Just a few exits from San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, a cluster of ancient coast redwoods rises to the heavens in what feels more like the ancestral home to a tribe of Ewoks than a national park visited by millions on the outskirts of one of America’s most vibrant cities.

Todd and I just visited Amsterdam as the city was kicking off its Christmastime festivities. So beautiful! And oddly specific. I’ve never seen so much blackface in my life. Or women singing seductively to teddy bear puppets.

People in Dallas often joke that there’s a long-standing rule that if you live in Dallas, you’re required to hate Houston…and I’m told the feeling is mutual. Having been to Houston only a few times in my adult life, usually for business meetings or to visit my late Granddaddy when he had his heart surgeries there, I can’t say that the rule doesn’t ring true for me. It’s never been one of my favorite places. Despite that, the kids and I decided to hit the open road last month for a quick trip down I-45 to spend a couple of days exploring the Bayou City. My opinion of the city has largely changed for the better.

To keep the “Most Magical Place on Earth” from becoming the most stressful, here are a few real-life tips from our travels that might help your family, too (a.k.a., how to not completely lose your fucking mind).