Cold Weather Getaways – Dogsledding


Whether you have palm trees or evergreens outside your window, consider that not all getaways must be to warmer climates. Consider this dog sledding trip we did last winter that ran in the December/January issue of Family Fun Magazine.


While I made this trip on assignment, I’d venture to say it is my favorite travel experience to date. The founder of Wintergreen kennels, polar expedition leader, entrepreneur, husband and father of three, Paul Schurke is considered one of the best, if not the best in the business (so said every one of his peers while researching my article). Paul ensured our safety and comfort every step of the way, and his family’s hospitality and warmth were a terrific incidental benefit. This was a family-friendly experience, from bundling then-two-year-old Aaron inside a sleeping bag while he rode in the front compartment of a sled to offering our oldest son the chance to drive a team solo.

Here’s a video clip hosted at the web site of the outfitter we were lucky enough to work with, Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge. (Watch carefully for shots of the family’s home they designed and built themselves–aka the model for our dream house). If this isn’t enough to tempt you to explore fun in the snow, check out their photo gallery.

You really have to love or at least not loathe the cold, and bringing proper winter clothing is highly recommended (synthetic fabric long underwear, sturdy gloves, cold-proof winter boots, snow pants, windproof, warm coat, hat–I suggest ski masks for kids to avoid windburn). The Schurkes will either loan or sell gear you may not have from either their lodge or their retail gear store in downtown Ely.

Our family is definitely planning to repeat this trip for longer than our previous half-day adventure. The boys keep asking when we’ll return, and we may even head up for another long weekend this winter, budget permitting. I also have plans to attend this photography workshop, possibly next year.

What’s your dream cold-weather getaway? Have you done it already or is it in the planning stages? Share your ideas, thoughts and questions in the comments section.


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Staycations – All You Ever Wanted?


Sure, the term “staycation” is kind of annoying, but I’m going to argue in favor of the idea of a “stay-at-home-vacation,” if not its shorthand term-du-jour. Call it something else if you’d like, but there are benefits to “traveling” close to home during these tough economic times.


Create your own getaway by exploring your own back yard

For one – this should get your attention – if you play it right, you’ll save money. While I realize it’s just as easy to drop a ton of cash in your own back yard, right now people are holding on to that cash–which is probably a wise move. If you think about it, money spent on air fare or car rentals could easily fund a fabulous local getaway. Send half of that money to your savings account or use it to pay off debt, and you get to enjoy yourself while also benefiting your family’s bottom line. (Maybe we should call it a “smartcation” instead).

Second, local independent businesses need our support now more than ever. After all, nobody is bailing them out; they must swim within a far lower-risk business model or sink, as many are doing.

Third, not shelling out money to an all-inclusive resort (something my family isn’t really into anyway) removes the creativity and spontaneity from travel. While it’s perfectly fine to do so in some instances–or all the time, if it’s your thing–we like to think of ourselves as explorers in our family and we love customizing our vacations. Finding new things in our area becomes a unique challenge, not something that makes us feel deprived.

Fourth, Traveling close to home – whether in your own neighborhood, town, or in nearby major cities – requires you to think like tourists and view well-traveled destinations and attractions in a new light. Taking a staycation is a great opportunity introduce your kids to museums, parks, and restaurants you might otherwise take for granted. Contact your area’s convention and visitors bureau to see what they suggest; you might find a few untapped surprises in your midst.

Next month, my husband and I were going to spend a long weekend at a swanky spa resort, but after we did the math, we realized that we could vacation at home (with a mandate to not work or do anything but necessary chores) without the kids and go exploring for less than half the cost. I’ll write more about what we decide to do when we’re done planning our staycation.

Are you traveling more or less this year, and is the economy affecting how you travel? Share your thoughts in the comments section. And if you hate the word “staycation,” suggest a better word and if I like it, I’ll adopt it here from now on!

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Photo Friday: Exploring Our “Back Yard”



Today’s Photo Friday image was taken almost three years ago during a long weekend trip to Chicago. We live a little over an hour northwest of the city in a quiet rural county, and while we take a couple of day trips there each year, we really enjoy spending a long weekend in the city whenever possible. (In those instances, Priceline is our friend; we’ve snagged 4-star rooms for as little as $40/night–though keep in mind when booking a room that parking downtown usually runs into the mid-30s per night).

On this weekend trip during “spring” break (note the winter coats–leave it to our cold-hardy family would spend spring break exploring a Midwestern city!), we took the kids to several popular Chicago attractions, including: The Art Institute, Shedd Aquarium, and Pizzeria Uno* (where we learned we’d been remiss in raising our kids to enjoy Chicago Style pizza, because the deep dish, buttery crust combo did not appeal to them at all!). Their favorite thing about The Art Institute? The elevators! And their favorite part about the entire trip? A train ride on the El from the Loop to Lincoln Park and back for under $10.

That’s the cool–albeit sometimes frustrating–thing about traveling with kids: what wows you (Uno’s pizza!) won’t necessarily register with them (”Mommy! What’s wrong with dis pizza?”), and they find complete joy in things most grown-ups take for granted. When I was a miserable law student riding the El every day to school and work and back, I’ll admit I enjoyed those train rides but everyone commuting looked so miserable and blah. When I was pregnant with Jackson and working for a nonprofit organization downtown, I used to ride up in the front car like this to keep my nausea at bay. But to my kids? That elevated train ride was magical and exhilarating.

I love how reciprocal the parenting relationship can be; while my husband and I encourage them to explore and appreciate the world around them, but they teach us to remember to experience the simplest of things with joy unfettered by expectations.

Thanks to Deb Dubrow at Delicious Baby for hosting Photo Friday each week.

*Insider Tip: To fully appreciate the Chicago style pizza served up at Uno’s, skip the chains in other cities and even in the Chicago suburbs. There’s no substitute for eating at the original restaurant on Ohio Street, or its sister site a block away at Wabash & Ontario, Pizzeria Due.

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Virtual Getaways–Affordable Family Fun



Here’s a travel money-saver you might appreciate: virtual travel. Let’s say you’re researching an article and feeling generally sorry for yourself because your family has no big travel plans in their immediate future (ahem). Why not take an eTour or even an eHike of Glacier National Park, courtesy of the National Park Service web site? Yeah, I know it’s not the same thing as being there, but 1) it beats a sharp stick in the eye and 2) there are far lamer things you could be watching, on or offline.

So far, it looks like Glacier is the only park with what they’ve dubbed eTours and eHikes, though I found a few video podcasts while procrastinating searching around the various park web sites. An eHike or eTour is a great family activity; many of the slides on the eHike I took today featured clickable sound clips with wild bird calls and other sounds of the forest. There are video clips showing rangers explaining natural phenomena (have kids look for the Smoky Bear icons) and other videos showing waterfalls and other points of interest on the hike.

There are also free podcasts about Glacier National Park (available for download via iTunes and other MP3/MP4 formats), and many other parks, like Katmai and Grand Canyon, also offer them (search for “podcast” to download tales about your favorite parks). I’m thinking about bringing a handful along on my next walk around our city park.

Again, eHiking is no substitute for the real thing, but they’re fun teaching tools for kids and their parents, and I think they’re a great idea. I hope more parks decide to get in on this.

What do you think? Have you come across any fun sites featuring virtual tours? Share your thoughts, links, and ideas in the comments section.

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