My Kind of Town, Chicago

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The food. The sports. The art. The theater. There is a lot to love about the city of Chicago. And I have the good fortune to report on all things fabulous in the third coast for Travel + Leisure Magazine.

With the holidays upon us, everyone is talking about what to do over the vacation. So, herewith, I am spilling the cultural beans on some excellent activities guaranteed to keep siblings, best friends, parents and kids engaged and happy. Below is my segment on ABC’s Windy City Live. And beneath that is a link to my local expert’s guide to Chicago for Travel and Leisure.

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Check out my local expert’s guide to Chicago for Travel + Leisure here!

 

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

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Parenting With A Passport

Have Kids, Will Travel. Just Not To Disney World.

I am one of those parents who consider a trip to Disney pure punishment. Instead, Our family trips (I have 2 daughters) are culture & foodie fueled getaways designed for parents and kids to get inspired and have a blast. At this stage in my life, I spend every extra dollar on international travel with my kids. Why? Wanderlust defines me. Since the age of 14, I have finagled international trips-air courier, exchange student, covering fashion shows for magazines-on a whim. I have ridden elephants in Thailand, driven to Morocco from northern France, Hitch hiked through Spain and stayed in the Sex & The City suite at Plaza Athenee, Paris. Then, I had kids. Glamorous getaways came to a screeching halt. For five years, travel –if we dared-was based on the availability of kid camps. Then, as if by magic, everything changed. Diapers and strollers became accoutrements of the past. International travel was on the horizon.

For the past four years we have dedicated three weeks off the summer to globetrotting. Provence? Budapest? London? Florence? Corsica? We have divided and conquered them all. Yes , the process of planning such a getaway is daunting. It requires research and effort. But, as a working mom of two, I can attest to the do- ability factor. And the payoff. Travelling requires kids to step outside their comfort zone.  Seeing and doing the unexpected inspires question asking and curiosity on every front. Engagement and interaction (versus burying one’s nose in an ipad) is the foundation of learning.

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There are rules. The kids have to try every type of food I give them and cannot moan and complain about lifestyle differences. E.g. eating late, siesta, (nothing open from 2-4), annoying cigarette smoke, slow service. And, before we go, they have to fill out worksheets about where we are visiting and historical significance of each location. This way, they are invested in the trip. This year we have an incredible itinerary: Iceland, Amsterdam, Spain, Morocco and England.

Fasten your seatbelts! I’ll be blogging from the road, so stay tuned!

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6 Tips for Surviving Holiday Travel with Kids

READ FULL STORY AT PARADE MAGAZINE


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Anti-Cootie ARSENAL for travelers of all ages

Cooties are a huge issue. I wipe down the tray and armrest with anti-bacterial wipes. I always bring an airline chair cover to cover the airplane seat. This washable fabric cover is a barrier between me and the filthy seat. Wipes are also used to open and close the bathroom door. And to flush the toilet. When traveling with small children Potty Toppers and Munchkin multi-use pads are a must. Ayr gel keeps nasal passages moist. When they are dry and cracked, germs can enter (I know, gross) your bloodstream.

Potty Toppers (pack of 40) $16.99 \\ Munchkin Multi-Use Pad (pack of 20) $6.09 \\ Nice Seats Airline Seat Cover $29.95 \\ Ayr Nasal Gel $3.99 \\ Wet Ones Anti-bacterial $1.69

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Travel + Leisure Instagram takeover!

BREAKING NEWS: I am taking over Travel & Leisure’s Instagram and Twitter feed over the Holidays! My task? To create a docu-diary of my family trip to Miami spotlighting what to see, do, eat and experience in this South Florida paradise. A Miami native, I have a bounty of family-fab adventures up my kimono sleeve.  And I am excited to share them with you firsthand. To follow me, use #TLTakeover and #TLHoliday on Instagram and Twitter.

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Of course the sun and surf are Miami’s premier attractions. But, there is so much more to discover. Just north of Miami Beach is the Florida Everglades, where we will be taking an open air boat ride through alligator and python filled mangrove swamps. At the Miami Seaquarium, we have signed on for a behind-the scenes-experience which includes “animal encounters” with sea lions and dolphins. In South Florida, boating is a way of life. In fact, there are hidden spots only accessible by boat like Stiltsville, in the Biscayne ChannelElliott Key and secret canal mazes woven in and around the Intracoastal. One day we are sailing with friends. The, next day, we will go by “rocket boat” from the Fountainebleau Hotel Marina to gape at beachfront mansions and iconic Art Deco cityscapes. The Miami food scene is undeniably exotic. We will be test  driving the city’s latest and greatest eateries. Kids in tow.
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Aside from the visuals of the trip, I will dispense tips and tricks on how to organize family trips, pack like a pro, get your kids engaged in activities at hand, nip tantrums in the bud, score upgrades, set the stage for successful dinners at upscale restaurants and much, much more. So, follow along on my adventure and please add to the conversation. Where are your favorite Miami haunts? What inside scoop do you have for readers?  How do you get your kids to try new foods? I want to hear and promote all of the feedback.

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Happy Holidays and safe travels!

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ATK Twitter Instagram

Travel & Leisure TwitterInstagram

Please use the hashtag #TLTakeover and #TLHoliday on Instagram and Twitter.

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Summer vacation? Expert tips for family travel

It’s no secret. I have wanderlust. My grandparents ignited my passion with a quickie Paris/London tour when I was 15. The next year, I headed to Spain for a summer exchange program. After college, I Euro-railed through Europe for two months delighted to lodge at seedy hostels and subsist on day old croissants. Once I started to work, I managed to pop over the pond as an air courier  ($100 tickets pre-terrorism!) for spur of the moment jaunts. At 25, I was fluent in the language of champagne, high tea and sauccison. Then, I had kids. As soon as they were old enough, we hopped on a plane and started a tradition of family adventures. Now, with daughters 7 and 11, I bring them everywhere. This summer we are off for a month long trip to Europe. Travel is fun, yes. But the experience (especially dealing with the inherent mishaps of any trip) of conquering unknown cultures inspires a type of curiosity that cannot be gleaned from any classroom.

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MONEY SAVING TIPS

• Early bird gets the deal! There are no substitutes for planning

• Always ask for a deal!: When making reservations for restaurants or lodging, tell them you are budget conscious and looking for discounts or deals for groups

• Late night booking: If a hotel, cruise or plane is all booked up, check back late at night—around midnight computers dump inventory that’s been on hold but not actually paid for

• Restricted Fares: For group travel, go through a travel agent because they have access to restricted fares for certain groups that you wouldn’t be able online on your own. Law enforcement fares, military fares and senior fares usually have to go through a travel agent.

• Travel midweek: A family of six can save up to $1200 by travelling midweek

• Book plane tickets on Saturday and/or Sunday: Studies show prices drop nearly 5 percent on the weekends

• Connecting flights are always cheaper then non-stop flights

• When temperatures get hot, prices drop: If you can stand 100+ heat, prices drop in the summer time for destinations likeLas Vegas, Cancun or Florida

• End of Summer travel: End of August and after Labor day travel can save you over 25% opposed to rates during June and July

• Visit the tourism board of the city you’re visiting for resources or deals on attractions, lodging and restaurants

• Souvenirs can be pricey. Encourage the kids to start a cool (inexpensive) collection, like sea shells, postcards, pins, patches or room keys.

• Avoid taxis: Explore a city using their public transportation, walk or even bike

• Invest in the Entertainment coupon book: This giant book of coupons will come in handy at many restaurants, hotels and attractions

• Save on hotel breakfast: Bring oatmeal/own breakfast to save $ on hotel breakfast

• Bring travel-size grooming to reduce weight of bags

• Most hotel chains offer seasonal deals and promotions that can be easily researched on their website

• Always ask about discounts for kids, students, armed forces, teachers and/or seniors. Front desks also might have information on deals or packages with local restaurants or attractions

• AAA 48 hour deals: Deals up to 50% on hotels come out each Tuesday, and you have two days to book them before they disappear

• Get airfare alerts on sites like Airfarewatchdog.com or kayak.com

• All-inclusive resorts get rid of the daily budget hassle

• Cruises can be a great option for families that want the option of several destinations without the hassle of packing up every few nights and switching hotels.

• Renting a house can reduce many travel costs, from free laundry to a full kitchen to cook a couple meals a day. If you have a larger family you can be in one place opposed to multiple rooms. Let’s you live like a local!RESOURCES: Vrbo.comAirbnb.com,  Homeaway.com, Vactationrentals.com (accommodates last minute travel)

**Babyaway.com offers delivery on cribs, car seats and all things baby

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GREAT VALUE PACKAGE DEALS

• Apple Vacations: Stay in Jamaica for 7 nights at an all-inclusive hotel including airfare for $1000 per person

• Vegas.com: Save up to 50% on flash deals toLas Vegas

• Groupon Getaways: Stay at the Marriot Niagra Falls for $150 a night which includes $50 dining credit, bottle of wine and free breakfast

• Jetsetter by Gilt Groupe

• Expedia

• CheapOAir

• Living Social Escapes

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ATK TIPS

• Anticipate issues, be prepared for delays, boredom and/or sickness. Have these items on hand:
• Diversions/activities: iPad, electronic, candy for bribery

• Snacks, water, Toilet toppers, table toppers, wipes, medicine

• Get organized: Put all documents in a folder or binder with all hotel addresses, check-in times and flight details and any or everything you can think of! Even make a spreadsheet!

• Spontaneity can be fun with your itinerary, but not trip preparations: Organize and be prepared for all would-be scenarios. (weather, sick, food, allergies, navigation, soothing mechanisms, extra battery source for cell phone) all these things can cost a lot of money when you’re caught in a pinch.

• Make it a learning experience: If a cultural destination, have kids do a worksheet that the parent made to have them understand and learn about the destination—doing research helps them learn. Visit the library or research online to prepare for the trip.

• Give responsibilities: Give older kids responsibilities that keep them engaged and help you out during the trip, like mapping directions, daily budget, checklist or snack keeper.

• Packing: Pack a week before—lay it out—this way you wont overpack. Always make copies of credit cards, licenses to leave with a family friend in case of emergency, lost or stolen.

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SETTING A BUDGET

• Pad your budget with an emergency slush fund—emergencies happen!

• Set up a direct deposit each month with an automatic transfer of x amount of $ into a savings account earmarked for vacation

• Go old school: Put change and extra dollars into an old pasta sauce jar

• Souvenirs budget: Set a souvenir budget before leaving for the trip so you don’t overspend

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TIPS FOR CURING FAMILY TRAVEL HEADACHES

• If connecting flights with kids in tow, always allow a couple hours of layover time. Use it as a fun opportunity for kids to stretch legs and explore.

• Be prepared with earplanes for ear irritations, a portable DVD player, toys, books, gum or candy for bribery and even medicine.

• Avoid having to haul both a stroller and a car seat on plane trips–the Sit ’n’ Stroll is one piece of equipment that’s both a car seat and an FAA-certified child-restraint seat and that converts into a durable stroller.

• Checking bags for a whole family can cost $200+, airlines like Jetblue and Southwest allow 1 free checked bag.

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SOME HOTEL PACKAGES WORTH INVESTIGATING

• Sofitel Packages

• Holiday Inn Packages

• Starwood Hotel (Sheraton) Packages

• Best Western

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CRUISE OPTIONS

• Family cruises often have free daycare options, so that mom and dad can get away for an evening or two

• Cruise Critic deals

• Royal Carribean Deals

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THEME PARKS

• Disney Package Deals

• Mousesavers.com: Great deals on all things Disney

• Theme parks like Disney and six flags always have running promotions with local hotels and restaurants.

• Say no to theme park food and half way through your day trek back to your car or hotel for a picnic break.

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NATIONAL PARKS/CAMPING

• Consider a camping trip in one of the more than 5,600 U.S. state parks

• State parks offer access to free recreational activities such as hiking, swimming, and biking for a small entrance or parking fee (usually under $10) and some also offer museums, cultural and historic sites, and educational programming for little or no fee.

• And, in most parks, you can reserve a tent/yurt site with access to running water, toilets, and outdoor-cooking facilities for under $20 a night.

• Favorites: Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Zion

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ROAD TRIPS

• Driving can save you money on transportation costs, but the real skill is keeping an organized and chaos-free car

• Planning and organizing is imperative

• Having a portable dvd player/iPad for kids to watch and other games and diversions are key!

• Triple AAA could not only save you in a car emergency, but they offer many member discounts at hotels and tourist attractions, such as, Hyatt Hotels save 10%, Universal studios save 10%, Sea world Save 10% and more

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TRAVEL APP RESOURCES

• Hotel Tonight (last minute): Hotels give us last-minute deals on their unsold rooms, with discounts up to 70% You book the deals easily and securely on your smartphone.

• Kayak (last minute): In a pinch? Set up price alerts and book hotels, flights, car services and more at low prices, on the go.

• Trip It (for the busy mom): Organizing a family is overwhelming. TripIt merges all of your travel plans into a comprehensive itinerary so everything is in one place.Here’s what to do: Forward confirmation emails to plans@tripit.com and TripIt will automatically build an itinerary for your trip that you can access anytime, either online or from a mobile device.

• Trail Wallet: Nobody wants to worry about money when travelling, but it’s a necessity. Set a daily budget, add expenses quickly and even take pics of receipts.

• Gate Guru: Who has time to track flight details? Looking for a decent meal during your layover? Or a last minute souvenir? GateGuru delivers flight details, gate numbers and navigates airport amenities. Think of it as the Yelp of airports.Pro-Tip: Connect and sync GateGuru account to TripIt or KAYAK for an uber personalized travel experience.

• MetrO (Save $ on vacay): The confusion of fold out public transit maps is over! MetrO helps you find your way in the public transportation systems in more than 400 cities around the world. Here’s what to do: Download the cities you need and search your route by subway, bus, tram, railway…AND you don’t even need an internet connection after you have installed the cities.

• Trip Advisor’s City Guides: FREE city guide with the restaurants, attractions, hotels and reviews you love from TripAdvisor, stored in the app — no data roaming charges! Takes all the information and reviews from TripAdvisor.com to bring you the best hotels, restaurants and attractions. Create your own trip journal. Curated itineraries allow self guided tours.

• Skype: Say “hello” to friends and family with an instant message, voice or video call on Skype for free–right from the palm of your hand.

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ATK spotlights what to do in Chicago with kids for Four Seasons Magazine

Parks, culture, history, sports and a culinary scene that runs the gamut from old-fashioned hot dog stands to haute Michelin-starred cuisine—Chicago has no shortage of activities. If you’re looking for the kid-friendly variety, you’ll find your fill at five of our favourite Windy City attractions. READ FULL STORY HERE

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Amy Tara Koch featured in Lucky Magazine–Paris with Kids: A Guide to Inspiring Wee Francophiles

Read full story here

Lucky kids, paris with kids

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JET SET: Tips for Stress-free (& stylish) family travel

I am headed to Paris with my daughter on Friday. A serial traveler, I pack for every conceivable in-flight situation. And, I dress in way that is at once comfortable and chic.  Just in case Robert Pattinson or Karl Lagerfeld should sit near us on the flight.

On the fashion front, it is all about super soft leggings and long sleeved tee shirt. Layered over the shirt is a DKNY cashmere “cozy” and a extra wide cashmere scarf that can double as a blanket. Flexible ballet flats are a must.The entire outfit is, of course, black. Why? The ultimate neutral, black is flattering, urbane, sleek and chic. It also does not show the accumulated dirt and grime of an international flight. Flying will suck the moisture from your face and body. Throughout the flight, I pat my face with Sonya Dakar Omega Booster oil and lubricate my eyes with Refresh eye drops. I swab AYR nasal gel (germs can enter the bloodstream through cracked nasal passages!) inside my nostrils before the flight. Cooties are a huge issue. I wipe down the whole area and tray with anti-bacterial wipes. I always bring the Bug Off Chair Cover to cover the airplane seat. This washable fabric cover is a barrier between me and the filthy seat. Wipes are also used to open and close the bathroom door. And to flush the toilet. I always bring two changes of clothes and my toiletries kit on the flight. Whether you fly first class or coach, bags get lost all of the time and you don’t want to waste your precious vacation hunting down clothes. I pack them in Flight001 Space Paks, which keeps everything super organized. Also in my carry-on are a gold pendant necklace, some gold earrings, sunglasses and lip gloss. I pop them on upon arrival to Paris to create some je ne sais quoi drama for my all-black look. My daughter, of course is in a similar kid-ified get up. She has her own chair cover, wipes and Ayr.

For medical maladies that may crop up en route, always have kids and adult  Advil, Pepto Bismol, Imodium, Band Aids and antibiotic ointment on hand. For ascending and descending, I am a huge fan of Ear Planes, which regulates air pressure naturally within the ear.

Au revoir

1. Michael Stars cotton long sleeve shirt $55

2. Flight001 Space Pak $46

3. Topshop leggings $24

4. Drift Eyewear sunglasses, prices vary

5. Boutique 9 flexible ballet flats $69

6. Sonya Dakar Omega Booster $42

7. Make Up Forever Lip Gloss $19

8. Refresh Eye Drops $15

9. DKNY Cozy sweater $195

10. Black Pashmina scarf $24.98

11. Children’s Advil $6.99Children’s Pepto-Bismol $5.29

12. Ayr Nasal Gel $6.99

13. Wet Ones Antibacterial $3.99

14. Bug Off Chair Cover $29.99

15. Ear planes $12.99

16. Goldfish crackers

17. Kind Bars $1.49 each

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HOLIDAY RESCUE REMEDIES FOR ON THE GO FIASCOS

The holiday season is chaotic. Between running from work to events, cocktail soirees and seeing the family, unforseen style mishaps –a deodorant stain, a “third eye” of a zit, the snappage of a bra strap- can ruin all of the fun.  Here are some stylist secrets to recover from fashion fiascos in a snap.

PROBLEMS:                                                                        SOLUTIONS:

ACHING FEET………………………………..Foot Petal Triple Threat Pack $24.95

SMELLY……………………………………………..Dove Ultimate Fresh mini deo $1

YELLOW TEETH……………………………Prime Time Whitening System $29.98

MAKEUP ON CLOTHES or dirty shoes……….Huggies Baby Wipes prices vary

RUNNING TIGHTS or holes………………………..NYC Clear Nail Enamel $0.99

ALL IN ONE……………………………….Mr. and Mrs. Emergency Kit for Her $13

FLAT HAIR…………………………………..Hot Tools Self-Grip Rollers 5ct. $2.79

EMERGENCY PLUCKING……………Mini Tweezerman Harajuku Tweezers $15

ZITS……………………………………………Proactiv Acne Fighting Concealer $15

DEODORANT ON CLOTHES……The Gal Pal Garment Deodorant Remover $10

GREASY FACE……………………………….Boscia Green Tea Blotting Linens $10

WARDROBE MALFUNCTIONS……..Hollywood Fashion Double-sided tape $9

MISMATCHED ROOTS…………………………………….L’oreal Root Rescue $7.99

BROKEN STRAPS OR BUTTONS…………..Singer Safety Pins, assorted sizes $5

BAD BREATH………………….Colgate Wisp, portable mini toothbrushes $7.99

OILY HAIR……………………………Bumble and Bumble hair powder to-go $19

STAINS……………………………………………………………Tide-to-Go minis $5.99

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