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  1. As winter settles in, many people cope with the change in weather by planning their next family vacation. But if your last family vacation has you wanting to never venture out as a family again - you're in luck! We've gathered the top travel hacks from NPN members on how to master your next family vacation and a ✨magical opportunity to make the financial planning part of your next family vacation a piece of cake! Hack 1: Pick A Location That Works For Everyone The opportunity to get away with your family only presents itself a few times a year. Make the most of your trip by traveling to a destination that will please all of your carry ons - ahem, children. Destinations like amusement parks, cruises, beaches, and family-friendly resorts are always a win! ✨NPN is excited to offer your family the chance of a lifetime! Win a magical family vacation while supporting NPN and Chicago families! Win big while giving back by purchasing a chance to win in the NPN Dreams Come True Family Vacation Sweepstakes! The sweepstakes is now open so secure your tickets today! Hack 2: Don't Stretch Your Budget Family vacations aren't cheap but overspending doesn't have to be your only option. Plus, if you overspend, you'll be more likely to not be able to enjoy your trip because you're too busy worrying about paying for everything later. Do yourself a favor and try to save during the year for your next family trip. Plan ahead and divide the anticipated total cost up each month or pay period to make your dream vacation a reality for your bank account. ✨P.S Did we mention that tickets to NPN's Dreams Come True Family Vacation Sweepstakes are only $40 and that the grand prize includes a check to cover airfare, lodging, tickets to the park, and spending money? Read more about each prize level and secure as many tickets as you want here. Hack 3: Leave The Planning To The Pros There are two types of people out there - those that love planning things and those that don't. If the thought of planning meals and activities makes you nervous, tag in a vacation planner to handle the details! Before you start thinking of your grandparents who used travel agents “back in their day,” remember that travel agents are experts in wanderlust and have relationships that can lead to a better vacation and a much less stressful experience for you. For example, if you're planning a trip to Disney, it can be hard to know how soon to plan your trip, what a Genie+ is, or how to find the best deals. If you're planning things at the last minute or haven't been to Disney since you were 10, a planner may be the expert you need. Looking for recommendations? This forum post has a few! Hack 4: Carve Out Time For Yourself + Time With Your Spouse I know, I know - it's a family vacation. But YOU are a part of your family and so is your spouse! Try to find time to stay up late and catch a movie together or to take a dip in the pool, solo. You'll be amazed how therapeutic it can be! Where possible, choose a family-friendly resort, a cruise with a kids club, or find activities that your kids can do on their own (if they are old enough) to give you a few minutes of alone time. Your kids will also appreciate this time to be independent! Hack 5: Don't Sweat The Small Stuff Every trip is sure to have its share of surprises and things that you didn't expect or prepare for. Try as best as you can to go with the flow and be prepared to pivot under pressure. Figure out how to make the best of crappy weather or meltdowns or sickness to avoid spoiling an entire day or the whole trip. Not only will this help you have a less stressful time, but it'll also show your kids a great example of how to handle disappointments, snafus, and changes of plan—something they’ll carry with them (and that’ll make them awesome travelers) for life. Try (as best as you can) to plan ahead. Bring extra snacks with you (did you know that you're allowed to bring your own food into Disney?!) to avoid the inevitable "I'm starving" whines, pack ponchos to be prepared for random rainstorms, and be prepared for attitudes and tantrums from kids who may not appreciate all of the work that goes into making their dreams come true! There's no need to be afraid to plan your next getaway with your kiddos and there are major benefits to traveling and creating memories with your family. We hope these tips make your next family adventure, a dream come true!
  2. As the days grow shorter and colder, the temptation to go south can be irresistible. But what if the winter season inspired your plans instead? Some of my family’s favorite vacations have been to northern destinations that delivered the perfect combination of festivity, coziness, and invigorating outdoor adventure. This year, consider one of these escapes: Lake Geneva, Wisconsin Festive decorations and seasonal activities for families completely transform this popular summer retreat once the cold weather sets in. Lake Geneva’s proximity to Chicago, slower pace and smaller scale make it an easy getaway for Chicagoans. Don’t miss the Santa Cruises that run through December 31. Traverse City, Michigan Dramatic sand dunes overlooking northern Lake Michigan, picturesque farms and vineyards dotting rolling hills, and a celebrated yet unpretentious food scene have made the Traverse City area my family’s favorite Midwestern destination. The five-hour drive might seem daunting, but charming Saugatuck and reinvigorated Grand Rapids provide enjoyable stops along the way. Resorts like the Homestead and Grand Traverse boast suites with fireplaces. Nestled in the snowy woods, they offer the perfect base for days filled with sledding, ice skating and even skiing down sand dunes. Quebec City, Quebec, Canada A visit to Quebec City feels like stepping into Old World France. Beautiful seasonal decorations line the cobblestone streets and ornament almost every building, which date as early as the 16th century when the city was established as the French colony’s capital. This UNESCO World Heritage Site brims with infectious joie de vivre. Fortunately, the friendliness gets communicated as fluently in English as it does in French. Comfortable explorations of this compact city require the right gear (when we visited in December, a Manito stroller cover and 7 A.M. Enfant blanket kept our toddler toasty warm). The opulent Le Chateau Frontenac sits atop the walled city like a castle and provides a surprisingly family-friendly stay. And don’t miss out on a meal at Aux Anciens Canadiens. At the oldest house in Quebec, you can dine on traditional comfort food like poutine and maple syrup pie in a wood-paneled dining room warmed by a gigantic stone fireplace. Chicago Staycation The Condé Nast Traveler Readers' Choice Awards ranked Chicago as the top big city in the U.S. in 2019. If heading out of town isn’t feasible, try playing tourist at home. Many of the hotels and restaurants in River North, the Gold Coast and around Millennium Park offer excellent hospitality to every age group, and Chicago’s iconic architecture provides the perfect change of scenery. Make sure to visit Cloud Gate in Millennium Park. Despite how many times you’ve seen it, it never loses its appeal for children. Looking for more ideas? Consider Galena, Illinois; Boyne City, Michigan; or Kohler, Wisconsin as other fun, family-friendly escapes. Wherever your travels take you, enjoy your break, and the chance it will give you to create new memories with your family.
  3. It’s not really ever easy to fly with kids. But the reward of getting to your final destination for a family vacay and creating amazing memories makes it all worth it. Right?? That’s what I tried to remind myself when my husband surprised me with a family trip to San Diego for my birthday. During the midst of a global pandemic. Part of me was so excited to go somewhere, to have an adventure with our family, to get out of the normal day-to-day routine. The other part of me was panicked. How on earth was I going to get through an airport and sit on an airplane with a 4-year-old and an 8-month old, when germs today have a whole new meaning? Something important to note here: I am a BIG germaphobe. I’ve always been very aware of hand-washing, antibacterial gel, trying not to touch “public” surfaces. Add that to a worldwide virus-spreading crisis and you have the perfect recipe for someone who should be terrified to go anywhere. But we went. And it was amazing. I would never try to talk anyone into doing something they aren’t comfortable with, but coming from someone who is very germ-adverse, I have some tips that could help you understand that it is possible to travel with kiddos these days. [Related: 7 tips for parents of young kids navigating Covid-19] Plan your antibac kit For me, this is pretty typical for any flight, but I felt good having my antibacterial wipes, sanitizing hand gel, and seat tray covers in my carry-on. When you board your flight (and check with airlines on pre-boarding options for families with kiddos!), wipe down everything in your seat area: tray tables, seat belts, window “sill,” armrest and buttons, video screen and overhead vents and buttons. Remember that while you might not touch something, your little ones might. So wipe it all. (Another side note: We flew Southwest; the flight felt very clean — although we still wiped down everything — and we had priority family boarding.) Masks We wore our masks the whole time we traveled — through the airport and on the flight — unless we were eating or drinking something. Masks can start to get uncomfortable after wearing for a long time, so find one that doesn’t pull on your ears or smush down your nose. Test masks out with the kiddos before traveling to make sure theirs fit well also. Have a bunch of extra masks, too. Kids might accidentally drop theirs on the ground or decide the mask is a napkin. And a fresh mask always feels good. (Yes, we are actually saying that these days!) [Related: The secret to traveling with kids? Planning, planning, planning] Car seat for the bambino If you have a baby, I highly recommend buying an extra ticket and bringing along a car seat. Babies love to be held. Until they don’t. Having a spot to tuck your little one away snugly so they can have a bottle, babble at you, or take a nap is a lifesaver. Bring snacks & activities This is something we do anyway when we travel, but I definitely made sure to pack some healthy snacks (fruits & veggies) as well as fun ones (fruit strips, M&Ms, crackers). On our flight, Southwest had limited food service, but they did offer canned water and a small bag of snack mix. Be patient We didn’t encounter long wait times, probably due to the overall reduced travel, but we gave ourselves extra time just in case. And we felt like people in general had more patience for one another, and it was nice. We really felt (and expressed) gratitude to everyone working at the airport. There’s something about this pandemic that can bring out the We’reAll-In-This-Together mentality. Silver linings…I’ll take it! Travel looks a little different these days, but with some planning, flying with your family is still possible. I’m so grateful I avoided any germaphobic meltdowns, and we had the time to make new memories. And not surprisingly, I’m already trying to plan the next adventure!

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