Family Travel & Technology = Perfect Road Mix

Modern-day road tripping is easier than ever

Family Travel & Technology = Perfect Road Mix

I grew up five latitudinal degrees south of the Arctic Circle. This meant long cold winters and long, long car rides. Flying was out of the question due to the formidable cost of doing so. We joked that it was cheaper to fly to Hawaii from most major cities than from our city to our capitol city! Each summer, our parents would load us, and our little dog into our truck and camper for two months of road tripping (my dad was a high school teacher).

This is what the skies look like where I'm from: (Thank you to Brad Rempel from for sharing this image with us!)

Growing up this way has given me a road tripping bug! A ten-hour drive from northern Manitoba would get us to the middle of nowhere in the nearby prairie province of Saskatchewan, southeast to the Brandon area or straight south to what was a very exotic location for us—Fargo, North Dakota! Now, it absolutely blows my mind that a ten to twelve-hour drive from my current home in London, Ontario, Canada gets us to amazing places like Boston, Chicago, Wisconsin Dells, Nashville, Atlanta and even New York City! My heads spins with our road-tripping possibilities. In the last two years, we’ve been to all but two of the places on that list.

We recently road tripped during a family trip to Park City, Utah. Our handy maps application showed us that Yellowstone National Park was only a five-hour drive from Park City.

During our recent drive my husband and I chatted about all the modern day advances, which have certainly made road tripping with children easier. Well, except for being strapped in car or booster seats: did you experience free-reign in a camper or back seat?! I love these four recent inventions that have made vehicle trips so much easier to do.

Use computer applications like Google Maps to plan routes and get out of traffic.

Although I enjoy cracking open our Rand McNally atlases, I love using maps programs to plan our route, stops and find attractions. This spring we had to do a twenty-hour drive (one way!) to Winnipeg, MB for a family funeral and discovered that Wisconsin Dells was exactly halfway. This find totally informed my plans! I decided to break the drive into two days with four chunks of driving once I knew that my young boys could run all their ya-yas out in the water park. I did this trek with my boys by myself!

I also like using Google Maps to look at the different possible routes. It is pretty easy to see what type of highway is ahead and which route is the best option for our travel goals, whether that is to get there fast or have nicer rest stops to hang out in.

The Google Maps app on my iPhone6 shows me where there is traffic and possible alternate routes to get out of it. We use the vehicle navigation unless we end up parked on a highway. When this happens, we fire up our smartphone to see how long the “red line” is on Google Maps. This program has certainly saved us from sitting on busy highways many times! (Make sure you have a good roaming plan if you are out of your home country to avoid paying huge roaming fees. We use Roger’s Roam Like Home)

Find a vehicle navigation system that you feel comfortable using on your own.

We have used our own vehicle, rentals and media test-drive vehicles for our many trips and have discovered some likes and dislikes that have really influenced our journey. I have discovered that all navigation systems are not the same! Some are really easy to use when the passenger takes a nap or isn’t there. I find it very panic-inducing to be whizzing down interstate highways at 75 miles and hour without feeling completely confident about what lane to be in and when to exit.

The navigation system I have found the easiest to use is in the 2016 KIA Sorento, which is the vehicle in these pictures. I’m not sure if this same system is in all of their 2016 vehicles, but I’d assume so. I like this one the best because I could clearly see when I needed to exit without having the navigation sound on. My boys and the radio are loud enough so trying to hear the nav voice above that racket is hard! I could see exactly which lane I was supposed to be, the distance to my exit, and a moving icon showing me how close I was to needing a change in course.

Although other features like the physical layout and fuel efficiency are important to me, I’m going to choose my next vehicle with the usability of the navigation system as a high priority.

Use screens wisely to help pass the time.

I can hardly believe I just typed those words! As a parenting educator who routinely suggests reducing screen time, I believe travel days are a time when the American Paediatric Society’s screen use guidelines can be stretched. To still use screen as moderately as possible, I like having pre-decided upon screen time followed by “scenery time.” It is good to give eyes a break and look around and the passing landscape.

The KIA Sorento we had for our Yellowstone trip had an electrical outlet and USB cable input to keep electronics charged. You can usually plug your mobile device into the vehicle’s sound system, too. My personal preference is to use mobile devices rather than built-in DVD players because you can download whatever you like from your wifi at home, not need to have DVDs in the vehicle and also it is possible to physically put the screens away. I like being able to tuck my laptop away after a movie so our guys forget to ask about watching another one.

Reduce the stress of long highway stretches with “smart cruise.”

Until a family member came home with a new vehicle declaring “smart cruise” to be a brilliant invention, I had never heard of such of thing! Now, after having it in the KIA for our Utah trip, I’m having a hard time living without it. It’s remarkable: there are sensors on the vehicle which slow it down when there is someone on the road in front of you so you don’t have to keep turning the cruise on and off! (Yes, I’m excited!) You set the speed once and let it take over. My leg and hip are loving this invention.

Is there a technological advance that is making your road-trips easier? I’d love to hear about it: please post your information in the comments below or over on my Facebook page. 

 RELATED: 10 Ways to Keep Kids Entertained on Road Trips 


Travel With Your Kids - and Save Money Doing it!

Don't let the fear of travel costs keep you at home.

Travel With Your Kids - and Save Money Doing it!

saving money when travelling with kids

Our family of four has made travelling a priority in our life. Recently, we’ve been very fortunate to travel from just outside of Toronto, Ontario, Canada to amazing places like Italy, the Caribbean, New York, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Chicago, Park City, Utah, Banff National Park and Yellowstone National Park. We’ve also trekked back to my home-province of Manitoba many times.

In these journeys, we have discovered 15 tricks to significantly save money while we are away from home. These savings have increased our to ability to travel more!

1. Use rental-by-owner websites to book your accommodations.

We have had great success using sites like VRBO and Air BnB to book our accommodations. It is easy to look through reviews on the property, find a map of the site, and contact the owners for more information. Recently we used VRBO to find a beautiful villa on Tortola Island in the British Virgin Islands that could house my family, my sister’s family of four and our dad, too. Oh, that’s another savings: book your accommodation as a large group if possible.

I used Air BnB this summer to book our accommodations in Rome, Italy and was very pleased with our experience there.

2. Stay in areas that are a bit further away from tourist sites.

Accommodation prices are typically higher the closer you get to major tourist attractions. On our recent trip to Rome, we saved about half of the average night’s cost by being a ten-minute drive from the Vatican/ Spanish Steps and Colosseum. Find a place to stay close to local bus and/ or subway routes so you can travel in and out of the busy areas with ease.

3. Travel in the off-season (September is best).

As a former teacher, I will say that it is okay to take children from grade six and under out of school for a family-travel adventure. I know that some school districts actually fine their parents for taking kids out of school so please do check what your area’s policy is regarding this. I believe the learning that happens while traveling is incredibly valuable, and for younger children, it is okay if they miss a week or two to experience travelling. I would advise finding out ahead of time what your child will be missing in school and take the responsibility for making sure your child completes necessary work.

Our family went to Florida in the second week of September, which was absolutely amazing! We had NO lineups at any of the attractions we went to, including a visit to NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre. Our family of four flew to a four-star resort in Orlando for a five-day stay for a TOTAL cost of $1,016 CD (that price was for airfare from Detroit to Orlando and accommodation).

4. Use a cell phone roaming package.

Make sure you sign up for a roaming package from your cell phone provider before leaving home to avoid coming home to a huge bill! I like the Roam Like Home program from Rogers because you sign up for it once and it is automatically activated when you cross the border. The fees for this particular program are $5 a day in the US and $10 a day in Europe. The cost per day goes down if your trip is longer than ten days—you’re charged a maximum of $50 per billing cycle for travel to the US and $100 per billing cycle for travel to Europe.

5. Make lunch and breakfast food at the grocery store or market: save eating out for dinnertime.

Visit the local grocery store for your breakfast, lunch and snack staples like cereal, milk, fruit, and yogourt. Certainly get pastries if that is fresh in your area! You can save so much money by only going to a restaurant or café once a day than three times a day. I carried a paring knife, a couple of Ziploc bags, pieces of paper towel and a hard plastic container to carry our food for the day.

6. Get the local currency from your home banking branch before you go.

Picking up the local currency from your bank branch has a few benefits. First, you will get a better exchange rate there, and secondly, it will limit you to a pre-decided budget amount. You’ll have a better chance of staying in your travel budget if you plan ahead what that is going to be. Taking the actual cash with you will ensure you stick to the plan! There are excellent money belts and cool shirts with secret zip-pockets to keep that money safe when you’re on the move.

7. Communicate online.

Programs like Skype, FaceTime (if you have a roaming package), social media direct messaging and email reduce the need to use phones.

8. Visit local flea markets.

Local markets are a great place to find bargains! Look for things like travel souvenirs and clothing from local artisans and retailers.

9. Read travel blogs, crowd-source for suggestions and hit the library.

Travel blogs like Globetrotting Mama and Journeywoman are great places to get current information on the area you’d like to visit. I also find asking a question in Facebook is a great source of information! On of my FB friends alerted me to the existence of Air BnB.

10. Use public transit.

Some cities like Chicago do have reasonably priced taxis but I find the cheapest way to get around is to use local transit. My children love the excitement of taking a bus, train or subway trip!

11. Bring a container of liquid laundry soap.

I have found two major benefits to bringing a small container of liquid laundry soap: 1. You can pack much more lightly knowing you’ll hand wash your undies and socks at the end of the day, and 2. You can skip laundromats by spot-cleaning your travel clothes rather than needing to clean the whole garment.

12. Check to see if your credit card already comes with health insurance coverage.

Don’t make the mistake I made! I kept paying for separate travel health insurance only to discover we were actually covered by our Royal Bank Avion VISA card. Oops!

Oh, also check to see if your local car insurance or credit card covers your car rental insurance—they often do!

13. Try budget airlines.

Travel search engines like Expedia, Kayak, and Travelocity will usually list major and budget airlines. To make sure, do a search of the airlines that travel to the destination you need. We discovered that the cheapest fare to Europe at the time we booked was with Air Transat (and they didn’t charge us for our checked baggage). Another example is the discount airline called RyanAir for travel inside Europe.

14. Travel on the cheapest days of the week.

Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays are the cheapest days of the week to travel. Also, it has been determined by FareCompare that the cheapest time to book air travel is on a Tuesday afternoon—3pm EST to be exact!

15. Use carry-ons for the kids, too.

If the airline you are travelling with charges for checked baggage, just take one of those and use a carry-on sized roller-case for each of the people travelling. We typically put all our kid’s clothes into one of the carry-ons, mine in another, my husband’s in the third and reserve the checked bag for the things that are replaceable (shoes, toiletries, books, large clothing items) in the event the bag is lost.

 RELATED: Five Ways To Bond With Your Kids On A Family Vacation


Look at the Difference BlissDom Canada Makes!

Meet Friends, Make changes

Look at the Difference BlissDom Canada Makes!

Blissdom Canada

A friend who is new to blogging recently asked me if I thought it would be “worth it” for her to attend BlissDom Canada this year. With big eyes, I said, “Absolutely!” She quickly responded, “Okay, but why?”

I immediately thought back to my first BlissDom Canada experience in downtown Toronto, which was also my first time attending any kind of blogging conference. I had written a few posts with encouraging results that our local small-print parenting magazine had published. As a psychotherapist raising two little boys, I wanted to find a way to share what was significantly helping me and my clients get through the toddler years. I had NO idea where to start.

One day several years ago I saw the monthly Today’s Parent Magazine come through my inbox to be placed in the waiting room, but this time I took it home, scouring the articles. I examined them looking to see if there was a basic format the writers were using, as I was a therapist and not a trained writer! I could feel a writing itch but didn’t have a clue if I was on the track or if my writing wasn’t very good. I wanted to know how to get started writing parenting articles, how to hone my writing style, and how to get better.

I had two big challenges facing me: I still had toddlers at home so leaving the house to meet with people was difficult, and I didn’t know anyone to help me get started in the writing business. I was full of passion and lacking in direction. Then one day as I was sharing my frustration with knowing what to do, a friend quoted this phrase to me:

The only thing I had was my computer, an internet line, and the awareness that I had to stay home. I remember sitting at my desk looking out the window, and asking, “Okay. What can I do from right here?”

At that point I didn’t even have a smartphone or any social media accounts. I realized I needed to start a personal Facebook profile and after doing so, began by searching for names of writers and editors I had come across with the hopes of learning from them. Thankfully, people I didn’t know accepted my friend requests, which significantly helped me put my first step into the writing and social media world.

I sat back and watched. I wanted to see what professional writers and editors were writing about, what they shared and whom they interacted with. I noticed they were mentioning “BlissDom” in their chats, but had no idea what they were talking about. I had the sense that being there would be helpful so I took a risk, made arrangements to get out of my house, and went to Toronto.

The first time I walked into the BlissDom Canada area, I was quite nervous. I didn’t actually know one single person there. Not one! I came armed with my list of names: my goal was to listen to and interact with the people I had become Facebook friends with.

I attended amazing sessions about social media, writing, media, and parenting. I also did end up face-to-face with a few of the women I was hoping to meet. Informal chats with them did what I was hoping they would do: put me on their “parenting expert” radar. About six months after my first BlissDom experience, I saw my name in a magazine for the very first time.

This event gave me the tools to achieve my goals of expanding my reach and finding people to help me improve. I actually learned how to turn my training and experience into words someone on the other side of the world could read and find helpful — right from the little office in my house.

Specifically, I met a very talented freelance editor who I then hired to comment on two articles I was hoping to pitch to magazines. Along with her outstanding suggestions, she said one important thing, which has drastically changed my life. In the middle of an email she wrote, “You are a great writer.” I stared at those words, weeping.

Those five words gave me the confidence to take many risks like sending pitch emails to magazine editors, talking to people I would have normally felt intimidated by, and most importantly, to continue writing. She gave me the gift of believing in myself in an area that was completely foreign to me. Not surprisingly, this editor is now the editor-in-chief of one of North America’s longest running magazines.

One of the risks I am so incredibly grateful to have taken was to send a tweet to Erica Ehm, the founder of To my shock, she responded, followed me back, and we began building a connection that has grown much deeper than I could ever have imagined. Erica has been constantly inspiring, motivating, and has become a dear friend. Our working relationship and friendship certainly took off after spending face-to-face time at my second BlissDom event.

When my friend asked about why I thought going to BlissDom was beneficial, I though about that first time I went, which got me started in blogging life and a basic understanding of social media, but also the second time, which helped me understand the technical side of blogging, and better yet, started amazing friendships. The third one made me feel less alone in my home and behind my computer screen, and this last one made me realize the women and men I have met at BlissDom are my people and I can credit much of my success to them. They have helped grow my business, improve my skills and connect me with readers around the world. I now have over 32,000 followers on my Facebook page and last month alone, 184,000 people read my articles. That blows my mind!

I have even presented a few times at BlissDom. Last year, I had the privilege of hosting a panel about helicopter parenting which included these amazing people: Julie Cole, co-owner of Mabels Labels, Kelly Bos, relationship expert, Doug French, co-founder of Dad 2.0 summit, and Sasha Emmons, editor-in-chief of Today's Parent Magazine. This is a picture of us doing our pre-session social media blast out from up on the stage. 

Now I look forward to going to BlissDom Canada for the amazing content, but mostly to connect with people I care about. It is wonderful to spend time IRL with those we communicate with so often through our screens. There are real hearts and great minds behind those lovely profile pictures. Oh, that goofy picture at the top is me, in my pajamas, dancing away at last year's event.

Roosevelt Quote Image Source:

 RELATED: What I Learned at Blissdom Canada