Traveling Mamas

Inspiring you to explore our world

  • Winter is in full swing, and some of us aren’t used to icy driving conditions. It recently snowed in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for the first time in many, many years. When this happened, I had a few questions about car care, and about safety while driving my vehicle in the snow.

    Spontaneous Traveling Mamas may find themselves on an impromptu road trip that ends up in a colder destination. These tips from Jiffy Lube can help all of us keep our cars, trucks, and mini-vans running during frigid weather — whether you’re traveling through a northern state or if you live in a snowy clime and just want to do daily errands safely:

    * Check your antifreeze/coolant
    Antifreeze helps control the temperature of a vehicle’s engine. Since it remains liquid and does not freeze in cold temperatures, antifreeze also helps protect the engine during extreme cold starts. Servicing your vehicle’s cooling system according to your vehicle manufacturer’s recommendations can help you avoid costly repairs down the line. Check your owners’ manual for how often it should be replaced.

    * Watch the wiper blades
    The normal life expectancy for most windshield wiper blades is six to 12 months. Check and clean the windshield wiper blades or replace them if necessary. Checking and replacing them as needed can improve visibility to help avoid a very dangerous situation on the road — particularly in snowy and stormy conditions.

    * Make sure the battery is strong
    A weak battery is less reliable and can take longer to start your car on cold mornings. In fact, a weak battery could lose about one third of its power or more in colder conditions (e.g. below 32 degrees Fahrenheit). Make sure that connections are tight and free of corrosion and have your battery tested to ensure it has ample power to withstand the cold. Start the car with the heater, lights and window defrosters turned off to minimize battery strain.

    * In case of emergency
    Maintain a vehicle emergency kit including a first aid kit, jumper cables, flashlight, bottled water, extra blankets, gloves and hat, granola/energy bars, duct tape, and a can of Fix-a-Flat. You never know when you will need these essentials. If you have little ones still using formula, keep a few extra servings of powdered formula to mix up with your bottled water, just in case you do end up on the side of the road.

    * Clean the engine air filter
    The engine air filter is a vehicle’s lung. A clean air filter helps the engine combust an optimal air-to-fuel mixture, making it run more smoothly and efficiently. When your air filter is clogged, your engine has to work harder and therefore is not operating at peak performance. Check your vehicle owner’s manual to find out when it needs to be replaced.

    * Pay attention to oil grade
    Motor oil lubricates the engine, keeping it cool and reducing the friction between moving parts. As motor oil circulates, it also cleans away harmful dirt and contaminants. In general, you should use the lightest grade of oil your vehicle’s manufacturer recommends for the conditions you drive in. During the winter, this may mean an even lighter grade than usual. Most vehicle owner’s manual specifies the correct grade of motor oil for your vehicle during certain driving conditions and seasons.

    * Keep an eye on tire pressure
    Under-inflated tires create extra friction where the rubber meets the road. Improperly inflated tires also wear unevenly, which can impact your vehicle’s traction on the road and possibly lead to a dangerous blowout. Check your tire pressure regularly and make sure all of them are filled to the correct level — and remember your spare tire, which can lose pressure in the cold.

    Proper tire pressure is vehicle-specific. Tire pressure information for a vehicle is found on a decal typically in the vehicle’s door jamb or in the vehicle owner’s manual. Do not follow the pressure listed on the sidewall of the tire, as this number is specific to the tire, not the vehicle.

    Consider visiting the knowledgeable folks at Jiffy Lube to help you with your winter car maintenance. To find the location closest to you, log on to JiffyLube.com.

    Special thanks to the experts from Jiffy Lube who provided these tips just for Traveling Mamas readers. Do you have tips for driving during the snow that you have found helpful? Please share them with us in the comments below.

    Comments Off on Top Tips for Winter Car Safety
  • A few years ago my husband and I took one of those “last minute” specials a travel agent put together for us. We didn’t have a lot of money, but we were due for a romantic escape away from our then two and four year old children. We took a direct charter flight from New Orleans to Cancun, and we had entertaining companions on the flight: The Girls Gone Wild Film Crew. It was a prelude to a really horrible romantic escape.

    Located 15 minutes from Cancun International Airport, Solymar is a 200-room budget beach hotel on the Caribbean Sea. While some people choose the all-inclusive option here, I would not choose this the next time I visit. Actually, I probably won’t visit again. It’s a toss up. Either you love Solymar or you hate it. I found it to be an “OK” home base while in Cancun. I tried my best to stay away, except to sleep.

    Rooms:
    This is a Mexican style hotel, meaning no elevators and open air hallways. The majority of the rooms are dark with Mexican tile and navy colors. It is very rustic. The walls were a terra cotta colored stucco. The bathrooms are shower-only and I wore my flip-flops in the shower. Upon check-in, we entered our room to find a view of the parking lot. This is a chance you take when you book ROH (run of the house). I sat down on one of the beds, and my behind got wet. Apparently someone else had been there in a wet swimsuit and left their mark. At least, I’m hoping it was a wet swimsuit. The rooms are condo-style with kitchenettes, but I don’t recommend cooking in the room we were given. The amenities were sparse as were the towels. The electrical outlets are 120/220 AC

    Somewhere in this hotel are the “good” rooms. They are larger, brighter, and supposedly cleaner. I even hear that there are villas with private pools. I didn’t see them.

    Pools:
    There is one pool at Solymar. It is not very large, but it will keep you cool.

    Restaurants:
    Solymar advertised at the time that it has three restaurants. It was actually one restaurant that changes its name for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There is a bar in the lobby and also a pool bar that will order burgers for you from the lunch restaurant. I guess this is what you would call a “pool-side grill”.

    Activities:
    There were no scheduled activities. There were some activities down by the beach offered by an independent contractor. Hubby and I went exploring and joined a tour to Chichen Itza. Definitely the highlight of the trip.

    The Bottom Line:
    As stated before, you either love Solymar or hate it. I wouldn’t stay there again, but I did enjoy spending time with my husband and experiencing the area with him. Some people have had great experiences here. Check out some of the reviews on Tripadvisor.com and epinions.com to help you make an informed decision. If you are on a budget and needing someplace to store your luggage while you explore, Solymar is a good choice. If you are looking for a relaxing, trouble free vacation, search elsewhere.

    Our adventure didn’t end with a ride to the airport. Our return flight was delayed, but fortunately the booking company, Vacation Express, sent all of us to Moon Palace Resort and Spa to hang out by the pool until the plane was ready. That was definitely a highlight, but the funniest moment was our return through US Customs and noticing as the Customs Agents began rummaging through the bags of the Girls Gone Wild Film Crew. Let’s just say there were a few interesting items!

    I recently checked up on Solymar, which will forever hold a place in our memories (ha!). It seems they still have awful service and many of the standard rooms have bigger holes than when we are there. At least the beach was clean.

    Comments Off on Solymar Resort in Cancun, Mexico: Love It or Hate It
  • What is a romantic getaway and how can I surprise my partner with a trip for Valentine’s Day, our anniversary, a second honeymoon, or just because?

    Romantic spot on Little Palm Island
    Romantic spot on Little Palm Island

    A romantic getaway is different for each person and each couple. Some couples prefer outdoor adventures, while others enjoy a luxurious retreat. Choosing where to go is the first step in the planning process. It might be a honeymoon. It might be an anniversary. You may not even be married, but are looking for some special time alone. Whatever the reason for your romantic getaway, you can’t go wrong by devoting time to your relationship.

    Romantic dining at Houmas House Plantation copyright Houmas House
    Romantic dining at Houmas House Plantation copyright Houmas House

    Think about the activities your partner enjoys. There is a destination to suit any interest. There are mountain resorts for land lovers and beach resorts for tickling your toes in the sand. Some destinations are packed with activities, while other getaways are set in seclusion. The type of destination really depends on the traveler and the budget. And yes, there are getaways for all budgets, even those with no budget.

    When planning a romantic getaway, you’ll want everything to be as perfect as humanly possible. Advanced planning can help your romantic getaway fall into place and be a trip to remember for a lifetime. Here are some tips for that special trip:

    * Get a manicure and pedicure to feel sexy before you leave. Men need manicures, too!

    * Pack items such as massage oils, a scented candle, and a favorite CD. This will help you set the mood of your resort room.

    * Hire a chauffeured ride to the airport to help the trip start out right.

    * Inquire during your planning phase about vow renewals. Some countries and islands require a certain length’s stay before a ceremony. Ask an on-site wedding coordinator to help with the details. If planning vow renewals, some places require the original marriage certificate.

    * Ask the chef to re-create your wedding dinner or your first date meal. This can be set in a secluded area of the restaurant or even private dining in your room.

    * Buy a card in the airport gift shop on the way home to thank your partner for a wonderful, romantic getaway.

    Romantic spot in Saint-Tropez
    Romantic spot in Saint-Tropez

    What if you need a few ideas on where to go for that romantic escape? Never fear, The Traveling Mamas are here! We have an entire category dedicated to romantic getaways for Valentine’s Day, anniversaries, or just because. Searching for a romantic package in Denver? Need some romance in San Diego? We’ve got you covered. Snuggle up for a little romance and renew those relationships this year.

    Comments Off on How to Choose a Romantic Getaway
  • New Orleans is always a hotspot for entertainment and fun. Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest, Tales of the Cocktail, and many other events are always on the schedule, providing plenty to see and do during a visit to the Crescent City. There are so many hotels that it is hard for visitors to choose which one to stay in. One of the newest hotels in the city is Harrah’s New Orleans. I took a road trip to check it out for Traveling Mamas readers.

    Harrah's Hotel New Orleans Flickr photo by altopower

    Harrah’s New Orleans is a hotel conveniently located near the Mississippi River with easy access to the French Quarter, yet far enough away from the noise. Visitors can pull into the drive and let the valet park their vehicle while they check in. The elegant lobby has a boutique feel that feels like a comforting hug of luxury.

    When I entered my room, 1601, I was surprised at the understated elegance of the room that incorporates the colors of Mardi Gras in subdued tones. The aubergine throws and bed curtains, along with the soft mustard drapes and bed skirts exude the romance of New Orleans.

    The bathroom is one of the nicest offered standard at a hotel in New Orleans. All rooms contain baths with a soaking tub and separate shower. The granite topped sink holds Gilcrest & Soames amenities for personal care. Each room is also equipped with extras such as a personal refrigerator.

    Harrah’s hotel is not just about the room, which is a nice choice for a romantic getaway. The hotel offers nearby Fulton Street, which is an outdoor pedestrian area full of restaurants, such as Grand Isle Seafood, Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, and there is even a men’s upscale barber shop, Aidan’s.

    The hotel also provides underground access to Harrah’s Casino, which is home to Besh Steakhouse, BAMBU, and many other nice restaurants, a daily seafood buffet, and Starbucks. Just the mention of this last facility sold me on the hotel. Anyplace that offers a great cup of java in a convenient way is tops in my book.

    I enjoyed my stay at Harrah’s and the convenience, as well as fun, that it offers. This hotel does accommodate children, but during my stay, I saw very few parents with kids in tow. Harrah’s Hotel New Orleans is a nice choice for a romantic escape, girlfriend getaway, or a trip for just the guys.

    Comments Off on Luxury Hotel in New Orleans
  • Update: 01/20/2009 – Be sure to check out the new White House Blog before your visit.

    Tuesday’s Presidential inauguration of Barack Obama in Washington, DC, has filled up every hotel room in DC and the surrounding area, including dorm rooms and private homes. Visitors from all over are gathering to witness this event at the US Capitol, and celebrities are descending upon this destination for the parties and balls (see live streaming of Al Gore’s Green Inaugural Ball). All of this news coverage makes me reminisce about my past DC trips.

    The first time I visited Washington, DC, I was a 17-year-old high-school senior participating in the National High School Honor Band. I was excited because not only was this my first trip up north, but I was traveling with a handful of other students from Louisiana and there were NO PARENTS.

    The visit not only made me feel very independent, but it gave me a patriotic feeling. My high school friends and I had a blast learning about the subway system, touring all the free attractions, and making a visit to a restaurant (which shall remain unnamed) in Georgetown where we were able to convince our waiter to serve us alcoholic drinks.

    My second visit to DC was for a more somber reason. It was as an Honor Guard member for the fire department I work at. A group of us drove from Louisiana to DC to attend the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Service, which is held each year in October. Normally, this event is held in Emmetsburg, MD, but for this particular year it involved all the firefighters who had lost their lives on 9/11.

    The White House copyright Shannon Hurst Lane

    I’m currently planning a third visit for the Independence Parade on 4th of July, and I’ve been researching some top tips on visiting. Here are some of the resources and places I’d like to check out when I’m there. Maybe these will help you, whether you visit for the Inauguration, 4th of July, or just on a family vacation.

    1. TravelMuse has compiled a few articles, including 44 Free Things to Do in DC and Inauguration Planning Tips.

    2. WorldHum brings us into the green side of the Inaugural Events.

    3. Oprah even offers tips on having your own viewing party in your home.

    4. Washington, DC’s Official Tourism Site offers insider tips to help you plan your visit.

    I won’t be in Washington, DC for the 44th Presidential Inauguration, but I will keep all these resources filed away for my 4th of July Parade visit. I hope these help you plan your family vacation, romantic getaway, or business trip to DC. And now for the last resource:

    5. If you’re looking for places to eat, be sure to watch Monday night’s episode of No Reservations on The Travel Channel. I know that after watching this clip of Anthony Bourdain at Ben’s Chili Bowl, I plan on tasting one of these great chili dogs.

    Comments Off on Top 5 Planning Resources for a Washington, DC Trip