Twirls and Travels » a blog about exploring with kids

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Over on my Instagram there’s two questions I get asked on a regular basis. The first one is “Do you homeschool your kids?”.  Nope, we leave that up to the professionals.  The second one is “How do you afford to travel so much?”.  I’ll try to answer that below.

Everyone has their priorities in life. For us, we love to travel. We also want to raise kids who are world-citizens,  who love trying new things, and kids that want to explore.  We would love to be travelling every spare minute, but unfortunately (like for most of us) that’s not an option. Instead we opt for exploring our local river valley, day trips around our province, and camping as often as possible  We are always in planning mode and saving for major trips either months or years in advance.   Taking these trips, even camping through the summer,  requires us to budget and cut back on things that we would sometimes like.  However, as exploring is a priority, we never feel like we are missing out.

Here is how we do it-

  1. You need a budget. And you need to understand your budget. Taking a money management course can help you save literally thousands of dollars a year- just by figuring out where money gets wasted and where unnecessary funds are being spent. I recommend taking a class, like those from from my friend Selina Gray, in order to sit down, go through your finances and actually figure out exactly where your money goes. Spreadsheets and pre-planning isn’t always fun, but a bit of work can bring you to your goals.
  2. Involve your kids.  We let our kids plan our trips and research with us. Then when they ask for something like going out for dinner or a toy they can live without,  we can remind them of what are family goals are. Violet, 7, can easily understand and accept the concept of not getting a new bike because she wants to go on a holiday as a family.
  3. Make a vision board and hang it somewhere you see it everyday. If you see constantly see your goals (pictures of the beach or Europe or the mountains in BC or wherever you want to travel to) you will start making more decisions to lead you towards them.  Next to my computer is a picture of our next big trip- whenever I’m tempted to online shop I’m reminded of the bigger goal. And I know that memories made from travel are worth more then the short term joy of a new swimsuit any day.
  4. Reassess your mortgage. Talk to a mortgage broker to ensure you are getting the best rate and the best mortgage for you. We have saved thousands of dollars by reevaluating our mortgage on a yearly basis and making sure we are always paying the least amount of interest with a mortgage that fits within our lifestyle. Our Mortgage broker, Sarah,  is fantastic and is full of great advice- I’m shocked when I hear that people don’t use a Broker when assessing their mortgage.
  5. If it’s not on sale we don’t buy it.  Meaning I only buy groceries on sale. Period.  I plan out weekly meals with the help of the flyer, and stock up on the things we need. My kids already know to ask “Is this on sale Mom?” before they ask if they can have it.  Obviously we splurge everyone once in a while on a watermelon in winter or fancy cheese for a Friday night caricature, but our meals are always based on what’s a good price. We also have embraced buying store brand products, having “Meatless Mondays” and cooking from scratch.
  6. Open up a separate saving account for travel, one you can’t touch from your banking card. Transfer payments into your account, either with a automatic withdrawal system or weekly as you save it. Set your goal as a family and work towards it  together  (you could even build a chart they can colour as your reach a savings goal). Kids can understand the value of having fun as a family and can understand the process of saving money as a family if you include them in the process.
  7. Embrace hand me downs, embrace swap pages and second hand finds. I used to buy way too many cute kids clothes but then realized that they just wanted to live in $6 dresses from H&M all summer and leggings all winter anyway. As photographer it’s sometimes hard not having my kids dressed the way I’d like (Shop the Skinny and all their summer camp clothes are killing me right now!!!)  but it was something to sacrifice in order to live the life we want.  I also shop sales and sometimes buy a season ahead on clearance.  However, the best way to save money is to just not spend it, so we’ve embraced a less is more mentality for clothing.  (Annnnd I’m still working on this- I recently  filled up a whole cart from Zara and then literally unplugged the computer and just walked away. The next day all that money I was going to spend on that cart got transferred to our travel account).
  8. I’m sure you’ve heard all the basics–  start bringing leftovers for lunch, make your own coffee/bring your own water bottle, unplug appliances when not in use and turn off lights, stop smoking, stop drinking, get rid of cable, cut out the banking machine fees, get a part time job, rent out a room or rent out your garage…… but you need to decide what you can take on.  Taking on too much can feel like a burden, so start small and work on one thing at a time. And once you take that thing on, save the money monthly in a separate account specifically for travel.
  9. Get a travel Credit Card.  However I don’t recommend a credit card if you aren’t paying it off every month. But if you can, definitely do your research for the best one for you.  We try to travel on travel points as much as possible and we put everything on a credit card to get them.  The best travel cards we have found are  the WestJet MasterCard and the RBC Infinite Avion card. They are both awesome, have high rankings and allow travel with no blackouts. West Jet’s $99 companion fare is worth the credit card alone (plus the points add up fast and can be used towards any flights, anytime!).  We often travel exclusively on points because I put all our household bills and every little $2 drink purchase on it- but if you aren’t paying off your credit card every month, the interest you’re playing isn’t worth the free trips.
  10. Remember that things are just things. And it turns out things generally don’t make us happy. I have a lot of friends who are bloggers and they seem to always always the coolest new purchases . While I like pretty things, I like exploring more.   At the end of the day you need to sit down and figure out what your priorities are and what you can cut out in order to achieve your goals.

 

I know that even with the most careful planning that saving for big trip isn’t always a reality. We’ve been there. The years when I started my business I ate noodles every night and never had a surplus of money at the end of any month to put towards ANY savings. I get it. I’m grateful now we have money we can be saving.  But remember with kids, it isn’t always the big trips that matter most. It’s spending time trying new things as a family and being together.   So whether you’re saving up for a trip to Europe or saving up for a weekend at a local provincial park, you’re giving your children memories and pushing them outside their comfort zone. That’s what travelling is all about.

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  • June 16, 2017 - 2:08 pm

    Tabitha Studer - Thank you! This was very helpful! I love your insta feed! We have a Violet too! With four kids we’ve been feeling like vacationing is now off the table – but you’re suggestions here have my wheels turning and I think we can make some changes to make it a reality again! Safe travels! XxooxReplyCancel

    • July 11, 2017 - 7:32 pm

      Kelsy - Thanks Tabitha! I think leaving your home town for any type of road trip or vacation with kids is a huge win. It’s more work with more kids, but still worth it!ReplyCancel

The girls and I were lucky enough to get a sneak peek of the brand new Aerial Park at Snow Valley  before it opens on Saturday to the public.  In one word, it’s incredible. Worth all the hype.  The climbing structure is completely safe, offers over hundred different experiences, and might be the best way to get outside and be active with your family this summer.

Basically it’s 4 levels of obstacles adventures for families to experience. You get a pass for 3 hours of climbing time- but it’s a full body workout so be prepared to take some breaks! The activities are graded similar to a ski hill- green, blue, and black (and there’s even a few hidden double black diamonds  for the super adventurous).

If you’re taking smaller kids to explore the 19 adventures on the ground level the adult chaperone gets in free.  These games are perfect for kids between 100-140 centimetres and are located only 3 feet off the ground, with some games inches above the bottom deck.   As a free chaperone you’re not going to be able to go up into the higher levels, but you can accompany your child on the bottom level at no charge.  While our 5 year old need assistance with the Belay, our 7 year old figured out the system within the first 20 minutes and was off and running.  I would also recommend one adult per kid- the first 20 minutes were tricky with them learning the system, and even after that sometimes a kiddo got scared or stuck and I was running around trying assist. While the rules state 1 adult per 3 kids,  having Tim there would have made the morning easier and a bit more fun.

Violet, age 7, loved the course, especially once she figured out how to belay on and off (it’s a new, state of the art, click-it belay). The system is so simple, but completely fool proof- there’s no way they can get off the line once they start. I was SO impressed with the safety of the course, and the fact that a 7 year old could do it without any help and I wasn’t worried for her safety at anytime. She loved the entire bottom level- there were some very challenging elements and some simple ones. But seeing her freedom on the course and watching her confidence soar when she completed a new challenge was completely worth it. Violet like the moving beams, the wiggly climbing wall and the skateboard best.   I’ll admit there were some that were tricky elements ( engage the core! ha!) for me on the very bottom- it was  super fun.

Maeve, age 5, is “averagely” adventurous for her age and panicked on the wiggly balance beams. Finally I just pulled her off the beam and she found out how she would hang if she lost her balance on an obstacle.  Even though I explained several times that she couldn’t fall to ground she just didn’t get it. But once I pulled her off and let her just hang there, her confidence grew a ton. So when you take your younger kiddos, show them right away that if there’s nothing to be scared of by giving them a little swing.  I think age 4 would be the minimum I would have taken either of my girls- although adventurous three year olds would have fun. And there’s no upper age limitations for kids enjoying the bottom level.

While Violet is quite fearless and wanted to go everywhere,  the higher elements require more height to reach from one game to the next or to just hold on to the obstacle.  While she was able to experience some of the 2nd level green attractions ( there’s a minimum of 125 cm to access the entire structure, which she just made the cut) and it was evident she needed bit more height to fully enjoy the obstacles, so be mindful of height restrictions  before promising your kids they’ll get to the top.  “Juniors”  (over 125cm to 140cm tall and wanting to try the upper levels) need a paid, harnessed adult accompanying  them.

While I loved going with the kids, I would definitely go back with just my husband for a date night. It’s open till 9pm in the summer, so it’s a perfect evening without kids. I don’t think I’d try to go explore the full course during the same 3 hour time block as the littles-   if you’re with them you are missing out on actually exploring the top levels. If our kids were older and taller (and braver!)  then we’d make a full family date out of it, but until they are, we will visit on our own!

 

Other things to keep in mind-

-There’s no phones (sorry no epic Instagram shots while climbing!) or any cameras allowed in the tower. In fact, there’s nothing at all allowed in pockets (no one on a lower level wants to be hit with  flying debris). There’s also strict rules about footwear and clothing- make sure you double check the website before your visit.

-Bring a picnic to enjoy the river valley after your climbing time. There are slurpees, ice cream, and various treats and snacks available for purchase at main building but pack some food, extend your visit, watch the climbers and enjoy the scenery.

– You can save $3 per person by purchasing your tickets online in advance.  You can also book your climbing time and avoid disappointment.

-It isn’t a cheap day out,  so make the most of your time spent. A warm day is ideal as you’re working hard up there.  If the weather becomes too rainy or too windy the course will be shut down and rain checks can be offered.

-Arrive 30 minutes before your scheduled time. There are waivers to be signed and don’t want to miss a minute of your time that can be spent climbing. Also use the washroom prior to your visit- once you’re on the course it takes time to get all the way back down- not to mention the harnasses don’t go on and off quickly.

 

Definitely add this aerial park to your summer bucket list. The park opens May 20th but  website is open for bookings now!

 

 

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  • May 17, 2017 - 10:44 pm

    Tim Dea - Hi Kelsey,

    We’re so glad you and your girls came out to enjoy Snow Valley Aerial Park. It looks like everyone had a great time. You rightly pointed out that there was no food available at that time. The Rainbow Valley Chalet, where you check in, has some candy bars and pop, but no ‘real’ food. We will, however, be having a concession on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, weather permitting. BBQ items (veggie and beef burgers, smokies, etc), as well as salads, fruit packs, chips and various drinks. The menu should be up on the website today or tomorrow. Thank you again for coming out – your photos are awesome.

    Tim Dea, Marketing & Communications Mgr
    Snow ValleyReplyCancel

We may have found a new favourite winter getaway. Nestled in the heart of Kananaskis,  Delta Hotels by Marriot Kananaskis Lodge is the perfect place to bring a young family.  It’s less then hour from Calgary, doesn’t have the crowds we dread,  and it’s only minutes to Nakiska Ski Resort, all making it an ideal location for a weekend away.

It’s a resort that appeals to young families for so many reasons. Some of our favourite parts of the weekend included-

  • Open fire and a complimentary s’more station outside in the lightly falling snow (magical!)
  • A large indoor playground with a full playhouse, lego, giant floor “iPad” with interactive games, play kitchens, chalk wall, craft room and movie screen for their special family movie nights.
  • Complimentary Hot Chocolate in the lobby, served in to-go cups that you can enjoy as you walk around the trails surrounding the resort.
  • Skating on the pond outside in the middle of the resort. There’s even skate rentals available on site.
  • A inside-outside hot tub and a wooden sauna outside the pool doors. The indoor pool was the largest we’ve seen at a hotel- lots of room for multiple families and heated enough that parents will actually get in 🙂
  • The kids buffet in the main resturant, Forte.  Actually, I think the set-up is genius. Adults order off a menu while kids can help themselves to never ending kid-friendly food (including crowd favourites and lots of healthy options).  No long wait for food =no whining. They even had multiple included desserts. And bonus, kids under 6 eat free at the Delta.
  • The service throughout the resort was extremely good. Probably the best part of our trip. The server took the time to learn the girls names at dinner, the house-keeping made “towel art” and left a friendly welcome note, and  the check in staff were friendly and  helpful. Even the pool attendant brought us out towels with a smile. Sometimes it’s the little things that make a hotel feel like home.

delta-kananaskis-reviewdelta-kananaskis-with-kidsThe resort itself is minutes away from Nakiska Ski Resort. For Tim, that little bonus was priceless. Usually we are up early making the trek to the ski hill- but here it’s less then 5 minutes to the lift.  The hill is perfect for young families- there were so many green runs my daughters could do.  There’s even a tube park with friendly lifties ready to give you a “super spin” or a push down the hill.  Maeve loved the tube park- I think she was excited for a activity she could do that required no balance and lots of high speeds down the hill. Overall, we were really impressed with Nakiska and will definitely ski it more often now that we’ve tried it out. And if you’re not a skier, definitely try out the Tube Park, it’s so much fun (and the magic carpet lift is perfect those of us who get exhausted going up and down the toboggan hill with kids).

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If you don’t make it to the ski hill,  there’s a ton of exploring around the resort with multiple hiking trails close by.  The weekend we stayed there were several events posted for families to take part in- guided hikes to Troll Falls, nature walks, yoga, free crafting workshops,  a family games night, and a family movie night on a big screen. The staff can also point you in the right direction for snow shoe rentals to use close by and skate rentals to on-site. Overall, you won’t be bored. The scenery is enough to get me out to Kananaskis alone- the location of the resort can’t be beat.  I think a minimum of two nights would be ideal to truly explore the area and take in all that The Delta Lodge at Kananaskis offers.

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Look forward to-

Kids under 6 eat for free at the Lodge.  The  promotion doesn’t include room service but kid meals were only $7 delivered, and had huge portions. It was a really fun splurge for the girls to get room service before a long day at the ski hill. They’re still talking about it.

But be Prepared for-

It is no secret that this hotel is undergoing renovations. While we found it didn’t disrupt our stay, the check-in is not in the main lobby and there are areas of the resort off limits.   Be aware that not every room has been renovated and some rooms are still dated.  The hotel should be completed by summer, however check ahead of time to make sure that the renovations aren’t going to distrupt your vacation plans.  I’m excited to see the new pool area which has plans to have a nordic feel (we also hear they will even include watersides and kids water features). I’m looking forward to visiting again this summer and trying out everything the hotel has to offer in the summer.

Our Insider Tips-

This resort can be purchased with Airmiles- it’s a great way to use extra miles and have a mountain getaway for only the $25 in taxes.

 

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I know a lot of families heading out for spring break this year- whether it be to the beach, the mountains or to Grandma’s house. Around here the countdown to any vacation is exciting. Multiple studies show that the anticipation of a holiday is often as good as the holiday itself.   The anticipation, the daydreaming and the pre-planning all contribute to having an exciting and successful vacation. However,  the last couple of weeks before a trip can be a little bit stressful so here are our tips to help beat the stress and enjoy the countdown.

– Start a countdown chart. My girls and I usually make simple posters with squares they can colour each passing day.  I usually start this between 2 to 3 weeks prior to leaving. This gives them perspective to when we are leaving and keeps their excitement strong. It also works on number recognition, counting backwards and the understanding the passing of time.  Younger kids need a shorter countdown but with more prepping about what’s to come.

-Head on over to Trip Advisor and be prepared for what’s to come. Read the reviews of your hotel and check out the reviews of the attractions you plan to visit. However, take every review with a grain of salt  as most people seem to be either really negative or overly positive. However, I always find some really great tidbits on Trip Advisor and enjoy making note of travellers tips before each vacation. I’ve found fantastic hidden cenotes and really cool restaurants just by checking out TA’s “top” lists.

-Email your hotel or resort about 2-3 weeks prior to arriving.  Most hotel chains don’t receive the booking information from your travel agency until a couple weeks prior to arrival. This is the best time to request room locations (like closer to the beach or pool, a top floor for a better view or the bottom floor for ease with a stroller), any required amenities in the room (cribs, cots, microwaves, birthday banners) or any other questions or concerns you may have. My family has had great luck emailing resorts and local hotels ahead of time. With lots of kind words and gratitude we have been able to receive upgrades, rooms with the best location, extra bedding and welcome baskets in our room.  Nothing is ever guaranteed but it doesn’t hurt to ask!

– Pull out your suitcase no later then 2 weeks prior to leaving. Then start making lists. When you think of something either add it to the suitcase or put it on the list. I leave my packing list on top of the suitcase to keep it handy.  When I randomly think of something I need to pack it will either go directly into the suitcase or onto the list of “things to pack the night before” (like toiletries or things you need on a every day basis).   Keep popping what you can into the suitcase, then actually organize the suitcase a day or two before leaving.  Keeping your luggage out where you can see it might be a bit annoying but it’s incredibly helpful to pop random items as you go.

-Spend a night or two as a family  researching the area you are heading too. Talk about the activities that are available to try in the area and see what type of things your kids might be interested in. We are heading to Lethbridge (!! I know you’re jealous ) for Spring break this year and our list of “must-do’s” is getting incredibly long- and it’s turning out to be very exciting for the girls. With a little bit of research you can find hidden gems for both you and your children to enjoy. Google is your friend- pull up the websites and work together as a team to plan your holiday. Even if your plan is to head to a resort and stay in the resort, go through your hotel’s website and view the different amenities  available- get the kids excited about new things they can try. You’ll be surprised what your kiddo might be willing to experience when they’ve researched it themselves.

– If you’re visiting the same small town year after year try to do something new- try the local museum, a different hike or nature walk,  a new restaurant, or something else that interests your family. Keep the excitement of doing something new as part of the reason why you travel. Helping your kids explore new places will instil a lifelong love of travelling in them.

-Double check all your documents prior to leaving- the names on the tickets  and the expiry of passports in particular.   While prepping for our last trip I noticed that Maeve’s name was spelled wrong on her ticket. I have no idea why I didn’t notice originally but was very glad I caught it more then 2 weeks before our departure and it was a easy fix. Double check hotel reservations and any other documents- we’ve had friends try to check in to a hotel only to find it was booked for the wrong date. Also, if you are not travelling with the other parent of your child, and you are crossing a border, you will need a notarized letter for customs. My husband and I often fly separately (I often book seats on travel points and can’t get all four of us together) and I have been asked every single time for a letter.

– Read through some of these blog posts to help you with packing the carry on bag, travelling with kids through Edmonton’s International Airportflying with kids,  road tripping with kids, and why I think it’s all worth it.

 

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With campgrounds in Alberta Parks opening today for the first 90 days of the camping season, it’s time to start planning some more of your summer vacation. Today also marks the first day you can book Dinosaur Provincial Park’s Tours with their Reservations website online. Today I’m checking off another box on my bucket list and booking a full day guided excavation. I’m so excited to be spending the day with adults uncovering real fossils never before seen by human eyes. With so much to do on site, Dinosaur Provincial Park should be on your summer exploring list this year-  the programming, facilities, and campground are all world class.

dinosaur-park-with-kids

 

 

A UNESCO World Heritage site, Dinosaur Provincial Park is a must-see Alberta destination. In the past years we’ve tented amongst the giant popular trees and also stayed in their modern and cozy canvas tents along the river. The campground is located right in the middle of the valley, surrounded by hoodoos and endless hiking opportunities for all abilities. There’s a beautiful  treed section of the campground and a section facing the hoodoos- just depends what you like. There’s also dinosaur themed playground and a creek to wade in on those hot, summer days.

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Add on the option to go on an actual dinosaur dig, enjoy family programming like making your own fossil cast class, a guided hike through the badlands, or learning about prehistoric times in the Visitor’s Centre, there seems to be something for everyone. If you’re there on a weekend, be sure to take part in the free theatre programs too. My kids really enjoyed John Ware’s cabin on site and the interpreter was fabulous getting them involved with activities and helping them get excited about the history of the area. On our last trip we took part in the Explorer’s Bus tour which the four kids all loved. They even found real dinosaur bones and learned how to identify fossils from rocks (if you lick your finger and it sticks to the rock, it’s actually a fossil!). We also took part in Fossil Safari, but ended up getting rained out- however the guide had a back-up program inside including a behind the scene tour of the lab and some handling of real fossils. It was perfect for young minds.  If you like your vacations to become educational, Dinosaur won’t disappoint.

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dinosaur-park-with-kids-programming

If the incredible scenery isn’t enough to get you to head out to Dinosaur Provincial Park, maybe the modern amenities like free showers, free wifi, a yummy restaurant, a sandy creek to play in, the option of comfort camping (complete with air conditioning and a heater!) and endless photo opts might.

Look Forward to-

  • The views. Oh those views.
  • The facilities. As mentioned above, Dinosaur has been developed with both comfort and exploring in mind.
  • Amazing programming for families and programming for Adult’s only.
  • If you can’t get into the Programming, there’s self- guided interptive trails with uncovered fossils to check out, free of charge
  • There’s really good food in the cafe if you don’t pack enough, need a cool treat after hiking or just need a break from cooking (and if you see someone who looks like me, give her a little wave- that’s my lovely niece scooping your ice cream!)
  • The on-site Museum is very interactive and worth the small cost of admission for kids.

But be Prepared for-

  • The Drive. At over 5 hours from Edmonton and 2.5 hours from Drumheller, budget your time accordingly. I would give yourself 2 days to fully experience Dinosaur.
  • Mosquitos. Do not forget the bug spray. Enough said.
  • The heat. The Badlands can have extreme heat waves. Pack hats, sunscreen and water accordingly.
  • Booking all your camping and programming in advance.  You will be disappointed if you make the trip and don’t have a campsite or a program to attend- everything fills up in far in advance.

Our insider tips-

If camping or comfort camping isn’t for you, there are multiple hotels in the town of Brooks, as well as Bed and Breakfasts in the surrounding area.  It’s still worth the trip even if you don’t want to stay onsite. We loved our little canvas tent along the river- it felt like we were on luxury safari- and we were warm at night and cool during the day. Everything but our food was included.  Definitely worth the splurge. There’s also Kinbrook Island Provincial Park about 30 minutes away with a beautiful beach, playground and a day use area to use in if the badlands get to hot, or if you’re in the mood for a change. Our biggest tip would be to plan out your trip with help from the Park’s website, but to also leave time to just relax and explore the valley. There’s so much much to do (and I’m always guilty of trying to do it all!) but don’t forget to enjoy.

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