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The countdown is officially on at my house! My family limped, clawed, and dragged our way through the end of school to summer vacation. And now we’re ready for our road trip!


This is our first summer back in the U.S. after three years overseas, and one of our biggest takeaways from our time in Europe is the fact that the United States is . . . BIG.

Really, really big.

And after visiting more than 20 European countries, I’m ashamed to admit that the number of U.S. states we have visited pales in comparison, which brings me to our summer plans — the Great American Road trip! I’m talking national parks, national monuments, the World’s Largest Whatever, a few great diners, and miles of open road in between.

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No strangers to the road trip, one recent summer, we drove 5,000 miles. In preparation for our upcoming “windshield extravaganza,” I’m reminded of a few road trip nuggets that’ve helped us along the way. No matter your destination, these tips can help make for a more enjoyable (and affordable) trip.

1| GET ON THE SAME PAGE.  

This is step # 1 for a reason. Let’s say your family loves a good road trip. They love the idea of getting away from it all — a few hours on the road each day, plenty of time at the destination to explore, hike, swim, relax and play, with leisure time to spare.

Meanwhile, you, who also loves a road trip might be thinking, we’ll knock out 600 miles today so tomorrow we only have to do 400.  We’ll see X, Y, and Z along the way, and get to the hotel by midnight.

See the disconnect?

Before you set out on the open road, ask yourself and your family these questions: How far do you want to go every day?  What are you hoping to accomplish on this trip? What do you think is a realistic amount of time in the car each day, given the attention span and abilities of everyone involved?

When I think about being on the same page, a purple sand beach comes to mind. On a previous road trip through California, my husband had a particular purple sand beach on his list of must-sees. We were already hours behind schedule, and by the time we finally arrived at this beach, it was DARK. One child was sleeping, and the other needed to be.

When I first realized how late we were going to be, I automatically assumed this beach was off the list. But as I sat in the car with my sleeping son and watched as my husband and daughter disappeared down a dark, wooded trail to the beach with nothing but a dim flashlight, I learned then and there to never assume anything.

The takeaway? Discuss these things before you set out. Manage expectations. Set limits. Give yourself permission to deviate from the plan when necessary. Figure out a set of rules that everyone can agree on.

(Fun fact: In the dark, purple sand looks exactly like regular sand. Truth.)

2| SHARE OWNERSHIP.

Give everyone ownership of the trip. With the exception of babies and toddlers who can’t yet tell you, Yes! We can’t wait to visit Niagara Falls, let everyone have a say-so in what you do and see along the way.

I find that my children are more engaged when they are involved in the planning and choosing of what we do and see. Provide travel books ahead of time for each person to browse, and then compile a must-see list.

For young children, take the time to tell them what’s available that you think they would enjoy.  There will likely be a lot of overlap in what people want to see and do, which works out great, but when each person also has the anticipation of seeing or doing their special thing that they picked, something extraordinary happens: the kids are more patient, more interested, and generally happier when we do something from their must-see list.

Also, depending on the ages of your kids, finding books that have some connection with where you are going is a great way to increase interest and engagement (think non-fiction, but not travel books for this). 

We did a road trip through Poland, Austria, Hungary and the Czech Republic and as we drove, we read aloud from an autobiography of a Holocaust survivor. It truly was one of our most memorable trips. Reading about an experience while being in the very place where it happened made the trip more meaningful for all of us.

Visit the library before you go, and find books tailored to your travels. Maybe you’ll be following the route that Lewis and Clark took when they came West — read about it along the way! Passing through the Sacramento, CA. area?  Maybe check out a book on the gold rush of 1849. Wherever the destination, there’s likely a book that would pair well and with a little planning, you can be prepared with some relevant materials for you and your kids. 

Include everyone in decisions about what and where to eat. Even very young kids can voice an opinion on what they feel like eating. And if they know that in two hours you’re going to be at the restaurant they helped pick out for dinner (thank you, Google), they’re more excited, and better able to resist the urge to ask, “Are we there yet?”

Pass the time by reading and sharing some basic facts about the city or area, pull up the restaurant website and read the menu (this also helps keep things on track once you get there), and talk about what you hope to see at your next stop.  It may go without saying, but the common-denominator here is communication. 

People of all ages do better when they are in the loop and know what’s going on!

3| GROCERY STORE PICNICS.

Eating out is one of the biggest costs of a family road trip. Three words — grocery store picnic —are the backbone of a successful road trip. Grocery stores are in nearly every town, no matter how small, and offer options for everyone to eat what they want at a fraction of the cost of a traditional sit-down restaurant.

Take your grocery items to a local park or riverfront and have a picnic. Let the kids play and run around for a bit before piling back in the car. When my family travels, the goal is to avoid eating in restaurants (this includes fast food) whenever possible, which helps keep costs in check. 

Bring some items from home that don’t require refrigeration. Peanut butter, a loaf of bread, crackers, oranges & apples are always staples when we travel .

4| CHAIN HOTELS.

Chain hotels, while sometimes lacking charm and local culture, are a great tool in the road trip arsenal. There’s comfort in consistency and predictability, and this is what chain hotels almost can provide.  Especially for children (and even for adults), the closer reality is to expectation, the better the outcome.  Since most chain hotels are pretty similar, this takes some of the unknown out of the picture, which for some can be a source of stress.

Other benefits to a chain hotel are that they are often located in suburban areas, just outside the city, so they can be easy to get to at the end of a long travel day, and they tend to be very close (walking distance) to public transportation. Parking is usually free, or nominal, and you can just leave your car and take the train or bus to and from the city.

Join whatever “priority” or membership club the hotel has, as there is always some benefit to this. If Wi-Fi is not free, hotels usually waive the fee for preferred members, and Wi-Fi is essential to planning your travel for the next day. Best of all, chain hotels almost always include breakfast — a variety of innocuous food that everyone will eat. EAT this food. You’ve already paid for it.

5| BE FLEXIBLE AND ROLL WITH IT.

Car trips are an adventure, there will be highs and lows. Your kids will pester each other when they get bored. You’ll get grumpy. You might drive the wrong way down a one-way street and find three lanes of traffic heading straight for you. We did. You’ll live through it.

Your car might develop vapor lock and stall out just inches away from a 1200-pound moose. Ours did. You’ll live to tell about it. 

You might contemplate jumping out of your vehicle moving at high speed when things get to be too much. Ok, we never did this, but we definitely considered it.

On a family road trip, the good almost always outweighs the bad, and even the bad always makes for a funny memory when it’s had time to fade a bit. Perhaps Dan Stanford said it best, “Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want.” 

You’ll also share countless moments and laughs, bringing you closer together. And your kids will definitely remember the journey – maybe even more than the destination.

Here’s to the open road. Safe travels!

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As the saying goes, "failing to prepare is preparing to fail," and that seriously applies to parenting. With no fewer than one dozen items to wrangle before walking out the door on an ordinary errand, mamas have plenty on their mind. That is why one of the very best gifts you can give the mamas in your life this year is to reduce her mental load with some gear she can depend on when she's out and about.

Although it may be impossible to guarantee completely smooth outings with kids in tow, here are the items we rely on for making getting out of the house less of a chore.

1. Bugaboo Bee 5 stroller

This stroller is a dream come true for any mama on the go. (Meaning: All of us!) Lightweight, compact and easy to maneuver with just one hand, this is made for navigating busy sidewalks with ease—or just fitting in the trunk without a major wrestling match. It's designed for little passengers to love just as much, too, with a bassinet option for newborn riders that can be easily swapped with a comfy, reclining seat that can face forward or backward for bigger kids.

$699

2. Bugaboo wheel board

This wheel board will let big brother or sister easily hitch a ride on the stroller if their little legs aren't quite up for a full walk. We love the smart details that went into the design, including a slightly offset position so Mom or Dad can walk without bumping their legs. And because toddlers have strong opinions of their own, it's brilliant that the wheel board allows them to sit or stand.

$125

3. Nuby Keepeez cup strap

If you know a little one gearing up for the major leagues with a killer throwing arm, this is a must-have so parents aren't buying new sippy cups on a weekly basis. Perfect for tethering to high chairs, strollers, car seats and shopping carts, it allows Mama to feel confident she'll return home with everything she left with in the first place.

$6.99

4. Bugaboo footmuff

For those mamas who live anywhere where the temps regularly dip below 40 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter, this ultra-soft, comfortable footmuff is a lifesaver. Made with water-repellant microfleece, it keeps little ones dry and cozy—whether there is melting snow, a good drizzle or simply a spilled sippy cup.

$129.95

5. Bugaboo stroller organizer

Because we know #mombrain is no joke, we are all for products that will help us stay organized—especially when out and about. With multiple zipper pockets, a sleek design and velcro straps that help it easily convert to a handbag when stepping away from the stroller, it helps keep essentials from spare diapers to the car keys within reach.

$39.95

6. Bugaboo Turtle car seat

It may be called a car seat, but we love that this one is specifically designed to securely click into a stroller frame, too. (Meaning there is no need to wake up a sleeping baby for a car-to-stroller transfer!) More reasons to love it are the lightweight design, UPF 50+ sun protection shade and Merino wool inlay, meaning it's baby and mama friendly.

$349

7. Chicco QuickSeat hook-on chair

This hook-on baby chair will almost certainly earn a spot on your most-used list. Perfect for dining out or simply giving your baby a space to sit, it's portable and beyond easy to install. (Plus, it's a great alternative to those questionably clean high chairs at many restaurants!)

$57.99

8. Bugaboo stroller cup holder

Chasing after kids when out and about can work up a thirst, just like neighborhood strolls in the chillier months can get, well, chilly. So we love that this cup holder will help mama keep something for herself to drink close at hand. Designed to accommodate bottles of all sizes and easy to click onto any compatible stroller, it's a perfect stocking stuffer.

$29.95

9. Bugaboo soft wool blanket

Fair warning with this luxe stroller blanket: It's so cozy that you might want to buy another one for yourself! Made with Merino wool that helps it stand up to any elements parents might encounter during an outing, it will help baby stay warm during the winter and cool enough as the temps start to pick up.

$109.95

10. Munchkin silicone placemats

Made to roll and stow in a diaper bag, these silicone placemats will make dining out a (relatively) less messy experience. With raised edges that will help contain spills and a grippy bottom, they will stay in place on tables so that parents might be able to enjoy their own meals, too.

$8.99

11. Bugaboo Breezy seat liner

Designed to keep baby warm when it's cool and cool when it's warm, this seat liner will minimize fusses during all seasons—which is one of the very best gifts you can give a mama. Because accidents of all types can happen on the go, we also love that this seat liner is reversible! With a number of colors, it's also a fun way to help a stroller to stand out at the playground.

$79.95

12. OXO Tot Handy stroller hook

If you ever catch yourself thinking it would be nice to have another hand, these stroller clips are the next-best solution for when you are out and about. Perfect for lugging a bag or anchoring a cup, you'll want a set for every stroller you own.

$14.99

This article was sponsored by Bugaboo. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

Our Partners

It's so interesting how the popularity of baby names ebb and flow over time. Think about the most popular names when you were growing up—chances are, you probably don't see too many new babies being given those monikers in 2019. Khaleesi overtook Brittany in terms of popularity, for example.

But if you're noticing that names like Charlotte, Henry and Amelia seem to appear in a lot of your friends' birth announcements, you're onto something: These are three of the most popular names from 2019.

BabyNames.com has released a list of the top baby names of this year, and you may find a few of them (but not necessarily all of them!) a little surprising. 2018's biggest boy name, Atticus, dropped off the top 10 list. Also missing from this list? Sophia, the beautiful female name that has dominated on a global scale in previous years.

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But some names have held their popularity: Liam, Owen, Olivia and Violet are a few of the names that trended both last year and this year.

RANK

BOYS

GIRLS

1

Liam

Charlotte

2

Oliver

Amelia

3

Theodore

Violet

4

Declan

Aria/Arya

5

Henry

Aurora

6

Owen

Ava

7

Finn

Olivia

8

Caleb

Vivienne

9

Emmett

Hazel

10

Benjamin

Nora

The top name for baby boys probably won't come as a surprise to most. It's Liam, which has been a consistent powerhouse for a few years now. It's easy to see why—Liam is one of those names that everyone just loves. With that being said, if you're hoping to avoid giving your child a very common name, you may want to cross this one off the list, along with Oliver and Theodore (these were the top three boys' names). And if you're expecting a girl, forget about Charlotte, Amelia and Violet, which took the three top spots.

"It seems there is definitely a royal influence to baby names this year," says BabyNames.com founder and CEO, Jennifer Moss. "Both Liam and Charlotte are linked directly to the British Royal Family. Liam is a shorter version of the name William, like the Duke of Cambridge, and Charlotte is the name of his daughter."

Classic names that have always been incredibly popular are expected to become less common as well. "For 2020 and beyond we see some traditional Biblical names like David, Michael, and Luke dropping off the top 100. This is almost unprecedented," says Moss. "Those are being replaced with more unique Biblical names like Josiah, Gabriel, and Elijah."

Expect lots of nods to nature and flowers to become more popular in common years, with names like Violet, Iris, Juniper, Rose, Daisy and Dahlia gaining speed. Want to see how your child's name stacks up? Check out the full list of 2019's top baby names at BabyNames.com.

News

In a culture full of consumerism and competition, it can be difficult to remember to feel grateful and not stressed when preparing the "perfect" holidays for our kids. After all, we create the magic. But how often do we stop to think about what is really good in our lives? Probably not often, mama. Days are spent worrying about what we have to do next, what we haven't done yet, what we did do, but not well—especially during the holidays.

This stress can make us tense and anxious. Our bodies think we are in flight or flight and our nervous system kicks into overdrive, releasing adrenaline and cortisol to ensure we can deal with this stress. Adrenaline increases our heart rate, elevates our blood pressure and boosts our energy and cortisol, the stress hormone, increases blood sugar and enhances our brain's use of all that energy. This response is all well and good if we are really in danger, but too much for too long can weaken our immune system, affect our digestive system and weight, impair our reproductive systems, and may lead to heart problems.

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This natural alarm system also communicates with the parts of our brain that control mood and motivation—a sure formula for no fun when combined with the pressure of creating the perfect holidays.

Instead of feeling burdened, what if we choose to be grateful for all we have to do? We get to shop. We get to wrap. We get to decorate.

Psychologists say that we can switch or replace one thought with another. It takes practice—like all good things do—but taking a moment to switch from I have to, to, I get to, can make all the difference.

Research at UCLA's Mindfulness Awareness Research Center found that having an attitude of gratitude can actually alter the molecular structure of our brain, making us healthier and happier. And the effects of practicing gratitude are long-lasting. In a study out of University of California, Berkeley, nearly 300 adults participated in an experiment that involved writing gratitude letters and reported significantly better mental health for up to 12 weeks after the writing exercise ended.

Need more reason to practice a little more gratitude? A study at the University of Southern California found that our brain is full of the love hormone, oxytocin, when we experience gratitude, which may account for those positive effects of being thankful has on our relationships, well-being and mental health. Bonus: The beneficial effects are likely to be amplified with more gratitude, producing a positive feedback loop that serves to create more gratitude.

Bottom line: By switching our perspective from "I have to" to "I get to," we can change our perception and affect positive changes in our lives. What a great thing to model for our littles during the holidays—and always.

Life

As part of my training to become a Montessori teacher, there was a big emphasis on building relationships with the children. When a child walked into the classroom, we would get down on their level, shake their hand and make eye contact (if they were open to this) and say something like, "I'm so happy you're here today."

This is because Montessori focuses on the whole child, including their physical and emotional well being, and also because it is much easier for a child to succeed academically if they feel comfortable and connected in the classroom.

So amidst the busyness of life, how can we make sure we're showing our kids enough affection? How can we make sure they feel our love when we're racing around being mamas?

Try these phrases and adjust them to fit your own style and family so your precious little one doesn't get lost in the shuffle:

1. "I'm happy to see you."

When I became a mom, I said this every morning in the classroom and made it a part of my morning greeting to my children each day. It can be hard not to start the day on a grumpy note when young children wake up (SO) early, but it's important to let them know that we're happy to be here with them, taking care of them, each and every day.

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2. "Let's snuggle."

Maybe you set the alarm just five minutes earlier every day and build in a little snuggle time when you wake your child up for school. Or maybe that sounds horrible and you opt for a Saturday morning weekly family snuggle party instead.

Whatever works best for your family, find a way to include regular opportunities to relax and snuggle together even as your child gets older. Some children need more physical affection than others, so make sure to follow your child's lead.

3. "I love that you are so generous."

One part of my Montessori training that really stuck with me is acknowledging "qualities of greatness." This is a strategy that can be particularly effective with a child who seeks negative attention. Catch them when they are doing something right, no matter how small it is, and make a big deal about it.

Does your child always take toys from their younger sibling, but then you catch them in the act of sharing a favorite book? Let them know that you see it. Say something like "I love seeing you be so generous with your sister! You are a really giving person."

This lets our children know that we see them as good people, and it also helps shape their perception of themselves.

You can extrapolate a quality of greatness from almost anything.

Your child put their own shoes on? "I love that you're so independent!"

They picked up their Legos without you asking? "You sure are conscientious!"

Find a way to give them a meaningful compliment and it will stick with them.

4. "Do you want to know one of my favorite things about you?"

Especially if you have more than one child, it's important to let them know that you love them for who they are, uniquely. The more specific the compliment you offer them, the more it will mean to them.

"You're a good boy" doesn't really mean much but "I love that you take good care of your things" is specific enough to matter.

5. "Come sit with me."

Sometimes affection looks like a big bear hug and kind words and sometimes it's simply a quiet moment together. Especially for young children, it's not always clear what their love language is, but quality time together is always important to our children.

It's easy to put a lot of pressure on yourself and think "quality time" has to be a special one on one date to an unforgettable place, but it can be as simple as a few cozy minutes together on the couch.

6. "Is there anything you want to chat about?"

I often ask my 3-year-old this at bedtime (well really after bedtime, when he's called me back into his room for "one last song"). He usually doesn't come up with anything in particular at this point, but it's important to me that he knows I'm there to listen.

I imagine that one day he'll surprise me with an answer that gives me a little window into his heart, but even if he doesn't, what matters is that he knows he can talk to me and that I always have time for him.

7. "You give the best hugs."

One day when I was in my Montessori classroom, a little 3-year-old girl walked up to me and randomly gave me a hug. As she walked away I heard her to say to herself, "I give the best hugs," and it brought the biggest smile to my face.

I am sure her parents tell her this all the time. There is a big difference between "Do you need a hug?" (which is also a great thing to say) and "You give the best hugs!"

Let your child know that you're hugging them not just because they want to be close to you, but because you want to be close to them, and value and treasure their affection.

8. "Did you get my note?"

I'm not entirely sure why, but one of my earliest and most clear memories from my young childhood is of receiving notes in my lunchbox at daycare from my mom. I couldn't even read yet, but it meant the world to me to have a little note from my mom in the middle of the day.

It doesn't need to be every day, but writing little love notes to your child lets them know you're thinking about them.

9. "What would you like to do together?"

Try letting your child lead the way in choosing what to do with your quality time on occasion. Even if it's only for 30 minutes, they will get the idea that you want to spend time with them doing what they want to do. Showing interest in your child's hobbies, even if you have little interest in them yourself, pays off over time because you learn so much about what your child is thinking and feeling through watching them play.

10. "I love you no matter what."

It's easy to show your child that you love them when they're being fun and adorable, but it's a bit harder when they're getting in trouble at school or yelling at you. Even, and especially, amidst the tantrums and notes from the teacher, make sure to let them know that your love for them is unconditional.

At the end of the day, you have to find a way to show your love that feels natural to you. Experiment with different types of affection and you will be able to tell what resonates the most with your child.

Maybe you're a snuggler and they're not, maybe you're not big on compliments but they crave your words of affirmation. That's okay. Just becoming a little more aware of how you show your affection will help you make sure your child is really feeling the love you send them each day.

Learn + Play

We can't lie to you—the idea of matching family holiday pajamas gets us all sorts of giddy inside. They're the perfect early holiday present for kids to wear on Christmas morning and the best excuse to wear loungewear all day long.

So snuggle up next to the fire 🔥, grab some hot chocolate ☕, and get ready to rock these comfy, cozy matching PJs this holiday season. Shop our favorite looks below!

1. Hearth & Hand with Magnolia

matching family pajamas target

Matching family PJs designed by one of our fave design couple powerhouses Chip & Joanna Gaines? Yes, please. Even the family dog can get in on the fun. Starting at $9.99.

$9.99

2. Hanna Andersson Deer Collection

hanna andersson pajamas

Iconic brand Hanna Andersson pretty much wrote the book on matching family PJs, and we could not love them more. There are so many Insta-worthy styles to choose from, you're going to have trouble choosing just one. Plus, they're on sale right now! Prices start at $28 for kids.

$28

3. Feliz Navidad Collection

feliz navidad matching pajamas

However you say Merry Christmas, celebrate in style with this gorgeous green set. Prices start at $8.39.

$8.39

4. Sleepyheads Holiday

matching pajamas

Made for lounging, Sleepyheads' pajamas have the cutest polar bear designs. These would make the most adorable Christmas morning pictures! Infant pajamas start at $16.99.

$16.99

5. Hanukkah

hanukkah family pajamas

You don't need to celebrate Christmas to get in on the matching family pajama game! We love these coordinating Hanukkah PJs to kick off the Festival of Lights. And, yes, there's a matching piece for your pup! Pieces for your little ones start at $10.49.

$10.49

6. Wondershop Winter Wonderland

matching family pajamas

Nothing adds to the magic of the holidays like mama and a little winter wonderland. How gorgeous are these colors? Prices start at $8.39.

$8.39

7. Harry Potter

harry potter matching family pajamas

Add a little extra magic to the holidays with this Harry Potter set. Mischief managed by mama, of course. Prices start at just $9.09.

$9.09

8. PajamaGram Snowfall Plaid Set

matching family pajamas

These comfy plaid snowflake-filled PJs will keep everyone nice and warm this season. The snowflake theme isn't holiday specific and can be worn all winter long! Prices start at $29.99

$29.99

9. Plaid Collection

matching family pajamas plaid

The perfect pair for your holiday Instagram photo. Prices starting at $8.39.

$8.39

10. Gray Striped Collection

gray striped matching pajamas

If you're not into the holiday colors, or want sets that work outside of the season, we love this minimalist gray striped set. Perfect for cozy days all year long. Prices start at $8.39, mama.

$8.39

11. Jammies for Your Families

khols matching family pajamas

How fun are these festive fairisle prints? There's something everyone in your family will love. Prices start at $19.99.

$19.99

12. Hanna Andersson Stripes Collection

hanna andersson stripe family pajamas

For a classic look, these stripes would be adorable on any family. And, we can't resist that elf hat for your littlest family members. Prices start at $20.

13. Burt's Bees Baby Family Jammies

matching family pajamas burts bees

Made of 100% organic cotton, you won't believe how soft these jammies are. Plus, they're breathable so if you're the type of overheat at night, these are a great option. Prices start at $16.95.

$16.95

14. SleepytimePjs Fleece Deer Plaid

matching family pajamas

You can never go wrong with buffalo plaid and this set doesn't disappoint. The baseball tees offer a more modern look and the deer head is such an adorable touch. Prices start at $6.99.

$6.99

15. Frozen Pajamas Collection

matching family frozen pajamas

If you prefer to have a little Disney on your Christmas morning, we love the classic look of these pajamas. The cold won't bother anyone in this set. Prices start at $9.09.

$9.09

16. Red Buffalo Check Collection

buffalo check family pajamas

There's nothing more classic than buffalo check during the holidays. This one even has nightgowns available! Prices start at $8.39.

$8.39


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