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What Happens When A Small-Town Family Visits The "World's Largest"... Whatever!

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How to Find a Kid-Friendly Hotel

Occasionally, we diverge from the telling of BIG adventures to present family travel tips, based on our own experiences. We’ve suggested technology to facilitate travel, and great places to eat on the road beyond traditional restaurants. We’ve even warned you about road trip mistakes.

Omni Shoreham hotel This week, we offer our own suggestions on how to find a family friendly hotel, as well as ideas from other family bloggers.

Over spring break, our family stayed at the Omni Shoreham hotel in Washington, DC. This property, in my opinion, sets a gold standard for kid-friendly accommodations, so I’ll use it as an example in many of the following points.

When searching for a kid-friendly hotel, look for:

A welcoming attitude toward children

Hotels can be upscale, grand, and historic, and still be casual enough for kids. The Omni is a stately “grand dame” among hotels, and yet, we never felt self-conscious about bringing the kids through the lovely lobby. It helped that The Girl did not have any public meltdowns. (For a change.) Not only was the staff very friendly, they delivered milk and cookies for the kids during the turn-down service.

Pool(s) and open green space

When on the road, the pool is the first and foremost amenity my kids want in a hotel. Indoor, outdoor, any shape or size will do. Swim time means blowing off steam, or winding them down for bed, or just spending some time NOT in an expensive theme park. We were fortunate that our Omni stay coincided with the seasonal opening of its outdoor heated pool!

A lawn, garden, or ideally, a playground, is also a big plus.

Shoreham hotel

"I'm not getting off this hammock anytime soon, just FYI." At the Omni Shoreham.

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We Get Around

In our quest to indoctrinate the world with the “Go BIG” message (MWAH HA HA!), we have ventured off in a few different directions of late. For “Show and Tell” today, may we present:

appSmitten.com

The first exciting development we’d like to share with you is that Matt and I are the new – and only – travel app reviewers for appSmitten.com! This site hand-selects the best apps in several categories (food, kids, health, news, education, etc.), then sends you weekly or daily recommendations via email to help keep you organized, entertained, productive, etc.

Our first reviews describe the brand new app for the iPhone and iPad, the Travel Channel Layover Guide With Anthony Bourdain, and a handy Android app, Packing List. Stop by and check us out on appSmitten! (Disclaimer: we receive a small commission each time someone we refer to the site signs up to receive the e-mail service.)

Kelley’s Break Room

Kelley’s Break Room is a really funny humor blog I’ve been following for a while. I was tickled – and a bit like “who, me?” – that she considered me humorous enough to write a guest post last week! In my oh-so-compelling post, 5 Ways to Create a Family Vacation You Can Actually Afford, I offer some ideas to incorporate fun into cheap (sorry, “budget-friendly”) family travel. While bringing the funny. I hope I succeeded; what do you think?

The Azumano Travel Show

The Azumano Travel Show, a radio program on AM860 radio in Portland, OR, interviewed me last week about our strange compulsion to visit BIG roadside attractions! The best question they asked me: “If you could build a world’s largest, what would it be?” Hint: My answer involved food. Naturally.

You can listen to the five-minute program right on their website. Mom says I sounded “professional.”

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My 7 Links

Have you heard about the “7 Links” meme going around among travel bloggers? It’s a Tripbase project to share some of our previous posts, with the benefit of hindsight. If you’re new to Go BIG or Go Home, I’m about to highlight the seven posts you should read to get caught up on all this quirky insanity.

I was nominated by the lovely ladies at Road Trips for Families, who share my compulsion for quirky travel, with no qualms about forcing their kids to visit retro roadside attractions.

So, here I go:

Most beautiful post:

Montreal Botanic Garden

The Alpine Garden

There’s not much tear-jerky, emotional “beauty” going on here. I’m saving that for the moment I cast eyes on the world’s largest ball of twine…sigh. But in terms of physical beauty, it doesn’t get prettier than Montreal’s botanic garden. It’s the world’s second largest botanic garden, with many smaller themed gardens within. This post described the day we played explorer in the Alpine, Chinese, and Aquatic gardens, rode the tram, ate lunch al fresco, and enjoyed a low-fi visit on a perfectly sunny and cool day.

Most popular post:

When I look at this blog’s traffic, I always get a giggle when I see what posts are getting the most visits. That’s because two of the most popular posts are about the world’s largest toilet and world’s largest Rubik’s Cube. Both were guest posts, because I send my minions out for all the “choice” assignments. And I’m guessing the term “world’s largest toilet” is an “SEO” bonanza.

World's Largest Toilet

Because I know you want to see it again.

Most controversial post:

There was quite a heated exchange of comments following this guest post about the world’s largest candy store. This was also the first time an attraction scored a lowly “2” on our ten-point scale, where 1 equals “snoozefest,” and 10 equals “add to your bucket list.” Our guest reviewer Tom thought Daffin’s Candy Store was sorely lacking appeal, although he did give props to the taffy selection. Candy afficionados weighed in to defend this long-standing institution.

Most helpful post:

With our aforementioned scoring system, we try to steer you toward – or away from – each of the BIG places we visit, so you don’t waste your time. But this recent post went a step further, describing great, affordable places for families to eat on the road instead of traditional restaurants. We visited the world’s largest Wegmans supermarket, which has an amazingly extensive food bar and seating area. Other road warrior family bloggers offered their suggestions, as well.

A post whose success surprised me:

Second to the About Us page, the single page which gets the most traffic on this blog is about our short walk along the world’s longest continuous sidewalk, Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa, FL. I need a professional SEO analyst to tell me why this post, which appeared over a year ago, still attracts so much traffic. Any takers?

The source of most visits to this page is via Google, so I guess there are hundreds of people every month searching for info on the “world’s longest sidewalk?!” It wasn’t even that great a story. Our walk was cut short because 1) It was 210 degrees that day; and 2) The Girl got sunscreen in her eye, a drama which rendered her unable to stand upright on her own two feet.

A post which didn’t get the attention it deserved:

I would like more eyes to see these posts on the world’s largest collection of glass at the Corning Museum of Glass, and the world’s largest light bulb at the Thomas Edison Center. Because we’re not JUST about BIG toilets, ya know! These were visits to places with educational value, where my kids experienced “hands-on” science and history. And we have fun video clips on both posts, so there’s that!

The post I am most proud of:

I get nostalgic for historic sites which are still open to the public, keeping their story alive. The Mirror Lake Shuffleboard Club in St. Petersburg, FL is not only the world’s largest shuffleboard club, but also the nation’s oldest. We were fortunate to have a “behind-the-scenes” tour from the president of the club, which works to not only preserve it as a historic site, but also promote the sport. Shuffleboard Friday nights are now popular events for local families, who come for a night a wholesome fun. We learned to play shuffleboard the right way. I’m ready to go pro.

Recently, the city of St. Petersburg accepted bids from restaurants to come in and take over the 1923 Art Deco clubhouse. I would hate to see this charming spot taken over by a capital venture, especially when there’s no lack of restaurants in St. Pete! The locals have been vocally opposed, so hopefully there will be a positive resolution.

shuffleboard

So much fun...such a wonderful place.

The bloggers I’m nominating for the next round are equally enamored of offbeat road trips; some with kids in tow, some without. They’re all really groovy!

Tina at Ploho on the Road

Dana at Feasting on Americana

Carly at Bloggin’ America

Elizabeth at Livin’ to Drive

Tanya at Driving and Dining

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Top Five Family Road Trip Mistakes

Okay, the holidays are over, and it’s time to get back in the blogging saddle. The Go BIG or Go Home Road Trip (2010 Holiday Edition) is over, and we’re back into our routines. Routines which, sadly, include shoveling snow and administering Children’s Sudafed.

Home!

I did learn a few things from our 1,900-mile automotive journey from New York to Florida, and back again. Namely, that TSA patdowns must surely have gotten a bad rap, relative to sitting in a car for 24 hours with two kids.

We did not have a terrible experience on the road. We did not have a wonderful experience. We made errors in judgment regarding which routes would be faster, which prevented me from seeing the world’s largest peanut. I must carry the burden of that loss forever. So that you may never experience similar anguish, I must share with you our:

Top Five Family Road Trip Mistakes

1. Assume that it’s cheap to drive.

For the four of us, driving to FL was more affordable than flying during the holidays, when airfares skyrocket in line with demand. But while it was cheaper, it was not cheap. Our expenses for the four travel days, including gas, meals, and accommodations, totaled $903.42!

By the way…taking the train? Almost as expensive as flying!

2. Underestimate how long the drive will take.

Google Maps says it will take 10 hours from Point A to Point B. Your GPS unit says it will only take nine hours , 50 minutes. Don’t be fooled. It will take 12 hours. You will have to stop for gas and potty breaks, at the very least. You will want to stretch your legs, breathe fresh air, and untangle the two angry children wrestling in the back seat because one of them crossed the invisible center borderline.

3. Start out without hotel reservations.

This is one mistake we didn’t make, happily! You may consider leaving your overnight lodging up to chance, depending on how far you get. That’s risky when you’re traveling with kids, and want some assurance of a clean, safe place to stay. Also,  if bad weather forces people off the road, hotels may get overbooked. Find a hotel near where you think you’ll end up, make a reservation, and make note of their cancellation policy.

4. Eschew electronics.

If your family doesn’t own a T.V. , kudos.  On the road, you will need to plug the kids in eventually, or all of you will go crazy. (Yes, I am clairvoyant.) Part of the fun in travel is to have experiences they don’t get at home, so why not  entertainment too? PIXAR movies, in particular, appeal to children of all age groups, and keep the peace.

5. Set out with absolutely no idea where your next meal will be.

I-95

Enter to Win This!

This could lead to disaster if you have young children who get cranky when they’re hungry. We have some of those, and the snacks I packed didn’t always cut it. It was important to have some idea of where and when we were stopping for meals. While we were on I-95, this guidebook became an invaluable resource:  Drive I-95, by Stan Posner and Sandra Phillips-Posner.

I actually downloaded the PDF version to my laptop; how “eco”! On the first day of our return trip, it helped me avoid trouble when lunchtime was approaching, and I realized that we wouldn’t make it to the Applebee’s off Exit 6 in Georgia. My first clue was The Girl’s fervent demand, “When are we eating lunch?!” One look at the map, and we found a Wendy’s off Exit 373 in Florida. Close call, but nothing four chicken nuggets couldn’t help.

I find it remarkable that the authors have visited every single exit along I-95 from Maine to Miami! In addition to listing restaurants, they provide exit-by-exit info on lodging, gas stations, attractions close to the highway, campgrounds, mechanics, and much more.

And I’m happy to add that we have a copy to give away!! Because we all love Go BIG or Go Home giveaways, don’t we?

Want to enter? Just sign up to receive our e-mail notifications (see upper right hand corner). Alternatively, you can comment below and tell me which of the road trip mistakes listed above you’ve made, and what happened as a result. The juicier the story, the better!

A winner will be chosen randomly, and a winner will be notified next Tuesday (1/8/10). The winner will be asked to provide a mailing address within the U.S. or Canada.

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Go BIG or Go Home Road Trip; Day Two

December 27, 2010

It was a historic day in the city of Columbia, SC. The first Christmas snowfall. We drove into town and scratched our jaded New Yorker heads. It was merely a dusting; certainly not enough to stop everything in its tracks. But it did. The EdVenture Children’s Museum, our morning destination, had delayed its opening until noon, which put our road trip schedule behind.

We’re nothing if not flexible (snicker), so we took it in stride. We had to give up our plans to take I-75 through GA, however, and so I didn’t get to see the world’s largest peanut. It would have tacked on another 90 minutes to our travel time to Tampa, and that’s like asking…”Please, may I have two cranky kids in the back seat? Thank you!”

Next week, I’ll post a more complete description of “Eddie,” the world’s largest kid, who sits in the middle of the completely engaging and entertaining EdVenture Children’s Museum. This attraction was well worth adding to our itinerary; the kids loved every minute.

Childrens museum

"Eddie," the world's largest kid!

As it turned out, we should have taken I-75, because we got caught in a horrific traffic jam on I-95 through SC. We got back every penny we paid for “Nuvi,” our GPS unit, who found an alternate route along the kind of back roads which instantly bring to mind banjo melodies.

No matter how many times I’ve driven into the state of Florida, it always takes me by surprise when I realize I still have hours to go after crossing the state border. It’s such a LOOOOOONG state! I also half-expected the weather to turn instantly balmy, but no such luck. Temps were still in the 30′s. We arrived in Tampa three hours behind our anticipated time, exhausted but safe.

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The Go BIG Road Trip Itinerary!

So, we have an itinerary for the Go BIG or Go Home Road Trip Extravaganza next week.  Now we’re getting excited! Southbound, the plan is to take I-81 through VA, then I-77 and I-20 south through the Carolinas and into GA. Finally, we’ll catch I-75 to take us to Tampa. On the way back, I-4 to I-95. That route is more direct, but there seems to be less to see in terms of “world’s largest” sites within proximity of the highway.

It’s not an ambitious schedule by any means…did I mention The Girl is only three years old? There are just enough stops to get her out of the car (and out of my hair) once in a while.

My mapping method is very old school. Matt is embarrassed to his very core by this rudimentary system, so lacking is it of bits and bytes.

Map

I ♥ highlighters.

He started a shared Google map, and basically threatened not to do any of the driving if I didn’t enter our coordinates on it. Matt is Tech Boy. Have you seen his post listing all the travel tech gear we bring on trips? Would it surprise you to learn he was the President of the A/V club in high school?

Mapping method 2.0:

Look how I did a "screen grab," oh yeah, uh-huh!


Honey: Screen Shots are not 2.0 – Matt

So, here’s the list of places we plan / hope to see along the way. Stay tuned here, or on Facebook or Twitter to follow our progress!

December 26

Giant Benjamin Moore Paint Can, Shippensburg, PA

Giant Coke Bottle, Hagerstown, MD

World’s Largest Apple, Winchester, VA

Overnight in Jonesville, North Carolina

December 27

World’s Biggest Kid – Edventure Museum (also the south’s largest children’s museum), Columbia, SC

World’s Largest Peanut Monument, Ashburn, GA

December 29

World’s Largest Shuffleboard Club, St. Petersburg, FL

December 30

World’s Largest Speed Boat, Clearwater, FL

January 1

Giant 7-Up can,  Jacksonville, FL

South of the Border and the new Reptile Lagoon (the largest indoor reptile exhibit in the U.S.), SC

Overnight in Rocky Mount, NC

January 2

HOME to world’s most comfortable beds…our own!

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Vote for Go BIG or Go Home!

Just when you thought you were done voting this week…

Christopher Elliott is a veteran travel journalist and consumer advocate. His site, Elliott.org, is one of the most popular travel blogs in the world. He’s working on his annual list of top travel blogs, and has included a write-in category (!!!).

Won’t you please spend just a moment voting for Go BIG or Go Home as a write-in candidate?

As long shots go, this may be the “world’s longest.” However, the strategy seems to be working for Senator Lisa Murkowski in Alaska!

I’ll make it easy for you.  Just go here:

http://www.elliott.org/blog/please-vote-for-your-favorite-travel-blog-of-2010/

and copy and paste this in the “Your write-in candidate” field:

Go BIG or Go Home Travel Blog (http://GoBIGorGoHomeBlog.com)

As a fledgling blogger just trying to get noticed…I truly thank you. And I promise, no annoying election “robo-calls” while you’re eating dinner.

Hot Day Long Walk

Remember the World's Longest Continuous Sidewalk?

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“Go BIG” Geek Gear! Tips for Taking “Tech” on the Road

TRACI — Ladies; the following post is a cautionary tale about what happens when you marry the former President of the high school A/V Club.  These days, you can find my husband Matt trolling the aisles of Best Buy on a Saturday night, ogling cell phone accessories.  Apparently, yesterday was “Embrace Your Inner Geek Day.” And so Matt popped open the champagne and polished this blog post about the toys we take on our “Go BIG” trips…

 

MATT — So whenever we take a trip, I am tapped as the family Chief Technology Officer (CTO) to ensure that we are digitally prepared for our journey. Here’s what we bring and some tips for packing lightly but providing maximum technology…

Technology for travel

If the lights dim in your hotel room, it's probably because we're drawing power from the room next door.

Navigation & Communication:

  • Garmin Nüvi 1250 (aptly named and affectionately known by the family as “nüvi” – for directions & traffic)
      TIP: Make sure you have all the addresses for each of the locations pre-loaded, pre-printed or send an e-mail to yourself with that information and put it on your smartphone. The GPS is only as good as the address or coordinates, so know where you are going

(before you leave)

    . All of this makes for less bickering, trust me.
  • Motorola Droid + charging cable (USB cable + AC Adapter/Charger)
    Backup navigation via the Android phone:

  • Pink Blackberry 8350 Curve (Traci affectionately refers to her as “Pinkberry”) + Car charging cable
  • Red Dell Mini 9 (named “Ruby”, of course) + Laptop AC Adapter + matching Red Dell Bluetooth Travel mouse (for social media & blogging purposes)
  • MyPlace Cozy personal workstation with built-in cushion (for working on the laptop on the road) + lightweight, thin, gel mouse pad
  • Read the rest of this entry »

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    Mom Misses Minivan!

    Today is “Photo Friday,” a term you hear a lot in the blogosphere which sometimes translates into “I didn’t have time to write a real post; will this do?”

    So here’s the (short) story of how a “suburban soccer mom” moved on past her minivan days, and now lives a life of regret (sort of).

    I turned 40 recently, and vowed to get rid of the minivan. It was doing a disservice to my street cred. So we traded in our reliable yet aging Honda Odyssey for a sporty Mazda CX-9, and now I… sniff…miss it!

    Honda OdysseyWe never named our 2002 Honda Odyssey, but she served us well.  150,000 miles, and lots of sweet memories of road trips, drive-in movies, and bringing The Girl home from the hospital!

    Kids in minivanOne of my all-time favorite pics of the kids, while on our way to swim at North Beach in Burlington, VT. Both of them happy…at the same time!

    Mazda CX-9So here’s the new sporty roadster, also unnamed. I do look good in this car, and it drives like a dream; I just miss the roominess of the minivan! p.s. This is a stock photo; I do not live near an abandoned warehouse.

     Have you ever become emotionally attached to a car, or missed one after you’ve moved on to a new one?

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    This family travel blog won’t work! Or will it?

    BowlingPin

    World's Largest Bowling Pin, Tampa, FL

    Says The Boy: “We’re going to see a 30-foot WHAT?!”

    Me, responding: “Come on, indulge your old mom. I…won’t be around forever, you know…sniff.”

    Some call it “guilt.” We Italians call it “love.”

    Reasons why we are unlikely characters for a family travel blog:

    Well, for one, we don’t travel that often.  Because…

    …we are in possession of a three-year old daughter prone to public meltdowns with a haughty suspicion for any food that doesn’t start with “Mc…”

    …the man of the house hates getting lost.  He has an unnatural affection for — and reliance on — our GPS unit.

    …there aren’t always the funds, or the time, to get away.  The kids’ activities have us scheduled to the very nanosecond.

    So, here’s where you WON’T find the four of us: zip lining in the Costa Rican rainforest; snacking on toasted crickets in Thailand; or snowboarding down Mount Kilimanjaro.  If that’s the kind of blog you enjoy reading, sorry!  More likely, we’ll be riding in the family roadster, playing “I Spy” during a day trip through our Hudson Valley backyard.

    It’s a “back-to-basics” approach to travel, and it works for us!

    Reasons why we could actually make this blog work:

    We finally got the kids their passports.  Anyone who has tried keeping their pre-schooler still long enough to get that photo taken knows…fun times.

    Rome

    With my brother in Rome, 1977

    I’ve travelled since I was seven, so it’s in my blood.  More about that in “The Prequel.”

    I’ve passed the restless “I wanna see the world” traveling gene on to my 10-year old son, who keeps track of where he’s been with push pins in a map.  Wherever he goes, our daughter is willing to tag along.  Plus, for some unknown reason she calls a hotel a “soyal,” which kills me every time I hear it.

    My husband is a great sport who’s okay with doing most of the driving.  So long as he can stop for Dunkin Donuts coffee every few hours.  The Girl can place his order by heart: “extra large, french vanilla, milk and sugar.”

    Travel provides riches in experiences and education, which I desperately want for my kids.  It’s my job to expand their view of the world, encourage their curiosity, and broaden their perspective.  And I’ve only got three more years to do so before my son becomes a surly, uncooperative teenager. Borrowed time.

    Vermont

    Jeffersonville, VT, 2009

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