Teen Tech Travel Tips

Teen Tech Travel Tips

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When it comes to traveling with teens, I’m sure I’m not the only parent who stresses over what they pack and the rate at which they pack. While BabyGirl is diligent and usually creates a packing list, sometimes she begins to over think what she needs. I remember doing the same thing when I was a kid, so I give her some leeway. On the other hand, when it comes to packing her tech it becomes a game of ‘didja’ – ‘didja’ bring the backup battery, ‘didja’ pack extra earphones, ‘didja’ make sure you have the right cable?

It probably doesn’t make sense to have a tech ‘go bag’ for the kids if you don’t travel extensively, but I’ve found that it’s important to start good habits early. We need to get teens thinking about what they need to keep their tech useable on the go. They’re likely used to grabbing their phone and going since smartphones today tend to have 10+ hours of battery usage. And even if they’re running low they likely have a friend who has a charger or they’re at school and have access to a charger.

While we may have some of the extras to keep the phones charged, sometimes we don’t. And with families often having different types of devices it’s possible we don’t have everything for everyone.

  1. Provide them with a tech travel checklist – this is good for everyone in the household because even those of us who are experienced packers often forget something. If they’re responsible for packing their tech, helping them be successful and avoiding stress while the family is on vacation is a parenting win!
  2. Get them their own accessories – while this may not be possible for everyone, if parents have to share chargers, backup batteries, extra lenses, headphones, fitness trackers, or other basic accessories this can be stressful for everyone. This can eliminate the ‘I thought you packed it’ conversation when something can’t be found. It also means that when your phone is running low you don’t have to share your powerpack or give up the only power cord. I recently got a cable that works with both the Apple lightening and the micro USB cable, (affiliate) mainly because I have both Android and iOS devices. I can’t tell you how many times it’s come in handy to have a cable that can work for either device.
  3. Label their tech – It doesn’t have to be obvious and in-your-face, but if you have more than one of the same thing being able to tell them apart is important for everyone. Even something as basic as a phone cable can be personalized with tape or a dab of nail polish. Of course, this won’t help get the item back to you if it’s lost but to keep things that look alike sorted is one less headache. I like to get each person their own color or style of phone cable charger. While the ones that come with the device are always best, there are so many great color and style options to help personalize the tech. When it comes to labeling in case of loss, I like BoomerangIt. I’ve been using their labels for well over 10 years and while not everyone will think to return a lost item, if there is an easy way to return it the likelihood of getting it back increases. I’ve also used Mable’s Labels to add a name since kids tend to have very similar items.
  4. Clean their tech – When was the last time you cleaned your phone or the accessories? Yah, I don’t remember either. Which is what prompted me to list this here. We all know that sometimes when we travel we get sick or are near people who are sick. And we set down out devices on tables, or even the floor, that may not be the cleanest. With tech you need to make sure you use something that won’t ruin it. I like PhoneWipes (affiliate link) because they’re good for other things but I know they won’t mess with my tech. This is also a great time to clean up the device to free up room for photos and videos or new apps.
  5. Have a ‘go bag’ just for them – While it may seem easy to have them throw everything into their backpack or other carry-on, having a smaller ‘go bag’ will help them keep everything organized. With multiple cables, chargers, headphones, and accessories, if everything is in one place it helps not only to find things when you need them, but when it’s time to pack up at the hotel they know where everything goes and can become familiar with what’s supposed to be in there so they don’t leave things behind. Together with the checklist of what they should have, it’s a great habit to start. I’ve always used makeup bags for my tech, mainly because years ago they were one of the few non-black bags I could easily and inexpensively purchase. There are many other options now, but I still think makeup or dopp kit bags are a great size and come in great color and design options.
  6. Use a bluetooth tracker – This is kind of an extension of the ‘label it’ suggestion. I have used the Tile for quite some time, and I actually have several other brands of bluetooth trackers that I actively rotate. Even if the kids aren’t prone to losing or misplacing things, stuff happens when we travel.

So there you have it, 5 (ok, 6!) simple tips to help you help your teen manage their tech when you travel. What else would you recommend?

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Turning a Dream Vacation to Israel into Reality

Bat Mitzvah Israel

I like to think I live “in the city”, but the reality is that I live in the ‘burbs. How do I know this? Easy, I drive everywhere. There’s no walking to the market, which I call a store because it’s not quaint and stocked with food fresh from the farm this morning. There’s no bumping in to friends while on a stroll. I don’t stroll. If I’m out walking, I’ve got my headphone in and am exercising, not strolling. And there surely isn’t casually grabbing a coffee since there’d be a weeks’ worth of texts just to plan a 20-minute coffee.

Paris Flower Shop


Jerusalem Shuk


Israel Juice Stand

But I wish I lived in the city. Spending time in Tel Aviv, where people were meeting for coffee all hours of the day and night, or in Paris where it seems that 20-steps from your quaint city-center flat is a flower stand filled with fragrant and beautiful buds, or even in Jerusalem where the market was bustling and filled with fresh goodness row after row, has me longing for that vibe. And while a grand summer vacation is fabulous, the reality is that summer is usually one big staycation. And I’m using staycation very loosely.

As I was missing the seemingly ease of the city-dwellers life, I shared that I wish I had the ability to just walk past a flower stand and within minutes carry out a beautifully wrapped bouquet. Stopping at the grocery store and browsing the industrial flowers just doesn’t have that same feeling. The PR team at ProFlowers noticed my public lament and offered to help me recreate that feeling with one of their beautiful tropical floral arrangements. Within days the flower shop came to me in the form of a large box dropped off by UPS. Inside was a little slice of Tel Aviv, Paris, Jerusalem, and Dublin.

Jerusalem - Hawkins Trip 2015

Instantly my house was filled with the scent that made me think of the flower shop on Rue Cler in Paris. The bouquet added just the pop of color to remind me of the little vases on the tables in the cafés along Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv. One bouquet had all of us talking about our trip, thinking about the local resorts and their huge arrangements in the entry, and feeling like “the rest of summer” was, at least for a short time, a little staycation at home.

As we traveled around Israel this summer, we hear a lot of people refer to our trip as “a dream vacation” and “once in a lifetime”. I sure hope not! While it did take a lot of planning and saving, I definitely want to do it again. And again. And again. I hope. To lots of different places. Once I knew we were having a girl, I knew about 12 years later we’d be having a Bat Mitzvah. These don’t sneak up on parents. I had a plan A and a plan B for BabyGirl’s Bat Mitzvah, because my grandma would be 93 and I’m not naive to what that could mean. When my grandmother passed away at the end of 2013, the plan B Bat Mitzvah planning was kicked into high gear. As far as Bat Mitzvah’s go, having one is Israel isn’t all that much of a stretch. While not uncommon, though, it’s not all that common either. But I was going to do it.

Jerusalem Family Vacation


Haifa Vacation

I know people who will take a cheap flight to Paris for the weekend. Or go to Iceland for a few days to catch the Northern Lights. Few people, though, ever say, “hey, let’s go to Israel next week”. And while it’s an absolutely gorgeous place, the reality is many people are scared off by the news stories. For me it wasn’t a hindrance. I’d spent weeks in a bomb shelter when I was in Israel back in the mid-80s. I knew the situation of the 2014 summer wouldn’t last long. And if it did, well, that’s what travel insurance is form.

This idea of a “dream vacation” escapes me because my grandparents traveled extensively, so I knew that the world was out there waiting for me. I feel that it’s my job to give that same sense of wonder to BabyGirl. CycleGuy didn’t grow up with his family spending a month in China, weeks in Greece, or making several trips to Israel and Egypt. And while it didn’t take much convincing, there was still some apprehension. Israel does not have the same draw, or at least  it did not before our trip, as Paris or London or Dublin.

Planning a trip of this magnitude isn’t easy. If it were “just a trip” I may have felt like there was more room for chance. Ask any parent planning a Bar or Bat Mitzvah and you’ll understand the need for orchestration. However, big dreams don’t become reality without a little bit of extra work. All that work was worth it! Now, to dream more big vacation dreams. And you? Get to dreaming and doing too!

What’s your dream vacation? How are you going to make it a reality?



What To Do If You Only Have One Day In Dublin

Visit Dublin

On the way back from Israel, in an effort to ease the transition back home, we stopped in Dublin. Neither CycleGuy nor I had ever been to Dublin, except for the several hours we spent in the airport on the way out to Israel. In planning the trip, I didn’t want to bypass the opportunity to visit Ireland even if it meant we’d only be there for a day.

I researched the city and discovered that is it very walkable and it’s home to a number of sites that would be interesting for kids and adults. There would be something for all of us and with summer temperatures in the 70s it would be perfect weather for us after the warmth of Israel.

While we arrived late and left early, spending two nights at the Doubletree on Burlington Road, we really only had one day to explore. What we quickly discovered, and heard time and again from our taxi drivers, was that we’d need to plan a return trip to explore Dublin a little more and get beyond the city to enjoy more of Ireland. Dublin offers everything you’d expect in a major modern European city, but, time and again I heard that the “real” Ireland could only be experienced by visiting the countryside and smaller cities and villages around the country.

The hotel I chose was more of a default because I used hotel points and the location I really wanted was booked. While not as convenient, the Doubletree on Burlington Road is an “American-style” business hotel and offers amenities you’d expect while traveling in the US. If you’re looking for something more of an “Irish experience” this is not the hotel for you. For us, though, it was acceptable. One major downside (and evidently common in many of Dublin’s hotels) is the lack of air conditioning in all the rooms. While you shouldn’t normally need a/c, when it’s unseasonably warm and humid and you’re not used to sleeping with the room temperature near 80°F having central air is important.

With a late arrival, our only desire was to find a place where CycleGuy could get a pint of Guinness. I don’t drink beer, and for the most part neither does CycleGuy. But Guinness is his beer of choice, and as I’ve been reminded many times Guinness is not beer. Thanks to Yelp I found that there was a well-rated, yet historic, eatery within about a 10-minute walk. Situated on Upper Baggot Street, Searsons has been in business since 1845. In Dublin, especially, you won’t last long if you’re not a place where locals dine. The historic building has been renovated and reflects a modern Irish charm with a pub-style front and a family friendly open-kitchen dining area in the back.

First order of business was to get CycleGuy his birthday Guinness. Just a few days earlier he spent his birthday partly in Jerusalem and partly in Paris. But this pint was what he was really looking forward to as his birthday gift to himself. Searsons did not disappoint. Great service, delicious food, and a relaxing atmosphere that was the perfect welcome to our short stay in Ireland.

Bright and early on our only full day in Dublin, we headed out of the hotel toward St. Stephen’s Green. About a 15 minute walk from the hotel, our cab driver from the airport told us that it’s an easy walk and given all the one-way streets probably just as quick to walk as it would be to drive. Being that the Doubletree is not in a heavy tourist area, it was a lovely walk in a more residential part of Dublin with plenty of  “Good Morning!” greetings from the locals.

St Stephens green

St. Stephen’s Green is the city center park in the heart of Dublin. Dating back to the mid 1600s, the park was originally the grounds of a church. Thanks to the generosity of Sir Arthur Guinness, in the late 1800s the park was deeded to the city for all to enjoy. The 22-acre park is home to beautiful gardens, parks, and memorial sculptures.  As we walked through there were people hurriedly walking to work, kids laughing at the playground, landscapers tending to the gardens, and the sounds of the city beyond the walls softened by all the trees. While we didn’t spend much time in the park, it’s definitely a place to visit while you’re in Dublin. It’s the largest of the many city-owned parks. And while some may argue whether it’s the nicest in town, it certainly is the place where the idea of public green space in Dublin originated.

From St. Stephen’s Green, we walked down Grafton Street, Ireland’s world-famous shopping area. Historic buildings line what is now a pedestrian area, but instead of old businesses or government offices you’re in the heart of the shopping district. With iconic Irish businesses tucked in between the newest and most popular international shops, Grafton Street could easily be in any major city around the world. We didn’t spend much time here since we only had one full day. However, we did stop in to the family run R & C McCormack jewelry shop to buy Aunt Zoni a souvenir.

Grafton Street

Our first destination was Trinity College, which is near the other end of Grafton Street. The historic college was top of our list because BabyGirl loves visiting libraries and I had read that Trinity College boasts one of the Top 10 libraries in the world. There’s not a lot to see at Trinity College, but it’s a destination for many who visit Dublin because it houses the famous Book of Kells. An active university, Trinity College, is like a page from Harry Potter with its historic buildings, lush green spaces, and beautiful Old Library. While the Book of Kells is the main reason visitors are at the College, for us it was the grandeur of the Old Library. For 26€ we signed up for the student-led guided tour, which includes admission to the Book of Kells at the end. The tour lasts about 40 minutes and is quite informative not just about the history but also about the student’s perspective on the current experiences.  Many people were bypassing the tour and heading straight to the Book of Kells. While the Book of Kells was interesting, for most kids it’s just an old book under glass in a darkened room. For us, our destination was the Long Room in the Old Library. Dating back to the early 1700s and lined with magnificent sculptures of the world’s most famous writers and philosophers, for our book-loving BabyGirl this 200,000 volume working library was heaven. While she enjoyed the Book of Kells exhibit and seeing the Book of Kells itself, the look on her face and sparkles in her eyes she had standing in the Long Room is what vacation memories are made of.

Dublin Trinity College Long Room

Dublin Trinity College Long Room Hawkins

Dublin Trinity College Hawkins

Trinity College

Next stop on our “Dublin in a Day” was lunch at The Pieman Cafe in the trendy Temple Bar section of the city. The brightly-colored storefront welcomes you to a small shop serving homemade savory pies. If you’re not into meat pies, they also have traditional Bangers and Mash (and from what the gal said they also do a vegetarian pie). For about €8, cash only, you can enjoy a traditional lunch with your choice of pie, a side, gravy, and a cold drink. It’s a hotspot for locals, who easily recognize the few tourists who stop in.

Once rested and nourished, it was off to CycleGuy’s choice of Dublin historical sites, the Guinness Storehouse. Said to be Dublin’s top tourist attraction, it was on our list because CycleGuy is a Guinness guy and loves history and this combines the two. The tour is self-guided and does not include any part of the working brewery. Children are welcome, and if you go up to the Gravity Bar there are soft drinks available. The tour was interesting and filled with history of the city, brewing, and the Guinness family. You can spend as much or as little time as you wish along the several floors of displays, but leave plenty of time to enjoy the Gravity Bar at the top. Besides having a much-needed cold drink, the view is extraordinary.

Dublin Castle

Dublin Cathedral

While quit a distance from the Temple Bar area, we chose to walk the nearly 2km to the Guinness Storehouse. Along the way, we stopped at the Dublin Castle, passed several wonderful public art sculptures, grabbed a pastry at a local shop, saw the oldest building in Dublin – Christ Church Cathedral, and enjoyed a sunny (and unusually warm to the locals) day in Dublin. It’s a very walkable city, so if the weather is nice enough put on your comfy shoes and walk along the picturesque streets of Dublin.

Guinness Storehouse

Guinness Gravity Bar

We grabbed a cab back to the hotel to relax a bit before dinner. We decided to stay nearby the hotel and find another place where the locals eat. Canal Bank Café was highly recommended by a number of locals we asked, and lucky for us it was just a few minutes walk from the hotel. With a focus on fresh ingredient, Canal Bank Café was a delicious end to what had already been a perfect day in Dublin. The wait staff was friendly and attentive, the seating cozy but not uncomfortably close, and the menu inviting and mouth-watering. I had a salad that was being featured and it was filled with fresh, local ingredients and tasted like it was just picked and made moments before being served. The restaurant is known for it’s Buffalo Chicken Wings, which may seem a bit odd for a local Dublin joint. We ordered some because it was something that reminded us of home and after three weeks of travel we were missing home. Let’s just say that if you stop in to Canal Bank Café make sure you get an order of the wings.

As we headed back to the hotel, we talked about wanting to come back and see more of Ireland. The people are warm and friendly, there’s an Irish pride that is shared freely, and so much history and beauty to explore. Stopping in Dublin was definitely a great way to end our trip, even if it was a short visit.

The next day CycleGuy headed to the airport for an early flight. Although it was colder and rainy, much more typical weather I was told, BabyGirl and I ventured out to the Natural History Museum. Free to the public, it was a fun way to spend our morning instead of being holed up in the hotel.  There were several floors filled with animals of Ireland, as well as many from nearby countries. It was quite fascinating to see animals that we’re not used to seeing.

Our flight home on Aer Lingus allowed us to enjoy a little more of the Irish hospitality. Can’t say enough good things about the flight attendants in Business Class. And what’s extra cool is that in Dublin, US Customs has a Preclearance program so you go through customs in Dublin and when you land in the US it’s just like any other domestic flight so you’re on your way quickly.

Dublin US Customs Preclearance

So, if you’re heading to Dublin I hope this gives you an idea of a few things you can do while you’re there. If you have the opportunity to do a one-day stopover, say “yes” and enjoy some of the highlights the city has to offer. Dublin is welcoming, friendly, offers wonderful historic sites and modern spaces, and a dining scene to enjoy.


Ignore Those Who Say Differently And Take Your Kids On Vacation

Family Travel

At the end of January I saw an article on Facebook about travel destinations you shouldn’t take kids. I didn’t think much of it because I agree that there are just some places you shouldn’t travel with kids. I would never think of taking my daughter to a popular spring break destination during spring break. Not because I’m opposed to spring breakers, but because it won’t be fun for her. Or us. And that charming B&B? Not for kids. Not because they’re hooligans or wild beasts, but because there likely isn’t anything there for them and their boredom is not good for them, their parents, the other guests, or the B&B staff.

Evidently, though, the article garnered a great deal of feedback. Many of the comments seemed to miss the point. Or so I thought. I didn’t see the article as telling me I should never vacation with a child. And even if it did, I would greatly disagree. See, BabyGirl has been traveling with us since she was a baby. What I never did, though, was assume that travel with her would be just like it had been when I was single or married without children. That’s the key. Kids change everything, we’ve heard it before. And, for the most part that change is pretty awesome.

However, when you travel with your kids (or in my case, just one child) you have to think very differently. You can’t expect to smoothly push a stroller around ancient cities with cobblestone streets, narrow passageways, and pre-historic sights. I wasn’t a stroller user, but when we travelled while BabyGirl was still in a car seat we have a car seat/stroller combo. It wasn’t always easy or convenient. But I knew this going in and I didn’t expect others to accommodate me when this was not their choice. Parents with kids, even tiny babies, know that there is a level of unpredictability that ranges from ‘I can handle that!’ to ‘Mary Poppins would quit on the spot’. If you expect to find world-class medical care within a mile of your second-world accommodations you’re delusional.

Travel with kids, like pretty much anything with kids, requires thoughtful consideration. Whether it’s a staycation or a trip across the globe, kids should be able to go and everyone still have a great time. It’s wrong to think parents of small kids should only have the option of not traveling or leaving their kids with someone else. Parents know their kids best. And while I do question the parenting choices of people who are pushing a stroller with a sleeping kid, or better yet a screaming kid, at 1am down the Las Vegas strip or from attraction to attraction at Disney, I wouldn’t say they shouldn’t vacation with their child. Make different choices, yes. Hunker down until their child is “old enough”?  No.

Every family is different, and I think if you’re able to navigate the complexities of traveling with a child you should. What I don’t agree with when it comes to vacationing with children is that my vacation should suffer because of another family’s choice not to manage their children or expectations. Parents can’t take your new double-wide stroller on vacation during peak time and expect for others to be patient while they figure out how to get the over-size contraption onto a bus without taking out the kids because “they’re tired”. Parent’s can’t travel to a foreign country and expect to find their child’s favorite food and when they can’t expect others in the restaurant to be understanding of their screaming child.

Vacations should be fun for everyone. The people who work at our destinations should want to help us create a great experience. Others who meet up and interact with us shouldn’t feel like we’re ruining their vacation. Yes, things happen and plans go awry. Luggage isn’t delivered, hotel descriptions are not accurate, travel guides aren’t forthcoming. But things go wrong all time. I’ve changed hotels with my daughter because the walls were paper-thin and just because babies get hungry and cry and I have to be up at 2am to feed her doesn’t mean everyone else in the hotel does too. For me, waking up several times at night to feed an infant is normal. My normal, though, may not be your normal.

Now that BabyGirl is almost a teen (my how time flies!), there seems to be a consensus that there are no limits to traveling with her. That’s not the case either. There are plenty of places I don’t think are appropriate for her to visit. Traveling with kids provide them with wonderful and amazing opportunities. But, becoming a parent is not a prison sentence requiring to stay within the confines of your home until your kids are “old enough”.

What are your thoughts on traveling with kids?


Create The WOW – Parenting On A New Level

Create the WOW

As summer was coming to a close for most, my family and I headed out to Florida for our pilgrimage to theme park central. As someone who has strong memories from childhood, it’s important for me to help create opportunities for BabyGirl to make her own memories.  As an only child, BabyGirl is often required to be more grown up. It’s one of the reasons why theme parks are a “got to” vacation spot for us – because it’s a place where everyone gets to be a kid!

Part of our trip this year included the Family Forward retreat because I thought it would be great to learn how to better communicate as a family. At the kick-off, Jyl Johnson Pattee, founder of the Family Forward retreats, mentioned a phrase that really stuck with me throughout the entire weekend – Create the Wow! When I heard it I wondered who has time to “create the wow” except on special occasion or when you really want to make an impression. But soon I realized there was more to it.

Making Barilla Pasta Salad Family ForwardFirst, “create the wow” means different things to each of us. Just ask your kids! Sitting at lunch, which was sponsored by Barilla, it was fun to hear what kids from various families though could be done to make meals at home more special. I think most parents were surprised that it didn’t involve fancy food, elaborate meals, or over-the-top desserts. I heard things like have a picnic in front of the TV, use a table cloth, have a taco bar, and eat dessert first. Really? These are so easy! We can all easily “create the wow” at mealtime at least once a week!

Second, “create the wow” can easily become a family mantra or way of doing things. Kids need to be involved in creating the family dynamic and, unfortunately, they’re often left out. I know for me it’s easier to do things myself or make plans while BabyGirl is at school or one of her classes. Plus, I like doing “surprise” things for her. But at the retreat I realized that while my surprises are fun they may not be her idea of fun.

Give Kids the WorldThird, sometimes “wow” moments come from doing things for other people. As part of the retreat we were given the privilege of learning first hand about Give Kids the World, a family oriented village with a single goal – to give kids with life-threatening illness an opportunity to be a “normal” kid. Even if it was just for one week. The vision of one man, Give Kids the World gave me, CycleGuy, and BabyGirl the opportunity to see that doing for others – even in a small way – gives you a sense of “wow” and appreciation for what you have. It brings perspective that can get overlooked.

Adopt A Pilot SWAFinally, while not the motto of Southwest Airlines, a sponsor of the retreat, it was clear from the presentation by the two pilots in their Adopt a Pilot program that it’s part of why the program exists. Reaching out to the local community is important to many companies. But with Southwest it’s not just a company philosophy backed by money. It’s backed by employees who take their time to go to schools to get kids excited about science and math, staying in school, and studying. Yes, it’s fun and the kids love learning how airplanes work and what it’s like to be a pilot. But it’s a “wow” moment for many of the kids. And for the pilots too. Learning new things is a great way to bring WOW into your life!

I imagined I’d learn a lot and have fun at the Family Forward retreat. I didn’t realize it would have such an impact on my parenting. Being a mom to an only child has its own challenges. One of my biggest challenges is to make sure BabyGirl gets to be a kid and not a mini-adult. So this idea of “create the wow” really works to get me thinking about making sure she still gets to be a kid.

Have you ever thought about this concept of “create the wow”? How would you “create the wow” in your family?

Adopt A Pilot image courtesy of Southwest Airlines