Hello Again!!

Hello! Long time no talk.

I tell you what, summer took its toll. That and a full work, kid, and hobby schedule. And our oldest son starting school.

But we’ve been able to fit in a little travel. And travel hasn’t been far from our planning minds.

One of the hardest things for me is to reign in all my travel ambitions. I have so many places I want to go. So many experiences I want to give my kids. So much food I want to try.

Until now, getting away has been relatively easy for me. I just cram like crazy at work before and after, and all is well. Now we have a school schedule to factor in, and that sure complicates things.

What we don’t have is unlimited funds. And sometimes what we want to do and what we can do don’t jive. We haven’t been overseas with the boys yet this year, and the odds of making it happen aren’t great.

But, hey! I’m rambling.

Sometimes I have to remind myself -

It’s not where we travel as much that we travel. Especially with kids.

Sure, I’d love it if we took a couple long weekends per year around the state. And a couple weeks to visit family throughout the country. And a week somewhere new – by car or plane – around North America. And maybe a couple trips to Europe, somewhere new and somewhere familiar. And then maybe the occasional really far afield trip (something we’ve yet to try.)

That all sounds neat, doesn’t it. Fancy fantasy land.

We’ve actually had some pretty solid runs. I wrote it down the other day. There’s a couple years where we checked off a good portion of that list. How did that happen?

Here’s the key, we didn’t force it. We just kept travel a priority, and we chose our shots.

Sometimes it was a big trip with lots of action. Sometimes we used miles and careful timing to go on the cheap. But we went.

A few factors have complicated things this year. Schedules and a decision to make sure our boy doesn’t miss school in his first year of kindergarten is big factor. Our availability has been very limited. And when you don’t have a flexible schedule, it’s tougher to find good priced tickets. And plane tickets are by far the priciest part of our travels.

Two things I’ll remember to increase our hit rate in the future:

1 – We’ll block time and make priorities much further into the future. This will help us schedule around everything going on in our lives, and it will help us make sure we’re capitalizing on all of our opportunities. Looking back at the first half of the year, we might have gotten that overseas trip scheduled in the spring – back before school when we could be more flexible.

2 – We’ll have fall back plans and we’ll know when to use them. It’s a shame to have availability, time off and a budget, and then not go because the first option is out of reach. That’s what happened to our planned October trip – we waited too long looking for a deal and we didn’t have a back up plan.

Which all comes back to – just travel. Make it a priority wherever it may be.

Next up for us is Thanksgiving. We planned to go visit family in Palm Springs – we’ve never been. Since we’re not going anywhere in October, we’ve decided to extend that trip and make it a genuine road trip, with Santa Fe and some other stops along the way.

And who knows – we might just squeeze that overseas trip in, stay tuned.

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!

On Beer Gardens, Tapas Bars and Similar Great Places

I like them. And so do my kids.

Let’s get this out of the way now. This is not the kind of place where we look for sanitized kid friendly things to do while the adults sip ice water and descend into boredom. Kids don’t need you to reduce your trip in order to bring them along. Let’s face it – the more varied your travels, the more you’ll travel. And seeing more of the world is just plain good for kids. Better with you than not at all.

So here’s an insight – if you are doing it right, travel will expose your kids to some dirt and chaos and questionable behavior. You will be ok. Your kids will be ok.

And another – maybe some of what you consider questionable is just normal to other people. You don’t have to approve, I don’t always. But you don’t have to worry too much.

I’ve got nothing against parks and playgrounds and toys and all of that. We’ll get there too. But sometimes I just need an ice cold brew. Sometimes my kids need a snack too.

So. Germany. April and the sun is starting to emerge victorious more often than not. We’re in Munich and locals clearly have spring fever. We’re along for the ride.

The first day of the trip is a good day to soak up local color and not be too ambitious. We go to the Chinese Beer Garden in a lovely big park. Our travel companions have been here before and show us the ropes. Our oldest son is almost two (this particular trip was specifically scheduled to enjoy lap child privileges one last time.) If I remember my chronology correctly, our friends were expecting their first and my wife was not yet expecting our second. So we had one designated walker.

We spent most of a longish afternoon in the beer garden. Our son amused himself with our company, probably some napkins, and probably some drawing. He was part of the gang. We enjoyed a beer or two, along with some of the local beer hall food. What kid doesn’t love wurst and pretzels? The crowd was varied and we were by no means the only parents in the bunch. We all had fun and it was no big deal.

That night – and several others on the trip – we found ourselves at the Haufbrauhaus. A little touristy, but historically important and in possession of great brew and pretzels with this mustard I can’t seem to find anywhere else. Did you know – this is a family place! Less so as the night goes on, but you can totally bring kids of all ages here. Our boy enjoyed the pretzels, but not so much the spicy mustard. He tasted the beer. Of all people, we got a lecture from a tourist! The locals were nonplussed.

When we were in Madrid, we went into a smokey tapas bar with our not-yet-one year old. It was pre-dinner tapas and beverages. We looked for the least tourist-friendly looking place amongst a group of bars in an attempt to get authentic food. Inside, I immediately felt awkward and out-of-place. This was our first family trip abroad, after all. But no one gave us a weird look. And guess what? Ten minutes later, a whole family of locals showed up with their young boys, taking a couple tables by the window. Our son enjoyed the Patatas Bravas.

In our travels before and since, our boys have been to all manner of fancy restaurants, bars, beer halls, pubs, and the like. Some places have rules. Some are more comfortable than others. None have been bad experiences – even when we have been kicked out, which is a story for another day.

This beer garden even had a table just for the kids!! They LOVED it!

Enjoying the beer garden in the rain

 

They even had time for a snooze at the beer garden!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The point is simple. There are a lot of things you can do with your kids that you might think are off limits. Things that seem really scary will seem really silly over time. I’ll write about some of them. I’d like to hear about the successes and failures of others. From these stories we can open a whole new world of family-friendly travel experiences.

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??

 

The Wonder of a Child

It never ceases to amaze me. Seeing the world through a child’s eyes can be one of the best experiences. Traveling with our kids has allowed us to experience their awe and wonderment while it is fresh on their faces. Our first family trip was to Madrid, Spain when our first child was only 10 months old. Not only did he do great on the first long flight of his life, he surprised us over and over again as he took in the sites and experiences. My favorite experience was his first train ride. He stood up on my lap and pushed his face to the window to capture the entire experience.

He didn’t need much from us, in the way of toys or other things to keep him busy and interested. The newness of the area and experiences were enough. We keep that in mind every time we travel. Less is more. The conversation, culture, food and people can be enough to satisfy a child’s need for stimulation. That same trip, our son was more interested in playing with napkins and our friends accompanying us to bother with any toys we packed for him. He was so full of wonder. The best part for me is that every trip, no matter the location, he is the same. So excited for the newness, so excited for the experience and constantly asking for more. For him there are no boundaries, in his mind there isn’t anywhere he can’t go. And that’s exactly how we want him to be!

It’s Not Too Late To Travel The World

I didn’t catch the overseas travel bug until I thought it was too late. I’d dreamed of traveling to other lands, but had never bothered to make it happen. When friends invited us to Vienna, we were already expecting our first son. Certainly we wouldn’t be able to take other trips like this after he was born?

That trip to Vienna was better than I could have expected. The history, the culture, the food – I wanted to experience more of it. My wife, who had been quite a few more places than I, didn’t need convincing. So when the same friends invited us and our not-quite one-year-old to Madrid, we rolled the dice.

And guess what? There were some extra logistics, but we had a great time. In many ways the experience was even better for daring it with a baby.

We’re not here to tell you that traveling with kids is the only way to do it. And we’re not telling you that you must. But if you’ve dreamed of seeing the world, you need to know that you can. And that your kids will be the better for it. And that you don’t have to break the bank to make it happen.

Traveling – all kinds of adventurous, exciting, crazy traveling – can be done as a family. You’ll spend time together. You’ll share experiences with each other. And you’ll love it.

We realized during that trip how little we knew about making it work. Mostly, we just needed help figuring out what was OK. Eight countries and counting and we’re still learning. We think we have something to share, and that maybe together we overcome the fear that so many have around family travel. And maybe you too can catch the travel bug too late – FamVoyage!