St. Louis Gateway Arch

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It’s May~We are in St. Louis, Missouri. Avery wants to do something cool for her 14th birthday.

Since we can’t really have a party, and Hayden’s birthday is a week later, we decided to buy season pass tickets to Six Flags.

Six Flags wan’t open until the weekend, so what’s their to do in St. Louis, Missouri on her actual birthday?

We headed to the Gateway Arch, of course!

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To be honest, I never really knew the background of why the arch was built. I guess I thought it was just an art piece, like The Bean in Millenial Park in Chicago. As I was doing a little research to prep us for our visit, I learned that it was built to commemorate Thomas Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase, which expanded our country from the current Missouri boundary out to the Southwest. It also celebrates the Mississippi River as the gateway to the West. The river was the edge of the USA until explorers like Lewis and Clark ventured out into the wild unknown.

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The Movie

As a national park, there’s more to see and do than just visit the exterior of the 630 ft. Arch. There’s an underground visitor’s center, with a museum and two movies available to watch. The main attraction is the ability to ride a special elevator to the top of the Arch and look out the observation windows on each side.

We bought our tickets and while we awaited our departure, we watched the movie about how it was constructed. The movie was created in the 60′s and the video and narration are reflective of that time period. But if you can look past that, it was interesting to see how the Arch came to be.

I can’t believe how resourceful the engineers were in creating such an architectural feat, in such a short 3- year time period. Each leg was built, with the intention of meeting in the middle, but having no guarantee it’d work. The construction workers spent their days hundreds of feet in the air, with no harnesses or safety nets. It gave me anxiety just watching it! It was comforting to know that no one was injured in the construction.

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Elevator to the Top

Our ride to the top was a little nerve-wracking. The cart that transported us to the top was small, similar to a ferris wheel cart.

It’s definitely not for the claustrophobic! After a 2-3 minute ride we were deposited on the walkway at the top of the arch. There’s small windows on each side, so we could see the city view, and the river view. You have to lean forward to look out the windows, and that was tricky for Avery, who has some issues with heights.

I enjoyed the views, and capturing pictures from this vantage point, but it was difficult with the amount of people crammed into this small space. Since there’s no time limit on how long you can remain at the top, elevators can keep bringing people up, even if no one is going down. I would’ve liked to stay longer, but the conditions were getting crowded, so we left.

The Museum

The most pleasant surprise of the day was IMG_2391the Westward Expansion museum. It was an open style setting, and you work clockwise around the room as the displays are set up chronologically.

Starting with the early frontier, mountain men, pioneers, wars, gold rush, etc. The information was in bite size chunks, with a great balance between the written word, photos and artifacts of the time periods.

We’ve seen a lot of museums in our travels, and I’d probably rank this in my Top 10 for how visually appealing it was, and how easy to consume the content.

We ended the day by taking the steamboat for a short jaunt down the Mississippi. It was nice to relax and see the city from a coastal perspective.


The Gateway Arch was worth the day it took to explore it. Even if going to the top isn’t appealing to you,

seeing it first hand is spectacular. The museum and movies are a good way to experience what this national park has to offer.

Have you been to the Arch? What was your experience like? Share your thoughts below, I’d love to hear from you!






The inevitable family meltdowns when traveling and how to avoid them


I had intended to sit down today and share how we celebrated our 100th day of travel yesterday. However, today, we had a huge family blow up and I’m not in the mood for writing about happy times. Plus, it wouldn’t really be authentic if I glossed over the bumpy moments and only spoke of the wonderful experiences that come with full time travel.


When tears have been shed and feelings have been hurt and you live in a small space, the emotions can run really high.  There’s not a lot of room for 5 people to find space to “cool down” for a bit. We can’t hide from each other, or go days without seeing each other. Ultimately this means we can’t gloss over our challenges, we must face them, and work on them until we resolve them. Hopefully this will be one of the gifts that come from this adventure. Right now, the grinding down of the rough edges into smooth spots doesn’t feel good, but I have faith we will come out of this stronger than ever.

As I’ve been reflecting, dissecting, and analyzing how these flare ups occur in our otherwise awesome family, I’ve found some clues on how to avoid, or at least minimize these tense moments. And in an effort to spare even one other mother from going through this, I offer my insights in hopes they will help you during your family travels.

My 4 tips are:

Click here for the rest of the story

Cadillac Ranch: Graffiti, cows, and new friends

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One of the best resources to modern day travel is the ability to search the internet for user reviews of cities, attractions, dining options, or lodgings. It’s usually through other travelers that I find the fun, funky, off-the-beaten-path experiences.  While traveling along Route 66 from New Mexico to Texas, we got to enjoy one of these moments, thanks to the recommendations of others.

Driving east down the 40 highway, just before arriving in Amarillo, Texas is Cadillac Ranch. As you drive by you’ll see 10 half-buried vintage Cadillac cars sticking out of the ground in the middle of a cow pasture. They are intended to be a public art sculpture created back in 1974 by three men who were part of an art group called Ant Farm.

Although the Cadillacs sit on private land owned by Stanley Marsh, an avid supporter of the Arts, he invites visitors to come in and view the cars up close. There’s an entrance gate to the cars right off the freeway. Also, it’s encouraged to paint and graffiti the cars when you come, which really excited my kids. I mean really, an opportunity to legally graffiti something, what teenager wouldn’t be thrilled?

Continue reading..

The Neon Boneyard Museum

While in Vegas for a blogger conference, we were determined to find something G-rated to do in “Sin City” as a family. I’ve always wanted to go to the Neon Boneyard and photograph the vintage signs. We reserved a tour and were on our way.




The building itself is a historical structure. A famous hotel lobby, La Concha, was pulled apart and relocated here to become the museum. It sets the theme for the vintage feel, and they even restored the hotel’s sign and put it in the Museum’s registration area.

While we waited for our tour guide, we were able to watch some interactive videos about the Vegas strip in it’s early years.


Once outside we had a great time photographing the 2 acres of signs. The girls have been getting really good at their photography, so this field trip was interesting to them as well. They got to stretch themselves with the numerous backdrops, lighting choices, colors, etc.

















Some of the signs were arranged on the ground so that the letters made words, which of course, made great photo ops!







The Tour Guide gave us great info and back story to the signs history, why things changed, the symbolism of the art work, etc. It was definitely worth our time to take the tour.



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Vintage Tropicana Hotel sign








The classic Sahara hotelIMG_5503_2


If you’re in the Vegas area, I encourage you to check out the NEON MUSEUM. You’ll be glad you did!






Road Trip Tips for Traveling with Kids

Going on a Road Trip soon?

Here’s some ideas on how to pass the time


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One of my favorite aspects of family travel is the time we get to spend together in the truck when we travel between destinations. Technology has transformed road trip activities since I was a kid. While we are well equipped with iPads, iPods, cell phones, laptops, and almost every other electronic to keep our teens entertained and not asking, “Are we there yet?” I’m actually trying to limit the amount of time they are “plugged in” while we are on the road.
It would be easy to let each kid use an electronic device to escape into their own private world, and not interact until we arrive at the next stop, but this trip is about more than just the destinations we are getting to. It’s mainly about the family time and connections we can create while spending this time together.
Here are a few ways that we attempt to navigate the road without the kids being lost in their own “electronic bubble”.
1. Turn off & talk The times we turn off the radio and strike up a conversation with the kids have been so rewarding. The silence gives us the opportunity to ask questions about what they’re learning-thinking-feeling about a variety of topics. Sometimes they’ll ask us questions about our childhood, etc. We’ve had some great discussions that I’m not sure we would’ve had otherwise if we weren’t spending this much time in a vehicle together. Every time you are in a car with your children is an opportunity to connect.

For the rest of my tips CLICK HERE

Elephant Seals of San Simeon California

elephant seals san simeon california

One of my favorite parts about traveling is that you can wake up with an idea of what you want to do that day, but often opportunities come along during the day that will alter your plans and expose you to things you had never considered just hours before. Recently this happened while we were in San Simeon, California visiting Hearst Castle. You can read about the castle visit HERE.

elephant seals san simeon california

Our contact at Hearst Castle encouraged us to make time in our schedule to visit the Elephant Seals as this is their migration period, and their resting spot is only a few miles down the road. Always up for a spontaneous adventure, we decided to stop by once we left the castle tour. I had no idea at the time that this would become the highlight of my already fantastic day.

elephant seal san simeon california

We arrived at the dirt parking lot along the side of the Pacific Coast Highway that marks the Elephant Seal’s sanctuary. We weren’t sure what to expect, or how close we could get to the massive creatures, but luckily for us, there were some docents eager to answer our questions. These sweet retired men volunteer weekly to monitor the public to make sure no one harasses the seals or crosses the fence line, and to answer questions from curious tourists. You can see our video interview with them HERE

elephant seals san simeon california

We were eager to get a glimpse of the seals so we headed down the pathway towards the beach. Quickly we spotted clusters of females, huddled together on the sand. Many had newborn pups at their side, but the majority of them were in their last days of pregnancy, and were patiently awaiting the arrival of their babies any day now.

The beach was littered with a few hundred seals, but the docents assured us that within a few weeks there would be several thousand squished onto this narrow strip of sand. This is the only place in North America where elephant seals migrate down from northern waters to birth their pups, wean them in only a month, and then breed again before returning to the sea. This cycle happens in a very short time, so over the next three months, over 17,000 seals will visit this one small beach.

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elephant seals california


elephant seals california


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elephant seals california


Our visit to the enchanting Hearst Castle

14 Fascinating Facts about Hearst Castle

Hearst Castle, San Simeon California William Hearst

I have a confession. I was born and raised in California, and I’d never visited the iconic Hearst Castle before I moved away 6 years ago. Since our travels are taking us down the Pacific Coast Highway, I was determined to stop in San Simeon and visit the legendary home of the extravagant media mogul, William Hurst. What I didn’t realize is how fascinating of a story his life, and his home would be.

hearst castle, William hearst, San Simeon California, PCH

The visitor center and tour guides have so much information available, there’s no way to take it all in in just a day. Here are just a few of the facts I found fascinating about Hearst Castle.

  1. He was an avid art collector, and his passion was inspired when his mother took him to Europe for 18 months when he was a boy. His collection is worth millions today, one piece is worth $10 million just by itself.
  2. Much of his collection was acquired after WWI when European towns were selling off parts of buildings that were damaged in the war. He was the largest single collector outside of museums.hearst castle, william hearst, san simeon california
  3. He picked the spot on the hill to build the house because his dad used to bring him up there as a child on horseback, and it’s his favorite piece of the 250,000 acres he inherited.
  4. He hired Julia Morgan, one of the 1st women architects of her time, to design  the house with him. They worked together for 28 years. hearst castle, william hearst, san simeon California
  5. The house was never completed. One part or another was always under construction. The house still remains unfinished today.
  6. He preferred the quiet life of the ranch over “ high society”, but he had his newspapers flown in everyday from L.A. He had an airstrip built, and it remains still today. hearst castle, william hearst, san simeon. california
  7. The house cost around 10 million to build, which is surprisingly lower than it looks with all the details and original structures he had shipped over from other parts of the world, and how many times he had things torn down and redone.
  8. The Neptune pool was ripped out and redone 3 times. It now holds almost 350,000 gallons of water, and has real Grecian ruins surrounding the perimeter.hearst castle, william hearst, san simeon california
  9. There are 3 large guest houses on the property. He lived in one during the construction of the main house.
  10.  He had 10 large homes all over the world, this wasn’t the biggest.
  11.  The temperature can change up to 50’ from the coastline up to the top of the mountain. In the summer the coastal fog creates cool temperatures at the visitors center, but once you take the ride above the clouds to the main house on the hill, it’s hot and averages 20-30’ degrees warmer. hearst castle
  12.  The surrounding grounds are still a working ranch that the Hearst family owns. Although a big portion was donated to the state of California, it still remains one of the largest ranches today.
  13.  The house was donated to the California State Park system in 1952. Hearst had moved out about 4 years prior due to ill health, and it remained empty for a number of years. Instead of selling off the estate in pieces, the family preserved it by working with the state of California park system.
  14.  There was a zoo on the property. In fact, in it’s prime, it was the largest privately owned collection of animals in the country. The animals were sold off long ago, but the zebra were released on the land, and some of their descendants can still be seen mingling among the cattle on the ranch today.

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We only got to spend one day at the castle, and we could’ve easily spent a few more and still not get the full impact of Hearst’s legacy. However, I was very pleased at how much we learned in our short visit there. The visitor center has a very educational, entertaining IMAX movie about his  life, which gave us a lot of context before we actually toured the house. The tour guide packed a lot of information into our 45 minute tour as well. As we toured the grounds, there are docents posted around the property, ready and willing to answer your questions and give you more detail into the history and legacy of the home and the man.

hearst castle, william hearst, san simeon california


1. Reserve your tickets in advance. Each tour is limited in the number of people that can go up the hill on the bus, and in peak seasons tickets might be sold out.

2. Go early in the day before the crowds swell and the weather gets hot.

3. The temperature can change dramatically, like I mentioned earlier, so dress in layers. Wear sunscreen and bring sunglasses or a hat as most of our time will be spent walking the grounds outside.

4. Bring your own food or snacks if possible. You can’t eat at the castle, but you can at the visitors center. They have some good food options there, but it’s pricey, like most tourist destinations.


hearst castle, william hearst, san simeon california

If you’d like to know more history on the Hearst Castle, you can check out the Facts & Stats page.

A tour of the castle is a great blend of education and entertainment, making it a perfect family destination.

So the next time you are in central California, make sure to put Hearst Castle on your list of places to visit.

william hearst, hearst castle




10 Reasons to Travel NOW with your Kids

We often get asked why we are uprooting our lives and traveling the country for a year. There are too many reasons that I can’t put them all in one short answer, so I usually pick only one, and it’s based on who is asking the question. I want people to relate to why we are choosing travel to strengthen our family so I’ve  decided to give you 10 reasons to travel with your kids in the hopes it will encourage you to choose to travel more with your kids, because with 10 reasons, how can you say no?

1. Family Bonding

The average household spends 3 hours or less together each day as a family. We are an over- scheduled, stressed out society that tend to live parallel lives under the same roof, not a close knit family unit. We want more than that. Spending most of our days and nights together will be a struggle sometimes, but overall I know it will bring us closer together. Our lives will become intertwined in a way that can’t be unraveled.

2. Expanding Horizons

I took a gap year in college and lived in Italy doing service work. That experience expanded my horizons and shaped much of who I am today. When kids get the chance to see other places and cultures, it opens up opportunities for ideas they’d never thought of before. It can shape their career choices, lifestyle and where they chose to live.

3. Truth & Tolerance

Despite how progressive we think we are in 2012, we as a collective society, still struggle with stereotypes. Travel exposes us to the truth about cultures, regions and ethnicities, wherever we go. The quickest way to teach our kids tolerance is to expose them to others’ traditions and focus on our commonalities, not our differences.

4. Life Skills

There are tasks that my kids would probably never learn if it weren’t for this trip. From maintaining an RV, to interviewing people and editing video, my kids are learning valuable skills that they wouldn’t have had the opportunity to without full-time travel.

5. Money Matters 

Traveling has become a great teacher about money. My kids are learning about family finances on the road, and how to budget their allowance. They are learning to live on less, and distinguish between “wants” and “needs”.

6. Increased Health

We are using travel as an opportunity to taste other cuisines and eat healthier. Our busy lives at home were an easy excuse to not exercise, and eat out often. Now we are cooking at home and walking everywhere we can.

7. Real Education

Learning history in school is just theoretical knowledge of dates and facts. Being able to experience and walk around historical landmarks will bring history alive and make it relevant to my children’s lives.

8. Independence and Free Thinking

I want my kids to think for themselves, and not follow “the norm” because it’s what everyone else is doing. Travel has definitely taken me out of my comfort zone, and makes me face my fears. It challenges the “status quo” in my life and makes me think at higher levels than I’ve had to in the past. I want it to do the same for them as well.

9. Charity & Goodwill

Service work can be done in your hometown. You can give to charity simply by writing out a check; you don’t need travel to be effective. What I want is for my kids to see the goodwill and humanity of strangers who will go out of their way to help others. A fellow traveler shared via Facebook that they were explaining their adventure to someone while they were filling up their RV with gas. The stranger was so touched by their story that he bought them 10 gallons of gas and wished them luck on their journey. That’s the human spirit at its best.

10. Spirit of America

I desperately want to travel to far off countries, but I feel impressed to start with our own country first. Travel in your homeland builds nationalism, and gives children a sense of where they came from. The U.S. has had some tough years, and I want to recapture the Spirit of America and what makes it great. That spirit will be found in the people we meet and the experiences we have as we travel through this great land.

As you can see, I’m passionate about how travel can enhance your family’s life and give you valuable experiences. I know extended or full-time travel isn’t for everyone. I’m simply encouraging you to do more of it. Hold off on buying that new big screen, or upgrading your car, and plan a family trip instead. Get lost in some small or grand adventure. Only then will you feel truly found.

Do you enjoy traveling with your children? Have you found ways to incorporate teachable moments into that travel? We’d love to hear your comments below!~

The Sutro Bath Ruins of San Francisco

Exploring Nature in the Big City of San Francisco

If you’re like me, you like to explore out of the way places, along with some of the popular tourist attractions. This helps give us a more rounded approach to any place we visit.   While in San Francisco we contacted a photographer friend who lives just outside the city. Before driving us through downtown San Francisco, he took us to one of his favorite spots along the coast, the Lands End Trails. I hadn’t heard about it during my research of the city, but I’m glad we were introduced to it.

Snuggled inside the Golden Gate National Recreation area are the Sutro Baths and Cliff House. As we pulled into the parking lot I was immediately enthralled with the gorgeous Cypress trees that sit on the bluffs.  The fog encircled the branches and created a magical feeling.  The grove begged to be photographed, and I’m sure it lures many photographers to capture the ever -changing weather and light amongst the trees.


Beneath the trees were walking trails that wound through the groves and along the cliffs. People were visiting this area for many reasons that day; running, biking, photography, and exploring the ruins. There’s a 3-mile trail that loops back, but we didn’t have enough time to explore the whole thing. I definitely recommend allowing a few hours to explore the coastline and all the scenic views this area has to offer. Next time we come to San Francisco, we plan on allotting sufficient time to explore more in depth.

Once we we parked and adequately dressed for the cold, we headed down to the Sutro Bath ruins. There’s a steep staircase that took us from the bluffs down to sea level.

Note: It’s not a walk for the easily fatigued, or those with physical restrictions.


The concrete foundations and walls are accessible to walk on. Pets were allowed so it was great to take Lassie with us down to the waters edge.

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The waves were crashing on the rocks nearby, creating a picture perfect setting, in spite of the chill in the air.

Looking out at the mountains and trees beside us, the water and rocks in front of us, it felt peaceful.we could really sense the history of an era gone by- a time when this place entertained many more guests than the few of us that were there that day.

I can definitely see why in the 1920′s it was selected as a spot to put a bathing house. In it’s heyday it was a glass enclosure with 6 sea and fresh water pools indoors.

Off to one side of the cliffs is a cave, which the kids were thrilled to explore. I found out later that it’s where they housed a turbine to pump sea water into the 6 salt bath enclosures.


A dirt and asphalt path took us up the side of the cliff so we could get a panoramic view of the bay. If the weather had been clearer, I’ve been told you can see the Golden Gate Bridge from here.



It’s always great when I can find a place that everyone in the family enjoys, and hiking around Lands End was definitely one of them.

There were many photogenic spots, and Hannah & Avery had a great time practicing  their photography skills.

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Hayden loved hiking the boulders and throwing rocks out into the ocean. He climbed up the mountainsides and had a great time exploring.

I was pleased to see that it was a pet- friendly place as well. Our dog, Lassie, was happy to run around the ruins and enjoy the scenery.

We saw many great sites in San Francisco while we were there, but one of my favorite was definitely the Sutro Baths and Lands End.

I can’t wait to come back in warmer weather, with a picnic lunch and a camera, and spend the afternoon soaking in the scenery.

I recommend you check it out the next time you are in San Francisco. And if you’re looking for a great photographer or local “tour guide”, be sure to call my friend, Spencer Harris, and tell him Watts in the World sent you!

How we do Christmas on the Road as a Traveling Family

Christmas as a Traveling Family~

Full time travel family christmas in RV

One of the common questions we get asked about living in an RV during the holidays is, “How will you manage Christmas in such a small space?”

“It’s easy,” I reply, “we continue using our 3 rules for gift- giving that we started when the kids were born”.

Once we had children it was tempting to splurge to the point of excess. This would’ve not only broken our budget, and been a bad example to our kids; it would’ve diminished the true spirit of the holiday. That year we created a system that still works for us today.

Our 3 simple rules to resisting the gift-giving binge:

  1. Follow the Wise men. The Wise men brought the baby Jesus 3 gifts, so we do the same. Each child gets 3 gifts from us parents, usually one bigger gift and two smaller items. Having this guideline helps us from splurging or impulse buys. In addition to our presents, our children will get gifts from each sibling, grandparent, and so on – which ends up providing plenty of holiday cheer on Christmas morning.
  2. Clear out the old to bring in the new. In preparation for the influx of new toys and clothes that come during Christmas, we’ve taught our kids to take inventory of what we currently have, and to get rid of what’s not necessary, or not being used. We carefully pack it up and take it to a women’s shelter or other charitable organization. The kids look forward to this activity almost as much as the new presents they receive.
  3. Focus on the legacy. In a day and age where consumerism is at an all time high, it’s much more convenient to buy a gift card, or a present based on what’s on sale during Black Friday. It takes time and effort to come up with something that holds sentimental value or is homemade. However, these are the gifts that create a lasting impression. I still remember the hand-sewn doll clothes my mom made for me and the locket my dad had engraved with my initials on it. Your kids will remember the heart-felt over the store-bought every time.

These three steps have kept our Christmases meaningful and manageable.

As the holidays are quickly approaching, I hope these ideas will help you create your own traditions and systems around the gift-giving season. Whether you are travelers, or a stationary family, I hope these tips will help you to make the holidays a happy occasion for your family.

What traditions do you use to make the holidays special?