Tag Archives: affordable family vacations

Bagno Vignoni: Ancient Natural Spa

I was determined to visit the ancient Tuscan village of Bagno Vignoni after reading a tiny mention about it in Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel magazine  last month. Little did I know that it would be so close to our villa! This ancient gem is home to natural warm mineral baths that Italians have travelled to for hundreds of years—typically en route to and from Rome.

When you turn off the road just before San Quirico d’Orcia, you drive into the small village with the age-old vocation as a spa. If you don’t go off the beaten path, you’ll come into this petite rectangular village with a main square wrapped around a 49 meter long pool with ancient travertine buildings and a palace erected by Bernardo Rossellino for Pope Pius II.

As you sit in the shade by this pool, you’ll notice bubbles emerging from the center that are from the outlying hot springs whose therapeutic qualities have been reknown since antiquity. A 16th century inscription calls these waters, “sacred to the nymphs.”

But if you want to travel to the outlying hot springs, you need to get on foot and walk behind the village and off the beaten path. It is well worth the trek. … And Free. You can pay to have expensive treatments within the walls of hotels in Bagno Vignoni, but why not trek down to a natural aquamarine pool at the foot of a water fall?

I took my boyfriend’s 19-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter, who urged me, after we waded in the gorgeous opalescent waters and rubbed blue mud on our skin, to hike up to the water fall.

Interestingly, after centuries of mineral water flowing over them, the rocks and stone around the pools have turned into a porous, non-slippery surface.

It’s amazing as it allows you to hike barefoot, and even through the water at steep angles, without the slightest fear of sliding.

I began to feel as if I had landed on another planet.

The kids were having a ball, as the sole visitors to hike up to the water fall where the source of the waters were hotter than most showers. The feeling was amazing.

As I hiked down from the water fall, back to the pool below, the breeze from the hills surrounding the village seemed to whisper to me. My spirits lifted, even in the extreme heat.

Certain things will always bring peace and well-being: a bit of exercise, sunshine, friendly faces and a gentle breeze.

Add warm mineral waters and mud—and you’ve got a combination for deep relaxation, known for centuries.

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Single Mom’s Budget Travel Tips

Photo by: Sam Squansh

Summer is around the corner. As a single parent, instead of getting giddy about your well-deserved time off, or some family fun, you may likely be getting depressed. Are you looking at your check book and thinking there’s NO WAY you can afford a vacation? If you are newly separated or divorced, you may feel like you will never travel again. I mean, it’s hard enough to even drive to see the grandparents with kiddos of a certain age, right? Even if you could afford a European or Hawaiian vacation, would you want to fly alone with the little ones? (I’ve done this many times,  as I used to live in Europe and my Ex still does, so I transport the kiddos to him. I’ve learned many tricks to entertain and distract the one, two, and three-year-old minds on transAtlantic flights. Even so, it’s extremely taxing. For tips on how to survive flights with your children read my article Survival Tips for European Travel with Children .)

But, back to reality…How can you afford a holiday with the little ones this year? If you’re creative, flexible, open-minded and resourceful, you’ll be amazed at the many ways to subsidize travel expenses. I’m going to share a few of my favorites. There’s NO reason why you can’t figure out a way to get away—even if for a weekend. If your Ex has the kiddos for a week or two over the summer, that might be the perfect chance to escape solo. If you are traveling with them, however, there are ways to lower costs, make new friends, and find affordable babysitting or camps so you can rest. I hope these ideas inspire you and if you have more, PLEASE chime in!

Top Travel Tips for the Single Mom: 

Try a House Swap: My favorite site is Sabbatical Homes. This site was founded by Nadege Conger when she realized that there was a need, predominately in the academic community. Her husband, who is a professor, travels a bit for work. Like many of his colleagues, he can take sabbaticals or visiting professor gigs at other universities. From this idea—to cater to academia—her site has grown to a larger audience. It is still much smaller than the main home exchange sites and feels more manageable—as it’s easy to identify and conduct background checks on the people who respond to your ads. If you’re thinking, “who would want to swap houses with me since I don’t live in California or Florida?” this site is for you. Academics often want to get away to work on a proposal or book—or need to teach at another university—expanding the typical search requests and making your house more viable. Since Nadege is French and travels a lot, there is large audience on this site from Europe. After posting my house, I had requests for house swaps in Italy, France, Spain and Hawaii. You can also rent your house via this site. If you are interested in an adventure and are flexible about where you go, this could be a great option. Plus, house swaps provide a great way to really enjoy your holiday with a local’s perspective. I’ve house swapped via craigslist (before learning of this site) and had amazing trips to Paris, Venice and London. (Which I will write about later, since they were all amazing holidays with local flare.)
Another great site to rent homes for your next vacation, or perhaps to list your own is: Vacation Homes and Villas.

Take a short cruise:
Lisa Van Riette, a single mom of three from Orange County, Calif., took a three night/four day excursion with Carnival Cruise Line this year for just under $1,000. Yup, you read that right. This included meals and kids camps and activities for her kids, ages 7, 11 and 13. “They had so much fun together! There were so many activities, like a build-a-bear (camp), a scavenger hunt for my 13-year-old and an all-you-can-eat (ice-cream) sunday party. I had time off and then we’d all get together for dinner. And, the food was good! You can’t beat it!” says Lisa.  This mom has taken many cruises with Carnival, but experts also rank Disney Cruise Line high for families as it has nursery staff for infants.

Explore Single Parent Holidays:
Organizations like Single Parent Travel offer group-discounted vacations for single parents and their children. A current package includes a a five day/four night Harry Potter excursion at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando. Other trips include Telluride and the beaches off the Turkish coast. I can’t say the vacations are extremely cheap (Harry Potter costs between $850 and $1,300 for rooms alone), but they offer a group discount on rooms and a built-in community of other families with children, so your kiddos will make friends and play, while you can enjoy adult conversations with other single parents. It’s a brilliant idea.

Find Travel Deals:  
There are plenty of agencies out there to sign up with, but my favorite is Sherman’s Travel Deals . Highlighted on his site right now is a great article entitled Fifteen Summer Trips on Half a Tank outlining great weekend get-a-ways. Sign up and you’ll receive his weekly email of travel tips and the latest deals. For instance, BookIt.com has a hot deal for discounts on summer vacations, ending May 1st.

Rack Up Miles.
If you have credit card debt and a decent credit rating, transfer your account to  a credit card that is offering you airline miles. For instance, some credit cards will give you 25,000 miles for opening an account and then offers miles for each dollar you spend or transfer over. To compare credit cards offering miles, go here.

Wide Open Spaces for the Holidays

 

I originally posted this last Thanksgiving when I packed up the boys and hit the road—in my attempt to make the most of our solo Thanksgiving. This year, although we are staying home and having the Turkey Day with friends, I found myself gravitating to the countryside. I took my youngest, who is fighting a nasty cold, up to visit the horses in Palos Verdes. After screaming for almost an hour, he instantly calmed down when seeing the horses.

“Why are they so sad, mommy?” he asked when looking into one’s big eyes.

“They’re just soulful.” I replied.

“Yup. Sushful.”

But you know what? He was calm for the rest of the afternoon.

Kids really do need wide open spaces and soulful faces.

I hope you enjoy this post.

Happy Thanksgiving all.

L. x

**

It takes the shape of a place out west 

But what it holds for her, she hasn’t yet guessed 

~ Dixie Chicks 

This Thanksgiving weekend I packed up my boys and headed North toward the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I needed to get out of this town. I needed to breathe. I needed a vista. I needed to distract and cheer up my children. I needed to run far away from the insanity of my life and recent disappointments. So when my oldest did a report for school about a small cowboy and ranching town in the shadow of Mount Whitney, I got the idea. Why should we stay in LA where we have no family? Why should we be alone during the holidays just because I’m on a small budget and can’t travel back East?

As my son researched Lone Pine for his report, I realized that we had actually driven past it a few times on our way to Mammoth. My soon-to-be Ex skis, and we were always in a hurry to get to Mammoth for that reason. Before my son’s report, I didn’t know that 400 movies had been filmed in the area, mostly westerns, but also parts of Gladiator and Iron Man. The majestic beauty of the Sierras amongst miles of ranch land is an amazing backdrop for movies. We had driven through the small Indian reservations and the towns of Lone Pine and Bishop, but never stopped along the way before. Who knew there was so much to discover that is virtually free to visit? This time I stopped along the highway with the boys and we explored the historic fish hatchery;  Manzanar museum where Japanese-Americans were held as prisoners during WW 11; the adorable Beverly and Jim Rogers Lone Pine Museum of Film History; and the Laws Railroad Museum.

This trip was all about slowing down (which is mandatory when traveling with a three-year-old!) and getting off the beaten path. We didn’t stay at a fancy ski resort, but at a modest motel with a breath-taking view. We walked through town and talked with the locals at the drug store, mexican restaurant and Subway where we discussed various topics from Elvis verses Justin Bieber, to teenagers today, to crazy temper tantrums—as my three-year-old showed off his tantrum antics in all places! My only big splurge was riding boots and a horse riding lesson for my oldest. Before I left, I called the chamber of commerce for horse back riding referrals. They directed me to a horse trainer in Bishop who is well-known for training champion jumpers. She was kind enough to give my son a lesson. In fact, the three of us visited the Millpond Equestrian Center in Owens Valley north of Bishop twice to feed and chat with the horses (and dogs and one precocious kitten!).

The one-hour drive from Lone Pine to Bishop, that we did twice, was my favorite. The views are nothing short of spectacular. The youngest napped as William and I sang songs and I breathed in the beauty of the white-capped mountains bathed in fields of gold. As I looked ahead, or in my rear-view mirror, I began thinking of the power of letting go. There is power in not engaging in crazy behavior by others (if any of you have experienced that!) and saying no by moving forward and away from it. Most importantly, there is power in seeking honesty and beauty wherever you can find it.

During my drives I often thought of my lovely, new friends—all single moms who are struggling so much right now. I so wish that you all could have taken a similar trip. There’s something about wide open spaces. It not only lets you breathe deeply, but somehow it helps you expand. I could feel myself trusting the Universe again. I could actually feel hope start to fill my lungs by the second day I was away. Pictures tell a story so much better than I ever could. Here’s my journey. I left Los Angeles blue, confused and with a heavy heart from recent hurts. As I rose in altitude, so did my spirits. Who knew there were so many lessons to be learned on the road?

Extreme pressure is transforming. Hang on. You’ll rise above all of this.

Elk, or Reindeer Crossing? Magic, wonder and mystery may still cross your path.

Kindness heals. Your children know kind souls when they meet them.
Face whatever comes toward you, but don’t forget the bigger picture and the better focus for your life.
Try new things. (And keep your chin up when you do!)
Get off the beaten path. Don’t be afraid to strike out on your own.