Thrifty Tricks for Using Your Smart Phone While Travelling

Even though I have a Pinterest board dedicated to Travel Apps for Kids & Families, I have a confession to make.. I don’t use travel apps very often. Perhaps it’s because I don’t have an iPhone (yet), or perhaps it’s because I feel overwhelmed by zillions of options and little time to explore them, but I’ll admit I’m completely behind the times in this area.

So, I am thrilled to not only share today’s guest post with you but also to read and learn for myself about the thrifty ways you can use your smart phone while traveling.

The tips and tricks below are written by my friend and fellow travel planning nerd, Nancy. She’s currently a part-time expat and the inspiration behind many of our family’s hikes and outdoor adventures.

“Now, where do we go?”

Invariably, our arrival at any new destination starts with this question. My husband and son look at me as they ask, confident that I—omnipotent mommy and family travel planner—will have the answer for them.

In response, I whip out my not-so-secret weapon against the unknown: my iPhone.

Smart phones are the perfect travel tools. With a smart phone in your backpack, you have a compass, a GPS, a star gazing tool, an elaborate gaming system, a camera and a library of hundreds of books on a device that weighs less than a pound. (We’ve come a long way from the days when I would tear out irrelevant pages in my travel guide to reduce the weight of my pack.)

Perfect, right? Well, almost.

Smart phones come with one major limitation while travelling. Once you are outside the area covered by your local cellular provider, downloading and sending data, making phone calls, and sending text messages can get (really) expensive. We’ve all heard the stories of unfortunate souls who have forgotten this and ended up with an outrageous cell phone bill.

Top 3 thrifty tips for using your smart phone while travelling abroad:

1)   Ask your cellular service provider if they have special international rates. Sometimes you can buy an international package that will reduce the costs for phoning and texting and will allow you a limited amount of data use abroad.

2)   Buy prepaid local SIM cards when you land at your destination. These are usually found in supermarkets, drug stores, or kiosks all over the world. Use Google or a local expat forum to find out where to buy SIM cards, average rates, and recommended brands.

3)   Simply turn off the cellular roaming data option on your phone and avoid making or receiving phone calls or text messages. (In other words, don’t answer any phone calls or texts.) Also, double check with your cellular service provider that you won’t be charged for incoming calls or texts, even if you don’t answer them.

Surprisingly, turning off the cellular data and ignoring the phone functions of my iPhone has been a good solution for me, especially when I have decent access to Wi-Fi to ease the pain of disconnection.

And, the lack of a cellular data plan doesn’t mean that you have to leave your phone at  home while you are out and about. There are some easy ways to use your smart phone even when you don’t have a local plan or data abilities.

Four great tricks for using your smart phone without a data connection:

1)   Use offline maps and navigation systems like Mapswithme and TomTom.

The GPS on your smart phone likely works even when you don’t have cellular data coverage. (You can Google the make and model number of your smart phone to check if your device has this ability).

To use the GPS system without cell access, you also need to have an offline map. There are offline maps available for most destinations, but our favourite offline map app is Mapswithme, an open source map system that covers most of the world.

Once you have downloaded the Mapswithme app, you then individually download the country maps that you will need on your trip. This feature allows you to choose only the maps you need in order to save space on your device.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Thrifty Ways to Use Your Smart Phone While Traveling

The blue arrow shows your location on the map.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Thrifty Ways to Use Your Smart Phone While Traveling

You can zoom into a high resolution view.

We have used this app to mark destinations like parking lots and trail heads; and we use it constantly when we are walking around a new place to find anything of interest. Mapswithme has saved us several times from taking the wrong turn while on a ramble through a new city.

Mapswithme also has lots of hiking and biking trails on it, which has been very helpful to us in New Zealand, North America, and Europe. My husband and I used the app on an overnight hike in New Zealand as a distance guide.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Thrifty Ways to Use Your Smart Phone While Traveling

You can drop a pin on the map and then click on it to see how far away you are. The distance from your pin is shown underneath your arrow. Unfortunately, we are very far away from New Zealand right now.

You can place a pin on any destination and when you click on the pin, the info screen will tell you how far away you are from the pin in a direct line. You can also upload a trail map or travel route to Mapswithme and monitor your progress on a trip.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Thrifty Ways to Use Your Smart Phone While Traveling

You can upload trails and routes to Mapswithme.

This app does have one major limitation: It doesn’t provide spoken directions when driving.

When we do need navigation help for driving, we use an offline navigator from TomTom. This is an expensive app, but it has proven useful several times and was well worth the value. Mapswithme is a good companion to the TomTom app. If I’m unsure of where TomTom is leading us, I double check with Mapswithme.

2)   Download offline travel guides with Scribd.

I use Scribd, a subscription-based app that lets me download an unlimited number of books for a very reasonable price (under $10 per month). The Scribd library includes all of the Lonely Planet guides, and other travel guides as well.

On a recent trip to Provence, I downloaded the Lonely Planet guide for this area onto my phone before we left. When we visited a new city, I would look up the city in the guide, choose the most important sights, and take advantage of the highly detailed maps in the book to figure out where we needed to start and what we wanted to see.

In addition, I use Scribd extensively just for reading. Imagine taking your local public library with you on a trip. Bonus!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Thrifty Ways to Use Your Smart Phone While Traveling

A list of all of the travel books that I have downloaded to my device in Scribd.

3)   Store travel plans and electronic tickets in Google Drive.

I usually make extensive travel itineraries for my family. It helps me know who has to be where and when. But I don’t like carrying paper. Google Drive is a service that lets you store and access documents from any computer or device. I create a folder for our trip in Google Drive, and I upload a detailed itinerary and all of the reservation and ticket documents to this folder.

To ensure that I have access to our travel documents even when I don’t have a data connection, I open the Google Drive app on my phone, open the documents I might want to access, and check off the option which will prompt the system to keep on offline version on my device. I’m sure that this would also work with other online storage systems like Dropbox .

The advantage of storing your documents in Google Drive or Dropbox is that you can access them in a pinch from any device or computer.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Thrifty Ways to Use Your Smart Phone While Traveling

My travel folder in Google Drive.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Thrifty Ways to Use Your Smart Phone While Traveling

Offline versions of boarding passes. Note that I have checked the “Keep an online version” option.

4)   Find free Wi-Fi.

I’ve become good at finding free Wi-Fi when I need to really connect. Free Wi-Fi is less common in Europe and New Zealand than in North America, but it does exist. For instance, Starbucks in Germany offers a free connection for two hours. This does help take the edge off life without a good Internet connection.

I have used the Wi-Fi Finder app, but have found it to be out-of-date. I’ve had better luck just keeping my eyes open. A couple of weeks ago in Switzerland, we visited Chillon, a medieval castle and popular tourist destination that offered free Wi-Fi with the price of admission.

Although I do prefer to be connected to the Internet at all times (like every minute of the day!), I have found travelling without a data connection to be possible and even preferable as I’m not constantly worried about how much money I’m spending every time I check the map.

And I’m still always able to tell my family where we are and where we should head to next!

So, how do you use your smart phone while travelling? Any other tricks to share?

Nancy (aka Twigg3d) is a Canadian traveller, writer, teacher and iPhone addict. In recent years, she has been travelling with her husband and son back and forth between Canada, Germany and New Zealand. Anyone who knows her will find it hard to believe that she can survive without the Internet even for a minute.

 

 

 

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What You Need to Know About Taking a Night Train in Germany with Kids

Traveling by train in Germany is one of the easiest ways to get around. We’ve ridden the rails numerous times, but this past April was the first time I attempted to take a child on the overnight train.

Known as the City Night Line (CNL) here in Deutschland, these trains travel slowly, stopping at various points along the route and (usually) arriving after the sun is up at the desired destination.

Although I hadn’t slept on a CNL train before this trip, I did have a smattering of sleeper train experience. I took the overnight train between Moscow and St. Petersburg when I first visited in 2001 and more often when I lived there in 2003. I had no idea how the trains in Germany would compare to those in Russia.

Lucky for me, my husband took the same night train for a work trip two weeks before I went with solo with Alpha to the Netherlands and back. Thanks to him, I had a heads up on the differences before I even left home.

To read about our mama-son adventure to Keukenhof Gardens in the Netherlands, click here!

Alpha is my oldest, a very brave and grown-up six year-old. He was thrilled to be the boy chosen to accompany me (er, indulge my floral fancy) on our whirlwind Dutch adventure.

On the evening of our departure, I put him to bed at home as usual, only he slept in his street clothes instead of pajamas. Our train was scheduled to depart at 11pm. I woke him around 10:15pm; we slipped on our shoes and strapped on our backpacks. We walked to the tram that took us to the train station, and then sat on the platform waiting for the CNL to roll in.

A collection of random but very important things to know about the City Night Line trains in Germany:

  • Reservations are compulsory. You must select and book the kind of overnight accommodation you want – reclining seat, couchette, or proper sleeping car. And if you cancel your ticket, you do not get the money for the reservation back. In our case, the reservation cost about 60 euros.
  • Though I am thrifty and all, it is well worth the money to pay for a four-berth couchette. The cabins are small, and I would not want to be sharing that tiny space with five other adults. And the reclining seat? Forget it.
  • If you wish, you can reserve a space to bring your bike along for a small fee.
  • Sleeping cabins are mixed, men and women. Each train has one women-only compartment, but this must be booked at the train station.  I was able to reserve beds in this cabin with my son since he was young enough, but it took several employees and a manager before I received approval.
  • You cannot select whether you want an upper or lower berth online. If this is important to you, you’ll need to book this with Deutsche Bahn in person or over the phone.
  • An announcement that serves as a train-wide wake-up call is made on the train at 7am. If your station is scheduled to be before 7am, you can request that the steward wake you up.
  • Some trains have electrical outlets in the cabins, some don’t. The only other outlets I found were in the sink washrooms.
  • For couchette and reclining seat train cars, there are two sink rooms and a toilet located at the end of the car. For proper sleeping cars, toilets and sinks are located inside the cabins.
  • Doors have several locks that can be fastened from the inside. Leave them locked, but be aware you might have to wake up if your cabin is not full and more passengers are coming later in the night.
  • The train stops often and the lights at each station can shine brightly into the cabin window. Expert tip: bring an eye mask to wear while sleeping.
  • More expensive sleeper cabins come with a complimentary breakfast. Couchette and reclining seat passengers can purchase breakfast from the dining car or bring their own.
  • If your train crosses an international border, be sure to pack your passport as it could be inspected. A check was performed when Doc Sci took the CNL, but not when I did.
  • For loads of more great tips, see Seat 61.

When the white and red CNL cars arrived, we located our assigned wagon and climbed aboard. Once inside the cabin, I helped Alpha make the beds. Each passenger in the couchette is given a small pillow, a blanket, and a rectangular sheet that’s open on two sides and sewn shut on the other two. We arranged the sheets so that the opening was toward the middle of the cabin, fluffed the pillows, and placed the blanket on top.

Six berth couchette cabin. (image)

Six berth couchette cabin. (image)

A trip to the potty was followed by goodnight hugs and kisses. We donned our fancy shmancy eye masks and allowed ourselves to be lulled to sleep by the motion of the train.

Alpha woke me up a few minutes before the blaring 7am we’re-now-leaving-Germany-so-sleep-time-is-over announcement. We feasted on German rolls, yogurt, and juice that we’d brought along in our packs. The train ambled in to Utrecht around 8:30am where we changed to a commuter train headed for Schipol where we could catch a bus to Keukenhof.

Reclining seats on CNL trains. (image)

Reclining seats on CNL trains. (image)

Only twelve hours but thousands of tulips later, we were at it again, boarding another CNL train in Amsterdam headed back home.

We felt like pros, setting up our sheets, stowing our packs, and pulling out our eye masks. However, one thing was different – on this train, we were assigned one upper and one lower berth.

On the previous night’s train, we both slept below. Alpha sleeps on the top bunk every night at home, so he wanted to try the same thing on the train. I worried he might fall, but I shouldn’t have. The upper berths are slightly concave and feature decent guardrails. However, if you are also concerned about your child rolling out of bed, see below for a few tips on how to reduce the risk.

Since our arrival into our city’s main train station was scheduled for 5:55am, I requested a wake-up call from the steward. Just to be safe, I also set an alarm on my phone for 5:35am. The attendant rapped on the glass precisely 15 minutes before our station and waited until I opened the door and confirmed I was, indeed, awake.

Safety note: Don’t open the door unless you are expecting someone. Random “passport checks” in the middle of the night are usually a scam.

The boy and I slipped on our shoes and our backpacks and quietly left the other two ladies to slumber all the way to Zurich while we greeted the morning in our home city.

Would I take the overnight train with kids again? Absolutely!

But, how would that work with our little Charlie, who still sleeps in a crib?

Four berth couchette cabin. (image)

Four berth couchette cabin. (image)

I asked a good friend who often travels with her four kids (ages 0, 2, 4, and 6!) on the CNL to Hamburg for a few tips on taking the night train with infants and toddlers.

  • First and foremost, the attitude of the parents almost always determines the success of the venture. (This holds true for nearly every family travel situation.)
  • Prepare the kids ahead of time; talk through what will happen. Explain that they will sleep at home before they get on the train, then they will wake up in order to get to the train, and then they will go to sleep again on the train. Keep your expectations low – this is a new experience, after all – but don’t offer another option (playing on the iPad instead of snoozing).
  • If your budget allows, try to book out an entire cabin. Couchette cabins are either 4 or 6 beds, so pick the one that is closest to the number of people in your family. Children under 6 travel free, but you still have to pay to reserve their sleeping place (see top block of tips).
  • For small infants that don’t yet push themselves up, bring along a carrycot or small travel bassinet (I have the Phil & Teds cocoon and peanut) that you can place on the floor.
  • For older infants and toddlers, request child safety bars when you book the tickets. If it’s not possible to pre-book this feature, ask as soon as you board. Each train only has a limited number, so keep this in mind if you’re traveling during a busy holiday season.
  • If you’re worried about a child falling out of bed, have her sleep on the bottom berth and arrange your luggage in such a way that if she did fall out, she’d only fall a few inches to the luggage, not all the way to the floor.
Child safety nets in sleeping cars. (image)

Child safety nets in sleeping cars. (image)

If you haven’t had your fill of overnight train travel with kid tips today, here are a few more bloggers crazy enough to take their kids on an overnight train:

Would you take your family on an overnight train? Have you already? I’d love to hear your story in the comments below.

I’m happy to be linking up with Sunday Traveler once again! Please check out all of this week’s excellent travel-related posts here at Chasing the Donkey.
Signature Thrifty Travel Mama

35 Tips to Help Your Family Pack Lighter for Air Travel

Thrifty Travel Mama | 35 Tips to Help Your Family Pack Lighter for Air TravelOne of the main objections parents have to traveling with their kids is all the c.r.a.p. they feel they must bring along.  Four fifty-pound bags, three car seats, one double stroller, four backpacks, and two carry-on suitcases later, you’re exhausted… and you haven’t even left yet.

But, my friends, it really doesn’t have to be this way.

You can travel lighter and smarter, even with kids in tow.  Sure, you’ll have to make sacrifices (you can’t bring your snazzy cardigan collection, sorry), but I guarantee the tips below will lighten the load on your shoulders… and in your luggage.

Whether you’re a travel newb or a packing pro, read on to get your hot little hands on 35 tips for traveling with your family using only carry-on luggage.

What (Not) To Wear

1. Don’t pack options.  I love having multiple clothing options just like any other gal out there, but these are luxuries one can’t afford when packing light.  Allow two shirts per person.  Two long sleeve and two short sleeve for winter.  Two short sleeve and two tank tops for summer.  One long sleeve, two short sleeve, and one tank top for spring and fall.  You get the idea.

2. Babies can claim an exception.  If you’ve got an infant who is still in the poop-explosion phase (God bless you),  allow a double clothing allowance.  Those two extra onesies and baby legs won’t make much of a dent in your available space.

3. Pick a color scheme.  For our boys, I gravitate toward black, blue, or grey.  Choose items that can be mixed and matched.  Both short sleeve shirts should be able to go with both long sleeve shirts.  For the adults, this means sticking with brown or black depending on what shoes you plan to wear.  Select your belt, scarf, hat, gloves, accessories, and clothing to match a color scheme that includes brown or black and two or three other highlights.  But no matter what colors you choose, I highly suggest you…

4. Avoid extremes – no red or white items.  If you need to do laundry, you don’t want to waste your time with multiple loads.  Eliminating red and white means you can wash most of your clothes together in cold water without fear of turning your favorite white t-shirt a bright shade of bubblegum.

5. Think in layers.  For winter, this helps reduce the bulk of what you need to pack.  Items such as thermal underwear are typically thin, light, and extremely useful when you don’t know how cold it will be at your destination.  They can also double as pajamas in a pinch.  A nice sweater can be worn under a jacket for more insulation or dress up your jeans for dinner with friends.  For summer, layers add versatility to your traveling wardrobe.  For great examples of making multiple outifts out of only a few pieces, see here.

If fashion is not your forte and you’re having trouble coming up with multiple outfits out of so few pieces, check out this post by blogger Bridgette Raes or the One Suitcase series from Outfit Posts.

6. Pare down the pants.  Bring only one extra pair of jeans (wear the other on the flight).  Seriously, do this even for kids.  You can spot clean denim after the kids hit the hay or just let it go (as long as you’re not expected someplace fancy).

7. (Slightly) Over pack underwear.  For knickers and socks, I usually squish as many pairs as I can.  Find slivers of space in suitcase corners, next to lumpy toiletries, and inside shoes.  I’m not advocating a let-it-all-hang-out-and-bring-your-entire-sock-collection mentality, but it sure is nice not to be washing underwear every third day.  My rule – five socks and five undies, max.

8. Take advantage of laundry facilities.  If you’ll have access to a washing machine during your trip, plan to use it.  Don’t take six outfits for a seven day trip.  Take two of everything except undergarments and wash when necessary.

9. Go for low maintenance.  All clothing items should be easy to launder (no ironing or dry clean only pieces).

10. Earn extra points for double duty items.  Try to vary what you pack – for example, select one dressy pair of jeans that can be worn to restaurants and other photo-worthy occasions.  Choose a comfy pair to wear on the plane and everywhere else.  Or, instead of going with a sweater, opt for a cardigan that can dress up a tank top or be layered over long sleeves if you’re chilly.

11. Take the shoe challenge.  Evaluate your activities, events, and obligations during your travels.  Bring as few pairs of shoes as possible.  Do you have to pack boots AND flats?  Could you get away with only pair of shoes per child?  Pack first for comfort, then for style.  You don’t have room for a gazillion options (see #1) when you don’t check luggage.

Thrifty Travel Mama | 35 Tips to Help Your Family Pack Lighter for Air Travel

Does your bed ever look like this the day before you depart? No? Really?  Oh, okay, mine neither…

Powder Room Essentials

12. Clear things up in the bathroom.  I put all toiletries in clear plastic quart/liter zip-top plastic bags.  I’ll admit I do love a cute cosmetic case, but the bulky fabric, zippers, and handles take up precious space.  With this system, I’m able to make separate bags with liquids for security inspection, solid shower items (bar soap, razors, face cloths, shower cap), oral hygiene, makeup, prescriptions and vitamins, etc.

13. Simplify shower needs.  Instead of a separate brand of body wash for each person, consider using castile soap instead.  This amazing liquid can be used for washing bodies, clothes, and teeth (really!).  Bring one bar of solid shampoo that everyone can share and a small bottle of conditioner.  For facial cleansing, use disposable cloths that will free up some room on the return.

14. Streamline your make up.  Once you’ve chosen a color scheme (see clothing above), match your cosmetics to your outfits.  Do you really need a rainbow of eye shadow while traveling?  Several weeks before you leave, try using only a cream-to-powder foundation, concealer, dual duty cream blush & lip stain, one eyeshadow palette, a brown or black eyeliner, mascara, and one lip stick, gloss, or balm.

15. Shrink your hair styling needs.  Most hotels and even many vacation rentals offer complimentary hair dryers.  But, maybe you prefer to use a model that you can test drive before you travel or you have curly hair like me and need a diffuser.  What to do?  Shop for a miniature model.  Features to consider.. does the hair dryer fold in half?  Is it dual voltage for international travel?  Mini flat irons, curling irons, and hair brushes are also available.

Baby on Board

16. Use disposable diapers.  I cloth diaper part of the time, but never when I travel.  Why?  Because the paper nappies occupy space on the outbound journey that will be emptied and then subsequently used for supermarket souvenirs and other trinkets on the return.

Expert tip: Keep track of your child’s diaper usage for several weeks prior to the trip so you can make an accurate count of just how many diapers you’ll need.  Round up or add one extra per day (two for infants) in case of accidents and emergencies.

17. Rethink the diaper bag.  If you’re flying with carry-on luggage only, do you really need a fully-stocked diaper bag?  Instead, I prefer to use a diaper changing wallet with a small case of wipes, a few diapers, and a trial-size tube of diaper rash cream.  Need a change of clothes?  They’re right there in your suitcase.

18. Ditch the pack & play and high chair.  Unless you’re going to a remote location, you should be able to find accommodations with baby items.  It’s worth it not to schlep your Graco across country (or the ocean!), even if you have to pay a nominal fee.  If you really must have your own travel cot, test drive a pop-up tent like the Kidco Peapod or if you have a small baby, use the bassinet that goes with your stroller.  For high chairs, I like my Sack’n Seat.

19. Determine whether or not your destination is stroller-friendly.  Google it, ask a local mama blogger, or post questions on TripAdvisor.  Many cities overseas are NOT stroller-friendly (Prague, Seoul, Italy, and Bulgaria to name a few) because the curbs are steep, elevators are rare, and stairs abound.  If you won’t use it, don’t bring it.  Consider a backpack carrier instead.  If you prefer to have a stroller for use in the airport, go with a cheap umbrella model.

Read: Tips for Planning a Travel Itinerary with Kids

20. Shell out for a stroller and/or car seat bag.  We own an old school Phil & Teds double stroller that I bought second-hand on ebay.  A few months into love at first push, I invested in a pricey travel cover.  It killed me to pay so much for what seemed like an unnecessary item especially since the stroller was used.  But that concoction of black canvas and Velcro has earned its keep.  With careful packing, Doc Sci is able to fit the stroller, doubles seat, rain cover, and sleeping bag in there.  If you don’t need a rain cover or sleeping bag, you can sneak in a few bulky items like sweaters or scarves (shhh!).  The same goes for a car seat bag.  If you’re not using the car seat on the airplane, try squeezing a dozen or more diapers in the bum space.

21. Talk ’em down.  Look for rental car deals that include a car seat, or negotiate a deal with your preferred company’s customer service center over the phone so you don’t have to bring your own.  If your child doesn’t need to use a car seat in flight, you’ll save yourself a headache by borrowing or renting one at your destination (and if you do bring your own, it could be lost or delayed which means you’ll be stranded at the airport…).

Kiddos and Tots in Tow

22. Children carry their own weight.  As soon as your son or daughter is able (for my boys this was around the age of 2), invest in a small backpack so he or she can take their own toys.  If the toy doesn’t fit in the backpack or it’s too heavy, it stays home.

23. Allot each child a toy quota.  It also helps to have a round number so that favorite play items don’t get left in your hotel or vacation rental.  For instance, I usually allow the boys to take five small toys and two books each.  When it’s time to pack up to head home and I only see four Matchbox cars in their bag, I know we’re missing something.

24. Leave special stuff behind.  You might have to bring the teddy bear that accompanies your baby girl to bed every night, but insist on leaving collectable, valuable, expensive, and one-of-a-kind toys at home.

Read: Jet Lag Tips for Families

25. Keep them separated.  If your airline (hello, easyJet) won’t allow a personal item and a piece of hand luggage, you’ll need to get creative in dividing up the space.  Use large (gallon) zip-top plastic bags for kids’ toys.  Offer a pile of sharpie markers, and let them go to town decorating their bag. Then fill the bags with a few toys and books, the only rules being that the bag must lay flat and close easily.  These zip packs can be slipped into outer suitcase pockets for easy access during the flight.

Everything Electric

26. Consolidate gadgets.  Leave the laptop at home.  Instead, pack a tablet or netbook loaded with games and media.  Use it to watch movies, listen to music, read books, and check your email (be sure to confirm that you’ll have wifi at your destination).  Besides, unplugging from all those devices will help you focus on the experience instead of Facebook.

27. Power everything in one go.  Nothing puts a damper on your packing practices like a gigantic bag of chargers and adapters.  Consider investing in products that will recharge two or more of your electronic items.

28. Go paperless.  Use apps, websites, and online programs such as Google maps, Tripit, Evernote, and Dropbox to store your vacation notes, travel itineraries, photos, and copies of important documents such as your passport.  Take advantage of mobile boarding pass programs if they’re offered.

Supplies

29. Bring on the suds.  If you aren’t staying with friends or family and plan to do laundry, stash a few scoops of powdered detergent or a small bottle of castile soap (see #?).  Dryers are not standard in many parts of the world, so it’s a good idea to find room for a compact clothesline if you’re traveling internationally.

30. Beg and borrow (but please, don’t steal).  If you’re visiting a family, this is usually easy.  Take a look at your packing list and make a note of anything (really, anything!) you think your hosts would be willing to share or provide.  I get that you might feel a tad bit uncomfortable asking for face wash from the in-laws, consider phrasing your request like this… “We usually bring our own (toothpaste / iPad charger / kids Tylenol /etc), but we are trying to pack as light as possible in order to spend less time at the airport and more time with you.  Would you mind if we borrowed/used these items during our visit?”

31. Get specific with hotels or holiday apartments.  I’ve also used a similar conversational approach to the one above with vacation rental owners.  “I have a silly question for you… do you provide dish soap, a kitchen sponge, and dishwashing detergent in your flat?  Normally we bring a small amount of these items just in case.  But we have to pack very light for this trip, so I’d rather not put them in the luggage if you already have them available.”  Don’t be shy.  This email/phone call could save you a chunk of space.

Logistics

32. Fold clothes into small squares.  Make narrow, neat folds in your shirts (watch this video if you need a refresher) and then fold the final product in half and make a pile of very small, evenly sized squares or rectangles.  Jeans, pants and sweaters need special attention (click here for some suggestions regarding technique), but the idea is the same.  Make every item of clothing prim, proper, and as tiny as possible.  I know others prefer rolling their clothes, but I find that folding works best for me.

33. Wear your heaviest, bulkiest, biggest pieces.  Coats and boots travel on your person, never in your luggage.

Expert tip: No one will weigh or check your coat.  What you put in your pockets is up to you… I’ve stashed everything from books to chocolate bar souvenirs in my winter jacket. 

34. Don’t overlook petty cash.  Leave room in your budget to buy what you might need but can’t stuff in your suitcase.  Chances are you don’t need as much as you think you do; you might surprise yourself with how little you can live with for a few days!  But if the diaper supply runs dry or your son uses his shirt as a permanent marker canvas or you receive a surprise invitation to a fancy dinner while on holiday, ask a local for the best place to buy what you’re after and consider the shopping trip part of the whole travel experience.

Practice Makes Perfect

35. Take notes.  These tips come from years of traveling as a single person, then as a married couple, and finally as a family of five.  These things work for us.  In time, you’ll discover what hints are most helpful for you, what advice does or simply doesn’t work for your family, and what luggage sacrifices you are or aren’t willing to make.  Jot down observations in your travel journal, and remember that practice really does makes perfect.

Which of these tips will you try during your travels this holiday season?  What would you add to the list?

Signature-Marigold

Full disclosure… At this time, I do not use affiliate links.  If I’ve included a link, it’s because I’ve personally used and liked the product, or it’s on my wish list.  I have not been compensated in any way by any company for this post.

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Six Tips for a Successful Visit to the Uffizi Gallery with Kids

Thrifty Travel Mama | 6 Tips for Visiting the Uffizi Gallery with KidsFlip through any glossy Renaissance art book, and you’ll keep bumping into the name Uffizi.  Huffity, puffity, what?!

The Galleria degli Uffizi in Firenze was built in the 16th century for the extremely exciting purpose of hosting… meetings.  That’s right, the world’s largest treasure trove of Renaissance art is housed in a glorified office building.  And one that’s only partially climate-controlled at that!

Because of its impressive collection and international fame, experiencing the Uffizi Gallery can be an exercise in patience and/or a real pain in the you-know-what, depending on how you look at it.  Add children in this mix and you might have a real mess on your hands.  But don’t be discouraged – a little advance planning is all it takes to make your visit run smoothly.

Here are my six tips for an enjoyable afternoon at the Uffizi with your kids and some really amazing art:

1. Buy your tickets online in advance.  Waiting times for walk-up visitors are generally measured in hours.  Don’t waste precious time tapping your toes.  Instead, book tickets online (and several weeks in advance, if possible).  Many websites sell tickets to the Uffizi, but the only official site can be found here.  Children under 18 are FREE.Thrifty Travel Mama | 6 Tips for Visiting the Uffizi Gallery with Kids

2. Visit at lunch time or later in the day.  The biggest problem inside the Uffizi is the constant swarm of tour groups.  You’re less likely to constantly bump elbows in the Botticelli room when the crowds are tasting the tagliatelle at a nearby trattoria midday or sipping wine at sunset.

I’ve seen musings here and there warning that Tuesdays are busier days.  We tried Thursday, and the mob seemed more manageable.

3. Purchase a picture book containing (almost) all the works.  If you’re not shelling out for a human guide or an audio tour, I highly recommend a coffee table book containing the all the works displayed in the Uffizi.  If possible, buy the volume in advance, and leaf through it with your family.

Allow each person to pick their favorites.  Discuss common themes in the art.  Jot down questions, and look up the answers online if you’re not art history savvy.  Make a list of “must-see” works in case you do end up lost in a sea of yellow neon Florence: The Big Bus Tour t-shirts.  If you need a little help with your list or coming up with questions, check out this excellent post from ArtTrav.

But, what if you are trying to go paperless and just can’t handle one. more. book. in your house?  Alexandra Korey of ArtTrav has expanded on the post I’ve linked to above in her recently published e-book, the Uffizi Art History Guide, and newly released IOS app available here.  Inside you’ll find an excellent Renaissance art history primer to help you understand and appreciate what you’re seeing.  She covers the most important works in each room, and includes questions for engaging with the pieces.Thrifty Travel Mama | 6 Tips for Visiting the Uffizi Gallery with KidsT-Rex and I flipped through our book on the train ride into Firenze, chatting about what we saw.  Inside the museum, I was amazed at how many images he remembered (“Mama, this one is in our book!”).  We also enjoyed talking about which paintings surprised us by their scale or fine detail.

Where do you find such a book?  Well, the real kicker is that the Uffizi Gallery itself sells a wonderfully thick volume… but you have to go through the museum to get to the shop and buy it.  Instead, try ordering it off Amazon before you leave home.  I was a little late to the ball game on this one, so I bought one on the street in Firenze for 12 euro.  Not the best, but it got the job done.

4. Make a beeline for the bathroom before you begin.  If the presence of plentiful toilets marks a place as “kid-friendly” in your book, I’m sad to say that the Uffizi will let you down.

Take the kiddos for a potty break immediately after you pass through the metal detectors.  Do not proceed upstairs to the gallery until you’ve emptied the tanks!  You have forty five rooms to clear before you hit the next set of bathrooms.  Yeah, you’re welcome.Thrifty Travel Mama | 6 Tips for Visiting the Uffizi Gallery with Kids

5. Plan on a pit stop at the cafe.  Gawking at all the art in those forty five rooms is sure to make little tummies rumble.  As expected, the cafe is seriously overpriced.  You can save a bit of money by ordering at the counter and eating while standing.  The same food costs more if you need to plant your bum on a seat.  Of course, you can bring your own grub, and the terrace adjacent to the cafe provides a birds eye view of the Palazzo Vecchio.Thrifty Travel Mama | 6 Tips for Visiting the Uffizi Gallery with Kids6. Reward good behavior at the gift shop.  Fueled and ready for part two, head downstairs for foreign painters and special exhibitions.  You may start to wonder, when will it end? Trust me, your kids will echo your thoughts out loud.  Now’s a good time to pull out your “must-see” list and check off any remaining works.

If you made it this far without any meltdowns, hand out hugs and euros.  The souvenir shop at the Uffizi is presented in pieces, and everyone will find something to suit themselves… even if they’re not all that into art.

Should you visit the Uffizi?  YES!  Should you take your kids?  YES!  Well, I think so.  Okay, only you can decide that, and in the spirit of full disclosure, I only took T-Rex (he’s 5 1/2) with me.  Kids younger than this who are not napping during your visit or angelic girls with golden curls will most likely be bored and restless.  Regardless of age, interact with the art.  Don’t just have a look and move on.

For best results, follow the six tips above, and enjoy your visit!

What about you?  Have you visited the Uffizi?  Would you take your kids?  I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

This post is part of Our Tuscan Family Adventure: Two Weeks of History, Culture, Food, and Fun in Italy series.  Click on the link to view our bucket list and recaps of each excursion!Signature-MarigoldDisclaimer: I was graciously provided a review copy of Uffizi Art History Guide – Unanchor Travel Guide by Alexandra Corey several weeks after my visit to the museum.  As always, opinions are my own.  At this time, I do not use affiliate links.

Creating a Story With Your Travel Photos

Telling a Story With your Travel PhotosToday, Renee is sharing with us how to tell a story with all those photos we capture while traveling.  For more about Renee and her previous tips on how to capture special travel memories with your point & shoot camera, click here

Let me set the scene: You just got home from an amazing vacation, and you’re dying to show everyone how much fun you had and all the cool stuff you saw. You sit down and either start flipping through actual prints (remember those days?!) or you start hitting the Next button on your camera (welcome to 2013!).

From the corner of your eye you start sensing the fake nods and the “mmmhmm, that’s nice” replies as you oooh and awww over the awesomeness of your photo skills.

And then you start saying things like “Here is where little Jimmy said the funniest thing and we died laughing and I just had to get a picture of that,” or “OMG this mountain is the second tallest in the world, and I was so awestruck just to be there.”  But.. really your pictures don’t convey that y’all were laughing at little Jimmy’s hilarity.  And gosh, that mountain looks teeny tiny!

When you’re traveling, your story begins well before you get to your destination. It happens at home when everyone is super excited about the trip!  That’s when you start capturing those emotions.

Here’s the secret: You capture emotions. By capturing the emotions, your photos will tell the story.

Here are a few practical tips and ways to think through how (and when) to let those emotions shine through your photos.

Packing: Get the shot that shows little Jimmy or Jane stuffing his or her carry on backpack in her room with all of the toys and books and techie-gadgets.  Get one when your child is looking at you just grinning ear to ear with excitement!  Then, pretend to walk away, let them get back to packing, and sneak the next shot in when they’re not looking. They’re lost in thought, seriously debating if they want the dinosaur or the action figure for company.

Airport: Grab the shot of your kids standing in front of the window with hands pressed on glass, awe and wonderment on faces, looking at the parked plane. This makes a great black and white shot!  Sometimes when we take the color out of our photos it makes us focus on the truth of the image.

Also, try capturing a shot of your kids sitting on their luggage cases, Indian style, ipod in the ears, eyes closed, waiting to depart.

Checking in to the hotel: You should probably work in a cool shot of everyone standing in front of the hotel if it’s a noteworthy or special building. If it’s your run of the mill Days Inn or Marriott, then don’t worry about it.  Instead take this chance to let your kids burn off some energy and have a little fun….. by jumping on the bed!!

Here’s an idea: Open the curtains to show the view and/or let all of the light in.  Remove everything from the bed that’s not white.  White will help reflect the light.  Now, position yourself so can fit them jumping on the bed and the window in the background!  Snap up the smiles!  Get the giggles!  Don’t forget to take turns jumping in for a tickle fest!

You’ve just captured the feeling of arriving in a new city/country and experiencing your temporary “home”.

Being a tourist: A word of caution – be careful when asking a complete stranger to take your picture and then handing over expensive photo equipment. If you absolutely must do it, then just be very careful.  Instead, I recommend finding a more secluded area and getting an iPhone Tripod or a mini tripod (I particularly love this one because it can wrap around railings and all sorts of oddly shaped things).

Using the self timer, capture family shots of everyone standing in front of that one big thing you’ve been dying to see, joy scrawled across their faces.  Now, try moving the camera down low and taking a photo from the ground up to show the magnitude of the scene.

Telling a Story With your Travel PhotosYou may end up looking like this…

Telling a Story With your Travel PhotosOr on your back facing towards the sky.  Listen – it looks crazy!  But who cares?!  It might  turn out to be your favorite image!

(Insider Tip: When you shoot from the top looking down, or from high to low, everything looks short, squatty, and sometimes fat. When you shoot from below/on the floor to the sky everything is long and lean and more grandiose. It doesn’t always work with just people in the shot, but for travel photos with people in them, it’s brilliant.)

Wrap it up: You don’t just start a story and not finish it.  So, don’t forget to get those moments when you come back and you’re tired and exhausted!  Have some fun with it!  Toss all the clothes and trinkets and luggage and souvenirs in a big pile on the floor (because it will end up there anyway, right?) and have everyone dogpile and sprawl out!  It’s the final chapter that sums up everything.

Compile your photos into a story that flows (beginning – middle – end), and then show them off!  Put the story into your annual Christmas letter, or make a slideshow for your next family gathering.  Everyone will love it, and you’ll look like you’re the mom that has her act together!

When you create a photo story, using the tips above, your vacation memories will create interest and spark questions instead of boring and annoying your listeners.

If you only take one thing away, make it this:  Have fun, capture emotions, and pay attention to your angles.

Thanks, Renee, for some great tips.  If you haven’t already, head on over to Renee’s Facebook Page and show some “Like” Love!

Ten Things You Need to Do RIGHT NOW Before You Travel Abroad

This post was originally published as a guest post on a friend’s photography blog. Unfortunately, her blog is no longer active, but you can still read the tips below!

Thrifty Travel Mama | 10 Things You Need to Do RIGHT NOW Before You Travel Abroad

So You Want To Hop the Pond – 10 Things You Need to Do RIGHT NOW

Travel can be stressful, even if you’re going alone. Add a spouse and one or more kids in the mix, and you could be in for a wild ride. I’ve continued traveling since my first child was born in 2007, and I can tell you from experience that a little planning goes a long way.

Maybe you’ve gone to Grandma’s with the kiddos or to a family reunion a few states away. But, now you’re thinking of taking the kids to Europe. Are you crazy!? If the idea scares you because you simply don’t know where to start but secretly thrills you anyway, take a deep breath and read on.

Before you go anywhere, you’ll need to do some homework. Let me walk you through 10 very important things you need to do right now before you even buy tickets to “hop the pond” as they say.

 

Get a Passport. You might still be able to enter Canada or Mexico without a passport, but no airline will allow you to fly internationally without one.   It’s important to remember that each family member needs their own passport, babies included. Processing times can vary, but I would allow at least 3 months to receive your completed passport book.

Download the passport application forms you need online in advance here. Save time, money, and stress by taking your passport photos at home for free. (Want to know how? Click here!) Gather the required documents and head to the nearest courthouse (or make an appointment at a post office).   Don’t sign the application just yet – you’ll need to take an oath in front of a federal employee and then add your signature.

Remember that each person applying for a passport needs to appear in person to take the oath and sign the document. If your child is the applicant, BOTH parents must be present or you must bring a notarized letter detailing the absent parent’s consent.

 

Make a Budget. An amazing vacation provides your family with memories that last a lifetime. But, let’s make sure that the memories are all that remain after you return home. Don’t take a vacation you can’t afford. It’s fine to put your expenses on a credit card (and it’s actually wiser to do so especially if you have a special credit card such as World Mastercard with added travel benefits). But do yourself a favor and make sure you have enough funds to pay off the bill when it arrives.

Flights will vary widely, so use Bing Travel to give you an idea of the cheapest ticket in recent history as well as the average economy fare.

But what about a hotel or vacation rental? Will you take public transportation? Rent a car? How much will you spend on meals? Souvenirs? Entrance fees? An awesome resource for determining costs in major cities around the world is The Price of Travel. Select a continent, country, and city from the navigation bar, and you can easily view the price of meals, accommodations, and attractions.

Don’t forget to add the cost of parking your vehicle at the airport (or taxi ride), additional insurance (see below), weather appropriate clothing, luggage (if you need it), pet boarding, as well as en route meals and entertainment to your list.

 

Start Saving. Are you overwhelmed already? Don’t be! Now comes the fun part. How can you be creative and find ways to save up for your adventure? Take a good look at your every day expenses and make some changes.

Could you get rid of cable and live with just Netflix for 6-12 months? That could cover your rental car and gas right there. Do you get your hair cut every 6 weeks? Could you stretch it to every 8? You may have just found the money to purchase necessary luggage. Do you budget for clothing? Consider stashing it away and shopping when you get to Europe instead. What about eating out? Squirrel away the money you give to the pizza guy so you can splurge on an Italian feast in Italy instead. Could you give the kids a travel experience this year instead of electronic gifts?

These are just a few ideas – the main thing to remember is to be creative in how you stretch your means.

Where do you want to go? You probably don’t need any help with this one. Everyone has a dream of where in the world they’d like to find themselves some day. Make a short list of places you love, and ask the rest of your family to do the same. Have everyone agree on three destinations, and then research each one before making a decision (more on that below).

How long can you be gone? Consider time off of work, school holidays, boarding your pet, and your budget.

Research entry requirements. Some countries are a breeze to enter (hello, Germany). Others are a big more strict (sorry, UK). Still others are literally invitation only (uh, Russia). Other than your passport, what is required at immigration control? You might need proof of onward travel, sufficient funds, or immunizations. Some countries in Africa, Asia, and South America require insist that you be vaccinated against specific diseases and that you carry proof in the form of a little yellow international health book.   Find out exactly what’s required at your destination here. In addition to all that, you might need a visa. Speaking of…

Do you need a visa? What are the requirements? Wait, first, what’s a visa? It’s not a credit card; it’s special permission to visit/live/work in a country. As with the entry requirements, some countries are relaxed about visas – you can purchase one upon arrival.   Others have a complex system and very strict rules about how to obtain one. Find out what you need here.

Consider travel insurance. There’s a saying, “If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel.” It’s a nice mantra, but truth be told, I don’t purchase it every time. Policy rates will be more if you have something called trip cancellation. Trip cancellation means just that – you have an emergency that causes you to cancel your trip (think your son stole third but ended up with a broken leg). In this case, the covered expenses (usually airfare and hotel) will be covered by the policy.

Check your health insurance. Generally, American health insurance does not cover medical expenses overseas. They may reimburse a few costs, but it’s a good rule to just consider your policy completely useless abroad. I have purchased – and like, but luckily never used – Travelex insurance. Keep in mind that if you plan on taking part in any kind of high risk activities like bungee jumping or if you are pregnant, you’ll need a special (code word for expensive) policy.

Note that many, but not all, travel insurance policies include health insurance. Examine your coverage closely.

One more word of advice – if you’re going to spend the money for supplemental health insurance, make sure you have emergency evacuation coverage. This means that if you find yourself in a third-world hospital, you can be airlifted to the nearest western hospital for better care on the insurance company’s dime.

 

Have an emergency plan in place. Family vacations are meant to be filled with happy memories. But tragedies can and do happen. Protect your family by ensuring you have an up to date will, power of attorney, and guardianship for your children. Establish an emergency contact at home that knows what should happen in case of the unthinkable and provide them with a copy of your itinerary and any other necessary documents.

My hope is that this list gives you the confidence you need to move forward and plan an amazing family vacation abroad! If you have any questions on what I’ve discussed here today, please feel free to leave them in the comments, and I’ll do my best to answer. Happy travels!

 

Signature-Marigold

 

How To Capture Special Travel Memories Using Your Point & Shoot Camera

Today I’m thrilled to introduce you to Renee of Renee Angela Photography.  We’ve known each other since 2005, and it’s been fun to collaborate with her.  Renee’s serving up some great tips for you today – read on to find out how to use your point and shoot camera better while traveling.

Hi there, and thanks so much to Thrifty Travel Mama for the opportunity to guest post here!  I’m excited to get know you all and pass along some great tips and tricks for taking some awesome travel photos!

Today we are going to touch on the subject of how to effectively use your point and shoot camera while on family vacation.

First things first: read your manual.  Listen, I know reading manuals amounts to zero fun… but they package them with your camera for a reason!  With every camera I’ve ever owned, I’ve read the manual first (okay, nerd alert!).

Wait…I hear you screaming… “But what if I don’t even have my manual?! That thing went into the trash the second I pulled it out of the box!”  Well, you should be able to go to your manufacturer’s website and pull up a PDF of the manual.

The manual is important is because it tells you exactly what all those icons on the dials and buttons do.  For example, that thing that looks like a mountain is landscape mode – but guess what?! You don’t have to use it just for landscape!

After you’ve taken the time to read your manual and get familiar with those little doohickey-icons, the next best thing you can do is USE YOUR CAMERA!!  Take it out with you everywhere. Take photos of everything!  Have you ever heard the saying “Practice makes Perfect”?  Well, I prefer to say “Practice Makes Better” and that’s exactly what you want…to get better.

Let’s say you and your cute little family has finally made a trip oversees.  You have day dreams of capturing the sweetest on your babies’ faces.  But then you remember all those times you’ve tried to do just that in real life, and the result looks like a scene from the Blair Witch Project (so blurry you can’t even recognize the person in the picture!).  Well, I am here to help!

Here are my Top 3 tips for improving your travel family photos using your point and shoot camera.

Tip #1. Stop thinking about your image in a frame.  Stop accidentally cutting off the tops of heads and limbs.  Leave lots of space around your subject.  Start thinking outside the box.
Example… If your son or daughter is swimming in the ocean, try turning the camera vertical.  Sure, you’re photographing your child arms stretched out like they’re belly surfing, but by leaving a lot of space in the top of the frame, you’ve got more than just a choppy cropped shot.  example 1
Tip #2.  Learn the rule of thirds.  If your point and shoot has a bunch of bells and whistles then you might be able to go into the menu and turn on the “guide lines”.  This basically means that your subject should fall on one of the cross points of the upper half of the grid instead of centering your subjects.Rule of Thirds Example_Renee Angela Photography
Tip #3. Learn your presets.  A quick rundown…
Portrait Mode – This is great for taking..yup…portraits!  You know those times when you’re traveling, and your kids are sitting on a ledge or maybe even near a fountain, and you’re thinking, “They’re sitting still!  Quick, get a picture or it didn’t happen!”  Get up close (just above the head to the chest, or just above the head to the knees), use your rule of thirds, put it on the portrait preset, make sure the sun isn’t behind them or making them squint, and snap the picture!
Sports Mode – This is a great one for kids.  Let’s say you just took that awesome picture of your kids being cute AND sitting still.  Now they’re all hyped-up and running around like, well, kids.  These are fun images to capture too!  For these kind of shots, you’ll want to want flip your preset over to the Sports Mode (this makes your shutter speed fast to essentially freeze movement).  Try to keep the kids in the left half or the right half of the frame and not the center, make sure you get their whole bodies but not a lot of excess scenery, and snap away!
Mountain Icon/Landscape Mode – This preset is great for those group shots in front of that really amazing cathedral in Spain, or maybe the Colosseum in Rome, or the Leaning tower of Pisa in Italy.  This will increase the depth of field so that everything (foreground, middle ground, and background) is in focus.  The portrait mode is the opposite of landscape mode.  If you wanted to blur out the background for this same shot then you’d switch it to portrait mode and you’d have your family in focus and everything else will have a slight blur to it.Well – that’s it for today!  Your homework is to pull out your camera, get in the yard with the kids, and start practicing!
Next time I’ll go over “creating a story” with your travel images, and how to capture those in the moment.
Renee is a professional portrait photographer at Renee Angela Photography.  She has studied the art since she was a junior in High School and hasn’t looked back.  Renee currently lives in the Dallas area of Texas, is engaged to be married to her super awesome fiancee, and is the mom of 2 very loved and very spoiled dogs.
Be sure to go like Renee’s Facebook page (and Thrifty Travel Mama, too!) to keep up with all of our blog posts!

Beware! Not All Travel Tips Are Actually Helpful

How many “Top 10” travel tip lists have you read recently?  I must admit, I’ve pinned plenty of these.  But, how many have I actually read?  Well, let’s just say there’s a reason the “pin now, read later” phrase exists.

A few days ago, I came across this tweet… “10 Things to Never Let Your Kids Do on a Plane.”  Sounds educational, right?  I’m always on the lookout for great family travel tips.  I clicked the link with the intention of pinning the post.

And then my eyes fell to the first tip on the never, ever, EVER list – don’t let your kids kick the seat.  This must be a joke, right?  The number 1 tip when traveling with children on a plane is to make sure your kid doesn’t mistake the front passenger’s butt cheeks for a soccer ball?

Come on.

The only excuse I have for this sorry list is that it must not have been written by a real-life parent who has actually traveled extensively with his or her children.  The list reflects the writer’s self-consciousness; what others think about him or her is most important.  I can only imagine the miserable time the author (an au pair?) must have had to pen this list!

In an effort to set the record straight, let’s have a gander at these serious travel sins.

Never should you ever let your child…

Kick the seat.  “It is up to you to make sure your child keeps her feet to herself. She doesn’t realize how uncomfortable she is making the person in front of her, and most passengers will not turn around to complain, but instead will silently curse you and your child.”

Where to I begin?  Sure, you can teach an older child that kicking the seat in front is not kind.  But, what about a baby or toddler sitting in a forward-facing car seat on the airplane?  These little ones often have legs that don’t dangle much, leaving their toes touching the seat back.  Reality check – it might be physically impossible to prevent your child from toe tapping the traveler in front.

I’m not suggesting parents disregard the comfort of other passengers.  But I do think there’s only so much that can be done.  Remove the child’s shoes (this softens the kick), do your best to explain how to be a nice neighbor, and then embrace the reality that your kid is going to kick the seat at least a few times despite your best intentions.

Better advice?  Apologize.  Profusely.  And buy the unlucky recipient a drink.

Big Foot breakin' the rules.

Big Foot breakin’ the rules.

Stand on the seat.  “This is a dangerous thing for your kids to do, so don’t encourage them to do it and make sure that you put the kibosh on seat-standing the moment it’s attempted.”

Let’s go back to those babies and toddlers.  When tiny legs are a squirmin’, the best thing you can do is to let them stretch their muscles by bouncing gently on your lap or the seat cushion.  As long as you’re abiding by crew member instructions (including those all-important seat belt signs), what’s the harm?

Now, if you’re allowing your ten year-old to create his own mosh pit in 31B, that’s a different story…

Play with “guns.”  Really?  I guess I could let this one slide for travel newbs who have had their head in the sand the past 12 years…  I have three boys, and I can’t say my kids have ever wanted to play or talk about fake guns or other weapons on airplanes.

My naughty baby - roaming the aisles.

My naughty baby – roaming the aisles.

Run up & down the aisle.  “Kids get restless when they’re asked to sit for long periods of time, but that’s no excuse for them to run up and down the aisle of an airplane. For one, flight attendants often walk the aisles with beverage carts and food, making it a dangerous place for your kids to be. Also, it is a risk for other passengers who will use the aisle to reach the restrooms. Keep them in their seats.”

GET REAL.  True, the safest place for a child on an airplane is in their seat, belt fastened.  But this advice is not realistic for parents with young kids on flights longer than 2-3 hours.

True, you little one shouldn’t use the aisle to train for the 2028 Olympic track team.  But provided flight attendants aren’t serving meals or drinks, I wholeheartedly recommend you get up and walk the aisles a few times with your child on a long haul flight.  P.s. – It’s also good for your health.

Throw a tantrum.  “Granted, fits and temper tantrums are not necessarily controllable, but they will disturb the entire plane and put all of the other passengers on edge. Do your best to put the cap on any tantrums as quickly as possible, for your sake and for the sake of all on board.”

Wait, who benefits from this advice?  The child?  The parents?  No!  This is obviously written by an annoyed passenger who’s had one too many screaming seatmates.

Tantrums will happen.  Why?  Because kids are out of their routine, out of their comfort zone.  Yes, do your best to avoid meltdowns, but admonishing a parent to never let their child throw a tantrum on a plane is unrealistic.

Panic. “Keeping yourself calm is step one, and getting your kids to relax is the next step. Keep all panic out of your voice and your actions, and your kids will trust your instincts and mirror your reactions.”

This is one for the parents – not the kids.  I guess this is good advice if the parent thinks there’s something worthy of panic.  But, hopefully any psychological issues with air travel will be worked out before boarding.

The only thing worth panicking about on board is whether the pasta meals will run out before the meal cart reaches your aisle leaving you with rubberized chicken for dinner.

Take off the seat belt.  If the seat belt sign is lit, don’t let your kids take off their seat belt… It’s best for them to remain belted throughout the flight if possible.”

Sounds solid, right?  Yes, this tip would be golden… if it weren’t so absolute.  How are potty-trained children going to take a tinkle while strapped in?

Leave with strangers.  “If your kids end up in a seat in a different row from you…”

Hold it.  Stop right there.  The rest of this sentence should read, “then fight tooth and nail to get reseated.”  Don’t take no for an answer.  Sit with your kids.  You wouldn’t let someone else entertain or take responsibility for your iPhone during a flight, would you?  Then why in the world would you do the same with your most precious children?

Eat too much.  “Letting your kids eat too many treats could lead to trouble.”

What, like them sitting quietly in their seats for an entire flight, passing the hours one Cheerio at a time?

Of all the tips on the list, I consider this one the worst.  Snacks can get a mama through a multitude of trials: delayed flight, missed connection, those infamous mystery chicken nugget kid meals, long haul boredom, and more.

I’m not advocating administering a stream of sugar – candy, chocolate, cookies, cake, and Coke.  But bags of crackers, pretzels, cereal, almonds, vegetable sticks, fruit… seriously, let ’em eat!

Let their ears pop.  If this is something to never let your kids do on a plane, then forget traveling altogether.  It’s impossible to prevent a change in pressure.

Instead, be prepared with (age appropriate) tools.  Let little babies drink a bottle, nurse, or suck on a pacifier.  Older toddlers and children can lick lollipops, chew gum, and slowly sip a drink.

My advice to you – treat travel tips as just that.  Tips.  Not rules, not absolutes.  Make sure the advice you’re filling your overstuffed parental brain with is from a reputable source.  Take what works, and toss out what doesn’t seem to fit your family’s values and lifestyle.

And then, just go!  Get out there.  The best travel tips come from personal experience.  In no time, you’ll be writing your own list!

Signature-Marigold

Four Tips for Planning a Travel Itinerary with Kids

Thrifty Travel Mama Tips for Creating a Travel Itinerary with KidsI am often asked for tips on how to put together an itinerary when traveling with kids, so this is the beginning of a new series of Tips & Guides to Traveling with Kids.  Below, I’ve outlined a few basic – but very important! – rules that I live by when planning a trip with my three boys.

The absolutely-positively-totally-do-not-forget-it, number one rule of creating an itinerary with kids is this: keep your expectations rock bottom low Even the best behaved, most amazing, awesomely angelic children surprise us in unexpected, and sometimes shocking ways when taken out of their element and plucked in a foreign place.

By the way, if you have kids as I’ve just described, send them my way.  I’ll take them on vacation myself!

Could your kids last several hours in a fascinating – to you – museum?  Maybe.  But chances are if their routine is out of whack (and it almost always is when traveling), they probably won’t.  Sometimes their behavior isn’t even the issue; maybe that delicious street food you had for dinner last night is wreaking havoc right next to da Vinci.  You just never know.

In light of this, here are four more guidelines to help you determine your ideal vacation itinerary.

Keep Them Interested

The first thing I do in itinerary planning is make a list of everything I am interested in exploring.  I rank the list of attractions, shops, restaurants, etc. according to importance.

Next, I make another list of things that my children enjoy (such as swimming, hiking, going to the playground, etc.).  Google “(your destination), (activity), kids” or “(your destination) with kids” to see what fun activities are possible for them.

Visiting the Museum was something I knew my boys would enjoy.

Visiting the National Air and Space Museum was something I knew my boys would enjoy.

When I have my lists, I pick ONE thing from each list to do per day.  Yep, only one.  Most likely that’s all you’ll successfully accomplish – and even the successfully part is not guaranteed.

Your compilation will vary greatly with your personal interests as well as with the age of your children.  Some things I blacklist when traveling with a baby, a preschooler, and a kindergartener are museums, organized tours, places where children MUST be quiet, fancy places with breakable objects, expensive restaurants, and attractions with potential danger for children.

Hiking Hallasan was something Doc Sci and I really wanted to include in our visit to Jeju-do.

Hiking Hallasan was something Doc Sci and I really wanted to include in our visit to Jeju-do.

Families with older children probably won’t need to blacklist anything.  Also, the interests of older children will be more developed and personal.  I suggest letting each older child make a list of things he or she like to do.  Then, give each of the children a block of time to plan.  You might need to help in the area of logistics, but as much as possible let them come up a realistic itinerary that embraces their unique interests.

Keep Them Happy

Now that you have your ONE thing per day that you are really looking forward to, it’s time to provide some incentive for the kiddos to be on their best behavior.  The rewards for positive attitudes, good behavior, listening, and being patient can range from a simple treat like ice cream or a souvenir from a fun shop to something much bigger such as a visit to the zoo or a water park.

My boys LOVE chocolate.  79 cents for two hours of good behavior is a total bargain.

79 cents for two hours of good behavior is a total bargain.

It’s definitely okay – and encouraged! – to use attractions from the kid’s list as incentive.  I’d steer away from threatening (“If you don’t keep quiet, I’m not taking you to Legoland.”), and instead just keep it positive (“I can see you’re trying hard to be quiet.  Keep up the good work, and we’ll have fun at Legoland together when we’re finished with this exhibit.”).

How about a visit to an animal park or zoo as a reward?

How about a visit to an animal park or zoo as a reward?

How and when you use these incentives is up to you.  Sometimes I find that telling my boys too far in advance that they will get to go to a fun kids restaurant for lunch results in me having to listen to, “When are we going to the restaurant?” three hundred and fifty times in a span of about ninety minutes.  I usually let their best morning behavior run its course before reaching in my virtual bag of tricks to pull out a reward.

Keep Them Fed & Hydrated

It seems rather obvious to feed your children, right?  But, it bears repeating since every parent knows the horror of a hunger-induced public meltdown.  Get a good breakfast in your kids, and then set out to do your one thing.

We usually have a picnic or eat at the vacation rental for breakfast as well as one other meal per day.  When we eat in restaurants, I scope out the location, type or service, and the menu in advance.

It's rare that we eat at the Golden Arches.  But, when we do, it's a big deal to the kids, and a lot of bang for our buck.  Full tummies and a reward for good behavior all rolled into one.

It’s rare that we eat at the Golden Arches. But, when we do, it’s a big deal to the kids, and a lot of bang for our buck. Full tummies and a reward for good behavior all rolled into one.

Once your itinerary is set, start searching for restaurants that are in the area.  I use Google maps for this, and it works great!  Type in your location, click on the little marker, and then click on “Search nearby.”  Enter in anything from pizza to kids restaurant to Mexican to take-away.

Choose two or three options, and make notes of opening times, address, price range, etc.  I cannot tell you how many times we have gone to try a Mexican restaurant in a new city and it is closed (permanently or temporarily).  Have a backup or two.

Beyond eating out, BRING SNACKS and drinks!  You will inevitably be stuck in a line, on a bus, waiting for a train, on a crowded tarmac.  Special snacks are also good rewards, and they can keep children busy when you are enjoying your ONE thing.

Keep Them Comfortable

Does your family have a daily routine?  Do your little ones still take naps?  Do they have a special nighttime ritual?  Give your kids as many comforts of home as you possibly can while traveling. You won’t be able to totally recreate your home environment while away, but do your best to include some elements.

I often let the boys watch a DVD while I cook dinner, so they enjoyed catching an episode of Thomas the Train in Korean while I prepared rice and dumplings in our kitchenette.

I often let the boys watch a DVD while I cook dinner, so they enjoyed catching an episode of Thomas the Train on Korean TV while I prepared rice and dumplings in our kitchenette.

For instance, my two younger boys still take naps (and the older one and his parents definitely benefit from an afternoon snooze).  Unless there’s something mind blowing happening from 2pm-3:30pm in the city I’m visiting, my boys will be napping in our vacation rental, the car, the stroller, or a backpack carrier.

In line with the very first rule of keeping your expectations rock bottom low, I know that my boys might not actually sleep during nap time.  But, I’ve found that it’s better to give them the opportunity to shut their eyes and the chance to cling to the comfort of their routine.

Do I ever stray from the routine?  You betcha.  But not without a lot of consideration, and I rarely – if ever – will screw up the flow two days in a row.

Keep an Open Mind

Traveling with kids is all about compromise.  It’s vital to balance your wants and needs with theirs.  Tip the scales completely in either direction, and it’s a recipe for some very unpleasant travel memories.

Have a mix of downtime and go-go-go.  If one day contains a frantic hop-on, hop-off bus tour where you’re packing in as many sites as you can, let the next day include a leisurely walk along a river or in a forest followed by a picnic lunch.

Letting boys be boys.

Letting boys be boys.

Find play places where they can let off some steam and take a break from behaving themselves.  Some of the best memories we have of certain destinations are of our boys just having a grand ol’ time on the local playground while Doc Sci and I sat and talked.

Trying out the funky swings in Dublin, Ireland.

Trying out the funky swings in Dublin, Ireland.

None of these guidelines are hard and fast rules.  That’s why they’re called – wait for it – guidelines.  Be willing to be flexible and go with the flow no matter if something amazing or drastic happens.  By using the tips above, you should have everything you need to successfully start planning your next itinerary with kids.Signature-Marigold

Shameless Repost: Alternative Airports for Flying Around Europe on the Cheap

Today Travel (msnbc.com) has an excellent article by Gabrielle Zunde of Budget Travel with an organized and informative list of alternative airports for flying around Europe on the cheap.

I realize my last post was also pointing you to an outside article, but know that I wouldn’t send you anywhere that wasn’t worth my (and therefore your) time.

And speaking of time, these days mine seems to be lavished on thrilling things like expat taxes (more on that to come!), German government forms, visa paperwork, and the like.  This makes me dirt poor when it comes to minutes and hours for fun things like blog posts and Pinterest.

Anyway, back to the article!  Head here for a list of alternative airports for destinations like London, Paris, Munich, Milan, etc.  For each city,  Zunde lists the distance from the alternative airport to the main destination, the best way to get there, the cost, and the names of the budget airlines.

What a great research time saver!