Top 8 Family Travel Moments of 2016
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We started 2016 with a non-mobile 5 month old baby and a kindergartener in intensely cold Steamboat Springs, and we are scheduled to end the year at home in 70+ degree weather with a fully reading first grader, a toddling 17 month old, and a new puppy named Holly. I can't say that the pace of life has slowed any in these last 12 months, but it was certainly a big year of growing for our crew in almost every way imaginable.
This wasn't our busiest traveling year of all time, but it wasn't our slowest either. Our youngest daughter has now been on close to 30 flights, and we all added a few stamps to our passports. As is usually true with young kids, our best trips were often the less ambitious ones. To be fair, we had our share of challenges and travel low points in 2016, but along the way we also experienced some pretty great travel highs that I am excited to relive and share today.
Without further ado, here are our Top 8 Family Travel Moments of 2016...
8. Amex Centurion Lounge Opening at Our Home Airport of IAH
When the Amex Centurion Lounge opened at our home airport of IAH in the summer of 2016 it was actually pretty major travel game changer for us. We love a good lounge visit before a flight to enjoy a complimentary meal, a nice drink, a good clean restroom and changing area, and we especially appreciate a family friendly play room to get out the wiggles before sitting on the airplane.
Being able to enjoy the Amex Centurion lounge thanks to our Platinum Card® from American Express, before or after any flight we wish is pretty great. It is a stop we now include on many of our trips to and from our home Houston airport which has improved our air travel experience by a pretty good margin.
7. Seeing Cousins and the Real Santa in NYC
As we have done in many years passed, we again made our post-Thanksgiving pilgrimage to New York City both to see family in the area and to experience all of the holiday magic that NYC has to offer including ice skating in Bryant Park, viewing decorated department store windows, and of course seeing the real Santa at Macy's on 34th Street.
The #1 goal of travel for my family is that my girls stay connected to their family members around the country. Being able to do that while enjoying the holiday magic of NYC is certainly one of our top family travel moments of the year.
6. London Living
In the late summer of 2016 my family of four + Grandma headed to London and Edinburgh for a very ambitious international trip with a newly minted one year old. It was tiring at times as you might expect, but there were some highlights including simply being in London and Scotland for a few days and doing normal things like playing in the park, shopping in Harrod's, eating in pubs, walking around, and more.
Eating in the Edinburgh Castle and then viewing the fantastic annual Edinburgh Military Tattoo performance one evening in Scotland was an especially special moment on this trip that I will remember forever.
5. Double Digit Baby Flight Success Stories
Our littlest started 2016 as a five month old non-mobile flyer and ended the year as a very mobile 17 month old traveler. Not every single flight was a high flying success with her, but most of them absolutely were.
She has been a lap baby for every one of her flights 30-ish flights, and I have honestly been shocked at how well that has gone. My first daughter was not a snuggle bug and was not a good lap baby candidate, but my second daughter is very happy and at home right in my lap...with a fully loaded iPad at the ready, of course.
We are still a ways away from easy flights where we can just sit down and exhale, but I am thrilled at how well most of our time in the air went with our youngest in 2016.
4. Flying Solo
2016 marked the first time that our oldest daughter flew home from her grandparent's house by herself as an unaccompanied minor at the ripe old age of 6.5 years old. Coincidentally that was the same age that I took my first solo trip roughly 30 years earlier. I left the decision whether to fly by herself or not totally to her, and when she decided she could do it, she rocked that solo flight home to Houston like the flying pro that she is!
Late in 2016 I also took a solo trip of sorts when I flew with just my toddler along for the ride. It was a fair amount of work navigating the flying process with her by myself, but it was even more fun than it was work. It was empowering to be able to do that successfully with my toddler, and I know that my then 6 year old also felt empowered after her own solo flight.
One final solo flight travel standout of 2016 was when I took a work day-trip to Chicago in the fall of 2016 without anyone else with me! I hadn't gotten on a plane without others along for the ride in about a year and a half, so even though it was just a day trip, it was still a big deal for me. It also marked my first time to try and pump on a plane...hence the "hmmm this is weird" face in the photo below. That part wasn't exactly fun, but again it was an empowering moment and hopeful glimpse into the future when we again can experience all sorts of different types of trips as the girls get a bit older.
3. Skiing Together in Steamboat
Our first trip in 2016 was to Steamboat Springs, Colorado, and it was the first time that my oldest daughter and I really had a great time skiing down the mountain together. This triumphant skiing together moment happened at the end of the trip, and it was a tremendous teaser for the mountainside fun that hopefully awaits us in 2017!
2. Family Time in the Lost Pines
On my umpteen visits to the Hyatt Lost Pines Resort outside of Austin I always thought it would be a fantastic place for our extended family to gather for a summer family visit. It is an idyllic luxury family camp type place where people voluntarily put away their electronics and pull out the s'mores, inner tubes, and more to reconnect with themselves and others.
In the summer of 2016 we finally got my husbands family together at Hyatt Lost Pines and the cousins (and adults) had a blast swimming, running, chilling, and exploring that beautiful property together. This is the primary point of points for me, and I know that my daughter will remember that trip with her cousins and grandparents for many years to come.
1. Exhaling in Mexico
If I had to pick a #1 family travel moment of 2016 for our crew it was when we went to Mexico for spring break. We had cancelled our big planned first class excursion to New Zealand because it was the right trip, but at the wrong time. Our dramatically scaled back trip instead to Cancun and the all-inclusive Hyatt Ziva couldn't have been a better match to where we were in life at the time.
The flight was short, the resort had everything we needed there for the taking, and the weather the first couple of days was just perfect.
Our littlest also started to hit some developmental milestones while we were there, which was an extra special cherry on top.
On this trip we were relaxed, we had fun, and I cannot wait to return in 2017 or 2018 to hopefully again capture that feeling of exhaling for a moment. Not all family trips are vacations (in fact, most of them with little kids are not), but there were some vacation-esque moments on this family trip that jumps it to the top of the heap of our best family travel moments of 2016. Interestingly enough, a family trip to a resort in Mexico also made the #1 spot on our 2015 top travel moments!
Because I think that the all-inclusive Hyatt Ziva Cancun is so well suited for points loving families, I'll include links to the several posts I wrote about the trip below. If you make the trip, I hope you love it even half as much as we did.
- Booking and Getting to the Hyatt Ziva Cancun
- Review of the Hyatt Ziva Cancun Pyramid Suite
- Review of the Hyatt Ziva Cancun Pools and Beaches
- Review of the Food and Drinks at the All-Inclusive Hyatt Ziva Cancun
- Activities, Kid's Club, and Babysitting at the Hyatt Ziva Cancun
Miles and points played a starring role in every single one of these trips that we enjoyed in 2016.
We couldn't have afforded even a fraction of the trips that we took if we didn't rely heavily on hotel points, free hotel night certificates, airline miles, fixed value travel points, and other related perks from our rewards credit cards. The miles and points themselves were not the star of 2016 for us, but they played the supporting role that made the standout family travel moments possible.
I don't know what all 2017 has in store, but I hope it will include a more balanced travel portfolio with a trip or two with just my oldest daughter and then just us adults. I hope that it will include some joyful and carefree moments with all four of us swimming, laughing, and playing in some amazing settings. I hope that it will include a decent amount of sleep and rest both at home and on the road. I hope that we squeeze a few more lap baby flights in before our youngest turns two in the summer, and I then hope that she makes a smooth transition to sitting in her own big girl seat. I hope we make it to snow, to a beach, to family, and to at least one other country. Those may be quite mild goals for a travel blogger, but if I learned anything in 2016 it was to aim a bit lower and enjoy the victories a bit longer.
Here's to a solid year of travel in the passports and cheers to a fresh year just on the horizon. I'd love to year your 2016 travel highs and your 2017 travel goals!