School's almost over for the year which means the summer holidays are here and plans need to be finalized. This month on Green Moms Collective, we're talking all things travel including how to have a great staycation, places to visit in Canada, and tips for road trips and day camp!
To help us plan our best summer vacay, we've invited Andrea, a lifestyle and travel blogger to be our June guest expert. For years, I've turned to Andrea's site, Mommy Gearest, to read her honest reviews on kids gear and now I look to her for information on the best places to travel with kids. Read on to get to know more about Andrea and steal her summer travel recommendations. I was pleasantly surprised to learn why travelling to an island isn't necessarily reserved for the winter months.
Later this month, Andrea will share more travel tips-stay tuned!
Interview with Canadian Travel Blogger, Andrea
Coffee, Tea, Water, or Green Smoothie? How do you start your day?
If I’m in my healthy zone, I love a Garden of Life smoothie first thing. The chocolate and Marley coffee RAW Meal or RAW Fit flavours are amazing with a banana and handful of organic spinach. Sometimes I also toss in a teaspoon of matcha green tea powder. But if I’m overwhelmed by life, and I’m not taking care of myself, it’s coffee with cream and Xyla.
Tell us about yourself, and your work as a travel blogger.
I’m married to arguably the best guy ever and we’ve got two kids — Miss Q is 5.5 and The K Man is eight this month. I don’t use their real names publicly because they didn’t necessarily sign up for all of this and they deserve a shred of privacy.
By day, I work part-time for a big PR firm. In the 10 years I’ve been there, I’ve worked with some incredibly interesting clients as well as on our business development side of things. But in January, I took on an internal communications role, which is new and challenging.
I’m a big city girl at heart who now lives semi-rural. I love it most days and we escape to the city frequently to satisfy our foodie needs. Because one can only eat at so many chain restaurants…
I started my site four years ago, and I tend to refer to myself these days as a lifestyle blogger because I cover everything from makeup and skin-care products to packaged goods and restaurants. I’ve remained close to the core of Mommy Gearest’s origins (baby and kid gear), because it’s still a category that I know parents need help navigating; but travel is my passion and has become a huge focus on my site. Luckily, my audience has grown with me over the years and seems to accept that I do a little of this and a little of that.
When it comes to travel, it’s a big part of what makes me ME; in my early 20s, I spent three years working and travelling between Europe and Asia — mostly solo. My husband also has the travel bug, and our kids have been infected, too. So writing about travel is a natural extension of myself and my site, and I always share travel posts with the intention that it’ll help people make smart purchasing decisions.
With the low Canadian dollar, more families may be choosing to vacation in Canada this summer. What are your top recommendations for a summer holiday?
I hope more Canadians want to explore their own backyard, because it’s a great, big, awesome one! I confess that I’ve seen less of Canada than I’d like and we’re also working as a family to spend more time travelling closer to home, but from my experience, here’s what I’d recommend:
Whistler, Vancouver and Victoria, B.C.: If you’re not from a mountainous province, there’s nothing like seeing the coastal mountain range. It is, in a word, spectacular. Take a gondola ride from Whistler’s village to the top of the mountain in the summer so you can stand in what’s left of the snow in shorts and sandals. Walk around Vancouver’s seawall or stroll through Granville Island. Then take the ferry to Victoria, which in and of itself is a great family adventure, for more stunning scenery that your kids will never forget.
I hope more Canadians want to explore their own backyard, because it’s a great, big, awesome one!
Southern Ontario is packed with road trip-worthy jaunts that you could do in just a couple of days if you only have a weekend or so. One of our favourite spots to date is Horseshoe Resort near Barrie; and if you have younger kids, this place has to be on your must-visit list. The Stratford Festival usually has at least one kid-friendly production each summer and my kids still talk about the one they saw a couple of years ago — Alice Through the Looking Glass. Stratford is a gorgeous city where foodies rejoice (just tell your kids there’s a “chocolate trail” and you’ll have them begging to go). Ottawa is still one of the cities I most often recommend to families, too, because there’s just so much to do no matter how old your kids are or what they’re into.
Regardless of the season, Mont-Tremblant will dazzle you. I call it my “happy place” because every time I visit, it feels like I’ve been transplanted to an entirely different country — one made of quaint gingerbread-style houses, awash with more to do than you’ll have time for in just one trip. My winter tips will help you stretch your dollar as much as possible, and keep an eye on my site this summer for new tips of the warmer variety!
There are a few drops of rain this morning but in my mind I still see yesterday… #paradise #paradisefound @sunwingvacations #kidcation #kidcations #SunwingMode #islandlife #FamilyTravelCA #travelblogger #tourism #travel #travels #familytravel #resort #resortlife #canadianblogger #nature #beach #beachlife #beachculture #landscape #oceanview #palmtrees #palapa #caribbean #PuntaCana #dominicanrepublic #iberostar #iberostarbavaro
Don’t forget, though, that summer travel to the Caribbean — when booked with a Canadian travel company like Sunwing Vacations, for whom I’m a member of the Kidcations Expert Panel — means that your travel is still in Canadian dollars! All-inclusive resorts are a great way to escape and summer travel down south is fantastic. There are fewer crowds, and when you’re oceanside, the breeze will keep you much more comfortable than you’ll be here at home in the humidity of July and August. Someone’s still cooking and cleaning for you — it’s every bit as much of a vacation as it would be in winter. And keep in mind that a week in the Caribbean can be just as economical as a week at a Canadian resort, once you factor in all of your food and activities.
We’ve seen a glimpse into your travels on IG. How do you know that a destination will be the right fit for your family?
I do a lot of research. I read reviews like crazy (hint: always keep in mind that there will be bad apples in every bunch but if three-quarters of the reviewers make the same comment, it’s probably true). And then we cross our fingers and hope for the best. We’ve learned that, for us, access to great food and optimal sleeping arrangements are a priority; so we look for places that either offer a lot of variety onsite or within walking distance, and we won’t even consider accommodations that don’t have king-sized beds and something separate for the kids. My husband is bigger than a linebacker, and my kids are jugular-kickers in the night, and sleep is extremely important for my sanity.
Once we have those nailed, I look for activities and facilities that I know my kids love — like archery, circus arts, a waterpark, pools with a big shallow end — that dovetail with the things I want on vacation, such as a long, clean beach. Or if we aren’t beach-bound, we like a mix of thrill-packed action alongside educational, historical tours that aren’t too long and give the kids some hands-on experiences so they stay interested.
I also take travel time into consideration. At this age, my kids max out at around the six-hour mark. So we need to drive or fly inside of that six-hour window so no one loses their marbles.
Is there a place you and your family keep going back to? What makes the place so inviting?
In Canada, it’s Tremblant. Next month will mark our fourth visit since December 2015. It’s one of those places that you can go to over and over and still discover new activities, restaurants and hotels. From where we live, it’s a five-hour drive so it’s a great road trip that’s easy to do with little kids.
Beyond our borders, we’ve been to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic several times. It always feels safe, the weather is usually fantastic, beaches are covered in pristine powder and resorts tend to be a little higher end without too much sticker shock. Punta Cana is about 4.5 hours by plane from Toronto, so if we can score an early morning flight, we’re in our swimmers and on the beach by mid-afternoon. If we want to play in the water all day, we can; if we want to go on a tour, there are dozens from which to choose. It’s a family vacation paradise.
What is your most memorable experience from your travels across Canada?
I know I’ve mentioned Tremblant three times now, but that’s how special it’s become to my family. This past winter, we decided to embrace the snow instead of fighting it as we do every year, and each of us took up skiing. We were all total newbies, so we found ourselves learning side by side — not often something you can do with your kids. We each had our share of falls, bumps and frustrations but it was pretty powerful to work through it together. Tremblant gave us an activity we could do as a family, and we ended up skiing at Mont-Tremblant and across Ontario nearly every weekend all winter.
Atop @monttremblant looking out into #nature's idea of #winter perfection. #nofilter #tremblant #FamilyTravelCA #flyporter #skiing #skibunny #travel #travels #resort #luxury #luxuryresort #familytravel #luxurytravel #trees #mountains #mountainside #landscape #view
A photo posted by Andrea (@mommygearest) on
You and your husband went on trip halfway across the world without your kids! I couldn’t help but follow your photos (and outfits) on IG.
How did you manage the mom guilt? Is this something you’d recommend to all parents? How did you make it possible?
I have to preface this with the fact that until last year, we’d only left our kids overnight to go away together. We’d each been away for a few nights alone or with friends, leaving our kids in the other’s care — but together for only a single night. And infrequently at that.
But when my cousin announced she was getting married in The Philippines, we both wanted to go. We’d missed her sister’s wedding the year before because I was still nursing Miss Q. The thing is, you can’t go halfway around the world and stay only a few days. Not only does it wreak havoc on your body but it’s also just not smart financially. After all, for travel within most Asian countries, the flight is the only major cost involved. In Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and The Philippines, you can live very well on very little. But you have to get there! We had to fly through Hong Kong so we decided to spend a few days there as well, making our total time away 17 days.
I knew our kids wouldn’t handle the long journey well, nor did we want to pull them out of school for such a long stretch. I respect their limits, and even just the 15-hour flight to Hong Kong would have been asking too much.
We’d never left them for more than a night and now we were going for 17 days! It was both nerve-wracking and exciting. Guilt seeped in from time to time, but we spent months planning everything so I had a long time to work through it. I chanted the same thing to myself that I used to do before going somewhere new without knowing a soul at my destination: “Just get on the plane. Just get on the plane.”
Fortunately, I have retired parents who are the most incredible caregivers imaginable and encouraged us to go. They moved into our house so our kids’ routines weren’t disrupted. I never would have gone if my parents had even slightly hesitated or needed the kids to be uprooted for so long. Having capable, competent and loving care is essential for any parents thinking of getting away without their kids. You don’t want to spend all your time away wondering if they’re in good hands.
You deserve me-time. You’re everything to your family, so you probably put yourself last most days, and it’s OK to take time away to recharge. It’s important to get away and do your own thing. But you can’t do it until you feel ready, or you won’t have a good time. Start with a short getaway and see how it goes. Go away without your partner for several days and check your guilt meter at the door. You’ve earned it.
Is there a quote you live by?
It’s not a quote so much as a motto: the worst anyone will ever tell you is “no.” (And is that really so bad?) Ask for what you want. The universe has a funny way of handing it to you.
What’s currently on your nightstand?
An embarrassing number of things for such a small nightstand:
- A pair of spare eyeglasses
- The Apple TV remote
- Nail clippers
- Eco Kid Daily Tonic (a leave-in conditioner I use on everyone to help prevent lice from ever coming back into our lives)
- A bottle of Shikai Dry Skin Therapy (mostly aloe vera gel, safflower seed oil, jojoba seed oil, borage seed oil and shea butter). This winter was soooooooooo long and we were outside skiing so much that my skin took a beating. I need moisturizer daily right now
- Eco Chic diaper cream, which I still use on my kids even though they’re long out of diapers!
- A nearly empty bottle of Nature’s Aid (my go-to rescue gel for bruises, cuts, rashes, bug bites, sore muscles — you name it)
- A half-eaten bar of Giddy YoYo wild Ecuadorian raw organic cacao in the Mint Hundo flavour. This is hard-core dark chocolate and extremely bitter, and best paired with hot chamomile tea. It’s not my favourite bar in the mix (the orange is to die for) but I eat this one at a much slower rate. Half a bar has only two grams of sugar!
And finally, a must-read book I just finished called Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness, by Susannah Cahalan