If you’ve traveling by plane, you know that your normal routine and carry-on items have definitely changed. The pandemic has made us rethink and re-envision how we travel so we put together some tips and tricks to help you navigate these changes. One thing that is being done differently is how to pack your carry-on, you can find an updated options here. At this point, we’ve decided to look into what snacks to bring. Which ones are TSA approved and which ones are not. This list will help you save money and breeze through security. Here’s a list of the some of items you can bring so you’ll be prepared for your next flight.
Dried Nuts and Fruit: With this option you can bring a little bit of everything – raisins, dried fruits, cashews, almonds and so much more. An organizing tray makes packing this snack a breeze! NOTE: Check with your airline carrier first on this one as you might be on a nut free flight. If so, you shouldn’t pack this snack.
Whole fruits: TSA only allows whole fruits through security so slice a whole apple before leaving. Use a rubber band to keep slices in place. Throw the apple and a to-go pack of peanut butter in a plastic bag.
Bread: TSA considers this a solid food item that can be placed in your carry-on. So break out that whole wheat or pita break for some quick nourishment.
Cereal: This is the perfect option when traveling with kids. Use Cheerios or Chex-Mix and put in a zip lock bag to keep your kids satisfied. There is nothing worse the HAN-angry kids upset at the airport.
Pretzels: Pretzels are super easy to pack (you can get individual bags at your grocer) in your carry-on.
Cheese: Solid cheese is a great addition to your snack pack and will help keep your full for longer. You can bring creamy cheese but limit it to less than 3.4 oz.
Surviving Chaos Hack: If your still unsure if you can bring your snack on the plan, you can take a picture of it and ask TSA on their Twitter and Facebook Messenger page.
Gougères (say goo-share) are delicious cheese snacks that puff up in the oven like magic. They are made with a special dough called pâta à choux (say “paat-ah-shoe”). Pâte means “paste” and choux means “cabbage”. French bakeries, called pâtisseries (say “paa-tees-air-ee”) use a similar dough to make cream puffs. This dough bakes into nice round shapes, like little heads of cabbage!
1 cup (128 g) flour
1/2 teaspoon (3 g) salt
1/2 cup (120 ml) milk
1/2 cup (120 ml) water
4 tablespoons (57 g) butter
4 eggs cracked into a bowl
1 cup (100 g) grated Swiss cheese
Let’s Make It!
Preheat over to 375 F (190 C) and spread parchment paper on a baking sheet. Using a fork, mix the flour and salt together in a large bowl.
In a medium-sized saucepan, heat the milk, water and butter and bring them to a boil.
Add all of the flour mixture to the saucepan, stirring it in with a wooden spoon. Reduce the heat to low and keep stirring until the dough forms a ball (about 1 minute)
Put the dough in the bowl. Now add all the eggs at once. Stir, stir, stir until the dough is pretty smooth.
Use a big whisk, if you have one, to break up the lumps.
Add all the cheese. Again, stir until the cheese is all mixed in.
Scoop 1/4 cups of dough and drop them on the parchment paper. Space the scoops a couple of inches apart.
The dough is sticky! Use a spoon to scrape the scoops onto the baking sheet.
Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the gougères puff up and turn golden brown.
As we get ready for Summer, I’m sure everyone has planned or are in the process of planning their vacations. After this past year, these are much needed vacations and I highly encourage you and your family to take one. While most people choose a hotel, there is a growing set of vacationers looking into vacation rental property. We have used vacation rental properties for over a decade and it definitely comes with its pros and cons. We have some really great ones and some horrible ones. We put a together a list of tips to help you choose a great vacation rental so your vacation will be smooth sailing.
Know What You Want: Before your book your vacation home, know what type of property you want. Do you need a lot of rooms? Do you want lots of amenities like washer and dryer or family board games? Do you need an ocean view, really? 5 minute walk or 10 minute drive to the beach? Pet friendly? Make a list and then do your research! Know your preferences and what makes you and your family most comfortable is key. If you don’t know your preferences, then your vacation property may disappoint. Also, be sure to know what is included in your vacation property such as shared beaches with other properties, kayaks, BBQ grill, etc.
A MISSING Picture Is Worth 1000 Words: If your like me, I like to look at ALL the pictures of a vacation property to get a good feel for place. Good property managers have lots of pictures in order to really sell you on their property. But what about the things that are not captured in pictures?? Vacation properties that don’t have pictures of all the rooms or pictures with the just the bathroom vanity should raise alarm. Pictures where only half of the kitchen or bedroom are shown or properties where there are no views of the beach even though it s a beach house rental are definitely a red flag. Also check reviewers pictures – if they don’t match the official sites pictures there may be a problem. This may be an indication that the owner is hiding something or the home is not as updated as they say. Trust me – we learned the hard way and were very disappointed with our not so updated 1970s yellow and green decor multiple property beach shared vacation home!
Not All Reviews Are Created Equal: Vacation properties with 5 stars reviews are great! But how many 5 star reviews is too good to be true? Too few 5 star reviews may give you pause and too many be sign that they may not be real. There is a sweet spot with reviews – there should be a good number of them with vacation properties that have been around for 1-2 years, but if there are more reviews than the number of times it has been rented be cautious. Be sure to read every review carefully especially ones within the past year. We I read a review, I look for topics about cleanliness, decor, amenities and if the reviewer would rent the property again. Also, if you see multiple reviewers complain about the same thing, be on alert! Reach out the property manager to see if these issues have been addressed or are currently being addressed. Good property managers will be honest and upfront about any issues…..and are very responsive to inquiries.
Cleaning Fees: Vacation rentals can be inexpensive based on what you are looking for. However, with the recent pandemic, we have all taken another look at how we clean our homes. This is especially true for vacation rentals. With the number of residents renting from all over the world, vacation rentals already had pretty good cleaning crews and schedules. But now those cleaning fees are much higher to due extra cleaning that needs to occur between renters. You will need to take this into account when budgeting for your vacation rental. Also, know what is expected from you in terms of cleaning. For example, the property owner may want you to start the dishwasher before you leave or put all the towels in the washing machine and start it. This helps both the cleaning crew and the property owner prepare for the next guest.
While these are not the only tips that can help you choose a vacation rental, we feel these are the most important ones that help us when decide to rent. Remember to make a list of preferences, do your homework, and read EVERYTHING! You’ll be glad you did!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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
The Museum of Fine Arts
Teo Chew Temple
Vietnam War Memorial
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!