Author Archives: Krystal Rogers-Nelson

About Krystal Rogers-Nelson

Krystal is a freelance writer, artist and child-wrangler.  She lives in Salt Lake City, Utah where she spends a lot of her time giving piggyback rides to her three year old and hugging trees. With a B.A. in International Studies from Humboldt State University, she is an experienced world traveler and sustainable living guru.  When she can sneak some alone time, she’s either planning her next travel adventure or making art.

Home / North America / Disney Adventure| Secrets For The Best Disney Family Vacation

Disney Adventure| Secrets For The Best Disney Family Vacation

Updated: June 15, 2017
By: Krystal Rogers-Nelson
Disney
If you’ve ever been on a Disney vacation, chances are you have a lot of fun memories of the
experience, as well as a few not-so-fun ones. The sheer size of the parks combined with age
disparity between children, teens, and adults can make for a stressful time when you don’t plan
effectively. That’s why I’m going to give you some of my most useful tips for navigating a family
vacation to Disney without cracking under the pressure. Buckle up—you’re in for a ride!

Determine What Your Children Are Ready For

Disney World can be a really magical place for all ages, but let’s be real—it can also be a total nightmare when you’ve got a screaming two-year-old who’s had enough after just an hour in the park. When planning your Disney vacation, think carefully about what your kids will and won’t be able to handle at their respective ages, and plan accordingly. My rule of thumb is to wait until children are at least three before plunging them into a Disney trip.

Consider a Vacation Rental

My mom took our family on a Disney World vacation the year my son turned one (he was too young—stick to my “at least three” rule if possible!) along with my adult siblings and their families. We rented a vacation house with a pool that was close to the park, and it was the best decision ever.

The house had a kitchen, a washer and dryer, a pool, a hot tub with a patio, and a family room with a TV—just in case we didn’t get enough Disney for the day and wanted to watch a couple of movies! Each couple had their own room and bathroom, and there was enough common space to spread out and decompress after a long day.

Don’t Overbook Your Days

It’s tempting to try and cram as much into a Disney vacation as possible, because there’s just so much to see and do, but it can have a detrimental effect on everyone’s experience if you’re not careful. My trip with my mom was ten days long, so rest days were definitely necessary. Ten solid days of park time would have been exhausting. I advise giving yourself a couple of free days to explore outside of the parks, relax by the pool, and generally unwind before hitting the parks again.

Decide in advance what things you want to see and do the most, as winging it can lead to unnecessary stress. If you’re traveling in a large group, break into smaller groups and plan meet-up times and places—this strategy allows everyone to do what they want without overbooking everyone else.Kids meeting their hero at Disney World

Pack for Any Scenario

The best way to deal with the variables of exploring Disney World with young children is to prepare for as many as possible. Don’t attempt a day in the parks without good walking shoes for all and a packed-for-anything stroller, as even the most hyperactive children will wear themselves out after a long day at Disney World. An umbrella stroller is a great option to travel with and will keep the sun out of your little ones’ eyes, lessening the likelihood of them becoming more exhausted by the heat. Pack your stroller with snacks, water, sunscreen, Dramamine or ginger chews (for motion sickness), and anything else you anticipate needing for the day.

Head to a Galaxy Far, Far Away

In case you haven’t heard, more Star Wars attractions are coming to Hollywood Studios in 2019, as part of the largest single-themed expansion to ever happen in a Disney park. Right now, you can check out replica movie props, experience the 3D motion-simulated journey through the Star Wars galaxies, and watch a live show that brings classic Star Wars moments to life before your eyes.

The new Star Wars attractions will include activities for Star Wars fans of all ages, from family pictures with Chewbacca and BB-8 to Jedi training for children ages four through twelve. (I’m not jealous, it’s fine.) If you’re a Star Wars fan like me, budget in tickets to Hollywood Studios, starting at $99 for one day.

Don’t Let Kids Binge on Sugar

Treats are part of the Disney experience, but an over-sugared child is not what you want when trying to enjoy a full day of park time—trust me! Be mindful of how much sugar your children consume, and ensure they eat enough “real food” and drink plenty of water. This should help you avoid any potential vomiting (it happens) and keep them as calm as possible under the circumstances.

Have a Plan if You Get Separated

You should give everyone in your party a plan to follow in the event of separation—don’t just count on cellphones, as batteries and signal strength aren’t always reliable. If your children are prone to wandering off, consider getting a GPS tracker so you don’t have to panic if you can’t locate them in the hustle and bustle of so many people.

Beat the Crowds

All of us have different tolerance levels when it comes to crowds, but most of us would rather not wait in line for hours to go on a ride, so get smart about avoiding crowds with these tips.

  • Parades are a great time to hit your favorite rides, as lines tend to be significantly shorter.

  • TouringPlans.com is a great resource when planning your Disney vacation, as it provides crowd information that helps you know when the parks will be least busy.Walt Disney Castle

  • Eating your meals at less-conventional times means less standing around listening to “Mom, I’m STARVING!” on repeat.

  • Certain rides, such as Space Mountain and the Hollywood Tower of Terror, have longer lines most of the time, so consider visiting these first when you arrive at the parks.

  • The earlier you can get to the parks, the more in-demand rides you can enjoy before the crowds come. Try to get to bed at a reasonable hour before a park day so you can be up bright and early.

  • If you stay at a Disney hotel, you should take advantage of Disney’s Extra Magic Hours, which let you enter the park an hour before everyone else and leave up to two hours later.

  • Consider investing in Disney’s FastPass+ program, which lets you schedule your visit to certain attractions and beat the lines for your favorite rides. You can make reservations with FastPass+ using the My Disney Experience planning page or the mobile app up to thirty days in advance, or sixty days if you stay at a Disney hotel. They’re flexible, so don’t worry if you change your mind once you begin your trip.

Make Waiting More Bearable

While there are things you can do to reduce waiting times, you’ll inevitably have to stand in line at some points. Snacks, games, and electronics can all make time go faster, as can Disney’s interactive queues for certain rides, such as the Haunted Mansion and Dumbo the Flying Elephant. Disney also has some free apps like Nemo’s Reef that you can download for your children. I like to prepare some Disney trivia questions for my family in advance, as we love competing with each other as we wait in line!

Enjoy Some Adult Time at Epcot

Don’t let children steal all your Disney vacation time—have a grandparent or older teen watch over them while you enjoy some adult time at Epcot. You can devour some fancy food, get a real drink (or three), and unwind without wired-on-Disney kids screaming at you for a few hours. If you haven’t been before, check out some of my favorite attractions:

  • Boulangerie Pâtisserie in France
  • La Cava del Tequila and Mariachi Cobre in Mexico
  • Brass Baazar in Morocco
  • Soarin’ Around the World in “The Land”
  • Dragon Legend Acrobats in China

Sure, Epcot isn’t just for adults—it has lots of amazing child-friendly attractions for everyone to enjoy—but it’s my favorite place for grownup time on a Disney vacation. I highly recommend you check it out when you need a break.

Epcot Centre Disney

Keep Grandparents Happy

Grandparents are, in my experience, the real heroes on a Disney vacation, and they deserve to be treated as such. The responsibility of tending to kids’ needs often falls on them and can definitely be exhausting, so make sure you find shady spots around the park so your parents can rest. Consider renting a wheelchair even if Grandma or Grandpa don’t usually need one, as the level of walking required in the parks can be very high and takes its toll even on the youngest and fittest among us.

Keep Teenagers Happy

There are plenty of things teenagers will love at Disney. If your teenager is too cool for school (AKA Disney), try to involve them in planning your trip, and don’t try to fight their sleep schedule too much. If teens feel like they had a say in the plans, they will usually be less opposed to things during the vacation.

Also, Disney parks are a relatively safe and closed environment, so if you have more than one teenager, give them some time to explore by themselves. Nighttime activities like fireworks are a teen favorite, as are the behind-the-scenes tours, most of which are only for those sixteen or older.

Don’t Fall Prey to Overpriced Souvenirs

If you want the classic mouse-ears-in-front-of-the-castle picture, or want to snap a picture with Chewbacca dressed up as your favorite star wars character, buy your mouse ears or Jedi robes from a party store in advance, rather than shelling out for in-park prices. You should also buy things like lanyards, and character autograph books from a party store too, as this will save you a lot of money.

It’s impossible to cram everything into one Disney vacation, so try to stay focused on what you want to do the most, and keep everyone’s stress levels as low as possible with effective planning.

Share this article with your friends and family if you found it helpful, and leave your best tips for surviving a family Disney vacation with other readers in the comments!

 

Home / Travel Tips / Family Travel / Family Travel| How to win at parenting on your next flight

Family Travel| How to win at parenting on your next flight

Updated: May 22, 2017
By: Krystal Rogers-Nelson

Mom and son checking out an airplane before flyingFew things are more precious to parents than creating memories with their children. From travelling to new places to visiting family members, I treasure the moments I’ve shared travelling with my child.

Getting there by plane, though, can be nerve-racking. We’ve all seen the open letters and blurry phone videos posted online of disastrous airplane experiences involving kids. Confining a child to a small seat or a parent’s lap on an airplane is a herculean task.

But flying with kids doesn’t have to turn into a miserable excursion parents must endure. If parents prepare for the worst-case scenario, the airplane ride can evolve into a fun adventure with kids. Here are flying tips, packing essentials, and relaxation must-haves for you and your little ones.

Pay Extra and Book Early for Good Seats

Federal regulations allow children under twenty-four months to fly without a seat as a lap child. Though it sounds great to save money on tickets, babies are divas and may require some extra room. If you can afford it, pay extra for seat perks to keep your baby happy:

  • Book a bulkhead seat. If you book early enough, you can pay for a bulkhead seat that has extra legroom. These are the first row of seats that don’t have another row in front of them, so your child won’t have a seat back to kick and another row of people to torture.
  • Getting the best seats for your familyBuy another ticket. Pay extra so baby can have their own seat next to you. If your baby has a separate ticket, you can bring their car seat on the plane, too, and strap them in for the duration of the flight. Babies are typically much more comfortable in their snug car seat than wiggling in an adult’s lap.
  • Bring a travel vest or baby carrier. If you check the car seat as baggage at the airline’s front desk (this service is free, but bring a trash bag or car seat bag to wrap the car seat while it’s stored with the rest of the luggage), consider using a baby carrier or a travel vest for your child. Both will keep your baby strapped to your chest so you can attempt to relax hands-free during the flight. And, if I’m being honest, carriers and vests keep my baby from sliding off my lap when there’s turbulence.
  • Secure an aisle seat. Nothing is more annoying that constantly climbing over your fellow passengers to take your toddler to the bathroom for the fifth time or to bounce your restless baby down the aisle. If I can’t take up the whole bench with my spouse and kids, I book an aisle seat because it’s so much easier.

As of 2015, average passenger load factors for domestic flights were the highest they’ve been in over ten years, according to the Bureau of Transportation, with that number dropping minimally in 2016. These factors influence how airlines handle family seating. Though you could formerly expect a gate agent to rearrange passengers so children and parents could sit next to each other, those days are long gone. Parents will have to navigate this situation themselves, asking neighboring passengers to switch their seats. But you can take some steps to solve this problem.

  • Book early. The earlier you book, the more likely you will secure seats side by side.
  • Pay extra. The peace of mind will be worth the extra money.
  • Check in early. Check in right at the 24-hour mark before your flight so you can hopefully rearrange your seats if need be.
  • Contact customer service. Use a public social media site like Twitter or Facebook to ask for help from the airline.

Over Anticipate Food Needs

Eating a bananaThere will likely be zero plane food to interest your child outside of tiny cups of soda. And a hangry child is miserable for everyone to endure. Pack lots of food options for your child, but stay away from too much sugar to keep them calm. Granola bars, fruit pieces, and cheese sticks are easy options that are hard to spill. Remember to follow the TSA guidelines—no canned food or liquids.

The one exception to this rule is formula, breast milk, and even juice for a baby. Those liquids can be screened separately if they’re over 3.4 ounces. Keep your baby drinking or at least sucking during takeoff and landing, when the changing air pressure is painful for children who don’t understand how to yawn and pop their ears. The sucking motion will open the ear canal and relieve the pressure.

For my toddler, I bring a sippy cup or water bottle with a straw, since airlines don’t have cups with lids. I make sure my child is either drinking out of the sippy cup or eating something chewy, like fruit snacks, during takeoff and landing to help with the pressure changes.

Pack a Bag of Distractions

To keep my child quiet and occupied, I pack a few new trinkets. I wrap up the toys for him to open during the flight, which adds to the excitement. Stay away from anything with lots of tiny pieces, like DUPLOs or LEGOs—trust me. The airport floor is a black hole that will claim a tiny toy piece, never to be found again. Magnetic toys and anything that features buttons (like an old calculator) are entertaining and less likely to get lost.

I include some easy arts and crafts in my arsenal of tricks, too. I pack some small, inexpensive items that keep my child occupied for long lengths of time. Triangular crayons are a genius item to bring on plane trips because they won’t roll off tray tables, and sticker books are another fun, small option to pack.

Make Technology Your Best Friend

Family Illustration getting ready before the flightNo judgement here: hand over your phone to your kid the moment they’re bored on a flight. It’s a great way to kill time without disturbing other passengers, so give your child free reign of a tablet or smartphone. Before you leave, download new games and movies for your child. I pack some kid-sized headphones, too, so the rest of the passengers won’t give me the evil eye when they are forced to hear the “creature report” on Octonauts.

Before you get to the airport, also spend some time toddler-proofing your phone. Otherwise, your child may take control of your phone and remove apps, randomly call a stranger, or browse questionable YouTube videos.

While these general tips will help you avoid most of the struggles when flying with your children, each age group is different and presents their own set of travelling challenges. Here are some age-specific tips, along with packing essentials to help your little one feel happy and safe on a flight.

For Babies

Packing Essentials: Extra diapers, change of clothes, blanket, milk/formula

Take Nap and Bedtimes into Account

It’s cute when parents think their baby will sleep through a red-eye flight. I’ve made that mistake, and I caution you: don’t do it. Schedule your flights around your baby’s sleeping routine. Chances are small that a baby will peacefully slumber through a red-eye or nap on the mid-day flight if it doesn’t match their sleep schedule.

Make Kindness Your MO

Treat everyone on the plane with kindness, even the unhelpful stewardess and the eye-rolling passengers. If I’m overly sensitive to the other passengers and the fact that none of them want to sit near a baby, they reciprocate with kindness. One parent went so far as to make goodie bags for the passengers around them on their baby’s first flight. Though you’re certainly not expected to make a mini care package to your fellow travelers, a kind gesture goes a long way.

For Toddlers

Packing essentials: Sippy cup, smartphone, new toys, comfort item

Give Them Lots of Love

Children are keen at sensing their parent’s stress, and they can then mimic those feelings, especially as toddlers. Be ready to shower your child with extra hugs and kisses during your flight. The affection will ease their fears in an unfamiliar place and reassure them that everything is going to be alright. I make a point to check in on my toddler’s wellbeing frequently on a flight and offer my lap as a pillow and my hand for back rubs.

Bring a Comfort Item

I always bring my child’s lovie, his special toy he can’t leave home without. A favorite plush animal or blanket helps kids feel happy and safe when they’re on a potentially scary airplane ride. But keep a vigilant eye on the lovie—the last thing you want is to misplace your kid’s favorite item.

For Older Children

Packing Essentials: Small carry-on, simple crafts, tech devices, kid-friendly headphones

Teach Proper Etiquette

While a lesson in airplane courtesy will be ignored by my toddler in my home, older children will often listen to and hopefully follow behavior standards on a flight. Advise them to refrain from any actions that will disturb other passengers or brand you as “that family” by the flight crew. This includes talking loudly, aggressively playing with the tray table, touching all the buttons, repeatedly moving the seat up and down, and using the aisles as a lap track.

Put Them in Charge of Their Bag

Past toddler-hood, I put my child in charge of their own carry-on luggage. Consider a backpack or a small suitcase with wheels. I give my young child free range to pack their bag, reminding them that I make final editing decisions. Books, self-containing toy sets, and card games like Go Fish are great items for older children.Todder adventures on thier first family trip abroad

Flight Relaxation Tips for Parents

Once my little ones are happy, I do some things to keep myself comfortable on a flight, too. Here are some ways parents can relax during air travel.

  • Bring a good travel pillow. Travel pillows come in all shapes today—from a three-armed J pillow to an expanding foam pillow. The extra neck support relieves tension in my neck and shoulders that builds up if my child acts up during the flight.
  • Change into slipper socks. Removing my shoes during a flight is a tiny bit of relief, but I don’t want to walk around on the plane without my shoes. I bring a pair of slipper socks that I change into so I feel hygienic while I walk around the plane.
  • Use a face mist. Airplanes are notoriously dry—the outside air pumped in is void of moisture at high altitudes. Face mists are my favorite way to hydrate my face. Full of calming scents, they’re a wonderful luxury to indulge in throughout the flight.

You can never be too prepared for a flight. Even if the flight doesn’t go well, go into it determined that you won’t feel guilty if your child has a YouTube-worthy meltdown. You are a great parent, and a flight is a small blip of your child’s life.

What’s your number one life saving tip when flying with your little ones?

Comment below, and share this article with friends who are planning a summer getaway with their kids.

Home / North America / USA / Travel America| 5 Best Car Camping Spots in Southern Utah

Travel America| 5 Best Car Camping Spots in Southern Utah

Updated: May 1, 2017
By: Krystal Rogers-Nelson
Utah, US - Southern Utah Camping in the wilderness (iStock)

Utah, US – Southern Utah Camping in the wilderness (iStock)

While Yellowstone National Park may get a lot of attention, southern Utah’s national parks are waiting to steal your heart. Utah hosts striking red rock formations and diverse wildlife like gray foxes and desert horned lizards. Rivers slice through deep canyons. Cool lakes, perfect for dipping in after an afternoon hike, abound. You can even spot petroglyphs and other testaments of humanity’s attempts to tame the wild.

Even though Utah doesn’t fall in the ten largest states, it still has the third-most national parks—which means you don’t have to travel far to visit them all. The Mighty Five national parks—Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, and Zion—listed here follow a travel itinerary starting in Salt Lake City and finishing near Las Vegas. Each section below includes must-see sites, best campgrounds to stay at, and a safety tip to keep you well rested, protected, and ready for adventure.

1. Arches National Park

Utah Arches

Utah, US – Delicate Arches in Utah’s Arches National Park are created from centuries and millennia of weather wear (Eric Nelson)

Arches National Park owes its name to an obvious feature: arches, naturally formed in the rocks. You will see many arches from bulky ones to ones so ethereal that they seem like something out of a fantasy novel. Delicate Arch is the most well known, and you should make time to see it. Try taking an early morning hike to beat the crowds (and the heat).

When planning your trip, be aware that the main camping area, Devils Garden Campground, will be closed for construction until November 2017. There are plenty of other BLM campsites nearby, such as Goose Island and Granstaff. But reservations go fast, so you may want to venture further out toGoldbar, Kane Creek Rd.  You can also try your luck at getting an individual site, but they are first-come/first-serve, so you need to get there in the morning and act fast.

Safety Tip: Visiting a national park puts you in close proximity to desert flora and rock formations.  Make sure to pack a 1st aid kit for hiking that can handle scrapes, sprains, and cacti spines.

2. Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands possesses four distinct areas separated by rivers. Some sections showcase majestic cliffs, mesas, pinnacles, and domes. Others are home to the Green and Colorado Rivers, which you can raft. Must-see sites include Island in the Sky and Mesa Arch.

You won’t find any proper campgrounds inside the park, but multiple options exist outside it. Squaw Flat Campground and Willow Flat rest near the Needles District and Island in the Sky, respectively. The Bureau of Land Management maintains much of the land in and around Canyonlands, so you can always rough it and pitch a tent.

Safety Tip: Many of the hikes in Island in the Sky are family friendly, but come prepared. Some of the hikes involve steep ascents and require good hiking shoes. Canyonlands is also more remote and far from services, so it’s a good idea to pack an emergency kit in your car and note that cell service may be spotty.

Green River Utah

Utah, US – Gaining perspective overlooking Green River Utah’s Canyonlands National Park,(iStock)

3. Capitol Reef National Park

Once inside Capitol Reef, you’ll see why Native Americans termed it “Land of the Sleeping Rainbow.” The park’s prismatic colors and historical sites, which include a harvestable fruit orchard, will capture your attention and possibly your affection.

Campgrounds for Capitol Reef are on a first-come-first-serve basis. The best sites include Fruita Campground, Cathedral Valley, and Cedar Mesa. Fruita offers more amenities while the other two are more primitive.

Safety Tip: Like the other southern Utah parks, you’ll do a lot of walking in Capitol Reef. Take plenty of water with you, even if it means your pack is a little heavier. You won’t regret it. Make sure to balance your water intake with salty snacks like trail-mix or add a powdered electrolyte drink to your water bottle.

Capitol Reef

Utah, US – Capitol Reef “land of the sleeping rainbow” (Bob Rogers)

4. Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon boasts the largest number of hoodoos (tall, thin spires of rock) in the world, and the landscape feels magical, resembling castles in a fairytale. The park also displays ancient bristlecone pines, with some approaching 1,800 years in age. Also considered an oasis for stargazing, you can attend special Astronomy Ranger programs where you could see over 7500 stars on a moonless night!

Most travelers stay at a campground because of the chance to see the stars, as well as to see the sunrise and sunset transform the surrounding sandstone. The best-known sites include North and Sunset. Both accept reservations between May and September. You can also find yurt rentals nearby.

Safety Tip: Bryce Canyon starts at an elevation of 8,000 to 9,000 feet, so swath your skin in sunscreen to avoid sunburns and drink lots of water.

Bryce Canyon

Utah, US – Bryce Canyon National Park (Bob Rogers)

5. Zion National Park

Zion tends to be the most visited national park in southern Utah, perhaps because of the Virgin River and the park’s towers and monoliths. For must-see sites, put Angel’s Landing (age 8+), Emerald Pools, and Weeping Rock on your list. Observation Point is also one of my favorites. Child backpacks are essential for hiking with babies and small children, though there are some paved paths that can accommodate strollers or wheelchairs.

Zion Observatory

Utah, US – Posing at Zion National Park Observatory in Zion National Park Utah (Krystal Rogers-Nelson)

Most people prefer to stay at the Watchman or South campsites. Travelers who enjoy a more rustic site may wish to stay at Lava Point, which is over an hour drive from the main entrance of the park. Watchman requires a reservation, but the other two are open. To stay off the beaten path but in luxury, reserve a spot at the glamping site Moonlight Oasis.

Safety Tip: Some of the hikes, like Angel’s Landing, have specific paths marked to keep you safe. Stay on the trails to make sure no one gets hurt.  If traveling with young children, consider a child GPS tracker since it can get crowded on the shuttle, at the trail-head and hiking on the popular trails.  I personally have found the My Buddy Tag to be useful with my rambunctious three year old, though cell coverage may vary depending on where you are in the park.

Overall, you can’t lose no matter which national parks you visit in southern Utah.

Have you been to any of southern Utah’s Mighty Five before?

Comment and share which places to camp are your favorites.