Travel, When in

5 Reasons to Travel by Train

If you plan on traveling, why not take the scenic route and travel by train. Traveling by train gives you plenty of opportunities to the see your country and towns, both big and small. Other than the great views, there are some other reasons you should travel by train. Here are out top reasons to travel by train.

  1. Save Money: Traveling by train is very cost effective no matter the destination compared to other forms of travel. Plus, you get deep discounts on tickets for children, seniors and students.
  2. Flexibility: Unlike flying, you can literally go to the train station and buy a ticket the day of you trip. No worries about reservations, seat availability or last minute fees. Its the perfect way to do a spur of the moment trip.
  3. Eco-friendly: Trains are more energy efficient per mile than planes or cars. Carbon emissions from trains are less damaging to the atmosphere. In turn, this keeps fuel prices low and less susceptible to price increase. Thus, train prices stay pretty consistent and affordable especially in an unstable economy.
  4. Relaxation: Trains and their seats are roomy, comfortable, and have plenty of leg room. unlike on an airplane. Trains are soothing and less stressful especially as you watch the beautiful scenery go by.
  5. Family Friendly: Along with ticket discounts for children, traveling by train is a great opportunity to spend quality time with your children. They will be thrilled and full of questions about all the things they will see along their trip.

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Weekend Trip: Houston, TX

Houston, Texas

*Note: This trip was taken pre-pandemic.

“Space City” or Houston is the largest metropolis in Texas and is the anchor of the mega-region known as the Texas Triangle. For all you history buffs, Houston was named after General Sam Houston who had one Texas independence from Mexico at the Battle of San Jacinto. With lots of rich history and culture, Houston offers a ton of things to see and do from the Space Center to art and music to sports. On our trip, we definitely had some places in mind that we had to see but there is still plenty to do when we go back.

Houston Zoo

If you couldn’t tell, we are big fans of the zoo. We visit a zoo in each city we travel to and Houston was no exception. The world famous Houston Zoo houses over 6,000 animals from 900 species and sits on 55-acres of land. Its the second most visited zoo in the United States and now we know why! You’ll definitely need a map to navigate this zoo as there are 12 exhibits to explore from the African forest to The World of Primates to The Bug House. Our favorite exhibits were the African Forest with the rhinos, giraffes and zebras and the McNair Asian Elephant exhibit. Plan a full day for these adventures as there are plenty of animals to see.

NASA Space Center

The NASA Space Center was by far our favorite place to visit while in Houston. We as a family have always loved learning about space, astronauts and rocket ships so the space center was a must see. The pictures don’t do it justice but the rocket ships are HUGE! We felt like little ants when standing next to them. With lots of exhibits like Rocket Park, Mission to Mars and Independence plaza you definitely won’t be bored. Plus, once your inside there are LOTS of children’s activities such as Space Center Theater, A Stellar Science Show and lunch with an astronaut. If your not afraid of heights, you can up and inside the Independence replica that sits on top of the NASA 905 shuttle carrier aircraft. It’s not for the faint of heart but we loved it and the views!!

Downtown Aquarium – An Underwater Adventure

The Houston aquarium is a beautiful site to see with lots of exhibits, activities and restaurants. From the Texas Bayou to Shipwreck to the Stingray, these are just some of the exhibits featured at the aquarium-we suggest you get a day pass and visit them all. There are 300 aquatic species from all over the world and get the opportunity to touch and feel a stingray, our son’s favorite part! Once you’ve completed your tour inside, head outside for games and amusement rides. Carnival style games, Diving Bell Ferris Wheel where you can see almost the whole city, shark voyage some of the things offered outside the aquarium. Some people come just to visit the amusement park-its that fun! And remember to bring your appetite; the Aquarium restaurant offers a variety of specialties and delicacies.

But that’s not ALL the things you can do in Houston, TX. We have some honorable mentions that we think you should check out during your trip:

  • Houston Museum of Natural Science
  • Kemah Boardwalk
  • The Museum of Fine Arts
  • Hermann Park
  • Discovery Green
  • Teo Chew Temple
  • Vietnam War Memorial

Surviving Chaos

We had a great time in Houston and although we did a lot, there is definitely more to explore. Here are our surviving chaos trips so that your trip will go swimming well!

  • Sunscreen: Be sure to put on plenty of sunscreen while your visiting the zoo. Some exhibits have shade and some don’t. Also be prepared for the Texas heat and Houston humidity.
  • Walking Shoes: There is a lot of walking in the at the zoo and the aquarium so where comfortable shoes.
  • Backpack: By the time you tour the zoo and aquarium, you will quite a few new souvenirs! Keep a backpack handy for all your goodies, snacks and water while you are site seeing- you’ll need something to carry all your stuff!
  • CityPass: To save money (and time) and buy a Houston CityPass. With CityPass you make 1 simple purchase for 5 different attractions that must be redeemed within 9 days. You can visit the attractions in any order and you’ll save 47%! Who doesn’t love saving money!

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Weekend Trip: Kingsland, TX

Located an hour and half from Austin, Kingsland, TX is famously known as the place the The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was filmed. Yes, the infamous house from the film is located here; now a restaurant it’s a frequent tourist attraction. You’ll pass “the slab” or the clear section of the Llano River as it crosses over granite slabs and boulders, on your way to the Texas Chain Saw house. But Kingsland has so much MORE to offer than famous movie spots and rocks! Our trip took us off the normal beaten path and into new and fun adventures.

Packsaddle Mountain

During out trip, we decided to stay at an AirBnB rental property with a semi-private beach. One of the best choices we made! Not only is it social distancing safe because it just us in the house but you also get your own beach! The house and beach were on Lake LBJ and had plenty of activities: kayaks, a boat dock, wake boards, Sonos music system on canopy at the beach and so much more. Plus, there was a spot for a bonfire so our first night we stayed warm by the fire and viewed all the stars. Our kids had a great time building sand castles each day of our trip; each day the castles got bigger and better. One even has a moat around it! The house had great views of pack saddle mountain and the surround area. Named after its shape, Packsaddle mountain is a great place to hike and is of interest to both geologists and historians. It’s the location of the Packsaddle mountain fight, the last major Native American battle area and is believed to have been mined for gold before the Texas Revolution. If you choose to hike the mountain, there is a historical marker at the location of the battle.

Boat Day

On day 2 of our trip we took advantage of the boat dock and rented a pontoon boat for the day. This by far one of our favorite things to do when we’re on the water. The rental company literally boats to your location, drops off the boat for you and then picks it up at the end of the day. Easy peasy – I highly recommend it! Here you can see why we love renting a boat and plenty of reasons why you should too! My husband is usually the captain but I did drive the boat more this time around. We explored the whole lake and even stopped at Wakepoint LBJ; a place to fill you boat with gas and your belly with food. We had delicious barbecue from Uncle Arnold’s BBQ for lunch and then it was back on the boat. One of my favorite sights were all the lake houses – these houses were phenomenal! They all had their own boat docks but some houses added additional features: slides, fountains, double patios, boats houses and so much more. Here’s to keeping our fingers crossed that we can get a like house like the ones we saw!!

Longhorn Cavern State Park

On our last day, we took a socially distanced tour of Longhorn Cavern State Park. If your into rocks, caves and history this is the place to be. Longhorn Cavern is a beautiful limestone cave that has been used for many things: concerts, speakeasy, outlaw hideaway, church services and more. We took the walking cavern tour but they also offer the wild cave tour where you get to crawl on your hands and knees through the many crawl spaces. The tour took about 90 minutes and there was lots to see; from the bats to the crystals to Indian arrowheads left behind. Once your done with the tour, you can tour the park which has plenty of “parkitecture”, benches for family lunches, hike trails like Backbone Ridge and the CCC Observation Tower.

But that’s not ALL the things you can do in Kingsland, TX. We have some honorable mentions that we think you should check out during your trip:

  • Falkenstein Castle
  • Llano Slab
  • Lake LBJ
  • PackSaddle Mountain Hike Trail
  • Inks Lake State Park

Surviving Chaos

We had a great time in Kingsland and had plenty of adventures. Here are some of my surviving chaos tips so your trip will go splendidly!

  • Sunscreen: Be sure to put on plenty of sunscreen while and the beach, on the boat and wherever you decide to go. Bring 2 bottles…you’ll need it.
  • Light Jackets: The temperature is significantly cooler at the lake’s edge so you’ll want a jacket especially if you do a bonfire at night. The mornings can be quite cool as well when you sit on the patio and drink your coffee. Also, the cavern is cooler, between 60-65, so the jacket will come in handy.
  • Walking Shoes: There is a lot of walking in the cavern so where comfortable shoes.
  • Life Jackets: Either bring your own or check if your rental property includes them. All kids under 18 have to wear one and its good have when your kayaking.

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Weekend Trip: Waco, TX

*Note: Trip taken pre-pandemic

Known as “the Athens of Texas” due to its many fine schools, Waco is nestled in between Dallas and Austin and sits along the Brazos River. Since it only takes about an 1-2 hrs no matter which city you are coming from, its the perfect weekend trip for the whole family. You can stay in Waco or in one of the many suburbs such as Hewitt or McGregor. Home to Baylor University, there is so much to explore within Waco. But our eyes were keen on seeing the Magnola Silos and all things Chip and Joanna Gaines!

Magnolia Market at the Silos

First up on our trip were the Magnolia Silos which is the best place to be! There is so much to see and do from the open courtyard for cornhole games, garden, picnic tables to eat ALL the yummy food to the Magnolia Market at the Silos store full of Chip and Joanna Gaines fantastic home decor. This is a place that cherishes family, food, and fun! The Magnolia Market has so much stuff that you will leave with bags full of decor, coffee mugs, planters,etc. Can’t fit your items in your car, ship it home using their onsite Fedex station! When you leave you will definitely be inspired to start redecorating with all the home goods you found. My personal favorite was the Magnolia Seed and Supply where you can pick up seeds, garden tools, planters and flower growing kits for your kids. I’ve always loved flowers and gardening, a little something I picked up from my grandfather, so I spent most of my time in there. My favorite part of the silos is seeing all the families have an amazing time and getting chance to bond. Families from all over come to sit, enjoy the warm sun and create memories with their loved ones.

Cameron Park Zoo

Next up was something for our kids….the zoo! Prices are reasonable and if you have children under 2 they are FREE. This 52-acre natural habitat zoo was the best and favorite of our kids-we spent the whole day there. With lots of waterfalls, ponds, and lakes it is picturesque! We started our adventure at Gibbon Island with all the monkeys and worked our way through the zoo. Our favorite exhibit was the African Savanna where the elephants, rhinos, and giraffes call home. We had perfect timing because a baby giraffe had recently been born so our kids were very excited to see a baby giraffe. If your looking for some peach and serenity from all the excitement at the zoo, head to the lush green bamboo forest in the Asian forest section.

Waco Mammoth National Monument

If you love paleontology, science, animals and bones this is the place to be. The Waco Mammoth National Monument has fossils from 24 Colombian mammoths and other mammals. Its the largest known concentration of mammoths dying, possibly during a flash flood. Our kids had a field day with this site and had so many questions-it really sparked their interest. They loved standing next to the leg bone of a wolly mammoth and be shocked by how big they were-it makes for the perfect photo-op! Once your finished learning about the mammoths, spend some time walking the trails where you see honey locust plants, Texas Live Oak and a few roadrunners.

Although we did a lot, that’s not ALL the things you can do in Waco, TX. We have some honorable mentions that we think you should check out during your trip:

  • Waco Suspension Bridge
  • Texas Rangers Museum
  • Dr. Pepper Museum
  • Baylor University
  • Mayborn Museum | Baylor University

Surviving Chaos

We did a lot during our trip to Waco! So here are some good surviving chaos trips when planning your visit:

  • Comfortable Shoes: Be sure to wear comfortable shoes, you’ll be doing a lot of walking at the Magnolia Silos and the Cameron Park Zoo.
  • Sunscreen: Don’t forget your sunscreen! The Texas summer can be brutal and hot so don’t get burned. Slather on sunscreen before and during your outside time-there’s not a lot of shade at the Magnolia Silos.
  • Water: Pack plenty of water and drink it often. Texas summer heat is like not other; try to visit your outdoor adventures early in the morning.
  • Wear a backpack: By the time you shop at the Magnolia Market, buy souvenirs, bring snacks and water you’ll need something to carry all your stuff. Plus, you need your hands free to play football or cornhole games!

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Family, Surviving Chaos, Travel, When in

The Exotic Resort Zoo – Johnson City, Texas

If your looking for some family fun, something that is social distancing friendly and you happen to be in Texas, then check out the Exotic Resort Zoo! Located in Johnson City, Texas the Exotic Resort Zoo is the perfect getaway for the whole family. This is a full scale zoo with exotic animals and safari cabins available to rent. Before the pandemic, you could hop on any one of the numerous guided tours for a trip around the zoo. While on the tour, you can feed the animals and visit the petting zoo which is a ton of fun. Also, if you wanted to spend more time at the zoo, you can rent a cabin…..even during the pandemic! These cabins are a perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of the city with panoramic views of the Texas Hill Country. Each cabin can sleep 4-8 people and features basic kitchen appliances to a full kitchen depending on the cabin of your choice. These cabins are perfect for couples or the whole family.

Currently, the zoo has switched to a drive-through safari which is perfect for social distancing. You get to experience the zoo right from the comfort your car and still get the chance to feed the animals! First up on our drive-through safari was the petting zoo full of goats, fallow and axis deer. Although we couldn’t go inside, we were able to toss some feed to the animals which the kids loved! Following the petting zoo, we encountered all types of deer. From Sika to Axis to Fallow they were all eager to get some food right out of your hand. These guys definitely weren’t shy and came right up to car…talk about up close and personal! And of course they were accompanied by their friends the antelope and sheep.

Up next we entered the camel pen which was crazy! When you see a camel from far away you don’t truly understand the magnitude of how big they are. But once they get to your car and stick their WHOLE head and neck its a whole new perspective. And whats a camel without an llama or 2. These animals have no fear and enjoy every minute of their visitors.

My favorite part of the safari were the Zebras. They were absolutely beautiful and stunning and we spent the most time their feeding them. You definitely have to be careful with these guys because they bite! Be sure to drop the food on the ground so you can keep all your fingers. On our way out, we visit the Ostrich pen and encounter some Buffalo. To be honest, the ostrich and emu look very mean to me or maybe just angry….. These creatures are gentle giants but are very aggressive when it comes to food. Be prepared to keep your hand sanitizer handy or at least a towel because the buffalo loves to lick the food from your hand. Their tongues are long and EXTRA slimy, it was definitely a gross out moment for the kids.

The Exotic Resort Zoo is a perfect getaway for the whole family, especially now during these unprecedented times. If you plan on making the trip, here are some surviving chaos tips to make the trip smooth, stress free and fun:

  • Buy Ahead: Purchase tickets and at least 2 bags of feed BEFORE the day of your visit online. If your going on a holiday, buy your tickets at least a week in advance. This place sells out quickly.
  • Snacks: Be sure to pack some snacks and water for the road trip! Nothing worse than cranky kids stuck in a car.
  • Restrooms: Due to social distancing, the restrooms at the zoo are closed. Be sure to stop at the nearest gas station, about 4 miles north of the zoo, for your families pit stop.
  • Hand Sanitizer: Be sure to bring plenty of hand sanitizer and wipes since you will be feeding the animals. Their tongues are slimy so you’ll want to have clean hands when your finished.

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Food, Surviving Chaos

Tea Sandwiches: English Tradition

150-year old English tradition, afternoon tea is synonymous with England. What better way to complement your tea than with tea sandwiches. Tea sandwiches are a delicious snack that can be filled with all sorts of things – fresh veggies to fruit jams to fancy cheeses! No matter what you fill them with, these finger foods are always light and dainty and they won’t fill you up too much for dinner. Want more English culture, check out our London, England trip here.

Ingredients

  • 6 thin slices of your favorite bread
  • Cheddar-Apple Sandwich
    • 2 slices cheddar cheese
    • 1/4 apple, thinly sliced into rounds
    • 1 tablespoon (14 g) mayonnaise
  • Egg Sandwich
    • 2 hard-boiled eggs, roughly chopped
    • 1 tablespoon (14 g) mayonnaise
    • 1 1/2 tablespoons (8 g) mustard
    • salt and pepper to taste

Let’s Make It!

  • Cheddar-Apple Sandwich
    1. Spread mayonnaise onto two slices of bread
    2. Layer the cheddar and apple rounds on one slice of bread, then top with the other slice.
    3. Cut the crusts off of each sandwich, then slice them into thirds.
  • Egg Sandwich
    1. Mix chopped up eggs, mustard, mayonnaise, salt and pepper in a bowl.
    2. Spread the egg mixture onto two slices of bread, then put them together.
    3. Cut the crusts off of each sandwich, then slice them into thirds.

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