Osaka – Where to Go, Eat, and Drink

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While in Japan, we made a visit to the island of Honshu to spend time in Osaka. Our visit there was full of sight-seeing and eating (of course). Osaka is known for its happening nightlife and fantastic street food, and I am happy to report that it lived up to its hyped reputation! Think of this as an introduction to all things Osaka.

Osaka Sights to See

A visit to Osaka should be composed of shopping and sightseeing. Luckily, we did both!

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Shinsaibashi – A trip to Osaka is not complete without a visit to Shinsaibashi, which is entertainment central. It is a popular shopping destination known for its many high-end retailers. Additionally, it is home to several restaurants and nightclubs. Now that I’ve visited, it’s easy to see why visitors to this street number about 60,000 on weekdays and about 120,000 on weekends and holidays.

Dotonbori – Another popular entertainment of Osaka, Dotonbori is a colorful area that borders the Dotonbori Canal and is known for its many bright neon lights. It has several restaurants and bars, as well as many street food stalls.

Osaka Castle Park – The main landmark of Osaka is Osaka Castle Park. The centuries-old castle has been rebuilt and renovated many times over. When you tour the castle, you may be surprised by how modern it is inside, but they have retained the history within the castle museum. In addition to the castle, the park is beautiful with an amazing garden and 600 cherry trees.

Osaka Foods to Try

If you have been following along with my Asia travel blog series, then you know the biggest part of all our visits was the food. We love to try new foods, and Osaka is known for serving usual and delicious dishes.

Takoyaki – This is a ball-shaped wheat-based snack you can find at street food stalls that are filled with octopus. Takoyaki is also fondly known as “octopus balls.”

Okonomiyaki – Another popular dish in Osaka is okonomiyaki, which is a pancake made of batter and cabbage that is filled and topped with a variety of ingredients.

Fugu – While we didn’t try it, Osaka does have restaurants that serve Fugu – toxic puffer fish. This is a Japanese delicacy where even the smallest mistake by a chef can prove fatal to the person eating it.

Akari Soba – We enjoyed dining at Akari Soba, which serves delicious soba and tempura. This restaurant is located in the busy area of Dotonbori and made our visit here even better.

Kyoto Tsuruya Sabou – Located in the Hilton Plaza, this dessert café was wonderful! We enjoyed matcha desserts.

Why a Visit to Osaka Must Include an Izakaya

An izakaya is a Japanese bar, and Osaka is covered with them. When in Osaka, you must visit an izakaya to enjoy a sake or a drink. After spending the day shopping in Shinsaibashi, an evening spent in an izakaya is the perfect way to finish out a day filled with fun and food.

Exploring and Eating Your Way Around Singapore

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Recently, my husband and I went on the trip of a lifetime. We visited several countries in Asia over a few weeks (kid-free!), and it was an experience I will never forget. Because I know traveling abroad can seem overwhelming to some of my readers, I want to share my experience with you. Over the next few blogs, I will be telling you all about my great adventure. I’m hoping my trip will inspire you to take your own!

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We are starting with our visit to Singapore where we did the touristy things but where we mostly ate, ate, ate.

Must See Places to Visit

Singapore is an amazing place with a mesh of cultures and is a beautifully planned city with tropical temperatures year-round. While there is plenty to see and do in Singapore, I want to highlight two of the places we visited in Singapore on our trip that I believe are must-sees for other travelers.

Flower Dome and Cloud Forest

A major tourist attraction and a part of the city’s initiative to turn Singapore into “City in a Garden,” Gardens by the Bay is home to the amazing Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest. The Flower Dome is the world’s largest glass greenhouse offering visitors the opportunity to view several different gardens, including an olive grove and a beautiful floral display that changes periodically. It also has a bistro where guests can sit and enjoy the beauty surrounding them. The Cloud Forest is a higher elevation offering mountain views and gardens that will traditionally be found in tropical temperatures. It also features the world’s tallest indoor waterfall. Guests get to walk through the mist-filled Cloud Walk on their journey.

The New Jewel Changi Airport Expansion

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We also visited the newly opened expansion at the Changi Airport called the Jewel. It is a major lifestyle hub with outstanding shopping and dining options. On top of the shopping and dining fun, the Jewel also follows Singapore garden concepts by including a lush forest valley and a waterfall. Get your camera ready when you visit because experts are predicting this will be one of the most Instagrammed spots in the world.

Eat and Eat Some More at Singapore Hawker Centres

One of the main reasons to visit Singapore is to eat. Singapore is foodie heaven. As a tourist, you absolutely must visit the Singapore Hawker Centres, such as the popular Maxwell Food Hawker Centre Market, which are basically like food courts offering guests tons of food options at decent prices. My husband and I pretty much spent our entire time in Singapore eating and talking about food. It was wonderful!

When you visit, be sure to try:

Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken - Be prepared to wait to eat here as it is Michelin star-rated. Worth the wait!

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Rojak, Popiah & Cockle – A popular stall offering popiah (fresh spring rolls) and rojak (a crazy delicious tropical fruit and vegetable salad)

Authentic Mun Chee Kee King of Pig's Organ Soup – If you choose to try one of the most popular dishes in Singapore (pig organ soup), you must get it from here!

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Nan Hwa Chang Fish Head Steamboat – One of the oldest fish head steamboat shops in Singapore is another must-visit on your eat-your-way-around-Singapore adventure.

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Kams Roast Goose – When we visited the Jewel at the Changi Airport, we tried the roast goose, and it was amazing! It is a Michelin Star restaurant for a reason!

Ah Chew Dessert – No trip to Singapore is complete without a visit to Ah Chew Dessert. Yum!

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The Must-Have Dish While Visiting Singapore

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While we ate and ate and ate, I have to say the best Singapore dish we had was the classic chili crab at Long Beach Seafood. This seafood dish is stir-fried crab coated in a delicious and savory chili sauce. I’m still thinking about it.

Have I made you hungry? Sorry! Now, I’m off to start finding NYC spots where I can find similar tasting dishes. Wish me luck!

Stay Tuned for Even More Details About My Visit to Singapore!

Why Kids Should Travel the World

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It’s no secret that we love to travel, but what you may not realize is that we are deliberate about traveling the world with our girls. I believe wholeheartedly that traveling is important. My travels have taught me so much about the world and myself. I want my girls to have those same kinds of eye-opening experiences.

Someone asked me why I think it is important for kids to travel the world rather than just taking vacations nearby. I hadn’t been asked my reasons before, but once I thought about it, I came to realize I have good reasons for choosing to expose my girls to places beyond the USA.

Traveling is fun.

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First of all, traveling is fun! As a family, traveling is a great way to have fun and bond. Nothing says family bonding like having to patiently wait to board a long flight and successfully making it to your destination with everyone still loving each other. Ha! But, seriously, when we travel, we get to do fun things we don’t get to do at home.

Travel teaches kids about languages, history, and geography.

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My girls are lucky enough to receive a great education at the hands of their teachers in their classrooms. However, I believe learning extends far beyond the classroom walls. If you want hands-on learning, traveling the world is a great way to do it. Without even meaning to, your kids will learn about new languages, history, and geography.

Travel allows kids to experience other cultures.

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All children need to learn about cultures other than their own. While we can attend cultural festivals in NYC, it is something entirely different to expose your children to another culture by being immersed in that culture.

Travel helps kids put down the toys and gadgets.

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I am not anti-toys or anti-electronics – they are lifesavers for most days! But, there is something pretty magical about your kids having fun simply by experiencing a new world. When we visited other countries, my girls get to do activities that are so much more enjoyable than playing on a device. They are having real-world fun in real-time.

Travel breeds compassion and understanding.

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When we travel, I try my hardest to teach my daughters to respect the people and the culture. Traveling is a great opportunity for kids to learn about differences, but it is more important for kids to learn the similarities they have with the kids they encounter in other places. By exposing them to a world that is bigger than our NYC home, my daughters are learning to think about others more. They learn that the world is a big place and that we need to respect one another.

Travel inspires curiosity.

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Watching my daughter’s eyes open wide in amazement as we tour new places fills me with joy. Each new place gets stored away in their little brains and inspires their curiosity. As they grow older, I hope their curiosity about other countries inspires them to travel the whole world.

Why I’m Choosing Choice Vacation Rentals This Spring Break

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It’s cold right now, but before you know it, it’s going to be Spring! Like every other family living up north, we look forward to spring break all winter long. And, now that it is March, it is time to start planning my family’s spring break trip. All I know at this point is I want to go somewhere warm and sunny. I want to put all the new sunny vacation goodies I recently splurged on at T.J. Maxx to good use!

Why a Vacation Rental Over a Hotel

Because this ^^^ (PHOTO:  Choice Vacation Rental in Destin, FL )

Because this ^^^ (PHOTO: Choice Vacation Rental in Destin, FL)

Another thing I already know is that this spring break we will opt for a vacation rental over a hotel. Don’t get my wrong – I love a nice hotel! I love resort vacations! But, every now and then, I want to escape to a new locale and still have as much space as I would at home. I want bedrooms and kitchens of my own. With a vacation rental, I get to magically pretend someone else’s home is mine for just a week. It’s a nice change of pace.

Choosing Between Vacation Rental Companies

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Clearly I am not the only one who feels this way as vacation rentals are more popular than ever! Not only are people choosing to book a vacation rental rather than a hotel for their trips, but people are also making a second income by renting out their homes through AirBnB, VRBO and Homestay. The vacation rental industry is booming!

Given that sudden popularity, there are many people jumping on the bandwagon and renting out their homes. While this sometimes works out well for both the homeowners and the vacationers, there are also tons of horror stories. Imagine thinking you are renting an extravagant vacation home and arrive to discover a dump.

Choice Vacation Rentals Gets My Vote

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Honestly, this is the biggest reason why I start my vacation rental hunt with Choice Vacation Rentals. Choice Vacation Rentals offers beautiful homes, private residences, townhomes, and cabins as a part of the trusted Choice Hotels Brand. Instead of dealing with individual homeowners, Choice Vacation Rentals are professionally managed ensuring your rental is of clean, well-maintained, and fully furnished.

Plus, Choice Vacation Rentals offer stunning vacation homes in the most popular destinations in the US. No matter where you plan to book your family’s spring break trip, you will find a vacation home rental you love on their website, which is super easy to navigate.

Finally, Choice Vacation Rentals gets my vote because you can earn Choice Privileges Points for every hotel or vacation home stay. Since my family loves to travel, I look for any opportunity to save money. As your points add up, they can be redeemed for free nights, free hotel stays, digital gift cards to popular restaurants and retailers, and exchange points for airline miles and cruises.

Now, it’s time to decide which spring break vacation destination my family will visit this year!

I’m Dreaming of a WARM Winter and an Escape from NYC

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Alright, Santa, you want to know what I really want this Christmas under the tree? Plane tickets. I want plane tickets to someplace warm and sunny so that I can escape the cold of New York City this time of year. Please, Santa, I’ve been good this year.

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But, for real, Christmas break is an awesome time to travel to sunnier climates. While traveling takes planning, if you already have the days off work, why not be spontaneous and choose to celebrate the holidays on white sandy beaches instead of a snow-covered city? If you can’t make it happen this year, there’s always next year. It’s never too early to plan!

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Here are a few warm weather destinations for your family vacation during the holiday season:

Disney World in Orlando, Florida

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Disney World at Christmastime is even more magical. Everything is dripping in festive lights and colors. With an average high of 73 degrees, it is a safe bet you will enjoy much warmer weather in Orlando than back home in New York.

Hawaii

Hawaii is a hugely popular Christmas vacation destination. Not only is it warm, but it is also stunningly beautiful. Plus, celebrating Christmas at a beach luau sounds marvelous! No wonder so many people head that way during the winter season.

San Antonio, Texas

Head South to San Antonio, Texas for warmer weather and friendly people. San Antonio also turns its historic Riverwalk into an amazing light spectacle that will amaze everyone in your entire family. Plus, the city offers fun holiday events.

The Breakers in Palm Beach, Florida

The average December temperature is 77 degrees in Palm Beach, Florida making it a great place for some warm weather celebrations in the sun. The Breakers Resort is my pick for a family-friendly vacation over Christmas break. It offers tons of activities for both kids and adults.

San Juan, Puerto Rico

San Juan has unique Christmas traditions and festivals that make it a fun place for families to visit over the holiday break. In addition to the festive holiday stuff in the city, there are also beautiful beaches offering just the right amount of sun, warmth, and relaxation.

Nassau, Bahamas

Nassau is home to the mega Atlantic resort which will have your kids mesmerized. Even if you don’t stay at Atlantis, Nassau has several family-friendly resorts and tons of attractions the whole family will love.

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Want to celebrate Christmas with a fiesta and a siesta? Then, head to Mexico for the holidays! Puerto Vallarta is a popular tourist destination because of its beaches, attractions, and numerous all-inclusive resorts which cater to families.

Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

Punta Cana is another fantastic place to visit over the holiday break. Offering beautiful beaches and scenery, Punta Cana is an all-inclusive playground. Families have their pick of resorts with excellent dining and entertainment options.

A Cruise to Anywhere Warm

Feeling super spontaneous? Look for last-minute cruise options! Cruises are great for families, but they also do a great job of making being on a boat at sea for a holiday an exciting adventure.

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While you’re dreaming of a warm Christmas this year, go ahead and start planning a trip to Australia for next year’s Christmas vacation.

Why You Should Take a Vacation Without Your Kids At Least Once a Year

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I’m here today to give you permission to do something that might feel a little crazy. Moms, you need to take a vacation. And not just any vacation. You need to take a kid-free vacation at least once a year.

I’ve heard the excuses. You are too busy. It just isn’t possible to find childcare. You would feel guilty. Enough with the excuses! I’m not saying you have to go somewhere for an entire week or spend a ton of money. But hey, if you can pull that off, go right ahead and don’t feel guilty.

Your kids will survive without you for a couple of days. Plus, you will come back refreshed and rejuvenated and ready to do all the mom stuff without complaint. Think about it. Don’t you always feel a little bit better when you get some downtime? Now just imagine if that downtime was more than fifteen minutes of privacy in your bathroom. You’d be the best mom ever!

Now that we’ve got the whole guilt issue out of the way, let’s talk about all the reasons you should take a vacation without your kids.

To Remember Who You Are

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Being a mom is the best job in the world. But, once upon a time, you were more than “just mom.” Do you remember that lady? While being a mom is going to be your main priority when you are with your kids, something magical happens when you step out of that role for a couple of days. The women you were slowly starts to reemerge!

To Reconnect with Others

For those of you who are married with kids, you no doubt understand the importance of having alone time with your spouse. It is so important to spend time with your spouse without kids to reconnect. While date nights are wonderful, you should also try to sneak away together for a weekend. After 14 years together, I appreciate time away with my man even more.

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Along these same lines, if there is any way possible you can pull off taking a girls trip each year – do it! Getting away with your girlfriends kid-free is good for the soul – and even better for your sanity. Like they say, sometimes talking with our girlfriends is all the therapy we need.

To Have Some Real Rest

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Even though my girls are well past the stage of waking up throughout the night, I still feel like I don’t get as much sleep as I would like. It’s probably because like most moms, my senses are always on alert when my girls are nearby. But, when I travel without my kids, my brain gets a little break, and I can rest easy.

To Have Someone Take Care of You for a Change

Moms are always taking care of others and putting someone else’s needs above their own. I cook, I clean, I work, I tuck my babies in each night, and on and on. It is so nice to stay at a luxury hotel where I don’t have to lift a finger unless I want to. Room service? Maid service? Turn down service? Yes, please!

You Deserve It!

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Being a mom is a tiring, demanding job. You deserve a break! While working moms get vacation days and sick days, your mom job does not come with those off days. That’s why it is so important for you to create those days yourself without feeling guilty about it. We all need time to ourselves to refresh. Without a vacation, employees know their workers will burn out and lose productivity. The same thing goes for parents. Invest in yourself and avoid mom burn out.

Remember, Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

Your kids are not going to forget about you while you are away. Instead, it is likely they will miss you and be overjoyed when you are reunited. And, you know what? You will appreciate all their little idiosyncrasies even more.

Let's Look Beyond this Summer!

When one thinks of the oil and natural gas industry, what usually is the first thing that pops in your head? Cars, tires, energy, and fuel, right? But if you look beyond that and stop and think for a second you'll see that oil and natural gas makes a much bigger impact and affects every part of your normal day. Did you know that pillows, toothpaste, laptops, lipstick, aspirin, even antennas and receivers of streaming devices are all connected to the oil and natural gas industry? You'll be surprised to see that many things that help you live, play, and connect everything around you is all made possible because of oil and natural gas or materials made from a byproduct of petroleum.

I decided to go on a family day road trip to Sesame Place in Langhorne, Pennsylvania and there were many things that need to be packed to make sure our trip has all the tech, safety, and travel care covered.

When it comes to electronics, I have to bring my cellphones, tablets for our daughters, and a laptop for any on-the- road office work. In order to charge all these devices, I have to make sure I have travel adaptors and car adaptors and long wires to connect them all. To make sure my girls don't get sick all of a sudden, it's always important to have extra allergy and fever medication for any signs of trouble. Bandages and antiseptic are required if there are any little trips and falls on the trip. Of course a trip to a water adventure park isn't complete without bathing suits, sunglasses, suntan lotion and water inflatables. Many of these things are made from plastic, rubber, synthetic fibers, nylon and polyester which are all created with the help of the oil and natural gas industry.

This trip reminds me of one of my favorite memories of taking my daughters to the beach when they were old enough to go to the water and play in the sand. Being able to see the joy and also the nervousness of their first time is one of the greatest memories I've ever had in my life. Looking back I realize that there are so many things I used and wore that were made from oil and natural gas. Her adorable bathing suit is made of polyester and the life jacket I put on her is made of nylon, all originating from the oil and natural gas. The bandages we bring for their safety and even the glasses they wear are all made possible with the help from the oil and natural gas industry.  To find out more information, check out the official website http://lookbeyond.org.

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Look Beyond. The opinions and text are all mine.

Our first family trip to Europe... it was a lot of fun and work!

Our family trip to Italy was an amazing experience – it was the first time our family in Europe together and also such a far away place.  But it sure was tiring being around Milan, Florence, and Venice with the family.  Totally worth it.