Saturday, April 29, 2017

Road Trip Packing & Hacks

I'm not a huge planner, or never thought of myself to be, but the older I get the more I realize that maybe I do like to plan and it makes me feel more in control.

So, our road trip in June, I'm planning that packing list now. We're a family of six, there's a lot to pack when you'll be gone for nine days.... and don't want to forget anything! I've included a packing list I created for our family, things to do a few days leading up, what to pack, what to do the night before, etc. I can check off as I go along. I tend not to pack our clothes until the day before, but I will start buying snacks and drinks now. *I found organic juice boxes marked down from $2.99 to $1 last week at the grocery, you can bet I bought two packs to take with us on our road trip!*
Because there's so many of us and we have a toddler, the first day traveling I'll pack us a lunch, we'll find a road side park and stretch our legs and eat lunch. This way, everyone gets out and gets some exercise, especially Maverick and it's cheaper! I also pack enough snacks and drinks so that every time we stop for gas or bathroom breaks we don't spend $$$ on gas station garbage.

I'll go to our local deli a few days before and get some lunch meat and cheese, head to Panera for bagels and make bagel sandwiches for our first day driving, chips and bottled water will complete the lunch. Also, I'll make a double bath of cookies to take, again, no $$ spent on high priced gas station snacks and maybe it's a little better for you.

We rent a beach house so when we arrive I always have to make a big grocery run, but I will pack a few things with us to eliminate the price gauge.

  • Paper Towels
  • A few rolls of Toilet Paper
  • Spices (Salt & Pepper) and whatever spices my recipes for the week calls for
  • Sugar
  • Ziploc Baggies
  • Cleaning Wipes (I forgot this last year and all week we had nothing to wipe off the counters)
  • Dish Soap
  • Any non perishable food I have here that will fit in my recipes for the week

I plan to share my weekly recipes for our beach vacation along with road trip snacks next week. Until then! 

Friday, April 21, 2017

Where to Stay, What to Eat, What to Do while Visiting Dauphin Island, Alabama|My Definitive Guide

I love the beach.  This is 100% absolutely true. We have been going to an island community in southern Alabama now for five years. We're getting ready for our sixth trip! We sometimes say "let's go somewhere else" but then soon decide against it when we remember how relaxed and laid back our little island is. 

 I remember the night I was searching for a vacation spot, six years ago, I typed in "closest beaches to Missouri" and Alabama came up in the search, somehow after that I found this gem of a place. I started looking at beach homes to rent and was blown away at the price. We could actually do this... and stay ON the beach? So we booked our first year at Dauphin Island. Before we went the rental company sent us a list of grocery stores that we might want to use, the list went like this, Ship & Shore (on the island and does not carry a lot of things) Greer's Market and Walmart in Tilman's Corner. So going in I figured that our options for eating on the island was minimal. I planned our grocery list and we shopped on the way in to the island that year at Walmart. Needless to say it's grown a lot since we started going. Still not anything like Gulf Shores, traffic wise or business wise, but that's what we like. You'll either love it because there's nothing there or you'll hate it because there's nothing there.

I get asked a lot of questions a lot of the time about Dauphin Island. I said to my hubby one day "I totally need to start booking people's vacations and charging them as a travel agent". Then I thought, I could make a giant blog post about it and put it all out there. So here we go...

Places to stay or find a rental;
There are about 4 rental companies on the island. I suggest booking early. Obviously the good ones go quick. The first few times we stayed on the gulf side. The house we rented wasn't right on the beach but it was a mere 200 ft maybe down to the water. We enjoyed that location because we could go down in the morning and stay, go back for lunch, leaving our things there and then return after a break. But we quickly grew out of that house. It was a darling little house, a typical beach cottage. Now we rent on the sound side. No waves and it's cheaper. We rented a larger house these past few times for a little bit more and the water was maybe 50 yards away. I could send the kids down (the older ones) and let them get in without me being right there. No waves, it's not deep close in and there's no one around, it's our own private beach. HEAVEN!
Rental Companies

Dauphin Island Beach Rentals  I have not personally used this company, but they have beautiful rentals!
Boardwalk Realty  this is who we have been renting with now for three years. I like them, I like the way they do things. Balance is due when you pick up your key. Great company to work with!
Island Resort Management  have not worked with them before, again, they have beautiful properties.
ACP Realty  Don't know anything about them. But they are always busy!
Dauphin Island Real Estate this is who we used to use. We never had any problems at all with them.

What to do;  Swim. HAHA! Seriously, what else do you need?
There is a mini golf place on the island now
Estuariam  this is a neat little place to visit. Fish, ocean life, etc.
Fort Gaines  an old war fort. They do period shows. It's fun and educational, and a good rainy day activity.
Shop at one of the little shops, our favorites are Treasure Trove and The Happy Octopus.
Rent bikes, kayaks or paddle boards
Go fishing
Dolphin Cruise (I believe there are two companies that do this)
Swim at West End Beach with everyone else, but there are bigger waves and better shells!

West End Beach

The littlest at Miguel's 

Where to eat; My favorite subject when I'm on vacation is eating, because let's face it, I'm on vacation, which means I'm "off" right? No cooking? Well I do cook a majority of the time we're there. We're a family of six so economically it just makes sense. But we have a few places that we absolutely MUST enjoy while on the island. One is not even on the island. We take the ferry across to Gulf Shores and go to Lulu's  it is SO fun! We ALWAYS plan this ahead, we take the first ferry over and get to Lulu's when it opens at 11am, we NEVER wait to eat and by the time we're leaving the crowds are usually pouring in.

Lighthouse Bakery this is a must for us. They serve the biggest and most delicious cinnamon rolls ever! On Sundays they serve omelets and the line is usually wrapped outside. They also do a pretty killer chicken salad sandwich. We usually do a breakfast day here and a lunch day for their delicious sandwiches.
Island Rainbow  we always plan a pizza night and that pizza comes from Island Rainbow. They are ALWAYS busy so don't call it in, you probably won't get through. We usually drive down to order and then back to pick up. It's really good and HUGE! They also have the best shaved ice on the island. They have what they call a "humdinger" it is a shaved ice filled with ice cream, to.die.for.
Miguel's  this is a new spot, well semi new. We ate here last year, twice! They don't have indoor seating, but let me tell you, that was the best, freshest mexican food I think I have ever had! And giant portions. Definitely on our list!

Groceries or any other kind of necessity;
Ship & Shore (this has your basics, some produce, box mixes, cereal, milk, some alcohol)
Greer's (this is a full service grocery but their prices are pretty high)
Walmart in Tilman's Corner (about an hour drive)
I also like to visit this darling produce stand that is just at the corner when you turn on to Dauphin Island Parkway. They have a beautiful selection and always great prices.

I guess that's about it. It's basically the best week of the year. We relax, enjoy each other, spend time outdoors, away from the television, technology and rubbish. We read, cook, drink and swim. Last year we rented kayaks and a paddle board. It really is our second home. <3 

And now for the obligatory sunset pics, after all, you are in the sunset capital of the world in Dauphin Island. 

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Three Days in Washington

One destination on my bucket list has always been Seattle. The Pacific Northwest just always felt like a place I would immediately fall in love with.
For our 20th anniversary we decided to make it a plan and visit. We only had three days, which when I go back we will definitely try to do at least a week. Because we had never been to the west coast, we decided to drive out to the coast on our first day there. We stayed at the Quileute Reservation in La Push. I was in love, misty and cool, the weather was typical Washington.

The resort was nice, nothing fancy at all, but clean, affordable and so close to the water, you could throw a rock and hit the beach. We will definitely stay there again if we ever do go back. 

La Push 

 La Push and Quileute Resort

Because there is really nothing up that way as far as restaurants go, we travels 20 miles into Forks to eat. Yes, Twilight fans, Forks! It was fun to visit, it's a very small town. We ate at Pacific Pizza, it was good and the people that were working were very nice. The next morning we ate at The In Place. Decent breakfast and fast to boot.

The next two days would be spent in Seattle. We stayed at The Maxwell Hotel in the Queen Anne District. While not directly in the middle of the action, we were maybe 5 minutes away and in my opinion it was a great spot. The hotel was boutique like in its decor, affordable and very clean. Definitely would recommend to everyone!

Ferry coming in to Seattle! We had clam chowder and a beer on the upper deck.

We fell in love with Washington. I don't think I ever visit a place that I don't fall in love with it and yearn to leave the Midwest and try to live somewhere else. Someday I suppose. 

A few tips, the First Starbucks store, I read a few tips before hand, telling me how crowded it gets, etc, and to just get a photo outside of the store. Well, we had luck on our side the day we visit d the market and Starbucks, we got down to the market between 845-9. We literally walked up and walked right in. Pretty awesome and I would recommend it to everyone, just to say you've been there!

The market, the main thing I wanted to do, was manageable early. We walked back through around lunch time in search of food and it was crowded. My tip, be an early bird! We were able to stroll through, enjoy looking at all of the goodies and not fight the crowds.

A few things on eating in Seattle, have a Piroshky ( again this is an early thing) we stepped right in and ordered, came back later and the line was wrapped around the building. Delicious pastry!

Magic shop on lower level of the market.

We had a date night while there, we decided on Poquitos,  they have so many tequila options it will make your head spin. The atmosphere and food were great!

Our last night we ate at  5 Spot. Because we were staying in the Queen Anne District, we only had about a mile walk, "let's do it" we said. About 2 minutes in we were cursing that thought, completely up hill walk. Like no hill I have ever walked. It took us 25 minutes to get there and 8 to get back down. 😂 but the view from the top

Totally and completely worth it! 
Top Pot Doughnuts was on the last stop before the airport on our last day. Have a bacon maple long john, you'll thank me! 

Seattle will be a place we will visit again. Just when we have more time to explore!