About Heather

We love traveling with our kids. People have said, and I'm sure you've heard it before, once you have kids you can kiss traveling goodbye. There is no reason to do that! Traveling with kids can be the most rewarding experience. Experiencing different cultures, food and rituals as a family can bring you together, provide a learning experience and be a lot of fun.

Have Stroller, Will Travel

The first trip we took with our older son when he was 10 months old we had the brilliant idea that we didn’t need to bring a stroller with us. We knew that in the airport he would be in the front pack and we wanted our hands to be as free as possible. Of course, once we were in Madrid we would want a stroller but we wanted less to bring with us. It was before we were really packing light but it was the beginning of an idea.

Since I had been in Madrid for a summer semester in college I knew they had this wonderful store, El Corte Ingles, where we would be able to find ourselves a cheap umbrella stroller that would work for our purposes and if it didn’t make it home – that wouldn’t be a problem.

It was a HUGE success! We checked into our hotel (stayed there one night until the apartment was ready but that’ll be a story for another day), hooked up with our friends and set off to El Corte Ingles with the baby in the front pack. We had no problem finding ourselves a $25 umbrella stroller with a sun shade and walked out of the store with the baby riding in it, safely strapped in. He loved this stroller, it even had a little fish hanging down from the sun shade so if he was bored with us or the walk, he’d keep himself happy with the fish. The stroller did make it home and we even still use it on occasion. Talk about a GREAT investment.

So off we were to our 2nd major international trip with the little one and thought we would travel sans stroller and have the same success as Madrid. Boy were we wrong. You have to know your location. In Madrid I knew we would find a great deal and the exact store where that would happen. In Florence we didn’t know the area, wandered around to several different kids stores with the baby backpack until we finally found a store with strollers… couture strollers… not what we had in mind. After looking at all the options and asking the store personnel for help, we ended up with a stroller for $120. It had a lot more options than our umbrella stroller (it could recline, had a large sun shade and a rain guard) but it also ended up being a much bigger pain to steer, fold up and now we cared whether it made it home or not!

We learned a very valuable lesson that trip. If you don’t do the research in advance, it might be a drain on the wallet to travel that light. We did get a lot of use out of that stroller – it made it on several international trips and was just retired after having it for 5 years, so all in all not a terrible investment but at the time we would have rather have had a cheaper smaller option.

So keep that in mind when you’re traveling. Most airlines will let you gate check the stroller for no cost (check their website before you go so there are no surprises) so it’s easy enough to bring a stroller you already own. You may not get your stroller back in the condition in which you gave it to the airline and there will not be any compensation for that or you could do a little research before you go and pick one up once you’re there. Then you may not care if it gets a little bit banged up on the way home. And you never know, it might end up being a stroller that lasts.

Having patience can be so hard!!

The best way to plan a trip is with a lot of patience. The first option you find isn’t always the best, sometimes it’s the fifth, thirtieth or hundredth time that’s a charm. We’ve been very lucky in the past that we can hone that skill and ensure we get the best bang for our buck. We’ve been flexible in our dates, scoured the internet for the best deals and waited until the perfect time to pounce on our finds. Those times seem to be slipping away from us.

Our oldest son recently started kindergarten (gasp!! How can he be this old already??) which limits our traveling time. We are no longer able to pick and choose the best priced, low-travel season time to go. We have a school schedule and the various breaks that we now have to fit our family traveling into.

We found a great time in October, based on his schedule, to go visit friends in Germany. So far, it is not looking good. I’m trying to remind myself to be patient… the right deal will come along. It comes with determination, just the right timing and being a little flexible. I have been looking and looking… nothing… Well – don’t get me wrong – there are TONS of flights that will get us there, just nothing that I can justify spending just yet.

I have to be patient. If I look back on our previous trips that’s what finally got us the perfect combination of flights/times/friends/housing, etc… we were patient and diligent in our searching and everything worked out. This year gas prices seem to be against us but we will keep at it and eventually that patience will pay off. I just know it will!

Car Travel

Something we don’t touch upon that often is car travel… maybe it’s because it’s not necessarily my favorite way to travel, maybe it’s because it doesn’t get me to places out of my comfort zone or maybe it’s because car travel is hard. Hard? You may ask. Yes – hard. Two years ago we went on our first major car trip with our then just barely three year old and five month old.

We drove to South Dakota. The destination – the Black Hills and beyond. The expected travel time? 11 hours. The actual travel time? 14+ hours. The last two were with a screaming 5-month old in the back seat. You see, driving in the car wasn’t his favorite thing ever. In fact, I think if he could avoid the car it would have been his preference. So being stuck in the car for 14+ hours was not ideal. We didn’t drive “straight through”, we took several breaks for food, stretching, feeding the baby and sightseeing. Even with those stops, it was too much for them. Our older son was happy to have a movie on as long as he got to pick – which we were more than happy to accommodate – but even he couldn’t seem to time his potty breaks with everyone else so we ended up making quite a few extra stops.

Well, even if it isn’t my favorite way to travel we have another trip coming up in the next couple of weeks where we get to drive to South Dakota for another family reunion. The boys are older, they are more excited for the trip and yet I know 2 hours in we will be hearing “are we there yet”… A few things we will be doing to help mitigate the pain of being stuck in the car for a day as we drive to the first stop:

1. Portable DVD player – they’re both old enough to enjoy the distraction of a movie.

2. Snacks – I don’t usually let my kids eat in the car but having a couple of snacks to keep them going when we aren’t quite ready for a stop will be worth it.

3. Family and two cars – the boys will be able to switch vehicles or have people rotate into the car they are mainly stationed in so they can have different company and keep the scenery fresh.

4. An open mind – I know that if Mapquest or Google Maps tell me that it’s going to take 9 hours, with kids I’ll expect 12. Going in with an open mind will help me feel good about getting there in 11 hours thinking I beat my expectation.

5. Plenty of music – my kids love to sing and I do too, that will keep us busy.

6. I will still pack light – Less is Less!! But they will have a few of their favorite toys with us – superheros, Leapster 2, and cars – to keep them entertained.

If we pass a park we might stop when before – just the two of us – we wouldn’t think of such a thing, wanting to get to the destination. With kids you have to be flexible, be willing to take a slower path and take the breaks that they need. Being stuck in a car seat is hot and can be boring – not just for the kids! It’s good to get out, stretch, have a minute to run around and then get on your way again. Be sure to factor in these extra stops and enjoy the time with your kids – it’s the time together, not the ultimate destination that is the most important part of your travel experience. It’s the experience together!! Whether in the car or in the air… famvoyage!!

A Thanksgiving to Remember

We were first introduced to traveling with our friends over the Thanksgiving holiday. The first time (without kids but pregnant with our first) we celebrated in a 400 year old restaurant in Vienna with a delicious meal with our friends.

We definitely had the bug and traveling over Thanksgiving can be incredibly economical so we decided to do it a few more times. My favorite European Thanksgiving is the night we spent at Il Latini in Florence. One of Jeremy’s clients had told us we HAD to go there so we thought, why not make it our Thanksgiving spot to celebrate. I am so glad we did but we weren’t thinking and didn’t find it before the day of Thanksgiving nor did we make a reservation. We definitely didn’t expect a huge crowd on a Thursday night.

Luckily our friends B&L who had joined us for the last few days of their honeymoon had an unlimited data plan on their phone and were able to lead us to the restaurant using their map app. I don’t know that we would have found it otherwise. We finally saw the street – hooray! – and as we turned the corner we were shocked by the number of people in the alley way. The doors to the restaurant were still closed, we thought getting there at opening time would assure us a table, but the crowd went from one end of the alley to the other.

Jon made his way towards the front of the crowd as they began letting various groups into the restaurant – all with reservations or already on a waiting list – and the alley way slowly cleared out. There were still several groups outside with us and Jon was at the front!! We were a group of 7, so after watching all those other people in we weren’t sure there would be room and then – Jon was waving us in. We rushed to the door lest someone change their mind and were seated at the very last table available in the entire restaurant right at the front!!  They even had a child’s chair that hung from the table for Holden.

My back was to the window, our table was just inside the entrance and the front of the restaurant including the giant door was all glass, but I turned around to see why I saw wait staff going in and out of the front door – I knew there weren’t tables outside and couldn’t imagine what they were doing. Not 30 minutes into our dinner, after they practically cleared the alley, it was filled again and the waiters were serving the people wine and cheese while they waited. We were so blessed to have made it in so quickly!

The waiter came up and immediately brought us a bottle of wine and kept it coming. He didn’t bring us any menus but instead asked if we were interested in trying a few courses with food typical of the area. We were in! What an experience. We had a salad course, soup course, pasta course, meat course and dessert course. The food was incredible and we had so much fun eating, drinking and enjoying the company of our friends at this amazing restaurant celebrating all we had to be thankful for that Thanksgiving night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Owner came over to see how we were doing, spent some time chatting with us and then he verified the bill with the waiter. We never saw any pricing or menus so we weren’t sure what to expect – especially after all of the food and wine. They conferred and we received the bill, simple as that – no menu or posted pricing. For as much food and drink as we had during the three plus hour meal, we were completely flabbergasted at how affordable the dinner was per couple and how stuffed we were! After the bill came, they gave us each a drink of lemoncello, another round of desserts and two bottles of wine to go!! We even got to take a picture with the Owner.

Once we were outside we took several squishies – this was the best one that mostly got all 7 of us in, you’ll have to trust that Holden is in the stroller and we weren’t just posing around it but this long Italian dinner wore him out!!

It was one of the most amazing Thanksgiving experiences and I am so glad we were able to have it. Don’t shy away from traveling and having these experiences just because it’s tradition to stay home. I’m not saying you have to travel on a holiday but don’t rule it out, you never know what you might encounter.

An Unexpected Surprise…

There are a number of things that can surprise you when you’re traveling – not all of them good – but when my husband and I recently lost a combined 110 pounds thanks to the 4 Hour Body by Tim Ferris, we were surprised at the changes we experienced while traveling. I never thought of myself as obese (though the Wii says otherwise) and I have always been strong, haven’t had any trouble climbing 160 steps to the top of a tower (or no more than anyone else did!) and I traveled “comfortably”.

Before the Weight Loss - Traveling to Ireland

Well, I thought I was comfortable… now that I’ve lost 54 pounds, turns out that it is possible to travel even more comfortably than I was before. I no longer have lap children – we have to buy their seats – but that doesn’t mean they sit in their seats the entire flight. The leaner me fits into my seat better, with room to spare on either side, can keep a child on my lap without feeling like they’re being crowded into the seat in front of us, and I just feel better.

Not only that, I can still walk up 160 stairs without getting more tired than the next person, fit in the small curving staircase a bit better AND can accomplish it while carrying or wearing a child.

Our clothes are smaller so they take up less space in the suitcase, enabling me to pack even LESS!! Which you all know, it is a goal of mine to pack less every time we travel.

What a surprise, I never thought something as small as losing some weight could make such a huge difference.

Decisions, Decisions, Where to Stay….

A hotel, an apartment, a B&B, or a house? There are so many options of where to stay when traveling. We have tried them all. Our all time favorite is an apartment or a house with friends.

We typically travel with friends, and when we do we like to stay together. It is possible to stay together in a hotel but then once it’s time for the kids to go to bed, many adults have to turn in because you can’t just leave the kids. So we like to find a house or an apartment big enough for all of us. Another benefit to staying in an apartment or rental house is the cost savings. We have spent as little as $300 for an entire week per family. No – that isn’t per night, that is for a week. Everyone had their own room and we even had extra space. We don’t always have that much success in cost savings but we always beat the price of the local hotels. That is another reason why hotels are our last choice.

When we went to Ireland, we stayed in this cute little house that had enough room 9 of us (six adults and three kids), with an entire room left over!! We missed these friends though!

We’ve also stayed in apartments, B&B’s and hotels while traveling with friends and family.

We love staying in rental apartments or houses because we have the opportunity to spend even more time with the people we’re traveling with. Hotel lobbies can be an option for hanging out at the end of the day but we’ve found that once the kids are tired, we either have to go to someone’s room sitting on the bed or the floor or we call it a night. But when we stay in an apartment or a house, we can put the kids to bed and then enjoy the company of our friends in the living room or kitchen.

When we stay in a rental we also use the kitchen. During our last trip to Barcelona we spent a few nights having dinner in our apartment kitchen, even a few “first” breakfasts – of course we had to also partake of these lovely morning pastries and coffee at what became our favorite coffee shop – more on that later. But eating in saved us some money, and we didn’t eat typical American fare, we stopped by the local grocery and tried some local cuisine. It was super tasty and the boys LOVED it! We enjoyed it too.

There are lots of other benefits of houses and apartments. You might have washing machine helping you pack light. You don’t have to worry as much about noise – great for two-year-old’s. And you meet some great local people who will require a post or more of their own.

Where have we found these great places to stay? Well, I scour the internet. I love the hunt and planning a trip is half the fun – to me, not to Jeremy or a lot of people I know! We also have friends who also enjoy the hunt of the perfect place to stay. We have found success on the following sites:

www.homeaway.com

www.germanyby.com

www.spain-select.com

www.florenceby.com

www.bedandbreakfast.de

www.shortstay-apartment.com

www.vbro.com

And then a train ride??

My kids never fail to amaze me. They have joined us on more trips than we’ve taken without them and I wouldn’t change that at all. After traveling so much they’ve come to understand the process we follow every time we leave. Not the most unusual going, right? Everyone gets used to the routine but what is great about this is it makes each trip easier.

On our most recent trip standing in line at security on the way home my 2 year old looked at me and said “ride train next?” I was very surprised by the question, taking for granted that he is starting to understand the process of traveling. I did have to explain that we wouldn’t ride a train in that airport but that we would once we landed back home. He accepted the explanation and it was our turn to go through the scanner.

Later, in that same airport, we were standing by the gate and he looked up at me and said “boarding now?” as they began to make the announcements. He knew we had to wait our turn and once they called our number we had to get moving.

These little observations that he’s been making as we travel go a long way to a smoother trip. Our older son knows to watch the seatbelt sign and never tries to get up or take his seatbelt off when it is on. He doesn’t complain if he can’t get up, he understands that’s part of traveling. We’re working on getting our younger son to understand this too but he’s a little ways off. I am looking forward to when he he gets it though! Getting rid of that battle will be awesome!

One thing I try to remember is practice makes perfect and I’m willing to practice as long as it takes!!

Quick Packing Tips

So you have a last minute trip or just procrastinated packing until the last minute before your trip, I can help!! Here are my top tips for packing in a hurry.

1. Make a list and keep it around from trip to trip to help you remember what to pack, not necessarily quantity since that will vary based on length of trip.
2. Store your travel sized bathroom items in the required zippy bag somewhere in your bathroom.
3. Don’t overpack.
4. Store your luggage in an easily accessible area and know what your favorite travel bag is to pack quickly.
5. Know the limits of your luggage.
6. Don’t forget something to read, phone charger, glasses or sunglasses, ID and travel documents.
7. Remember that you can always purchase most anything you may need should you leave it behind.

I’ll provide my lists in another post!!

What Do They Speak In???

This was the first question our oldest son asked us as we deplaned in South Dakota last weekend. It isn’t an unusual question for him, in fact, based on his experience of travel – it is a very valid question. See, we’re raising our kids to be world travelers and what comes with that is the understanding that not everyone speaks English. So when we got off the plane in South Dakota, he wanted to be sure he would be able to talk to the people we would encounter there.

Every time we travel to a new place we try to get our kids to experience the culture of the area. This definitely includes language. We try to teach them a few words to use so that they can at the very least say please and thank you. When we came back from our trip to Italy when our oldest was about 18 months he was telling everyone “Ciao” as we got off the plane! It can be a very fun learning experience for the whole family. But in this instance, no learning necessary – he can already talk everyone’s ear off in English!

Less is… Well, Less!!

When it comes to luggage and anything that has to be carried from the house to the car, from the car to the airport, to the check-in counter, through security, to the gate, onto the airplane, off of the airplane, to the shuttle/train/taxi and finally to your destination, less is better! Less feels like less but not in a bad way. Less comes with all of the benefits of mobility, having less to control during all of those stops and checkpoints we all know and love as we travel through the airport and less gives you the ability to enjoy yourself.

When we first started traveling we didn’t have this mentality. We made sure we had enough of all of our clothes, several extra pairs of shoes (well, not me on our trip to Vienna which ended up requiring a shoe purchase but more on that later!), coats, magazines, bathroom accessories, books, cameras and anything else we could fit within the number of bags we could check for free. We never once went over the weight limit but we definitely came close. Our first international trip together to Vienna (pre-kids), we discovered 1. we brought too much and didn’t use most of it 2. our suitcase was terrible to pull across cobblestone sidewalks 3. our suitcase was too heavy and 4. our carry on bags weren’t very convenient or comfortable to carry! We tried to remember all of this on our first trip with our oldest son when he was 10 months old but with not a lot of success…

First International Family Trip

You’re thinking, it doesn’t look too bad – just a suitcase and two carry on bags… but you have no idea how heavy that suitcase was! Jeremy could wear it like a backpack but that was almost impossible due to how heavy it was. Why was it so heavy? Well, we packed enough clothes for the baby to stay two weeks (we were only there for one), we thought they might not have food there (or something!) so we packed all of the baby food, cereal, and snacks he would need, we packed enough clothes for both of us for the week plus an extra shirt and underwear and an extra pair of shoes for each of us. We also had our light jackets in the suitcase so it’d be one less thing to carry in the airport. It was a successful trip. The suitcase was much lighter on the way home because our son ate all his food and we aren’t big on buying a bunch of stuff to fill the suitcase on the way home. Once we were home we thought we could certainly do better next time…

Second International Family Trip

And we did? This trip we didn’t bring any food, had only a few extra sets of clothes for our son and a few extras for each of us. We actually ended up looking like we were bringing more! But the suitcase wasn’t as heavy, one of the carry on backpacks actually turned into a baby carrier and we could wear all of our bags to stay hands-free. So in some ways it was better but still – too much to bring along. We could do better. Less is less after all.

Less Luggage!!

We finally had better success! We used the suitcase without the zip-on backpack attachment and only had two carry on bags! It was so much nicer for us to travel with so much less, especially on this trip because we had quite the walk trying to find our rented apartment in a residential area. I couldn’t imagine how grumpy we would have been hauling a bunch of stuff by the time we got where we were going.

Yikes!! A family of four traveling abroad

Then we added a second child to the mix… when we did that, we also added a bag but it wasn’t all bad. We removed the backpack that converted into a child carrier, added a regular backpack in its place (which also happens to zip on to the front of the suitcase) and allowed our oldest son to have a small backpack of his own to carry his toys. I know plenty of people, I won’t name names, that travel with this much luggage on their own! So I didn’t feel too bad that this is where we ended up on our first international trip with the four of us.

Extras include a stroller for our friends and our travel stroller

Our latest try, however, looks like we forgot our advice. But we have friends living in Europe and they were in desperate need of a new stroller. So, being the awesome friends that we are, we said we would check it with our bag and bring it along with us if they would meet up with us in Barcelona. How could they resist?!? They couldn’t, so needless to say, on our second trip traveling with the four of us, we had more going out but on the return trip – we had LESS!!!

Every time we get ready to pack, I remind myself that Less is Less. The goal is to pack the four of us in the least amount of luggage and with hands-free options as much as possible. Just remember – Less is Less.  You really won’t miss what you leave behind as long as you choose wisely AND you won’t have the hassle of lugging a bunch of extra weight around with you. Who doesn’t want to travel with less??