Holding Butterflies

Not too tight, not too loose

In Praise of Small Museums

The Louvre. The British Museum. The Smithsonian. Huge names. Huge museums. Sometimes, they really are too much. And it’s easy for them to dominate your attention. But today I want to encourage you to look for the little museums in your travels. When I pay to go somewhere, it’s easy for me to feel like I’ve obligated us to look at Every. Last. Thing. And then, before we’ve realized it, we are spending all our time in dimly lit halls, peering at who-knows-what. I’ve learned to look for the small museums for get our “fix” for the vacation. As a bonus, it’s far easier to get my crew to agree to an hour or two in a museum rather than a very daunting “Let’s spend the day!” On the way, we’ve learned that the out-of-the-way museums can offer experiences that the big guys can’t compete with. Off-beat topics: One favorite is the Sandwich Glass Museum in Sandwich, Massachusetts. We almost drove right past it, and what a loss that would.. Read More

Private Guides

I know, it sounds crazy, over-the-top extravagant. But let me tell you about our experiences hiring a private guide. In 2014 we took a trip to London during the summer high season. We expected crowded sites to be overwhelming, so to help us plan our trip we hired the completely delightful Henrietta Ferguson for a few days in the city. The first morning she met us at our house. I loved her immediately when she asked if she could just “pop in” and take a look at our Victorian townhome. She had our day’s itinerary worked out to introduce us to London on the first day, and then to see the major sites in a way that would hopefully be efficient on the rest of the days. We began our day at the Churchill War Rooms and continued to Westminster. As we were making our way to another museum, the insanely huge London Gay Pride parade and a lot of rain got in our way. Henrietta had seen in Westminster.. Read More

Where to Lay Your Head

We’ve stayed in hotels, houses, apartments…even a houseboat! I think that the kind of place you stay really effects how you feel about the vacation. Hotels I think this is the default vacation lodging choice. There are six of us and my husband does NOT like to be packed in, so fairly quickly we started getting at least two rooms when we travel. And yes, we put all the kids in one room while we stayed in the other. When they were especially small we went with suites or hotels like a Residence Inn. The kitchen there was a lot less important than having room for my early bird sleepers to go to sleep while my husband and I enjoyed staying up, watching a little television (we’ve never had a TV in the bedroom so this is a treat for us!), even enjoying room service. We like hotels when we know we are going to be out a lot during the day, spending time together virtually all day long. I’m.. Read More

The best times to use a travel agent.

In all our vacations, we’ve used travel agents rarely. But when we have used them, they’ve been incredibly helpful. I wanted to take one post to highlight the specific circumstances to use them in. Cruises: A few years back we decided to go to Alaska and try a cruise. It seems to me that this is where a well-connected travel agent excels. Cruise options are vast and our agent was able to narrow the choices for us much more quickly than we could have on our own. Our agent helped us pick a family-friendly (but not kid-centric) cruise that was within our available dates. We enjoyed this particular cruise even though we decided that cruises are probably not the best thing for our family in most cases. If we decided to cruise again, I would absolutely call an agent! A huge group: Well, maybe not huge, but big. Last year I had to plan a fiftieth anniversary trip for my parents, with all thirteen of my family. For various reasons.. Read More

Dealing with Jet Lag

Let’s talk about a subject particularly near and dear to my heart right now: jet lag. Depending on where you go, this is either a little issue or a huge one. Here are a few hints for dealing with it: Put yourself on the local meal schedule as quickly as possible. Even if you arrive in California from the East Coast at lunch time, and find yourself not hungry, go sit down at a table and have an appetizer. Meals are crucial in resetting your body clock. Sleep on the plane with an eye to your arrival schedule. For instance, flights to Europe from the US East Coast are typically overnight. On the return, you leave and arrive mid-day. We’ve found that sleeping on the way over, but staying awake on the way back, is the best way to deal with the initial jet lag. To the West Coast, we usually nap a bit, knowing that the first night is going to feel like a late one no matter what… Read More

Go native.

I just returned from four days in Barcelona, Spain, with these lovely people. With virtually no internet connectivity, I missed posting yesterday and the day before. (Sorry!) I still have some things to say about logistics, but this trip is so fresh on my mind that I’m going to share just a little thought tonight. Background:  this was a work trip for Bill and some of his executives, the European trade show. All the wives but one (happily, eight months pregnant, but also sad because she couldn’t travel) tagged along, and we arrived a couple of days before the show for sight-seeing and fun. Completely unrelated to travel, we couldn’t have planned a better team-building exercise. Barcelona is an utterly charming city. I’d been there before but had kind of forgotten how completely lovely she is. We were able to have so much more fun by doing this one thing: We adopted the local customs of rising, meals and bedtime. We rose late, by American standards, eating breakfast from 9:30-10:30… Read More

Research and Planning

Deciding where to go and what to do isn’t a straightforward proposition. We’ll decide what kind of break we’re in need of. Then we start looking for places that fit the bill. Then we might come up with a couple of things to do. Then we’ll circle back and look at our “what” again, to be sure we think it’s still valid. It takes a couple of iterations. I think there are two phases to thinking through the vacation. I’ll call the first research. It’s kind of broad, which helps you decide on the location. Then we plan, getting specifics on hotels, restaurants, museums and tours. When we are researching, we look everywhere: books we’ve read, magazines like Garden and Gun or Destinations, and friends. Occasionally I’ll look at TripAdvisor’s “Top Ten” lists, or we’ll see something on a movie. It’s very general and open-ended. But planning–that requires specifics. And specific resources. Here are my favorites: My own network: We have had enormous success in finding great restaurants, rentals, and.. Read More

Mobilizing the Army

Let’s talk about packing. As the mom, the vast majority of the actual getting-the-clothes-into-the-suitcase falls on me. I have learned a LOT in moving the small army that was four preschoolers cross-country. It makes my four big kids now seem like a breeze. Here are my best tips: If you forget it, you can buy it when you get there. If you can’t buy it, you can do without. When the kids were tiny, this one thing used to stress me out more than anything else. And then I realized that if I didn’t pack enough diapers/socks/shorts/hats, I could buy them. I was probably going to buy a couple of those things anyway as souvenirs! (Well, not the diapers.) That meant that when the kids were little, I only had to worry about the time we were moving between home and our destination. If this isn’t true for an item, pack it first.  Obviously, this doesn’t exactly apply to things like prescription medicine, although I’ve even had that phoned in… Read More

Ten days is our new favorite.

If a week is good, ten days are even better! Ten days:  Just a little longer Pros: The luxurious feel of extra days longer than a week, almost as restful as two weeks but much less expensive, ability to add a second destination, at least one day of travel not on a weekend–less crowded Cons: More expensive, can be hard to find a place that doesn’t rent by the week Once we started taking nine or ten day vacations, we haven’t looked back. My slightly work-obsessed husband believes in this so strongly that it is his number one vacation tip! Bill found that it took no more effort to take off the Thursday/Friday before a week away than just taking the week itself. I typically do laundry anyway on vacation, so that didn’t make a difference, either. And the sheer indulgence of “sneaking away” early? I can’t even tell you how thrilled we were the first time we tried it. Those extra days can also offer time to deal with.. Read More

Epic in a Week

  A week has always been our default vacation length. Vacation rentals and other places seem to encourage it, and it is really easy. One week: The typical vacation length Pros: Easy to schedule, long enough to get a mental break Cons: Not quite long enough? Resorts often will reinforce the week-long idea, trying to book most of their arrivals and departures on the weekends and discouraging mid-week arrivals. For several years, the Tyler Place was our little bit of heaven on earth. In their eighty years of hosting family camp, they had discovered that week-long stays were exactly what they preferred. As a result, they won’t book anyone for longer than that! All the guests arrive on Saturday after lunch, and we all depart shortly after breakfast the following Saturday. Having the uniform schedule gives the entire resort and all the guests the same rhythm. We all looked forward to Saturday’s mixer, meeting the other guests, and we all loved Friday night’s dance party, a mix of Kellerman’s (remember.. Read More