You need a vacation! 15 ideas for affordable family trips

Vacations from the grind of work and home life are so important, and so bonding for your family! Here are 15 ideas for affordable vacations (in no particular order), crowdsourced from a working moms’ group I’m in.

  1. Beach camping in the mid-Atlantic. Assateague Island National Seashore (in MD and VA) is nice... but as the signs say, “Wild ponies bite and kick.” Don’t feed them!) In Delaware, I love Cape Henlopen State Park (tent sites in the summer need to be booked months in advance!). Another suggestion is First Landing State Park in Virginia Beach, which has cabin rentals and many things to do in the area. Also suggested was Kiptopeke State Park, located in the southern end of the Eastern Shore of Virginia, which has cabins.

  2. Beach camping on the southern east coast. You can rent a cabin at Myrtle Beach, SC for under $100/night. Florida has great beach camping too. Scruggs Harbor on the Gulf of Mexico in Indian Rocks Beach, Florida is recommended.

  3. Eastern mountain camping. Beautiful spots: Catoctin State Park in Maryland is great. And I can’t wait to go back to Red River Gorge in Kentucky someday (check out Natural Bridge cabin rentals or a state park lodge like Hemlock Lodge). The swimming pool near Hemlock Lodge is amazing and great for little kids! Crater of Diamonds State Park in Arkansas has a water park and tent camping.

  4. Washington, DC area vacation — The museums and monuments are free, and major historical sites like Mount Vernon are nearby in Virginia. Add a DIY Civil War tour in VA, MD and PA.

  5. Stay at hotels near ski lodges in the off season (spring, summer and fall). They're pretty inexpensive in the summer in particular. The Lodges at Gettysburg (PA) is recommended.

  6. Rent a beach house on the Outer Banks, NC in the off season (spring or fall). Toms of houses and great prices.

  7. Rent a house or apartment on Airbnb — I’ve had especially good experiences in the U.S. southwest (like Tucson and Phoenix, AZ, where there is a lot of new housing stock that is used only seasonally). Bonus points: rent out your own house on Airbnb while you’re gone on vacation to kick back to your own travel expenses.

  8. Rent someone’s timeshare for minimal money. Call around to some timeshare condos in the area you want to stay. Or find out if any of your friends have timeshares. People frequently rent out some of their timeshare weeks to cover maintenance costs.

  9. Rent a houseboat for a long weekend.

  10. Find a church retreat house where you offer service in exchange for lodging.

  11. Visit the Adirondack Park and the Thousand Islands regions of NY. The area is inexpensive. Lots of camping, boat tours, Olympic parks, proximity to Montreal and Ottawa, fire towers, kayaking, rock hunting (there’s a really cheap garnet mine in Lake George), inexpensive whitewater rafting... If you’re looking at New York State, also consider the Ithaca region. It’s a haven of local food culture and there are plenty of parks with campsites right next to awesome waterfalls. Very kid-friendly too!

  12. Go to South Dakota or North Dakota — so cheap! Sylvan Lake Lodge in Custer State Park (ND) is recommended, as is Rapid City, SD.

  13. Do a staycation, driving to new destinations and activities every day.

  14. Wherever you go, save money on food by bringing coolers and shopping at Aldi.

  15. Don’t buy camping gear. Instead, borrow camping equipment from friends rather than buying it, as long as you can return it in the same condition you borrowed it in. REI does camping equipment rentals. You can also rent pop-up campers from various companies.

A book that will make you feel better if you are going back to work after having a baby

The children’s book Oh My Baby, Little One, by Kathi Appelt, is a sweet little read about a mama who goes to work every morning, leaving her child in the capable hands of a good daycare provider.

The mama is a bird, and the daycare provider is a friendly sheep who wears cute hiking boots and happens to look quite a look like the author Anne Lamott, everyone’s favorite liberal auntie.

This is one of those books that’s as reassuring for the parent reading it as it is for the child being read to. Oh My Baby, Little One normalizes going back to work and leaving a child in the care of someone else for many hours, while not minimizing how hard it can be.

The reader is taken through a full day in the work/daycare life of this little family. It starts with the dropoff and ends with sweet reunification of baby and little bird toddler. It is comforting!

Reasons you may like this book:

  • The mom is some kind of fashion designer — super-fun to see her sewing in her studio and then sharing her designs over a coffee date with a duck’

  • The book nails the emotional wallop of going back to work right out the gate: “Oh my baby little one,/ the hardest thing I do/ is hold you tight, then let you go,/ and walk away from you.” Yeah, that’s it!

  • The little bird toddler is so cute! The round rosy cheeks and look of determination going through daycare activities are precious.

Reasons your child may like it:

  • Every illustration has a hidden heart that children can search for.

  • The book helps to explain where mom (or dad) is all day, and how the parent’s love is still present even when they aren’t there physically.

  • It makes daycare, preschool, or time with a babysitter look fun!

Oh My Baby, Little One is definitely a book to pick up if you are headed back to work with a heavy heart. It will make you feel better and your child will love it too!

Advice from Rachel Carson on finding a good daycare provider

I came across this Rachel Carson quote and thought it prescient for anyone looking for the right care provider for their child!

“If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children, I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength. If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder without any such gift from the fairies, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.” — Rachel Carson, The Sense of Wonder

Tall order, huh, Rachel?

But speaking as someone who has been lucky enough to find such a care provider for my child, I can say what a difference it makes. There are so many things to consider when shopping around for the right daycare or nanny — convenience and logistics, cost, reputation, etc. — and yet, the ineffable and hard-to-define “sense of wonder” should rise to the top of the list, too.

Breastfeeding 101 Syllabus

I wrote this “Breastfeeding 101 Syllabus” for a friend who is both a college professor and a new mom. This is just for fun (not a real class!) — an overview of all the tricks and tips I wish someone had told me when I was starting my nursing journey with newborns.

Listen to a podcast about this topic: Anna Hithersay, the podcaster behind “The Post Party: A Podcast for New Moms,” recorded a long conversation with me about this syllabus. Talking to Anna was a lot of fun and I hope you give our chat a listen!

A Breastfeeding Syllabus for All New Mamas

Course Title: Breastfeeding 101

Semester: Fall 2018 (but why stop there?!)


Class Location: Your sofa. Your favorite armchair. (Ikea Poang chair is nice! Especially the rocking chair version). For any chair, you might be more comfortable posture-wise if you use a little footstool under your feet. Those hard uncomfortable plastic chairs at the pediatrician’s office. Your car. Basically everywhere. The nicest spot can be your own bed! (Be sure to learn how to do side-lying nursing – so easy and relaxing for both you and baby! Advanced trick: side-lying nursing without getting up to change sides, AKA “lactation yoga.”)


Meeting Times: All. The. Time.

This is why having your baby sleep in the same room as you is really nice. The Arm’s Reach cosleeper has worked out really nicely for me for a safe sleeping surface for baby while keeping him right next to me. (I got mine used — Craigslist in larger urban areas is a great resource for pricier baby items like this.)


Grading Policy: You will not be graded on this experience. And it is not pass/fail. You can’t fail at nursing – every drop of milk that you can get into your baby’s mouth is gold, whether you nurse for a few weeks or a few years. (I do recommend a few years if you can!) There will be some spills but I hope they don’t make you cry too much. Persevere!


Course Objectives:


·       Fatten up your baby and give him those nice plump nursing cheeks. I’ve read that nursing can be very good for their jaw development – save money on orthodontic work down the line???


·       Relax with your baby and enjoy endless oxytocin flow and snuggles.


·       Achieve happy baby-happy mama nirvana (guaranteed).


Prerequisites: NONE

Recommended Materials:

Just some ideas… the nice thing about breastfeeding is that you don’t really need anything! Just your boobs.

Nursing clothes: Some people say you don’t need to buy specific nursing clothes (use what you have, like buttondown shirts), but I do think it’s important to get some nice nursing clothing. I just read a book by runner Olympian Kara Goucher and she talks about the concept of “enclothed cognition.” The idea is that the clothes you wear can positively impact your sense of self and efficacy in approaching anything challenging. Also, nursing clothes just work better for nursing than regular clothes do!

 I like:

·       Nursing shirts from a company called “Smallshow” on Amazon. They are cheap and available through Amazon Prime… they are pretty… they come in nice colors and patterns… and they work well. This tank is a 4-season basic… this shirt is both striped and floral, if you don’t want to choose between fall trends!


·       A nursing tank from Bravado Designs (Canadian company), if you want to spend the $$$. They are so well-made and you can layer them under cardigans or anything else. These nursing camisoles come in many different sizes and the fabric is nice and thick.


·       Merciless Facebook ads talked me into buying a few pieces from a small company called Latched Mama. Their tagline is “Play clothes for nursing mothers,” but a lot of their items would be great in an office. A little pricier, but really thoughtfully designed and fun clothes.

Hydration and snacks:

·       WATER. Mama needs a bottle too! Nursing makes you sooooo thirsty and it’s great to have a water bottle you love at hand. May I recommend a glass one with a built-in straw? (Don’t put juice in it because it will get moldy, yuck!) I got the “Contigo Autospout Straw Ashland Glass Water Bottle, 20 oz” on Amazon Prime and it’s perfect.


·       LACTATION TEA. Many herbalists say that the Traditional Medicinals brand “Mother’s Milk” tea is generally the best one that is commonly available, but I also like Yogi Tea “Nursing Support” tea. I think that drinking lactation tea is a “can’t hurt” thing that puts you in the right mindset for nursing and is nice for cold fall and winter days! (By the way, I also drink way too much coffee, but I think of this as giving baby some yummy lattes!)


·       FOOD. Eat it all! Trail mix, cheese and crackers, pizza, veggie sticks with dip, all of it! Don’t forget about ants on a log – celery sticks with cashew or almond butter + some kind of dried fruit. Ask someone to make you lactation cookies. A friend of mine says, “All cookies are lactation cookies.” Truer words were never spoken.

Pumping supplies:

·       Breast pump… your insurance company might not let you choose between options, but if shopping around, a really nice one is the Spectra S2. It is quiet, lightweight, very pretty(!), has a nightlight and works really well.


·       Hands-free bra for your pumping session. The Simple Wishes SuperMom Bra is awesome because it is a combo nursing bra and pumping bra – you can wear it all day and pump in it (rather than having to put on a special bra just for pumping). I recently got one and pretty much it’s now the only nursing bra I wear, because it’s way more convenient than the one you put on just for pumping. This is the single best item I bought this year. It makes pumping less of a hassle. Genius invention!

Course Reading and Online Resources:

·       The big special secret advantage of breastfeeding a newborn is READING TIME! You will have time to read ANYTHING YOU EVER WANTED!

If you want some inspiration, consider the following:

  • Anything by Liane Moriarty. She’s an Australian author and all her plots involve motherhood. Her books are page-turners that won’t rot your brain. Also, they are escapist without being unrealistic (assuming you aren’t a suburban Australian mother!). My favorites are The Hypnotist’s Love Story, Little Big Lies, and What Alice Forgot… but all her books are good!

  • The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith — Set in Botswana, full of energy and good-hearted storytelling, always uplifting.

  • Anything by Wallace Stegner. He’s a classic 20th century American novelist whose books brim with sensitivity. They are easy to read! My favorite is Crossing to Safetyit includes a post-partum theme (written from the perspective of a 1930s dude, though!).

  • At Home in the World by Tsh Oxenreider — In which a mom takes three kids on a year-long round-the-world trip (nonfiction). I liked it better than Eat, Pray, Love! Flip-flops and special blankies are lost and/or eaten by monkies, spiritual homes are found. Good stuff!

Tip: Visit your library’s “Friends of the Library” booksale to get a bunch of books for super-cheap. You won’t have to worry about returning them to the library and you can just donate them somewhere else after you read them.


·       In terms of nursing advice, anything by Dr. Jack Newman is great. I read The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers: The Most Comprehensive Problem-Solving Guide to Breastfeeding from the Foremost Expert in North America. (Very good!) He has a newer one called Dr. Jack Newman's Guide to Breastfeeding.


·       The website Kellymom is the bomb. My lactation consultant told me not to get information from any other websites. Kellymom is thought to be credible because it is vetted by International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLCs). By the way, I’m also told to seek out help from people with that IBCLC certification, not just anyone who says they are a “lactation consultant.” 


·       Pick a TV series to binge-watch during your early days of nursing. It can be something to look forward to and you’ll always remember watching it with your little one in your arms. But choose carefully! Maybe something wholesome… you might be feeling some post-partum hormones that make you more sensitive to content. I watched all the seasons of Call the Midwife! (I had to buy some on Amazon Prime. Worth it!) If you like it, you might want to read the book it’s based on, too.

Class Sections:


These days can be so hard. Of course, I’m wishing for an easy time for you, but if it is hard, don’t despair! You and your baby can work through any challenge and get to the other side, which is the land of easy and effortless nursing! Nursing was not easy for me at first, with both kids. I had thrush and mastitis (twice!). Lots of pain in the nipples for first few weeks with both kids, for different reasons. Lactation consultants can help with everything.

·       Magic potion for all nipple pain problems: Dr. Jack Newman’s All Purpose Nipple Ointment (APNO). Your IBCLC will know what APNO is, LOL. SMH, too many acronyms. Oh, and YMMV for any of this advice!

o   Are you all, TL;DR with this syllabus? (If so, TL;DR: Be sure to work with an IBCLC for any problems. It might hurt and be really hard at first but IT GETS BETTER! Drink lots of water and eat lots of food all the time. Enjoy this special time with your baby and use the time to read all the books!

o   But really, the APNO will help with nipple pain, thrush, anything that hurts. It is prescription only and has to be made by a compounding pharmacy. Look into it if you are hurting!

o   A nipple shield is controversial but if you’re really hurting in the early days, it can get you through a painful nursing session until you solve the root cause of the pain. (I used one on some of the worst days.) Use under supervision of a lactation consultant.  

o   A little more about thrush. This is a yeast infection that can live on your nipples, in your baby’s mouth and on your baby’s bottom. It causes soreness in all those places. If your nipples really hurt, could be thrush. A baby’s diaper rash can be “thrushy.” Read all about it on Kellymom and ask your pediatrician and IBCLC if you suspect a problem. It’s pretty easily fixed with various medications.

o   You may also want to read a little about tongue tie. This was never a thing for my babies but is pretty common.

Note on nursing positions: I personally loathe the endless diagrams of positions like “football hold” and “reverse football hold.” They remind me of Ikea instruction manuals. Annoyingly prescriptive and somewhat uncomfortable if you’re hurting and tired. On the other hand, be sure to read about “Laid-Back Nursing if you haven’t been introduced to it yet. So helpful (and intuitively natural)!



·       Be sure to get out of the house! See below, Study Groups. Enjoy nursing nirvana!



·       Your baby’s IQ gets a couple of points higher for every additional month you nurse. (No source cited! Ha. But I read it somewhere). An IBCLC just recently told me that I have a lessened chance of getting breast cancer because I nursed my babies.

Study Groups:

I wholeheartedly recommend finding a local breastfeeding group. Doesn’t have to be La Leche League but of course they are good. These groups are a great way to make friends and troubleshoot any issues you may be having. Also good practice for getting you and baby out of the house.

For Extra Credit:

·       Anna Hithersay has a podcast called “The Post Party Podcast.” It’s about all manner of post-partum issues. It’s very gentle and informative and I love it!

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