North by Northwest

Today was a day of packing as tomorrow we leave Southern California en route to our next rental in Oregon’s Willamette National Forest. Before we check-in next Sunday, we’ll take a week to camp in Big Sur and Redwoods National Park, with a visit with friends in the San Francisco area in between.

For us, long car rides always mean one thing: mix tapes. We keep our 6-CD changer well stocked with the latest tracks hot off the CD-RW burner. Perhaps one day we’ll have a car that has a line-in connection, but in the meantime we’re more than happy to lovingly plan out CDs to make the hours fly by.

To help us acclimate to our next destination, we’ll be listening to a mix (on repeat) featuring artists from the Seattle and surrounding areas. If you’ve ever wanted to sync in a whole new way, here’s your chance below 🙂

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Younger Fives Present a Halloween Goodie Bag: UNICEF Comic, Travel Interview, and Slideshow

A note from Five of Hearts about the comic: I wanted to make this comic because I wanted to spread the word about trick-or-treating for UNICEF. It was a lot of fun. Storyboard That was a great tool and really helped. And I am looking forward to making more comics to teach people about other things. We have created an online Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF page, and we hope you can help us support UNICEF!
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UNICEF Part 1

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UNICEF Part 2

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An Interview with the Younger Fives about Halloween, Poverty, and UNICEF

What is your favorite part of trick-or-treating on the fly?
High Five: I like having glow stick lights, all of the colors.
Five Ball: Well… I actually I jest like spending the time together and having fun.
Five of Hearts: I really like how each Halloween we are in a different place so we have new opportunity’s each Halloween.

When did you first notice that some kids have a lot and other kids have very little?
High Five: I saw kids who wanted to wash our Mazda 5.
Five Ball: La Paz. I saw kids washing cars.
Five of Hearts: In San Cristobal de las Casas I saw instead of kids playing kids were working. That is what really made me realize what poverty is.

How does seeing kids with very little make you feel?
High Five: Sad because they don’t do their school.
Five Ball: Sad because they don’t have a home.
Five of Hearts: It makes me feel very sad. And makes me want to do something to help them.

Why do you think UNICEF is important?
High Five: UNICEF helps kids have water, medicine, and food.
Five Ball:UNICEF helps kids.
Five of Hearts:Because UNICEF helps people have a better life.

 

The Fives’ Look at Halloweens Past

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The Five’s Tips for Stress-Free Rentals

This past week we made it safely to Cozumel and we are loving our new house rental and what we have seen of the island so far. However, we are still dealing with getting a refund from the landlords of our last rental in Mérida, Mexico. Renting a house or apartment when you are on vacation or traveling is often a great choice. Short-term rentals usually offer more space, access to a kitchen, and they are often much cheaper than hotels. However, the actual process of finding and securing a rental can be much more time consuming and stressful than simply booking a hotel room. So, while it is on our mind, we thought that we would share some tips that we have picked up after going through the short-term rental process several times.

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Our favorite rental sites – To begin with we usually turn to Airbnb or to FlipKey when looking for a short-term rental. Both of these sites are easy to navigate and they usually have a decent number of rentals to choose from in our price range. In the past we have also used to use HomeAway, but the prices of the rentals listed on this site are usually much higher than those listed on other sites. If the time of year is right (i.e. it is the low or off season) you can also contact cabin or condo-style accommodations directly. We were able to get an inexpensive monthly rate on a cabin outside of Glacier National Park because it was the off season.

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Reviews, reviews, reviews – One of the biggest lessons that we have learned when selecting a rental is to make sure that it has been reviewed by previous renters and to thoroughly read through those reviews (those stars really do matter!). These reviews include a lot of really great information that you won’t get from the rental description itself. For example, is the Internet speed fast, does the neighborhood feel safe, does the landlord or property manager respond quickly to problems? A rental property that has been reviewed (especially multiple times) lets you know that the landlord has been through the short-term rental process before and will be familiar with any issues that many come up. In the past we have tried out rentals that have no reviews and in each case we have been burned. One was lacking in basic kitchen equipment, another was in an unsafe location, and the third had a very unresponsive property manager. Even though these problems could occur with any rental, it is a safe bet that previous renters (especially recent) would have addressed these issues in the review that they leave of the property.

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Be careful how you pay – We often find great rentals on the sites mentioned above. However, when we go to book them the landlord or property manager informs us that the payment needs to be made directly to them. This is because they want to avoid the fees associated with the rental-listing sites. When you really like the rental it may be tempting to go ahead and directly send them the money via PayPal or a bank transfer. However, in our experience this is a big mistake. When you pay through a rental site like Airbnb or FlipKey you are guaranteed their help and coverage if the rental isn’t in the condition it was described or the landlord doesn’t provide the services that they promised. However, when you go outside the system you are on your own trying to recoup money if, for instance, you show up and find that the rental is already inhabited with other people or doesn’t exist at all (unfortunately there are a lot of scam artists out there). So, the safest bet is to insist that all financial transactions take place through a rental site. That way there is a very clear record of payment and you have a customer service department to turn to if things go wrong.

Calendar

Don’t book too early or for too long – There is a fine line between securing that perfect rental before someone else snags it and making sure that you don’t book too far in advance. When we first started traveling we really felt like we need to book at least 6 months worth of rentals in advance. Coming off of having our own house it felt weird to think that we could be homeless if we didn’t plan and schedule our rentals far into the future. However, we soon discovered that booking rentals in advance can be a huge hassle. If your plans change because of illness, or other unforeseen circumstances, you end up having to go through the hoops of canceling all of your pre-booked rentals.

We found that booking a rental for too long had the same complications. If we got to an area and found out that we didn’t really like it or the neighborhood was unsafe, then we were stuck trying to get out of our rental contract. Now that we have been on the road for a while we actually find more security in knowing that we can change our plans at any moment. It gives us the freedom to get to a destination, check it out, and then decide for how long we want to stay. Our magic number seems to be two months at any one rental before we are ready to go. However, that being said we have found the need to pre-book rentals during busy times like holidays and summer vacation months. These times tend to fill up really fast and if you are looking for a monthly rental for December you will find many properties unavailable because they have already been booked for the Christmas week.

Hopefully these tips will come in handy when you are looking for a short-term or vacation rental. Do you have any tips to add from your rental experiences?

 

Kitchen Pity Party

It was just about 2 years ago that I walked away from my dream kitchen. It had all the counter space I could ever ask for, cupboards and drawers filled with my favorite cookware, and the most wonderful sunlight. I really loved that kitchen! However, more important to me was seizing the opportunity to explore the world with my kids and husband, and that meant leaving the kitchen behind. Well, kind of behind because at first I had an entire 27 gallon storage container that I filled with all my favorite cookware (electric skillet, food processor, etc.), which fit perfectly on the hitch platform of our Mazda5. Whenever we traveled to a new rental house, campsite, or hotel I could pull from my mobile kitchen and still comfortably cook. However, I knew that we couldn’t always travel by car and that one day soon I would have to say goodbye to my mobile kitchen as well.

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That day quickly caught up with me last month as I started preparing for our flight to mainland Mexico. At first I schemed of ways that I could still bring along some of my favorite cookware. However, as the suitcases filled up with clothing and the TSA regulations regarding knives made my head spin I decided that I really needed to let go. So, I resolved to only pack a very select set of cooking tools and make due with whatever I found in our rental houses.

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Unfortunately, that idea didn’t get off to the best start as the advertised “fully equipped kitchen” in our first rental in San Cristóbal de las Casas turned out to be one drinking glass, a half broken pot, and a small gas range. Talk about mourning for the cooking items that I had left behind in Las Vegas. The rest of the Fives backed slowly out of the kitchen waiting for a “mommy melt-down”. Over the next few days the management of the rental house brought an assortment of battered and mis-matched plates and bowls along with a few pans. However, they could do nothing to fix the fact that the low powered gas range took over an hour to boil a pot of spaghetti. 

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So, for the past few weeks I have found myself having a kitchen pity party. As I try to figure out how to cook an entire meal for 5 people with just a few basic items I think longingly of my fully stocked kitchen in our old house in Maine. Then I snap out of it and mentally slap myself across the face reminding myself how lucky I am to even have an enclosed kitchen with running water and a stove. Many of the women that pass by our rental house everyday on their way to the market don’t even have these luxury items. I constantly remind myself that I am being spoiled and that a true cook should be able to create with whatever is available. So, every morning I return to the kitchen vowing to do my best (while secretly dreaming of the pages of a Williams-Sonoma catalog).

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In the meantime I am finding comfort in the few cooking implements that I managed to fit into my suitcase. These little gems have definitely helped with the transition and were worth the effort that it took to bring them along. Especially the Black & Decker 3 Cup Food Chopper that we bought especially for this trip. Our beloved Cuisinart food processor was just too heavy to ever travel with, but we needed something that we could count on to process oats, nuts, and beans (our vegan staples). The reviews for the Black & Decker 3 Cup Food Chopper were really great so we gave it a try, and so far it has been fabulous. It only weighs about a pound and it packs really well in a suitcase. I highly recommend it for other travelers or parents making their own baby food. So, for now as I wait for the nostalgia over my old cookware to ware off I will find comfort in my new food processor, my tried and true vegetable peeler, and my flexible cutting board. Kitchen pity party over for now:)

 

 

How to Tent Like an RVer

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After camping for more than 20 nights, we are slowly readjusting to living under a roof once again. During this last camping trip we were able to pitch our tent in some gorgeous parks. However, the majority of our nights were actually spent in a large RV campground. This was for the simple fact that we needed Internet access for work, and RV campgrounds usually offer some of the best WiFi signals. Of course this means that we have to forgo the beautiful vistas and sounds of nature, and we often find ourselves the only tent on the premises.

At first it can be a bit intimidating setting up a small tent while surrounded by huge RVs, many offering more space than our last rental house. However, we have found that being the lone tent in a sea of RVs has many advantages. For one, an RV campground is often super quite because all of your neighbors are inside in their private, soundproof, climate controlled accommodations. We also discovered while camping in the desert that RVs give off great shade and act as a wind break to their tenting neighbors. A final advantage of RV campgrounds is that in addition to offering WiFi they also have great amenities like laundromats and swimming pools.

 

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We do have to admit that it is hard not to become jealous of your fellow campers in their big, shiny RVs with running water, air-conditioning, and comfortable beds. However, after many weeks of being the odd tent out we have come up with our own list of tricks for camping in comfort without the RV.

* Bring an extension cord: This is a great way to easily plug in kitchen appliances and also to bring power into the tent for laptops. The possibilities for creature comforts are almost endless: watching DVDs, recharging electric toothbrushes, cooking up pancakes on an electric skillet, and much, much more.

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* Consider a 30 amp adapter plug: Occasionally in our travels we have come across sites that do not have a standard electrical plug. In this case, having a 30 amp adapter (the standard for smaller campers and RVs) can be the difference between having toasted English muffins for breakfast and having cold cereal.

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* Cook with an electric skillet: Eating real food is probably our top way to ensure camping goes smoothly. With our electric skillet we have made soup, pasta, popcorn, tortillas, pancakes, rice, stir fry, and toasted trail mix. As a bonus, it is a great way to heat up hot water for washing dishes once you are done.

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* Connect a hose with nozzle: This can turn your site’s faucet into a shower (for sandy children), a jet (for washing dishes), and everything in between. We still haven’t found a use for the “flat” setting yet, though. Any suggestions?

* Set up some shade: We have tried many different types of shade: E-Z ups, screen houses, and tarps like Kelty Noah’s Tarp. As a family of five with all of our possessions in our car, the E-Z up is no longer an option; however, we have found tarps to be pretty space friendly. These shelters have given us a dry place to cook and eat in the driving rain, and also a refuge from the baking sun.

What are your tips for making a campsite feel like home?