A Beautiful Quote

I heard this on NPR the other morning on the way in to work. A reporter was interviewing a group of people in St. Louis and one of them said this:

"Rosa sat so Martin could walk
Martin walked so Obama could run
Obama is running so our children can fly"

Isn't it wonderful that the African American candidate is the best Presidential candidate of our lifetime?

Find This Place -- Northeast

Somewhere in western Massachusetts, close by to the post below (that was a hint) is a great place to tire out the kids, and shoot panorama photos of three states.
As always, If you email me with the location of this mystery spot, I'll send you a custom FamilyRoadTrippers barf bag!

Bridge of Flowers -- Shelburne Falls, Mass

An abandoned street trolley bridge transformed into a Footbridge for your senses.

On a trip between Brattleboro, VT and home, I had an extra hour or so to kill, so I followed the sign I've been wondering about for so long: "Bridge of Flowers Next Right." This time I bit: the light was going to be good, and I had a camera with me, so I took the exit to Shelburne Falls.

One problem, which I suppose is understandable: No Dogs. This is a sensitive topic with me because we just added a new puppy to the family roadtrippers (her name is Moxie).

It's not a long walk -- 400 feet -- so it wouldn't be that great for dogs, it's mostly a nice place to stroll with an ice cream cone after dinner. And there happens to be a nice little tavern with a porch overlooking the bridge. And I saw people walking around with ice cream, so I suspect there's an ice cream store there as well.

The Shelburne Falls Women's Club tends more than 400 species of flowers, shrubs, and vines on the bridge which blooms early spring through late fall. The trolley ran twenty years over this bridge before closing in 1928. The following year it was converted into the bridge of flowers. Don't forget to leave a donation in the can at either end of the bridge.

Our New Puppy Road Tripper!

To answer the question posed in the long-standing previous post, to dog, or not to dog?

The answer, is To Dog!

Meet the new puppy roadtripper (name narrowed, but not chosen).

We're leaning towards Daisy, Zelda, Moxie, Smarty Jones, and Lucy.
What do you think?

Moxie won out.
She's been one on the greatest dogs we've ever had. An instant classic.

To Dog or Not to Dog?

The following email came to me while I was at work the other day. It was from Tinsley. To put it in context, I should say that we've been contemplating getting a dog. It's been almost three years since Wookie died and we feel like it may be time to fill her shoes, so to speak.

It just occurred why I need us to have a dog.
I have wondered much why I would want an additional source of chaos, feces, noise,
debris, etc... because that really does not make sense. However,

I just put both our kids down for an enforced nap at 11:30. They both totally hate me right now
and are drowsily plotting their next move. I can hear one of them rustling ominously this very moment.

But a dog NEVER does that. Not even terriers. (Cats might.)
A dog's only agenda is love, and maybe stick. And food, but let's face it, compared to being shrieked
at over peanut butter & jelly vs. peanut butter & honey, dogs culinary needs are pretty easy to handle.

Kids make you constantly aware of what a [beep] you are.
I don't even have to compare dogs to that. You know.

Selfish? Maybe.
Balm for the soul? Absolutely.

So I just had to sit here and tell you.

And they lick everything but a few veggies off the floor.

god bless dogs.

Eugene Slug Queen Update

Our roving Oregon reporter, Constance Van Flandern, has updated us with the details of this year's Slug Queen Festival. At the time of her previous post, the details of the coronation hadn't been smoothed out, shall we say. The Festival begins in a little over a couple of weeks on Aug 15, but

"Don't worry if you can't make it to Eugene until after Labor Day--you'll be just in time for the new Slug Queen Art Salon opening reception at the New Zone Gallery (164 West Broadway), August 15th, 2008 at 5pm. There will be live music, art, an d activities for the kids"

Thanks, Constance

Dyce Head Lighthouse in Castine, Maine

Another light house in the quiver of Familyroadtrippers. Me and the kids went for a side trip along with my Dad to Dyce Head Light in Castine, Maine. Tinsley stayed back at Dad's to fix the zipper on our tent (it's what she wanted to do). The drive from Belfast to Castine is beautiful and worth a day trip.

Dyce head light house is a private residence but there's an access trail that goes along side down to a rocky cliff at the shore. This not a place where you want the little ones running around.

After the visit, head down to the Castine waterfront for hot dogs, hamburgers, lobster rolls and/or ice cream.

Choosing a Family Road Trip Vehicle

The polling at familyroadtrippers.com indicated that SUV edged out station wagons and "children pulling buggy" and all of them beat mini-vans. But the real choice is a little more complicated.

When we were looking for a new roadtrip vehicle, it was an interesting choice. There are many choices available, station wagons, mini-vans, SUVs, compact SUVs, cross-over vehicles, and stuff like used vanagons and PT Cruisers.

Mini vans let you split up the kids
Mini vans have a few advantages over other vehicles: tons of cargo room, three rows of seats so that you can either carry many people or split up a couple of kids. (This is something they like as much as something we like).
We've used a Dodge Caravan at length because the company I work for has a small fleet of them for us to use on photo shoots and other trips. The Caravan is a wonderful roadtrip vehicle -- comfy, zippy, and there's tons of cargo space. Even a big dog like Wookie would fit quite well for extended trips. We rented a Ford Aerostar for a trip a few years ago and it felt like a hunk of junk. A couple of years ago we rented a Chevy mini van which we liked quite well.

We were looking at a Caravan and a Toyota Sienna.

Crossovers are zippier but still with lots of room
We took a trip from Nashville to New Orleans and back recently in a rented Kia Rondo, a crossover vehicle I guess, but it really felt like a mini mini-van. We liked the ride and the inside setup quite a bit, and there was plenty of cargo room. The gas mileage was OK, a little better than a mini van, but still in the lower 20s. I think this type of vehicle could be a great choice. The Kia's main drawback was that when one of the windows (especially the rear ones) were opened (partially or fully), a horrible pulsing pressurization would overcome the car. Like your ears would explode if subjected to it much more. Other than that, we liked it.

Mazda's and Toyota's mini mini-vans look really good, and we'd like to check them out. Maybe the next time I rent a car, I'll try to get one. Mazda has one with three rows of seats so you can split the kids, boost gas mileage, and maintain quite a bit of cargo room.

Compact SUVs have lots of vertical storage
There's more cargo room in the Subaru Forester than in either the Outback or the Legacy. But the cargo room is vertical -- you need to pack stuff on top of stuff, and long stuff is either out of the question or on the roof. Despite their higher center of gravity and larger shape, the Subaru sales man said that all three models get about the same mileage -- because they have identical power trains, the body shape, he said, was pretty much irrelevant. I suspect he's mostly right, but if so, why do Olympic athletes get so anal about friction and drag?

PT Cruisers are in a class by themselves (so to speak).
I've also rented PT Cruisers a couple of times on photo shoots. I don't know how to classify them. Maybe crossover vehicle? But crossover between what? They're almost like small Chevy Suburbans. There seems to be a lot of space, they're sporty, and they do very well over speed bumps (hey, it was a rental, I owe it to readers to find these things out). The window controls, though are no where near where you would expect them to be: they're in the center of the dashboard. Not on the door or the center console. In the dark, things like this are a pain in the neck.

Station wagons use less gas and have a lot of space.
In the end, we chose a Subaru Legacy. The mileage was purported to be 28 highway, but on our maiden voyage, we got 30 or better (hiper miler techniques employed). The cargo space is plenty sufficient (we were able to bring all of our camping gear). And the cup holders are fine. The look is super sporty. We had a roof racjk added so that we can boost cargo room when needed, but at a gas mileage price. But we figure, Why take the hit on mileage with a mini-van every day of the year when you can only take the hit when you need the extra cargo room?

Cup holders matter more than some might think
The Subaru guy was amazed at the fact that he was about to lose a sale because the '98 Outback (only 68,000 miles!) had cruddy cup holders. I didn't see them on my test drive, and when I returned to the lot, I parked it, walked up to Tinsley, tossed him the keys and said to her "There are no cup holders." Tinsley shook her head, Trevor scrambled to the car to look, and found them: a dinky, rickety little tray the slips in to the dashboard. Tinsley and I rolled our eyes.

What's your road trip vehicle of choice?

City Guide: Belfast, Maine

A waterfront city with magnificent downtown buildings is experiencing a wonderful renewal.

I'm a little prejudiced towards Belfast, Maine. Much of my family lives there, I visit whenever I can, and it feels like home. Home away from home, anyway. We've written about Belfast in the past.

My mom wrote about it when she was in elementary school:

Belfast is a little city
Nestled by the sea.
It's not much, but what the heck
It's good enough for me!

Belfast has gotten even better since then.
The harbor is full of boats, the waterfront is buffered by a park, the downtown is thriving with stores, restaurants, and service providers. And no big box sprawl to speak of. There are big stores, but no sprawling strip like almost every other town in America. The Victorian and classic revival buildings downtown are occupied and busy. There's even a new hotel in an old downtown building shooting for four or five stars. When I remember the name of it, I'll link to it.

If 4 star suites don't fit your bill, the Northport Campground fills in the other end of the spectrum.
We have a very big tent, and we camp there frequently. A tent site is $23 per night, so a week's worth of camping costs the same as a night at the Comfort Inn (every room has a great view of the bay), which is where we stay when camping won't work.

There's a footbridge over the river that feeds the harbor.
The name of the river is the Passagassawakeag River, which is Indian for "Pass a gassy wax egg". I'm not exactly sure what that means; I think maybe something got lost in the translation, but the kids sure enjoy saying it. And the footbridge is fun to run across if you're a kid. It's also a popular fishing spot.

Belfast City Park is a great place to spend the better part of a day.
Playgrounds, tennis courts, basketball courts, a city pool, picnic spots with built-in barbecue grills overlooking Pennobscott Bay. Rolling grassy areas shaded by mature trees. There's even a hot dog/hamburger stand. Why would anyone ever want to leave?

To go to Perry's Nut House, of course.
It's a combination wacky-stuff-candy-nuts-chocolate-fudge store and a weirdy museum. If that makes any sense. Goofy kids toys, books, treats, mummies, and shrunken heads. Not to forget the funny mirrors. And the carousel ride out front goes forever on 50 cents. An excellent value and a good way to amuse youngsters.

The Belfast Coop has good foods and great coffee.
And newspapers if you want one. And wine, beer, meat and cheese.

The Army-Navy store has some odd camp essentials
I went into the Army-Navy store downtown looking for enameled steel coffee mugs and mantels for out Coleman lantern. They had the mugs, but not the mantels. As we were about to leave, I looked up to see a Martin Backpacker guitar. I've been leaving my full size guitar at home over the years because it won't fit in the car and it's too expensive an instrument to take camping or road tripping. The Martin Backpacker isn't that valuable ($200). But what it lacks in value, it gains in portability. What a great score. Who knew an Army-Navy store would sell guitars (they had other styles too)? My kind of Army-Navy store.

One more landmark in Downtown Belfast is Colburn's Shoe store, the oldest shoe store in the country. And my Grammy used to work there when she was a girl. I bought my shoes there as a kid and convinced Tinsley to buy a pair there last month. She was thrilled with the experience, the shoes, and the nice folks who work there.

Three Ways to Green Your Family Road Trip

There are a lot of reasons to do less damage to the environment. There are also a lot of ways to do it. Here are three ways to use less gas and support local economies at the same time. After all, the money you put into your tank doesn't really trickle down to the locals does it?

1. Drive fewer miles, spend more time in local places
Often some of the coolest things are right around the corner. The Statue of Liberty and Cape Cod National Seashore are within a day's drive of FamilyRoadtrippers HQ . Even closer to home are Mystic Seaport, Norman Rockwell's museum, and Mark Twain's house. Other people travel half way around the world to visit your corner of the globe, why not get acquainted with it yourself?
Tip: this can help the kids better understand their geographic region, and do better in school.

2. Skip the sushi, eat local favorites.
Maine Lobster, New Orleans gumbo, Cuban sandwiches in Miami, and a Philly Cheese Steak. What could be better? Omaha beef? (Yup). Not a whole lot more to say here. The Barbecue is best anywhere between North Carolina and Texas. New York City has Chinese/Cuban restaurants. New Mexico? Green Chilies! Seattle? Beer and coffee.

3. Be a Hipermiler!
These people are amazing. They get better gas mileage that you and I get from the exact same car. How do they do it? Six steps and a little patience.

How do you green your road trips?

Summer fun in Eugene: SLUG Queen Festival

While the garden slug may not be revered in the garden, they are
beloved out of that context in the lush garden city of Eugene, Oregon.
By Constance Van Flandern

No matter how you feel about slugs there's no denying that they leave a trail of sparkling glitz behind. This year's sparkling trail begins in the Ken Kesey Plaza on August 15 with the annual coronation of Eugene's most beloved counterculture icon—The Slug Queen -- happening sometime soon thereafter (stay tuned). You'll know you are in the right place when you hear the accordion music of Accordions Anonymous and see the feathers and finery of the Queens, contestants and crowd. The music and dancing continue in a carnival like atmosphere long after the new queen is crowned. The Society for the Legitimization of the Ubiquitous Gastropod (SLUG) Queen Festival runs through Aug 22.

Mosey over to Adam's Grill and see if they'll whip you up some of their Slug Sliders. Yum. Follow the slug trail through town and stop at someof the finest eateries and watering holes in Oregon--each offering up a tasty slug-themed treat -- think gorgeous Kekau Chocolate Slugs, yummyflower and slug decorated Organic cupcakes from Divine Cupcake or Sweet Life, a Royal Banana Slug Queen Ice Cream Sundae with caramel "slime" at Barack Obama's Eugene hang out Prince Puckler's Ice Cream, or a cool "Slugtini" at Davis Bar and Grill).

And be sure to stop by the New Zone Gallery on West Broadway for the Slug Salon--an artist's exhibition of everything Slug Queen. The opening reception will be very family friendly with activities for kids of all ages.

[editor's note: let me repeat that, "very family friendly with plenty of activities for kids of all ages."]

See the full list of trail treats on www.slugqueeneugene.com

Where to stay?
Her Highness is very particular, of course. But what self respecting slug wouldn't adore a quaint bed and breakfast actually called "The Secret Garden"? It's delicious! Another Royal hotspot, "The Excelsior Inn" will treat you like royalty.

If you miss the Slug Queen festival, come for The Eugene Celebration Hit the heart of Eugene's largest annual festival September 12-14. Saturday the 13th will kick off the first full day of music, food and art with a large funky
parade through the center of town. Be sure to get there early as the streets are crowded and the Slug
Queen Float opens the parade!

--Constance Van Flandern is a mom in Eugene, Oregon. Photos by Roger Rix.

Find This Place: Mississippi!

The ongoing Family Road Trippers geographical scavenger hunt!

Find this ruin somewhere in Mississippi. A little off the beaten path, but near the Mississippi River.

As always, if you can identify this place, we'll send you a free barf bag!

An Eye-Opening Drive through Mississippi

How can a state with the richest farm land in the world, in the richest country in the world, be so economically depressed?

I had driven through every state in the US except Hawaii, Mississippi, and Alabama. I drove a little bit of the gulf coast of Mississippi last fall, but that was it. Never really explored the state. We did it last week at the end of a roadtrip from Nashville to New Orleans and back. To avoid some nasty weather, we drove west and then north, and then east rather than driving northeast into the storm.

The eye-opening part was realizing exactly how depressed and downtrodden parts of our country are. After visiting the Windsor Ruins, we continued on into Port Gibson. This is where the eye-opening began. Port Gibson is a living ghost town. The buildings downtown are mostly deserted and decaying. Being overgrown by vines and shrubs and crumbling to the ground. This was once a proud little town, I suspect before the Civil War, but now, it’s being left behind. We bought gas at the local station and were approached (politely) for spare change in the parking lot. From here, it kept up. As we drove through rural Mississippi towns, we saw schools abandoned and overgrown. While the farm land we drove through is some of the richest in the world, downtown areas were derelict and deserted except for a tire store here and there. It was this way up to Memphis, where it continued right on up to Graceland.

It’s easy to think you know what poverty is, but even the hardest-hit towns in our state, Connecticut, are lightyears ahead of these towns in Mississippi. How did it get to be that way? In New England, when you outgrow a school, you don’t abandon it, you convert it into offices or housing, or you tear it down. Buildings don’t rot to the ground, at least not on the scale we saw in between Vicksburg, Mississippi and Memphis, Tennessee.

Quite a surprising drive.

Let the Weather Choose Travel Routes on Roadtrips

Sometimes its better to drive west in order to go east; you'll find beautiful weather, new sights, and new adventures.

Making our way back from New Orleans to Nashville, the sky turned gray and then black. Then the black clouds started swirling. Black swirling skies are a bad sign in the southeast, usually meaning tornadoes. Rather than drive northeast on the Natchez Trace, and along the storm path, we drove west over the Mississippi River into Louisiana, headed north into Arkansas, jumped back over the river into Mississippi, and then straight north to Memphis.

This turned out to be fast, scenic, a new adventure, and an eye-opening drive (but that's a different blog topic altogether). We’d never driven through Mississippi before, just a short drive along the gulf coast after Katrina. The road we took, mostly state Highway 1 North along the river was a two lane road in great shape. There was very little traffic, mostly semis, but it wasn’t congested at all.

The scenery was beautiful, driving up through the rich farmlands of the Mississippi River floodplain. The crops were mostly corn, but a few of the fields had golden wheat growing which was beautiful in the sunlight. The rain from the night before left standing water in many of the fields, which made lessons for Tom about floodplains and farming more relevant.

We didn't want to abandon the Trace
While we really enjoyed the Natchez Trace Parkway, and were actually sad to get off of it in favor or “regular” roads, this rural route provided a pathway to Memphis which helped to wrap up a few loose ends of our educational journey with the kids. Because our destination was New Orleans, the Mississippi River played a big part in how we framed some lessons for Tom. But the Natchez Trace doesn’t follow the river, it begins there. And it exists because of the river. Driving along the river allowed us to a see the farmlands we’d talked about and the shape of the river, and its floodplain. It also allowed us to follow Elvis from his home in Tupelo (which we visited on the Trace) to his home in Memphis and Sun Recoding studio, where Johnny Cash and Elvis recorded.

Natchez Trace Parkway: Drive This Road! part 3

Day 2: Clear skies and smooth sailing. Tupelo got hit the night before with a tornado, but it's all blown over now and the sun is out for a beautiful day of driving in Mississippi. We took the Trace to Jackson and cut south to New Orleans.

A George Jones video of the Natchez Trace in Mississippi:

Tips for traveling with Kids Number One Bajillion: Origami!

Tinsley and Tom visited the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts a few weeks ago. They didn't blog about it, but I'll cover it quickly: There was (and will continue to be until mid June) an origami exhibit that they found fascinating.

Home they came with origami paper and a booklet. Later that night, the table was covered with i-ching wheels (which are fun to call itching wheels), star boxes, and jumping frogs. It only took a couple of days for them to master (at least from a novice's perspective) the crane.

Last weekend we had a long drive to help the City of Belfast, Maine celebrate my grandfather's 100th birthday party. Origami was a wonderful way to keep Tom busy in the backseat. As with many back seat activities, one must be aware of motion sickness. When we got to the Hotel room, I tried my hand at origami, making a paper cup. My motivation is to find a design that could be folded using a bigger piece of butcher's paper into a "Horking Cup" which is my funny way of saying barf bag.

Eat Lunch Here -- French Camp on the aNatchez Trace

The Bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich is America's sandwich.
Probably the best version of the BLT is along the Natchez Trace Parkway -- it comes as a triple-decker with home made garlic Tabasco mayo.

French Camp on the Natchez Trace Parkway, mile 180.7, Mississippi.

Natchez Trace Parkway: Drive This Road, part 2

I'm kind of a pushover. I love almost any good road I'm driving on. The Anaconda-Pintler Scenic Route in western Montana is a fantastic road, the Road through Smoky Mountain National Park is a great road, but the Natchez Trace Parkway is really a great road. I don't think I say that because I'm smitten. I think it's the truth. Tinsley will back me up on it. She keeps finding reasons to love it too.

Maybe it's just that the kids were behaving exceptionally well (see Tips forRoadtripping with Kids tip #1 Start 'em Early and Often). They're either totally beaten down and resigned to the fact thet they're going to spend 50% of their lives in the back seat, or they like it. These days, it seems like they like it.

The first 50 - 100 miles are a little windy, but after that, it's nothing but gentle curves, gradual inclines, nice road surface, ZERO LITTER... This would make a fantastic bike ride.

We worked up some stuff for Tom to study before we left because we're pulling him from school to do this. One of the things is a two page map spread of the road and the Mississippi river. I added a bunch of text about the river -- how it works, what grows in and around it, why shrimp in New Orleans are jumbo and consequently, what an oxymoron is (I'll post that stuff soon). Tinsley laid out the page and made my words fit. At the Mississippi Arts Center, she picked up a copy of Mark Twain's Life on the Mississippi. Within the first three pages, he verified all of the things that I had written and she acted so amazed. I guess she thinks I have an active imagination.

Anyway, here's a good tip: If you're driving the Trace (or exploring anywhere in Mississippi River country, buy and read Twain's book before you go (during the trip is OK, but not quite as good). Twain is such a wonderful describer of things and people that it really helps to make the trip fun and interesting for parents and kids alike.

Here's another tip: keep a running tab of animals that you see. We saw tons of turkeys (literally). Which maybe isn't such a surprise. But we also saw a lot of other animals too. Guess which is the strangest animal we saw.

Here's a hint: we saw it in Alabama.
OK, here's another hint: It's not native to Alabama.
Give up?

C'mon, don't give up, it's native to some other continent and it begins with a "C"
Guess what it is.

Nope, guess again.

OK, I'll tell you. It was a camel.

We saw a camel in Alabama.

So when we saw the Zebra, it was a little less surprising. The Zebra may have been more surprising, had we seen it first, but after seeing a camel in Alabama, how could you b e surprised by a striped horse?

We spent the night in Tupelo, Mississippi after visiting Elvis's birthplace and driving by the Tupelo National Battlefield (which is right next to the side of the highway and can be photographed from the car at a stop sign. Probably not worth too much effort, but Tupelo is a great little city, the Hilton Garden Inn is a wonderful place to stay, and the Starbuck's in Tupelo was great (this was where I bought the great country cd).

LL Bean -- A Great Pit Stop

America's most famous outdoor store makes a great 24 hour destination for family travelers. Fishing, hunting, hiking, and camping gear galore. As well as just about anything else a Maine traveler could need...

We're in New Orleans right now. Last week we were in Belfast, Maine helping the city of Belfast celebrate my Grandfather's 100th birthday. They named him Citizen of the Century, which is quite an honor.

On the way home, we stopped in to LL Bean's store. We normally avoid Freeport to keep out of the traffic, but it really is a cool store worth visiting every so often. When I was a kid, my Mom would stop there every time we drove to Belfast. "It's open 24 hours kids, no matter what time you stop there, they'll be open!" I don't know if she was just trying to get us excited about it or if she was genuinely excited about that, but that's what she'd say. Every time. And we'd stop.

The store was renovated since those days, now there's an indoor fish pond, aquarium, and climbing rocks for testing out the boots. And there's a big kids section. All in all it's a pretty cool stop for kids, as long as they understand it's a store, not a playground.

And when you're in Freeport, buy an ice cream at Derosiers, just a wee bit south on RT 1 from LL Bean.

Natchez Trace Parkway: Drive This Road, part 1

Smooth, scenic, sparsely populated with traffic, tons of history, interesting educational exhibits, bathrooms everywhere you could even hope for, picnic areas, campgrounds, and one heck of a great place to stop for lunch. Oh yeah, and it rains money when you drive the Trace. Well, not money, but sometimes it rains.

This road is one of America’s best backroads, Five stars, four thumbs up (out of four thumbs), and any other accolades that we can give to a road.

We began in Nashville, TN. Music City. Home of the Grand Ol’ Opry. We put AM650 WSM on the radio and headed into the storm that had caused a tornado in Tupelo the night before. We learned that Eddy Arnold had died the previous night, so WSM was playing almost exclusively Eddy Arnold. The rain wasn’t continuously torrential, it was intermittent. We were able to stop along the road to learn about American (and pre-American) history. We spent the night in Tupelo after seeing Elvis’s birthplace.

At a Starbucks in Tupelo, I bought a CD -- Classic American Country. I’ve always been suspicious of cds sold in Starbucks, but the mix is really pretty good. I should have bought the cd in Nashville because it covered exactly the right music to put the scenery through the window into context. As it turned out, that was the day Eddy Arnold died, and Eddy had the first song on the cd -- Cattle Call. Other greats ate George Jones, Ernest Tubb, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Conway Twitty. Our only complaints were that Roger Miller’s song wasn’t the best choice of Roger Miller songs, and there was no Dolly Parton. C’mon, no Dolly?

An Amazing Adventure

We're on the Natchez Trace Parkway today and tomorrow, heading to New Orleans. We stopped at the state line signs between Tennessee and Alabama and met a man taking pictures, just like I was. I guess people that take pictures of state line signs are just naturally drawn to conversation.

Turns out he's supporting a bike rider who's going from Baton Rouge, LA to St Paul, MN. How cool is that?
(pretty cool)

I told him if he had a web site, I'd link to him here.
Here's a journal of his ride:

and here's a site about what he's doing and why:

Happy pedaling, Mick!

Buy Ice Cream Here--Derosiers Market

First Winner of a big Thumbs Up: Derosiers Market in Freeport, Maine. I've been getting ice cream here at Derosiers since I was about five years old. My Dad just kept stopping there. Guess what I'm doing every time I drive through Freeport?

Yup, stopping for ice cream at Derosiers.

This most recent trip, the gal scooping the scoops was smart enough to downsize the kid's scoop sizes, and nice enough to only charge us for one scoop. Because they were small scoops.

And she was a teenager! What gives?

This Gas Staion "Doesn't Have a Bathroom"

Gas stations that won't let little kids use the bathroom have always irritated me. Especially after I fill up the tank with $45 worth of gas. It just seems like a basic hospitality issue.

"Restrooms are for customers only" is fine. But after you fill the tank, and unstrap your three year old from the kid seat, and they walk in having to pee really bad and the man (or lady as in the most recent case) says something like "No, we don't have a bathroom." Right. Like the employees pee out back. Can't they just let one little girl pee?

That bothers me.

Doesn't it always work out that when one tank is empty, the other is full? So it seems like common decency that "service" providers recognize this and accommodate their customers with full-service. Please let us pee!

We at Familyroadtrippers.com have started a Google map of these types of gas stations. I think anyone can contribute to the map (at least I checked a box that seemed to allow it), let's, as a family of family travelers, revolt against these un-feeling hoarders of relief. It's in the name of our kids, not us; heck, we can hold it, right? At least till we get out back.

So here's the first entry on the map of shame: Mort's Grocery in Spofford, New Hampshire:

If you're unable to add to this map, add your stations of shame to the comments section, and I'll add them to the map.

Thank You for Your Road Trip Support!

More than 10,000 Page Visits!
I hate these silly kinds of blog posts, but I'm sorry, I can't help it. We hit our ten thousandth page view since we started this blog, a year and a half ago.

Right now, we're averaging over a thousand visits per month. More than 1,500 last month, a little over 1,000 in March, and over 800 in both January and February.

Thanks for your interest. We've got some great stuff coming in the next few weeks: we're currently in the middle of a mini road trip and I'll begin a list of gas stations that won't let your 3 year old daughter use the bathroon (please add to out list as this is really a public service) and a super pumped up information barrage of Natchez Trace Trail info.

In the meantime, sorry for the self serving entry, but thanks for visiting.

Is School more Important than a Family Road Trip?

When you pull a kid from class for a week, you disrupt the lesson plan of the teacher and slow your child 's progress. But travel can develop strong family ties and provide a richer learning environment than any cement building in a kid's home town. If you develop an educational agenda, you can make roadtrips a fun and enriching experience.

About a year ago there was a discussion at Fodor's Forum on whether it was a good idea or a bad idea to take kids out of school for a family trip. Many thought it was fine, some others felt strongly that it was disruptive of the school routine and therefore that it was bad for the kid, bad for the teacher, and bad for the other students in your child's class.

I feel differently.

Travel presents endless opportunities for education, if you let it. My feeling is that the most important things in life are not taught at school. That’s not to say that school isn’t important, but that schools can't teach the critical lessons. They can barely afford a field trip to the science museum, let alone a trip to Europe. You learn by walking around a place, smelling the air, seeing the sights and tasting the (yuk) escargot. And asking questions.

I travel a lot for work; if it's not too far we pack up the family and head out. We feel that every road trip is an opportunity to teach our kids about this country: people; rocks and volcanoes; fish, bees, cactus and trees; government, wars...

Don’t bring the same old books from home for the kids to read, get books from the library about where you’re going. Start reading a couple of weeks before you go. And make scavenger hunt scrap books as escargot describes. We’ve had a ton of success with an old point and shoot digital camera with our son who is now six. Take some time to learn about some cultural or natural history to use as talking points on your trip.

What are the important things to learn in life?
  • Compassion, which you learn by understanding many different points of view.
  • Diplomacy, which you learn by experiencing many different cultures.
  • How to manage your money, which can be taught while traveling.
  • How the natural world works, which makes a lot more sense when you’re standing in the middle of it (it’s hard to picture the size of a glacier when you’re in a class room, but a lot easier when you’re standing in Glacier National Park or next to the Mission Mountains as in the photo).
Maybe the most important thing is learning and experiencing new things with your family.

The world needs more smart people making smart decisions and asking the right questions. Much of what goes wrong in the world is because adults do dumb things: lie, steal, ignore the obvious, and fail to ask questions about the big picture.

What do you think?

Family Roadtrip, Comin' Up!

I have to head to New Orleans for the National Green Building Conference sponsored by the National Association of Home Builders. As it happens, the show is over the Mother's Day weekend (Smart conference planning tip: don't schedule your conference for Mother's Day weekend). Oddly enough, the NAHB's International Builder's Show was in Orlando this year over Valentines Day (is the NAHB anti-sweetheart and anti-Mom?).

As luck would have it, Tinsley is fine with me going to the conference as long as I take her out to a nice Mother's Day Brunch.

In New Orleans.

Do I feel a road trip coming, or what?

Ever since we lived in Nashville, we've wanted to drive the Natchez Trace Parkway. It's a 444 mile National Scenic Route running from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, TN. The Parkway follows the old Natchez Trace Trail which was a walking and horse path back in the old days.

I got to drive a small portion of it the last time I visited New Orleans, and the itch intensified. In a few weeks, we'll fly into Nashville and rent a car. We'll drive the Natchez Trace to its end and wind our way into New Orleans.

Maybe we'll take the fast way back, maybe not.

Wanted: Guest Bloggers

We've got some repeat visitors out there in places we don't get to visit often such as California, Minnesota, and Hawaii. But more surprisingly, Australia and Iceland. Surely there are things these folks can contribute to FamilyRoadtrippers.com

How do we know this? We recently discovered Google's Analytics tool. Wow. Before a few weeks ago, we'd been relying on the counter to tell us how many page visit we get. This tool breaks it down by visitors, pages per visit, page visits, average time on site and percent new visitors. But again, there's more surprising stuff. It shows you where in the world people are visiting from, by country. And by state, and by city. For sheer page views, The USA wins hands down with 201; Canada is second with 10. But for time spent on site The Philippines smucks the rest with 7:15, for pages per visit, Russia wins at 4.0 with Iceland close behind at 3.5.

Who'd a thunk it?

Anyways, A man named James wrote in a little while ago wanting to post a trip review of a Vancouver to San Francisco roadtrip; look for it soon. James will be our second guest blogger, the first being 'escargot' form Fodor's Forums. We'd love trip reports, travel tips, or other write ups of family road trip adventures around America and the globe.

If you'd like to participate, email us at familyroadtrippers@gmail.com. Writing ability isn't much of an issue as I make my living as a magazine editor coaching non-writers to write technical articles. If plumbers, electricians and architects can do it, so can you!

Happy trails!

Family Adventure Spots in New England

From Yankee Magazine recently...

Family Adventure Spots in New England

Whitewater Rafting Deerfield River, Northwestern Massachusetts>Mountain Biking Kingdom Trails, East Burke, Vermont
Sea KayakingWickford Harbor, Rhode Island
Camping Acadia National Park, Mount Desert Island, Maine
Biking Province Lands, Provincetown, Massachusetts
Canoeing Umbagog Lake, New Hampshire

Stephen Jermanok, travel writer and father of two young children, reveals his favorite family adventure spots. Some of them may surprise you. Get ready for New England's best adventures in whitewater rafting and biking in Massachusetts, mountain biking in Vermont, sea kayaking in Rhode island, camping in Maine, and canoeing in New Hampshire.

Family Travel all about 'Quality Time'

From the Chicago Tribune a while back

Family travel all about 'quality time'
BY ALFRED BORCOVER Special to the Tribune November 18, 2007

It's all about QT. Kids are busy with soccer, basketball, baseball, music lessons, video games and camp, not to mention school. Parents are overburdened at work and equally busy on weekends trying to hold lives together. QT -- quality time -- with children seems to be catch-as-catch-can. And pretty soon months have rushed by without the family having fun together.That's where family travel comes in. Not just jumping in the van and sightseeing helter-skelter, kids rolling their eyeballs every time you drag them into a museum. But doing things kids want to do, having a shared adventure blended with an educational experience. Or just splashing around together at a lake or ocean beach.

Travel with children has been on a steady climb since 2000, and even more so in the last seven years. According to Washington-based Travel Industry Association figures, the number of leisure vacations with children has risen nearly 14 percent, to 208.3 million trips in 2006 from 183.1 million in 2000. Some of these trips are taken with grandparents.
"From 2001 through 2004, the primary reason [for the growth] was the residual psychological impact of 9/11," said Peter Yesawich, chairman and CEO of Ypartnership, an Orlando-based travel research and marketing firm. "People became far more introspective. Money, which was the focus of the late 1990s, was no longer all important. All-important was quality time with loved ones, a sense of parental guilt.

"Yesawich continued: "We began to see another reason [for family travel]: work habits that have become increasingly frenetic. The workday has gotten longer because of technology -- cell phones, PDAs and ceaseless e-mails. If you look at households where you have mom, dad and kids, 60 percent of those are where mom and dad are both working full time."

Yesawich said a pressure-cooker basically has evolved because mom and dad are struggling to keep up with their work obligations, "which means they feel guilty they don't have time to spend with their kids, which in turn translates into the conclusion, 'well, when we get three or four days to take a vacation, the kids are coming along.'"About those vacations. Yesawich said the No. 1 family getaway involves visiting friends and relatives. Beyond that, he said, priorities include anything that has to do with water -- beach and lake vacations and water parks, followed by theme parks and cruises, increasingly popular with families.

About 80 percent of vacationers in the U.S. take at least one trip a year by car, especially true for families who are cost conscious. Only half of vacationers fly. When you're traveling with kids, you look for the best deals, he said.

But what's truly essential when planning a family vacation is involving the kids. What you don't want are bored children and constant kvetching. When Yesawich conducted his annual National Leisure Monitor survey in January, sampling 1,882 leisure travelers, he found that kids play a significant role in determining where the vacations will be taken, where the family will stay and what they're going to do. "Kids go online and help plan vacations," Yesawich said. "

Kids save part of their allowance to participate in vacations. They are invested emotionally in the trip. One out of every two decisions is influenced by children, which is quite remarkable."For families looking for special shared-experience vacations, package vacations are growing as quickly as the whole travel-with-children boom. While growing, tours and family adventure packages are a "very thin slice" of the family travel market, Yesawich noted. Overwhelmingly, people are packing up the family car for their trips, he said."

Over the last three years alone, the family travel end of our business is up 30 to 40 percent," said Dan Austin, director of Austin-Lehman Adventures, an outdoors adventure-oriented tour operator based in Billings, Mont. "It makes up about 50 to 55 percent of our business." Austin-Lehman's family tour packages focus on the Pacific Coast and Northwest, California, the Rocky Mountains and the Southwestern U.S. A few go to Central and South America, and one to Africa. All have physical components such as biking, hiking, kayaking and rafting as well as cultural activities."It's a way for families to maximize what little time they have," Austin said. "

Whether it be with us or whomever, a package tour, where you've got experts who have vetted the places to stay, the proper trails and routes so you're not taking a lot of misdirections, is going to give you the most bang for your buck."As for kids, Austin said, they're in the outdoors and experiencing new things. "We wear them out a little bit. They may go for four or five days before they realize the place their staying doesn't have TV." (www.austinlehman.com; 800-575-1540)

Paula Weissman, a 44-year-old stay-at-home mom from Long Grove, said she found Austin-Lehman on the Internet while searching for family vacation ideas when her children -- now 15, 13 and 11 -- were too young for such adventure trips. When the time was ripe, Weissman and her husband, Ken, now 47, a businessman, took their kids, who love the outdoors, to Yellowstone. "It integrated physical activity, a diverse itinerary with seeing, learning and doing. We didn't know what to expect. We were exhausted at the end of each day." Undaunted, the following year they went to Alaska and then the Canadian Rockies, trips etched in their family memories.Tauck, a tour company since 1925 and most notably for seniors, jumped into the family travel pool in 2002 with six offerings, said Joanne Gardner, marketing manager for Tauck Bridges, its family brand. The family market has been growing by 15 percent a year, she noted. Starting in 2008, the Norwalk, Conn.-based firm will add four more programs, bringing its portfolio to 13 all-inclusive multigenerational packages on four continents. ( http://www.tauck.com ; 800-788-7885.)

At the high end of the family market is Oak Brook-based Abercrombie & Kent. "We've seen a 22 percent increase in the number of families traveling with us in 2007 compared to 2006," said George Morgan-Granville, president of A&K in the U.S. Its biggest increases have been to the Galapagos and Egypt. But its newest 2008 tour, especially hot for kids, is the Lewis & Clark Montana Adventure, which includes a night in a canvas tepee, and canoeing and hiking in the White Cliffs region with a local Blackfeet historian and guide. ( http://www.abercrombiekent.com ; 800-652-8607.)

Butterfield & Robinson (www.butterfield.com; 866-551-9090), best known for its bicycle tours, and Country Walkers (www.countrywalkers.com; 800-464-9255) now offer a wide variety of family trips geared for children -- with their parents or grandparents, of course.

Pet-Friendly New England Travels

There's a cool guide to pet-friendly travel guide at the Boston Globe's web site, here. Places to roam with Rover, dog-friendly parks in Boston, pet-friendly lodging, pet-friendly attractions, dog parks and trails, and Boston kennels.

Also, a photo gallery of travel pals.

Children's Museum, West Hartford, CT

On a day off from school recently, Tinsley found herself with two kids to entertain and no help from Dad (I had to work, it's good Friday, not great Friday). She decided to spend the day at the Children's Museum in West Hartford. She didn't bring a camera as she already had her hands full, but we did convince Tom to write it up for our blog.

Here's Tom's write-up:
In the yard of this really awesome place in West Hartford called the children's museum, I saw and went inside a hollow concrete whale that said facts about its self. But every time I went inside, it fell silent.

Inside the museum there was a room called turtle town. And no wonder! There were turtles everywhere! Turtles! Turtles! Turtles! there were big turtles, little turtles, snapping turtles, box turtles, tortoises, every one you could think of! Eventually we had to leave turtle town.

In the next room, I almost fell down -- practically every thing was made of LEGOS! Boy did I have a fun time in there! But, sadly, we had to leave; my annoying sister convinced us to go back to turtle town.

After that, I got to pet a snake with really scaly skin. I didn't miss my turn! Later on there was this really awesome thing where I saw a scorpion underneath an ultraviolet light. (It looked white.)

After a while something even cooler came to my eyes.
I actually saw a fake dinosaur that moved and roared! The last room was the gift shop. I bought a little lizard, a “grabit”, and a rock called snakeskin. They were all awesome! I sighed.

On the way home I had quite some fun thinking about all of the fun stuff I did at the museum. It was really fun, and I wish I could go there again.
Sounds like a good time.
Here are a couple of tips from Tinsley:
  • Bring hand sanitizer to swab the kids down with after they pat the turtles and snakes and swarm the LEGO pit.
  • Parking can be a little difficult in west Hartford, so looking for lunch before going to the museum may be challenging. I recommend the Subway on Farmington Avenue.

A Scenic New Hampshire Drive

Yankee Magazine featured a loop around Mount Monadnock recently.

The Many Views of Monadnock: A Driving Tour
There's a slower pace and evidence of bygone eras in southwestern New Hampshire.

We haven't road tested this route yet, but we will soon enough.
Have you road tested this route?
Download the directions here

5 Budget-Friendly Hotels in NYC

Hot deals off the Fodor's TravelWire

5 Budget-Friendly Hotels in NYC

Finding a budget hotel in New York City isn't easy, but it's not impossible.
Here are five comfortable ones, centrally located and chock full of personality. 080205_hotel41_new_york_budget_hotels.jpg

Hotel 41.
Bamboo in the window beckons guests to the warmly lit lobby of the Hotel 41. This stylish hotel is not meant for family visits; rooms are tiny. Most standard rooms face a brick wall, but if you can get past the size and not-so-thrilling views, it's a cozy place to stay, with a bed showing off crisp linens and a TV hanging above the closet. Bathrooms are elegant, with half-glass showers, original tile on the floor, and Aveda amenties. Downstairs, Bar 41 is a dark sports bar-like hangout with rock music loudly playing. Find serenity in the intimate back room wine cellar. Pros: DVD player in rooms; some rooms have refrigerators. Cons: Lack of queen-size beds; small rooms. 206 W. 41st St. 212/703-8600 (ph.). 212/302-0895 (fax). www.hotel41nyc.com. 47 rooms. In-room facilities: safe, refrigerator (some), DVD, ethernet. In-hotel facilities: restaurant, room service, bar, concierge, laundry, parking (fee) no-smoking rooms. AE, MC, V. Rates start at $249.

Millennium UN Plaza Hotel New York.
For those who relish the idea of rubbing elbows with diplomats, you can't get much closer to the United Nations than the Millennium UN Plaza Hotel New York. Ask to stay in the newer East Tower, where you'll find modern earth-toned rooms (some with flat-screen TVs) and bathrooms stocked with Gilchrist & Soames amenities. West Tower rooms, while laden with tired furnishings, are good for extended visits because of their full kitchens. Squeezing in time to play at this hotel is easy. Guests can take a dip in the indoor pool and test their backhand on the indoor tennis court. Pros: rooms on the 28th floor offer terrific views; massage and sauna facilities available. Cons: no free Internet; no complimentary breakfast. One United Nations Plaza. 212/758-1234 (ph.). 212/702-5051 (fax). www.millenniumhotels.com. 87 rooms. In-room facilities: safe, kitchen (some), ethernet. In-hotel facilities: bar, no-smoking rooms, room service, tennis court, concierge, restaurant, pool, parking (fee), laundry service, gym. minibars. Rooms start at $229.

La Quinta Inn.
Smack in the middle of Koreatown and close to Penn Station, this friendly hotel in a beautiful old Beaux Arts building may be one of the best deals in town. Never mind the drab green and burgundy décor when your room features treats like free Wi-Fi, an iPod plug-in, and a bathtub. In the mornings, the free continental breakfast goes beyond the usual fare, with granola and oatmeal. Perhaps the best part about staying here is access to Mé Bar. In the evenings, both guests and locals head up to this year-round mellow rooftop bar for a cocktail in the shadow of the Empire State Building. Pros: self check-in machines; gift shop on the premises for necessities. Cons: no room service; no frills. 17 W. 32nd St. 212/736-1600 (ph.). 212/563-4007 (fax). www.lq.com. 182 rooms. In-room facilities: safe, Wi-Fi (no fee). In-hotel facilities: bar, gym, laundry, public Wi-Fi, parking (fee), no-smoking rooms. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Rooms start at $109.

Casablanca Hotel.
When entering the hushed Casablanca, it's hard to believe you're a stone's throw from all the Times Square hoopla. Like something out of its namesake film, a sultry Mediterranean feel permeates the Casablanca, from the mirrors in public spaces to the rooms' ceiling fans, wooden blinds, and dainty little bistro tables. Huge tiled bathrooms, many with windows, feature Baronessa Cali amenities. On the second floor, classical music plays while guests linger in the spacious, library-like Rick's Café for the complimentary breakfast buffet and wine and cheese evenings. Pros: access to the Theater District; all rooms are smoke-free. Cons: no gym (but hotel is near a New York Sports Club); heavy tourist foot traffic. 147 W. 43rd St. 212/869-1212 (ph.). 212/391-7585 (fax). www.casablancahotel.com . 48 rooms. In-room facilities: safe, refrigerator, VCR, dial-up. In-hotel facilities: bar, no-smoking rooms, room service, restaurant, parking (fee), laundry service, minibars. AE, DC, MC, V. Rooms start at $249.

Hotel Metro.
With its mirrored columns and elegant black-and-white photos in the lobby, the Hotel Metro, housed in an early-20th-century building, has a distinctive retro feel. Guests tend to hang out in the lounge, where coffee and tea are served all day, or in the adjacent library, a quiet nook with sofas and a desk. Upstairs, muted rooms with leather headboards and cushioned Art Deco chairs flaunt tall-ceiling bathrooms with Gilchrist & Soames products. In summer, the Metro Grill rooftop bar promises outstanding Empire State Building views. Pros: renovated exercise room has flat-screen TVs; iHome in rooms. Cons: no DVD players; no spa services. 45 W. 35th St. 212/947-2500 (ph.). 212/279-1310 (fax). www.hotelmetronyc.com. 179 rooms. In-room facilities: safe, Wi-Fi (no fee). In-hotel facilities: restaurant, room service, bar, business center, public Wi-Fi, no-smoking rooms. AE, DC, MC, V. Rooms start at $225.

---Alia Akkam

Recommendations from the Travel Talk Forums
(View more, add your own)

"For the intrepid rough and tumble very budget traveler, I would recommend the Hotel Marrakesh on the upper west side near Columbia University at 103rd and Broadway. It is a basic hostel but only $32!!! per night. It makes a great arrival base if you get in at midnight and don't feel like spending $300 for a few hours of sleep." - recommended by ncounty

"I stayed at Quality Inn in Long Island City (Queens). It was cheap, pretty new and it is only 2 stops on the subway to Manhattan." - recommended by gard

"I'd add Stay the Night and the Park South." - recommended by NWWanderer

"Another Apple Core property, La Quinta's neighbor, the Red Roof Inn, should be on any list of NYC hotels for budget-minded travelers; it's newly refurbished, with about the same amenities and prices as La Quinta." - recommended by Anonymous

"My husband and daughter stayed the Bedford Hotel last March and got a good room, excellent service and a great rate. My husband and I stayed at the La Quinta about 5 years ago and it was a great choice for us. Small room, but quiet and they had a nice breakfast buffet. Plus it was in a great location for easy sightseeing." - recommended by longhorn55

To learn more about hotels in New York, check out the lodging section of Fodor's New York City 2008.

More New York City Tips:Food and Lodging

Excerped from Fodor's Travel Wire

An Insider's Guide to NYC
Tired of Broadway shows and the annual trek to the Met? Try one of these activities on for size on your next trip to the Big Apple.
Get your Grom on
Turin-based gelato importer Grom opened this summer on the Upper West Side to high-decibel hype, small $5 servings, and hour-long waits. Five months on, the small cups are still pricey but the lines have shortened. Judge for yourself whether the full-fat milk, organic eggs, and artisanal flavors like pistachio, grapefruit, or lemon are worth the hype. The store's slogan, "Il Gelato Come Una Volta" (roughly translated as "Ice Cream as It Once Was"), proclaims its commitment to old-fashioned scoops. Warning: many a visit to the gelateria have turned into full-fledged Grom-a-thons.

Dine like a local
Walk beyond the blaring neon lights of Times Square and the pulsing crowds at Grand Central to find the restaurants where real New Yorkers dine. You can start by making a beeline for 50th Street's Toloache, (photo, right) a bustling new Mexican brasserie that has local foodies talking. Don't miss the chipotle-accented guacamole, the Negro Modelo-braised brisket tacos, or beef short ribs braised in pomegranate sauce.

If you're looking for a great meal around Grand Central Terminal, skip the restaurants in the station and head down the street to Benjamin Steakhouse, just a block south inside the Dylan Hotel. In this stylish space, outfitted with dark wood paneling, leather banquettes and cream accents, you can treat yourself to dry-aged prime cuts that arrive still sizzling, incredible "cream-free" creamed spinach, and extravagant seafood platters. Not in the mood for a big meal? Take it easy with a martini or a glass of Malbec in front of the crackling fire.

Kid and Dog friendly lodging in Belfast, ME

Rather than trying top zoom straight through from Portland to Acadia -- and miss some of the best parts of coastal Maine -- slow down, spend a night in Camden or Belfast.

Belfast is a nice little city in mid-coast Maine. Belfast is a whole lot less crowded in the summer, and it's closer to Acadia. One good place to stay, with a view of Penobscot Bay from every room, is the Comfort Inn, just over the bridge over Passagassawaukeg River on Rt 1.

The inn has an indoor pool, a "continental breakfast" and allows dogs for a mere $10 extra. They have suites, king rooms with kitchenettes, and regular rooms.

And there's a great little Thai restaurant across the street.

Places to go in The Granite State

Here's a user-generated map of things to do in New Hampshire from Yankee Magazine's web site.

Planning for Health Emergencies Eases Stress of Family Travel

A pertinent news release from the University of Michigan:

Planning for Health Emergencies Eases Stress of Family Travel

While family vacations can be fun, they can become extremely stressful if there are unexpected health problems, experts say.

Parents need to include preparations for possible health troubles in their holiday planning, says Dr. Stephen Park, an assistant professor of pediatrics and communicable diseases at the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital.

"We, as parents, pay a lot of attention to things like packing toys and packing clothes, but sometimes we don't pay as much attention to preparing for potential or anticipated health issues," Park said in a prepared statement.

He offered a number of health-related travel tips.

First, create a travel health kit that includes medicines that are regularly taken by members of the family, as well as medicines for sudden ailments, such as congestion or a rash. He recommended packing a fever reducer, an antihistamine, bandages and a topical antibiotic ointment, but advised against including an anti-diarrhea medicine for traveler's diarrhea. It's better to consult with your doctor to learn about antibiotics that treat bacterial infections that can cause diarrhea.

Parents also should consider specific features of the family's vacation, such as the destination's climate. For example, bring plenty of sunscreen for sunny locales, as well as aloe vera to relieve sunburn pain. If you plan to spend a lot of time outdoors, bring insect repellent, mosquito netting and poison ivy treatments.

Think about potential issues related to your mode of transportation. For example, air travel can cause ear pain. Feeding a small child during take-off and landing to generate a suck-and-swallow motion can help ease ear pain, while older children can get relief by chewing gum or blowing bubbles. If a child is prone to motion sickness, don't sit in the middle of the plane over the wings.

If you're traveling by car, you can help prevent motion sickness by discouraging your children from reading in the car or looking down. If they start to feel ill, they should focus their eyes on a point in front of them, Park said.

When booking accommodations, parents should research the location of the closest urgent care center, night-time care center and emergency room. Be sure to bring the phone number of your doctor, so you can call to get answers to medical questions.

Park also noted that traveling throws off normal routines, which can cause children to become grumpy and difficult.

"One of the biggest concerns of parents when they are traveling with children is not so much about health but about behavior. Parents need to relax as much as possible and plan ahead. Anticipate that children may be a little off while traveling, so be patient with routines," Park said.

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about staying healthy while your travel.

Advanced Hotel-Room Fort Making

A desk, a bedspread, and a willingness to improvise goes a looooong way.

One way to make kids happy in a hotel room while on a road trip is to let them jump on the bed. One way to get them to stop jumping on the bed, is to make a fort. Many hotel rooms have large enough desks to simple drape the bed spread over it for a fast fort with plenty of room for sleeping. On a recent trip we checked in to a room with a small desk. Tom wouldn't be able to fit sleeping under and parallel to the desk, he would have to sleep perpendicular to it. And that's not much of an adventure for a seven year old.

The solution? Add a chair. We tucked the bedspread behind the desk (against the wall), and stretched it out to drape it over a chair at the far end. There was still enough room between the bed and the chair to walk by, and with a suitcase acting as ballast, the chair is unlikely to tip over.

Tip: bring an LED headlamp for nightime reading.

Seadog Brewing Company: Best. Sandwich. Ever.

Maybe the best pit stop in mid-coast Maine. Nay, the Best. Pit stop. in Mid-coast Maine.

Most of the way through an eight hour drive to Belfast, ME we stopped for dinner. Where you get off I-95 for Rt. 1 is Topsam, ME. A little over a mile from the exit is The Seadog -- a comfortable kid-friendly brewpub restaurant offering many yummy local brews, yummy burgers, yummy fish and chips and dining on the deck next to the Androscoggin River.

When we go there, which is oftener and oftener, I typically get a burger. Because I like a burger and a beer. But Tinsley always opts for the Tuna steak sandwich because it's on the menu. And she would feel foolish ordering a burger when she could have the tuna steak sandwich with radish sprouts and wasabi mayo. She likes it as rare as possible so that it's almost a sushi sandwich. Usually she's delighted with the sandwich. This time she said "Absolutely, the Best. Sandwich. Ever."

But what do you really think, Tinsley?

25 Things We Love to Do in D.C.

Fresh off the Fodor's Travel Wire, some stuff that's already on our list, but a bunch (of not really kid-stuff) that's not.

Washington, D.C. is the center of everything political in the U.S., and as such has never been short on intrigue and scandal. But beyond all the shenanigans you'll find a rare city, one that balances truly rich history and culture within a dynamic and ever-changing urban setting. Indeed, where else can you see a Gutenberg Bible, visit a spy museum, eat Ethiopian cuisine, view a Degas painting, and see a tarantula feeding all in one day? Here's a list of our favorite things to do in D.C. What do you recommend?

On the Mall
See the original Spirit of St. Louis airplane that Charles Lindbergh flew from New York to Paris in 1927, and then learn how things fly at the National Air and Space Museum.

2. Watch films of flying saucers at the National Archives. (The films were used in Congressional hearings in the 1950s when people we're convinced that aliens had invaded the country.)

3. Gross out your friends at the Natural History Museum's Insect Zoo. Note: Tarantula feedings are Tuesday through Friday at 10:30, 11:30, and 1:30.

4. Twirl around the ice-skating rink in the National Gallery of Art's sculpture garden.

5. View astonishing wooden masks at the National Museum of African Art.

6. Taste North, South, and Central American cuisine at the National Museum of the American Indian's Mitsitam Café.

7. Check out the sometimes offbeat portraits of 20th-century Americans (Warhol's Marilyn Monroe prints, a Time magazine cover of Madonna) on the third floor of the National Portrait Gallery.

8. Pose next to sculptures by Rodin and Henry Moore in the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden and then venture inside to see one of the world's great collections of modern art.

9. Learn how to make money -- literally -- at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, where paper money has been printed since 1914.

10. Follow the lives of those who lived and died in Nazi Germany at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Around Town
See giant pandas, elephants, and lions (and sloth bears and giant salamanders) at the National Zoo.

12. Top everything and anything with chili at Ben's Chili Bowl, a U Street institution since 1958.

13. You have to plan weeks or months in advance, and you're only allowed into eight of the 132 rooms, but there's no denying the kick of touring the White House, if for no other reason than to fantasize about what you might do differently with the Green Room.

14. Watch congressmen and women debate, insult, and wrangle their way through the job of making laws in the Capitol's House and Senate chambers (check out www.senate.gov for info on free passes and how to set up a visit).

15. Pick up organic fruit and eclectic local crafts at the Eastern Market. (The main building suffered a fire in 2007, but visitors can still pick up fresh produce, flowers and crafts at the market's outdoor section.)

16. Order a pint and listen in as Congressional staffers gripe about their famous bosses at the Hawk & Dove, the quintessential D.C. bar.

17. Take a break from debate to contemplate the Gutenberg Bible, the lavishly sculpted Great Hall, and the splendor of the gilded Main Reading Room at the Library of Congress.

18. Indulge your inner James Bond with a look at 007's Aston Martin from Goldfinger, along with more serious toys used by the CIA, FBI, and KGB at the International Spy Museum.

19. Complete your Jackie O look at Nana, a D.C. favorite for its stock of new and vintage women's clothes, handmade jewelry, and cool handbags.

20. Take in the scene at Dupont Circle, where artists, power-lunchers, chess players, and Olympic-caliber bike messengers abound.

21. Scope out the art scene on the first Friday of every month, when Dupont Circle's art spaces are open late and score complimentary wine as a bonus.

22. Eat with your hands at Etete (1942 9th St. NW), the best of the city's Ethiopian restaurants.

23. View the heavens through one of the world's most powerful telescopes at the U.S. Naval Observatory.

24. Wrinkle your nose at the Corpse Flower, explore the jungle, gawk at the orchids, or stroll the paths at the new National Garden at the United States Botanic Garden.

25. Celebrate happy hour like a local on Capitol Hill at the stylish Lounge 201 (201 Massachusetts Ave.), where you can sip a half-price Martini on Tuesdays. Or grab a beer and half-price nachos until 6:30 at Bullfeathers (410 1st St. SE).

Dinosaur State Park: A Good Pit Stop

Stop in for a picnic lunch and explore the museum, craft room, and more than two miles of nature trails through the Dinosaur Park State Arboretum.

In Rocky Hill, CT, just a wee bit south of Hartford you’ll find a geodesic dome built over an expanse of sedimentary rock with one of the largest dinosaur track sites in North America. Inside, you’ll see life-size Jurassic and Triassic period dioramas depicting life in prehistoric Rocky Hill, Connecticut and you'll also see actual dinosaur skeletons, dinosaur footprints, fossils, and learning exhibits.

Five hundred footprints is nothing to sneeze at
The footprints were discovered in 1966 when excavators were digging out to set a foundation for a new state building. The workers found 2,000 footprints (500 of them are on display under the dome, the rest are buried for preservation). The tracks were laid down 200 million years ago.

Did dinosaurs eat walnuts?
In the early dinosaur days, most of the plants we see today were already established: conifers (cone-bearing), ferns, horsetails and ginkos. Missing were the flowering plants, whose pollen first appears in the fossil record about 140 million years ago, and who were prolific by 90 million years ago. The same Laurel, magnolia, sycamore and beach species that we have today were growing back then at the end of the Cretaceous period. Walnuts, barberry, elm and mulberry were prevalent then, and there’s a good chance some species of dinosaur ate walnuts, but there’s no evidence that dinosaur children played All Around the Mulberry Bush. The arboretum has more than 200 conifer species, including such exotics as cedar-of-Lebanon, giant-sequoia, incense-cedar, and monkey puzzle tree.

Cost: $5 for adults, $2 for kids ages 6-12, free for kids under 6.

Open daily 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Trails close at 4 p.m.

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