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Planning a Family Trip to Belize with Anywhere.com

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As I shared in my June goals post, we have been struggling to decide on a family vacation destination for next winter. Winter is the only season we can take a big trip because of Graham’s work schedule. We look for several things in a travel spot: Beaches, warm weather (to escape Chicago’s winter), family-friendly options and outdoor activities. We also seek out relative affordability compared with popular destinations.

One of the destination ideas that has come up is Belize, but we wondered whether we could find many activities to do with Victoria. We want to take her along on our trips as much as possible so that she grows up being exposed to different cultures and being open-minded. We also want her to try new foods; her parents love doing it!

I am definitely the planning type, so I like to do my research before deciding on a trip. When I found Anywhere.com, I was intrigued by the idea of having a new guide that actually uses local experts to aid in planning.

First, you start by selecting your trip destination. Then you pick your desired dates and check activities you are interested in. You also select how active of a traveler you’d like to be, from relaxed (not many activities and destinations) to active. You also choose what type of accommodations you’d like: We like affordable but clean rooms, preferably with breakfast included. You enter your estimated budget and how you’d prefer to get around as well (private or shared). Then you enter your name and email/phone.

Why Belize? We don’t like to go to cookie-cutter or one-size-fits-all vacation spots. We wanted the opportunity to try unique outdoor activities and learn more about the Mayan civilization. I’ve always been fascinated by it.

Xunantunich

Within hours of inputting my preferences, my designated travel expert, Andrea, contacted me with a proposed plan. From there you can review your activities and destinations and make changes as needed. If you like what you see, you can go ahead and book. The plan includes the price per person for the vacation, so that there aren’t any surprises. In case you’re wondering, the service is completely free! The travel expert is available via phone call or text,  or you can respond to the email you get with your plan.

Anywhere.com makes planning super easy for those who don’t have time to spend hours searching
online for family activities. My plan included a stay in San Ignacio, which is near Cahal Pech and Xunantunich, two Mayan ruin sites dating back to 1200 B.C.

In addition, we’d stay in beachfront resorts on Ambergris Caye, where we could relax and swim. Of course, the plan you receive is just a starting point. You can add or subtract locations and activities to fit your preferences. I plan to adjust this plan a bit more until we come up with the perfect itinerary, but if you’re short on time and don’t feel like spending hours on research, you’ve got the ideal tool.

Top nature activities that caught our eye:

  • Jaguar preserve tour
  • Belize Zoo
  • Monkey River tour

Looking to play a family trip to Belize? You can get the process started on the website and then text, call or email your Anywhere.com travel expert for Belize (and other destinations). You can also use my referral link to get a $75 credit when you book a qualifying vacation.

Check out my Pinterest board for Belize vacation inspiration.


Where do you want to travel next? What activities would you do in Belize?

Stay at the Islander Resort | Islamorada, Florida Keys

When searching for an affordable, beachfront hotel option in the upper Florida Keys, I came across the Guy Harvey Outpost Islander Resort. The photos caught my eye, and the resort had decent reviews on Booking.com. I booked a three-night stay for us to explore the Keys during our recent trip.

(If you’d like to try Booking.com, consider using my link.
When we drove up to the resort, an outdated sign greeted us. I didn’t remember seeing that in any of the photos, and the rest of the resort was in better condition. The lobby was decorated nicely and the front desk agent was super friendly and energetic. She informed me that we were in a poolside suite, which according to her is the best option. 
We drove up to our unit and opened our door with a good old-fashioned key (no hotel key card). Our room had a full kitchen, something I appreciate because it helps save cash by allowing us to cook some meals. There’s also a screened patio area and lounge chairs outside.

We typically request rooms with two beds so we don’t have to share with our toddler. The room contains a large closet and drawers with plenty of room. (That’s where I found the safe, which wouldn’t open. I didn’t bother asking the front desk for help.) As I found out during our stay, the poolside location is nice, but it does get a bit noisy sometimes during the day. It was convenient when we wanted to go to the pool, restaurant or beach, though.

Have a seat and admire the view from the pier. 

The A/C in the unit was also a bit loud at times, but it wasn’t an issue. We weren’t in the room that much anyway and we only needed it one day.

The laundry came in handy. I was able to do laundry one day for $1.50 per wash and $1.50 to dry. There is no detergent vending machine, though. I bought a $1 bottle of detergent at a nearby dollar store. 
I enjoyed both restaurants at the resort, especially breakfast at Bonefish Flats. The service was great at the latter. (See my previous post for more details on the food and prices.)
Was Islander Resort the fanciest option? No. But it was comfortable and not too expensive. The amenities were nice (You can rent kayaks and other gear at the beach!) and the location was convenient for us. Nearby we found many parks, the scuba diving museum and lots of shops and restaurants. It was about 40 minutes from the Turtle Hospital in Marathon and about an hour and a half from Key West. I would stay here again.

Have you visited the Florida Keys?

Stand-Up Paddleboarding on Lake Michigan | 4 Places to Go Next Summer

As much as it made me nervous, one of my top items on my Chicago summer bucket list was stand-up paddleboarding. I wanted to try it for a year before I finally took the plunge. This summer I was able to try stand-up paddleboarding on Lake Michigan via three different companies. I discovered that not only is stand-up paddleboarding a tough workout, but it’s widely accessible here in Chicago.

The first time I ever tried SUP was during a yoga class I found via Dabble. The class was held at Montrose Beach, and you meet at the Kayak Chicago paddleboard rental shop, where you can store your belongings. This class was $45 for an hour and a half. Of my three SUP experiences, this class was the most helpful in terms of teaching you how to paddle. As I wrote in my post, the teacher spent time in the beginning talking about how to maneuver on the board.
Another place to rent paddleboards is at Leone Beach in Rogers Park. Graham and I tried to rent paddleboards one day so he could try it, but sadly we didn’t realize that the Leone/Loyola Beach SUP company, which sets up outside the lifeguard office, is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays during the summer. I can’t speak to how well they set you up to paddleboard, but it’s a nice option if you are in the northern part of Chicago. It costs $20 per hour to rent a board here and they have two locations. Yoga classes and group outings are $35 for 90 minutes.
After our unsuccessful attempt at Leone Beach, Graham and I went to Chicago SUP at North Avenue Beach. Of the three times I paddled, this location had the best view of the Chicago skyline. It’s amazing at sunset! Graham and I rented boards for $30 an hour each, and we ended up paddleboarding with a large group. It was fun to chat with other random people we met on the water. The water on this day was a bit choppy, so I sat for most of the time. I was too sore from Orangetheory Fitness to want to stand. This paddleboard experience was the most challenging. Also, we got here kind of late and without reservations, so we almost couldn’t paddle. The guy ended up saying he had two boards left but we had to carry them to the water. (They can be heavy. Luckily Graham carried mine like a gentleman.) He didn’t provide any instruction whatsoever, because it wasn’t a class.
The last paddleboarding session I went on was via Chicago Paddle Company at Hollywood Beach in Edgewater. This was the trickiest social paddle to get to because Hollywood Beach doesn’t really have a parking lot. My friend and I had to find a parking spot in the neighborhood and then walk about half a mile to the beach. The paddle was called Chicks with Sticks and was held every Monday at 6:45 p.m. On this particular day it was raining, so we were worried the session would be canceled, but it wasn’t. Paddles happen rain or shine as long as the rain isn’t too heavy and there isn’t lightning or dangerous wind. This paddle was $35 but was part of a two-for-one paddle session deal. (I ended up not using the second class before the season ended.) I also didn’t stand the whole time during this session because it was a little choppy. And, as usual, I was sore from marathon training. This paddle was fun because we decided as a group how far we wanted to go, and we went farther from the starting point than the other paddleboarding classes/rental sessions I did this summer.
Have you ever tried SUP? What did you think? I suggest adding it to the itinerary next time you’re in Chicago in the summer!

** Some of these companies are now closed for the season but some are still offering rentals depending on the weather. Check on their websites or call them to make sure.

Camping in Michigan | Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness

Graham and I love to camp. We camped together at Fossil Creek in Arizona for the first time after just a few weeks of dating and we’ve been doing it ever since. When we lived in Phoenix we would often camp once a month or so, but we had yet to camp in the Midwest since moving to Chicago in March 2015. We finally got a chance to remedy that when Graham had three consecutive days off work for the first time in months. We packed up our things (and the pups!) and headed to Michigan to find dispersed camping.

We do not like crowded campsites, and we had heard that you can camp anywhere on public lands as long as there are no posted signs prohibiting it. We chose Manistee National Forest as our destination and set off from Chicago on a five-hour drive. Graham and I kept asking each other if we were in Costa Rica when we saw the lush forests along the highway. It reminded me of the greenery we saw on our trip.

When we arrived at Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness, we didn’t immediately know where to camp. We drove around surveying the area before deciding to keep driving on the forest road. We drove north on 5356 until we found a spot near the Lake Michigan Recreation Area. While we had campers nearby, it was not on a developed campground and we had plenty of privacy.
We were so proud of ourselves for having out campsite set up so early in the day. When we camped in Arizona we had always rushed to beat the sunset. It was a nice change to have the entire day off and free to do whatever we wanted. We ate lunch and then set off to check out the Lake Michigan Recreation Area park. To park, you just need to pay $5 and deposit the fee into an envelope and drop it in the box. We walked over to check out the swimming area when we realized dogs aren’t allowed in the swimming area. We decided to walk up the stairs leading to the viewpoint instead. We later walked north from the park to a spot for a swim away from other people.

That night was spent relaxing and catching up. It seems as though I don’t see Graham a lot even though we live together because of our crazy schedules. I loved spending that quality time with no one else there besides the dogs. Dinner was our version of Mexican street corn plus black-bean burger patties on a bed of salad (from a bag) and topped with Colby-Monterrey cheese and salsa. We just hung out. I had limited to no service, so I was not distracted by social media at all. It was perfect.
The next day we drove to a nearby country store to get Graham his morning coffee, which was only 50 cents! We made egg burritos for breakfast and then set off for a hike at Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area. This park is dog-friendly so Taylor and Capone could join us on a hike to the beach. Each way was about 2 miles. We chose a less-frequented trail than most people seemed to be doing, but we’re OK with that. It led us to a section of the beach that was not crowded at all, and we swam and played with the dogs for hours. The water was clear, cool and refreshing, and I could not believe the views.

Later that afternoon, we headed back on another trail that was on top of a hill. You can see impressive views of the lake and the forest and we did not see one person on that trail. It was even a little nerve-racking because we didn’t know where the trail was heading at first. We later discovered that it rejoins the main trail but was a more scenic route. What a wonderful surprise!

We finished that day back at Lake Michigan Recreation Area, where we made dinner. I had black bean and vegetable soup and Graham had canned pasta, and each had a quesadilla. We then watched the sunset from the top of a hill above the beach. After all, Graham says one of his goals in life is to watch the sunset over as many bodies of water as possible.

I was in awe of the fact that the sun sets around 9. I had forgotten that Michigan is an hour ahead of Chicago and thus has so much sunlight late in the evening. It was incredible. As a lifelong Arizonan who never had to observe daylight-saving time, that is new to me.
Sunday was spent relaxing and cleaning up before returning to Chicago. The drive back took a lot longer –6 hours — because of construction and accidents. We were exhausted, dirty and tired of being on the road, but we had a wonderful time in Michigan. I can’t wait to go back!

Watch a video of our Michigan camping trip!

Related camping posts:

Stand-Up Paddleboard Yoga on Lake Michigan

Photo by Chicago SUPYoga

Last weekend I crossed off another Chicago summer bucket list item. I have wanted to try stand-up paddleboard yoga since last summer, but I let fear and the whirlwind that was my first year in Chicago prevent me from doing it. When plans fell through for Sunday I knew this was my chance. If I didn’t take advantage of a free day, then who knows when I would be able to do it again? I checked Dabble, which is a site that offers classes in tons of topics. Dabble just so happened to have a Fourth of July sale on classes, including SUP yoga. I booked it immediately.

I didn’t know what to expect. Surely I would fall into the water. Would I even be able to stand?
I drove to Montrose Harbor with butterflies in my stomach. Of course, it was extremely difficult to find parking because everyone was at the beach for the holiday weekend. I drove around for 20 minutes before I found a spot almost a half mile away from the Kayak Chicago hut. I checked it right at noon, when classes was supposed to start. I dropped off my belongings and kept only what I was taking on the water: myself, a waterproof camera, a paddle and a PFD. Note: You don’t really need to bring a camera because the instructor, Mary Lou, takes photos during class. I ended up not really using my own camera.

Once we all were outfitted with what we needed, we walked to the beach for an intro to paddleboarding. We all introduced ourselves and Mary Lou covered the basics of how to turn around, where to stand on the paddleboard, how to paddle, and getting onto the board from the water. We even picked our own super heroes to channel during class. (I picked Beyonce, obviously.)

I was nervous about getting into the lake because I was sure it would be freezing, but it wasn’t too cold at all. We pushed our boards in and hopped on. At first I stayed on my knees to paddle before gathering the courage to try standing. I wobbled but committed to standing. It’s an exhilarating feeling to stand and feel the breeze hitting your face. We paddled toward a pier, where we anchored for some yoga. We did several rounds of vinyasas to downward-facing dog. We also did forward folds (both sitting and standing) and lunges. The most daring move we did was standing splits, which can be tricky on the water. I loved every minute of it!

Savasana was spent listening to waves crash near us, putting our arms in the water and feeling the warmth of the sun. We opened our eyes to see the Chicago skyline. I was so grateful for a gorgeous day on the water.

Have you tried SUP yoga? Or just SUP? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!
Chicago SUPYoga can be found on Facebook. Mary Lou offers class packages that make the classes more affordable. 

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