How to plan the best family vacation

How to plan the best family vacation

As I have mentioned on the blog before, I love traveling with my family. It’s not always easy (I would not call 24 hours of driving in a car with small kids “easy” by any means), but the results are so worth it. If you’re itching to go somewhere with the remaining summer weeks ahead, here are a few things you might want to keep in mind. 

1. Decide what kind of vacation you want- what are you hoping to gain from your vacation?

This is an important consideration especially if you have limited time to take off work. Do you want the vacation to be restful? Active? Educational? Spiritual? Combo platter of a few of the above? Think about how you want to feel at the end of it, and what you want to get out of the time. In a recent podcast, Michael Hyatt expands further on this notion along with other great ways to vacation like a pro.  

For example- if you are looking for a restful vacation, Disneyland might not be the best option. However, Disneyland with the kids, coupled with a few days at the end where mom and dad go and do something restful just the two of them, might be an amazing combo. My husband and I were recently invited to stay at Viamede resort and if you are looking for a restful retreat from busy parenting life- that is a great place to do it. 

My husband and I are kinda nerdy about history and what not so we love taking our kids to local museums or war memorials when we travel. And as devout Catholics we sometimes plan a vacation around a religious shrine or landmark. 

My point is, when you have a sense of what you want to get out of the vacation, whether it be rest, education, crazy active excitement or spiritual growth, everyone will be happier having some kind of expectation of what they will gain from it. 


2. Commit to a budget

Elaborate vacations can be really costly, especially when you have a bunch of kids like me. For this reason we drive to our vacation spots (link to July 11 blog post). 

Family fun does not need to be crazy costly- but a trip is an investment. Here are a few things to ask yourself to help determine the cost:

– will we drive or fly?

– if we fly do we need to rent a car, and / or car seats? Or can we stay somewhere like a resort or villa that does not require us to drive? 

– do we want to cook our own meals, or stay somewhere meals are included? 

– is there a local babysitting service that we can hire a sitter for so mom and dad can get a break while we are down there, and / or is there a kids program available?

– can we stay in simple accommodations or do we desire something more fancy? 

My parents blessed my sister and I with lots of opportunities to travel as a family- I am so grateful to them for that. But in truth, it really did not matter what we were doing- whether it was a simple camping trip or a cruise in Europe- as cliche as it sounds as a child what I remember most was the time spent together.   


3. Are you more into a planned for you vacation, or a plan your own vacation?

I find people fall into two camps- a “planned for you vacation” like a resort or cruise where for the most part things are taken care of for you- meals, hotel space, shuttles if applicable, kids programming, etc. 

And then there’s the camp that wants to plan things on their own- like visit a big city full of tourist attractions, book their own hotel or rent something on air b &b, figure out their own local meals or cook for themselves, and / or explore off the beaten path. 

Both are super fun options with kids. Both I would say have their own sets of pros and cons. I would take into account how various members of your family handle change, stress, the unknown, and how flexible people are to determine what might fit you best at the various seasons of your family’s life. 


4. Ask friends for insider secrets 

If you are planning on going somewhere really well known (like Disneyland for example), definitely poll people who are frequent flyers of these locations because they will have the inside scoop to make the most out of the experience (and possibly save you money). 

I find people are so willing to share the good and bad about their experience at a local establishment- I love mom groups on Facebook for this reason as I know I am getting unbiased honest accounts! 

So ask around, ask online- and take advantage of the experience of others. 

Those are my top tips for planning a great family holiday- I would love to know yours in the comments below. 

Also, if you’d prefer to watch me talk about these tips on YouTube, click on over below!


And for more tips on how to how to have kids and stay sane, leave your email for my tips direct in your inbox! 


Five Strategies That Really Work:

4 podcasts that will change your life

4 podcasts that will change your life

My work takes me all kinds of places- which means I spend a lot of time in my car. While I love singing along to some Bruno or some Taylor when it comes on the radio, I honestly spend most my time in the car listening to podcasts or books on tape. 

If the summer is bringing you on some long road trips or you just want something new to listen to while you are on the dock or hiking in the woods, here are few podcasts that have transformed my life- and I think will change yours too.


1. This Is Your Life by Michael Hyatt

I have listened to Michael Hyatt's content for several years now and his content really has had a huge impact on my life and my approach to work. I have shared how his conference impacted me,  and why you should read his book. I think you'd like his podcast too.

Who is it for: Anyone who wants to live life with great intention, anyone who wants to succeed at work and at home, business owners and platform builders.

Why you'll love it: It's a weekly does of positivity, productivity and poise. I know when I listen to it I will always be uplifted and inspired. 


2. The Smart Passive Income Blog by Pat Flynn

I was introduced to Pat Flynn at Michael's Hyatt conference (see above) and I was so blown away by his tenacity and success. He is a young dad of 2 who figured out how to leverage the internet to help people in the most effective way possible- both for the end user and for his income stream. 

Who it is for: Anyone who wants to monetize their platform using the internet, anyone who wants encouragement to take bold steps both online and off.

Why you'll love it: Even if you don't run a business, I think people can benefit from how big and bold Pat Flynn thinks. He tells real success stories of ordinary people who had great ideas and were courageous enough to take one step and then another to make their dream a reality. 


3. Storybrand by Donald Miller

Donald Miller is the author of Scary Close (read my friend Sarah's great review of his book and then pick it up and read it) and he coaches business owners and marketers on how to best put the customer at the center of their marketing. He has just released a podcast which is pretty darn amazing.

Who it is for: I would say business owners and marketers will benefit most from his podcast, but anyone who hustles towards big goals in life I think would love it too.

Why you'll love it: The interviews with his guests are just so many nuggets of valuable, instantly applicable information to help you move the needle in wherever you need to go. I particularly loved the interview by Clair Diaz-Ortiz on how to plan your life and Scott Hamilton's interview on how he constantly strived for better. 


4. The 5AM Miracle by Jeff Sanders

I have written in the past why I value getting up early- even with little kids at home. So when I came across this blog recently I knew it was going to resonate.

Who it is for: Anyone who wants to up their productivity game and increase their impact on their family, their work and the world. 

Why you'll love it: I am just diving into this podcast but so far I love Jeff's positive approach to life in general. His approach to productivity is practical and pragmatic and it's hard not be inspired by his positive attitude. 

I would love to know your favourite podcast in the comments below. And you'd rather watch me talk about my favourite podcasts, catch my YouTube video here:

And for more tips on balance and productivity, I share my own take on running a business with 5 small kids at home in my PDF download How to balance work & family: My 5 step approach.

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My Five Step Approach:


Super Easy Ways to Make Family Road Trips Amazing

Super Easy Ways to Make Family Road Trips Amazing

I love to travel- and when I became a parent a part of me thought my traveling days were done. How do you pack for a baby? What if you forget something at home? Forget one baby, how on earth will I manage traveling with multiple babies?!?! Fast forward 7 years and 5 children later and happy to report that travel is a passion we have now been able to enjoy as a family. While we have not taken a flight longer than 4 hours with more than 2 kids, we have done the epic trek across the US to the wonderful state of Florida by car. Yup- 5 kids, in a minivan, cooped up for a really REALLY long time. It is as adventurous (and crazy) as it sounds.

Experience has shown me that with a happy attitude, some strategic planning and an ability to be flexible and roll with things as they come, road trips can be amazing and fun and great binding experiences. Here are some super easy ways to make your next road trip amazing. 

1. Pack individual toiletries bags per family member

Florida is like 24 hours away by car without any stops- add we have done it in this time driving through the night with out kids if you can believe it! Not an easy feat, so especially where multiple family members are concerned, I find it easier to pack an individual toiletries bag per family member (as opposed to putting them all in a single big bag that mom takes care of). I take a large, clear resealable freezer bag, and each child gets their toothbrush, travel toothpaste, one pair of pj's, a face towel, and diapers for kids who need it. The bag gets labelled with their name and gets placed in the pocket of the seat in front of them. Anytime we go to a rest stop or hotel, the child is responsible for their own bag- and it's one less thing for mom to worry about (hopefully). 

2. Pack individual activity bags per child

For the moments of "are we there yet?" and "mom, I'm bored" give your little people a sense of independence by encouraging them to look through their activity bag for their own treat. Favourite things to include are crayons, etch-a-sketch type drawing pads, and magnetic puzzles. For older kids, a scavenger hunt type book that they can fill in and record on their journey is a fun activity. 

3. Give wrapped gifts every few hours

My girlfriend Erika Veh gave this idea to me and I think it is brilliant. Basically go to the dollar store and buy a bunch of novelty items- toys, small games, snacks, etc. and wrap a bunch of small items in gift wrap for each child. Every few hours (or every hour if you're desperate!) bring out the gift wrapped presents and watch your children get excited by the mystery and surprise that each gift brings! I'm wrapping up things like granola bars, novelty candy, small board books, craft kits, silly novelty sunglasses and the like. Basically it's just a way to keep things interesting and fun- who doesn't love a little wrapped gift. 

4. Pack soap and a spray bottle and paper towel

Our first trip to Florida was last year and unfortunately, one of our little people got  sick on the way down. He basically threw up into a small bucket in his lap and we would pull over and stop to dump it out when it happened. What I didn't account for was the smell that would linger in the bucket as a result of no soap. So trust me when I say, soap and water in a spray bottle will be your best friend in cleaning up messy spills are you travel.

5. Bring your favourite essential oils

I am not an expert in them, but essential oils are pretty awesome. When you are in a car feeling grimy and gross, without a shower for long periods or simply just need a pick me up, there is an essential oil for you. They come in small vials and I love using peppermint on my temples and back of my neck when I want to feel more alert, and lavender at night time to signal my body it is time to sleep. You can also use essential oils to help with stomach problems, headaches, cuts and rashes and as a perfume. I find that they instantly elevate my mood- and when you are enclosed in a small space for so long, this can be so helpful.

What tips do you have to make travel with your family easier? I would love to know in the comments below.

If you'd prefer to watch me talk about these tips on my new YouTube channel click below! 




Five Strategies That Really Work:

How to plan your outdoor renovation like a pro

How to plan your outdoor renovation like a pro

My backyard! It is done! And I cannot wait to share the full reveal with you right here. 

I approached my backyard in a similar way to how I design my interiors- with strategic and practical solutions customized to my family's unique values and lifestyle. 

And I am so so thrilled with the results. And today I am letting you in on my design process so you too can tackle your renovation like a pro. Here are some really important questions to consider when planning an outdoor renovation. 




1. Determine your entertaining zones

Very similar to how I would plan any interior space, think about the "zones" or activities you want in your backyard. For example, do you want a place for lounging, eating, kids to do crafts, kids to play sports, space to prep meals, a pool, etc? Figure out your priorities and then divide your space accordingly. My backyard is really small (30' x 50') so I don't have a ton of room to utilize so we kept the layout fairly simple-  a 20' x 25' area for lounging, a 10' x 10' area for eating, and the remaining space for kids to play. 

We used black pavers to delineate the areas in a border with light grey pavers for contrast. If you have seen some of my other projects, you will observe I love a patterned floor- and the border gives just enough detail for me keeping in mind the minimal aesthetic I was going for. 



2. Determine your budget

When I meet with people for 2-hour interior design consultations and I ask what their budget is, I often get blank stares. But when I press them and ask if they have $50,000 for example to spend, it often reveals a concrete budget number.

Set an actual budget- because unlike interior design, I would say there is less variety in cost of materials in outdoor goods. Meaning, with a chair for example, you can search long and hard and find something you like that also might fit your desired budget. For outdoor materials, I would say you are simply more limited. So one must be even more strategic in spending their budget wisely. 

For my 30' x 50' backyard I was quoted as high as $100,000 dollars for my entire backyard and fence (eep!) and then as low as $15,000 for a very basic clean up. We landed around $30,000 in the end for complete excavation, new pressure treated lumber fence (cost saving option), black mulch, modern pavers (moderate option) and then all the fun decorative stuff (a mix of high and low- see full source guide at the end of this post).

Bottom line, whether your budget is $10k or $100k, actually set a budget because it will really determine the kinds of materials you can use and the professional services you can work with.  



3. Determine how high maintenance you want the space to be

I kill a lot of plants involuntarily- and my children are serious rough and tumble small people- so I knew that I wanted a basically maintenance free backyard. 

So we put in artificial grass, selected plants that will be really hearty and require little sun / water to survive, and really focused on using contrast of materials to define areas and create visual interest. 

So whether you love to garden or don't know your weeds from your flowers, pick materials that will serve your family best. If you want to mow your lawn in a really low maintenance way, check out this Automower by Husqvarna!



4. Create a colour scheme

The same way I always allow a pillow, drapery fabric, or piece of art work inform my colour palette in my interior work- do the same for the exterior. In my case, I wanted the space to read very minimal- so we kept all the materials very neutral and cooler in tone. And then with my accessories (all extremely affordable pieces from Walmart) we stayed with a palette of navy, teal and lime green, in keeping with some of the textiles and fun dish ware. The pop of colour against an otherwise neutral background is pop and youthful. Ensure you repeat a colour multiple times for the most cohesive look.



5. Consider integrating technology 

The final thing to consider to really look like a pro is technology. There are so many options for integrating sound into your backyard- but don't let sound be the only thing you consider. Consider bringing in wifi to make the space your outdoor office, a projector to turn any evening into a movie night, and where space allows a television integrated into a built in covered unit for real wow-factor. And regardless, make sure you run power back there so you can plug in an outdoor air cooler- cause how awesome is that for your guests!

I am so thrilled with the outcome of my backyard and so happy to share it with you! A massive word of thanks to the team at Heartscapes Landscaping who worked very hard (and were very accommodating to my picky interior design-y detail oriented requests) and to the brands who partnered with me by providing products that my family are thoroughly enjoying.



Source guide: 


Loveseat, arm chairs, coffee table, lanterns, decorative pillows, bar cart, blankets, towels, green planters, umbrella, carpet for picnic, outdoor cups, plates, platters- Walmart

Genesis gas grill- Weber

Outdoor air cooler- Honeywell

Custom outdoor table- One One Eleven Designs

Artificial grass- The Home Depot 

Black pergola- Lowe's

Photos by Larry Arnal.



If you liked these design tips and need some more, I invite you to download my Top 10 Interior Design Faux Pas- and how to avoid them.