Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: Kids (page 1 of 9)

Southwest Road Trip 2018: A Recap

**This is a re-post, but after finally wrapping up all the posts I’d planned to write, I wanted to run a recap**

After canceling a planned trip to Europe, I decided to still make the best of the vacation time I had allotted for myself. I was already planning on being away, so work was covered (I *did* work one week, still). The question was…what to do with the second one?

Planning a trip in record time

I’ve had many-a-whim of planning a trip. Depending on the given fare sale, wide open award space, or other deal-of-the-day, it’s been hard to restrain myself at times. Especially when it would be super inexpensive and a great use of points. The biggest hindrance is nearly always available time. For this last-minute trip, though, time wasn’t the issue. And I had a particular card up my sleeve I’ve been waiting to play.

For quite a while now, the idea of doing a one-way road trip from Arizona has been brewing in my mind. Late Spring is the perfect time to do this, as the weather is still nice, and you can score some amazing rental car deals. The companies all try to relocate their cars out of Arizona, since who wants to visit Phoenix in July??

Booking cheap flights to Tucson and a cheap rental car

With less than a week until departure, I locked our flights in for a total of $91 and 22,500 Avianca LifeMiles. Never heard of either? Read about using Avianca LifeMiles for United flights and how I scored an awesome last-minute redemption. United award space is generally good very close-in, and we took advantage of this. There was plenty of space to Tucson and Phoenix and other southwest destinations showing at united.com.

Our car rental was locked in for $101 for 8 days. This is pretty much unbeatable. I even made $3.50 cash back by booking through the Ebates cash-back portal (referral link, if you join and spend $25, I get a bonus). I’ve seen good rates on these deals, and this about matches the lowest I’ve ever found. It makes sense, though, as you are actually doing the rental car company a favor by moving their car. Otherwise they’d either pay to truck it to a better summer market, or it’d be a stranded asset for several months.

We had eight days to make it from Arizona back home. I quickly penciled in a few major destinations, and other ideas quickly filled out our itinerary. Among other places, we would see Saguaro National Park, Sedona, the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, and Death Valley.

Overview of our travels

I’m trying to get a bit better about organizing trip reports. I know some are a quick rundown of a few sights and maybe a hotel review. For our longer trips, though, having an outline is the better way to go. It keeps me on track as I take a few weeks several months to find the time to post. Here the rundown of our 2018 Southwest U.S. road trip:

Gutsy, I know, given my typical post rate of 1-2 per week. But having goals helps. I’ll add links to each as I post.

Overall, the trip was great. The kids had a blast. My only miscalculation was planning more driving near the end of the trip rather than pacing things a little more evenly. This meant they were very ready to get home during the last couple days. But at least I now know they can survive seven hours in the car in one day. 🙂

Four Day Blast to Taipei and Back

It’s been like ten days since I published a post, which is like two months in blog time. I just can’t keep up. The demands of family, work, and other, more lucrative side work (as this blog directly makes me $0) have resulted in me neglecting posting. But I *do* have some exciting news on one front that I will announce in due time.

In the middle of these hectic weeks was a trip that was planned months ago. I’d caught an amazing fare sale on trans-Pacific one-way tickets and combined it with award flights for the outbound to give my son and I three days in Taipei, Taiwan and then one day on a stopover in Xiamen, China.

You may be thinking that sounds insane. It kinda was. But it was also super cool to blast to Asia and back for an effective time of only four days.

Taipei – A city for foodies

I’ve conversed with a few different folks and read up on how great Taiwan is for travelers who love to eat. Jason, a former contributor at Points with a Crew, turned me on to a few places in the city that we enjoyed. I also picked another suggestion featured by Lonely Planet, and we explored some of the night markets, enjoying the eclectic sights, smells and flavors.

We spent a total of two nights and three full days, seeing everything from Taipei 101, to Dihua Street, to Yangmingshan National Park, to the history in Tamsui. It was a fast-paced and fun three days.

Xiamen – A rising Chinese gem

Our return itinerary included a full day in the mainland Chinese city of Xiamen. I could have planned things in such a way that we would have had a shorter layover and could have just hung out at the airport for several hours, but a late flight the night before and a hotel night would give us most of a day to explore this city. Xiamen was featured by Conde Nast Traveler as an up and coming destination.

Or so I thought. My son ended up feeling sick in the morning and then our afternoon didn’t go at all how I expected. But we did get to see an interesting part of the city before we had to head to the airport and board our flight back to California.

More to come on the trip. I have a number of other posts from previous trips that I still want to finish first, however.

Would I do it again?

In  a heartbeat. I went solo to Australia in early 2017, which was my first condensed trip abroad. But this was the first time I pulled off something this short with one or more kids. Our trip to France last year sorta qualifies, but that one was seven full days and eight nights, which is fairly normal for some people’s European adventures.

Four days and three nights in Asia? That’s a bit more crazy.

The Easiest Hike in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

**Trying to play catch-up on these final posts from last year before launching into more recent adventures!**

After saying au revior to Las Vegas, honestly hoping it is the last time I ever visit that enigmatic city, the kids and I drove the half hour to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

The kids complained nearly the entire time we were in the park. I wish I could say otherwise. It was “too hot” at about 82 degrees. And totally dry. I barely felt it, and I’m a wimp when it comes to the heat. Yes, these are the same kids that come from Costa Rica where the temperature routinely got this high.

Oh, the pain of the blazing desert sun! Next time we’ll visit in July so that they know what *real* heat is. They may hate me for these photos later, but I find them too funny. Their faces at Death Valley were also priceless (SEE: 3 Tips for Hiking with Kids in the Desert).

I have been giving more thought to what I post about my kids, either on various blogs or on social media, something that is definitely important to think about in this day and age. Check out this post from The Deal Mommy about respecting kids opinions about their online presence and persona (since you, as their parent, are creating and/or influencing it). Ours are not yet online, but they will be eventually.

Main points of interest at Red Rock Canyon NCA

Our first stop was at Calico Hills, a popular spot for photos and hiking. Or I should say “hiking”. It was little more than a short walk down the hill and then back up, but the kids acted like it would be the death of them.

Luckily, I knew better. Our short walk turned out to be enjoyable enough, as we saw some cool desert flora and a lizard. The red rocks themselves are stunning as well. Which is why everyone visits this spot.

Our next stop was at the vista point for the view. It is at nearly the highest point along the road and provides a view of Calico rocks, the surrounding hills, and the Las Vegas basin way off in the distance.

The Easiest Hike in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

The final point of interest was Lost Creek Canyon Trail. We had a brief break, though, for lunch, which consisted of sandwiches, hastily made in the car. Then we all set out across the dry creek beds to see what was in store for this short hike. The trail starts out clearly marked, bordered by rocks.

Easiest Hike in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

I knew that the trail isn’t long. But it didn’t matter how long we would be hiking. The kids wanted none of it. I might as well have offered them the Bataan Death March. The promise of a waterfall was the only tool I had to spur them on. How I hoped it wouldn’t be lame.

The first “fall” (what I thought was a fall) we came to was pretty lame. But I could hear more water falling up the creek, so I was hopeful. The path became less distinct but still fairly easy to follow.

The whining began again, and rather than deal with it, I just kept walking and let the kids catch up. Hope returned after we passed another group who said the real waterfall wasn’t too far ahead.

We’d barely been walking 15 minutes, which does make this an extremely short hike and probably the easiest hike in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

Everything is worth it at the end

Finally, we were greeted by a ribbon of water falling forty feet into a lovely pool below. The kids complaining turned to laughter as they ran to the edge. The pool and surrounding rocks were even in the shade, so we could enjoy the vista without the desert sun beating down on us.

Easiest Hike in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

The kids and I made our way around edge, clambering over the rocks to get closer to the waterfall. Soon they were throwing rocks into the water, hiding from each other, and doing all the sorts of kid things they are supposed to in a fun outdoor place like this.

I just sat down and enjoyed being there. It had been an easy hike, but one that is well worth the minimal time it takes to get to this lovely spot. When I finally informed the kids it was time to keep moving, they protested. How quickly their perspective changes! We settled on staying another half hour, which meant we would get into Pahrump later than I wanted, but everything would still work out fine.

The last twenty minutes consisted of my daughter chasing her brother with a bottle of water trying to get him wet. Always the instigator, he had tried to push her into the pool below the waterfall and it was payback time.

Conclusion

The hike out was just as pleasant. I highly recommend Lost Creek Canyon / Children’s Discovery Trail as one of the best and easiest hikes in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area for families. It’s an easy 1.2 to 1.5-mile round-trip, depending on how you do your out and back, as you can make a sort of loop that still includes the waterfall. We’ll be back again if we pass through the area. It sure beats visiting Vegas!

Hong Kong with Kids Day 3: Ding-Dings and Dim Sum

Our last day in Hong Kong started a bit slow. The past two had been busy, and I had gotten the kids up quite early the day before so we’d have plenty of time to enjoy Lamma Island, and also to beat the forecasted poor air quality (SEE: Hong Kong with Kids Day 2: Lamma Island Adventure). We would also be up late that night since our flight home wasn’t scheduled to take off until 12:55 a.m. It was going to be a long day, so some extra sleep was warranted.

We made it down to breakfast about 8:45. Jason and Nancy Francisco met us there. At the time Jason was also a contributor at Points with a Crew, and is a father of four (although it was just him and his wife on this adventure). I wanted them to meet the kids, even if our visit was short. It would also likely be goodbye. We’d both been winging it day-to-day with plans, and we didn’t know if our paths would cross again. Jason and I had talked for a while the previous evening. They’d spent a few days in Taiwan and then a few more in Hong Kong, eating their way around those cities. They are definitely foodies. Jason’s personal travel blog is great, if you want to give it a read.

Parting ways, they headed to the Tian Tam Buddha while we had a date with yet another ferry ride between Kowloon and Hong Kong. But this time we headed to Wan Chai instead of Central. Our walk through Mongkok was as eclectic as ever. You can find anything here.

Parks and ding dings

After a metro ride to the Tsim Sha Tsui station, we walked to the Star Ferry dock yet again. The ferry to Wan Chai runs slightly less frequently than the one to Central, but it is still very regular. These Hong Kong ferries are never-ending fun. With skyline views on both sides, I could ride it for half the day and be content. And it wouldn’t even break the bank. At $5.90 HKD (~$0.75 USD) for all three of us, there is no way this activity will dent your wallet!

It turned out Wan Chai isn’t as great a place to land. Unless you like construction. I thought we could walk along the edge of the water toward Victoria Park, but we had to make our way over a highway and into the crowds at Causeway Bay.

We meandered through the concrete jungle and shopping district of Causeway Bay for a bit. I’ve been to a number of cities, but I will admit that there isn’t any city quite like Hong Kong.

Finally, we arrived at Victoria Park. The kids enjoyed a break on the playground. It was a bit farther of a walk than I’d estimated, and the kids were happy to rest and play for a bit.

I try to work park visits into daily activities whenever we are visiting a city. The kids usually need a rest, and I find that I also enjoy these green oases amid the hustle and bustle. Hong Kong Park, which we visited on our first day in the city, is probably still my favorite (SEE: Hong Kong with Kids Day 1: Exploring from Kowloon Bay to Victoria Peak).

Now it was finally time to ride one of the historic trolleys, affectionately known as “ding dings”,  through Hong Kong. These historic double-decker trolleys were first put in service back in 1904, and they are still running. The nickname “ding-ding” comes from the bell they use in lieu of a horn.

We all loved the ding-dings. Sitting up on the upper deck, feeling the breeze, and watching the bustle is a great way to experience Hong Kong. You really get a feel for the energy of the city.

If we didn’t have to step off when we did, I figure the kids would have been content to ride it to the end of the line.

Our ride lasted all the way from Victoria Park to a little past Central from where we walked to our lunch spot: Kau Kee. This Chinese noodle restaurant is one of the top spots in the city. Jason gave me the short list of spots to try, and this was one of two we would hit during our last day.

My plan was derailed when we rounded the corner and encountered a ridiculously long line for the Hong Kong hotspot. I abhor lines. We’d obviously hit them during the lunch rush.

I waffled over whether to stay and wait it out or to move on. Even though the restaurant has a fast turnover, I figure we’d be there upwards of an hour. Not exactly ideal. It’ll have to wait for next time we are in Hong Kong.

Luckily, we were fairly close to a metro station, so we jumped on that, headed for Kowloon. Next stop was the Yuen Po Street Bird Garden. But not before browsing the flowers along Prince Edward Street.

Misadventures and poor planning

The Yuen Po Street Bird Garden was about as I expected it. Disorganized, messy and often noisy. The kids were grossed out by the containers of worms and crickets kept as food for the chirping and squawking. It was a fun little street, worth a few minutes if you are in the general area already.

Then the difficulties of family travel struck. My kids have this awesome ability to go from 0% need for a bathroom to 100%. All of a sudden my son had to go now. It took several minutes to find some facilities. I banked on the mall nearby to have some bathrooms, and we were not disappointed. Unfortunately, we burnt extra time, and I also bought the kids a snack, as we were by this time way overdue for lunch. But lunch was still next on the agenda.

I opted for a taxi to Tim Ho Wan, being pressed for time and hungry still. We arrived maybe 12 minutes later, taking longer than expected due to the Hong Kong traffic flow.

It was then I realized my dire miscalculation. Typically, I have always kept a reasonable enough cash reserve, but as this was our last day, spending most of the rest on a taxi wasn’t a huge deal. We’d have just enough for a bus or metro back to Kowloon station.

But there was one thing I missed: Tim Ho Wan does not accept credit cards. After all that, I had to run and find an ATM or exchange kiosk. This endeavor took another 20 minutes.

Michelin-starred dim sum

At least it was all worth it. We walked into the dim sum restaurant at 4:10, still beating the dinner rush. There was a nice lull in the restaurant and we were seated immediately. I placed an order for some steamed pork buns, shrimp dumplings and another type of dumpling.

The pork buns are just as amazing as I’d heard they are. The shrimp dumplings are also excellent. It’s no surprise this place has one Michelin star!

The other thing about dim sum is that it just comes out when it’s ready. Actually, this is pretty much typical for Chinese restaurants in general. Don’t expect your order to be timed to come out together. The server just brought the plates out, piping hot, one by one as items were ready. The first round wasn’t enough, so I ordered more of most of the items.

The damage for our Michelin-starred dining? A mere $166 HKD, about $21.50 USD. For three. Now that’s awesome.

Goodbye, Hong Kong!

Our final stop was the ferry terminal for one last blast across the channel and back, this time as the sun was setting so we could catch the lights. We hadn’t stayed out late any other night, but since we had to be up in order to catch our flight, it was the perfect way to say goodbye to the city.

As we headed back, I couldn’t help but think about how quickly the time had passed by during our trip through both Beijing and Hong Kong. Five days in Beijing isn’t enough, and three days in Hong Kong barely scratches the surface. We’d definitely seen a lot, but there is still so much to explore in both locations.

Disembarking in Kowloon, we opted for the bus back to the Hilton Garden Inn Hong Kong Mongkok to fetch our bags. The front desk kindly directed us to a much easier bus for getting ourselves to Kowloon station to catch the Airport Express. I wish I would have known about this on our way in. Actually, I don’t. We would not have had any Hong Kong cash yet.

We made it to Kowloon Station a little after 7:00, still hours before our flight would take off. No matter. That is what airport lounges are for. And we were flying business, which meant lounge access naturally came as part of the deal. A late dinner, some school, a sleep, arrival into SFO, another sleep, and a drive later we were home!

Looking Forward to a South American Adventure with my Daughter

It’s like America. But south. 

Except it is actually pretty different than (the United States of) America, the quote from one of my favorite Pixar movies notwithstanding.

South America has always had a certain allure for me, and there are a number of places I am highly interested in visiting, including Chilean and Argentinian Patagonia, Machu Picchu, the Galapagos, and even all the way down at Tierra del Fuego. Manaus and its place as the gateway to the Amazon is even of interest.

But on our first trip to South America we will hit none of those. Several months ago I started planning a trip to Buenos Aires and Montevideo, locking in award flights for my daughter and myself when the pickings were good. American Airlines availability has fluctuated a bit, but you can generally find some decent options to southern South America. I burnt 115,000 American AAdvantage miles for two business class tickets from San Francisco to Buenos Aires via Dallas.

Our trip will begin in Buenos Aires, where we will spend five nights, followed by two in Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, which isn’t all that far away by ferry. We’ll have one final night in Miami before returning to California.

Things to do in Buenos Aires

Hopefully we’ll not be too jet-lagged flying into Argentina’s capital, as the 10-hour flight through the night will let us have time to catch some sleep. But I know we’ll still be tired.

My plan for our first day is to just settle in at the hotel and get a general feel for the city. We’ll head to a few of the neighborhoods to explore, likely San Telmo and Puerto Madero, where our hotel is located.

I’m still batting around the idea of booking a half day tour of Buenos Aires to get ourselves oriented. I have yet to do one with any of the kids. We enjoyed a tour of the Great Wall back in November, which is pretty much the only one I’ve done with them. Even then, we got to mostly explore on our own. However, I really enjoyed a walking tour of Charleston, and I can really see the value of one.

We’ll hit the historic highlights, such as the La Casa Rosada, the National Historic Museum, and Caminito in the La Boca Neighborhood. I’m also batting around adding in the Botanical Gardens. Heading out to a ranch for a day is probably out, mainly due to the cost, although these tours sound like an amazing experience.

On Sunday it would be cool to catch an open-air market or two. The Feria San Telmo is what I currently have penciled in. Heading to Tigre, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, sounds like a good fit for that day as well. We’ll also work in some down time as well, and my daughter will be keeping up with critical school subjects each day as well.

Argentina is also known for their steak, and I’m already looking at some great places that are also affordable. I’m sure we’ll also have time to sample the empanadas and café con leche.

Uruguay – an underrated gem

Everything I read about Uruguay makes me wonder why I haven’t heard more about this relatively unknown South American country. My main resource for what to do during our couple days in Montevideo comes from Guru’Guay.

I hope to spend most of a day in the Ciudad Vieja, the old colonial section of the Uruguayan capital. I’m also considering a bike tour, as this seems like a great way to see a lot of the city. We’ll be staying at the Hyatt Centric for free using points, which has dropped to a mere Category 2 property after the recent changes!

Finishing off the time in Miami

The overnight in Miami is pretty much only because of how I booked the award flights. I booked us between Montevideo and Miami as a nonstop American Airlines award using Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, as it fell into a sweet spot with a flown distance under 5,000 miles. We return to SFO from Fort Lauderdale the next day on JetBlue. This’ll be my first JetBlue flight, and although it isn’t their Mint product, I’m very much looking forward to the experience.

We have The Confidante in Miami Beach booked using a Hyatt Category 1-4 free night certificate, which will give us basically a day and a half to enjoy the sun and sand in Florida before heading home.

We’re just a week away from this trip now. Things are coming up fast!

Puerto Madero image courtesy of Deesnel via Wikimedia Commons under CC 2.0 license. Montevideo image courtesy of Fedaro viw Wikimedia Commons under CC 4.0 license

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