Southern California Family Vacation Without the Crowds

If you live in Southern California, you know that summer brings out the crowds-visitors from around the country and around the world.. That means it’s hard to go anywhere without running into lots of people and traffic-two main ingredients that makes kids (and parents) cranky.

One place that seems to have held on to its laid-back California charm and has lots of kid-friendly fun is Ventura, particularly the three cities known as VenturaCountyWest (Camarillo, Oxnard and Ventura). Located up the 101 Freeway north from Los Angeles, VenturaCountyWest features uncrowded beaches (with free parking), ocean adventures and tons of easy-to-get-to kids’ summer activities. Here are some to check out.

Channel Islands National Park

Take a tour boat to the Channel Islands National Park out of either Ventura or Channel Islands (Oxnard) harbors. The islands are only 11 miles off the Ventura County coast. On the way, you can see dolphins, seals, pelicans and other wildlife. Hikes, overnight stays, kayaking are all available once arriving on shore. Tours are booked through Island Packers, http://www.islandpackers.com/.

Ventura Harbor Village

Ventura Harbor Village contains an arcade featuring an old-fashioned indoor carousel, arcade and a candy shop with more than 20 varieties of fudge (made fresh daily). Families can rent paddle and electric boats to tour the quiet harbor channels. Back on shore, plan on eating at one of the casual harbor side restaurants featuring freshly caught seafood. http://www.venturaharborvillage.com.

Ventura County Fairgrounds’ Raceway

“Midget” cars, motorcycles and all sorts of other racing vehicles take to the track almost every weekend at the Ventura County Fairgrounds in Ventura. It’s all good fun as you cheer on your favorite driver.

Gull Wings Children’s Museum

This children’s museum in Oxnard is very unassuming from the outside, but once inside, the eight and under set will have so much to do and see that they won’t know where to begin. They can dress up as firefighters, doctors or pretend they are astronauts landing on the moon in an Apollo spacecraft. There are snakes to hold, treasure to find in a geological dig and plenty of Legos to build whatever they wish. Kids can try their hand at rock wall climbing or let their imaginations go while in the driver’s seat of an actual car.

Sky High Sports

You won’t find a big sign announcing Sky High Sports Camarillo from the freeway. It’s in an industrial park-it has to be-the place is huge. It’s filled with trampolines with super padded floors and walls. Kids can play trampoline dodge ball and other organized games or… just jump. All under supervision. Sky High also has laser tag. Kids are sure to come out sweaty and tired-a perfect way to spend an afternoon.

How to Enjoy Family Staycations in a Recession

Now that the summer solstice has given us more time between sunrise and sunset, Americans are officially in summer mode – using the extra daylight hours to spend with the family. But unemployment rates are above 10% in many states and the recession isn’t showing signs of an early end. A lot of us are cutting way back on expenses. The Auto Club estimates that the traditional vacation costs an average of $244 per day for two people just for lodgings and meals. With plane fares, the kids’ expenses and other costs thrown in, the price of a weeklong family vacation could reach $10,000.

With the effects of the recession hitting government agencies as well as individual families, are you wondering how to entertain your kids this summer? Many cities are cancelling summer school, county governments are cutting down on various services and some state parks are closing. So if you need to engage your children this summer, here are some tips to help you take advantage of free and low-cost alternatives to expensive summer activities – the emerging trend of “staycations:”

1. Make good use of your local library. The hours may be cut back but the library is still a good source of fun for the kids. With a library card, you can take out DVDs and CDs, as well as books, rather than buying them. And many libraries are still sponsoring programs that are informative and interesting for the whole family. Why not create a summer book club for your children, teens or yourself? You can decide to read “beach books” or some classics, settle on best-selling non-fiction, beautifully written novels or award-winning titles. The choice is up to you. Your weekly discussion groups will be engaging and fun for everyone.

2. Check out the museums in your area. Many of them will likely have admission-free days, particularly for local residents. Plan your schedule around these days so that you can introduce your children to art, history, nature, music and crafts. The bonus is that you, too, will learn something from these visits and enjoy the time you spend there. Visit a water park, zoo or aquarium that offers shows for the kids. They’ll find out first hand about the habitats and lifestyles of many species.

3. Enjoy free concerts in the park, community festivals and low cost theater productions. Check the local papers for notices about events near you. You and the kids can informally experience all kinds of ethnic celebrations. Search out public tours of civic buildings and corporate businesses. Educational day trips to government offices and companies give you the chance to view beautiful art work and learn about what goes on behind usually-closed doors. Community playhouses often have revivals of classics, musicals or innovative avant guard shows at reasonable costs. You can explore small theaters in your city or line up for rush, discounted tickets at more well established ones.

4. Go outside with the kids. Locate maps of your community and hike in the hills, walk in areas you haven’t explored before or bike in the flats around a lake. A trip to the community swimming pool is fun for everyone. Plan to picnic on the grass at home or camp out overnight in your own backyard. Take in a baseball game, sitting in the bleachers. If you can, take a drive to a lake or the ocean and spend time with the family enjoying the vastness of the waterscape, the warmth of the sand, the sound of the waves crashing, the smell of sunscreen, the open blue sky. Or drive to the hills or mountains for full days of hiking and camping in the simple beauty of nature. Park Rangers may be available to give you informative talks about the flora and fauna you are seeing.

5. Do some cooking or baking together. It’s always fun to hang out in the kitchen together, even in the summer. Make some tried and true favorites like chocolate chip cookies. Teach the kids some of your old family recipes or try out an interesting new one. Summer can be the time to schedule potluck evenings with family friends. Everyone can pitch in to keep down the costs and create a diverse menu. Bring the recipes to share and you have new dinner ideas to use during the coming year. Cap off the evening with charades and team games or you can set up tournaments for board games, based on your children’s ages.

6. Explore a new area or hobby with the kids. Summer might be just the right time to finally get going on that interest that has been percolating on the back burner. Have you wanted to start a family tree? Now, take the time to get on the Internet and start researching. Organize your snapshots? Get out those photos and arrange them in an attractive scrapbook or e-book. Learn about the universe and star gazing? Visit a planetarium, observatory or the library. Buy an inexpensive fish with the kids – and then teach them how to clean the bowl, how often to feed their pet and even about the life cycle of fish.

7. If you can, include some staycation plans solely for adults. Schedule a joint massage for you and your partner at a local spa. Take a day cruise or a short train ride – just you two. Splurge and stay at a nearby bed and breakfast. You’ll find that the time alone for a romantic getaway refreshes you and your relationship.

Planning and taking a real staycation gets you out of your everyday rut and creates memories for your family to share throughout the year. Now that you have heard lots of good ideas for taking a staycation without draining your funds, get out there and enjoy yourselves! And don’t forget to take lots of pictures so you won’t forget any of the delightful details.

© 2009, Her Mentor Center

Top Tips for Getting Away From It All, Without Actually Getting Away

I have just booked a holiday, the kind of holiday I have never booked before… an all inclusive week long spa break. I have almost always gone away in search of something; adventure, creativity, exploration (of self and the world), romance, culture, learning… but now I know all this is available on my own doorstep I feel less of a need for a holiday and strangely, I feel like I need to need this kind of holiday!

This got me thinking and in a recent survey I did in my own head, it seems that many people reach a certain point, let’s call it a breaking point, and decide they need a holiday. The ten main reasons for going on holiday, according to the aforementioned survey, were as follows;

1) Need to get away from work/life stress

2) To relax

3) To get quality time with loved ones

4) Habit – “we always get away at this time of year.”

5) A break from the norm

6) A new experience/different culture

7) To have some fun – nightlife, a sporting event, or just an adventure.

8) To get some sun/a tan (so that you can feel happy/look healthy)

9) It’s on my bucket list – “I’ve always wanted to go there.”

10) Facebook is showing that everyone else is doing it and I need some new pics to get everyone jealous.

The funny thing about holidays is that sometimes booking them seems to add stress. For example, people often book their two week break, and then spend months telling others (before and after) that they can’t afford anything else because they have just paid for/been on their holidays (which of course must include a whole new wardrobe and toiletry stock up). There are also those that worry about their work, either before they go, desperately trying to tie up ALL lose ends (they can’t possibly delegate), or whilst away, or when they come back to hundreds of emails. This kind of thinking is what makes some believe they can’t take a break at all.

So how can you get the same results that a holiday gives you, without actually going on holiday?

Here are my top tips for getting away from it all, without actually getting away:

1) Make the most of your free time – don’t just come home on a Friday night and eat dinner in front of the TV. Plan a date night; a quick drink after work or a dinner date does not cut into your chill out time, it’s part of it!

2) Schedule in a couple of hours at the weekend or an evening in the week to do something for you. Get creative, read a book quietly in a cafe, or simply sit in a warm bath. Make sure other people are aware this is happening and it’s for you… not to get away from them, but to reconnect with yourself. Equally, schedule in quality time with loved ones – a lift to football practice or food shopping with your partner does not count!

3) Think good thoughts and you really don’t notice the rain… and share that with others, smile at strangers.

4) Have a themed night in. Mexico, Italy, France, Asia..get everyone to bring a dish using unusual fruit and veg, get dressed up, find some tunes, decorate the dining room, rent a relevant movie… bring the culture to you.

5) Once a month turn a weekend into an adventure – jump on a random bus, stick your finger on a map, make a list of places you want to go and can get to, put the ideas in a hat and pick one, or simply take a walk and get off the beaten track. The key here is to be excited about what you might discover.

6) Have a night out with the girls – slap on some fake tan and bust out the summer time tunes as you get glammed up.

7) Focus on what you have got – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, grateful people are so much happier than those always chasing something else. Write a gratitude dairy every couple of days and reflect when needed.

8) Relax – meditate, swim, do a yoga/mindfulness class, have a lay in… whatever works for you, do it… and do it often.

9) Really look at things around you in wonder – see things differently and you will find many wonders already in your world.

10) Be silly – letting your hair down isn’t just for children or when alcohol is involved. Go dance in the kitchen and sing in the street!

American Express Credit Card – Find the Ideal AMEX Credit Card for Your Needs

Best Amex Credit Cards in Singapore

1. American Express True Cashback Card

Who should go for this: People who love cashbacks.

What you'll love: You get 3% cashback overall for the first 6 months, capped at a total spend of S $ 5,000. After that, the cashback is 1.5% of all kinds of purchases, goods or services.

Special privileges: You get to be a part of the American Express Selects program that offers discounts on dining experiences. There are also additional True Cashback Deals and travel offers every year with this best Cash back card one among Amex credit cards.

2. American Express Rewards Card

Who should go for this: Those who love reward points and the things they can buy you on redemption.

What you'll love: On spending S $ 1,500 within 3 months of getting your card, you get 24,000 Membership Rewards points. Additionally, you can add 5 places of your choice in Singapore (from the card's list of 150 outlets including supermarkets, fuel stations, fashion and electronics stores, and restaurants) where you can get 50% more rewards points for the first 3 months. Also, if your annual spend is more than S $ 5,000 you are eligible for 50% higher reward points for any kind of purchases. What's more, the reward points have no expiry date, which means you can keep piling them up until you get enough to redeem for your favorite item in their rewards catalog, or convert into frequent flyer miles.

Special privileges: Apart from the American Express Selects dining program, you also get to be part of the American Express Global Dining Program that covers eateries in Singapore and abroad. Exciting travel offers also roll in every year.

3. American Express CapitaCard

Who should go for this: Those who shop a lot of CapitaLand Malls.

What you'll love: At CapitaLand Malls you can get 5 STAR $ rewards for every S $ 1 spent. Selected purchases from participating outlets will get you an extra 10 STAR $, with a maximum of S $ 1,200 per month being eligible for this reward. You can redeem these STAR $ for CapitaLand vouchers.

Special privileges: If your monthly credit card use is more than S $ 1,200, you can also avail 3-hour complimentary parking per mall. You can also park in Privileged Parking lots at selected CapitaLand Malls if you spend at least S $ 1,800 in a month. Dining and hotel booking discounts are also available.

4. American Express Platinum Credit Card

Who should go for this: Those who love lifestyle discounts.

What you'll love: The welcome gifts! On full fee offer, you get a Philips Air Purifier and a Tumi Vapor Luggage, while with the first fee waiver offer you get a Samsonite Armet Spinner 57cm Expandable Luggage. Reward points collected through the Platinum Credit Card – 2 points per S $ 1.60 spent and 10 points for each S $ 1.60 spent at Platinum EXTRA Partners – do not expire.

Special privileges: You become a part of the Platinum Dining experience, American Express Selects program and Global Dining program, being eligible for up to 50% discount on dining at restaurants and hotels across the world. You also get exclusive travel, wellness, golfing, entertainment and other lifestyle deals.

5. American Express Platinum Reserve Credit Card

Who should go for this: Those who love lifestyle discounts.

What you'll love: 2 Membership Points are earned for every S $ 1.60 spent and 10 points for each S $ 1.60 spent at Platinum EXTRA Partners. These points last indefinitely.

Special privileges: Platinum Reserve card gives you a host of travel and lifestyles privileges. From a free night's stay at one of the Capri properties to concessions on staycations at boutique hotels, and up to 50% discounts on restaurants to luxury yacht and golf course discounts, this card is filled with holiday deals.

6. American Express Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer Credit Card

Who should go for this: Frequent flyers.

What you'll love: You get a bonus of 5,000 KrisFlyer miles the first time you swipe your American Express Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer Credit Card, followed by 3,000 KrisFlyer miles if you spend S $ 700 in the first 6 months of getting the card. You can accumulate KrisFlyer miles for practically every dollar spent through the credit card. You can avail 2 KrisFlyer miles per S $ 1 spent on selected purchases through Singapore Airlines website, Silk Air website, KrisShop and at SilkAir SkyShop, both in-flight and online. Until June 30, 2017, you get a cashback of S $ 150 on the next purchase through Singapore Airlines website, when you spend S $ 12,000 on your card. The accrued KrisFlyer miles are directly transferred to your KrisFlyer account and there is no conversion fee.

Special privileges: You get several dining discounts and many other perks such as airport lounge access and car rental discounts.

7. American Express Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer Ascend Credit Card

Who should go for this: Frequent flyers.

What you'll love: You get a bonus of 5,000 KrisFlyer miles the first time you swipe your card, and also get another 5,000 KrisFlyer miles if you spend S $ 1,000 in the first 6 months of getting the card. You can collect 1.2 KrisFlyer miles per S $ 1 spent on selected purchases anywhere, and 2 KrisFlyer miles per S $ 1 spent abroad in the months of June and December.

Special privileges: Free airport lounge access and car rental discounts apart, this card also gives you a free night's stay with Millennium Hotels and Resorts, KrisFlyer tier upgrade on spending more than S $ 15,000 on the credit card in 1 year of getting it, and higher Travel Inconvenience & Travel Accident benefits.

8. American Express Singapore Airlines PPS Club Credit Card

Who should go for this: Frequent flyers.

What you'll love: You get a bonus of 5,000 KrisFlyer miles the first time you swipe your card, and another 10,000 KrisFlyer miles if you spend S $ 3,000 in the first 6 months. You get 1.3 KrisFlyer miles for every S $ 1 spent in Singapore as well as overseas for a maximum spending of S $ 3,800 in a month. If your expenses are above S $ 3,800 in a month, you can earn KrisFlyer miles at the rate of 1.4 miles for spends in Singapore and 2 miles for overseas purchases. You also get 2 miles on purchases at Singapore Airlines and Silk Air websites, and at KrisShop and SilkAir SkyShop both in-flight and online.

Special privileges: Up to June 30, 2017, you can avail 50% KrisFlyer Miles Redemption Voucher if you spend S $ 75,000 or more overall. On spending S $ 15,000 or more on Singapore Airlines website, you are eligible for Double KrisFlyer Miles Accrual Voucher. There are several offers on dining, airport lounge access, car rentals, luxury yachts, golf clubs, and spas and resorts.

9. American Express Singapore Airlines Solitaire PPS Credit Card

Who should go for this: Frequent flyers.

What you'll love: You get a bonus of 5,000 KrisFlyer miles the first time you swipe your card, and another 15,000 KrisFlyer miles if you spend S $ 3,000 in the first 6 months. KrisFlyer accumulation rate is 1.3 miles for every S $ 1 spent in Singapore as well as overseas for a maximum spending of S $ 3,800 in a month; if you end up spending more than S $ 3,800 in a month, you can earn KrisFlyer miles at the rate of 1.5 miles for spends in Singapore and 2.4 miles for overseas purchases. In addition, you get 2 miles on purchases at Singapore Airlines and Silk Air websites, and KrisShop and at SilkAir SkyShop purchases both in-flight and online.

Special privileges: You can avail a free one-sector upgrade from Business Class to the Singapore Airlines Suites or First Class if your card expenses at the Singapore Airlines website is more than S $ 50,000. If you spend more than S $ 75,000, you can get 50% KrisFlyer Miles Redemption Voucher. Dining discounts, airport lounge access, car rental discounts, luxury yacht and golf club deals, and spa and resort concessions are also aplenty on this card.

Now that you know what AMEX Credit Cards give you, why don't you apply for one? Go, go, go!