Your Must-Have Travel Binder


So, this probably doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone, but I love lists. I love writing lists, crossing things off lists, and adding silly things to my lists just so I can cross more things off.

One of my favorite things about traveling is all the anticipation and prep work. I love planning and organizing trips. We do our fair share of traveling as a family, usually 3 to 4 trips a year, so I have this down to a science. Meet the Travel Binder!

I get a three hole pronged folder (it has to be flexible enough to carry wherever you go), and add these things to it:

1. Basic Itinerary
We don’t like to be locked into anything on any specific day, but we do like to have a basic idea of how each day is going to unfold. There’s nothing more aggravating than wasting half a day trying to figure out what you’re going to be doing that day. Remember, this doesn’t have to be set in stone. You can add or subtract or switch days. It’s less of a schedule and more a way to organize your “must-dos” and “must sees” along with any important information (such as dinner reservations, special events, etc.) For example, if I know the kids want to go swimming at the hotel pool every morning after breakfast, I’ll put “Breakfast at hotel, swim at hotel pool, afternoon TBD.” It gives an outline without giving a schedule.

2. Want-to-Try Restaurants
Thanks to restaurant review sites, you no longer have to pick a place to eat and hope for the best. Before we go anywhere, I check Yelp and TripAdvisor for the best restaurants in the area, and make a list, dividing it up by cuisine and part of town. That way, when we’re driving around, we can simply pick something off our list. We’ve found some great hole-in-the-wall places we never would have thought to try anyway, just by checking the reviews.

3. Activities List
I have a special needs kid. The first few days of any vacation are just plain stressful as he’s trying to get into a routine, and truth be told, he doesn’t sleep well away from home so there are some days where we don’t do much besides sit in the hotel room and rest. But, I always have a list of activities I would like to get to. Every morning when we wake up, we check the weather, see how the kids are doing, and choose something off the list. This also helps with the major time waster of:
“What do you want to do today?”
“I don’t know. What about you?”
“I don’t care, you choose.”
Three hours later, you’re still sitting there!

4. Phone Numbers
Phone numbers at the ready for hotels, airlines, attractions, and restaurants (to make reservations) are a huge time saver. Sure, you can pull it up on your phone, but having everything in one place is a lot more convenient and you don’t have to worry about having internet connection or not.

5. Directions
I always print directions and maps to and from some of the more important destinations. Things like Airport to Hotel and Hotel to Main Attractions. Cell phone reception can be spotty depending on where you’re going, and I’ve found that my cell phone often gives me the “cannot find destination” excuse. Having a hard copy of important directions or a map of the area can really come in handy.

What Is Your Best Tip for Staying Organized on Vacation?

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Top 10 Posts of 2013

For our family, 2013 was definitely better than 2012 (read a little about our 2012 here), but it was far from perfect. We experienced the joy of Junior getting to hear for the first time, but there is still concerns about what his future will hold. I have learned so much this year…namely contentment in the midst of struggle, and practicing faith instead of fear. Here are my top 10 posts from this year…I look forward to sharing more with you in 2014, and have some fun new series planned.

10. Deep Dish Skillet Pizza

9. Saving Money Eating Organic

8. An Update, An Apology, and Encouragement

7. Living Joyfully…Paradise Hidden

6. My Favorite Things at Trader Joes…Snacks and Chips

5. Make it Or Buy it? Jewelry Cleaner

 4. 8 Non-Food Items You Should Buy at Costco

 3. DIY Travel Lap Tray

2. 8 Frugal Things to Do With Eggs

1. Junior’s Story Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

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Book Review: “The Christian Parenting Handbook”

Ever since Junior was born last year, Stinker has had a bad attitude. I understand it…she went from being the center of our attention, to being dragged along to doctor’s and therapy appointments multiple times a week, and watching as Junior’s special needs took up the majority of our time. We didn’t really have a choice, but, as her mom, it’s hard for me to feel like I’m not giving her the attention she needs.
I was so blessed to read “The Christian Parenting Handbook: 50 Heart Based Strategies for All the Stages of Your Child’s Life” while Stinker was going through one of her more difficult stages. This book, written by Dr. Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller, is comprised of 50 short chapters, each one delving into a possible issue with a child’s behavior, and heart-based strategies on improving the behavior.
I like heart-based parenting approaches, because it teaches children that being well-behaved is a deeper issue than listening to a parent “because I said so”, with a punishment being the feared consequence. A heart-based approach works on a child’s character, strengthening them as people and teaching them to respect, honor and obey because it’s the right thing to do, not because it helps them avoid trouble.
This book is very easy to read, and has a lot of good insights. I have used several of the strategies with success in attempting to turn Stinker’s attitude around. This book encouraged me to give her grace, and treat her offenses as learning opportunities instead of inconveniences or frustrations, with the end goal of making her a respectful, godly young woman, and not a little robot who listens to everything anyone tells her to do.
I recommend this book to any parent who is looking for a little inspiration in parenting, or who is looking for solutions to their child’s behavioral or attitude issues.
Thanks to the publisher and Booksneeze for providing a copy of this book for review. All opinions are my own and have not been influenced in any way.

Living Joyfuly: Sweet and Salty

Whenever I make cookies, whether my famous “Everything Cookies“, or my daughter’s favorite Protein Packed Breakfast Cookies, I always add a bit of salt to the dough. Why? Because the salt enhances the sweetness of the cookies, and balances the flavors. Too much salt can ruin the batch, but just a little creates the perfect recipe.

In the same way, the salty parts of our lives–the challenges, the trials, and the frustrations–make the good times that much sweeter. My son’s diagnosis, while devastating at the time and created many more challenges than we were ever expecting, has given me a new perspective on life. The saltiness of the situation is constantly reminding me of the sweetness in my life:

-I don’t worry about the little things as much–they’re really just little things.

-I’m grateful for the things I have. I recently read a quote that spoke to me. It said something to the effect of “The things you take for granted, someone else is praying for”. How true is that?

-I realize that my attitude determines my life, not the other way around. There will always be challenges, and if I’m constantly waiting for one problem to resolve itself, I’ll never be happy because something else will always pop up.

Yes, it is hard to be joyful in the most difficult of circumstances. Truthfully, I’m usually not. But, I also know that “this too shall pass”, and when I finally make it out of the hardest parts, I look back and am grateful for the sweetness that the saltiness made me realize.

Read more Living Joyfully article

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Saving Money: Online Coupon Codes

While I haven’t had the opportunity to do as much couponing since my second child was born last year, I have been able to do more online and comparison shopping. Barring groceries, I often find what I’m looking for cheaper online. Before I purchase anything, I check online for the lowest price and scour the web for coupon codes. Here are some of my favorite sites for gathering coupon codes:

    • is like other coupon code sites, but with a humanitarian twist. If you use one of their offered coupon codes when you check out at a retailer (they offer coupons for several thousand online retailers), this family-owned company receives a small commission. Part of that commission is then used to fund several BBB-accredited, non-profit charities that provide meals for needy children. Since their inception in 2012, they have provided over 93,000 meals for malnourished children around the world!
    • is the largest of the coupon code sites. Coupons are updated constantly and allow user contributions. It also allows people to vote on whether or not a particular coupon worked for them, allowing you to find the most reliable coupons quickly.
    • Ebates really comes in handy during Christmas season when I do a lot of online shopping. By using their retailer links and provided coupon codes, they offer you a percentage of their commission as cash back. I have been using Ebates for about 5 years, and have enjoyed getting a little extra money in my mailbox every few months.

See More Saving Money articles HERE

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