Many times we are reminded that theme parks are for kids. They are money sucks of candy and cartoons and memorable characters and wild rides that make many adults queasy. We are reminded to take our kids to this and that so they have fun and memories and pictures. But I say, hold up, theme parks are as much for adults as kids, and you damn well can have a great time.
This year, if anything, is becoming my year of theme parks. For a long time I shied away from the parks. Well, I didn’t actively shy away, but I didn’t try to go to theme parks. I had not been to anything since 2015 on my last trip to Florida, and I decided to change that.
The last eight months have been a stressful, but mostly positive experience in my family. My husband had a job change, I am having two surgeries this year (more on this later next week), I have had promotions and job trainings. It has been crazy, an emotional roller coaster (pun intended), and stressful. I decided that my stepdaughter and I needed some fun on a day we had free together and that’s what we did.
We took a whole Saturday, grabbed Lily’s friend Josiah, and spent a whole day eating junk food, riding rides, and weaving through crowds at Elitch Gardens in Denver, Colorado. It was silly, it was fun, we made goofy jokes, we laughed at the rides, we got dizzy on the tea cups and we had an overall great day.
We enjoyed it so much we are looking forward to going next week with our Girl Scout Troop! There is even a new ride based on Meow Wolf, the Kaleidescape, which is an amazing art installation! It’s classic fun, in a local setting, full of all the grease and Dippin’ Dots that made a 90s childhood amazing.
So, fellow adults, and adult adjacents, get off your ass and enjoy the insane stupid fun of your local theme park this year. You will blow off steam, you’ll get some sun, you’ll walk like five miles so don’t stress about the calories, and you will make some memories.
My sister is getting married in October, in Orlando, in a backyard wedding. This means the whole famdamily is going to the wedding. Which means we are going to be trying to make the most of the vacation, family time, and sightseeing in one giant Robinson Wedding Week.
As you can imagine, trying to organize approximately 20 people to show up to pre-wedding events, and another 60 for the wedding, is a bit of a project. While it’s my sister’s wedding, and she is tackling the wedding EVENTm I am working on extra events to keep kids, parents, cousins, and myself sane.
While my family likes a good time, I can’t say they are the best at planning in advance to make the most of their time. If you are in a situation like me, it’s vital that you make a plan and stick to it so that you can actually enjoy your “vacation” without getting lost in a sea of relative needs. Here are my tips for surviving and enjoying the journey.
Make a list of people going, lists of priority sites and activities, lists of time needed for travel.
Lists will help you prioritize and plan more comfortably.
If you are headed for theme parks, make a list of activities and rides that are most important, and that will work for different people and ages. For instance, my five year old cousin won’t be able to do many of the rides my 12 y/o step daughter wants to ride. Therefore, with some planning we can split up and get to ride everything we want. (see above)
Plan What You Want or Need
Vacations are expensive, so it’s important to make a plan to get the most out of your time on a trip. With a group, things go slower, and sometimes you just won’t get everyone to commit to a plan. Therefore, it’s important to choose what you want and need the most then invite everyone.
For example, I pick days that work the best for the most important things. What day do we need to do the Bachelorette for the Bride? What day will be more comfortable for everyone for sleep, timing, obligations etc.
You won’t be able to make everyone happy, but people usually will make something work if they want to join in. If they can’t, then they usually find an alternative option.
Know You Won’t Make Everyone Happy
Inevitably you will have people that aren’t happy with the schedule. While it’s nice to make things work for everyone, it usually doesn’t ever work. If you waited for everyone to be able to go, the truth is that you probably would never get to go!
Prioritize the most important people, sometimes this is the people getting married, sometimes it’s making sure the kids get to have the most at their day at Disney. While it’s nice to wait for Aunt Janet to get her nails done, maybe Janet needs to reschedule or join everyone at another time.
Don’t plan on Being with Everyone All The Time
It’s nice to plan on being together a lot, but the truth is that everyone will want to do different things at different times.
It’s common for everyone to get sick of each other too. This gives kids and adults a chance to get space, quiet time, and down time to relax.
The sooner you start trying to book an AirBnB, hotel, rental cars, and other arrangements, the better the rates and the better selection you will have. Booking a last minute flight and room probably won’t give you the best price and options.
Start drawing up plans for each day so that you can get a feel for what everyone wants or needs. This gives you time to rearrange plans in case of closures, event changes, or other situations.
Plan for Down Time
If kids are involved you will need some time to relax. If adults are involved, you will need some time to sleep, eat, talk, and not have to be anywhere. I highly suggest making a day or two free days, or open days, where loose plans are made, and everything is casual. If people are exhausted, cancel plans, and take time to sleep or just chill.
If anything most people can agree on, it’s that traveling is tiring. No matter how much fun someone is having or the sleep you get, the act of visiting new places is a suck on energy. Sometimes it’s jet lag or the inability to sleep. Other times it’s a chock full schedule that leaves everyone dragging.
The problem with being tired while traveling is that you don’t enjoy the experience. You may also miss vital information and details that could make a serious difference to your enjoyment or safety. If you are tired while going through security at an airport, then you may leave something behind. If you don’t pay attention while driving, you could easily make a mistake. So, while we all run on fumes at times, it’s always better to be well rested for adventuring.
Here are some of my 10 tips to keeping you, and your family, rested, safe, and happy.
Sleep on your flights
Sleep on a flight is especially important if you are doing a red eye or transcontinental flight. Meaning, if you can at least nap your day in the next place will be MUCH better than not. I have a terrible time sleeping on flights, but I have learned a few tricks.
Take melatonin for long flights. Or another OTC sleep aid to help you relax
Follow a “bedtime” routine as much as possible. This is extremely helpful with kids.
Bring/wear something cozy to help you relax. Maybe a blanket, leggings, slip off shoes, and eye mask.
Bring ear buds/headphones to you can drown out others, especially fussy kids.
Make a routine
Whether you are on a cruise, a road trip, or backpacking, making a routine for the day to day will help. This will mean you are getting enough sleep, planning out your days, and taking much needed down town. Much like at home, your body and brain need a break. Bring a book or laptop for some other stimuli.
Kids especially need this when on the road. If you can, stay as close to the schedule at home. The structure prevents meltdowns and encourages happy kids. ALWAYS plan time for breaks.
Find you drug of choice.
There are times that you will need caffeine no matter what you do. Meaning, I think it’s healthy to track down a coffee/tea/shot of espresso anytime you need it.
We all love a little PAR-TAY in time away, but late nights and alcohol drain the system. If you are drinking, allow for down time, eat with drinks, and guzzle water, especially at higher altitudes (Denver).
When I’m super tired the first thing that happens is I get sick. However, if I eat healthy, take vitamins, and get sleep I tend to avoid illness. If you eat poorly it’s likely your immune system won’t have the ability to fight a small or large bug.
Vacation from the vacation
I can’t stress enough, give yourself down time on a trip. Maybe mornings to sleep in, or a day of no plans. Even a day in between vacation and work can do wonders.
If you can, take an earlier flight and get home mid afternoon, this will help with jetlag and stress immensely. If you can get home and get back into a routine, this will help with your exhaustion.
Request what you need
Staying at nicer hotels (3*+) means you can get more with your money (most the time), and that means you have the right to ask for what you want. Ask for quiet rooms, rooms on higher floors, or an upgrade if you think they can accommodate.
Having hotel rewards (which are free) means you get a “status” at most places. If you spend more/stay more, you will get more notice, but even just having a basic option means things like Wi-Fi and free upgrades are much easier.
Take a comfort item
I take my sad down pillow when I can when I travel. It helps me relax and enjoy my sleep more. This could be a blanket, essential oils, or even a stuffed animal, whatever works for you, or your kiddos
White Noise REALLY helps
It sounds like it’s almost too good to be true, but white noise really does help my husband and I sleep. I make sure we bring our ALEXA or have some downloaded nature sounds or Spotify as needed.
Call loved ones
My husband and I call each other every night when we are apart. It’s something we have done since we started dating my first year of college. At the time we lived between 1 and 4 hours apart, so we maybe saw each other once a week. At other times I have been in Europe for one to two and a half months, and every call was worth the charges just to share our affection. This helps feel like we have a routine, like at home, and rest our minds over missing each other.
Think FAIRYTALE and most people immediately think of Disney. Disney capitalized on the tales of fairies with their movies and theme parks, television shows and other media connections. Their stories have all the pixie dust and wands and touch of spirit that make children dream and adults long for something better.
Yet, what sometimes gets forgotten is the REAL reasons, stories, and places that brought breath into what we know as fairytales. Some of the legends date back millenia in some form or another, while others are were brewed by our 19th centuries great-great grandparents. Regardless, the roots of out legends come not from the animated world, but from deeper folk legends that were published and share decades before Snow White was even a sketch in Disney studios.
Many people know the Brothers Grimm and that they had the darker, scarier versions of our beloved tales like Cinderella and Hansel and Gretel. Which is true, but the layers to their creations are much more than coming up with ideas. These stories came from folk legends that were originally compiled, and were deeply inspired by the areas that the Grimm Brothers lived. It is much of the methodology that was used by others like George Washington Irving in an early United States and countless others in Europe and further afield.
No doubt in travels and in reading and listening to tales that little towns like Rothenburg ob der Tauber (Red Fortress above the Tauber River) were inspiration for that epoch of literature and the centuries of stories after.
Rothenburg was founded in the 13th century and to this day the foundations and much of that original medieval town stand today. Walk around the city and you will see a wide variety of placards that mark the dates of buildings that were constructed. Somehow a vast majority survived centuries of wear and tear and a world war that almost leveled them.
Rebirthed after WWII the city transformed from a nazi village to one that is a beautiful stop on the Romantic Road. The city is transformed seasonally with garlands, and full of old world charm that is unmatched in most the world.
Good or bad, the history and stories in Rothenburg are quintessentially German. The architecture is timbered and warm, the clocks and stories are quaint. Each corner reflects the past and a preservation for the future. The best part is seeing the diverse population that now walk the streets. Turkish immigrants next to Japanese tourists, and everyone in between.
Those that are looking for treats need not travel far, baked goods are sold on every corner and carts selling hot apple cider fill the main square. Stop into a cafe for some gluhwein (warmed spiced wine), something potatoes, and schnitzel for you carnivores. You won’t be disappointed.
Small shops ad to the charm, a toy store sells German-made stuffed toys, while the Christmas shop is sure to make the biggest scrooge smile. Other novelties and artisan goods exist in jewelers, grocers, and other small family businesses.
For those seeking education the town is not sparse on church or museum. For families, the Christmas museum (along with the shop) are safe bets. For those interested in the darker corners of history, like myself, the Torture Museum is a great choice.
While the torture museum seems macabre, it does have more than metal death probes. Perhaps most interesting is some of the pages from a 15th century song book, or the large collection of royal seals. Medieval history was not all iron maidens and spiked chairs, mind you*.
All around I can’t suggest a stop in Rothenburg enough for you history, photography, and travel geeks. It’s unlike anywhere I have ever been before or since, and it’s worth every moment to explore some cobbled alleys and eat delicious regional dishes. Go in the off season, and early in the day to avoid crowds. Make it a pit stop as you explore southern Germany, and most importantly, Happy Travels!
*Iron Maidens have been pretty much discredited as a hoax from the 18th century, from people wanting to pass them off as historical, when they were really a novelty item meant to perpetuate how awful the middle ages were. Because plague wasn’t bad enough?
The first castle I ever visited was not one I ever expected to see. It was never on a list, but it was a pure treasure!
Circa 2010 when my trip was interrupted by a volcano, I found myself with an extra week in Germany.
My amazing host friends, military based near Stuttgart, decided it was a great time to help me explore more of Germany.
The first choice was to get me into a castle and southern Germany has some of the best examples of castle architecture in the world! The magnificent Hohenzollern is no exception. While many people head to Neuschwanstein Castle near Munich, few recognize the choices and variety of castles that exist in and outside of Bavaria.
Hohenzollern is just south of Stuttgart in Bisingen, and it’s a fabulous example of what Prussian architecture created. Parts of the castle date back to 1267 with some structures in place as far back as 1061. Often referred to as the “Crown of all Castles in Swabia”all was lost in 1454. While other owners built up the fortress at times, the castle was never fully restored and was practically abandoned by the 19th century.
It was then that Crown Prince Frederick William of Prussiadecided to rebuild the castle. Started in 1850 the castle was built to reflect the heritage and culture of the region and the Prussian monarch. For reference, Neuschwanstein Castle was built around the same time by the Bavarian monarchy.
Hohenzollern shocked me on numerous levels, the first was the way it reflected the fantastical ideals we encompass about castles in Europe. Hohenzollern has majestic spires, endless walls, and magical paintings and frescoes.
The vast and rich green forests that also surround the area are amazing. As the landscape moves into being the dark forest you see where imagination could run wild. It was these forests and these castles and beautiful buildings that so deeply rooted Germans and Victorians and Americans to a love of fairytales and medieval revival. These forests birthed Grimm’s fairytales and much more to a Euro-American psyche.
If you are looking for an escape from the tourist trail, stunning views, and some prime architecture of the medieval reimagining of the 19th century, this place is for you!
HOURS: Monday to Sunday: 10:00am to 5:30 pm (4:30pm November to March) (closed most holidays)
Our society, whether because it’s grabbing for meaning, or because things feel out of control, is full of rules right now. There are rules on a better life, from diet to discipline, to minimalism, and tech purges. There are rules on raising other humans like avoiding NO and sugar and gluten. There are rules on TV and screen time, and how much you need to play, pee, eat, sing, and everything else you can imagine. Maybe it’s a reflection of our regimented tech days, or maybe we hate being out of control.
I hate being out of control. So I make up rules. Absurd rules that make no sense, like in what order I need to wash clothes, or make the beds, or vacuum the house. None of these are based on any needs or service to me. If I wash darks first there is still hot water for lights because the darks need only warm water. If I vacuum the upstairs first, it’s not like the carpet gnomes will report me. None of these mental “rules” make sense, they just exist because somewhere I got it in my head that I needed to do things in a specific way.
I bet you, if you analyzed your life, you have all kinds of rules you follow without even knowing. Maybe you wash your face and THEN brush your teeth, when in fact it would be better to brush your teeth to then remove any residue with face washing. Perhaps you always have a cookie with lunch, when in fact you don’t need the cookie or you could have the cookie whenever you want, maybe for breakfast even! Live wild, it’s invigorating.
To add to the mental notes you have all kinds of people telling you what to do to improve your life. They tell you how to eat, what makeup to wear, how to scoop cat litter, what car you should get, how to make yourself healthier, how yo exercise, how to destress, how to make more money….you get the idea. Everyone has a solution to something, and everyone thinks they’re right.
News Flash, they’re probably wrong.
They may be wrong because SCIENCE. They may be wrong because their goal is to just sell you something without you having any real need. They may be wrong because their methods really only work well for baby boomers, or people in their 30s. They may also just be full of shit. THERE ARE A LOT OF PEOPLE FULL OF SHIT THAT WANT TO MAKE MONEY OFF OF YOU OR MAKE YOU FEEL LIKE CRAP OR SIMPLY THINK THEY’RE AMAZING WHEN REALLY THEY’RE NOT BUT THEY….you get the idea.
The truth is that at any time at least 70 different things want you to follow that trail, that ad, that video, that “alternative fact”. They want you to follow that lead into the land where you share a credit card number or buy into, at least emotionally, some doctrine.
Sometimes these things REALLY work, like Marie Kondo’s methods have helped thousands, if not millions. Kondo’s ideas have greatly improved my home and I love the tips, but I modified them to suit our household needs. I won’t follow her like she’s a god, but I will take what serves me and my family.
On the other hand I tried bullet journaling and freehand journaling and stencil journaling. I got so frustrated and pissed off with having another thing to do “on my list” that I gave it up. Nothing about it served me and my creative needs. However, my best friend finds it extremely soothing and cathartic, and she will most likely continue to journal until the day she dies.
For another example, a friend of mine bought her cat a wheel (like a cat hamster wheel-but for cars) and she was so excited to have this for her cat. Her cat HATED it, would not touch it, and the friend was out $300 for this internet contraption that some cats loved. It has been passed onto a second friend who is trying to convince their cat that the wheel is fun. (Here is a good tip: cats are assholes, and they won’t like anything you buy that’s expensive unless it’s YOUR bed, YOUR couch, and definitely the scratching post you bought for them. Give them cat nip, a box, and a wadded up receipt and you will have a happy cat, I promise.)
The point is, that when you are trying to “self-help” take time to explore what might actually bring you joy and what is a waste of time. Even if your best friend thrives, don’t expect the method to work the same for you.
Five Ways to Celebrate Cinco de Mayo – without being disrespectful
It’s Cinco de Mayo today, and no it’s not just a holiday about drinking tequila and listening to a mariachi band. While those can be fun aspects to the day, the entirety of the day is not Cinco de Drinko or Drinko de Mayo.
In fact, the holiday has very specific and cultural roots that are often forgotten on the day and the surrounding celebrations. It’s important to remember these nuances should one decide to celebrate, for the sake of a better historical understanding of our neighbors and the cultures that influence our one.
Here are the ways I am personally celebrating Cinco de Mayo and how I would encourage others to as well:
Learn The Story Of Cinco de Mayo
Commonly misunderstood as Mexico’s independence day, Cinco de Mayo often gets labeled as “Mexican 4th of July”. News Flash: Mexico’s independence day is September 16 and harkens back to 1810.
The fifth of May is from the Anniversary of the Battle of Puebla. This marks the date that Napoleon III’s army (French) in 1862 was defeated by a militia of Zapotec and mestizo peoples. It became a symbol and story of resistance during a time when foreign bodies were trying to establish power over Mexico.
As these things go, people in the state of Puebla celebrated the victory, but much of Mexico did not. As celebrations and events evolve, it became a celebration of Mexican culture and identity, especially with Mexican-American families in the United States.
The broader United States’ love of Cinco de Maya came with alcoholic drink promotors marketing alcohol sales and parties on the holiday.
Appreciate Mexican-American Influence On Your Community
With so much hate in our current landscape it’s even more important to bridge gaps and be friends to all people.
In my community in Colorado we have a large Latinx and Mexican-American population, and they make some of the best food and have some of the best parties you could ever imagine! When I travel to countries without much Mexican food, I long for these treats of homemade corn tortillas, roasted tomatillos, fresh guacamole and smooth tequila. If you have these gems in your community, seek them out, and make friends. I know everyone I have met is warm and loving and wants to make you feel like you’re at home.
Celebrate local Mexican-American artists, designers, architects, philanthropists, community organizers, and overall great people. Read about your community history and see just how many amazing and diverse people made your world better.
Be grateful for the food, music, groceries, and festivals that Mexican-Americans help put on. Whether it’s for Cinco de Mayo or any other time through the year, their influence and work is a treasure!
Celebrate with Kindness and Consideration
If you are one that likes a good party, and wants to celebrate Cinco de Mayo (because yes, it’s a GREAT time) then do so with consideration. Go to an authentic restaurant (it will be way better than Chipotle or Qdoba, I promise) and have some drinks and food with people that poor their heart and soul into their food.
Don’t wear crappy costumes or reinforce negative stereotypes. Please for the love of god leave the mustaches and serapes at home.
Care About People – Every. Single. Day.
It’s easy to have a party and feel closer to Mexican culture and Mexican-American peoples then go home the next day and leave it in the past. The better part is to connect with people in your community and learn their stories, learn how to support each other, and care about our global needs.
Donate to organizations that are aiding people with settlement in the United States. Donate you time and supplies to groups working for immigrant rights. Read up on the reasons why people are fleeing north (of course there are many places they come from, including Mexico).
I am very blessed to have a mother-in-law that is part Mexican and that has a giant, wonderful, and warm family that always opens their arms to anyone. Many years they have their own Cinco de Mayo party where everyone eats food, enjoys margaritas and has a lovely time. There is an unbelievable amount of love and consideration with these people and every family get together is filled with that warmth. While the food is always amazing, and the margaritas are stellar (thank you grandpa Hank) the best part is the connection and care in the room at any event. That is my favorite part of Mexican culture, is that no matter who you are, what you look like, what you believe, someone will always give you love, a hug, a plate of food, and a giant smile. All of which is the culture I want to celebrate and integrate every single day.
There are times in life where preconceived notions have to
be put to the test and nothing has challenged me more than the subject of day
trips (in regards to travel anyway). Well before I started venturing into the world
on my own I had in my head that the best way to travel was to travel with no
rules, no script, and no one telling you where and when to do things. I thought
of all the school trips and family vacations I had been dragged around on and
knew that there was no way I wanted to travel in a massive bus with less than knowledgeable
guides trying to sell people on things. No, I wanted to explore on my own and
find the best things without rules. I wanted to wander and forge my own path
and take the path less taken and be amazing! All without any knowledge or experience!
In 2010 I obsessively made my own plans and scheduled in times to pee and blow my nose and shove an apple in my mouth. Read more here. Which in reality all went to shit within one week, because of nature, thank you Icelandic Volcano. The truth was that I had no idea how to plan or manage two months, let alone a week, or a day traveling because I didn’t have a clue. My trip went okay, I saw plenty of things, but I also learned where to worry and what to forget, and how to get help when I needed it.
Fast forward to 2013 and a study abroad trip opened my eyes
to the value of guides in foreign countries, especially when you don’t speak
the language. What I realized is that no matter how many signs or guide books
or snippets I read, I was missing valuable information whenever I looked around
at the world, the castle, the street, the odd carving in a wall. I missed the
stories, myths, and legends that made different corners of the world
remarkable. It was then that I realized that, in fact, guides are invaluable
and important people when visiting a city for the first time.
Even in a day of endless information and content, guides
offer insight, and an intimacy that no amount of paper and signs can ever give
to an experience. Having a guide walk you around Florence will allow you to
truly experience the details of the experience, versus aimlessly wandering
trying to make sense of everything that is around you. Having a guide takes you
to the best gelato, or the tastiest lunch in a town, and it lets you better
understand the people that are hosting you in their home. Since 2013 I make
sure every trip has at least one tour, but I am very selective on how and where
I take these tours. Here are some of my fast tips on selecting the best tour
for you and your travel companions!
with researching and finding as many tour providers as you can that will
cover what you need. This includes group and private tours, and companies like
Viator, or independent companies that you find.
all of the itineraries and inclusions, then figure out what seems like a
reasonable price for the tour either for a large, small, or private tour and
then decide what is friendliest for your budget.
private tours you will likely need to email guides, and explain what you want.
However, they will be able to fully customize your adventure from the locations
seen, the time spent in each place, and the routing taken. This is definitely worth
paying extra for, if you can afford it.
on the vehicles being offered. This seems silly, but sometimes something
will be listed that won’t actually work with your family of six, and two car
seats. Read up, email with questions, and call if you have any concerns.
My husband can attest to the discomfort of small
Mexican vans for 5 hours of driving to Chichen Itza, I majorly failed on
researching that one. My short self is now much more mindful that 6’4” doesn’t
fit in cars as well as 5’2”.
many reviews as you can, either through TripAdvisor, Facebook, viator, etc.
this will give you a better idea of what to expect and what to watch out for.
Remember, most people will complain before they complement, but it’s important
to check all the resources for consistency and safety.
travel companions about their preferences. Sometimes they won’t care, but
brain storming may mean they think of unforeseen issues, or other ideas to make
the trip better.
expert for advice! This is especially important if you are working with a
travel agent for your trip. They will likely have direct connections to some of
the best guides and experts in an area, and if they don’t they will know who to
ask for help.However, experts can
be other people like friends that know the region, a hotel concierge, or your
credit card concierge and travel departments!
Make a choice – yes you have to pick. It’s
far better to pick SOMETHING and not have the best tour, but get to SEE
something versus never going at all. I say this because so many people hesitate
to take a tour and then they don’t ever get the experience they should have
tried for. It’s scary to put trust in another company or guide, but I promise
that it’s worthwhile more than staying behind.