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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Amsterdam with the Family

hadn’t been to Amsterdam since my post college graduation Euro-railing days. I remember flea markets, cheese, canals and a youth hostel. But, I had to pick a European destination on the Air Iceland route and the flight dates and times worked seamlessly with my itinerary. Epiphany: Amsterdam is what Paris used to be pre-Euro nose dive/Francois Hollande econo-nightmare. Translation? Vibrant, artsy, fashion-forward and above all, happy!

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A Gouda Paradise, A Canal in the Nine Streets

We stayed in the Nine Streets neighborhood, a shopper’s paradise tucked into a maze of canals and super narrow bridges within walking distance to all of the museums. The Dutch have imposed a law in this district: no chain stores. The result is, again, what Paris used to be: a super local series of independent, shops, art galleries and boites that exude a singular Dutch style. Within moments, I fell in love with au courant designer Tony Cohen and profited from the end of summer sale. My kids only tolerated my shopping because they knew that there would be a reward. Amsterdam is known forPannekoek, fluffy mini pancakes dusted in powdered sugar. We used these light-as-air treats as bribery material every time I needed a fashion pick-me-up.

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Nemo Science Center

WHAT TO DO

Amsterdam is made for wandering. I planned a cultural activity per day and we spent the rest of the time meandering through the canals and side streets enjoying the architecture. A canal cruise is the perfect way for families to get their fill of the city’s vast history. We took the blue boat tour which, at 75 minutes, is the perfect amount of time. Boats are small and pleasant equipped with headphones so guests can listen to the guided schpiel or tune out and enjoy the scenery. Art lovers are ecstatic over the re-opening of the famed Rijksmuseum. Hours can be spent exploring the furniture, decorative objects and bevy of Dutch and international masters. To perk up the kids, head outside to the Museum Gardens where fourteen massive Alexander Calder stabiles and mobiles are displayed surrounding an interactive fountain that invites kids (and adults) to run in and out of the water stream. The groovy Renzo Piano designed Nemo Museum is paradise for pint sized science lovers. While my kids enjoyed four floors of hands on science exhibits, I chilled out on the rooftop “beach” that proffered a killer view of the city.

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Nemo Science Center,  Fountains at Rijksmuseum

The Dutch are up front about the atrocities that befell the Jews in World War II. It is mentioned often on tours and numerous Holocaust memorials are peppered throughout the city. For a real feel of Nazi occupied Amsterdam, we visited the Resistance Museum. Exhibits document the political upheaval of 1940-1945 with authentic household artifacts, propaganda posters, documents and behind-the-wall hiding spots which echo the chilling feel of the period. There is a special exhibit for kids which showcases the painful reality inflicted upon Jewish children. We were all emotional. But, reality was reality and I felt this museum was important to visit.

The food in Amsterdam was excellent; honest, innovative and fabulously fresh. Personally, I love fish for breakfast. Caffeine + pure protein =sightseeing energy. Of course, the coffee shops in Amsterdam are world famous. I avoided the ones with grassy offerings on this trip. But, we did indulge in the café culture. Like Paris. Amsterdam has outdoor cafes in the town squares and in front of the canals where people have a coffee or a beer and simply luxuriate in the moment. If you are in the mood for a trendy meal ( I always am), chic restos are plentiful. We loved the Lion Rouge and Café Daalder, an adventurous gastropub. After dinner each night, we strolled back to the hotel basking in the golden Dutch sunset. Sublime.

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The Ideal London Apartment

Home rentals are an attractive option for a travelling family. That is, when the property matches the images on the internet. Having had a recent bait and switch in Provence where a dilapidated farm house had been substituted for the “villa” I had rented, the predictability of hotel rooms has been attractive. But, hotel rooms can get claustrophobic, especially when travelling abroad. While making plans for Spring Break in London, I heard about something new. Grosvenor House Apartments by Jumeirah Living had packaged the idea  of a prime apartment rental with all of the benefits of staying in a five star hotel. The rewards of a rental without the risk? In Mayfair? I booked on the spot.

Read the rest of my piece on home rentals abroad here.

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London with the Family

Sometimes the best trips are the most laid back; the leisurely afternoons where random wandering yields the stuff of scrapbooks (or, pinterest boards).Having hustled my kids to every landmark last year, I decided to ditch the psychotic sightseeing and spend our week in London exploring the city with minimal structure.

Here is the full story which appeared in Travel & Leisure:

london with the family

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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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Easy, Breezy Family Travel Tips

PREP SCHOOL: WINTER TRAVEL TIPS
Family travel sparks anxiety in the most unflappable parent. The trick to keeping it all together? Patience, preparation and packing like a pro. Here are some of my key tips:
KEEP IT AT THE READY: MOM MUST HAVES
The name of the travel game is to be prepared for every situation: delays, congestion, stains and bad behavior. These products are genius to stave off  to stave of mid-air crises. For babies, always have multiuse pads, pacifier for the trip.

Reality: Kids always spill. TIDE TO GO ($4.99) minis are mama’s little helper. The size of a lipstick, (but with the force of a washing machine) Tide To Go instantly removes stains like food and drink stains from clothing. The $35 Duracell myGrid USB Charger ($34.99) is that extra power source for for emergency charging of devices like smartphones, e-readers, MP3 players and electronic games. Travel means bending the rules. Always have Bribery/forbidden foods to squelch explosive situations (gummies, Chocolate, Lollipops) . Your seat mates will thank you! Munchkin Multi-Use Disposable Pads (Pack of 20, $5.99)

Tide to go, Duracell, Munckin Multi use pads

KEEP IT HEALTHY: MEDICINE CHEST IN THE SKY
Anticipation will nip most high in the sky dramas in the bud. Have Band aids, Air Pressure Discomfort Ear Plugs, Benadryl, Infant pain reliever drops packed and ready

KEEP THEM FED: SNACKS/MEALS ON THE GO
Unless you want to fall victim to lousy airport food and high priced hotel breakfasts, stock your carry on and suitcase with snacks and breakfast options like granola bars, trail mix and instant cereal. Prepare for two hours’ worth of delays! One of my favorite easy-to –transport items is Cream of Wheat Cinnabon ($6) single serve packets. It has miraculously fused the big flavor of junk food with high nutritional value. The 100-calorie packets  contain no fat and are excellent source of Vitamin D, calcium and iron.  They have a coupon online!

Cream of Wheat Cinnabon

KEEP THEM BUSY: BEST TOYS/GADGETS
Sitting quietly for hours is tough. Even for adults. Engaged kids are well behaved kids so I recommend Interactive games—Vtech Princess Magical Learn and go ($16.99), a portable dvd player, Leap Frog Leapster Explorer ($74.99, pictured below) to keep everyone occupied. When batteries run out—and they always do-have extra juice (power, that is!) Duracell’s myGrid USB Charger offers 100 hours of backup power to anything that can be connected with a USB cable.

Leapster Explorer

KEEP IT ORGANIZED
A mom’s bag is likened to a black hole. We reach in and anything can come out. Except what you are looking for. To stay organized,a moms BFF are snack holder for The Bumble Collection, Pish Posh mom carry alls ($44.99, pictured below), Munchkin snack holders,  and, of course, ziplocks.

Pish Posh Mommy Carry All Organizer

KEEP IT CLEAN: COOTIE PATROL
To defend your family from the brazen germs lurking on every surface, build your anti-cootie arsenal with Wet Ones Hands and Face Antibacterial Wipes ($2) and Bug Off chair covers.

Wet Ones

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