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Think Outside the Island Destination Box: Family Travel in Costa Rica

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For many years Costa Rica was thought of as a travel haven for backpackers and thrill seekers. There were very few all-inclusive resorts and it was just not a “Family Travel” destination.

This’s all changing! Central America has become a much sought after travel destination and Costa Rica is leading the way.

Several years ago my husband and I spent two weeks in Costa Rica seeking ultimate thrills and experiencing every adrenaline rush possible. We loved the country and it’s people so much we brought our youngest children back last November.

When travelling to a new country it’s important to do a little research. The internet is a great place to start, however my favorite resource is Rough Guides travel books. And best of all, the guides are now available to download, which is a great way to prepare and get the most out of your next adventure.

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We spent a fun-filled week at Dreams las Mareas, an all-inclusive resort in the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica. I love that it is the ONLY resort in this part of the region! Unlike many tropical destinations where the resort beaches are jam-packed full of giddy tourists, when you make your way out to the beach at the Dreams — no matter what direction you look — there are nothing but stunning and peaceful views of nature. You truly feel like you’re in your own private paradise.

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When we stayed the hotel was fresh off it’s one year anniversary. It has two amazing ocean from pools with a steaming whirlpool, an adults only pool, a kids pool, and a fun water slide for the whole family. Both the beach and the pool have full bar service, and there was always an empty lounge chair available and plenty of towels on hand. It’s the little things that make me happy on vacation.

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The pools here get two thumbs up from the toughest critics…
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There’s never a shortage of things to keep the visitor busy, but none of these are broadcast or take away from the setting. A daily newsletter is delivered that outlines the activities going on throughout the day, however no one pesters you pool side to partake in a Salsa Zumba Tequila Shooting Contest — not that it doesn’t sound fun — and you’re allowed to relax or not, as you see fit.
 
But if you do want a bit more action than the lounge chair offers, the list of daily indoor/outdoor activities offered is impressive: 
  • Two oceanfront swimming pools and a steaming whirlpool
  • “La Cascada” water slide with pool for kids
  • Euro-bungee
  • Cooking and cocktail classes
  • Dance lessons
  • Spanish lessons
  • Beach Olympics
  • Beach soccer
  • Big screen movies
  • Yoga
  • Theme nights and parties
  • Bocce-ball
  • Weekly beach party
  • Ping-pong
  • Table games
  • Local wildlife watching
  • Jogging
  • Explorer’s Club for kids
  • Core Zone Teens Club

The nightly outdoor movie was my favourite. I’m a sucker for sitting outside watching a movie with popcorn and a cold beer.

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There are many options for room types in this resort, which I like. There’s something for everyone no matter your family size and needs; from the junior suite with its own terrace hot tub to the presidential swim out ocean front. They are all large, as far as resorts standards go, very well-appointed, and tastefully decorated for a natural, calm atmosphere. Don’t expect turquoise turtle tile with palm tree headboards; the rooms are finished in natural tones and a very zen-like decor.

We stayed in a Preferred Club Junior Suite Swim out Tropical View. Although we hesitated at the extra cost for the private swim out pool, it was worth every penny. After a long day of hard-core relaxing and dining, it was so great to have the pool for the kids to swim and play before bed while we sat out on our deck and had a night-cap.

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For pictures of the room itself be sure to check out their website as I couldn’t get one with our room actually tidied! We were there to play, not do housework.

There are a ton of things included with your stay here, plus the option to upgrade to Preferred Club Privileges. We upgraded to the Preferred Club, but I’m not sold on the value of this because visitors already get so many great amenities with a regular booking. 

The Dreams Las Mareas Costa Rica amenities are as impressive as the options for activities:

  • Limitless access to gourmet à la carte dining options without reservations required
  • Unlimited international and domestic top-shelf spirits
  • Unlimited natural fruit juices and soft drinks
  • 24-hour room and concierge services
  • Pool and beach wait service
  • Daily refreshed mini-bar with soft drinks, juice, bottled water and beer
  • Daily maid service
  • Endless daytime activities and live nightly entertainment
  • Theme parties, oceanfront bars and entertainment venues
  • No wristbands required
  • All taxes and gratuities included
  • Enjoy free Wi-Fi and free international calling to the US, Canada and Costa Rica with Unlimited Connectivity. The mobile app also allows you to view the schedules of all events, activities and restaurants at the resort, plus to learn about local destinations, excursions, and much more

Preferred Club Privileges:

  • Concierge services
  • Preferred Club rooms and suites in premium locations
  • Plush bathrobe, slippers and pillow menu
  • Upgraded mini-bar service
  • Upgraded bath amenities
  • Complimentary newspaper in suite every day (English or Spanish)
  • Private Preferred Club lounge
  • Daily continental breakfast service in lounge
  • Afternoon hot and cold hors d’oeuvres in lounge
  • Exquisite desserts and fine liquors in lounge
  • Complimentary computer access in lounge

TIP Let your concierge staff in charge of the mini bar know at the beginning of your stay what you want to see more of in your fridge.

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The food throughout the resort was very good. The buffet was always fresh and offered different selections and the A-la-Cart restaurant options are well done too. Unlike most all-inclusive resorts where you have to reserve dinners on arrival, here you get a little more freedom. The only problem is no reservations means wait times at the restaurants. If you go when the restaurant opens it is not a problem, if you want to dine a little later, it can be up to a 45 minute wait. There are a few adult-only restaurants, which is great if the kids have dinner at the kids club while you enjoy a romantic dinner together. We loved the room service menu! We tried it for lunch and dinner time and it was delicious and fun to sit in our own space and enjoy a meal.

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The never ending VAT’O’BACON, daily Crepe station, and smoothie station is also kid approved. Obviously.

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And that brings me to the subject of cocktails! I am never a fan of the cocktails at all-inclusive resorts as they either typically lack any flavour other than cheap booze or they come out of a giant slushy machine that’s then topped off with a large splash of simple syrup and cheap booze. I was so pleasantly surprised at the options and creativity the bartenders provided. They had daily drink specials and were willing to make just about anything. The Green Monster was my favourite and I’m almost positive it was healthy. Green=health food, am I right? The champagne and citrus juice bar at breakfast was a wonderful treat even if I did skip the juice most of the time. 

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There was even a “refueling station” set up on your way to the beach. Ready made libations complete with selections for the kids. Oh, happy day!

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When we have travelled with any of the kids we’ve let them decide if they wanted to check out the Kids Club or not. None of the kids ever lasted more than half a day in the past, which we loved as it’s always more fun to hang out and swim with them on family vacations. On this trip though, we couldn’t get them out of the kids club.

The Dreams Costa Rica offers an Explorer’s Kids Club and a Core Zone Teens Club. The kids ventured out to the club on day three and never looked back. They ate lunch there and even dinner on some nights, which gave us the opportunity to check out the adults-only restaurants. The kids watched nightly outdoor movies with popcorn and snacks, they fed howler monkeys, rode bikes, tried out the trampoline bungee, played soccer on the beach, and basically owned the water slide.

In the evenings we sat together and watched wonderful stage performances. I loved the fact that when we checked the kids into kids club we received a buzzer, like in many restaurants. It would vibrate if our kids needed us or wanted to leave the club. The staff at the kids club were beyond amazing. Tip them accordingly if your kids are ever in a kids club, they earn it! My kids keep asking when they get to go back to see them all again.

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Normally we like to do a day at the resort and a day out exploring, however on this vacation we were not all feeling our best since we left home a bit under the weather. This time around we spent more time swimming and chilling out, however we did get out one day for a hike and zip-lining. We went on the Spider Monkey Canopy Tours in La Cruz Costa Rica. It’s a 45 minute jungle hike where we saw sloths and monkeys, including babies, in the wild, spectacular trees and flowers, and wrapped it up with an 11 line zip line. On an adrenaline scale I give this outing a 5 out of 10. Great for kids and zip lining beginners. On a service scale I give it a 9. The amazing staff helped my son who was still feeling off have a great time and feel safe and we all learned so much about the rain forest. The drive is over one hour long and quite bumpy as roads in certain parts of the country are not well-developed, so be prepared.

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This was a week well-spent in an beautiful part of the world. I loved this resort for many reasons, but the size and location are my top two reasons. There are no high-rise buildings, no lounge chair-cluttered beaches, and I didn’t see a single selfie stick! You truly felt the beauty of your surroundings. There’s a lot of attention to detail at this resort and it would be a great getaway for couples and families alike.

The country and the people of Costa Rica are amazing. I’m drawn to this country and will go back for sure! If you have been thinking about expanding your travel destinations and getting a new stamp in your passport, put Costa Rica on the list.

CHEERS!

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Bathing Suit Confessional

shoppping for a bathing suit

We’re taking the kids on a mini-vacation to an indoor water park later this month, where we will either  have an absolute blast bonding together on water slides or catch waterborne Hepatitis. I started to pack a few things we’ll need on our trip and one look at my current stretched-out, chlorine-faded swimsuit had me panicking. Maybe there’s a way out of this, I wondered. I can probably fake an illness or give myself nervous diarrhea, but the kids will be disappointed and frankly, we’ve done next to nothing for fun this year. Yep; I have to go. Perhaps an improvised bathing costume is called for, so I checked the hotel website, but unfortunately they’ve determined that black tights and a sweatshirt are not appropriate swimwear, so I had to get myself a bathing suit. 

That was fun. 

That was sarcasm. 

I told my sister my troubles and it turns out she has a suit she offered to lend me, which is awesome because I’ve seen the suit in question  and I’m pretty sure it’s made of recycled industrial rubber belting. 

But a quick check says it won’t fit, so I went to the mall. I was optimistic and self-assured at first, but everything I tried on made me look like half-cooked bread dough squeezed into a size 2 men’s winter galosh. The fact that the crotch protector in one suit was a Snickers wrapper should have tipped me off that something was amiss, but my eyes were blurry from the movie set lighting they insist on using in change rooms. I think they should start sewing tags with the Mental Health Crisis Hotline number in any suit bigger than a size 12, and provide telephones in each changing cubicle. 

I couldn’t find anything at “Self-Esteem Killers R-Us” that didn’t make me want to attempt home liposuction with my central vac and the flavour injector syringe that came with our  turkey deep fryer. (Yes; we have a turkey deep fryer and I don’t look good in a bathing suit. Do not think the irony of this is lost on me, friends.) 

So on I went to the specialty suit shop. I walked in, took a deep breath, and spilled my guts to the first clerk I saw. I let it all out – how my stomach is too big and flabby, my butt is non-existent, my chest large and mushy, my shoulders tiny, and my arms like soft fresh logs of bologna. I told her my deepest body-image secrets and how it all probably stems back to my childhood and that time I had to go to school in too-small pants because my dad didn’t know how to use our washing machine. That led to some crying about how I am estranged from my parents, and on from there into “monthly cycle” territory. I was sobbing into a second tissue when this poor overburdened woman finally put her hand on my shoulder, looked at me with sympathy and soft eyes, and said, “I don’t work here.” 

You know, they say you shouldn’t eat your feelings. But it’s hard not to, especially when having to shop for a bathing suit makes them taste like cinnamon buns.

Image Source: WikiCommons

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Still Lacking a Summer Vacation Plan?

Do you have a summer vacation plan? Or are you still on the fence about where you’re going? In our household we are just starting to see our summer vacation plans take shape. Happy to stick close to home in the summer, we’re planning several road trips within our home province of Ontario this year. While that might not sound very exotic, it’s incredible what you can find in your own backyard when you look around. In fact, I think summer is the perfect time for many of us to embrace the near and dear while the weather is here. Related: I am so getting an award for my poetry.

Tentatively this is what we’re looking at for our summer vacation:

Muskoka

Forty-three years in this province and I am ashamed to admit that I have never been to Muskoka. Never. I think it’s time.

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Ottawa

That’s right, my hometown. We have guests coming to our house this summer and it would be a crime not to show them around the best city in Canada. Here are 5 Can’t Miss Events in Ottawa this summer.

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Sault Ste. Marie

We have a wedding in the Sault this summer and it’s been over 20 years since I’ve last been there. While there we plan on checking out the Agawa Canyon!

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Quebec

While not actually part of our province, I like to think we’re close enough in Ottawa that it counts. I’m thinking trips to Lafleche Caves and Granby Zoo with the kids should round out the summer nicely. Also, I’ve been told my one little trip to Montreal does not count, so perhaps a romantic getaway with my husband is in order.

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But enough about me? What about YOU? Do you know where you’re taking your summer vacation? If you’re still not sure, you must check out the ideas that Taking the Kids has put together! They’ve covered absolutely every type of escape you could possibly want to take from beach vacations to city escapes and from the great outdoors to theme parks. Prepare to be inspired.

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Surviving a Road Trip with Kids

When I was growing up, summer meant at least one road trip with my family. We lived 2.5 hours from the nearest airport and so most of our vacations involved a lot of driving and with five kids in the car, it was always an adventure. In retrospect, I mean.
Now that we live several hours away from both sets of grandparents, road trips have become a way of life. I thought I’d share some of what I’ve learned about surviving a road trip with kids.

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How’s that for old school? A paper map!

You can survive – you might even like it – so long as you follow these helpful suggestions:
1. Plan as much as you can. As you’re figuring out the best highways to get you to your ultimate destination, you should keep three things in mind:
a. Bathrooms. This one is especially important if you are travelling with young children. Know where the exits are when your 3 year old starts to yell that she has to poop “RIGHT NOW!!!!” And be warned: if you have kids under 7, you are almost guaranteed to have a fake-out bathroom stop, where “I HAVE TO GO!!!” turns into, “Actually, I don’t have to go.”
b. Gas stations. Not all of the dots on the map have one of these, and in smaller centres they might not be open when you need them to be. That’s something you’d rather find out about beforehand. Trust me.
c. Break spots. Everyone gets stir crazy after being in a vehicle for a while. Stop at a tourist attraction along the way, or find a playground and let the kids run around for fifteen minutes. If you can spare the time, let them expend enough energy so they’ll fall asleep before you’re even back on the highway.

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We found this play ground and vintage horse somewhere in BC

2. Pack a potty. Sometimes your child won’t be able to wait until you can find the next public washroom. We found that travelling with one of the cheap plastic potties was a sanity-saver. Make sure to keep it within easy reach. If you’re potty-training, this is almost a necessity.

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See? Useful.

3. Make sure your wheels are road-worthy. When I was 11, our family set off from Saskatchewan to St. Paul, Minnesota in a used minivan that my parents had bought several months prior. Our route took us through South Dakota, to see places like Mount Rushmore and Wall Drug. Wall Drug is located in Wall, South Dakota, a town of less than 1000 people on the edge of Badlands National Park and 50 miles from anywhere else. So of course, that was where the minivan broke down. On a Sunday night. My mom sat with her four kids on a bench outside Wall Drug for hours until a stranger came by and got the van running well enough to get us to Rapid City. Unless you thrive in those kinds of situations, I’d take your vehicle into the shop for a quick tune-up before you hit the road. If you want to be extra careful, purchase an emergency roadside assistance plan.

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You don’t need a monster vehicle for a road trip either. Our Honda Fit has seen many, many miles

4. If the kids are eating they are less likely to cry. Having snacks on hand is important. There are two things I’ve learned the hard way. First, make sure whatever snacks you have for the kids to eat in the car are easy to clean up. Second, make sure the snacks are within easy reach for whoever is going to be handing out the goods. Maybe your kids are patient enough to wait for the driver to find a safe place to pull over and unpack the back of the vehicle so that he can locate the cooler hidden somewhere between the life jackets and a suitcase, but mine weren’t. People who don’t allow eating in their car should reconsider taking a road trip with small children.

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She might be messy, but she’s happy.

5. Give them something to do. It’s helpful to keep the kids occupied (when they’re not eating, of course). How you choose to do this depends on a lot of things: your comfort with giving your kids electronics, their ages, and their personal interests. When the kids were toddlers we relied a lot on movies. As they’ve gotten older, we’ve graduated to various members of the LeapFrog family (no, they didn’t pay me for that mention), colouring and ‘regular’ books. Earphones for any device that makes noise are highly recommended. And music! Don’t forget the music.

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If they don’t have their own books, they might do this to one of yours, or the library’s (as this one was).

With most road trips, the journey itself is as much a part of the vacation as the destination. Hopefully everything will go exactly according to plan, there will be no meltdowns and you will arrive on time. But even if none of that happens, you will have the kind of stories that become part of family legend. And isn’t that what vacations are all about?
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About the Author: You can get to know Erin Chrusch better at Working Mother Chronicles. Find her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.

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How To Pack a Diaper Bag for Travel

Having visited 15 cities in the past year we were well stocked and prepared for our travel adventures but then all of a sudden, the Little Monkey turned one. A toddler. We heard many horror stories about traveling with toddlers and braced ourselves for a tiring trip to Mexico. Luckily for us, our trip to Tulum and Playa del Carmen was no  back breaking, ear piercing or tantrum throwing experience.

After our many travel escapades I can confidently say that a well packed bag is key for an enjoyable experience. Our traveling newborn turned into a traveling toddler and our diaper bag got a bit of a refresh. To be honest my travel diaper bag consists of the same items as my regular diaper bag. At the end of the day, whether it’s a trip to the supermarket or a trip to Mexico, I need the same items! Entertainment, food and fashion are at the core of a good diaper bag!

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·       Snacks : This is probably what takes the most room! I have everything from Mum-mums to dried fruits and a few  emergency packs of Gourmet baby. No need for spoons which is what I love! They also don’t expire too quickly which means I don’t need to worry about using them up too quickly. I also have granola bars in the diaper bag for times when I’m stuck on the subway starving or when there’s delays and all there is to eat are  stale bagels at a crappy airport coffee shop.

·       Baboo : Another great addition to our bag because I know I always have milk on hand for when she gets whiney! Again, this product lasts 3 months without needing to be refrigerated and it comes with a straw! Great for flights and emergencies when you’ve been caught strolling the mall for an hour too long (oh hush! It happens to you all the time, don’t lie).

·       Change of clothes : The bag is packed with about 2 sweaters, 2 t shirts, 2 pants, 2 pairs of socks, hat, onesie and four face cloths. I’m prepared for everything!

·       Samples : I love collecting samples of  body wash, cream and baby Tylenol. In a bind I use the body wash to clean pacifiers that get thrown around and you always need baby cream to stay hydrated. As for the Tylenol, try flying with a teething baby. Or a sick one. You never know when you’ll need some.

·       Sippy Cup : She’s okay with a straw and drinking from our cups, but her sippy cup is what she loves the most. Especially during teething phases when the rubber portion soothes her gums.

·       Toys : Toddlers need entertainment and while the seat belt and aircraft emergency procedure card entertains for a bit, you need plenty of tricks to help pass the time. Standing in immigration queues. Being stuck on a five hour flight behind a grumpy baby hater. Keeping them quiet during the cabin check. The list goes on. We always have a couple books and the Violet phone (her favourite) in the diaper bag.

·       Butt cleaning supplies : Attachable change pad with wipes, diapers and poop bags are always on hand!

·       Random items for me : pack of tissue, a toonie, a pen, nasal drops, Tylenol pills (adult), disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer

·       Tray and Bib : I  do love our roll up bibbity and tiny diner tray! It’s absolutely perfect for our foodie ways.

 

Words of advice : Squeeze in two diapers at the very bottom of the diaper bag, because the day you forget to refill the regular diaper holder, is when you have an explosion. And it ain’t pretty.

 

How about you.. have anything to share ? A friend of mine mentioned microwaveable sanitizing bags, I think that’s a brilliant idea. Never know when you’d need them!

Born in Sri Lanka, raised in Dubai, Bahrain, Pakistan, the U.S, Australia and England, Yashy now finds herself settled in Toronto, where she met her husband. Toronto, with its captivating events that fuel her passions is the only city that has managed to entertain Yashy for longer than seven years. She continues to nurture her love affair with the city by staying engaged with the diverse community and seeking cultural events that tickle her passions which include fashion, wine, dining, cooking, cocktailing, travelling, and now… exploring all things baby related.

A branding specialist by profession, Yashy is now a work from home mom. When she was on maternity leave with nothing but poop and time on her hands she started blogging ( www.babyandlife.com ) to share her passions and how she strives to strike a balance between baby and self from the very start of motherhood. The blog discusses “lifestyle” – travel, entertaining, food and drink and for the most part- all with a baby on the hip. You can find Yashy on Twitter most days lusting after the next travel opportunity and sharing food and baby pictures alongside events happening in Toronto!

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10 Must Haves for Travel with Newborns

When two became three a year and a half ago, we really had to think about what items we packed for our month long travels. Travel with newborns can be easy as long as you have the right gear. We covered 15 cities in 6 countries during the little one’s first year! Here’s some of my must haves for travelling during those early months.
 
1.    Infant travel bed – The best thing when hotels do not have cribs available or when visiting family. This contraption fits comfortably between the parents (we never had any space issues in a queen bed) and there’s no danger of rolling over the baby. Folds up compactly as well.
 
travel must haves for newborns
2.    Baby carrier – Travelling in most South Asian countries with large groups (read family) it would be near impossible to have a car seat. The baby carrier was used not only for our city tours by foot in London and Paris but also on planes that did not provide a basinet or baby seatbelt and on our road trips in India. I strapped myself to the seatbelt as per usual, the bottom belt tucked under the baby’s legs and the top belt secured under the two top buttons on the carrier. It’s not the safest method but it was the best we could do – I was well secured by the seatbelt and the baby was strapped onto me (no danger of any belts choking her).
 
travel with newborns
 
3.    Breast pump – At times it’s hard to breastfeed in very public places and a hungry baby is not what you want to deal with when surrounded by chaos. Pumped milk to the rescue! Also let’s not forget that glass of wine that MUST accompany those fancy dinners or that tawny port 31,000 ft above homeland.  If you’re concerned about the 110volts vs. 220 don’t be, most hotels have a shaver outlet which works just as well for the pump. Ladies it DOES NOT work for your hair dryers or curling irons though! Be warned! If you are worried about sterilizing the bottles, nozzles e.t.c, don’t be. I always keep a small bottle of washing liquid in the diaper bag, I use this to wash all the items (at the hotel) and then because I’m skeptical about tap water in certain countries, I always boil water in the kettle and then rinse out the ice bucket. Next up toss all the washed items into the ice bucket and pour boiling water to sterilize the items. Toss the dried items into a larger ziplock.
 
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4.    Nursing cover – I’ve fed at Westminster Abbey, a monastic ruin from 1 B.C, at the Churchill war museum, 31,000 ft above ground and countless restaurants and stores, all thanks to the discretion allowed by the nursing cover.
 
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5.    Wipes and diapers – I took these from Toronto because I did not want to deal with experimenting with the wrong kind.  For a month with a newborn we needed 3 large packs of wipes (to keep at the hotel), 3 travel sized packs (for the diaper bag) and 200 diapers.
 
travel with newborns
6.    Pacifiers – I used these arduously on the plane for takeoff and landing and to soothe her to sleep when we went out to eat. Given that I tend to drop things, we “lost” quite a few for the day. Even if I drop it for a second, I refuse to re-use it until it has been sterilized. Have extras on hand, like 5!
 
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7.    Blankets – I always take two blankets wherever I go. One to lay on the chair (I prefer each side to be differently coloured so that I always know which is the “dirty” side touching the seat), the other to drape over her.
 
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8.    Disposable change pads – We’ve been in places where there has been no change station or worse, an absolutely filthy one. I like to lay the disposable change pad first and then the travel change pad on top. Yes I’m a bit of a germaphobe. Most times I either changed her in the car or tucked away in a corner at a restaurant.
 
travel with newborns
9.    Hand sanitizer – Oh boy did I use this! After dealing with street vendors in India, taking the subway in London and pretty much any interaction we had with “foreign” objects.
 
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10.    Camera and laptop – Hey I have to update my blog and Facebook page right!?!
 
 
 
It’s true I’ve had to sacrifice my mandatory 7 pairs of shoes, extra jewellery, hair accessories and purses to fit these items, but truth be told, I didn’t really miss them…much! Best part is that we donated some of the clothes and extra diapers to those kids who are less fortunate in Mumbai. This also makes room for the shopping I’ve done  All in all we fit all of these and our clothes into one suitcase each (two in total), not bad eh!
 

Born in Sri Lanka, raised in Dubai, Bahrain, Pakistan, the U.S, Australia and England, Yashy now finds herself settled in Toronto, where she met her husband. Toronto, with its captivating events that fuel her passions is the only city that has managed to entertain Yashy for longer than seven years. She continues to nurture her love affair with the city by staying engaged with the diverse community and seeking cultural events that tickle her passions which include fashion, wine, dining, cooking, cocktailing, travelling, and now… exploring all things baby related. 

A branding specialist by profession, Yashy is now a work from home mom. When she was on maternity leave with nothing but poop and time on her hands she started blogging ( www.babyandlife.com ) to share her passions and how she strives to strike a balance between baby and self from the very start of motherhood. The blog discusses “lifestyle” – travel, entertaining, food and drink and for the most part- all with a baby on the hip. You can find Yashy on Twitter most days lusting after the next travel opportunity and sharing food and baby pictures alongside events happening in Toronto!

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Churchill, Canada

I’m a proud Canadian, of that there can be no doubt, but I have to admit that I’ve not spent enough time exploring this incredible country. Especially west of Ontario. Or north for that matter. In fact, upon further reflection, I’m a bit of a novice when it comes to Canada. I think it’s time to change that.

The Great Canadian Travel Company sent me this video of Churchill, Canada and I just had to share with you. What an amazing experience this would be! And I know they’re not really snuggly, but don’t those polar bears just look so darn cute?!

Where would you visit in Canada? Check out all the great places on The Great Canadian Travel Company’s page and come back and tell me where you’d go first.

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Expect the Worst, Get the Best

 

On Saturday I woke at 4am and began to immediately dread the journey with my two girls to Mexico. For what it’s worth, I happen to think my children are fantastic travelers, but this was new territory. We were looking down the barrel of a 13 hour day, 7 hours flying time, 3 flights, 3 security checkpoints, 2 custom checks — all with one parent. Yikes! Never mind how would my kids cope, how on earth would I cope? I’ve traveled with them alone many times before, but never quite with travel this complex.

Within a half hour of my husband dropping us off, I was ready to call him and say “Come back”.

First, on two of our three flights, we were not sitting together. This immediately caused great anxiety in my oldest, who got weepy at the check in counter. I assured her, that nobody else was going to want to sit with a kid that was not their own and I would somehow get us seated together. While this stopped the tears, it didn’t stop the non-stop venting for the next twenty minutes about “like, the complete and total injustice of the whole thing”. (I’m paraphrasing slightly but you get the gist, right?)

Then came time to walk through security and I turned to my youngest and said “C’mon, go through the scanner, what are you waiting for?” That was when she turned to me with water welling in her eyes and shook her head no. Note to self: children are highly emotional when woken at 4am.

By the time we got through customs, I was thinking, maybe I should just turn around. Because, really, would me snapping at 30,000 feet do anybody any good?

We stopped for breakfast and things started to turn around. Not a single tear was shed.

Progress.

Then on the first flight, the girls sat together, while I sat one row behind them. This is where I closed my eyes, for what I swore would only be two seconds, and woke up an hour later. It was not my children fighting that woke me up, or the loudness of their voices. Nope they were quietly playing a thumb war. I woke up because my neck apparently doesn’t like to be held at 90 degree angle while sleeping.

We landed in Washington without incident and I was no longer holding my breath. Kudos to the security people in Washington, by the way, who sent me though the scanner first before my kids. I totally get how these things can be intimidating to a kid. With me safely on the other side, it was much easier for my youngest to stroll through. Once I had secured the seat changes, we boarded our next flight bound for Houston and after take-off my youngest proceeded to whip out her homework.

What? Who are you kid and what did you do with my daughter?

Houston held more of the same great behaviour, which was rewarded with new books, chewing gum and fancy drinks at a restaurant. Seat changes were made again and we headed for Cancun. Just before we landed, I leaned over and kissed them both and told them how much I loved them.

“How did we do today mom?” my youngest turned and said to me.

“You two rocked my world. How did I do?”

She shrugged. “Meh, alright, I guess.”

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Christmas Morning at Cinderella’s Castle

On what is the hottest day of the year, possibly ever in Ottawa, I’m going to broach a topic that seems so far off. Christmas. Why am I pushing the panic button? Because there’s only 161 days left until Christmas and if you plan on being at Disney World this year, you need to make your dining reservations….STAT!

Christmas is a wildly popular time of year to visit the Magic Kingdom and planning ahead will make your trip far more enjoyable. It was around this time last year that we started to line up all the things we wanted to have in place to make our trip spectacular.

Reservations at Fort Wilderness, what attractions we wanted to see most, like The Osborne Spectacle of Lights and the massive Gingerbread House at Disney’s Grand Floridian, and finally where we were going to have our Christmas breakfast. For us, there was no better place to be than Cinderella’s Castle on Christmas morning, the icon really of all things Disney. Also, it was the perfect place to be to stroll out and catch the Christmas Day parade.

BUT, I made my reservations in July and so should you! Make your reservations now! You can make dining reservations up to 180 days in advance of your trip. Which means we’re already 19 days past! *Gulp* If it’s already sold out, don’t despair. Keep trying. There are cancellations all the time. Persistence is key. Visit the Disney Dining & Reservations page to explore what your options are for dining. Then sit the family down and make a plan. Go! (and have fun)

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Posh Places to Stay in England

They’ve just finished celebrating their Queen’s 60th Jubilee and now they’re bracing themselves for the 2012 Olympics, which take place in London this summer. Europe might be suffering economic woes, but the British seem to be having lots of fun at the moment. We love to holiday in England, and have grown familiar with their broad range of accommodation, from fun but admittedly cramped vintage caravans, to comfortable luxury family hotels in beautiful parkland.

These days, we err towards the latter. The novelty of sleeping in an Airstream in a soggy British field wore off as we grew older and – well – pickier about our mattresses. Our favourite British hotels are converted old mansions, once occupied by English kings and queens of old, or lords and ladies at the very least.

It’s hard to imagine these places ever being someone’s home. And some of these aristocrats didn’t even live there all year round, leaving staff to take care of the place (and any bedridden aunties and uncles, I suppose) while they spent the winter at their London townhouse, or travelled in Europe.

The wealth involved in even building these places is staggering – and maintaining them, along with all the maids, housekeepers, gardeners and so forth, required a wealth that few English landowners can boast today, at least in their private residences.

These days, many of these fabulous old buildings are owned by an organisation called the National Trust, which preserves and protects heritage buildings, restoring their interiors to an authentic state and opening them to the public.

Luckily for us, some of them have also been converted into hotels. The interiors aren’t quite so authentic as they used to be, but that’s fine by me – 16th century tapestry bedding would probably make me sneeze all night.

Thornbury Castle, near Bristol in the South West, is one of our favourites. I’ve been fascinated by the Tudors (who ruled England throughout the 16th century) and Thornbury was owned, briefly, by Henry VIII, who stayed there with his ill-fated queen, Anne Boleyn. It’s not actually a real castle – times were fairly peaceful, when it was built, and the fashion then was to make your country mansion look like a castle, without going to the expense of building nice thick cannonball-proof walls.

This kept your aristocratic pride intact, even though your nice big windows – large enough to let lots of light in – wouldn’t offer much protection in a crossbow fight. Thornbury does actually have little arrowslits (aka ‘loopholes’) up its main tower, so you can still play at being besieged, if you want to.

Down South, in the New Forest – a wonderful area originally set aside by William the Conqueror as his private hunting ground, and now home to diverse British wildlife – New Park Manor is also popular amongst our family. We love the area, for a start – it’s excellent for walking, cycling and pony trekking on the indigenous New Forest Ponies that have inhabited the region since before the last Ice Age. It’s fun at night, too, when you can go out looking for bats and owls. The Manor itself was used by King Charles II as a hunting lodge. We can see why he liked it so much and, heck, if it was good enough for him; it’s good enough for us. And these days, the mattresses are much nicer.

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