Our Most Overrated Travel Destinations – Well One of Them (Wink,wink)

Ever wondered what places NOT to go to? We are sharing one of our most overrated travel destinations. Check it out before you plan your next trip!

Why Write About One of Our Most Overrated Travel Destinations?

One of the most common questions we get asked by our readers, followers on Instagram, or friends and family is “where is our most favorite destination?”. In our FAQ page, we talk about this a little bit but honestly for me (Kam) I can’t decide which is my favorite and for the most part, I love almost anywhere we have gone and would love to go back! I have found my favorite location changes as regularly as my lipstick and largely depends on my mood. For example; when I am feeling all lovey dovey with the hubby (Stef) then I look back on our more romantic trips together and think “Oh my gosh, that was just the best trip! We have to get back there!” But when I get annoyed with him (poor man), I find myself craving another girls trip haha! In the end, though, I would seriously go almost anywhere in the world if time and money would allow.

Today I decided to write about one of my least favorite travel destinations and why. I often feel like in the travel blogging world that so much is written about the “top locations” or the “best spots.” It is very rare to see a post on a place not to go or a post that discusses the negative side of travel. Sometimes, some places just do not live up to the hype OR a personal experience can taint the destination altogether.  This is TOTALLY subjective and I understand that different places speak differently to different people, but for me, this location was one of the most overrated travel destinations I have ever been and I am in no hurry to get back.

Are you ready to hear it?

Aruba is One of My Most Overrated Travel Destinations

To begin, Aruba was one place that we had heard so many great things about and even several people told us that this was their favorite place in the whole world! So the expectation was HIGH. (Wait? What? Where have you people been? Just teasing.) And in our experience it was – so. not. that. great.

Things I Didn’t Love About It and Why It Is One of My Most Overrated Travel Destinations

Very Little to Do on the Island

Other than sitting on the beach (which understandably some people live for) I felt like there wasn’t anything else to do. One day we were so bored we ended up sitting through several Madagascar movies in the villa because it offered some respite from the sun and heat (For the record I so do NOT like to “move it, move it” #painful).

It needs to be noted that while we love sitting at the beach, we also love to get out and do things when we travel, (especially when it is a new destination). We like to hike, see the local culture, and really experience a location. In my opinion, Aruba felt like one big cruise ship port. Everything was super kitschy and touristy and nothing seemed “real” or interesting. (St. Lucia for us, on the other hand, was a totally different Caribbean island experience – look for our upcoming review soon by subscribing to our blog!)

Food

Eh – – – – nuff said. Think American chains all over the place, nothing really new or different. Taco Bell, Benihana etc…

Party Atmosphere

Another thing to note, we are not partiers. Not one bit. Like, I am pulling a Blake Lively here and telling you that I have never had a drop of alcohol and have never done one drug. For real. So we were actually surprised by how much of a “party culture” there was, even at the more family friendly resorts. In the day it seemed like everyone was sleeping off their hangover and at night it was a gambling and drinking extravaganza. I understand that for some this seems like the best vacation in the world! However, I felt like I was on the party deck of a spring break cruise.

No Hiking and Little Shade

I mentioned this before, but the island is VERY dry and VERY flat which results in very little to do on the island. There is very little flora or fauna, and seriously can a sister score a tree somewhere? The lack of shade REALLY got to us by the end. Not kidding my little brother got so scorched – he was purple (major sunscreen/parent fail here ha). The flat dry ground does lend itself really well for ATV riding and off roading but if anyone gets motion sick – this activity is out. At one point on our off-roading tour (with no shade I might mention), it was pass the cup to the puking child, toss it overboard, and repeat. Can anyone say “puke, dump, repeat?”

Hard to Get To

For us, Aruba is HARD to get to. If we just need a beach break somewhere, we can jet off to Cabo or Puerto Vallarta in 2-4 hours and we have yummy food, hiking, golf, culture, and fantastic water and beaches!

Not Very Kid Friendly

Aside from a Butterfly Farm on the Island, there is very little for kids to do and we found that most people seemed really impatient with our hoard of little kids.

Things That Were Great About Aruba

Water – SO warm!

To be fair, the water is SO warm* and really clear! We rode a fun banana boat thing one day and also did some parasailing.  That was a really great day. Because most of the other guests were tending their hangovers we often had the beach all to ourselves.

*If you are ever wondering about what the water temperature is at any beach vacation you are going, check out seatemperature.org (it is like the weather.com for the ocean :))

Great Scuba and Snorkeling

The snorkeling was good.  We saw some really cool blue fish with teeth that looked like horses teeth, not even kidding – I kept thinking we were going to be bitten. They were awesome!

In the end, in my opinion, Aruba would be a great stop for people who love to chill by the pool or at the beach all day and go party at night.  It might even be a place for a nice little weekend trip IF it easy for to get to. For us – an adventurous family with four children who do not party – it was nothing but an overrated travel destination.

Have you ever been anywhere that did not live up to the hype? Where was it? What do you think the most overrated travel destinations are?

Xoxoxo,

Kam!

*The title image is public domain and is from the U.S. CIA World Factbook

Top 10 Tips for Healthy Eating While Traveling

Traveling and want to know how to stay healthy and happy while you are gone? Check out our guest post on Tips for Healthy Eating While Traveling!

Our Story Behind The Top 10 Tips for Healthy Eating While Traveling

So for us, one of the things that we struggle with is trying to stay healthy and feel our best while traveling. It is much easier for us to stay in our routine and watch our health/exercise habits when we are at home. When we travel sometimes it is easy to lose track of our healthy routine and we come home frustrated with how we treated our bodies while we were gone.

One time, after spending time in Alaska, I had eaten my body weight in cookies (seriously, those bad boys were so good) and did not exercise nearly as much as I needed to! While I loved the trip, to be honest, when I got home I felt so discouraged by how I felt and looked that it tainted the trip for me for a long time (I know this is vain and I shouldn’t be this way, but I am being 100 percent honest with you all about felt).

For this purpose, we have teamed up with Paige Smathers a fantastic Nutritionist to share what we now try to practice as a family on our trips. Emphasis on the “try” – this is so something that we are not perfect at. What we love about Paige is that she is all about balance and treating your body and yourself well. Paige has come to us today with her 10 Tips for Healthy Eating While Traveling! – xoxo Kam 🙂

ice cream, yummy treats while traveling, eating healthy while traveling
Sav feeding little Becks a healthy treat while in Moorea

Tips for Healthy Eating While Traveling by Paige Smathers, RDN, CD.

It’s the time of year again! School is winding down and we’re all getting excited about planned trips and summer fun. Between barbecues, hanging out poolside, hikes and family trips, your healthy eating efforts may take a backseat during these fun—but busy—summer months.

Even when you’re on-the-go this time of year, you can still make healthy, wholesome eating happen. In general, healthy eating requires planning and thinking ahead. While eating out is fun and delicious (and there’s nothing wrong with enjoying delicious food!), indulging too often can lead to your body feeling sluggish and low on energy and can detract from the fun things you have planned.

Let’s talk through some of the most tried and true ways to make nutritious eating happen during the busy summer months.

Paige’s 10 Tips for Healthy Eating While Traveling

1. Stay hydrated.

Whether you’re traveling by plane, car, boat or anything else, staying hydrated while traveling is a big deal! Proper hydration can help you detect true hunger from other feelings and can help keep your body functioning at its best. We often neglect water during vacation because we’re out of the normal routine and/or we don’t want to take time out to go to the bathroom (hehe) but adequate water consumption is essential! For most people, aim for around 2-3 liters per day or until your pee is slightly yellow (not clear, not dark).

2. Invest in a small cooler.

One of the best things you can do for your healthy eating efforts this summer is to invest in a small cooler—that way you can keep cold foods cold when you’re out and about. It’s one less barrier to packing foods for outings when you know your food will stay fresh and cold. You can use it for snacking and eating lunch by the pool, at picnics, on road trips or for outdoor activities. Pack cheese, fruit, veggies, hummus, mixed nuts and water for satisfying snacks and pack sandwiches or salads for meals on the go.

3. Bring your own food.

When you’re going on a vacation, see what you can do to plan some meals to eat in the hotel. For many, it works well to plan to eat out for 1-2 meals per day and to take care of the other meal/snacks by bringing those foods (or shopping for those foods when you get to your vacation spot) with you. Breakfast foods could include: oatmeal, bagels & cream cheese, bananas, cottage cheese, granola, yogurt, berries, etc. and could be kept in your hotel fridge. Lunch could also be relatively easy to plan ahead for having sandwiches, fruit, veggies, nuts and yogurt. If you’re on the go for lunch, pack a sandwich, fruit and a veggie and keep it cool in your backpack by adding ice to your water bottle and storing your sandwich close by.

4. Bring Tupperware.

There’s nothing less fun to eat than a smushed sandwich, right? Pack your on-the-go snacks and meals in reusable containers to help keep things fresh and tasty. And, it’s a great way to be green by reducing waste you create as you eat foods away from home.

5. Pick and choose when you plan to eat out.

As mentioned above, for trips consider eating some meals in the hotel room or packed in your backpack. Don’t be afraid to eat out and, by all means, enjoy the fun foods on your vacation! But, as always, make your restaurant and eating out experiences as intentional as possible to ensure you are able to strike a balance between indulging and eating in the hotel that help you feel your best.

6. Have snacks on hand.

Sometimes a simple summer outing leads to more time away from home than you planned. In those cases, it’s great to have snacks in your bag, glove box, or purse for a quick, healthy pick-me-up. Trail mix with nuts and dried fruit works great since it stays fresh for a long time and you can individually portion out bags of it to stash in different places. Snacking in between meals when you’re hungry can help avoid the hangry stage later when you’re far less likely to make reasonable decisions about what you eat and how much.

7. Offer to bring side dishes to get-togethers.

For those outdoor summer get-togethers, offer to bring a side dish that helps round out the meal. Bring veggies for grilling, fruit salad, watermelon or a green salad.

8. When you do eat out, remember the plate method.

Ideally, your plate should have a quarter devoted to a starch, a quarter devoted to protein and the remaining half filled with vegetables. When you are deciding where to eat and what to choose to eat, it’s helpful to envision your plate at home (likely much smaller than the plate at the restaurant) and try to eat your restaurant meal as if it were on your plate at home.

9. Share an entree.

Splitting an entree at a restaurant can help keep portions realistic, manageable and similar to portion sizes at home. For those times where something on the menu is calling your name but you know it will be more food than you’re hungry for, ask someone to share!

10. Don’t take yourself too seriously.

Real life happens: let’s say you find yourself in the front of your favorite hamburger joint and it’s calling your name—make sure to take time to sit, enjoy the food and stop when you’re satisfied. Try not to fall into the trap of all-or-nothing thinking because healthy eating isn’t perfect eating and perfect eating isn’t healthy eating.

The take home message is: when you plan your summer days, plan your food. Not only does this help you feel better about your food choices, but it will save money to boot. This time of year is time spent with family, on vacations, and with your loved ones. Enjoying your favorites once in a while isn’t the end of the world and can really add to a special moment, but finding little ways to balance out your meals will help you enjoy summer to the fullest.

Don’t miss Paige’s free webinars on May 18 & 19 all about ending the yo-yo dieting cycle! Sign up here: paigesmathersrd.com/webinar

About Paige Smathers!

Paige is a registered dietitian nutritionist who specializes in helping people heal their relationship with food. Paige has a private practice in Salt Lake where she works one-on-one with individuals with an intuitive eating approach to nutrition and health. She hosts a podcast called Nutrition Matters where she and her guests explore what really matters in nutrition and health with a sensitivity and realism. She is the mom to two lovely little girls and the wife of an amazing husband. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook for more food for thought!10 Tips for Eating Healthy While Traveling Pinterst

How the New Europe Travel Alert is Affecting Our Summer Plans

Wondering how the new Europe Travel Alert is going to affect your travel plans? Find out about the Travel Alert and how we are approaching European travel.

What is the Europe Travel Alert?

On May 1st, the U.S. Government issued a formal Travel Alert across all of Europe. You can find the alert on the U.S. Passports and International Website or by clicking here –  Europe Travel Alert.  For us, anytime this happens it can be a little scary and to be frank, the world we live in can be FLAT OUT SCARY!  Before we even get started, we want to point out we are not political analysts and no one in our group is an expert in terrorism. We can only express our opinions and share how this new alert changes our travel plans. To reiterate we are NOT experts!

Instead, we are a family who loves to travel and explore the world. Our traveling family has a big trip to the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Hungary planned this summer and all of these locations fall under the new Travel Alert. And…we are still going. All of us.

Travel Warnings vs. Travel Alerts

The U.S. Department of State has two different types of formal travel advisories. One is classified as a “Travel Warning” and the other is a “ Travel Alert”. Travel Warnings are issued when the Department of State requests travelers to consider even going to a location. For example; Syria currently (at the time of writing) has a formal Travel Warning. So far, we have not been to a country that has a current warning. We know some people who have and they were just fine. For us, in our current situation, we try to avoid these places while an official warning is in effect.

Alerts, on the other hand, are short term advisories issued when the Department of State wants travelers to be aware of possible dangers when planning a trip (i.e. The current Europe Travel Alert). See the official classifications from the U.S. Passports and International Website – Travel Alerts and Warnings

Europe Travel Alert, Travel Warning, Travel Alert
 Travel Alert and a Travel Warning as taken from the U.S. Department of State Website.

While We Are Still Going Even With the Europe Travel Alert

We have had several people ask us why we don’t just change our plans and go somewhere else. (Our grandfather being one of them haha – bless his heart! He sometimes thinks we are crazy galavanting around the world like we do.) Of course we would rather travel places that do not have a travel advisory, but unfortunately, these places are becoming few and far between.

Between Zika, political unrest, terrorism, and communicable diseases there is CRAZY crap happening all over the world. Anything can happen anywhere. We want to be safe, we want to be aware, but we also don’t want to stay at home and live in fear. We have weighed the risks and read and re-read the advisory. Yes, something could potentially happen while we are traveling in Europe (this, of course, could be catastrophic) but these events can happen in a local movie theater or in our schools.

When Sav lived in N.Y.C. the “see something, say something” program was really in full effect and we have adopted that mentality. If we see something that we find fishy (no matter where we are) we reach out and say something.

Our Experience Traveling to Locations with Travel Advisories

Last spring following the horrible attack in Brussels on March 22nd, we were scheduled to travel to Rome on the 31st (only 9 days later). We sat down as a group, read the statements issued by the U.S. Department of State and weighed out the pros and cons. In the end, we decided to go. When we arrived in Rome there was a huge security presence everywhere, but we were so thankful for it. Honestly, we had the BEST time and not once did we feel unsafe or threatened.

Security Measures We Will Practice this Summer

  • Enroll everyone in the U.S. Step Program. You can enroll here U.S. Department of State – Smart. Traveller. Enrollment. Program. (https://step.state.gov/step/)
  • Put together an emergency plan.  We want to be prepared if something were to happen. Covered in this plan is how we will communicate with our loved ones back home (should the need arise) to let them know if we are okay or if we are in trouble.
  • Have the numbers for local authorities in each city in which we will be staying as well as the addresses and phone numbers for each U.S. Embassy in those areas.
  • Leave a copy of our itinerary with our loved ones at home so they will always know where we will be.
  • Make sure we are caught up on First Aid training and be sure to carry our First Aid Kit.  
  • Welcome and be prepared for longer security lines everywhere we visit.

In our opinion, everyone needs to decide what works for them. If a family decides not to travel to Europe then they have every right to do so. In the end, we believe that the majority of people only want their families to be happy and safe. For us, we are going to be aware, be mindful, and try to safely explore and experience every place that we reasonably can and try to not let the threat of terrorism dictate our life.

XOXOXO

The Smith Fam

Charting New Territory to Become a More Happy Family!

Okay so let us be real for a second, while we are a happy family and we really love each other – it is not always kumbaya or sunshine and roses at our house. We for sure have our family meltdown moments (see the FAQ page to find out more)!! We also have other contributing factors to our family satisfaction and what makes us a happy family. Our faith, our health, and our commitment to one another, of course, plays a HUGE role in our happiness.

That being said, we have uncovered something as of late that we hope will further improve our relationships and our family dynamic.   We want to share 🙂 (read on if you like, if you figured this out a long time ago, that is fantastic!!).

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12 Thrifty Tips to Finding Cheap Flights

Need to travel but don’t have the funds???  Read below to find our 12 Tips to Finding Cheap Flights…

Our view from a flight from Moorea to Bora Bora.

Have you ever noticed that nearly everyone at the airport is seriously grumpy? When we were little we used to play a game every time we had to take a flight.  While we were at the airport, we would smile at as many people we could and see how many people we could get to smile back. Seriously it was about a 20% smile conversion rate. So the question that begs asking, is why is it that airports and flights can bring the worst out in people?

Perhaps it is because most of us end up paying an arm and a leg to be squished like a sardine in an extra large petri dish for hours. While we can’t take away the unpleasant aspects of flying (like the man who is holding his large screeching cat on his lap sitting next you – yes true story. We promise we will tell you more about it later). We hopefully can provide some insight on how to land cheap flights and not spend your life saving on air travel.

A Quick Note ** To be fair, saving money and scoring a cheap flight takes some initiative and time. By far the most convenient way to book a flight and to travel is to fly direct, fly first class, and pick the exact airport and date you want and move on. While that rocks – the majority of travelers can not afford to travel that way. If you can more power to you!

These tips are tried and proven and more often than not, they will help you save some serious cash on flights anywhere around the world!

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Our Top 10 Favorite Things to See & Do in China!!! – Part Two

And we are back – talking all things China and finishing up our Top Ten Favorite Things to See & Do in China list. If you missed Part One, you can check it out here (in addition to the list, we give some awesome tips and hints about traveling to China).

Our 10 Favorite Things to See & Do in China  – Part Two

6. Wenshu Monastery and the Surrounding Area


China, Our family passport
In the city of Chengdu, visitors are able to explore an extremely active Buddhist monastery originally dating back to the Tang Dynasty (618 -907 C.E.). Our guide walked us through and explained all the tenants of Buddhism and related it to the things we were experiencing inside. Picture firework stalls, exceptional architecture, monks scurrying about, incense burning, and glorious gardens. Our favorite part was the peace tower. Outside the monastery is a fabulous Chinese market complete with prayer flags, goods, and quintessential Chinese street food.  We even saw one man walking a turtle on a leash (albeit the captive turtle was a rather sad but so interesting to see).

7. Seeing the Pandas at the Chengdu Panda Breeding Center

Visit China, Our family passport

Big pandas, little pandas, baby pandas, fat pandas, happy pandas.  Pandas, pandas, and more pandas!  We loved them all. Cuteness overload. Enough said. PS did we mention there were lots of pandas?? 🙂

8. Biking and Floating along the Yulong River and Gumdrop Mountains

China, Our family passport

This was something out of an old Chinese painting. Picture unbelievably stunning mountains peeking through into the fog and greenery cascading over the peaceful Yulong river. It was so beautiful, it felt surreal. We floated down the river on traditional Chinese bamboo rafts and then biked back to town. It was a truly lovely experience to see the unbelievable beauty of this region. (Piece of advice here – have insect repellent on hand and ready to go! The mosquitoes are VICIOUS!))

9. Watching Cormorant Fishing on the Li River

At the dark of night, special fisherman raft along the Li River with a trail of cormorant birds in their wake. These amazing birds treat the fisherman like fathers and follow their biddings.  These birds are trained starting at just 6 months old to dive into the water, catch fish in their mouths, and then spit them back out into a basket on the raft. This kind of fishing is still a way of life. It was sensational to watch.

10. Visiting the Bund in Shanghai

Shanghai, Family Visit, Family Travel

The contrast between the massive Chinese cities and the Chinese countryside is apparent when standing in the midst of some of the world’s tallest buildings and experiencing the “bund”. It is an over-the-top location housing financial powerhouses and millions of people. Shanghai is a colorful and cosmopolitan city and is unforgettable!

Your Own Chinese Adventure

We hope this list is a starting point to help you plan your own Chinese adventure.  For those of you on the fence about visiting China, we encourage you to take the leap and GO!  For us, it was a magical experience.

Happy Travels,
-The Smith Fam

Our Top 10 Favorite Things to See & Do in China!!! – Part One

Have you ever been somewhere wondrous, yet a little overwhelming? We were overwhelmed with how much we adored China and all this country offers. We loved experiencing the people, culture, and history! One of the biggest surprises was how welcoming the Chinese people were.  Many of the people we encountered were enamored with our blonde hair and blue eyes. We were constantly being stopped to have our picture taken.  

However, we weren’t sure if China was a place we would have been able to navigate on our own (we traveled with an amazing private family tour company). So today, we are going to offer our Ten Favorite Things to See in China Part 1 to help you if you have an upcoming trip to Asia, or if you are trying to decide if you should add China to your bucket list. Keep an eye out for Part Two – it will be posted soon! To make sure you don’t miss it, be sure to subscribe to our blog.China

4 Quick Things to Consider

Here are a few things we learned about China, that we wish we would have known beforehand.

Social Norms:

The social norms in China are a bit different. Here in the U.S. if we were staring at and asking to take pictures with a foreigner, it would be considered rude and intrusive. That is not the case in China – it was meant to be a genuine compliment.  If you are fair, be prepared to be stared at, approached, and photographed.

Taking Turns:

We realized very quickly that the idea of “taking turns” doesn’t really exist when visiting an attraction in China. It is more survival of the fittest. We got elbowed more than once when trying to make it to the front of the line to see something. However, we realized if we were able to fight our way to the front than nobody cared if we stayed there forever.

For example, when we were at the Panda Breeding Center there were masses of people crowding the viewing areas and we were patiently waiting for our turn to watch the pandas play. This did not happen. Instead, our guide told us to push our way to the front and once we were there nobody would expect us to leave to give anyone else a turn. It was rather strange because here in the U.S. we just don’t do this. We would have been told how rude we were, but interestingly enough, this is not considered rude in China. There are so many people that crowding and forcing your way to the front is a way of life.

Historical Perspective:

Perspectives on history are rather different, and the idea of what a governing body should look like was vastly divergent from ours. It was a great lesson that history is not absolute. In our experience, many Chinese people see Mao as a hero and there are monuments erected to his honor all over the country. We had to be very careful and sensitive to this, and try to respect the views of the people. We decided as a group that it was not our place to share our opinions on this subject but just embrace the people and be courteous to their views. 

The Food:

The only thing we really struggled with was the food. If we are completely honest, for us, it was terrible (but it was all part of the experience). We had heard from many other American travelers that the food was rough in China. Based on our palettes and what we were used to eating, this ended up being true for us. Just a note – don’t go in expecting Panda Express or PF Chang’s. We took a lot of granola bars and snacks and we were so thankful for those bad boys by the end of the trip.

Our 10 Favorite Things to See & Do in China  – Part One


1. The Great Wall of China

One of the 7 Wonders of The World – The Great Wall did NOT disappoint (and we had some pretty high expectations – get it haha)! There are several different spots where you can visit along the 4,000 to 5,000 mile long wall. We visited at the Mutianyu section and had a fabulous toboggan ride down. The Mutianyu section is greatly restored but you can walk further along (about an hour) to see a  more “crude” area of the wall. The view is spectacular!The Great Wall of China

2. Tiananmen Square and Memorial Hall of Chairman Mao

While only one member of our group actually remembers the infamous 1989 Tiananmen Square Incident and the “tank man,” it was something that the rest of us had studied in history. It was rather perplexing and remarkable to stand in the vast square where countless historical events have unfolded.Visit Tiananmen Square

Just adjacent to Mao’s monumental portrait stands his memorial hall (basically a giant mausoleum) which currently* houses Mao’s body in a glass coffin. Expect long lines, and few tourists as this is mainly a pilgrimage site where Chinese people come to pay respect to their supreme leader. Our guide discouraged us from going in as we clearly don’t revere Mao.  If you go, be prepared to show your documents. There are no cameras, bags, or talking allowed.  As history buffs, it was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up and in the end, it was experiential learning at its finest.
* Mao’s body is still here at time of writing. However, we have heard from several sources that he is going to be moved soon.Chairman Mao Memorial Hall

 3. Pedi-Cab Ride Through the Hutong Alleyways of Old Beijing

One of our favorite things about China was being able to get a glimpse into the everyday life of the local people. Getting out of the touristy area of Beijing was refreshing, and being able to experience the hutongs and the maze of old homes and courtyards was enlightening. Watching local artisans at work was a highlight.

Visit Beijing 4. Terracotta Army

This was my (Kam’s) favorite thing the entire trip. As an art history nerd, I was in literal heaven. Emperor Qin Shihuangdi was clearly nuts, but man did he commission some serious cultural gems! Expect to see an entire complex of warriors in several different excavation sites. The coolest thing for me was seeing the individualization of each of the warriors and getting a glimpse back in time to see the dress and military standard of dynastic China. It is an active excavation site where treasures are still being uncovered. It is one spectacular time capsule (gruesomely built on the backs of many serfs and slaves). Just a note – in the main excavation area, you can pay extra money to get down closer to take pictures. Do it, you will not regret it! (SERIOUSLY – THESE ARE SO FLIPPING COOL!)Terracotta Warriors

5. Han Dynasty Tomb Museum of Emperor Jingdi

Not quite the Terracotta Army, but close. We had few expectations for this tomb but were thrilled when we realized how much we loved it! This underground tomb is almost completely excavated and you walk along glass floors which provide a perfect vantage point into the tomb of Emperor Jingdi and his wife. It is almost like this giant underground dollhouse with everything from clay food to animals and dolls modeled after each of his concubines. Why you ask??  The theory is that he was hopeful to carry these things with him to the afterlife. These figures are much smaller and not as well known as the nearby warriors, so the tomb museum was almost completely empty (and a little eery).  The visit was a welcome break from the mass of people at the Terracotta Warriors.

Han Dynasty Tomb Museum of Emperor Jingdi
These images are taken from WikiCommons. Due to the lighting in the museum, it was nearly impossible to get a good picture.
Look Out for Part Two

Eager to hear the rest of our list? In our next post, we will cover our favorite panda visit, a magnificent monastery, and the Gum Drop Mountains! You won’t want to miss it.

Until next time. Xoxox,

– The Smith Fam

 

Figuring Out Where To Travel Next – Our quick guide to determining your next family vacation!

Map of the world
This is our cute little peg board in our office where we get to put a new peg on each new place we visit.

One of the questions we get asked the most about our travels is “How do you decide where to travel next?”  It sounds rather straightforward but in all actuality, it can be rather complicated as many factors contribute to the decision.  We can’t go everywhere (though we wish we could), and we can’t be everywhere all at once so here are five considerations that influence us when we are deciding Where To? & What Next?

Where to Travel Next Consideration 1: ASK YOUR TRAVELERS AND MAKE A LIST

Ask!  With so many active and passionate travelers in our family, a poll or a vote is always a great place to start.  I usually ask each person to make a list of their top 5 domestic destinations and their top 5 international destinations.  We then make a “dream destination” list and display it in a prominent location (for many years it was just inside the pantry door).  Then we begin working toward traveling to the most popular destinations on the list.  The list gets updated every so often as our family grows and we learn about new places.  This process helps us prioritize our future travel destinations and helps us narrow down (the very long list) of places we all want to go.   In short- it keeps us focused:)

Where to Travel Next Consideration 2: YOUR BUDGET

Finances!  This is probably the biggest factor in deciding where (and when) to travel.  We have learned to balance pricier trips with more budget friendly ones.  This is key!  When we splurge on a particular trip, the following trips are much more inexpensive.  Every budget is different but regardless, the budget must be balanced.  

 Where to Travel Next Consideration 3: TIMING AND INTENSITY OF THE TRIP

Considering the intensity of a particular trip is key.  Factors such as distance, jet-lag, language barriers, and the activity level of a trip must be considered.   We once followed a nearly 3-week history and sightseeing heavy trip to Spain, with a 10 day trip to our country’s capitol; Washington DC.  By the time we arrived in Washington DC, we were waaay too tired and burned out to be able to enjoy all of the magnificent sites there.  In retrospect we should have planned much more time in-between the two trips OR followed our Spain trip with something a lot less intense and saved travel to Washington DC for another time.  We have learned to balance the intensity of our trips a bit more since then:)  If there isn’t a balance, things quickly become a chore instead of something to be enjoyed.  

Another pointer- When traveling a long distance and across many time zones, we recommend spending at least 10 days (preferably 2 weeks) in any given destination.   

Where to Travel Next Consideration 4: WHO’S IN?

It used to be a lot easier to know who was in and who wasn’t.  Now, with our family growing and changing all of the time, everyone is in a different phase of life and it is becoming increasingly difficult to have everyone there all of the time.  It makes me sad, but it is the reality.  I have accepted the fact that not everyone will travel all of the time.   

That said, we often do plan around schedules and plan around when we can get the most people to come.  Sometimes that means holding off on a certain destination until more of the family can come.  For example- Thailand has been near the top of the list for a handful of years but because of conflicting schedules, it isn’t until now that we have concrete plans for a family trip to Thailand.  If everyone has a strong desire to travel to a certain destination we will often hold off travel until everyone can come.

On the other hand, sometimes certain family members have NO desire to visit a particular destination.  This was the case for China.  The kids and I had been so excited to travel to China and experience the culture, learn the history and see the sites we had only dreamed about.  My husband Phil however, did not share our enthusiasm (at all).  We tried to talk him into it but really he just didn’t want to come.  In the end, we traveled without him and it worked out all the way around.

Where to Travel Next Consideration 5: THE WEATHER

Weather is critical. Is it worth it to travel off-time or off-season?  In our experience, there isn’t a hard and fast rule, it depends on the destination.  We often travel in peak season, but there are places we REALLY try to avoid during peak season (ie: anything Disney).  While rates can be cheaper in off season we prefer to travel when the weather is at its best and the activities are in full swing.  For example, who wants to spend a beach vacation cooped up indoors because the weather is horrible?  NO ONE.

We once traveled to Costa Rica in April, the tail end of the dry season.  The green tropical jungles that I had remembered from a previous trip were brown and shriveled.  It wasn’t even the same place.  It is always hot in Costa Rica but at the end of April, it was HOTTER!  Costa Rica was completely different in the dry season than in the wet.  We quickly resolved as a family to return to Costa Rica during the season when it was green and verdant.  We wanted to see the lush landscaping Costa Rica is so famous for.  Do your homework and find out the best time to visit a particular destination.  Peak season can be busier and pricier but sometimes preferable to off season.  If you are going to spend the time and the money to get somewhere, try to travel at the best time weather wise.

These are some of the factors that play into how we choose our travel destinations!  Sometimes it can be an adventure even figuring out where and when to go!  It is worth the effort and for us, planning is half of the fun!  Good Luck!!

Happy Travels!!

The Smith Fam

San Diego Seaport Village – Inexpensive Fun for the Whole Family!

Are you looking for some inexpensive and unique family fun in San Diego (especially when compared to the theme parks and zoos)? San Diego Seaport Village offers some great options for the entire crew!  Seaport Village is located harbor side on scenic San Diego Bay and offers over 75 shops, galleries, restaurants and sidewalk eateries.  It’s a must do for families* and we have many happy and nostalgic memories tied to this little village. Here are some of our “must do’s” for your family:

*Our little man Becks is obsessed and did not want to leave this little village on our last visit! San Diego Seaport Village

1- WHEELY WHEELY FUN!

Rent bikes:)  At Wheel Fun Rentals near Seaport Village and the Marriott Marquis you can rent bikes from regular types to surrey bikes (that seat 2-4 people).  Ride around Seaport Village, down through the historic Gaslamp Quarter and around the harbor and marina.  Helmets and bike locks are included in the rental.  This is an activity the whole fam is sure to enjoy.

2-LET’S GO FLY A KITE!

On sunny days many colorful high-flying kites are seen from the grassy areas harbor side.  The shop Kite Flite is located within the village and has hundreds of kites starting at around $29.00.  The shop will let you “fly before you buy.”  Flying kites can provide hours of fun for the youngest members of the group to the oldest. Kite Flite also offers other inexpensive high-flying toys like frisbees and boomerangs that the kids might get a kick out of.Fly Kite at Seaport Village San Diego

3-GO ROUND AND ROUND!

The enclosed carousel located in the heart of Seaport Village dates back to 1895.  There are 54 animals and 2 horse-drawn carriages to ride on.  At $3.00 p/person (free to parents standing by their child’s side) it is comparatively inexpensive and nostalgic and sure to put a smile on everyone’s face.Seaport Carousel

4-SCOOP SHOP and CUPCAKES!

Dig into ice cream from Ben and Jerry’s or a delicious cupcake from Frost Me Gourmet situated next door to each other.  These sweets never disappoint!  The ice cream shop offers cones, sundaes, smoothies and shakes in unlimited combinations.  Of course, the traditional chocolate or vanilla ice cream is available, but there are also other indulge-worthy flavors such as Phish Food or Americone Dream.  The cupcake shop offers unique combinations like Strawberry Lemonade. Delicious!

5-ENTERTAINMENT OPTIONS GALORE!

On any given day throughout Seaport Village (especially weekends)  there is entertainment galore.  Live bands, musical artists, special events, balloon artists and caricature and henna tattoo artists (some of these are free).  Our very favorites are the “buskers” that regularly perform.  We have seen sword swallowers, fire eating humans and magicians.  It is thrilling watching these uniquely talented performers in action.  You can check the website to see what entertainment is scheduled during your visit.

These options can provide for a whole day of fun in the sun in San Diego.  Make some memories with your loved ones that will last forever!

Happy Travels!!

-The Smith Famfamily travel

Dumb Ways To Die- Getting WAAAAY to close to a Yellow Bellied Sea Snake

Remember in our on our FAQ’s page we mentioned we had some epic travel fails we promised to share?  Well, here is one.  We have a story for you. (Hint: It involves an extremely poisonous sea snake.)

CHRISTMAS 2015

Picture this- Christmas Day 2015.  Our family is enjoying a holiday visit to the Papagayo Peninsula in Costa Rica. The day is perfect; sunny and blue skies and the whole family is out on a private boat adventure and sport fishing excursion.

Some of the guys (Phil, Stefen, and Tanner) wanted to go fishing for a few hours so they were out on the boat with a few of the guides. The rest of us (Shani, Kam, Savannah, Easton, and Beckham) were enjoying activities like jet-skiing, tide-pooling, sandcastle building etc, on a private beach while our BBQ lunch was being prepared by a few of the other guides.

IT IS SPOTTED – (Pun intended)

While walking along the beach, Easton noticed something laying in the sand being washed over by the small waves.  At first, he thought it was a piece of a tire that had just washed up on shore.  Upon closer inspection, he realized it was a snake- a stunning black and brightly yellow colored striped snake with a flat paddle-like spotted tail.  We LOVE snakes and always are on the look-out (especially in destinations like Costa Rica).

*One of our happy travel moments is when we saw a Green Eyelash Viper all curled up on the side of a tree on a previous trip to Costa Rica.  Such an incredible spot!!

D – TO THE – UMB

Anyway, immediately all of us gathered closer to the snake (a totally smart move)  in the sand and started observing.  It was definitely alive and moving but wasn’t acting aggressively, so naturally, we kept creeping closer to it.  Easton (15 at the time) started saying “Guys, it’s a sea snake.  I learned in biology that all sea snakes are poisonous!!!!”  The rest of us adults dismissed him saying “Oh Easton, they are not. Take a chill pill.”  We honestly didn’t think he knew what he was talking about.  In the meantime, Savannah had gone into the trees to get a stick to try and pick up the snake.

Meanwhile, the two oldest adults (not to mention the two moms of the group) decided it was a grand idea to maybe lightly toss some small pebbles in its direction to get it to move. – Um WHAT WERE WE THINKING!? Easton kept insisting that all sea snakes are venomous and we needed to stay away.  His continued insistence did not stop us immediately from getting within a few feet of it and smiling and taking pictures.Yellow Bellied Sea Snake

WHEN THE TEENAGER IS THE VOICE OF REASON

Finally, we decided to heed his warnings. Just in case he was actually right. We went to get one of our guides who was a short distance away preparing lunch and had not noticed the snake.  When the guide came to take a closer look, he told us it was a Yellow-Bellied Sea Snake. AND – that it was extremely poisonous and told us to stay away and be very careful (The teenager was right!). Eventually, the snake slithered back into the water and was quickly gone.

GOOGLE WILL NEVER FAIL US 🙂

Later that evening as we returned back to our residence, we googled “Yellow-Bellied Sea Snake” and were horrified to find out a little bit more about these creatures, including that they are more venomous than a King Cobra, a Mojave Rattlesnake, or any other land snake in Costa Rica (and there are some pretty sketchy land snakes in Costa Rica).

It was then that we all just looked at each other and realized that Easton had been right and just how Stupid (yes, with a capital S) we had been. Wildlife is not to be trifled with.

Upon researching this species more, we discovered that a few months earlier, a Yellow-Bellied Sea Snake had washed up on a beach in California (first time in 30 years) and the beach was closed for days and signs were posted warning beach goers of the potential risks of these snakes.

MORAL OF THE STORY

WOW! Okay, most of the time we are a cautious bunch.  We are well aware of the fact that things can happen while traveling and do our best to stay out of sticky situations.  BUT this time… epic fail.  EPIC!  We were so fortunate no one was hurt, including the pretty snake. Not to mention, we were so glad Easton was the voice of caution and reason when all of the adults had lost their minds.

Moral of the story. When we see a sea snake, just step away. Or maybe pull out google :).

Happy & safe travels!

-The Smith Fam