Disneyland on a Tight Budget

After doing quite a bit of research on how to manage a Disneyland trip “on a budget”, I quickly found out that there are many different ideas of what that actually looks like. Some people spent more on their “budget” Disneyland trip than I spent on my last car!

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I had a $2000.00 budget for our family of four, and when it was all said and done, we actually came in under budget at the end! I’ll show you a quick breakdown of where our money went, and then give more details on how we found different deals and how we made our decisions.

Disney Budget – Family of 4 (kids ages 4 & 7) for 3 days: $2000.00
Traveling off-season and mid-week – November 2017

Airfare: $426.00
Rental Car: $111.00
Hotel: $196.00
Disneyland 2 Day Park hopper + Max Pass tickets: $1032.00
Character Dinner: $7.26
Food/Snacks: $192.40
Pre-trip purchases: $24.00

Grand Total: $1988.66

Here are the details on why we made certain decisions, or where we found discounted deals…

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Flying vs. Driving

We live about 16 hours from Disneyland, so I was open to driving instead of flying. I compared the costs of driving (gas, extra night in a hotel, food, extra time off of work) and flying (plane ticket and rental car). I was able to find tickets to LAX for only $106.50 per person and so we chose to fly. It was the preferred choice too because then we wouldn’t arrive exhausted and grouchy from sitting in a car with small children for 16 hours.

Often times, in order to get good deals, you have to sacrifice some comforts. In this case, that meant our flight home from LAX left at 6:30am… Which meant we left our hotel at 3:30am to get there on time. I planned ahead and before leaving on vacation, I had dinner prepped and in the freezer so that we could spend the rest of the day taking naps, watching movies, and just recovering from vacation.

Remember to keep your costs down by avoiding baggage fees and only bringing carry-on luggage with you.

I found our flight (Delta Airlines) by using Google Flights. It is my favorite way to search for flights! If you are flexible on your vacation dates, it searches several airlines and will show you the lowest prices for ranges of dates.

Rental Cars

We like the freedom that having your own car allows, so we rented a car through CarRentals.com. We never buy any of the extras they try to pressure you into (extra insurance, toll road access, etc.). I didn’t include the cost of gas into our Disneyland budget, because we would normally be using gas if we were at home as well, so it came from our regular monthly budget. (The final cost of gas for the entire trip was a whopping $12 in the end.)

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Hotel

I know a lot of people like to stay in fancy hotels, have nice pools, and “experience the Disney magic” with a themed hotel. We stayed at our hotel long enough to sleep, shower, and eat the continental breakfast (an important money saver). So my biggest requirement was to find a decent hotel that was clean and didn’t have bugs.

I spent WEEKS looking at hotel deals until finally making a decision. Here are a few things that I took into account while searching:

Parking situation: When assessing the price of the hotel, make sure to account for any extra charges. I only looked at hotels that provided free parking since we would have a rental car.

Distance to Disneyland: The closer to Disneyland your hotel is, the more money you are going to pay. While it is nice to be able to just walk to the park in the morning, there are other options for transportation if you want a hotel a little further away. Some people like to take a break mid-day and return to their hotel to rest or swim in the pool. Our plan was to stay at the park the entire day, so we didn’t mind staying farther from the park. If your hotel is farther than walking distance, you will want to add in the cost of parking ($20/day) or taking a bus.

Our hotel was just a block away from the Disneyland Toy Story parking lot, so we walked to the lot and hopped onto the shuttle bus to get to and from Disneyland.

Cleanliness: When I found a few hotels we were considering staying at, I looked them up on Trip Advisor to read reviews. Keep in mind that there will ALWAYS be that one person who is never happy and leaves bad reviews because the paint was the wrong color. I would read the reviews mainly looking for comments on cleanliness, weird smells, and mention of bedbugs or cockroaches. I would also scour the photos to see what was offered at the continental breakfast.

I found our hotel (Anaheim Express Inn) through Hotels.com, but I also searched for deals on Expedia. Don’t forget to include resort fees and taxes into your final total!

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Food:

We made sure to book a hotel that offered a continental breakfast. When we arrived in California, we made a stop at Walmart and picked up bread, peanut butter, jelly, and sandwich bags. We packed sandwiches each morning and I brought snacks from home (granola bars, nuts, fruit snacks, goldfish crackers, fruit, etc). We brought our own water bottles to the park and refilled them throughout the day at drinking fountains or restaurants that offered free cups of ice water. We budgeted $50 each day to eat dinner out while at the park. We also budgeted extra money for a few fun treats (dole whip, cotton candy, bakery goodies).

And of course we spent a little extra stopping at In-N-Out burger a couple of times.

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Pre-trip purchases/souvenirs:

Before we left on our trip, I wanted to have a few special items for the kids. I bought plain t-shirts at Walmart for $3/each and made them a simple Disney shirt, and their Nana secretly bought them each a shirt to wear on their second day. Jenna already had souvenir Minnie Mouse ears that one of neighbors had brought her as a gift years ago.  Then I bought Micky and Minnie coin purses on Amazon for about $7 and filled them with quarters and pennies for the kids to use in the penny smash machines that we would find throughout the park. (One of the cheapest souvenirs and the kids love doing them)

We decided that in order to keep the trip within budget, we wouldn’t be buying extra things from all of the shops while in Disneyland. So, before we got there, we explained to the kids that we were going to have a lot of fun, and there would be a LOT of fun things in the stores while we were there. They were welcome to look at stuff and tell us if they liked things, but we weren’t going to be buying anything. They understood and it made the trip so much better to not have to constantly have them begging to buy things and being told no.

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Character Dinner:

This was one of the things that we splurged on during our vacation. We took the kids to dinner at Goofy’s Kitchen and managed to only pay $7.26. Yes, you read that correctly! Here is how we did it…

We applied for the Disneyland credit card to use while on vacation. They had a deal running where once you spend $500 on purchases in the first 3 months you receive a $200 statement credit. So, we got the card, purchased our Disneyland tickets with it, and then used our statement credit to cover the $49 annual card fee and our dinner at Goofy’s kitchen (you also get a 10% discount when you pay for dinner with your card).

Now, if you don’t have any self-control when it comes to using credit cards, I highly advise against doing this. We live a debt-free lifestyle, but we recognize that credit card companies offer REALLY good deals. So, when vacation is over and the card is paid off, we simply cancel the card.

If you park at the Disneyland hotel, you can get free valet parking for 3 hours when you eat at Goofy’s kitchen and get your parking pass validated.

Since we arrived in California mid-day, we spent our first day exploring downtown Disney and going to our character dinner. It was a great way to get the kids acclimated and ready for a full day in Disneyland.

 

 

(Connor had to be photoshopped into the Space Mountain picture because he was too small to be seen in the original picture! And the kids hated all 3 of these rides!)

Disneyland Tickets:

Our other major splurge on vacation was to pay the extra $$ to buy park hopper tickets and to buy the Disney MaxPass. The MaxPass is an extra $10 per ticket per day, so I was really hesitant to spend the extra $80, but it was completely worth it.

With the MaxPass you get the Unlimited Disney photopass downloads for the day. What this means is every time you get a picture on a ride, or take a picture with characters, you get a code to enter, and the pictures automatically download into your app and you can save them to your phone! I didn’t think we would get much use out of this part of the offer, but in the end, I had over 40 pictures saved!

It’s simple to use too. After you get off of a ride, simply snap a picture of the screen that shows your ride picture so you can input the code into the app later. If you are taking pictures with characters, the photographer can scan your code from your app and the pictures will automatically be downloaded for you!

The main reason we bought the MaxPass was to utilize the fast FastPass option. With the app, you don’t need to walk over to a kiosk to secure a FastPass, you simply do it from your phone and then scan your code at the entrance when it’s time for you to use it. This meant that as soon as we were in the park in the morning, we could secure a FastPass for whichever ride we wanted without having to walk anywhere to get it. We could be in the middle of a ride when the window came open to get another pass and it was easy to snag it right then! We saved so much time doing fast passes.

The other really cool thing about the option is that if a ride breaks down that you have a fast pass for, you can either save the pass until the ride is running again, or it turns into a magic pass that you can use at ANY ride in the park that offers fast passes!

One night while we were there, I wanted to ride Space Mountain, but they weren’t issuing any more fast passes and I wasn’t willing to wait in the hour-long line. I had a pass for another ride and it happened to break down for a short time, so my pass was converted to be able to use on any ride and I was able to hop onto Space Mountain after a short 5 minute wait with my pass!

This was one situation where spending extra money to wait in line less and maximize our time in the parks was a priority for us and well worth the money.

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When you are considering whether or not you will be able to afford a trip to Disneyland, it really comes down to determining what is important to you. It takes a little more effort to have the discipline to pack lunches, not buy extra tempting snacks, and settle for a regular hotel, but it’s totally worth it!

 

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Dozer Day

Last year we took the kids to Dozer Day at the Clark County Fairgrounds for the first time. Since then, every time we drive by on the freeway, Connor asks when we get to go again. Dozer Day is held every year on the third weekend of May, and I’m  not exaggerating when I tell you that I put the next year’s event in our calendar almost as soon as we are driving away.

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I was hoping the threat of it being a rainy day today would keep some of the crowd away, but it wasn’t to be… It takes more than a few raindrops to scare away people in the Northwest!

I purchase my tickets in advance online because it’s cheaper than buying them the day of. It’s also easier to avoid the lines at will call and have them mailed to you. The tickets aren’t cheap, it cost us about $41 for our family of four, plus $6 parking. It is so completely worth it though. We could easily spend that much money just eating dinner out, and that buys us an entire day of fun!

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The most popular area is near the grandstands where there are rows of excavators and bulldozers to drive. It was well organized but be prepared for LONG lines. We arrived at the event about 30 minutes before the gates opened (I HIGHLY recommend doing this) and waited in line outside. Once inside, we headed directly to this area and didn’t have a horribly long wait. Later in the day I spoke to a lady who said they arrived when the gates opened and had to wait in line for 2 hours!

 

After the kids each had a turn on the excavator and bulldozer, we had a short lunch break. I brought our own lunches, but they have several food vendors selling everything from pizza and gyros to corndogs and turkey legs.

When lunch was finished, we headed over to the paved area where all of the vendors, games, and more trucks and adventures are. One of the kids’ favorite activities is crawling through the tunnels. There are also giant tires and a big sand pit to dig in. Between the mud and the sand, make sure you bring extra clothes for the kids!

There are garbage trucks that you get to push a button and dump the trash can into, firetrucks and ambulances to explore, cement trucks to sit in, and so much more.

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Many vendors have games or activities for the kids. There was a beanbag toss, coloring area, and button making booth to name a few. We ended up bringing home a bag full of stuff. Stickers, tattoos, toy dump trucks, sand shovels, mini hand sanitizers, and even a cutting board!

There is also a scavenger hunt where you collect stickers to put on your hard hat throughout the day at different areas and then you can earn a prize.

If you don’t feel like waiting in the long lines in the grandstand area, they have smaller machines up in the paved area that are just as much fun. The kids loved digging in the small sand piles just as much and the lines were much shorter!

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The best ride of all has to be the steam roller. The kids get to be buckled up in the seat by themselves and drive it on their own (with the operator right next to them for safety). Connor was very serious about it after he was done and told me “I can’t drive a car mommy, but I know how to drive a steamroller”. I’m pretty sure he is imagining that he can just keep one at home now and drive it down to the store whenever he needs to go somewhere!

This is a great adventure for the family and I highly recommend it!

St Croix – Time Off!

I just realized I neglected to write about our free days while we were in St. Croix!

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The two Sundays that we were on the island, one of the YWAM families were gracious enough to take us to church with them. It is such an adventure to visit new churches and it seems like it never fails… The first time you ever visit a church, there is bound to be a guest speaker that day!

We were able to witness a couple of baptisms, visit Sunday school classes, and met new people. We also got to see a scuffle when a centipede happened to crawl on a gal a couple of rows up from us during worship. After that, I made sure to sit on the edge of my seat and was VERY aware of my surroundings!

Friends and fish tacos… A great way to spend your Sunday! The first week we stopped by the grocery store on the way home from church and discovered our new favorite snacks… Lemon cookies and coconut biscuits. The second week after church we joined friends and went out to eat lunch. Then we spent the rest of our day relaxing at the base.

One evening we were able to go to a festival called “Jump Up” that is held in the streets of Christiansted only four times a year. We listened to steel drum bands, ate snow-cones, watched the Mocko Jumbies dance, and just enjoyed the festivities.

We were also able to attend their annual Agriculture Fair. We were only there a couple of hours which was barely enough time to eat lunch and let the kids choose one activity to do. They chose the bouncy slide which was a complete disaster. They are both somewhat afraid of heights and they were scared to go down the slide… And they had waited in line for almost a half an hour to do it! It made for a great but painful learning experience.

There were plenty of delicious and unique food to sample at the fair. We had our fill of Johnny cakes, benye, meat pies, and fried chicken. My favorite part of visiting new places is trying new foods! The interesting thing at the fair was the gigantic amount of cake being sold. Apparently it must be a favorite fair food because there were cake booths everywhere!

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Our last Saturday on the island was a completely free day for us. After calling every single rental car place and finding no available cars, we were starting to despair, but in an answer to prayer, one of the staff offered to let us use his truck for the day!

Cory had his first experience of driving on the left hand side of the road. My job was to be the navigator and to yell at him if he forgot to stay left. I only had one moment of panic and yelling “left left left left left!” and as it turns out, I am a horrendous navigator. Cory was very patient with me as I had to keep telling him to make u-turns because we went the wrong way!

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We started the morning out at Protestant Cay because the water is very gentle and perfect for kids. Jenna had her first experience snorkeling and loved it. She was swimming like crazy trying to catch a sea turtle but it was just too fast for her.

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After about half of our day spent on the beach and then we took the little ferry boat back to town for some delicious lunch. (Jenna was super excited about something she saw on the wall.)

After lunch we did touristy things like shopping, eating snow cones, and feeding pizza to the wild roosters (the pizza was donated to the kids for that purpose by a local Crucian).

We drove to another beach so we could go snorkeling some more, but the surf happened to be really rough. So, Cory risked his life and attempted to snorkel in the giant waves while I stayed behind and built sandcastles with the kids.

We ended the evening with dinner at a little restaurant that was right on the beach. The food was decent, but the location was spectacular.

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So there is a small snapshot of our free time that we had while in St. Croix. It’s always important to take a little time off for family time and to enjoy the culture and the country you are visiting.

 

Holland America Bulb Farms

This morning I decided to make a somewhat spur of the moment trip to visit the tulip farm in Woodland, WA. I had never visited it before, but after checking out their Facebook page and website, it looked like a fun outing and the perfect place for some spring pictures of the kids.

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When we arrived, we stopped in at the gift shop to make sure we found the correct field for picking. All of the staff that we met were incredibly kind and helpful. They directed us to the u-pick field where the flowers are only 50 cents a stem! They even have an “honor box” out in the field that you can put your money in if you don’t want to stop back in the gift shop.

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They were preparing the fields to be ready for Easter and the upcoming Tulip Festival, but as you can see, with all the spring rain we’ve been having lately, Connor managed to find a row full of water to play in! Most of the rows were actually quite dry and I was just fine walking around in tennis shoes.

Jenna loved getting to pick the flowers and was more than happy to let me take pictures of her. Connor on the other hand…

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Laying down in a muddy field of grass. Boys!

The weather was overcast and a bit threatening while we were there, so we got to hear them shooting the hail cannon which scared Connor a little bit. I think he was pretending he died out in the field from the cannon. Not quite how it works little man! The staff at the gift shop had a nifty little handout that explained how the cannon does work and we studied it for our science lesson today.

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I’m glad we came on a weekday because there were only a handful of other visitors and it made it a lot easier to take pictures (when both kids would cooperate). The kids loved it and were already asking to go back again. We really had a fantastic time and I recommend stopping by if you’re in the area!

St. Croix – Kids and Missions

Cory and I have gone on a variety of short-term mission trips throughout the years, but this was our first trip as a family with small children. I know not everyone’s experiences will be the same, but I want to share a little of what it was like for us.

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This is a picture of the kids in the Puerto Rico airport on our way to St Croix. We left our house around 6:30pm and had been travelling for almost 12 hours already. They had slept for about 4 hours on the first flight and I was attempting to get them to take a nap. It didn’t happen. They were in really good spirits and having great attitudes though, so it was okay. After they rested for a bit we let them watch a cartoon and attempted to power-nap on the super uncomfortable airport chairs.

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One thing you need to realize before travelling with children outside of the safety of the US, is that other countries (and territories) don’t quite have the same safety guidelines. Connor rode in a car seat ONE time while we were gone. (and yes, I did move the chest clip up to the appropriate height before driving)

The rest of the time we were on the island we rode around in giant 15 passenger vans. Sometimes the kids had seatbelts, and there were several times they didn’t. While that isn’t ideal, and my safety-conscious mind kept playing disaster reels through my head, it’s just something you should expect.

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Before travelling to St. Croix, I showed the kids pictures from the YWAM website and facebook page to try and familiarize them with where we would be going. Of course the one thing that stood out the most to them was the pool! The minute we arrived at the base they were begging to swim, but they had to wait until the next day as it was almost dark.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when it came to food, but I knew if all else failed, they could eat PB&J every day! There were only two meals that Jenna wasn’t very fond of (chicken enchiladas and sheep stew) and as for Connor… Well, let’s just say he ate better than I expected.

When travelling with picky eaters (Connor), you have to decide if you want to pack food you know they’ll eat, or just hope they’ll eat something and not starve. We did a little of both. Mostly because we knew groceries on the island are quite spendy, so we brought extra granola bars, fruit strips, applesauce, and peanut butter.

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One of the great things about homeschooling, is that it’s easy to bring school with you. All of the kids that live on base are home schooled as well, so it fit perfectly in the schedule for our kids to do school in the mornings. We only did school for the first week though, and took a break the second week.

On Friday mornings, other home school kids from the island come to the base and they all get together to do PE classes. Our kids had a blast joining in with them! There are also dance classes once a week at the base and Jenna was invited to join. They did ballet for the first half and hip hop for the second.

It was really refreshing for me to be surrounded by so many home school families. Not only is it fun to explore the different curriculum and styles everyone uses, but it was refreshing for the kids to fit in and not have to answer so many questions about their schooling.

We prepared the kids before leaving as much as possible, by explaining that we were all going to St. Croix to help others. That meant that they would be helping wherever possible. One of their favorite “jobs” was getting to take care of the chickens every day with Miss Vanessa. She taught them how to care for the chickens, feed them, and collect their eggs.

Jenna washed A LOT of dishes while we were gone. I was really proud of her willingness to help, and not just when we asked her to. She volunteered to help with different tasks all throughout the week.

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Of course the kids had plenty of time to play with their new friends. The base is 5 acres, but is fully fenced so it was safe to let the kids run around and explore. Their favorite places to play were the rubble pile (a giant pile of rocks behind our house), the jungle (an area with some trees, and unfortunately some termites), and the tree-fort (a deck underneath a tree).

They were grubby and stinky the entire time we were there, but they had so much fun!

They played hard and were rewarded with skinned knees (over and over), scraped up backs, bumps on heads, and plenty of bruises. Miss Vanessa was always there ready to clean and bandage them up. She was a lifesaver for all of us while we were in St. Croix and the kids absolutely adore her.

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Of course we made time for fun adventures while we were gone too. The kids go to go to an event called Jump-Up in Christiansted. They especially loved the snowcones and mocko jumbies.

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They had a couple beach days and Connor actually went into the water (overcoming his fear of oceans) and Jenna learned how to snorkel.

There is so much value in letting your children explore the world. In the past two weeks the kids learned about new cultures, thankfulness for our living situations, wildlife (including “lizard friend” who lived in Connor’s room), geography, and so much more.

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Most importantly, I hope that my kids can grow up knowing how important it is to serve others.

I am so incredibly proud of these two kids!

 

**Also, in an attempt to not make this the longest blog post ever, I omitted several topics such as “how to travel with kids and maintain your sanity” and “the importance of flexibility” and “you don’t have to be rich to travel the world”. If you want any advice, feel free to send me a message 🙂

 

 

 

Family Mission Trip – We made it!

We flew out of Portland Sunday night (January 30th) and traveled through the night catching glimpses of sleep when possible. We arrived in St. Croix about 17 hours later (4:30pm February 1st)

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We had a layover in Puerto Rico and an adventure down an escalator that led outside resulting in a fun trip back through the security gates!

When we arrived in St. Croix we were met by one of the YWAM staff and made the long six minute drive back to the base. It’s such an odd experience driving here because everyone owns American cars (with the steering wheel on the left) but they drive on the left hand side of the road! I panic every time oncoming traffic comes towards us because I keep thinking they’re in our lane.

We arrived at the base and dropped off our luggage in our new home. I feel spoiled because we ended up in a single-wide trailer that has a kitchen, bathroom, and three rooms to sleep in!

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The base had 5 acres for the kids to explore, and it’s completely fenced in. Their favorite place to play is the sugar mill.

As soon as our luggage hit the floor, I was off and running. I met with the leaders for the NIKO program and jumped right in. Jet-lagged and sleep deprived made an interesting start to my trip, but God gave me an extra amount of grace and I powered through!

NIKO ran from Monday through Saturday. So, while I was serving as staff on the NIKO, Cory and the kids stayed on the base. I have only been back a few hours now and haven’t quite had time to fully catch up on their adventures here. As time allows, I will post more about this week later.

The island is beautiful and the weather is amazing. We have all been settling in quite well and our first week went better than we had hoped. Please continue to pray for us while we are here. I injured my hip during NIKO and have a rash on all of my skin that was exposed to the sun this week that is quite itchy and bothersome, so prayers for healing would be especially appreciated!

 

 

Crossing The Border

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While on vacation in California, we decided it would be fun to take a day trip across the border into Tijuana, Mexico. This was Jenna and Connor’s first trip out of the US and I was really excited to get to show them a new country and culture!

I wanted to stop by the tourist area first to do some shopping for tacky souvenirs. We drove our car and it was really nerve-racking in the beginning… And I was just a passenger! We drove through some pretty questionable areas (including a street filled with “gentleman’s” clubs) before finding a decent gated area to park.

 

We made our way over to Avenida Revolucion and partook of the most touristy things possible! Normally I wouldn’t waste time visiting some of the shops or taking pictures on the painted donkeys, but I’m fairly certain we were the only tourists in town, and it was nice to support the people working.

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The very first shop we stopped in was filled with dresses for little girls. Of course Jenna was dying to have one, so we spent a fair amount of time trying to find something that would fit and not look too ridiculous. We found this cute little blouse and skirt, and Connor got a soccer jersey. Cory was in charge of haggling on the price and I was in charge of speaking in Spanish to the shopkeepers. In the end, the man told Cory that he “gave a good price for the white lady who speaks Spanish.” ha ha!

Jenna and Connor took a break outside one of the shops while their Nana and Aunt Sue bartered away on purses and jewelry inside. It was my mom’s first time in Mexico and she did an awesome job at bartering with the storekeepers!

We enjoyed a late lunch at a restaurant on the street after we finished our shopping adventures. The kids were thrilled with the “don’t drink the water” rule and enjoyed sodas with their meal.

After lunch, Jenna took a tortilla with her because she was dying to feed the birds. I watched in horrified silence as millions of pigeons swarmed down from the power lines to collect the offered pieces. And then Cory encouraged the kids to run after the birds like the little Mexican children were doing.

I realized mid-trip there were many things we should have talked to the kids about before our trip. They’re just kids, so the most important things they learned were to not flush their toilet paper, don’t drink the water, and don’t sit on the dirty ground (especially in a skort!).

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After shopping in Tijuana, we drove down the coast to Rosarito beach. It was cold and rainy by the time we got there, but we braved the weather and it started to clear up after we had been there for just a short time. The water was just as cold as it is at home though!

We were the only tourists on the beach (it was late November and raining), so we had to deal with constant assaults from vendors trying to pedal their wares. We bought the kids a coconut water, and while they had fun watching the lady chop it up and put the straw in, as soon as they took a drink they spit it right back out!

They loved the pan dulce I bought them from up the street though!

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We were dreading the line waiting to get back across the border, but it actually turned out to be one of my favorite parts of the trip! We still had a lot of pesos left over, so as the different vendors passed by, we bought all sorts of treats to enjoy in the car. We bought fresh flour tortillas, churros, ice cream, and tamales. (And nobody got sick from anything.)

There were also great opportunities to teach the kids about how others live and work, and why it’s important to help those less fortunate than ourselves.

Needless to say, we all had a great adventure in Mexico, and I hope another opportunity for us to go comes again soon!