How I made a lei from my daily walk in Hawaii Kai.

I know I have said it before, but, I love Hawaii. I love living here (especially since my kids are home!) I am continuously surrounded by such incredible views of the mauka (mountains) and makai (ocean). And since we moved here in December, despite the craziness with covid, I have enjoyed daily walks to reset and take in all the views and fresh air.

I started out walking to get exercise and to spend time with my hubby. On our walks I always noticed all the beautiful plumeria trees and all the petals that had fallen on the ground. Many were fresh and were screaming at me to “pick me up, and take me home!!” So, I did! Now, it’s become a thing in our home where we have beautiful petals we place floating in water to bring joy to our little cozy space.

Hawaii really is a special place and the aloha spirit is real. A lei is a symbol of friendship, love, celebration, honor, and many receive and give them to their family and friends upon arrival to Hawaii. I love greeting my family with one at the airport. It really is a symbol of love, and each time I receive one, even if I never will meet the person who made it, I can still feel the love of the hands who crafted it.

Of course with the quarantine and more time on my hands, I decided to learn to make a lei! Why not? I am by no means a pro it it, but with a little research, I gathered my materials that I had around the home and gave it a try.

Here’s a simple way to make a lei from fallen petals:

Step one: Gather your family and head outdoors for a nature walk. To make one lei, gather 30-50 flowers that have fallen to the ground, in public space (make sure not to infringe on someone else’s property). Be creative with what is blooming in your neighborhood, and try to mix blooms! There are endless possibilities!

Step two: Soak the blooms in cold water to rinse off. And then lay them out to dry off. You may have to toss out a few of the ones that begin to brown and wilt.

Step three: Find string to use such as embroidery thread; dental floss works too! Get a needle that will fit through the center of your petals, and grab a pair of scissors! That’s all you need.



Step four: Thread the needle, tie a knot in the thread, and begin threading the flowers one at a time. Once you get the length you like, then all you need to do is cut the thread and tie ends together! Wa-lah, you have a lei!

They say stop and smell the roses, or in my case, plumeria. I believe that by doing a craft like this, you will also experience the same as I did — calmness, peacefulness, thankfulness, and realize that it really is the simple things in life that are free and allow us to reflect on God’s beauty and all He provides us daily.

If you decide to make one, please let me know how it turned out! This would be a great summer craft for the littles too!

Aloha from Hawaii Kai!

xo,

Elisabeth


Fear is a liar!

Listening to your father fall to the ground with a massive heart attack — at the age of nine. Running to my aunt and uncle’s home through the woods to get help. Arriving back home watching my brother perform CPR on my dad, while hearing the loud sounds of the ambulance arrive.

That is fear, and that was me.

Fear of not really understanding what was going on in that very moment. Fear can come over you like a storm rolling in, in the middle of the night, pitch black outside, blaring with roaring thunder and crackling flashes of lightning hitting trees. That, was what I was fearful of at the age of nine. Storms — not death.

I was nine when my father died of a sudden heart attack and went to be with the Lord. Before him, I had experienced the death of two grandfathers. I faintly remember those times, but I did understand what it was to lose someone you loved. No one can prepare you for loss. Because loss is something personal. No one can “feel” what you’re are “feeling”. They can understand it, possibly, if they have also lost someone near and dear, but they can not actually FEEL what you are going through. Everyone experiences loss differently. We are all different, because God made us that way.

I grew up in the perfect home with a mother and father and older brother. Heck, in my eyes we were the perfect little family. We ate together, played together, prayed together and went to church every Sunday. We ate lunches at my grandmother’s home every Saturday with my extended family. It truly was the best upbringing any little girl could ask for. My mom worked for a bank and my dad was a lineman for the power company. Good, hard working, American, God loving parents. I was lucky. I was (am) blessed.

I see times changing and there is so much fear in the world. Many times fear is driven, honestly, by not being informed or not relying on what really matters in life (and I realize this could be debatable on what really matters). Of course we are all human which makes us fearful. But there is hope in not fearing things that life throws at you. You can gain peace in knowing that we are told in Peter 5:7 “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” It seems so simple, yet still so hard. To give it all over to God to let him guide you and your thoughts and to be comforted.

I hope this helps someone who is anxious, fearful, or just worrying about what tomorrow brings. God is so good. I share this with you because there have been many times in my life that fear has crept in, but I know fear is a liar and God is bigger than any of my fears.

XO,

Elisabeth


Never underestimate a Sunset

Daily Sunset off our lanai. No filter needed.

Is this a dream? Am I really living the Hawaii dream?

Listening to the sound of the Avett Brothers playing in the background — watching another beautiful sunset — breezes blowing my hair as I type, while birds fly by chirping.

If you looked out over the ocean water and mountains, you would never know there was a world wide pandemic happening. Many of my neighbors sitting outside watching the sunset, having dinner on their lanai, laughing, talking on the phone, some even paddle boarding and fishing off the dock, and boats buzzing by — it’s like our own little world over here on this tiny island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Life is still going on. People are adjusting to the new normal of the beaches and parks being partially shut down, having to wear masks when running out to the stores, essential work places and picking up take away dinners; and don’t forget the new social distancing practicing! It is real. Changes have happened.

My nightly entertainment is with my husband and sweet Jack Russell, Boone, watching the sun go down over the mountain. When I wake from this Hawaiian dream, I hope I never forget the wonderful feeling of sitting on my lanai watching every. single. sunset. They are so different each evening. The sky dances to put on its own spectacular color show. The colors change like a painter dipping his paintbrush between purple, orange, pink and yellow. Then, slowly and peacefully, the sun tucks away for the night. In addition to my music playing, the sound of the palm trees are sounds that call for an encore. The swaying of each branch is like a tiny musical instrument on a stage waiting to be heard. They have a voice too, ya know. We just have to be still and listen.

Instead of focusing on some of the more challenging issues due to this pandemic, I choose to see every sunset through the lens of gratitude and blessing. I do not negate seeing and understanding the rest of the world news and I continue to pray each day for my family, our country and our world, and those who are suffering. I know it is out there. I understand it is happening. But one thing that will never change throughout this is that our God is greater than any pandemic.

After all, just like the song, He has the whole world in His hands.

Sunset in Hawaii Kai, No filter needed.


The Should be’s…

The “should be’s” of today… there are so many.

I “should be” in Australia today with my hubby.

My Ash “should be” in Switzerland with her 60 other study abroad students.

My oldest “should be” back in Shepherd University getting ready to graduate college…. and on and on.

We all have our “should be’s”, right? Mine just happen to be first world should be’s. We had OUR plans. The ones WE made. Then something changed all that. Something earth shattering. Something that moved all the earth in a different direction. Some choose panic, some choose defiance, others choose to tune it out, and others choose and keep to themselves. And others fall on their knees and pray. Prayer is powerful y’all. I have seen God move mountains and He is the ONLY one who can heal us and our land. Keep your focus on what really matters these days. This too shall pass and those “should be’s” will come again… one way or another. In the end God is in control. Just let Him be.

As for now, I will reflect on wonderful memories from our recent trip to Switzerland. My husband and I got to spend 10 days with our daughter! Memories last, y’all. Make them. Cherish them!

Beautiful Zurich, beautiful daughter.
Beautiful city of Zurich
Exploring the city with my girl!
Dinner with friends!
View from our room of The Matterhorn in Zermatt, Switzerland.
Skiing Gornergrat, before it was closed off. It was crazy and visibility was zero!
The next day, skiing Zermatt. Beautiful blue skies!
Enjoyed every. single. snowflake. So much, we added another night’s stay!
Walking to see where Ash goes to class every day. Beautiful walk (hike!).
Classes everyday held at Franklin University.
Lugano, you’re beautiful. Thanks for the memories!

We’re empty nesters! Now what?

I can’t believe how time flies. I mean I think back to the days when my husband was forever traveling and protecting America, and I was a stay at home mom with three little babies– being the nurse, chef (ok, that’s stretching it), cleaner (maybe, this too), room mom, creative director of all projects, and travel agent.  But you get the point! I pause now, and think, where did time even go??? All three are in college. Poof! just like that. They flew from the nest. It’s really surreal when I stop and think about time. It’s so precious and we can never get it back.

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So now what? No one to really take care of on a daily basis. No piles of laundry (until they come home and dump in front of the washing machine). No more early morning breakfasts to cook and lunches to be packed. No more volcanos to build and tests to help prepare for, and no more back to school nights. (Try attending back to school nights with three kids in the same high school…impossible to meet all those teachers!) And, get this one… no more ball games to sit and watch while either freezing or dying in heat. Let that sink in for a min!

Well, I will tell you what, it’s you and me, hubby. It was us before kids — and it’s now you and me again.  God knows our paths; we choose to follow his will or not. I think it was never random that I had all three of my children by the time I was 29 years old. I also don’t think it was random that they are so close in age. I am embracing this empty nesting as good as I can… even when we are thousands of miles from our children. God had this plan for our family, and I am trusting him with it!

Now let’s go on a hike!

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Hanauma Bay, Oahu Hawaii
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Hanauma Bay Ridge Hike, Diamond Head photobombing in the background.
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Hanauma Bay Ridge Hike

Tips on how to start a business in your spare time.

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Landon Lane Candle Co.

So you say you have a passion, and you would love to turn it into a business but you don’t know where to begin? I hear ya, I was the same way! I was always day dreaming and just letting others pass me by while watching their dreams come true.

Stop beating yourself up and roll up your sleeves and get to work. Here are a few tips on how I began Landon Lane Candle Company (from scratch) —

  1. HAVE A VISION— After all, you have to have a vision of what you are trying to turn into a business. Are you an artist who wants to sell your art, or a party planner looking to offer your planning skills to others for a fee, or do you love animals and want extra income helping others take care of their pets? It may just be a side hustle now, but maybe it has potential for more… but you have to have a vision to begin. Write down your vision. Take out a poster board and start brainstorming ideas. Soon, you will start to see your vision on your “vision board.” It’s ok if it is a complete mess (with chicken scratch), the key is to get it down on paper so you can read it all over and soak it all in.
  2. DO YOUR RESEARCH — A little bit of internet surfing goes a long way. I began my candle company with an amazon gift card (thanks, Mom!)! I just purchased a candle making kit to see if I even liked making candles and to see exactly how hard of a process it actually was. Once I was hooked, I researched many suppliers to find answers. I viewed tons of videos over at “YouTube University”. I mean, gah, you can learn a ton from others who are willing to share their passions!
  3. WRITE A BUDGET — Write down all the materials you will need for a start up. Materials to include supplies, marketing materials (another subject!), subscriptions & fees, etc. Remember Rome was not built in a day, so budget for a small start. You can always grow, and besides you don’t want to invest all your money in your side hustle. You are trying to make money, after all!
  4. MAKE A PLAN — GOSH, now this is a tricky part… failing to plan is planning to fail, so you gotta make a plan. Things to consider: Logo – how will you brand your business? Launch date – when will you launch into the public? Marketing – how will you market your business: social media, advertising, blog posts, word of mouth, etc. Banking – how will you accept payment and do you need an EIN number, etc. Don’t beat yourself up if your plans take a fork in the road along the way.  Having a plan helps you reach your goals. Which leads me to my last point:
  5. SET GOALS —  I get it, setting goals is a bit scary. I mean, what if I don’t reach them…then I will be a failure, right… NOPE! That just means you will be learning along the way. And learning brings more knowledge and knowledge is power!  (remember the old Saturday morning School House Rock, “knowledge is power”  — ok, I am showing my age!) But really, setting goals is a good thing and once you begin checking them off, things really will start to fall into place for your new venture.

Spare time, yea right, who has that? We all do, we just have to recognize it and make it work for us instead of it getting away from us. Try to carve out 30 min a day to focus on your dream business. Or carve out an entire weekend, stay in your PJs, sip on coffee and solely focus on your business plan and goals (like I did), and you will be off to a good start. You can do it one small step at a time. Enjoy the process and know that dreams do work if you do the work!

If you are a candle lover, be sure to take a peek at Landon Lane Candle Company

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In the studio, Landon Lane Candle Co.

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Creative design is part of the planning process at Landon Lane Candle Co.

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Products from Landon Lane Candle Co. Amazing fragrances!


I quit my job to become a full time photographer. (insert sigh — and yikes!)

Folks, I will admit… I am scared at the unknown. The unknown of earning a steady paycheck. The fact that I have two kids in college and another starting in a few months….. that, my friends is what you call bleeding money. Money to pay, not only for college, but basically two other homes, and food, and expenses… but for some reason… I decided to step out on a HUGE leap of faith and quit my job to become a full time photographer.

I honestly don’t know where this will lead. I mean, I have been doing photography for many, many years, but it has always been on the side or when I had extra time to fit it in.

I think that life is a crazy adventure. It’s filled with challenges that will push you to your limit. In the challenges you gain strength and guts. Guts to make a change for yourself. Guts to believe in yourself. Guts to get out and get busy. Busy doing what you love. Busy doing what you’re passionate about. I LOVE images. I love the way they make me feel when I look at them. I love the fact that by looking at an image, time just completely stopped. In that moment, through an image, you can cherish it forever. The smiles, the twinkle in the eyes, the hugs and even the laughs that you can see but you can only hear in your mind. So maybe one would call me crazy for quitting my really good job, to go out and “try” to be a full time photographer… I would like to think, rather, that God has prepared me for “such a time as this”.

You see, God places things, people, moments in our paths. He wants us to learn from these opportunities and experiences and He wants us to use it all to glorify Him. He is the one who has created it all for us. But if you are like me, you don’t always see what is right in front of you. The gifts and talents that God has given to you are for you to share. I know that is scary to share a passion, and to put yourself out there. Trust me, I totally get it. I am having a really hard time thinking about “what if no one likes my work…what if I totally fail… what if…, blah blah blah. It is really hard to push all the negative thoughts aside and to focus on how to make it work.

So, quitting my job may not be the smartest thing to do… but one thing that it is doing is making me fight 100 times harder for myself and my family…working each day to strengthen my business.

Turing this passion of mine into a reality is scary, but with God on my side, who can be against me?

Stay tuned on this journey…. either this will work, or it won’t. Now the choice is up to me.

 

For more information on my photography, please visit my website —

Elisabeth Bryson Photography

 

 

 

 


Destination Birthday — The Inn at Kelly’s Ford: How to throw an overnight sweet 16 birthday party!

Who doesn’t love a good party? And a sweet sixteen at that!

When you add in a short drive to a beautiful and serene setting, what’s not to love! If you are looking to host or throw a destination sweet sixteen birthday party, read on! 

Let’s all face it, turning 16 can be lots of work for mama’s… especially for girls! Coming up with sweet 16 birthday party ideas that will not completely break the bank is tricky! Over the years, as my three kids were celebrating birthdays, many of the parties were done right at home (and even before Pinterest, yikes!). Wonderful memories indeed! But for my daughter’s sweet 16, after brainstorming numerous ideas, we decided to have a quaint destination party that she and her friends could remember for a long time.  We combined her love for horses and the outdoors, with the sun and pool and added in a photo shoot, food and lots of sugar! (What 16-year-old girl doesn’t like taking photos and eating candy?!).

The Inn at Kelly’s Ford was the perfect setting to accomplish all of our ideas. It was basically a two day, all-girl slumber party on steroids (I mean sugar)! Here are some of the highlights from her destination birthday party with ideas, and tips on saving a few bucks.

Choosing the location — The Inn at Kelly’s Ford is less than an hour from our home in the little town of Remmington, VA. Getting there was not an issue and the drive out is so pretty. No planes or trains, just automobiles to transport my daughter and her friends. Since the Inn has accommodations on the property, we booked a cottage for a night’s stay, basically allowing for two day’s worth of activities. The cottage had plenty of room for everyone and also gave my husband and me a room to escape all the girl talk!

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Activities, activities and more activities — There was no boredom going on here! Lots to do to keep everyone happy. When we booked our cottage, I also booked reservations for horseback riding and canoeing— one activity for each day. Since we had LOTS of open space, I created a scavenger hunt. They divided into two teams and searched the grounds for clues. The inn has a pool on the property… perfect for swimming and soaking in the sun.  The following morning, while I cleaned and packed away all the decorations and food, my husband made the canoe trek down the Rappahannock. (I wish I would have gone on that trip, but someone had to stay back and get all packed up!)

SAY CHEESE! — Since most girls love getting dressed up, and we had a perfect photo shoot setting, I took time with each girl to take photos as well as fun group shots. This was not only a way for my daughter to capture her party, but the photos were given to each of her friends as a takeaway… (Or to just use as a new profile pic!) It was nice for her brothers to stop by to wish her a happy birthday, which gave me a chance to snap a few of all three of my kiddos.

Dining Al Fresco — In keeping with the theme and not having to spend a fortune on a sit-down meal in the restaurant, we elected to order takeout food from Pelham’s Pub and have our own patio dinner decorated in, you guessed it… pink! I basically was the waitress, but at least I didn’t have to cook the meal! The Inn was nice to help deliver the take out to the patio where I set the table for the girls. The girls decided on a really fancy dinner… chicken tenders, onion rings and fries! I brought in muffins, fruits, juices, etc. for breakfast the next morning. No one’s going hungry around here!

Sixteen Candles — For many of my children’s birthdays, I have attempted to decorate cakes or cupcakes. Most times I even baked them too! (crazy, I know!) Since I wanted to get a little creative, but save time, I ordered a crumb crusted cake from the Harris Teeter bakery along with extra white buttercream frosting that I could color myself. I searched youtube videos on how to decorate.  It was fun and simple and paired perfectly with all the pink accents from the party!

Decorations — Since I envisioned lots of pinks and girly things, I decided to save money and purchase pink roses from Giant instead of ordering from a flower shop. I cut the stems down a bit and used mason jars as my vases. These definitely added a simple, yet dainty touch I was going for. (I picked up a box of mason jars at Walmart and used some for vases as well as drinking glasses.) Keeping cost down but making a big statement, I purchased pink tissue paper to make giant paper flowers. I shopped at Michael’s craft store for colored paper and stickers to make a “Celebrate” banner. They also had cute frames to display and the girls could take for their photos. I also wanted to display some old photos of my daughter along with her friends so I printed photos in various sizes and used ribbon and clothespins to display them throughout the room. For the sweet 16 candy bar, I found plenty of pink candy at Party City. I also purchased a small helium tank and balloons and blew them up once on site. One of my favorites was the personalized cookies from Baked by Rachel. I sent a photo of the invitation (designed by my best friend Jennifer) and Rachel matched them perfectly.  I think we accomplished having enough sugar and pink at this shindig!

Not gonna lie… I worked really hard to pull off this two-day party… Lots of planning and preparation, but in the end, I would do it all over again. (Shout out to the hubby too!) I loved every minute of it and I sure hope my daughter remembers this milestone birthday! It was a fun way to explore with friends, celebrate, and make lifelong memories! Would you plan and host a destination birthday party? If so, I promise it will be worth it!

 

*no endorsements here—just my opinions and recommendations. All photos property of Elisabeth Bryson Photography.

 

 


Quick, pack your bags! We are going to Hawaii! 6 days exploring Oahu, Hawaii

ALOHA! We literally booked a last minute trip to Oahu, Hawaii on a Wednesday, – – and flew out on Saturday! But sometimes last-minute trips turn out to be the best family trips. Not a ton of planning to stress over, just dreaming of white sandy beaches with a breeze and palm trees.

So if you’re looking for a vaca where the city meets the mountains and ocean,

check out all that Oahu, Hawaii has to offer.

Here are some of our favorite family adventures in Oahu, Hawaii.

  • Sunrise at Makapuu Point — If you are flying from the east coast to Hawaii, chances are you will be up earlier than the sunrise, so you might as well go enjoy the sun rising over the beautiful blue ocean. It is definitely worth the hike up to Makapuu Lighthouse to see this beautiful sight. Check the sunrise times and allow enough time to drive, park and hike the one-mile trail to the lookout. (The lighthouse is off limits). Since the gates may not open until after sunrise, park on the road outside the gate (like the locals) and hike on. The elevation is 500 feet, so a water bottle comes in handy. Breathtaking views of the sunset await you!

  • Do go chasing waterfalls! We stumbled across the beautiful Hamama waterfall in Kaneohe, Hawaii found on private property that is owned by the Board of Water Supply. It was a beautiful one hour hike to reach the falls (4 miles round trip). A moderate, slippery and rocky hike, but well worth it. There are posted signs so be mindful and stay on the path. The state asks hikers to obtain a permit first, though not mandatory.  A nice well kept secret and not a tourist trap…just park legally on the street. Take water, and bug spray. Wear your bathing suit as you will want to jump in!

  • Chief’s Luau — Highly recommend this Luau! Even though this luau is set in a water park, you quickly forget your surroundings once the show begins. The entertainment is on point with Chief Sielu Avea…funny, talented and a world champion fire-knife dancer. And, if it’s your anniversary, be prepared to be amazed and treated to a sweet moment with your spouse. The Hawaiian feast was really yummy, and the Mia Tai cocktails were refreshing. I really enjoyed the quaint setting and we were really made to feel like ohana (family). If you would like a flower lei, then be sure to book the Royal experience, or you can also purchase one as well.

  • Hike Diamond Head  —  Lace up your tennis shoes, grab a bottle of water and your camera, and head out to see the 300,000-year-old crater, Diamond Head. The view from the top of Diamond Head State Monument is worth the hot hike and when you return, chances are you will be able to refresh with a shaved ice or a pineapple smoothie. If you are pregnant or have health concerns, please note there are steps and steep inclines to hike. Also, depending on the time of day and year, most likely the trail will be crowded with others tourists. Allow two hours round trip. But a must do when in Oahu!

  • Turtle Bay — When we arrived at the north shore we spent a few hours at Turtle Bay Resort snorkeling and looking for sea turtles. (free parking, beach is public)  Definitely, the place to find sea turtles. And plumeria flowers were falling from the trees which meant we could enjoy a little Hawaiian flair in our hair!

  • Food trucks at the North Shore— if you are staying at the north shore or choose to take a day trip there, you need to pull over and have a picnic at one of the many food trucks. If you like seafood, you’re in luck with the fish tacos, but if you’re like me and not a fan, you can also find a refreshing smoothie. It was nice to support the locals and the food was really good!

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  • Ted’s Bakery at the North Shore — Great coffee and yummy treats! Ted’s bakery was a great find on our drive to the North Shore. Too many items to rave about, so be sure to stop in yourself and take a peek/bite!

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  • Dole Pineapple Plantation — Since we spent more time at the north shore, we didn’t allow time to explore the plantation, however, a trip to Hawaii would not be complete without tasting their famous Dole Whip. So Dole Whip it was! If you do have time to stop by the plantation, hop on the train that will take you around the plantation, walk through the gardens and the get lost in the world’s largest maze!

  • Deep Sea Fishing — The boys boarded Maggie Joe for a day of deep sea fishing (while the girls hit up the spa!) If you are looking for a guided fishing experience be sure to check them out. Successful day on the deep blue sea!

  • Shopping and eating at Waikiki Beach —  Whether you are a shopaholic or just a dreamer, you will find high-end stores like Tiffany’s & Co., Kate Spade, Rolex to name a few! Visit Duke’s  — one of our favorite restaurants. But, rest assured, it will most likely be packed. Making reservations in advance is recommended. Looking for a few gifts to take to friends? Stop by the Honolulu Cookie Company. You can even sample the flavors! Whatever you are looking for, you will most likely find it in Honolulu!

  • Duke Kahanamoku Lagoon— Ten years prior to this trip, we actually stayed at the Hilton Hawaiin Village (located beside the lagoon, more expensive, oceanfront, but highly recommend). This trip we stayed at the Ala Moana Hotel (less expensive, not ocean front)… we had a car so we drove, parked for free, and enjoyed the beach and lagoon each day. Parking was free at the Ala Wai Harbor (section with free parking, otherwise metered parking). If you’re looking to save money,  be sure to visit the Zon (Amazon) before your trip and purchase a float and snorkel kit to use each day at the beach, or pick up one at the local ABC Store. Amazing views of Diamond Head while enjoying the beach. We purchased two beach mats at Walmart and they were perfect for our family of 5! Hanging with my family at Waikiki Beach in Honolulu meant time to relax, talk, float and look for sea turtles.

 

Other must do’s that we have done in the past are Pearl Harbor and the Polynesian Culture Center.  Oahu has so much to offer …definitely worth the 14 hour travel time!

As my children grow older, I find that quality time is greater than quantity time. We are always going in 50 million directions so when the stars aligned to got to Hawaii, I packed my bag and counted my blessings! Until we visit again, Hawaii. Aloha!

*NOTE: No endorsements here! Just my thoughts and recommendations from my personal travel experiences. I have traveled to the Hawaiian Islands four times and visited Oahu, Maui, Hawaii, and Kawaii.

 


Traveling with kids? Here’s 10 tips for planning your trip.

While living abroad in England our family had the opportunity to travel right at our fingertips. I  knew I had to take advantage of living close to so many iconic sights. We were creative when it came to budgeting and always looked for deals. Some of the countries we explored as a family (and even visited many a few times!) were Ireland, Scotland, Germany, Spain, Wales, Italy, Austria, France, Sweden, and Poland.

My kids attended the American School in London and luckily for us we had many breaks throughout the school year. Being a stay at home mom (gosh I was so lucky) allowed me time to research, plan and act as the family travel agent! Of course my kids did often moan and groan about seeing one. more. castle. But I knew in the end, one day, they would appreciate these experiences. Here are some things I learned while planning a trip with kids:

  1. Do your research. With so many options on where you can travel and sightsee, research and know what it is you actually want to see. Will it be good for kids? Will they also enjoy? Is there a lot of walking — will you have access to public transportation or will you need to rent a car? Do you need tickets for a particular site? Can you buy them in advance online, cheaper? I would research and read travel books from our library, but today all you have to do is google and read on!
  2. Don’t forget your Passport or Visa? Do you need a passport or a special visa? Be sure to check State Department for more information on what exactly the requirements are for your particular destination.  Also check to see if you need special medical treatments, shots, etc.
  3. Determine the best location for hotels. Location, Location, Location. —Finding that perfect hotel is sometimes difficult to pin point. Read reviews on how other guests liked (or disliked) the property. But in the end, find a good and safe location. Sometimes staying a little further away from the main sites is best, but also know how you plan to get around.
  4. What type hotel accommodations works best for your family size? Finding accommodations for a family of over four is sometimes tricky, especially in Europe where they typically have smaller rooms. Most hotels only have 2 beds. There were many trips where we chose to stay in apartment style accommodations over a typical hotel room. This allowed for more bedrooms and many times came with a kitchen, which helped save on food cost. Typically, I found this option was also less expensive than major chain hotels.
  5. Determine your mode of transportation. Planes, Trains and Automobiles —How will you plan on getting to your destination? Will you jump on a train, plane or drive? Depending on how many days you have for your trip may determine your means of travel. If you are going somewhere close, is it best to all jump in the car, or do you need to fly? If budget is a concern, price out all the various travel options, and remember to include gas price and any road tolls. Sometimes you can fly cheaper than driving! (Ryan Air was our go to for cheap European flights). Also, don’t forget to price out additional fees for flying (ex. extra baggage). We had it down to a science when we traveled in Europe… we all had one carry on, and we wore our heaviest coat and winter boots, saving space in our luggage! There were times when we were spotted at the airport shifting things in and out to meet the weight requirements for that checked piece of luggage. If I could go back I would have purchased a luggage scale to have on hand while packing.
  6. Make an itinerary. What is it that you want to see? Many times, there are so many things to see, but if you don’t have a plan, you spend time during your trip thinking, discussing, and wasting time! If you have three kids like me, chances are you will not please them all! They will appreciate seeing the Leaning Tower, or Changing of the Guards, etc., one day! Spend time planning out approximately how much time you need to see each sight, taking into consideration the time for commuting. But remember, if you don’t get to see everything, don’t fret. The main goal is to have fun while making memories with your family.
  7. A game plan reduces stress. Once you have an itinerary… congratulations, you now have a game plan! Gather everyone and have a quick family meeting and review the plan. This will give your kids an overview of the trip and help build excitement while keeping stress to a minimum.
  8. Let your kids pack for themselves. One of the things I always did was allow (or make, ha!) my kids pack for themselves for every trip. I would give them a detailed check list with all the items they would need for the trip and they would gather each necessity and set it out. We reviewed together and then they would pack their bags. And guess what? Once we arrived, they knew exactly what options they had! (plus I could not get blamed for not packing the right items!) Each person always included a rain coat for every trip, and they always came in handy while sightseeing. Our favorite brand was always LLBean, similar to this one here.

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    Posing for a photo in Brussels Belgium with the Manneken Pis. You can see our LLBean jackets here! They had to cross their arms to cover the reflective patch for the flash.

  9. Add ribbon to your luggage. Many bags are black so tying a colorful ribbon on your luggage makes it stand out. Also be sure to place a secure and sturdy luggage tag in case your luggage is misplaced. I also added a sheet of paper inside luggage with name and phone number in case all else fails, the airport would have a contact from inside the luggage.
  10. Carry a back back. Stock the backpack with snacks and water bottles. (I mean kids are always hungry and buying snacks adds up!) Depending on how small your children are, you can also throw in the necessities (diapers, etc.). BUT be careful with your backpacks! Do not put anything on the outside, like wallets, where you can get pick pocketed. (trust me…) Back packs are great for allowing you to keep your hands free so you can grab your kids hands to help keep them safe while moving about.

Traveling with kiddos is always an adventure (and sometimes challenging). As they get older, they share these special memories together and will talk about the “remember when’s” for a lifetime. Making a plan is key and leads down a path to a successful travel journey wherever you may go!