Vancouver BC: Wrap up and Tips For Your Visit

Day 1: Border Crossing; Point Roberts Washington; Tsawwassen
Day 2: Bloedel Conservatory and Queen Elizabeth Park; Downtown Vancouver
Day 3: Victoria
Day 4: Museum of Anthropology; Vancouver LDS Temple
Day 5: Biking in Stanley Park; Lynn Canyon; Grouse Mountain
Day 6: English Bay Beach; Coming Home; Final Thoughts

 

We woke up on day six sad to leave Vancouver. We all had such a wonderful time, but all vacations must come to an end. We decided to head over to English Bay Beach for a little bit before hitting the road. We had ridden past it on our bikes the day before. Such a great little area, right downtown almost, with a great green space and wonderful views.Inukshuk Monument at English Bay

Located in the park is the The Inukshuk Monument, which represents Northern hospitality and friendship. It was also used in the Inuit culture as a navigational aid. I love this guy. He was everywhere. I got a little jade pendant of him as my souvenir. A symbol of friendship is so fitting for this beautiful area- the people were so nice, so friendly. We would all do well to remember to be a little more courteous I think.

For the win…

Here are my top 5 must do activities in Vancouver BC:

  1. BIKE STANLEY PARK: And the entire seawall if you can. Rent a bike just outside of the park entrance and spend the day exploring. Yes, the day. If you can. Pack a picnic, take your time, enjoy the beaches and stops along the way. The area is second to none and you will find yourself in awe of its beauty.Biking the seawall in stanley park
  2. GROUSE MOUNTAIN AT NIGHT: Even if you aren’t a skier. I most definitely am not. The views are breathtaking and the whole area is magical. There’s much to do up there including hiking, zip lining, eating, ice skating (in the winter/spring), watching some shows, etc. etc.. Grouse Mountain Ice Rink
  3. HIKE LYNN CANYON PARK: If you’re looking for a more authentic experience, skip Capilano Suspension Bridge Park and head over to Lynn Canyon Park. You’ll still get a suspension bridge, and it’s free (except for parking)! Less crowds, and more open spaces to explore and hike.Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge 2
  4. VICTORIA: Take the BC Ferries over to Vancouver Island and head in to Victoria. You could spend a day or even a week on the island. Rich in history and so much beauty. This peaceful getaway is an absolute must.Victoria Inner Harbour 2
  5. BLOEDEL CONSERVATORY AND SURROUNDING GARDENS: This is an inexpensive, close-in spot that the budding photographer dreams about. Hundreds of birds and beautiful foliage for a really reasonable price.Bird at Bloedel Conservatory

A few words of advice…

Here are 10 tips and tricks to help you have a great trip:

  1. CURRENCY: Before your trip, stop by your bank and order up some Canadian dollars. They accept US dollars at most places but you’ll end up paying more. In many shops if an item cost $5.00, you could either pay that in USD or CAD. If you choose USD, you’ll end up paying 25% more.
  2. CREDIT CARD: Make it easy and just use your credit card for most purchases. (You still want to have cash on hand for transportation and other things.) Just call up your credit card company in advance and make sure you won’t be charged a fee for using it internationally, and to ensure the exchange rate will be equal to current rates. Avoid those surcharges!
  3. CELL PHONES: Double check your coverage- you don’t want to get charged an arm and a leg for roaming and international fees.
  4. HOTELS: If you’re on a budget, saving on a hotel can be big. Look outside of the main city for cheaper prices. We stayed in Richmond and it was perfectly situated between everything that we wanted to do. Also, watch for parking fees. Many hotels in the city will charge you for parking. Look for a free breakfast to save lots of money!
  5. DON’T OVERFILL YOUR TRIP: Take time to really enjoy what you’re doing. We sometimes have the tendency to want to see everything. But that just makes you tired and you miss out on full experiences. If you can’t fit everything in, just enjoy the things you can do. Less stress = better vacation.
  6. TALK TO THE LOCALS: Get to know the people who live in the area. They have a great perspective and guys- they are OH SO FRIENDLY!
  7. VENTURE OUT: Vancouver has so many great features, and so does the surrounding area. One of our highlights on the trip was on our first day at a beach in Tsawwassen.
  8. EAT LOCALLY: We tried to eat at local spots as much as possible. On top of that, we tried to just happen upon our restaurants, meaning- we stopped at something that looked good or unique- we didn’t research it first (with the exception of Off the Grid Waffles).
  9. BORDER CROSSING: As I mentioned in a previous post, just have all your documents ready and be respectful. These guys were so friendly and helpful when we went through.
  10. DID YOU BUY SOUVENIRS: Don’t forget that when you cross back in to the US, you need to have an accounting for everything you’re bringing back in that you purchased in Canada. You’ll need to pay duties, or taxes, on items exceeding $200 if you were in Canada for less than 48 hours, or $800 if you were there longer. We kept all of our souvenirs and purchases in one bag close to the drivers seat so it would be easy to access should the officer need to look at it.

Enjoy your trip!

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Vancouver BC: Day 2

Day 1: Border Crossing; Point Roberts Washington; Tsawwassen
Day 2: Bloedel Conservatory and Queen Elizabeth Park; Downtown Vancouver
Day 3: Victoria
Day 4: Museum of Anthropology; Vancouver LDS Temple
Day 5: Biking in Stanley Park; Lynn Canyon; Grouse Mountain
Day 6: English Bay Beach; Coming Home; Final Thoughts

Bloedel Conservatory

Inside Bloedel ConservatoryThis place was amazing!

I have teenage boys, and they even liked it.

It’s a photographer’s dream (just be prepared for your lens to fog up a little if its chilly outside).

There are over 120 birds and over 500 plants and trees- it’s like a little rain forest in there.

Bloedel Conservatory is located in Queen Elizabeth Park in Vancouver. It was super easy to find, easy to get to, and a great way to start our drizzly “exploring-the-city” day. Here’s the great thing: for our family of five, it cost less than $20 (cad) – such a great value!Bloedel Conservatory Vancouver British Columbia

 

The Gardens at Queen Elizabeth Park

Gardens at Queen Elizabeth ParkAmazing. The gardens are just steps away from the conservatory. It seriously feels like the Garden of Eden. I was looking forward to seeing some beautiful gardens on this trip- we cut out Butchart Gardens in Victora in order to stay in budget and there just wasn’t enough time with everything else we wanted to do. And I have to tell ya, I’m satisfied. Someday I’ll go to Butchart, but even if I never do, seeing these gardens and just the beauty of the whole area will do, plus it was free (except for a few bucks for parking).

The Downtown Library

Vancouver British Columbia Public LibraryOf course we had to go to a library.It is just something my boys like to do.

Vancouver Public Library EntranceThe architecture of the Vancouver library is incredible. I mean, just look at the photos! Inside we made our way to the top floor, which housed the rare books and some historical stuff. Microfilm ReaderIt also had microfilm and readers. Michael is my son that is in to tech. He gets computers and is learning to code. Stuff way beyond me.
He went straight to a reader, picked up some microfilm and worked on loading it up. It was fascinating to him, and then my other boys joined him to see this super cool technology. It turned out that the roll Michael had picked up contained newspapers from the 1930’s through the 1950’s. That’s a lot of information on one little roll of film. He read about World War 2, and other events.

Lunch at the Library

Vancouver BC Public Library InsideIn the lobby of the library are a half dozen or so little restaurants- Flying Wedge Veggie Pizzaso we grabbed some lunch there. Four of us went to this delicious pizza place called Flying Wedge. I got the veggie and it was seriously the best slice of pizza I’ve had! Carey went to a place a few shops over and got some sticky rice. We all had satisfied and happy bellies when we left for our walk through downtown.

Christ Church Cathedral

 

We had heard that the cathedral had some amazing stained glass windows, so we walked maybe a half mile over to see them. I love stained glass- I dream of someday having the skills and supplies necessary to create some great works of my own.

The windows of Christ Church Cathedral were stunning. Think about all the time and love that must have gone in to creating them!

After the cathedral we went over to Yale Town and caught a ride…

The Aquabus and Granville Island

aquabusThe Aquabus is a system of little ferries that bus people around False Creek in downtown Vancouver. There are also the False Creek Ferries, which have mostly the same stops and are comparable in price. We chose Aquabus because it was at our stop first. When we asked the difference between the two, the captain jokingly said that the Aquabus crews were friendlier. I will say that they were super nice and helpful.

Guys- if you go to Vancouver, you need to do this. You can get a day pass and stop and explore all of the areas around town. The best part is you get a great view of the city from the water- it was just really nice.

Granville Island MarketWe took it to Granville Island, which I had read all over the place that it was a must see in Vancouver. Carey and Carrie at Granville IslandIt was pretty cool- the first thing my boys did was stop in at a music shop and explore every instrument inside. Granville Island would be ideal for the traveler who loves shopping. Tons of shops, a local market, some restaurants. And don’t let the name fool you, it is accessible by car, but you might have a difficult time finding a parking spot. We thought it was fine, but ultimately it wasn’t the highlight of our trip, or even the day.  After leaving Granville, we took the Aquabus to the far end of False Creek and then walked along the water back to our car. So to reiterate: Aquabus=Must do; Granville Island=meh (for the non-shopper).

Off The Grid Waffles

Waffles.

I think Vancouver has a thing for waffles. Seriously almost every street we walked down had some sort of waffle shop. We could have stopped by any of them and been happy I’m sure, but I had heard of Off the Grid Waffles from an Instagram friend and really wanted to check it out. It is not downtown- maybe a 15 minute drive from there. So we hit it at the end of the day on our way back to our hotel.

JengaHoly smokes! It was so tasty. The staff there were super nice, great service, and they had Jenga on every table and at the bar which was fun to play while they were prepping our treats. I got the brownie waffle bowl, Carey and Ryan got the Oreo bowl and the older boys each got waffle milkshakes. The waffles were so perfect- crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Everyone was super satisfied. It was a tad pricey, so we just had a cheap Subway dinner to keep us in budget.

TIPS OF THE DAY:

  • If you’re going to explore downtown, find a parking lot that will allow you to leave the car there for the day. That way you don’t have to worry about meters and time constraints.
  • If you do need to use a parking meter but don’t have change- no worries! You can pay with a card on your phone. We did this when we went to the Library but spent more time than we thought we would. The service is great because you can add more time to your meter remotely (as long as you don’t exceed the maximum time). So as we sat eating lunch I fed the meter, giving us time to walk down to the cathedral and do some exploring. Bonus- No service fee!
  • Pay attention to the weather and be flexible. We shuffled things around a couple of times because of the weather. Bloedel Conservatory and the Library are great things to do on a more drizzly day.
  • For sure don’t miss the area around False Creek! Take the aquabus or ferries to get a great view.
  • Every website you visit will tell you to go to Granville Island. I say go if you love shopping, but if your trip is short on time and big on ideas you won’t be missing too much if you pass it up.

 

 

Traveling on a budget: Planning a Road Trip

When you are on a budget, careful and smart planning is key.

Right now I’m in the middle of planning our big summer temple tour, so I thought I’d share a little bit of my process.

It is never too early to start planning.

Mind you, if you have a trip that is five years down the road, you’re not going to be able to book hotels or flights. But you can put together a Pinterest board or dream book or whatever it is you do, and start dreaming of what you want to do and where you want to go.

The trip I’m currently working on is in five months. I started brainstorming about a month or so ago, and am now in the throes of planning accommodations.

But I’m getting ahead of myself..

Step One: Dream it. Dream big…

You will likely have to do some paring down later on in the planning process, but this will allow you to pick the most important or most exciting things on your list and cross out the others.

Step Two: Create your route and price it out…

smaller mapHere’s an example. For our summer temple tour, we will be stopping by most of the Utah temples, Las Vegas, and then some of the California temples. On top of that, we’re going to be touring several college campuses for my oldest son. So I started by logging all of the destinations on Google Maps and working on a route. It starts the day we pick the boys up from EFY in Rexburg and ends at a beach house on the Oregon Coast.

FUEL-

Once I know my route and the mileage, I can estimate my fuel cost. I guess I’m a nerd, but it’s really important that I know how much money I’m going to need to save. So take your trip miles, and don’t forget to add in some extras for around town driving and other excursions, and divide that by your car’s average gas mileage. So if you’re driving 2000 miles and your car gets 20 miles per gallon, you’re going to need to plan on pumping 100 gallons of gas. Multiply that by the current price of gas (+ a little more in case the price goes up) and you have your gas budget.

LODGING-

bedThen next big thing to think about on your route is where you’re going to sleep. Highlight any location where you’ll be staying overnight and decide if you’ll be staying with family, camping, or needing a hotel or other accommodations.

My trip is five months away, but I am still a little late to the game. August is a busy vacation month. And since we’ll be staying in places that are pretty popular (LA, San Francisco..) we are already at a disadvantage. Along my route, most places are already heavily booked, which drives up prices.

Our route is divided into two legs. Leg one is just our family, and then my parents will be joining us for leg two. So leg two’s budget will be divided between our families. That is super helpful financially. If you ever travel with a group it can cut your budget sometimes in half.

I just finalized our overnight stays for leg one yesterday. We’re staying at a hotel one night for free thanks to our reward points at Holiday Inn Express. (We try to use the same hotel often because the points do add up!) The other nights are all Airbnb.  We chose Airbnb for two reasons: Affordability and Interaction. We’ll get a little more space for our money, and get to know some interesting people along the way. (PS- this is not a sponsored post, I just like to use these guys.)

Leg two will be a little more difficult. California is practically booked up AND is freaking expensive so I’m going to have to get creative. Finding deals is important to me- I never like to feel like I could have paid less. I have found that more often than not, the best prices are found on the hotel’s own website. There are a lot of travel websites out there that compare prices, and I usually start with those just to get an idea of who will be in my price range. But I ALWAYS book through the hotel directly. It gives me a sense of security, and if they have a rewards club you can end up saving more in the long run.

I’ve priced out the areas we will be staying and have a general idea of how much it will cost. From there, I decide how much I actually want to spend and then get to work finding something in my budget. It definitely takes some effort but it is worth it to me.

One thing that I spend a little extra on when making reservations is a flexible cancellation policy. When you’re planning this far out, you just never know what will come up. At Holiday Inn Express, it’s usually just a few dollars more and I have the comfort of knowing I can cancel up to the last minute if I need to, without losing any money.

Step Three: Schedule Unscheduled Time…

This is so important. You need to enjoy your trip. You don’t want to come home exhausted!

Our upcoming trip is pretty extreme. We’ll be visiting 18 temples, 5 colleges, and some fun touristy things like Hoover Dam, the Santa Monica Pier, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Googleplex (for my son). But we also want to really enjoy our time. I haven’t been to the central coast of California for 20 years. My parents are from there and really want to catch up with family and visit the beaches and places from their younger days.

This is one of the reasons why we cut out two temples from this trip. Sacramento and Fresno can wait. Instead of trying to cram in another 10 hours of driving, we’ll spend an extra day in Arroyo Grande and then leisurely drive up the coast visiting Cambria, Carmel and Monterrey along the way. Which sounds more enjoyable to you?

While our trip will be a lot of driving, we actually don’t have more than 5 hours in a single day. Most travel days will average only around 3 or 4. And there are several days with no travel at all.

Plan to explore freely, or so sit on the beach without having to look at your watch. Let it be a vacation.

Step Four (and beyond): Be Flexible…

Once you’ve planned out the route, the gas, the hotels, and anything else you want to do and know how much it’s going to cost you you need to do three things.

  1. Add at least 10% to your budget. You will always spend more than you think you will.
  2. Decide if that budget is reasonable. If not, start cutting.
  3. Start saving

We just cut two temples off of our tour because it would cost just way too much, and would add too much time to our trip. It would also make for a pretty crammed days, which I’ll get to in a minute.

Anyway- you have to be willing to let go of a few things. Maybe leave a day later so you have one less night in a hotel. Or consider alternate accommodations like Airbnb, staying with family, or even camping. Plan to eat out less, or cut off a day or two of your trip. Make the trip work for your budget.

Once you know how much your trip will be, start saving. My trip is five months out. I will look at how much I have in savings now, and then decide how much I need to save each month to have enough. If you are excited and invested emotionally in your trip, you will have that added motivation to set the money aside, or to spend less of less important things.

 

A FEW LAST THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND-

  • Will you need to do laundry? When and where will you do it?
  • Bringing kids? Encourage them to save and bring their own money for souvenirs and snacks.
  • Speaking of food… if you will be eating out a lot, don’t forget to plan in tips.
  • Also speaking of food- staying at a hotel that offers free breakfast can save your budget!
  • Don’t go into debt for your vacation. Make it fit into your budget so it can be a pleasant memory and not a burden.

 

Road Tripping: Why I Love Ziploc Freezer Bags

I love Ziploc Bags. Specifically the gallon size.

20170201_111601No, this is not an advertisement for the company. Just a quick note about something that has made our road trips so much easier– especially when the Meerdink boys were younger.

Here’s the deal. I hate a messy car. I like things to be organized, and I like to be able to find things when I need them. I don’t like having to fish through a bunch of junk when I need something. That goes double for when I’m in the car.

We’ve traveled a lot with our boys. Starting from when they were really young and we lived in Florida. Lots of back and forth to and from Utah to visit family. Then moving across the country. Then traveling all over Oregon and Washington on road trips while I was working on a little project. The absolute biggest nuisance on every trip was snack foods.
We all like to snack on longer car trips- it just helps the time go by a little easier. Kids are no different. I found myself digging through bags of food, reaching back every time a different kid wanted something, trying to make sure things were distributed evenly or heaven forbid it wouldn’t be fair! 

20170201_111912One day, as I was prepping for a trip, I had a light bulb moment. I pulled out my gallon sized Ziploc bags and evenly distributed all the snacks between them. I labeled one with each of their names, and handed them to the boys as they got into the van. They were excited to have their own stuff, and felt empowered as they were able to decide when and how much to eat. They felt like big boys because they got to be in control of something. I’ve actually ended up spending less on food on trips because of this.

Now my boys are teenagers, and guess what. We still do it. They get a little more say into what goes in to the bags, but I’m still saving money and still not having to worry about who -got-what-when-and-how-much-they-got-and-he-got-more-than-me-and-I-can’t-reach-all-the-way-to-the-back-and-I-think-I’m-going-to-lose-my-mind anymore. Yay!

PS – They work well for adults too.