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.

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!

Eating Like A Local

As I write this, we’re on our way back from our second week-long trip out of the last three weeks. We visited local hot spots and family in two very different corners of the US – eastern South Dakota and the greater Los Angeles area.

One thing we like to do when we travel with the kids is to pick food and restaurants that we can’t get back home. Sometimes we run into picky eating, but more often than not the kids are up for adventure. I think if you set the standard that travel is a time for new foods you’ll find your children are fairly adaptable. It makes sense that new places mean new food. (By the way, this goes for you too.)

There are so many ways to branch out with food. You can find a local restaurant, gaining bonus points for a local dive. Or you can find a regional chain. Even a quick fast food lunch can be completely different in another state or another country. You might find a new go-to option for that area of the world.

We encountered a few places I’d recommend if you find yourself in the area:

While staying in Platte, South Dakota we had lunch at Boom’s Drive In. It’s a local place that’s been around for about 70 years and is a little slice of Americana. I have fond memories of it from my childhood. The food isn’t exotic – I had my usual chili dog, and the kids had some corn dog bites – but it was something new for the family.

In California we have a few favorites. This time we stopped at a local taco joint called Snapper Jacks. They have a mashed potato taco that is great in a crispy shell. It’s in Camarillo.

We went to a greasy spoon breakfast place with Chuck Wagon in the name, in old town Camarillo. I had a great eggs benedict that used jalapeño bacon (I have a bacon obsession.) My wife had an eggs benedict that used corned beef hash. Awesome.

And we stopped at a Los Angeles institution – Pink’s Hot Dogs – for the first time and had a great chili dog. (I have hot dog obsession, especially chili dogs.) The boys really ate like champs here, and I felt good about feeding them hot dogs because of the fun location.

And then there are chains. On our way from South Dakota we stopped at a regional chain called Runza were they have these ground beef and onion pockets that are tasty and very midwestern. Fun if you are into that.

And of course while in California we made multiple stops at In-n-out Burger. A must for all of us.

None of this was overly fancy, expensive, or complicated. But it was different. It helps the trip feel more like travel and broadens your kids’ horizons a bit.

I could talk food all day, but I’ve gone on long enough for now. Similar principles apply wherever your travels take you around the world. I’ll share some more local faves over time. What gems have you discovered?

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.

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.

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??

 

To Seat or Not To Seat???

We’re a month away from our next trip – visiting family in California – and it will be our young one’s first trip since he turned two! The logistics are all sorted out, and now we’re on to the anticipation stage.

The two-year-old milestone gets me thinking about one of the first questions we had planning our first plane ride (also to California) – to buy a seat or not? Airlines don’t require it until your little one is two. Notice on our first post – isn’t it interesting how we think of all the milestones in relation to when they turned two?

A friend with three kids strongly recommended splurging on the seat, said it was worth its weight in gold. With some very low fares, we took her advice. And I think we have done the opposite ever since. Let’s look at some pros and cons, shall we?

Buying a seat:

PRO

  • Planes get hot, kids are heaters, have a place to put them down
  • Bring the car seat on the plane, strap the child down (More on traveling with car seats another day, more daunting than traveling with kids in my opinion)
  • Safety that comes with strapping them down. But. They actually have to be in their seats for that to work, and its very common to see a little one on the roam. Don’t buy the seat for safety if you’re going to be holding them, obviously.
  • Another note on safety – the regular plane seat belts don’t hold the wee ones all that tightly, and they are easy to disconnect. You may find that you need a car seat because of the size of your kid or their propensity to escape. Otherwise, hold on to them. On longer flights, especially internationally, some airlines give you a lap child seat belt that connects to your own.
  • On a three by three plane, you get the row to yourself

CON

  • Costs more
  • The littler they are, the less likely you can properly sit them in a seat, unless…
  • Car seats. Not always fun to lug on a plane
  • As we are experiencing in our upcoming trip, where we have two child seats, you don’t fit in a row and are split up. Terror!

Lap child:

PRO

  • Cheaper (Not always free. Internationally you generally have to pay some taxes and fees that amount to about 10% of a full fare. Within the US, generally the only cost is effort)
  • Kids are little, they cuddle well…
  • Lap naps are the best
  • Cheaper = more trips
  • Cheaper!

CON

  • You’re going to have to keep them occupied, but you were probably going to have to anyway. Bonding time isn’t a con.

I’m a HUGE fan of the built-in discounts that come with traveling with kids. And none looms larger than the huge discount on airfare. You’ll miss it when they turn two. Of course, if money is no object, or you are using miles… just don’t be surprised if they end up on your lap anyway.