8 Outdoor Activities The Whole Family Will Love At Unicoi State Park & Lodge

The 1,050-acre Unicoi State Park & Lodge is in Helen, Georgia, a Bavarian-influenced town best known for the stunning Anna Ruby Falls and its year-round celebrations of German culture. Unicoi is an adventure lodge, meaning it has a lot of outdoor offerings to choose from in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. 

You don’t have to be an avid outdoorsman to stay there, and in fact, my husband and I had a great time at the lodge itself, dining on the property and enjoying the scenery. However, this family-friendly address in northeastern Georgia is one outdoors-lovers won’t want to miss any time of the year.

Pro Tip: October is the busiest month for the park, as this is when visitors flock for leaf peeping. 

Note: I was hosted by Unicoi State Park & Lodge. As always, opinions and reviews are 100 percent mine. 

A hiking path at Unicoi State Park
Melody Pittman

1. Hiking

Hiking is a big draw anywhere in the North Georgia Mountains, and Unicoi State Park & Lodge has several designated trails, all within the Chattahoochee National Forest. You will want to follow the signs and be sure to stay on the path. 

I found Frog Pond Nature Trail to be a good, quick hike (only one-third of a mile) that provided a lot of scenery and a nice workout in a short time. Keep your eyes open for possum, squirrels, and chipmunks. Bottoms Loop Trail was another trail that we enjoyed, with fallen trees that added more beauty to our pictures and the groundscape. This trail makes a 2-mile loop and is rated a moderate hike.

Perhaps you would enjoy a guided nature hike. How fun does that sound? For this activity, a park naturalist will take you on one of the trails and introduce you to plants and animals found on the Unicoi property. Any age will enjoy and appreciate this one to two-hour nature excursion. Tours start around $10.

Pro Tip: This is prime bear country, so keep an eye out and do not wander or travel alone. With that being said, the scenery is fantastic and the terrain exhilarating, so don’t let me scare you with the bear info. 

Anna Ruby Falls at Unicoi State Park
Anna Ruby Falls (Photo Credit: Melody Pittman)

2. See The Waterfall 

The mother of all waterfalls in the Helen region is right here at Unicoi State Park & Lodge: Anna Ruby Falls. The falls (named after the daughter of a Civil War general) is operated by the U.S. Forest Service, so therefore a separate admission fee of $5 per person (age 16 and up) is required at the gate.

After parking your car, you will follow a well-marked path for .4 miles to reach the pinnacle of the waterfall. While the hike is short, it is pretty strenuous in places with steep inclines. People of all ages, and what appeared to be all ability levels, were hiking it, but everyone kept their eye on the prize and went at their own pace to reach the waterfall platform. There were a few benches along the way for resting, which I had to use at one point.

Once you arrive at Anna Ruby Falls, there are two viewing platforms for the best views and photo-ops. The lower one is great for groups and selfies, and the top one allows you to feel the mist of the thrashing water. You are that close to this gorgeous display of cascading twin falls.

Pro Tip: Don’t miss the gift shop, which has an excellent selection of t-shirts, postcards, stickers, and souvenirs. 

The author practicing archery at Unicoi State Park
The author practicing archery (Photo Credit: Melody Pittman)

3. Archery

I did something brand new at Unicoi State Park & Lodge. My husband and I had an archery lesson, along with two other couples. I had no idea what to expect, but our guide was informative, easy to understand, and had us all shooting targets in only a few minutes. Safety is vital in this sport, so be sure to listen to the instructor about loading your arrows and firing the bow.

We all shot three rounds of arrows. When she called “cold range,” we all knew it was safe to collect the arrows we had fired. We started out shooting at pretty close targets, but they were still not all that easy to hit for us newbies. After about 45 minutes of that, we made our way over to the 3-D range, which replaces targets with fake animals. The bear, armadillo, coyote, and a few others provided a place for us to attempt to shoot our arrows. There is a tower you can shoot from, too. I didn’t hit one of the animals (my husband did), but we had a blast. The lesson and activity lasted about 90 minutes.

Target shooting at the air gun range is another fun offering in this part of the park. A covered range is where you’ll try your luck at paper targets. All three areas of the Air Gun and Archery Range are considered ADA accessible.

Zip-line platform at Unicoi State Park
Zip-line platform (Photo Credit: Melody Pittman)

4. Zip-Lining

As with many of the Georgia state parks, the zip-lining course is popular and enjoyable. Along with a canopy ranger, guests have the chance to take part in 19 aerial zips ranging from 75 to 2,000 feet long. You’ll zip 100 feet above the ground and have epic views of Unicoi Lake and the area’s wildlife. 

There are two levels you can choose for your ziplining adventure. Level 1 has a series of 11 zip lines and seven suspension bridges, while level 2 has 19 zips and 12 bridges. One of the zips is a half-mile across Unicoi Lake. That sounds awesome! I heard from guests at Unicoi Lodge who did Level 2 and loved every minute of it. As for me, I kept my feet firmly planted on the ground, though I have zip-lined before.

Smith Creek at Unicoi State Park
Smith Creek (Photo Credit: Melody Pittman)

5. Kayaking And Boating

Unicoi Lake on Smith Creek (a tributary of the Chattahoochee River) is a 53-acre attraction that is one of the prettiest sights you’ll ever see, especially in the fall when the colorful leaves are reflecting on the water. So stunning that nearly everyone who drives by pulls over for a photo or to just admire the sheer beauty. Smith Creek is an excellent place for getting out in a canoe, on a paddle board, or in a kayak, which can all be rented from the visitor center.

There is a fee to rent a canoe or kayak. Dogs are welcome but must have a lifejacket, which Unicoi does not provide.

Boating is also a popular activity on Unicoi Lake. In the warm months, you can rent boats on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Trout fishing is another desired outdoor offering. 

If you have time and the desire, schedule a mountain fly-fishing lesson to learn the parts of the fly-fishing rod, how to cast your line, and tips for catching the big one (like reading the water, for instance). Be sure to schedule your lessons 24 hours in advance.

6. Relaxing On The Beach

Yes, Unicoi State Park & Lodge has a beach area. You are probably as surprised as we were. There is a roped-off area for swimming (though the water is not more than 4 feet deep) and a sandy beach area for building sandcastles or just relaxing and enjoying the view. Standup paddle boarders and kayakers use this part of the lake, too. You can rent your outdoor gear at the boathouse during the season.

Path to Anna Ruby Falls at Unicoi State Park
Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com

7. Mountain Biking

Unicoi State Park & Lodge has a 7.5-mile mountain bike loop that is perfect for experienced riders. The mountainous terrain has specially designed paths through forests, fields, woodlands, and plenty of scenic overlooks. The trail makes a figure-8 shape so that you can ride it all or only half. You will need your own equipment for this activity. Watch for the white blaze markings that mark the trail.

8. Tomahawk Throwing

Join one of the activities attendants in this trendy, fun offering to spruce up your tomahawk-throwing skills. You’ll spend an hour on the outdoor range and learn the proper technique for throwing the tomahawk at wooden targets. Equipment is provided, and closed-toed shoes are required for this activity.

Pro Tip: If you want to capture some of your outdoor adventures with a GoPro, you can rent one from Unicoi Adventures on the third floor of the Unicoi Lodge. GoPro cameras are easy to use, and you can capture your unique experiences in beautiful 1080P high definition. Memory cards are sold separately.

Heading to Georgia? We have plenty more to show you:

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‘Welcome home’: First VTL travellers arriving in Johor by bus look forward to family reunions, long-awaited time off


As we crossed the empty Causeway, the skyline of Johor Bahru came into view along with a large “welcome home” sign and familiar sights such as City Square shopping mall.

We then disembarked at Bangunan Sultan Iskandar for our final immigration checks – this was when teething issues surfaced.

After grabbing our luggage, we were clustered around the foot of two escalators which had yet to be turned on, while cleaners swept the bus platform. Amid the confusion, several travellers started taking the stairs and making a detour for the lift, only for all of us to be eventually shepherded back into a group.

After some waiting, the Malaysian immigration officers performed a headcount by reading out our names from the passenger manifest, before allowing us to take the now functional escalator to the arrival hall.

The immigration hall was clearly split into VTL and non-VTL zones. Passport checks were relatively uneventful, although Malaysian citizens who are also Singapore permanent residents were asked to show their Singapore identification cards. I thankfully had mine on hand but another person had to double back to collect it from his travel partner.

The immigration officer asked for my passport and also looked at hard copies of my bus ticket, ART results and vaccination certificate. I also flashed my MySejahtera app for good measure.

Although soft copies of documents are permitted, the journey seems to be smoother if you have hardcopies on hand. Another plus – it minimises having to hand your mobile phone to others.

After this was baggage check, where those with “large bags” were stopped. I unzipped my oversized duffel and was let through quickly after I explained what I had packed. To my right, a man was held up after the Customs officer unearthed a few boxes of what looked like children’s toys. The officer then informed the man that he may have to pay a tax on the items. Another tip – keep receipts for any gifts handy.

The escalator leading back down to the bus bay was not working, leaving us to slowly descend with our heavy bags. One more tip – wear good shoes.

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Flight attendant shares packing tip also used by the Royal Family – colour-coded bag tags | Travel News | Travel

Cabin crew spend a significant percentage of their time travelling, so it is no surprise they are experts when it comes to luggage restrictions and packing. According to one flight attendant, though, there is a “simple” method that holidaymakers can use to ensure they stay “organised”.

It turns out, her method is one which members of the Royal Family, including Queen Elizabeth and the Duchess of Cambridge, also make use of when jetting off abroad.

Flight attendant Kat Kamalani shared her insights on TikTok, explaining that she always makes use of labels when travelling.

However, to boost organisation, she recommends using different colours.

“If you’re travelling soon you’ve got to try my simple packing tip I do every flight,” Ms Kamalani said.

READ MORE: Expert’s alternative to NC500 for a caravan holiday

Over the years, the royals have been seen travelling with labels in shades of red, green, yellow and blue.

To an onlooker, this rainbow of luggage tags may mean absolutely nothing, however, they have a distinct meaning for royal staff.

According to insiders, these labels actually dictate not only whom the bag belongs to, but also where it is destined for.

Queen Elizabeth’s luggage, for example, is often tagged with a yellow label that simply reads “The Queen”.

Often, a second tag is also assigned to bags to dictate where the luggage should be transported.

If the second label is blue, this means the bag should be loaded into the aircraft cabin.

A green secondary tag means the bag is to be sent to a hotel.

A yellow label, on the other hand, means a tag is heading to a private residence.

A residence tag is normally needed if they are visiting someone at their home, or if an official in the destination has opened up their home for the royals to stay in.

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Uncertainty, expense and recurring goodbyes: The life of a US Foreign Service family

Editor’s Note — Loren Braunohler joined the US Foreign Service as a diplomat and has served in Mozambique, Venezuela, Sudan, Washington, D.C. and Thailand. After a decade in the US State Department, she resigned in 2011 to become a stay-at-home mom and travel writer. The opinions expressed here are her own.

Kiev, Ukraine (CNN) — US Foreign Service Officers are a special kind of crazy.

I should know. I was one, and I’m married to one. We move our children, pets and belongings to far flung places across the world every few years.

Depending on where we are located, we can bike the Alps, hike the Himalayas, surf in Sydney or nosh on the world’s best Thai food until we’ve reached our breaking point. On the regular.

Other times, we serve in places where we’re exposed to dengue fever, the plague (yep, it still exists), life in an authoritarian state or a mega-city with alarming levels of pollution.

No matter where we are located, however, the one constant is that the travel opportunities are insane.

Alliances, aperitifs and agrément

Life before kids: Loren and her husband Walter on a 2008 work trip from Khartoum to the Egypt-Sudan border.

Life before kids: Loren and her husband Walter on a 2008 work trip from Khartoum to the Egypt-Sudan border.

Courtesy Loren Braunohler

Let’s back up for a second. Most people have no idea who Foreign Service Officers are or what they do.

US Foreign Service Officers, or FSOs, are American diplomats.

We meet hated war criminals one day, and revered humanitarian leaders the next. We hop on trawlers alongside Mozambican fisherman to collaborate on conservation.

We meet Darfur rebels in the desert to discuss peace negotiations with the Sudanese government. We help broker peace deals, connect US companies with overseas buyers and help Americans overseas in need.

We progress US foreign policy issues, making clear to other countries where we stand and what we stand for. We are nearly always living and working overseas in US embassies and consulates, and are occasionally on domestic assignment in Washington, D.C.

My husband and I have been at this for 20 years. Combined, we’ve lived in nine countries, learned six languages and resided on nearly every continent (we’re coming for you, Antarctica). I began my career in Mozambique and Venezuela; my husband began his career in Thailand, Iraq and Australia. We got engaged in Venezuela, married in Thailand and honeymooned in Laos. We then served together in Sudan, Washington, D.C. and Thailand.

During this time, I resigned to stay at home with our growing family, which had grown to five. Subsequently, we served in Poland, spent a year in Rhode Island at the Naval War College, where our fourth child was born, and are now serving in Ukraine.

In less than a year from now, we’ll move again. To where? Who knows? But that’s the fun and madness of it all.

The world is your oyster (no really, it is)

The Braunohlers traveled to Phnom Penh, Cambodia with their first-born son in 2011.

The Braunohlers traveled to Phnom Penh, Cambodia with their first-born son in 2011.

Courtesy Loren Braunohler

The lifestyle of an FSO is a sort of managed chaos. We live and breathe for the “bid list.” It’s like looking at the departures board at JFK — so many countries, loads of history, fascinating cultures and journeys into the unknown — all at your fingertips. A real life “Choose Your Own Adventure”.

Do you get to decide where you go? Well, yes, and no.

An FSO has to be “worldwide available,” meaning, we must be willing to go anywhere the US has an embassy or a consulate.

When I started out, I was given a list of nearly 80 cities around the globe. I had to rank order 25 of them. I ranked Mozambique as my first choice and got it.

Others weren’t as lucky. The poshest location on our list? Oslo. The most difficult? Liberia (it was in the midst of a civil war).

And the amazing thing is that every one of us has a soft spot for something — whether that’s election-observing in countries fraught with corruption or working on a climate change pact with China. Locations almost always get filled without people having to be forced into them.

When you become more senior, you have the chance to lobby on specific positions in certain places … but don’t worry, you’re almost never completely in control of your own fate.

The chaos and the beauty

Walking on frozen lake Strebske Pleso in Slovakia in 2018.

Walking on frozen lake Strebske Pleso in Slovakia in 2018.

Courtesy Loren Braunohler

When we started our careers, my husband and I were both single. Life was simple.

Now we have four kids and one big golden retriever. My kids are pack mules on trips when we relocate: everyone, no matter how strong, little or prone to complaining, pushes an entire cart full of luggage.

Usually there is an infant being worn in a baby carrier. And a 90-pound dog being pushed alongside in a massive crate. And luggage regularly falling off of carts. To say that we are good entertainment value at airports around the world would be an understatement.

In our lifestyle, everything pivots almost all the time. Pivot to a new school. Pivot to a new language. Pivot to a new neighborhood. Pivot to a new home. Pivot to new friends. Pivot to a new sport.

We are constantly buying cars to fit our latest assignment. We’re constantly buying new wardrobes. I just had a friend transfer from India to Ukraine in February. Imagine that climate shock. And the sheer list of vaccinations we need is impressive.

Exploring Kiev's St. Michael's Monastery in 2020.

Exploring Kiev’s St. Michael’s Monastery in 2020.

Courtesy Loren Braunohler

During these crazy times of transition, my kids, now ages 11, 9, 7 and 2, have sustained huge changes in their personal and social lives. They have gone from small, private international schools to large American public schools.

They’ve gone from living a life of flip flops and tank tops in the humidity of Southeast Asia to frigid negative temperatures in eastern Europe.

Delicious pad Thai turns to borscht. Swimming pools turn into sledding hills. Jungles into thousand-year old castles. Ever tried to set up a lemonade stand overseas? Good luck with that. Learn. Deal. Adapt. Repeat.

Change is our constant. And constant change gets messy, but there is also a special kind of beauty that comes with it.

My kids’ world is so much bigger than mine ever was at the same age. They see poverty. They see wealth. They see all nationalities, hear different languages, go to school in these languages, and begin to understand and appreciate new traditions and religions.

We’ve had the most amazing travel adventures. We’ve been greeted by eagle rays gliding near the surface of the water as we disembark from a sea plane onto a floating dock in the Maldives. We’ve walked through the rice paddies of Ubud, Bali and searched for fairy houses along the coast of Ireland. We’ve hiked the trails of Hong Kong and visited temples in Phnom Penh. We’ve jet skied the Black Sea off the coast of Ukraine and walked on frozen lakes in the High Tatras of Slovakia.

Unpaid toilets for life

Daughter Kate, in the far right, attends a Polish preschool birthday party in 2016.

Daughter Kate, in the far right, attends a Polish preschool birthday party in 2016.

Courtesy Loren Braunohler

What do we miss?

We miss home. Real home. Our grandparents. Our cousins. A forever house that is our home. Friends that will go through grade school, middle school and high school with us.

We miss the ease of doing things in our native language. We miss the familiarity of what’s normal and expected. We miss knowing that when we go into a bathroom, we don’t have to pay for the privilege to use it, or that it’s not a hole in the ground.

Little League. Having a mailman. Tap water that you can drink. Good medical care.

So how do we get the kids on board with this state of constant transition?

Our American friends in Benin have adopted the term “adventure family.” Identifying themselves this way gives their kids, ages 6 and 9, a sense that there is purpose behind all of the moves, difficult goodbyes and upheaval: to have adventures and explore together, as a family.

It also gives them an immediate connection to other “adventure families” as they move around the globe.

And then came Covid-19

With the advent of Covid-19, the Foreign Service lifestyle got even more complicated. We moved from the US to Ukraine mid-pandemic, pre-vaccine in the summer of 2020.

We faced massive shipping backlogs, pet transfer centers in European airports were closed, and when we arrived we were not allowed to have contact with anyone from the US Embassy community for weeks.

We were largely unable to explore, meet new people, use public transportation, experience museums or restaurants, or simply see the inside of our children’s new school.

In 2021, the family visited Maalefushi Island in the Maldives.

In 2021, the family visited Maalefushi Island in the Maldives.

Courtesy Loren Braunohler

Pre-Covid, our initial intent when moving to Kiev was to jet off to Italy, Spain and other nearby destinations on long weekends. Instead, we explored frozen quarries and forests outside of Kiev during a long Ukrainian winter.

Our friends who moved to Saudi Arabia at the same time with kids, ages 9 and 7, embarked on one big camping trip and traversed the length of Saudi Arabia from the Persian Gulf to the Red Sea by car. Through sandstorms. For spring break. It was an incredible experience for them, and something that never would have transpired had the world stayed open.

I tell myself that this unconventional lifestyle teaches my kids to be more accepting, flexible and to roll with life’s inevitable punches. Perhaps they will see themselves as global citizens and realize there are many ways to live a fulfilling life. Everything doesn’t have to be done the American way.

So yeah, we are certainly a bit crazy. But we are also extremely privileged. We see and experience so many unique corners of this world. We make incredible friends across the globe. We are shaped, hopefully for the better, by our transient lifestyle.

And, we have the liberty to step away from the hard places at the end of the day and receive first-class medical care, live in a free, democratic society, and provide our children with the best possible education.

In the words of J.A. Redmerski, “Sometimes the greatest memories are made in the most unlikely of places, further proof that spontaneity is more rewarding than a meticulously planned life.”

Top image: The Braunohler family celebrates Christmas in Kiev in 2020. Image courtesy Loren Braunohler.

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Editorial: Triple homicide of Short family a wound that cannot heal until solved | Editorial

Investigators combed through all his belongings, and a federal grand jury was convened, yet no charges were ever filed against Bowman.

By 2006, two men had been convicted in federal court of lying to investigators by making claims they had seen Bowman at the Shorts’ home the night of the slayings. Prosecutors said the men were after the reward money, and that the lies they told led to “hundreds and hundreds” of hours of misguided investigation before their stories unraveled.

Still, a cloud of suspicion hung over Bowman until his death in 2014. Even today it lingers, despite the fact that in 2007, both Henry County Sheriff Lane Perry and an FBI agent publicly stated that Bowman was not a suspect in the case.

As Bowman himself lamented, “This will live with me until the day I die, or until it’s solved.”

The question must be raised: compounding the horrific tragedy of the Short family’s deaths, was an innocent man’s life destroyed?

To those who have the answer: Please, do the right thing.

Regarding the handling of the Short case, the Henry County Sheriff’s Office has had a cloud of its own to contend with.

Even in the early months of the investigation, members of other law enforcement agencies and relatives of the family raised questions about whether Henry County had allowed too many people into the house in the crucial first hours, contaminating and compromising the crime scene.

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15 Reasons Why The Florida Keys Are The Perfect Place To Reconnect With Family

After the past year of missed events and travel, people are anxious to reconnect with the individuals and activities that matter most. In many cases, that means reconnecting with family to make new memories and strengthen bonds. The Florida Keys are an ideal place to satisfy that desire. 

The 125-mile-long chain of islands stretching out into blue-green water at the southernmost tip of Florida, known as the Florida Keys and Key West, is a vibrant area where families have countless opportunities to reconnect and make new family memories. 

Loaded with adventure, natural beauty, and history, visitors can walk among shipwreck artifacts, kayak among brilliant mangrove islands, “meet” sea turtle patients at the world’s first veterinary-certified sea turtle hospital, and explore remote national parks. The island chain offers countless opportunities to reconnect in the keys through shared experiences and memory-making adventures. 

Florida Keys & Key West hosted my stay in the Keys. All opinions are my own.

1. Enjoy A Family Road Trip

What better way to reconnect than together in one vehicle or multiple cars, all stopping at the same locations? You will find miles of wide-open gorgeous seascapes with ocean and sky spanning as far as the eye can see, and don’t forget the endless unique roadside stops to prospect.

Five distinct destinations are featured in a family road trip to the Keys: Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, Big Pine, the Lower Keys, and the southernmost island in the continental United States, Key West

Each offers its own vibe and distinct pleasures. Any of them could be your home base for the vacation, and all offer reconnection opportunities.

Overseas Highway, Key West, Florida, USA.
Simon Dannhauer / Shutterstock.com

2. Drive On The Florida Keys Overseas Highway

The shared adventure begins with simply driving the famous Florida Keys Overseas Highway, including more than 40 bridges. The landmark Seven Mile Bridge is a sight to behold. Florida’s designated All-American Road is a great way to begin your reconnection.

3. Explore The Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary

The Keys encompass four national wildlife refuges, two remote national parks, 10 beautiful state parks, and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. The sanctuary provides protected waters surrounding the entire subtropical island chain, including the continental United States’s only living coral barrier reef.

Those open spaces offer seemingly endless opportunities to reconnect with the natural world and each other. Enjoy time spent immersed in nature and share unforgettable experiences with friends and family. 

4. Visit The Florida Keys State Parks

The Keys’ most protected, secluded, scenic, and well-kept beaches are within the region’s ten state parks

The most popular are Key Largo’s John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, the Lower Keys’ Bahia Honda State Park, Islamorada’s Indian Key Historic State Park, and Key West’s Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park

Each park has unique landscapes, amenities, and pleasant opportunities for early morning walking or hiking. Campgrounds and picnic areas provide shaded respites. Florida state parks are a perfect setting to reconnect with family. 

Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida Keys.
Robin O’Neal Smith

5. Take In The National Parks

The Keys are home to two remote national parks. Biscayne National Park is located as you enter the keys, and then at the very end of the keys, 70 miles west of Key West, is Dry Tortugas National Park

Biscayne National Park encompasses islands, coral reefs, and shoreline mangrove forests in the northern Florida Keys.

Dolphins, turtles, and pelicans live in the Biscayne Bay Lagoon. The underwater Maritime Heritage Trail links shipwrecks and other dive sites. 

Dry Tortugas National Park includes seven islands, plus protected coral reefs. The Garden Key is home to beaches and the 19th-century Fort Jefferson. It is only accessible by boat or seaplane. 

Shortly after you leave Key West, you will be out of cell range, so you are guaranteed a day of everyone being unplugged and enjoying nature and each other. Do take your phone to take photos of this fantastic national park.

Both of these national parks offer plenty of wide-open spaces to explore and reconnect with family members. 

Pro Tip: If you tend to get motion sickness, take Dramamine before departure. 

Women kayaking in the Florida Keys.
Rob O’Neal / Florida Keys News Bureau

6. Make A Splash With Water Activities

The soothing salty water in the Keys is refreshing and revitalizing. Families can experience the serene joy of Keys living by trying paddleboard yoga, kiteboarding, wakeboarding, aqua-cycling, or kayaking. An eco-tour to spot frolicking dolphins or sea turtles is fun for all ages.

Vacationers can explore the offshore islands of Indian and Pigeon Keys and snorkel in warm, turquoise blue-tinted water. They can try the cross between snorkeling and scuba diving (SNUBA) at multiple places in the Keys. 

7. Cast A Line With Fishing

One of the Keys’ most popular action-packed adventures for the entire family to enjoy is fishing. Whether along the reef, in deep blue water, or the backcountry, you can enjoy some of the best saltwater fishing in the world. 

Friends and families can fish together on private half-day or full-day charters. Many restaurants offer to cook your catch for you to enjoy. 

Fishing “party boats” are also available and provide education, bait, and more. 

Pro Tip: Remember to practice sustainable best practices to conserve the unique Florida Keys ecosystem and fisheries for future generations. 

8. Walk Along The Beach Together

There are beautiful beaches to enjoy whether swimming or just walking along the edge of the sea. Walking the beach together is a great way to reconnect and create memories, and it is the perfect activity for all ages. 

Little White House, Harry S. Truman, Florida Keys.
Andy Newman / Florida Keys News Bureau

9. Learn At Historical Sites

In the Keys, there’s history to fascinate everyone: tales of pirates and sunken treasures, Henry Flagler’s Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad, Civil War-era forts, and even the “Little White House” of former President Harry S. Truman.

Follow in the footsteps of Ernest Hemingway by visiting his house and discovering the spots where he wrote, drank, and fished during the 1930s.

Key West’s Old Town district is the largest predominantly wooden historic district in the United States. 

Visit the historic Fort Zachary Taylor or Fort East Martello. Both are nearby and provide historical learning opportunities.

Key deer closeup, Florida Keys.
Andy Newman / Florida Keys News Bureau

10. Bask In Nature

There are endless ways to reconnect with nature and family in the Keys. 

Family groups can explore lush botanical gardens, unique aquariums, a butterfly conservatory, a hospital for turtles, or a wildlife refuge that protects tiny indigenous Key deer.

A playground for all ages, most vacationers spend a lot of time outdoors enjoying the vivid, colorful scenery, warm fragrant breezes, and miles and miles of open spaces of the Keys. 

11. Lend A Hand With Voluntourism

Spend some time making a difference and participate in a “voluntourism” adventure as a family. Helping others or the environment is a great way to reconnect in the Keys.

You can help preserve the only living coral barrier reef in the continental United States as a part of voluntourism. You can also donate some time with Habitat for Humanity, the wild bird rehabilitation center, or various other places. Learn more about voluntourism here.

Key lime pie, Florida Keys.
Robin O’Neal Smith

12. Taste The Food

Unique dishes, fresh fish, and the family around the table. What could be a better way to reconnect in the Keys? Sharing a meal is a way to connect and make memories.

The Florida Keys is a foodie’s paradise. There is a restaurant to suit every taste and pocketbook. 

When we visited, we tried different fish dishes each evening. Don’t forget about dessert. Your vacation isn’t complete without eating a piece of Key lime pie. 

13. Watch A Sunset Together

Gather at Mallory Square to watch the sunset. It is doubtful you will find a more beautiful sunset anywhere. 

Southernmost point in the continental U.S. in Key West, Florida.
Robin O’Neal Smith

14. Take A Family Photo At The Southernmost Point

Take a short stroll to the Southernmost Point of the United States and take a family photo in front of the monument. 

Pine and Palms Resort in Islamorada, Florida.
Robin O’Neal Smith

15. Find The Perfect Accommodations

Consider a villa or spacious condo so the family can share kitchens and living areas but have private bedrooms. If staying in Islamorada, check out the Pines and Palms Resort. Their Tarpon and Bonefish Villas have two and three bedrooms and you enjoy private beach access for just your family.

Camping is also big in the Keys. Many of the state parks accommodate campers. 

Pro Tip: The Dry Tortugas National Park permits camping by application and they are usually booked a year in advance. 

Reconnect In The Keys

The Florida Keys are a great place to reconnect with family, nature, and adventure. Wherever you visit in the Florida Keys, you will find simple pleasures and fun activities to share with the special people in your life. At the same time, you will be creating memories that last a lifetime. 
You can learn more about how to #reconnectinthekeys by contacting Florida Keys visitor information.

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Affordable family holiday tips from Tyrone bloggers who travel the world with their daughters

Ever dreamt of living the dream lifestyle of a travel blogger?

One Co Tyrone family has it down to a tee, and they pride themselves on not spending a lot of money when they do it.

Lynne and Andrew Callaghan from Omagh set up their travel blog ‘Around The World in 18 Years’ in 2016, with the aim of bringing daughters Lily-Belle and Matilda to as many countries in the world before the latter turns 18.

While the pandemic may have curtailed the family’s plans in the short-term, they are already scheming for their next adventure.

With their own website and social media channels, and a Facebook advice group with over 17,000 members, Lynne said they started their blogging adventures to share some of their tips on how to make their trips more affordable.

Andrew is the writer and photographer of the family, while Lynne is the bargain guru.

“Previous to having our children we would have gone to places like the Maldives or Canada but we realised with a family we needed to try and make our trips more affordable,” Lynne told MyTyrone.

“Whenever you have children your thoughts on holidays change. Our holidays are always for our girls and letting them see a bit of the world as well.

“Our blog really started because we were always telling family and friends about the money we had saved and the lovely places we had gone, so then people started saying why don’t you share this with others.

“Our Facebook group grew massively in less than a year to 15,000 members, and we have people from Australia in it, it’s open to everybody really.

“I think travel is going to become a bit more expensive now post Covid, so it’s going to be more important than ever to watch your money when you go away on holiday.”

Italy and Lapland are two of the family’s favourite destinations where they can grab a bargain, with Lynne adding the latter can be done on a budget to give families a dream Christmas.

Sharing some of her top tips for shaving hundreds off family holidays, Lynne said if you can book your trips independently and be flexible with your dates, costs can be kept to a minimum.

“We would save a huge amount of money every single year on trips to Lapland, and we’ve saved lots of other people a huge amount as well,” she said.

Lynne and Andrew Callaghan with daughters Lily-Belle and Matilda

“There would be people who head off to Lapland on our trips who would never have dreamed of going before because it’s so expensive.

“One big tip would be to use flight comparison sites, and a lot of people don’t know you can search by month as opposed to a specific date.

“If you’re searching for 1st July to 12th July, you’ll only get those flight prices for those dates. Whereas if you search over a month, you might find that traveling a day later is a lot cheaper.

“Another tip would be to consider flying through the UK, you can get a cheap flight over to Gatwick from Belfast or Dublin and it might save you quite a bit compared to a direct flight from here.”

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The Callaghans have used the pandemic to discover more domestic tourism hotspots, and have plans in place to build glamping accommodation near their house in Omagh.

However, in 2022 they hope to hit the road again with Lily-Belle and Matilda.

“We had a cruise booked around the Norwegian fjords during Covid which was postponed so we still have that in the pipeline, and then maybe another trip or two in Europe,” said Lynne.

“After that in 2023 we hope to start going a bit further afield, as it’s not that easy to go anyway anywhere too far away at the moment.”

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Mom moves family into an RV to help pay debt, travel full time: ‘Life is too short’

After two years of “barely scraping by,” and living in debt, Karen Akpan and her husband Sylvester decided it was time to move their family into an RV to travel full time

Akpan, 32, told Fox News that they sold their California home in February 2020, just before the pandemic hit the U.S. Akpan, Sylvester, 43, and their 8-year-old son Aiden moved into their renovated RV by May of that year. 

“We were just sick and tired of being sick and tired of all the bills and living in California and barely scraping by,” Akpan told Fox. “We decided we just wanted to do something different for our son.”

Karen Akpan and her husband Sylvester decided it was time to move into an RV to travel full-time in February 2020.

Karen Akpan and her husband Sylvester decided it was time to move into an RV to travel full-time in February 2020.
(Courtesy of Karen Akpan)

She said she and her husband had several goals in mind when they made the move. 

“First of all, to pay off all our debt and then to create generational wealth,” Akpan said. “And then just spend more time together, which is so important to us because I feel like life is too short. And what matters the most is just you being around people that you love.”


Now that it’s been about a year and a half, Akpan said her family has been able to pay off $200,000 in debt, about half of which was student loan debt. 

“It sounds scary when you say that because, to be honest, we shouldn’t have been in that much debt in the first place,” Akpan said. “It was absolutely nuts.”

The Akpans travel full-time, both around the U.S. and internationally with their 8-year-old son Aiden. 

The Akpans travel full-time, both around the U.S. and internationally with their 8-year-old son Aiden. 
(Courtesy of Karen Akpan )

Though they still have a little more credit card debt they’re working to pay off, Akpan said they’re almost done. 

“Right now we’re at the tail end of it,” Akpan said. “We have very, very little left.”


Through their journey of paying off their debts, Akpan said she’s become something of an advocate for financial literacy, encouraging her friends and family to start their own Roth IRAs and learn more about ways to save for their future and avoid going into debt. 

“People don’t know these basic things that they could have that could help them, help their families, help them save,” Akpan said, adding: “So it makes it hard for you not to get into debt and make these silly mistakes when you literally don’t know.”

“To be honest, we shouldn’t have been in that much debt in the first place. It was absolutely nuts.”

— Karen Akpan

She added: “It is a mission of mine, especially this year, to talk about it and make people aware … especially with my friends. Just starting with my friends and my family who don’t know these things.”


Akpan added that she and her husband have been educating Aiden along the way, while also starting to invest in his future through his own accounts, including a Roth IRA and a 529 plan.

“We have set up our lives in a way that we are not just pouring into ourselves and our future, but we’re already pouring into him right now,” Akpan said. 

The Akpans have been able to pay off about $200,000 in debt since they moved into their RV. 

The Akpans have been able to pay off about $200,000 in debt since they moved into their RV. 
(Courtesy of Karen Akpan)

Akpan talks about financial literacy and financial planning for kids on her blog, The Mom Trotter. She also runs a nonprofit called Black Kids Do Travel, where she encourages families of color to explore the world. 


Aside from being taught financial literacy, Aiden is also homeschooled, which makes it possible for the family to travel full time, both around the country and internationally. 

“His learning has always been on the road,” Akpan said. “Everything is a learning experience for him. And the difference is that he gets to not only watch videos and read about it, he gets to see it. He gets to be there.”

"We were just sick and tired of being sick and tired of all the bills and living in California and barely scraping by," Karen Akpan told Fox. "We decided we just wanted to do something different for our son."

“We were just sick and tired of being sick and tired of all the bills and living in California and barely scraping by,” Karen Akpan told Fox. “We decided we just wanted to do something different for our son.”
(Courtesy of Karen Akpan)

Aside from getting to experience places first-hand, international travel also allows Aiden to learn about other cultures. 

“It’s really been very important to me to expose my son to different cultures and different people and everything and being able to travel internationally gives us that opportunity for him to appreciate and be respectful,” Akpan said. “I want to explain to my son: ‘Everybody will not do things the way you do it. And the fact that they don’t doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with them.’”

“Being able to travel internationally puts us in a place where he’s right front and center of all of it, so he’s really learning to be a global citizen, which has really been a goal of mine.”

— Karen Akpan

“So I want him to actually see other people’s cultures, see how they live, appreciate it, ask questions and be respectful of it,” she added. “And being able to travel internationally puts us in a place where he’s right front and center of all of it, so he’s really learning to be a global citizen, which has really been a goal of mine.”


Akpan told Fox that after the last year-and-a-half of full-time traveling, she’s still not ready to go back to living in a house.

“I’m not going back to that monthly mortgage,” Akpan said.”If we ever do live in a house, I always say this, we would have to buy in cash, to be honest. I cannot go back to monthly payments… I just can’t. Not with the lifestyle I’m living now.”

She added: “I can afford more vacations that are not strictly budget, where I’m counting pennies everywhere we go. So, living in a house would take that away from us again.”

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