Sunday, August 3, 2008

Camping in the Texas Hill Country

I haven't been able to travel for awhile. I started a new job at the end of 2007 and it's been so busy. Well, now that summer vacation is coming to an end for my son, I'm taking some time off to explore a little more of Texas with him and some friends. We'll be going camping at Guadalupe River State Park. We are planning on going tubing and hiking while we're then. Next we'll spend some time in Austin. I've never been there so I'm really looking forward to it.
We've started checking out Harry Potter cd's from the library and I love them! We've already got Prisoner of Azkaban (sp?) ready for the trip. I'll post again after the trip with the details.

Friday, November 16, 2007

El Paso area

The last trip I took was with my son and our neighbors. It was planned after a spur of the moment purchase of Ding fares on Southwest to El Paso for just $28/each way! When I bought the tickets I didn't know much about El Paso. After they were purchased I looked at some maps, researched online and requested some books from the library. I was excited to see that we would be in driving distance to Carlsbad Caverns. I have loved caves since I was a child but wasn't sure about my son. Since our trip to DisneyWorld (more on that later) he's been apprehensive of anything that seems slightly scary. Fortunately, with the extra people with us and the option of a self-guided tour (with lights along the way), he ended up enjoying it very much.

Better than Carlsbad was White Sands National Monument. Before this trip, I had never even heard of this place in New Mexico. Now I know we'll have to go back again someday. I saw it on a map and checked to see if it was worth the hour & a half drive from El Paso. It sounded okay. Gypsum sand dunes, kids can sled down them, sunset guided nature walk...I checked with my brother-in-law, the geophysicist who I knew who travelled extensively in the area. His recommendation? We must go! He had sledded on those dunes on his homemade sled and had a ball. So that was it, we would go. That was our second stop (grocery store 1st) after landing in El Paso. The kids loved it and we spent the whole day there. Bring lots of water in a backpack if you walk around the dunes. The sledding was awesome! You can buy a new or used sled at the store and sell it back to them when you leave. There were only a couple of used ones available, I think for $8.00. The new ones were around $12.00. They pay you about $3.00 if you bring it back, or you can keep it. We actually saw someone checking one at the airport.

After White Sands we drove to Carlsbad and spent the night at a hotel there. I think it was about 3 hours, which was a pleasant surprise since my map from the Internet pegged it at 4 and 1/2 hours! We woke up early and headed to Carlsbad Caverns. We did the whole self-guided tour but were not able to stay for the bat flight. At certain times of the year you can go at sunset to see the bats exiting the caves. Whenever we go back to White Sands I plan on making it a point to see this. There is a little deli type place underground at Carlsbad where you can get sandwiches , hot dogs, drinks, and souvenirs. We had to take lots of breaks because you are going downhill for a while. The next morning we were definitely feeling it in our legs, but it certainly worth it. There are also several guided tour options but they all have "blackouts". This is when the rangers turn off all the lights for a few minutes to show you how dark it is in the cave. My son would hate this, so we skipped it.

After Carlsbad, we drove to Guadalupe Mountains National Park. We hiked the Smith Springs trail. Here also be sure to bring lots of water. We brought hats, lots of snacks, and hiking sticks. The trail was ideal for our group because it had some uphill climbing that was just challenging enough, but also mild enough. There is a lovely spring and creek at the top. We noticed some very fragrant bushes along as way, as well as several different kinds of animal droppings. We think we spotted some turquoise too. We picked up the pace at the end to make it back to the car just in time for sunset. We then drove back to El Paso and spent the night there. We decided to walk into Cuidad Juarez the next morning to check it out and save money (versus the trolley tour). It was interesting, but I was saddened to see how dirty it was. On the way back through customs, my son decided to pass the time by taking pictures. Bad idea! I didn't know you weren't allowed to take pictures there, and our film was confiscated. The officers were extremely professional and kind to us and explained why they had to do it. I understood and we were on our way. We had our fill of adventure and headed back to the airport.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Coming From New Orleans

I was born and raised in New Orleans and have lived in Houston for about 2 years now. I now appreciate the architecture there so much more than when I was a resident. There are so many beautiful homes and buildings there, and not just mansions and fancy places. The last place I lived there was uptown, outside of the Garden District. I loved it because my son and I could walk to the park, a basketball court, and to a library. The library was so cool because it was a public library with strictly children's books, audio tapes, and movies. I saw that there have been some renovations since Katrina and I can't wait to check it out again.

There was another library close to our house, the Latter library, that is an old mansion that was donated to the city. It is beautiful inside and can be rented for special events. A relative had her wedding there and it was wonderful. The circulation desk is converted to a bar for the evening and the book shelves are rolled to the back. I love going there and reading a good book in the parlor.

Many people not familiar with New Orleans think it's the last place to visit with children. Having lived there with my son for five years (and visiting as often as possible), I must disagree. The Audubon Zoo is only one of the great many things that are fun for kids and grown-ups. We brought some friends from Texas there and they were overwhelmed at the zoo. Mardi Gras is also a blast with kids, as long as you have done some research. For example, I wouldn't recommend bringing them to Bourbon Street but Napoleon Avenue is the perfect place to watch a parade with kids. We walked to the parades with a wagon carrying food and drinks, chairs, and of course a bag or two for everything we'd catch. There are lots of kids at the parades and parents look out for all the kids around them. It's good to get to know the people around you, as it makes the whole thing a lot more fun and enjoyable. Besides Mardi Gras, there's City Park, Storyland, the Children's Museum, Audubon Park, riding the ferries...I will have to do a whole blog later just about New Orleans and the surrounding region.

The place I miss most since moving is our church, Our Lady of Good Counsel Catholic Church. It was built in 1894 and is the most beautiful church I've seen so far. The parishioners are a wonderfully kind and diverse bunch. I always make sure to go to mass here when I'm in New Orleans for the weekend. Please stop by if you're in town, you won't be disappointed.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Good Music for Travelling with Kids

I had never put much thought into this until a wonderful friend offered to lend me some cds for a drive to my hometown, New Orleans. She had a cd called Steve Songs by Steve Roslonek. My son loved them and it helped to make the drive seem a lot shorter. Some songs are better than others but I found them pretty fun to listen to. I've also checked out some cds from our library, including books on cd. My son like this but only for about a half hour at a time. Another friend gave us a Red Grammer cd, Teaching Peace. This friend is of the Baha'i faith and I believe the singer may also be. However, there is no preaching on the cd, but messages that I think are wonderful and common to most religions (use words instead of violence, be kind, etc.). My son is crazy about this cd too! Another one we like is the Imagination Movers. I plan on getting New Orleans Playground soon. I've heard good things about that one too.
Of course we usually have the dvd player along but I try to alternate with music.

Friday, November 2, 2007

(Hopefully) Helpful General Information

The trips I've taken with my son have usually been sparked by the brief mention of a place in a book, paper, or blog. Others have came about due to a Southwest Airlines Ding sale. If there are places you know you'd like to go, I've found it helpful to sign up for airlines' email alerts. You choose what city or country you're flying to and from. They will automatically alert you about sales.

Once I have a general idea about where we're going, I request books from the library about the city/state/region. If there is a particular place I'd like to visit (i.e., national park), I'll also look for books about that park. I've come across a few good books that cover several parks in one state or region. The library if one of my favorite sources of info because there is no cost! I usually do most of my research on the internet to make sure the info in books is up to date and to find even more info. All national parks have websites (at least all the ones I've looked up) and they are very good about responding to questions.
One of my absolute favorite travel websites is Travelers post their advice and opinions on places to visit, hotels, restaurants, etc. I have used it every time I've traveled for the past 3 years and they've pretty much been dead on. I use it mainly for hotel ratings and I enjoy the guest pictures versus the hotels' commercial photography.

Overall my advice is to research a lot before you go. Figure out what you feel you must see and plan your trip around that. Include other activities that you may or may not see to allow for flexibility. Print out maps before you go and keep them with you in a folder. I like to make a list of my planned stops with addresses, phone numbers, and hours of operation. When you're the only adult on the trip, this helps you to enjoy the trip with less stress. I also like to find out where a convenient grocery store is to stop for some water and healthy snacks and fruit, maybe a foam ice chest too. This simple stop has made trips go so much smoother.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Here's My Plan

I have been a single parent since my son was one year old. He is now seven and I have enjoyed so much going on trips with him. We have gone on simple trips to new places around our home city and longer trips out of state. I hope to travel out of the country soon with him. I decided to start this blog because, upon learning that just my son and I would be going wherever, many people would be so surprised or worried about us. It was as if they couldn't believe a woman would travel alone to new places with her young child. I would be just as surprised at their reaction and usually would laugh. I have always loved adventure and I am confident that with good planning and common sense, trips with your children can be wonderful too.

In the upcoming weeks I will begin to blog about the trips we have taken and things that have helped our trips go smoothly, as well as things that went wrong. I hope you enjoy it!