around $10 on for your desired destination. I also wrote an extensive blog for ideas on books, activities, and gifts for kids and families that will get them learning and excited for upcoming travel.

Not sure where they’re headed? What about 1000 Places to See Before You Die or 225 of the World’s Most Amazing Places by National Geographic

8) WIRELESS HEADPHONES have become a part of my person. The headphones they pass out on the plane have been “disinfected” like my kids have “brushed their teeth” <eye roll>. A great pair of wireless headphones like Apple AirPods are an amazing gift that is sure to be used every day. They are tiny, comfortable, and the sleek case doubles as a charger.


9) A DNA KIT – this is a really unique and fun gift that could spark lots of interest in new travels and fun family conversations. I want my kids to do this when they’re a bit older so that we can learn about our family heritage and get inspired by our past. Also, what if a long lost second cousin is trying to find you on “Long Lost Family”?! Check out Ancestry and get a kit for only $59 including shipping.


10) ESSENTIAL OILSI’ve used oils for travel more than drugs for sure. I bought these teeny glass bottles for my 3 favorite oils and I always end up using them. You’ll end up with at least 2 in your purse too:)

  • Instead of perfume, I bring LAVENDER and it doubles as a sleep/stress aid, sunburn relief, and a kid chill pill. Gross pillow or funky hotel bed? Lavender. It’s the Swiss Army knife of oils.
  • PEPPERMINT is headache relief, respiratory and digestive support in a bottle. Place a few drops in a bowl of hot water, put a towel over your head and inhale for congestion. This hot oil can be mixed with water and spritzed to keep cool.
  • THIEVES provides immune support for all the airplane germs. Drop on wrists and bottoms of feet each morning and/or night. Make a sanitizing spray by mixing with water.
  • DIGIZE is great for digestive support with any new funky foods. Apply to stomach or ingest by dropping in a glass of water.
  • AROMA EASE is an excellent travel companion if you encounter motion sickness or
    nausea. Add a drop to your wrists, stomach, or chest.

Packing Hack: Bring a pre-made 10 mL roller with carrier oil already inside for easy mixing and rolling on skin, pack a little spray bottle to make a spritz or grab the individual coconut oil packets from Trader Joe’s to quickly mix with oils and apply.

For all things oily, check out this great site and follow @linzland13 on Instagram. You’ll learn all sorts of cool stuff you never knew you needed to know. (WOOLSIES + lavender in my dryer instead of chemical-heavy dryer sheets changed my life!)


11) Wool, cozy AIRPLANE SOCKS. My REI or Costco/Kirkland wool socks are THE item I have in my carry-on on any flight over 5 hours. Maybe it’s me, but I want to be in thick socks among the grime of a plane. Also, sub-zero temps in the cabin always keep me from sleeping. Happy tootsies, a mini bottle of red wine, and a Benadryl makes for a successful flight.


12) For light packers, like myself, I find it helpful to have MAKEUP MINIS. Lots of name brand makeup lines have travel versions of their makeup. A couple hacks I use are if I get samples, throw them in my travel stuff, if I try them on a trip and hate the hue – pitch it! I also keep my “travel makeup” and my “real makeup” separate so that my travel kit is always ready to go and never missing any pieces.

Putting together a thoughtful travel pack of great travel sizes is super useful and handy for last minute getaways. My favorites include:


13) LUGGAGE. I don’t have any favorites. In my opinion you shouldn’t buy nice luggage, it’s just going to get obliterated by sky cabs, belts, weather, taxis, etc. Get something dark colored and don’t spend a fortune. I love TJ Maxx and Marshalls for luggage. My only three prerequisites: lightweight, expandable, and easily maneuverable. sells name brand luggage for less if you don’t have time for a Marshalls run.

If you want to be fancy, just remember that your luggage is a rolling billboard reading: “Expensive stuff inside for the taking!!”

I’ve heard that if you have a sticker like the one below, you will not have your bag slung like a dead body into the belly of the plane. Worth a try: link here.

What NOT to buy:

*Passport Holders – They are so cute and so impractical. At customs, they need them off. Airline ticketing agents have to scan them and need them removed. Just don’t.

*Expensive Luggage – Paying $250+ for something that is getting beat down and rained on is not for me. I’d rather spend that on another night of vacay. (See #2 above) Some luggage companies like Away, guarantee their expensive bags for life and offer a free 100 day trial. But realistically, in 10 years are you going to return your bag for a new one?


If you end up buying any of the products I’ve listed here with Amazon, use the links in this post so that Amazon knows you were sent to their site by a hard-hustling blogger.

What’s your must-have travel item? Tell me in the comments. Thanks for sharing, Pinning, and reading friends and Happy Holidays! Maybe your gift will inspire a trip this season. Fingers crossed…




I view travel as an investment in my family and my kids. The preparation work is taxing, it’s costly, and it’s always worth it. However, there are ways that you can get your kids excited, involved, and well-prepared for your next trip so that they are invested in the travel and learning alongside you.

Sippin on some sizzurp after a pineapple tour in the Azores. We read how pineapple made its way to the US after we left.

In the weeks leading up to our recent trip to France, the kids and I would climb into bed together and read The Invention of Hugo Cabret, a magical book about an orphaned clockmaker’s son set in a Parisian train station.  We’d dream of what Paris would be like, make predictions, and anticipate the upcoming trip. As I write this, a month post-travel, those ‘tuck ins’ were just as special as the trip itself.

For this post I enlisted the help of Mandy Wallace, mom of three, and full-time RV homeschool extraordinaire. Her family is 15 months into their adventure and has explored 32 states, Canada, Mexico, and 23 National Parks.

If you’re like Mandy and myself, we want our kids to suck the marrow out of each trip, so how do you make your trip fun and meaningful (dare I say *gasp* educational) but low-stress at the same time?

We put together a list of some ways to add a deeper sense of understanding and excitement to your travels with your family. The great part: You can invite your kids to do these before, during, and after your trip. Here are our favorite resources and activities (for reference, we’ve used these with 2-9 year old age set):


This is a simple, interactive, and cheap. Learn longitude, latitude, opposing seasons, and have “name that capital contests” over bowls of Frosted Mini Wheats. If you buy the plastic placemats, let the kids write on them with dry erase markers. Here’s my favorite set of 4 placemats from Amazon We used these for years and they saved our table too:)


I was so grateful for this little paperback when I was trying to get my son to understand tea taxes and the Boston Tea Party. My 7-year-old was enraged with my pathetic understanding of the subject so I turned to these books. They have kid-friendly autobiographies about famous figures from the past and present (ex: Jane Goodall, Malala Yousafzai, the Dalai Lama, Harriet Tubman, and much more.) Using illustrations and about 100 pages – this book series tells is great for grades 2-5. Find them on Amazon. The series also explains historical events like the Holocaust, Titanic, Twin Towers, and D-Day. If you need convincing – go ahead and try explaining the Great Depression to a 6-year-old and let me know how that goes for ya.

They also have an AMAZING App and printable quizzes/worksheets that can be found here.


Geography a huge part of your trip? Get your hands dirty and make a salt dough map (here’s the how to from a family that made the state of Alabama.) Architecture more a focus? Make a marshmallow and toothpick model of the Parthenon or Eiffel Tower. Famous artist, piece of art, or collection in your sights? Google the gallery you’re going to and make a piece inspired by a piece in the gallery – then find the real one when you get there!


There’s a lot of downtime during travel and you will be tempted to give out too much screen time during long layovers, car rides, and while eating out. Make kids “earn” screen time by reading.

Kate allows her kids: 1 lovie, 2 books, and 2 activities on trips and her favorites are…Nat Geo! Here are just a few: Ultimate US Road Trip and the Little Kids First Big Book of the World. These include maps, games, and activities for hours of plane or road-trip backseat fun. Another great gift idea.


Check out the local Chamber of Commerce, National Parks, and Library websites in your destination city. You can usually find a list of upcoming festivals, historical points of interest, and events. has a local syndicate in almost every US city they typically have seasonal lists or “staycation” ideas for their local audience where you can grab ideas. Often googling “family tours [your destination]” or “[your destination] family fun” of “[your destination] with kids” will get you a solid list of places to check out (and some blogs from local parents who can give you the scoop.)


Buy a cheap small spiral notebook and write down a few prompts:
– What was your favorite memory from the trip?
– What did you learn?
– What made you laugh?
– What is something you will never forget?
– What was your favorite city and why?
– What did you discover?
The kids answers will surprise you. It’s fun to read, easy to pack, and more special than any souvenir. You could also do this with prediction prompts before your trip as a fun plane or road trip activity.


Grab your kids an Instagram handle and let them take pics and publish them with captions of facts they’ve learned or the journal prompts aforementioned. Share their ‘gram with family and friends. (If you’re worried about kids getting obsessed too early with likes and comments or wanting your phone all.the.time., pick a time of day that they’ll post and check their feed.) Mandy’s kids post about their creations and discoveries on the road which has been a great way for her reluctant writer (who thinks that journalling is about as fun as swimming in quicksand) to get his observations and experience the power of writing to an audience.


Believe it or not, YouTube actually has some content that goes deeper than ladies opening boxes and describing how excited they are to try the contents. Mandy’s kids are riveted to the storytelling of documentaries through narration, interviews, and video (like this vid of the Mt. St. Helens eruption eye witnesses from A&E.) They love videos made by other kids who are doing similar things. Granted, this comes with the caveat of you probably wanting to preview the videos before showing them to your kids (the descriptions in that Mt. St. Helen’s piece are pretty gruesome!) and definitely de-selecting the autoplay function.


Before you take off, do some preliminary research about the place your destination and what they are known for. Coffee? Chocolate? Pasta? Rice? Tea? What factory or field could you tour? Specifically, what places allow you a ‘behind the scenes’ experience or tasting? Our favorite resources for tours are: AirBnB Experiences, Withlocals (in Europe), and Viator. These tours can also be gifted…wink wink grandparents;)

*Pictured: A private baking class in a French home. We made Madelines, chatted about French customs, and ate on Anne’s rooftop with this stunning view of the Sacre Coeur. We left with a new friend and bags of warm treats that we made! Use my Withlocals link for 30 euro off of your first experience. Withlocals offers a variety of private and affordable tours all over Europe.


Check out an interactive app like Duolingo to help your kids get some basic phrases down before you go. It’s really like playing a game and you can work with each other to use the phrases around the house before departure. Or, head to YouTube again for some kid-focused basic language introduction. Maybe watch an episode or beloved movie in your destination’s language.

Maybe even have the kids make labels and tape them around the house with common phrases and useful nouns (bathroom, I’m hungry, my name is, water, etc.)


Before you go or the day you get there, buy a tourist map or atlas. Find your destination together. Find your hotel or campground. Highlight your route. If you’ve got every day planned, use different colors to mark each day’s adventures. While you’re there or when you get back, retrace your steps on the map with your markers. Then hang up the map as a visual reminder and memento of all the places you discovered on your trip. Retell your story and fold it into the narrative of your family’s adventures.

This is a lengthy list and by no means should you look at these activities as “one more thing” to do. Have your kids pick an activity, app, or book months in advance or weeks after you’re home. It’s not about doing it perfect – it’s about augmenting the learning and reflecting on all of the amazing things that you get to experience together!

*About Mandy: She’s a witty blend of practicality and vulnerability. I can rely on her feed for gorgeous pictures and great book recommendations. Mandy’s creative homeschool lessons range from poetry tea parties to treasure hunts. Check her out on Instagram: @mandy_adventure_wallace & @themagichomeschoolbus, and grab more RV family travel ideas from her site: Now Take Off!, or check out her travel journal from their first six months on the road at Outside the Slides.


Tell us what you do to maximize learning and engage your little ones. As always, thanks for reading and sharing.


Kate and Mandy

My kid: “I swear I will use this can of fog every day, PLEASE Mom can I have it!” Every destination is about buying stuff and snacks. I can’t deal. How many times can I say it:

“This trip IS YOUR PRESENT!!!”

It’s kind of not their fault. We’re channeled through gift shops like cattle. The Vatican sells shot glasses and this apron for God’s sake:

I decided I needed to make the souvenir plan  a part of my preparation for traveling so I thought I’d share how we navigate this and I’d love to hear your ideas.

1.We start with a sit down family meeting. I discuss everything that we’re going to do on the trip. We go day by day through the itinerary so that everyone is prepared to pack, understand, and ask questions. I find that while I’m on the trip…navigating from point A to point B, keeping us in Uber’s and fed – it helps to have everyone in the know so that I can make things happen. I think we all like to know what’s going on – little kids are no exception. Of course I always share my TripIt itinerary with anyone on the trip too. (see my Must Have Travel Apps for more info.)

2. Second, I give each kid a budget. For our recent 10 day trip to the East Coast (itinerary here) it was $50 total per kid. They thought that was a small fortune at first until we talked about how it was going to shake out. Goes a lil something like this:

“Max, if you buy one jersey at the Red Sox game – you will blow $45 of your $50 on day 2” <<oh dang face>>

This is a great thing. They brainstorm how they’re going to spend their money and they visualize how that will look and feel. We talk about our favorite “must-have” things from which special stop on our trip and they write down their plan.

For our last few trips my kids have wanted to earn additional money to spend on the vacation so they ended up doing chores so that they could add to the allowance we gave them. I loved this because it really mirrored Paul and my’s efforts to do the same thing in saving for the trip. Felt like we were a little crew.

Sammy’s choice. She’ll never have to wonder where she got it, haha. She went for the something-little-at-every-stop approach.

3.  I’m not your sugar mama. Our rule is that every day the kids are allowed to have one snack and one drink that’s not water. If they choose to have a Slushie or hot chocolate or whatever while we’re out – it’s water for the rest of the day. Most days, my kids picked to save their “special drink” for dinner and their snack for the 3:00 hour.

If you think I sound like a dictator – you’ve clearly never spent any length of time traveling with a 1st grader. Sorry but this $tuff adds up and my bandwidth for “can I…can I…” is low when we’re already paying for travel.

Setting these boundaries up ahead of time is so nice because you avoid meltdowns and 1,344 questions throughout the day. It’s just understood. Ultimately, travel should be about learning and being together on vacation not “What can I buy”. I think a few adults could benefit from this philosophy too;)

I think another way to avoid the drama would be to start some sort of collection. If you started a snow globe collection, it would be understood that they could have a snow globe from each trip. This could turn into a tradition of sorts and it might turn into a treasured collection. I buy Christmas ornaments from everywhere we go. We pick them out together and when we put up the tree every year it’s a hodgepodge of great memories. It’s kinda tacky and I love it.

4. Finally – I have the kids write a little something in a journal on the ride home. I bought 3×4 spiral notebooks for .99 cents. I write down a few questions:

  • What was your favorite memory from the trip?
  • What did you learn?
  • What made you laugh?
  • What is something you will never forget?
  • What was your favorite city and why?
  • What did you discover?

The kids answers really surprised me! It’s fun to read, easy to pack, and I think it will be special to read in a few more years.

Like any other game plan and child rearing in general:  This only works if you do it. Sarcastic I know but…#parenting.

May you all breeze through the BS tchotchkes on your next trip. Leave your tips in the comments:) Thanks for reading!