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Saturday, February 27, 2016

Surviving a Cruise with Kids

You might be weighing your options on how to plan a vacation that your whole family will love. Kids have short attention spans sometimes and want instant gratification, so perhaps a cruise where there's always something going on and you have a finite amount of time in each port to get off the boat, do something fun and then get back on to get ready for the next stop.

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Do Your Research on Ships
All cruise ships are different and offer things that other ships don't. Also, smaller ships don't have tons of options for entertainment (duh, right?). Make sure you look at what ships have and don't have and do some research on what other cruisers have said about it. You don't want to spend 5 days on a ship that only has cool stuff for adults to do and your kids want to kill themselves.

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Scope Out the Foods
Almost everyone has a picky eater in their family. Sure, cruise ships have many different dining venues, but you're going to want to do your research here, too, even before you climb onboard. Make a list of what they have and match them up with what you know your kid(s) will eat. Who knows, maybe they will feel adventurous and try something new, but don't count on it. Once you get on the ship, take them around to all the different eateries and make sure you (and they) know where they can eat and how to get there. If the ship doesn't have enough variety to keep the kiddos happy, perhaps you need to find a new one.

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Entertain Them
What do your kids like to do? Does your chosen ship have the things that will keep them from hating life while stuck at sea? Many cruises have a teen dance club and kids-only activities they can do, but if you're spending time as a family, look for things that you will all like. The rule is: If the kids are happy, everyone's happy. Also, make sure that those activities they will enjoy won't cause you to go broke. There can be a lot of things on a ship that cost extra. If there are tons of activities, but they all cost extra, either you're going to have some bummed kids on your hands or you're going to be sad when you end up paying the bill at the end of the cruise.

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Plan Each Day
With all the activities onboard, make sure you don't end up with those dreaded summer words "I'm bored," or "There's nothing to do!" You'll get a schedule of events each night for the next day. Have your family look it over, either that evening or at breakfast and schedule what you're going to do while at sea that day. That way they have an expectation of how they'll be spending their time and you won't have to deal with sulkers (for that, anyway).

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Let Them Do Their Own Thing
Give your kids a bit of space and time away from you. You can probably both use it. There's no place for them to go, so eventually they'll show up for food or clothes or something. Allow them time to be on their own and make some new friends or hang out with their siblings without you. It'll give you time to hit the spa or have some romantic times.

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Have Them Pack a Bag
Kids should always know how to pack a bag, but this will give them some practice in packing light, because there's not a huge amount of room in a cruise cabin. Give them a bag and tell them that's the limit of what they can bring. Maybe make a list of the things that must be in there, like swimsuit, sandals, three pair of shorts, etc. 

Also, know that when you first board the ship, unless you have carry-ons that you're willing to drag around, your bags will be taken from you to your room and you may not see them for hours, so pack a must-have bag that includes everyone's swimsuits, sunscreen, games and whatever else you can't live without. Think of what you'd pack for the airplane, if it also had a pool.

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A cruise can make for an amazing family vacation. Just make sure everyone is happy and they all know the rules. A ship that has WiFi can be a great benefit to your kids, so they know they can keep in touch with friends while they're away and not feel like they're cut off from the world. Of course, it's possible that they'll be having too much fun to jump on Facebook or tweet about how awesome their parents are, but you can't count on that. Even if they don't end up using their phone incessantly, you can use it to keep in touch with each other when you're apart and plan where to meet up or to check and send important emails throughout. 

Consider uploading Voxer and you can send texts, photos or voice messages for free over a WiFi connection. This works easily on a WiFi-enabled ship, but also saves you tons of texting fees while out of the country. It's free, so your whole family and all your friends can download it easily. 

Have you ever been on a cruise with your kids? Would you do it again?

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Flying with Kids Without Losing Your Sanity

Traveling with your kids can be really rewarding, but it can also be stressful, especially when stuck for hours on a plane with nowhere for them to play and having to convince them to sit still. You need to start planning for your stint on the plane before you even leave your house. You don't need to pack a ton of stuff to keep kids entertained and busy on a plane, so don't resign yourself to splurging on baggage fees already. I mean, you've already shelled out all the money to fly to your destination, so let's look at how to make it as painless as possible.

flying with kids

Tell Them What to ExpectKids are super-adaptable, but it does help to explain things to them. Traveling is kinda weird when you think about it. You stand in line to go through security, where people judge you and look at all your stuff, then you wait to get herded into a big metal room, where you strap yourself in and the air pressure is all funky and makes your ears hurt on occasion. It's sort of like being in the car, but with 200 other people and you can't get out because you need to stretch your legs. Crazy, right? Explain to your kids what they'll be expecting, and more than once. It's better for them to be excited that they're flying than for them to be freaked out and hate every second of your journey. Not only will you also hate it, so will everyone on the airplane.

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Pack SnacksRemember that meltdown that happened that one time when your kid was hungry and you didn't have any food in your bag? Imagine that 100 times worse, because you can't pop into 7-11 for almonds or a granola bar and all the airplane food that may or may not be available for purchase is $8. When you're bored, food can be distracting. Pack healthy things they'll eat, like cheese and crackers, fruit, nuts and cereal. Don't forget the beverages either, because having to wait for the drink cart to come around can suck, especially when you're "sooooooo thirsty!" You know how it is. Kids don't want it until they can't have it and then everything is dire. Either bring a bottle that you can fill up once you get through security or snag a few drinks before boarding. You'll be glad you did. (Don't forget the gum!)

Pack GamesThere's nothing better to distract your child(ren) than to make the time fly by. Games are a great way to do that. Pack a something they like and then a few other things that are a surprise, like some awesome card games. Depending on their age, this can be anything from Zigity and Old Maid to Fluxx and Uno. I have several travel games that I find fun, but perhaps your kid(s) loves Battleship or Guess Who, or maybe something more sophisticated like Yahtzee or Bananagrams. No matter what, bring an average of three games, so you can cycle through them. Coloring books, electronic games and even plain notebook paper are great ideas, too.

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Bring Your TabletKids are super tech-savvy now. If yous are too, then make sure you load up your tablet with games, videos and books they'll love. A long flight can fly by when they have everything they need at their fingertips. Don't forget a back-up battery to keep it charged and headphones, because as happy as everyone will be that your kids are entertaining themselves, they'll be less happy if they have to hear Dora the Explorer at full blast, because that's how your little one likes to watch it. 

Let Them Pack a Bag For Themselves

Everyone's entitled to a carry-on, and that goes for kids. Their little clothes can be packed into your carry-on, because they don't take up that much space. Allow them to bring stuff they love (within reason) on their trip in a little backpack or a fun roller bag. Even if it's just full of stuffed animals, Legos or play food, they'll feel more comfortable having that piece of home with them and they'll have something to play with on the ride if they want. In fact, here's an awesome way to pack and store Legos when you travel. (You know, so you don't have to pick up 500 of them off the airplane floor.)

Fly Really Early or Really Late

Don't fly when your kids are bound to be super cranky. You won't make any friends that way and you'll just get more stressed out. Fly really early when your kids are bright-eyed and bushy tailed. They'll be happier and excited for the day. Your other option is to fly really late when they will be asleep and can miss most of the flying time. Put them in their PJs (because this is the only time it is acceptable to wear nightclothes on a plane) and bring along a travel blanket and their pillow. 

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Stay On a Schedule
If your kids are used to doing certain things at a certain time (i.e. nap or eat), make sure you stay on that schedule, even if you have to do it in a different setting. Bring the things they have to have to do those things, like I've listed above. You'll be more likely to avoid a meltdown when they're tired or hungry and they'll feel a lot more comfortable, even though they aren't somewhere they're used to.

When you travel with your kids on the plane, how do you make it more fun for everyone involved?

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Ways to Make Your Road Trip Awesome

In preparation for my road trip next month, I've been packing and coming up with ideas for what to do, what to bring and what to eat along the way to Vegas. It's 16 hours, but I'm obviously going to get out of the car to jump around and stretch at points instead of getting there super tired and hunched into a permanent sitting position. An obvious stop for me is Weed, California, because I love that little town and the quaint little mom and pop diner there. Going on a road trip of your own in the near (or not) future? Here are tips to make it awesome.

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Don't drive straight through! The number one rule of road trips is we don't talk about road trips! Wait. No. That's another post for another blog maybe. The real golden rule of road trips is that you stop along the way and stop often. Driving for 4+ hours straight is BORING. Even if you play games or sleep, people will get grumpy, your legs will get stiff and you won't be happy. Plan a route that has interesting stops - a funky diner, a cool cave, the largest ball of twine. Something. Your stops don't have to be expensive, just fun and memorable.

Find everything from gas and rest areas to museums and food on your way by downloading the free app called iExit. Find out what at every exit along the highway wherever you go.

Dress comfortably. It is so easy to dress comfortably and still look like a person nowadays with fabrics like jersey, bamboo and rayon. Just because you've been in the car for 10 hours, doesn't mean you have to look like a slob. Not only are these fabrics comfy, but they also resist wrinkles and breathe well, too. If you can't live without your trusty jeans, invest in some nice ones with stretch. I have three pair that I paid a pretty penny for, but they are some of the best ones I own for travel.

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Bring foods! Eating out frequently is really going to take a bite out of your budget and totally ruin your diet. I don't know about you, but I also don't want to come back from vacation hating chicken strips or cheeseburgers either. Sure, eating out is fun, but choose your stops wisely and bring a cooler stocked with homemade stuffs – like fried chicken, potato salad and muffins – along with fixings for sandwiches, sides, drinks and snacks to nibble on in between stops.

Bring tunes from home. Don't rely on just the radio, otherwise you'll have times were the only thing you get are Christian and deep country music, if you can pick up anything. I swear there must be radio towers built into the mountains for these stations. If you're a fan of either, you are probably okay, but I still suggest loading up your iPod with some good road tunes, podcasts or e-books. That way you have a variety of things to listen to and aren't forced to listen to Jesus Rock in between static if you don't want to. This trip I'm going to be listening to Harry Potter as read by Stephen Fry in between bouts of music. Yer a [road trip] wizard!

A paper map is a must. Yes, you have a smarty phone and your fancy GPS, but batteries die and not all roads show up on satellites. (Just ask those kids from Cabin in the Woods - "This road isn't even worthy of global positioning.") You never know what might happen, so an old-fashioned map is great for those unforeseen circumstances. If you don’t buy one before you leave home, pick one up at a gas station, convenience store or rest areas.

Coupons, coupons, coupons! Along the road you're bound to stop at a few rest stops or greasy spoons (including Denny's) and when you do, grab one of those highway magazines that is full of coupons for dining and lodging. You can.save a ton off already affordable necessities. Sometimes, you may find discounts for roadside attractions. If not, make sure to browse that rack in your hotel/motel lobby before you do anything nearby.

I think I'm ready to go. I got an oil change and have my emergency kit in my car, plus my cables in case of snow and my AAA card!

Are you headed on a road trip? What are your favorite tips?

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Celebrate St. Patrick's Day in Dublin

Saint Patrick’s Day is bearing down on us in a few short weeks and you know what that means? Green beer and stupid hats? Maybe, but that’s really only if you’re an American and can turn any holiday, traditional or obscure, into a reason to get drunk and cause a ruckus. At least you’re fun and know how to party! In Ireland, you will likely find NO green beer, shamrock sunglasses or green felt leprechaun hats, unless it is marketed solely to tourists. In fact, in Ireland Saint Patrick’s Day is a religious holiday to commemorate the day that St. Patrick drove all the snakes out of Ireland (Supposedly. I 'm pretty sure there weren’t any there in the first place. Easy!)

Dublin Ireland

With the holiday in Ireland becoming more secular and less celebrated came a brilliant idea from the government! Giant festivities to get people worldwide interested in traveling to Ireland to join the parties and soak up the culture! Meaning more tourism. Amazingly, the first festival to be held in Ireland didn't occur until 1996 and it was only one day. Since then, it has grown into a week-long celebration of all things Irish that draws hundreds of thousand of visitors every year who come to party, join parades, watch concerts, witness fireworks, attend sporting events, take in theater performances and, of course, to drink beer.

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Awesome Fact: Witness the shortest St. Patrick’s Day parade in the whole world in DripseyIreland of County CorkThe parade lasts just 100 yards and travels between the village's two pubs.

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Get yourself a Dublin Pass. As always, I am recommending the city pass for those visiting Dublin. Not only is it a great deal if you plan to do a fair amount of sightseeing on the Emerald Isle, but it also it lets you skip the queues at the ticket booths. Your Dublin pass comes with an airport-city center transfer, entrance to over 30 top attractions, the Croke Park Experience (for those of you who are sports lovers), discounts on dining, shopping, etc. and even unlimited public transportation! Purchase online before you go to save 20% off. Your Dublin pass is valid for 12 months from purchase and “activates” upon your first use.

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My Goodness My Guinness! Do you love Guinness like I do? How would you like a FREE pint? If you’re in Ireland, take a walk through the Guinness Factory and see how it’s made, enjoy a free pint at the end of your tour and take in all of Dublin from the 360 degree view in the Gravity Bar on top of the factory. Before you leave, make sure to stop into the visitor centre and museum to view old adverts and pick up some souvenirs. Here’s a good tip: purchase your entry ticket(s) online to bypass long queues and get 10% off (the not-so-cheap admission price of 14 Euros) or use a Dublin Pass that includes admission.

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Do you prefer Jameson whiskey? You can take a distillery tour of their factory as well! Again, your tour ends with a good size “sample”. You can volunteer to do a taste-test, and if you are chosen it includes 3 Irish whiskeys, a Scotch whiskey and an American Whiskey and then a fancy diploma saying you took the taste test. Take a trip through the gift shop and buy a nice bottle for the rest of your trip or send some home for you, family or friends. The tour lasts about an hour and the distillery is open 7 days a week, but you can make reservations online and save 15% off the admission price of 13.5 Euros.

Both tours were highly recommended by those that took one or both of them.

Obviously, no matter where you are, you are bound to be near some St. Patrick’s Day celebrations on March 17th. Almost every city has an Irish pub that throws a huge party where everyone gets rip-roaring drunk, pretends they're Irish, wears crazy stuff and takes a cab home (hopefully) in the wee hours of the morning to sleep it off. In Portland, that party can go on for many nights, depending what day St. Patrick’s Day falls on. Our popular restaurant called Kells takes up an entire city block with tents full of vendors and music and all things Irish and people have been known to take days off of work, just so they can start their weekend partying early. A great way to find such celebrations is your local paper’s entertainment or local section and online. What’s On When has listings for entertainment and goings on in most cities worldwide.

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And if you’d like to at least see a bit of Ireland even if you can’t visit, check out some of these movies to enjoy the rolling green countryside and Irish lilt:

Angela’s Ashes
Boy Eats Girl (kitchy rom-zom movie)
The Crying Game
Darby O’Gill and the Little People
Far and Away
The Informer
Laws of Attraction
Leap Day (best sightseeing in a movie, by far)
Michael Collins
P.S. I Love You (my pick for 2nd best sightseeing movie)
The Secret of Roan Inish
Tristan & Isolde
Waking Ned Devine

This is by no means all of them, just ones that I know are probably available through Blockbuster, Netflix, Redbox or your own DVD collection. Find a more complete list HERE.

How will you be spending your St. Patrick's Day?

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Get Two Vacations Out of One

It can be hard enough to make one vacation happen, but what if you can get two vacations instead? How do you do this without spending much more money? Use a stopover to hit up a second destination. Iceland Air is famous for allowing you to stop in Iceland for up to a week while on your way somewhere else, but that's just one place and it's not exactly the cheapest one to visit. Check out this great infographic QuestOrganizer put together to help you find awesome stopovers. 

Top 20 stopovers for cheap multi city flights [Infographic]

If you were to add a stopover to your trip, what would be your ideal two-city vacation?

Friday, February 12, 2016

Super Useful (Romantic) Travel Posts

So, Valentine's Day is just a few days away. Maybe you have already planned a trip or gift, but if you haven't here are some fun ideas...which you can probably use next year. Sorry. Set yourself a reminder after you read this and then go hit up the grocery store for flowers, and fancy tablecloth and provisions to cook the greatest meal ever (lobster is always good, but think about what would make your significant other happy). 

romantic travel posts
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Snuggle with your Valentine while flying in or out or watching the planes arrive and depart one of these most beautiful landing strips.
Don't have a big budget for the 14th? Check out my Staycation ideas posting tomorrow or check out Travel + Leisure's most scenic drives to take your sweetheart on. PureWow has also ranked the five best road trips, with tips on how to do them right. If you can't drive the whole thing, make a mini-vacay out of a portion of it.
Whether you're at home or traveling to one of these cities, here are 14 ways to spend Valentine's Day in 14 cities.

Not sure what to gift to your better half (or mom or BFF) on the 14th? Airfare Watchdog curated a list of their favorites from their Twitter talk, and if those don't do it for you, my holiday gift list still applies.
Give your sweetie the gift of travel or activities. Travelzoo has rounded up 500 deals around the U.S. that you can purchase to do, including B&B stays, Vegas shows, spa days and romantic dinners.

If you still think a trip is in the cards for you, then never fear. Yahoo has compiled 13 romantic trips you can book right now. Of course, if you find that your bank account doesn't support a real trip, even a budget-friendly one, then book a table at one of the 100 most romantic restaurants instead.
Don't limit yourself to the plane or car. Pack a bag and take a mini vacation by rail instead. Amtrak goes all over and they have list handy dandy list of places to take the train this year, maybe even for Valentine's Day!
Get international without leaving your house by telling your special someone you love them in different languages from around the world. Sure, you could woo them in French or Spanish, but why not something more unique, like Russian or Vietnamese?
Lots of people like to complain about the airport and traveling by plane, but think about flight attendants who never really reach their final destination, because flying is their job. It's nice to treat them nice, but one flight attendant is going above and beyond by leaving sweet little notes for passengers. 
Not part of a couple? That's okay. You can still get away from all those happy couples you know and go on a solo trip. If you don't know how to make them most by traveling with yourself, then check out these tips for going it alone. And here's a list of places to take yourself.

Here's to a great week. As always, if you have found a great link to something awesome in the travel world, link us up in the comment. Happy Love Day. What are your plans?

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

48 Hours of Fun on a Budget in Kalispell, Montana

In this blog series I show you how easy it is to budget travel anywhere and I also give you a quick overview of a new city each time in a brief 48-hour itinerary.

Kalispell Montana
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Last fall I met with the Montana Visitors Bureau reps and learned about all the cool things there is to do across the state. If all goes well, I'll be headed to Montana in the Spring, so I can bring you first-hand pics of the incredible landscape and show you exactly how dog-friendly they are there. Today, I want to talk about the smaller city Kalispell and it's historic buildings and other ways to spend your two days. Your best bet for visiting will be in the late spring or September, as that will give you the best weather (if you aren't there for skiing) and help you avoid the crowds.
Day 1
We'll pretend you got in early this morning or last night. Perhaps you'll have stayed in the Kalispell Grand Hotel, which is over 100 years old, downtown, dog-friendly and can be booked for under $100/night. Today is the day to soak up the culture in town. Grab a delicious breakfast at Sykes Diner. The draw is 10-cent coffee (no, really!) buy they also serve up American and Tex-Mex-inspired dishes. These run for $12 or less, with the average plate costing $10. 

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After fueling up for the morning, head to the Museum at Central School. It's housed in the old Central School building which was built in 1894. The museum uses permanent and temporary exhibits to educate the public about the history of Flathead Valley. It also houses performances and community meetings. Allow for at least an hour to see the exhibits and also the details of the building which has be renovated and has its original hardwood floors, tin-plate ceilings and wainscoting. Admission is just $5.

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See a beautifully preserved pre-1900 mansion, done in the Kirkland Cutter design, when visiting the Conrad Mansion. It features 26 rooms, all appointed with the original family's period furniture, clothing and toys. You can take a guided tour for $15 per person.

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Time for lunch, I think! Want to try some authentic Mexican street food? Check out Ese Tacos on Facebook to find out where they are that day. You won't be disappointed with these eats made from recipes straight out of Guadalajara. If that's not your bag, get something different by popping into Bonelli's Bistro, a Mediterranean eatery. It's no-frills, but the food is good and plentiful, so if you aren't starving, splitting a meal is the way to go. Order from the smallish menu at the counter and then wait for goodness to appear. The lasagna and the paninis are highly popular. Look to spend $10-12 per entree.

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Housed in a former Carnegie library, the Hockaday Museum of Art is a popular attraction. They have a permanent collection of Glacier National Park art and culture, a hands-on gallery for kids that changes when the temporary exhibits do. Learn about the history of the peoples, railroad and Glacier National area through various art mediums. Admission is just $5. 

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Take a nice walk around downtown to take in the beautiful buildings and maybe do a bit of shopping before dinnertime. When you find yourself hankering for some grub, pay a visit to Kalispell's old-school diner: Norm's Soda Fountain. Order from a variety of sandwiches, burgers and dogs, split an order of fries and get yourself a handmade soda, milkshake or float to go with it. Two people can enjoy a meal for around $25. 

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Day 2
If you're lucky enough to visit on a Saturday, hit up the Kalispell Farmers Market whee you can stroll along the stalls that sell local produce and food products. Grab a crepe or something equally delicious for breakfast and some goods to take home with you. 

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Get some provisions to go and then jump in the car to take a trip along the Going-To-The-Sun Road. It's a 50 mile stretch through Glacier National Park the offers amazing views and many points of interest to stop at and take photos. You may also want to get out and walk a bit. There are many fee-free National Park days; however, entrance fees run $20 per vehicle in the winter (Nov 1-Apr 30) and $30 in the summer (May 1-Oct 31). This allows you entrance for 7 days.

If you don't want to drive that far, or you visit without a car, stay in town and take a historical walking tour instead. You can download a map and go at your own pace while reading about the landmarks you'll see along your route. Totally free!

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For dinner, head back to Kalispell and grab a table at Hop's Downtown Grill where you can enjoy a local brew and an usual burger, including wild boar, buffalo and yak. Of course you can get regular food here, too, but that is a draw and worth the splurge at $15/plate.

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If you want to indulge in few more pints, pay a visit to Kalispell Brewing. They brew and serve at least 5 different beers and their tasting room often offers live music to boot.

Head (stumble?) back to your room and get ready for your trip out tomorrow. 

I like that Kalispell has plenty to do for a few days, but it's also really relaxing, because there isn't too much to choose from, unless you're an outdoor enthusiast and want to hike, bike, fish or boat your way around the area. If that's the case, you might want to spend a few more days there to get the most of your trip.

Seasonal things to do in Kalispell: 
February brings Montana pond hockey
May brings the Spartan Race
June, July and August gives visitors free concerts with Picnic in the Park
July hosts Arts in the Park
September brings the Dragonboat Festival and Taste of Kalispell

If you do all the things on the list, a travel couple will spend around $200 for their two-day trip. Don't forget to also check out my 48 hour post about Missoula or my post on haunted Garnet.

What sounds most fun to you in Kalispell?

Disclaimer: I have not been compensated for this post. I just wanted to bring the beauty of Kalispell to you all.
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