Updated Review: Flying EasyJet with Your Family

Thrifty Travel Mama | Flying EasyJet - A Guide for Traveling with Babies, Children, and FamiliesIt’s nearly February which means I’m up to my eyeballs planning our family’s spring travel.  Are you doing the same?  Now is the time to search for deals for travel through April/May.  Depending on the carrier, summer fares may or may not be on sale yet.

Now, as you can imagine, we could easily shell out a fair amount of cash for five round-trip airline tickets.  In order to save money (and, therefore, travel more – duh!), we use budget carriers whenever possible.  The most convenient and affordable airline for our geographical location is easyJet.

I’ve written about flying easyJet with a baby before, but I wanted to update that older post with our recent experience.  All five of us flew easyJet to Edinburgh in November (more on that trip coming soon!).  I’ve added my thoughts from that trip as well as notes on new policies that easyJet has adopted.

You can read the updated review of our easyJet experience here.  We’ll be testing out Ryanair for the first time in April, so I’ll have a review on that airline later this spring.

Have you flown with easyJet before?  What did you think of your flight(s)?Signature-Marigold

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.

Photo credit

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

Ticket Talk: The Open Jaw

Hooray – it’s officially trip planning season for me!  Dark, dreary, cold, and wet outside, I’m keeping warm by burning through the euros in our bank account buying tickets.  I’m never so happy to see money go.

As with last year’s trip to the US, we are doing a multi-city itinerary.  I just can’t seem to go there and back again without at least one sideshow.

However, this year, the best deal for me was using something called an open jaw.  Say, what?  Simply put, if you were to draw your itinerary, it would be, uh, open, like a – you guessed it – jaw, instead of a basic straight line.

You know I wouldn’t do anything wonky without sharing how you could do the same.  A lot of the tips from my previous multi-city itinerary post are also applicable to open jaw itineraries.  I’ll jazz them up a smidge and throw them back’atcha below, but first, a few Q&A’s.

What in the world is an open jaw?  As I mentioned above, it’s one type of itinerary that does not go in a straight line.  The best way to explain it is to give you an example.  For me this means, I fly from Frankfurt (point A) to Salt Lake City (point B), and then from Orlando (point C) back to Frankfurt (point A).

Just so you’re in the know, another kind of open jaw itinerary exists.  Here’s an example.. fly from New York (point A) to San Francisco (point B) and then from San Francisco (point B) to Miami (point C) and terminate the trip there. 

When/why on earth would I use one?  If you want to visit two destinations instead of one, but it is cheaper to get yourself from point B to point C by a means other than the airline you are using for A to B and C to A, try an open jaw.  The missing point B to point C segment could be completed via ship, car, another airline, alien abduction, etc.  This is a popular ticket to use in conjunction with cruises that do not return to their port of origin.

Can I book an open jaw myself?  Yes!  Most major airline websites will allow you to book an open jaw itinerary online.  When you arrive at the airline’s main page, look for a small link near where you enter your city pair (departure and arrival cities) that says something along the lines of “Multi-City.”  Enter your point A to point B and the date and then your point C to point A and the date.

Can you give me an example?  Of course!  Let’s use the trip I just booked.  Our “home” airport is Frankfurt at the moment, so we always start and end there.   We have to go to Salt Lake City for one of Doc Sci’s conferences, and we need to go to Orlando once a year to take care of business and visit friends.

I priced itineraries with United, Delta, American Airlines, and Lufthansa.  Delta was the cheapest of the bunch, so I pressed on from there to find the bottom dollar deal.  The ticket prices were still higher than I wanted to pay, so I dropped the middle out of the itinerary (Salt Lake City to Orlando) which lowered the total cost down over 300 euros per person, a significant savings.  Ironically, the flights offered on the same dates but with an open jaw itinerary were also much, much better (note that this isn’t always the case – but it was a very nice surprise).

Most airlines are notorious for charging exorbitant one-way fares… but not Southwest.  A ticket on Southwest between my point B and point C only cost about 160 per person.  So, I will still flying all my segments (as opposed to driving between my point B and point C), but I will ultimately pay less by using two different airlines this time.  Southwest doesn’t fly between your points B & C?  Try AirTran, JetBlue, or Spirit.

How do I know if an open jaw would be cheaper for me than a multi-city itinerary, all with the same airline?  You’ll have to do your homework, of course!  Price the itinerary with and without the point B to point C segment.  Also, try reversing the order of the two stops you want to make (go to point C first and then point B) even if it’s only for comparison’s sake.

And, in case you missed my previous post with all my multi-city itinerary secrets, here they are again… remixed for the open jaw.

Tips on Booking Open Jaw Itineraries

Be patient.  It takes a lot of work to search multiple combinations of dates and cities, let alone just trying to figure out which airline is the cheapest for your particular route (for more on airlines, alliances, and hub cities check out the practical tips for booking multi-city itineraries in my previous post).

Don’t expect to get what you want by just typing in a few simple searches.  If you know it’s going to be a while before you get it the price and schedule just the way you want it, then you’re apt to be less frustrated.

And, unless you really know what you are doing and you’re totally sure of your plans, don’t book on a whim.  If you think you’ve found your perfect itinerary, have another pair of eyes look it over with you to double check all the details.

Be flexible.  Saturdays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays are generally the cheapest days to fly.  I say generally, because sometimes loads (the amount of passengers) are lower on other days on certain routes.  However, you won’t know this until you start searching (as I said, be patient!).

Try your itinerary a week before and a week after.  Pay attention to your calendar, noting any holidays.  Also, if it’s peak season at your destination(s), prices just may be high, period.  Your job is to find the lowest in the date range you are available to travel.

Be persistent. One advantage that open jaw itineraries have over multi-city itineraries is the ability to search using Flexible Dates with some airlines.  Still, it’s a rarity (or perhaps even an impossibility) that your perfect itinerary will be the first date and city combination you search.  Keep looking.  Try alternate airports, alternate order of stops, etc.

Be discerning.  How will you get from point B to point C?  Yes, flying is convenient, but sometimes it’s not always the answer.  Weigh the drive time (but be realistic about how far you can go in one day with kids!) versus the money (four tickets at $250 is quite a chunk of change, but you will also have to pay for the car rental, gas, perhaps a hotel room or two).

Don’t forget your time is valuable as well, so consider how much time you’d spend in transit while flying vs. driving.

Be smart.  Do your homework.  Consider all the costs of flying a separate airline from point B to point C.  What are the baggage fees?  Are there fees for choosing a seat?  Would you have less stress if your itinerary was all with one airline?

Be realistic.  How much flying and driving can your kids handle?  How many different beds can you sleep in before you swear off traveling all together?  Are you better off paying an extra $25 per ticket to avoid taking toddlers on a red-eye flight?  Think about what’s important to you, your family, and then make the best decision with what you’ve found for a happy vacation.

How about you?  Have you booked an open jaw itinerary before?  Any other tips I may have missed?  Questions?

Shameless Repost: Why You Should Quit Your Job and Travel Around the World

Thrifty Travel Mama

Monday mornings suck the life right outta me.  From grocery shopping with a cranky baby to figuring out where to stash the stuff in my Barbie kitchen, by 10am I’m already beat.  At least I have one thing to look forward to: Simple Mom weekend links.  Though Tsh publishes these posts on Sundays, by the time I get them, it’s no longer the weekend.

No matter.  I love seeing what kind of thought-provoking, inspirational, and downright hilarious links she’s got in store.  One from this past weekend begged an instant click-and-read.  Just thought I’d pass along Why You Should Quit Your Job and Travel Around the World.

Though the post is a few years old and despite the fact that I can’t quit my job (I’m a mama, hello), it’s a fantastic read.  I am not as traveled as Chris Guillebeau (again, kids), but I often hear the same objections as to why people don’t travel…

  • “I don’t have money to travel.”
  • “The rest of the world is dangerous.”
  • “I like staying at home.”
  • “I’ll do this kind of stuff when I retire…”

To see Chris’s responses to these objections and to read the complete post, click here.

Thrifty Travel Mama – 2012 – A Year in Review

Whew!  2012 has been a wild ride, full of experiences and surprises.  “Year in Review” posts are all the rage in the blogosphere, so despite my inclinations to do the opposite, I’m jumping on the bandwagon.

In January, I went fully frugal.  I shared my source for Free DIY Passport Photos.  I pointed you to the European Backpacker Index, a tool for researching expenses in European cities.  Oh, and I saved you from having to run to the store at the last minute by showing you how to make your own brown sugar.

February brought me a birthday, and Doc Sci took me to Milan (sans kids) to celebrate.  We ogled da Vinci’s Last Supper and the views from the roof of the Duomo.  We got caught in Carnival madness, and stuffed our faces with risotto, bread, pizza, and (of course) gelato.

I went crazy in March trying to make our awful concrete student housing apartment more homey on a very small budget.  I spiced up the kitchen, bathroom, and front entry.  I constructed a ginormous cork board wall in the living room and plastered it with photos.  I somehow also found the time to completely finish Rosetta Stone German and post a final review.

In April, our little family went home to the US for 3 weeks, stopping in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida.  We soaked up the sun, and made kid-friendly activities a priority.  Among the boys’ favorite was our trip to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.

Back in Germany, May was part work and part play.  Doc Sci and I both took week-long intensive German courses.  We also managed a date night to the movies, complete with popcorn and assigned seats.

Doc Sci let us tag along with him to Berlin in June.  He attended a brainiac conference while the boys and I played at Legoland.   And speaking of brains, I got mine to work long enough to pass my German driver’s license exam.

In July, I switched to extreme nesting mode.  I stocked the freezer with a gazillion meals, and organized our life into one happy turquoise notebook.

I took a six-week break starting in August to bring our third and final little traveler into the world.  His birth story is the kind nightmares are made of.

We ventured out to Frankfurt in September to get the little guy his passport when he was only two weeks old.  And good thing, too.  Later that month, Big Foot found himself coasting through five countries on four planes, five trains, and two buses, in the span of three days.  No sweat for a seven week-old.

In October, I posted reviews of flying Delta Airlines and easyJet with a baby.  I should’ve shown you these fashionable Oktoberfest pull-ups, but I was too busy scoring freebies for babies and mamas in Germany.

November was an exciting month for us.  We bought a car!  Doc Sci wrote a fabulous guest post detailing the adventure.

We took our car on a little road trip to France in December.  It was all the travel we could muster in between the zillions of Pinterest projects that filled my days and nights before Christmas.

Every year has its highs and lows, surprises both good and bad, and 2012 was no different.  It’s just how life goes, and I’m thankful to live it with my awesome-amazing-how-could-I-describe-you-in-just-one-word husband and three blessed boys who make me laugh every day.  Here’s to 2013!

On Why I Can’t Call It Quits With Delta Air Lines (and a Trip Report!)

Thrifty Travel Mama - Flying Delta Airlines with KidsI said I would never do it.  But then I did it anyway.  And now I’ve done it again.

I just can’t seem to shake off my bad habit of flying Delta Air Lines.  I keep coming back, but it has nothing to do with customer satisfaction (because we all know there’s next to none of that).

Why, why, WHY do I do this to myself?

For one simple reason… when I’m in a bind, Delta is always the cheapest.

Last fall, I needed to be at a dear friend’s wedding.  I had no flexibility in my dates or airports.  Delta was the only airline that offered a ticket I could afford.

This fall, the boys’ Grandpa suddenly left us and went to live in heaven.  We needed to fly back to the US to say goodbye, and take care of business.  We hoped it would be possible for all five of us to go.  Again, I had no flexibility in dates or airports.   And, once more Delta was the only airline with four seats at a price we could afford two days before departure.

Darn, you Delta!  Are you trying to win me back?

If so, it (almost) worked…

Trip Report: FRA – BNA (and back)

When researching my options for flights from Frankfurt to Nashville, Delta consistently came up with the cheapest fare and the best schedule for our needs.  However, when flying with three kids I have learned that cheaper sometimes is not necessarily better.

Notably, being confined in a metal tube over the Atlantic for 9 hours is absolutely the pits if there’s nothing for the wee ones to do.  Not wanting to find myself in such a predicament again, I consulted SeatGuru and made absolutely positively sure that we would have AVOD devices for each seat on both Delta international flights.  I simply could not handle being stuck in 1983 jumbo jet hell again especially considering the stressful circumstances surrounding our trip and the fact that we would now be flying with THREE boys.

After booking tickets, I called Delta to let them know I’d be traveling with an infant.  This time I was prepared for the archaic practice of having a PAPER international ticket for Big Foot issued at the airport in Frankfurt.  So old skool you are, Delta.

Since we were flying with three children under the age of five, the Delta gate agents graciously granted us the row of bulkhead seats on both international flights.  This meant we could use the bassinet for Big Foot (and this time I didn’t break any rules).  Having a little bed he could nap in from time to time proved invaluable.  I could free up my hands to cut chicken, peel pasta off the floor, or sneak away for sixty seconds to the lav (by myself!).

Doc Sci was able to sit one row behind me in the aisle.  We took turns, alternating naps and movie time with meal and child minding duties.  The movie selection on the AVOD was impressive both for kids and adults.  The food tasted a gazillion times better than our last trip down the aisle with Delta.

The flight attendants on these trips seemed overly nice and surprisingly helpful.  Not quite on the caliber of Asiana Airlines, but getting up there nonetheless.  Perhaps executives have actually been listening to customer complaints and doing something about them?!  Nah, it can’t be.

Or could it?  I actually let myself think, well, maybe I was wrong.  Maybe Delta isn’t so bad after all.

But then they lost our car seats.  And I lost all warm fuzzies I might have had.

When arriving in the US on an international flight, passengers must collect their checked luggage.  After wheeling it through customs, bags must be re-checked.  If you’ve never done it, it’s quite simple.  Roll your suitcases (and, in our case, car seats) up to the nice baggage handlers, smile, say thank you, and watch as they put the items on the conveyer belt.  That’s all there is to it.

When we dropped off our car seats in Atlanta, little did we know we’d be kissing them goodbye for a while.  Said car seats did not go to Nashville with the rest of our belongings.  They stayed put in Atlanta for three days.

After traveling at least 20 hours with three boys, the last thing I want to do is deal with the Delta lost luggage guy.  I want to go eat at Chipotle.  But I couldn’t.  You can’t go anywhere in a car with kids – without car seats.

Unfortunately, this Delta agent just happened to be a single guy with no kids.  I could care less about the marital status of the man on the other side of the desk.  But if he has no children, that means he has no experience with car seats.  Or car seat laws.  Or car seat styles.  Or car seat weight limits.

What started out as a nice offer to loan us some Delta car seats turned into a nightmarish battle of trying to convince him first that my two and four year old were not going to fit in infant carriers.  Next, I had to try and explain how I had meticulously researched rental cars and prepaid for the exact one that would fit our three car seats, not any ol’ loaners.

Anyone with Cheerios plastered to the car upholstery knows that car seats have varying widths.  We own a Sunshine Kids Radian which boasts the ability to fit three across the back seat of a regular car due to the skinny bum width.  We also own a slimline booster.  Both of these were somewhere in the Atlanta airport instead of carrying our kids to a delicious burrito dinner.

Round and round I went with this guy trying to explain to him that the Graco car seats he was offering were not going to cut it.  For starters, T-Rex was over the weight limit for the one available.  But even more than that, those two Graco seats with their cup holders, arm rests, and sun roofs just plain old weren’t going to fit in the car.  And seeing as Delta wasn’t going to pay for a bigger rental car, we were at an impasse.

After getting a supervisor involved who also did not have any experience with kids, we took the car seats to the actual rental car and demonstrated that no, we were not trying to make a quick buck off Delta.  These seats do not fit!

In the end, we had to pay to add a smaller seat to our rental car agreement.  The Delta supervisor would then reimburse us for the extra cost of renting the seat.  When we left the Nashville airport several days later, we’d be issued a check equal to that amount.  Oh yes, and you better believe they were going to throw a travel voucher in there, too.  That was the least they could do for THREE hours of utter nonsense.

On the third day of our five day trip, we received our car seats.  Delta delivered the long lost seats to our hotel, picked up the loaners, and took responsibility for returning them.

When we checked in for our flights home, we requested to talk to a supervisor about our situation and receive reimbursement.  By the way, Delta calls their supervisors “red coats,” so use the lingo if you need access to someone higher up.

This time, I got a super nice guy (albeit again a dude who lacked experience with kids) who had heard about our story.  Apparently, mamas with kids who insist their children ride in car seats that are suitable for their age, weight, and the vehicle in which they’re riding are BIG NEWS.

Before issuing the check to cover the cost of the rental car seat (which, by the way, I would not have had any way to deposit), Mr. Nice Red Coat asked me if I would like to have four, $100 vouchers instead of one, $100 voucher and a check for $40.  Well, duh – of course I would like more money for travel… although of course it means having to fly Delta again.

But now that the car seat fiasco was behind us, we could focus on getting home to Germany.  Fortunately, it was much like the trip to the US.  Again, we had the bulkhead row.  Again, the kids went nuts pushing the buttons on the AVOD devices.  Again, the food was better.  Again, Big Foot napped here and there in the bassinet.  Again, I thought the flight attendants were more helpful than I remembered.  Again, I wondered if Delta was really that bad.

Will I break up with Delta for good, or will I keep coming back for more?

Only time – and travel – will tell.

Flying easyJet with a Baby

Thrifty Travel Mama | Flying EasyJet - A Guide for Traveling with Babies, Children, and FamiliesUpdate, 26 November 2013: Our little family of five flew easyJet to Edinburgh, Scotland earlier this month… and luckily that trip lasted more than just a few hours.  I’m happy to report we had another positive experience with this European low-cost carrier.  I’ve updated my original post from October 2012 with changes we experienced during the November 2013 Edinburgh trip.  All new notes are in italics.

Almost three weeks ago, the babe known as Big Foot and I took a little trip to London.  And I do mean a little trip.  To the Queen’s land and back in just one day!

While the purpose of the trip is outside the scope of this post, my thoughts and opinions on flying easyJet with an infant are not.  Read on for a rundown of my experience flying one of Europe’s most famous budget airlines, easyJet.

I’ve heard many opinions about low cost carriers, mostly negative.  As such, I was a little nervous to fly with them.  However, I discovered that if you take easyJet for what it is – a dirt cheap alternative to big names like Lufthansa – and play by their (strict) rules, you just might be pleasantly surprised.

 

Shopping for EasyJet Flights

Using easyJet’s website seemed rather hassle-free.  I was impressed with the ability to search with flexibility ranging from a few days to a few weeks.  The price shown is the price you pay… plus extras of course, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

With any budget carrier, one should expect that the worst flights (think 5am or 1030pm departure) are the cheapest.  EasyJet was no different.  In this case, I didn’t mind since I needed as many hours on the ground in London as I could possibly get.  But I would not have wanted to arrive with three kids at 5am for a 7am departure.

Update: Our outbound flight to Edinburgh left at a reasonable time (around 11:00am), but the return flight departed at 7am.  Leaving so early wasn’t as bad as I had imagined because we only had carry on luggage, and the Edinburgh airport is relatively small.

 

Infant Ticketing

In the US, infants traveling on a parent’s lap fly free.  Such is not the case on international flights.  I had to pay a fee of about 26 euros each way for Big Foot.  Considering that adult fares on easyJet can start at around 20 euros, that’s a hefty chunk of change.  Better to buy baby a seat if the fares are cheap enough (in my case, they were not).

Update: Do you pay the infant fee or simply buy the baby an adult ticket?  If the adult ticket prices are about the same price as the infant fee, I would buy the seat.  This entitles the infant to one piece of carry-on (hand) luggage as well as their own seat.  Keep in mind that easyJet stipulates children under the age of two in their own seat should be fastened in an aircraft approved car seat. 

 

Checking In Online

After entering passport details on easyJet’s website, I could print my boarding pass even though my departure was still several weeks away.  The print-at-home option actually isn’t an option; it’s required.  EasyJet passengers must check in online prior to arriving at the airport.

Since easyJet makes a lot of their profit from fees, services, and products, I was encouraged to peruse these items during the check-in process.

Speaking of fees, be prepared to pay out the nose for checked luggage.  I was warned in advance that easyJet is always very strict concerning their hand baggage policy.  If the gate agent even suspects your bag is too big, you must test it right then and there.  If the suitcase/backpack/whatever does not easily fit in the space provided, you will be charged an exorbitant fee on the spot to check it.  Should you require checked luggage when flying with easyJet, I highly recommend paying the fee at the time of booking as it is absolutely the cheapest option.  More on allowances and requirements for hold luggage here.

I took tiny Big Foot to London on easyJet in this bassinet.

I took tiny Big Foot to London on easyJet in this bassinet.

Bringing Baby Gear

Good news for parents traveling with infants, though!  I was allowed two baby gear items free of charge (see a list here).  For me this meant a stroller and a collapsible bassinet.  Car seats are also included in the free allowance, but it’s important to note that diaper bags are not!  If the baby does not have his/her own ticket, he/she is not entitled to any carry on luggage.

Update: According to their website, easyJet allows two free pieces of gear for each traveling baby or “young child” (oh so vague!).  That means that whether you purchase a seat for your under-two or not, you can still bring a stroller, car seat, backpack carrier, etc. 

 

The Boarding Process

Another fee that easyJet heavily promotes is Speedy Boarding.  Passengers coughing up extra dough get to skip to the front of the madhouse that Brits refer to as queuing.  The rest of the poor souls line up on a first come, first served basis.  However!  Families with small children 5 and under are allowed to board directly after the Speedy Boarding passengers.  I wagered that few budget travelers would pay for this service and as such I’d have an easy time selecting a favorable seat for me and the bub.  Luckily, I was spot on.

Update: Now that easyJet allocates seats on every flight (see below), Speedy Boarding has become obsolete.  Instead, easyJet  Plus! cardholders, passengers with a Flexi booking, and travelers who have purchased extra legroom or up front seats will board first.  Families with small children under the age of five still board before the remaining passengers.  More on the boarding process here.

If you’ve ever flown Southwest Airlines, you’ll be familiar with easyJet’s open seating.  You can sit anywhere in the plane with the exception that you must meet the standard safety criteria if seated in an exit row.

Update: EasyJet no longer herds passengers via the open seating cattle call.  All seats are assigned at check-in.  If you are traveling with children, be sure to indicate this on your booking (Miss for girls and Mstr for boys).  Both to and from Edinburgh, we were seated together in the middle of the aircraft.  If you’d like to select exactly where you’ll sit on the aircraft, there’s (surprise, surprise) a fee for that.

 

EasyJet’s Attitude Toward Families with Children

On both the outbound and return journeys, the flight attendants greeted me with a smile and an infant safety seat belt.  They didn’t seem the least bit annoyed that I brought a baby on board.  In fact, I was very impressed with offers to warm up any bottles or food if need be as well as announcements of where to find the changing table in the lavatory and how to use the baby seat belt.

Update: I’m pleased to report that we were again treated with kindness by all easyJet flight attendants. 

 

In-Flight Refreshments & Entertainment

As for food and drink, either bring your own or enough money to pay for any refreshments you might want or need including water.  Prices are steep, but apparently not as bad as what Ryanair customers experience.  I carried my own breakfast and dinner, so I can’t comment on the quality of the items available.

Update: Though I could not find it anywhere on easyJet.com, it seems that passengers are allowed one small “shopping” bag (presumably from purchasing items at the airport’s duty-free shops or take-away restaurants).  We brought one such bag on flights both to and from Edinburgh with no problems whatsoever.  We used this to hold our in-flight meal and snacks. 

In addition to edible offerings, flight attendants also sold duty-free items, souvenirs, and even train tickets for the Gatwick Express.  As mentioned earlier, it’s obvious that extras are a large part of the airline’s profit structure.

It’s also good to know that easyJet offers absolutely no free in-flight entertainment.  Flight attendants sell toys and activity boxes, but parents will notice the absence of video screens and AVOD devices.  To state the obvious, flying with easyJet is a BYOE (bring your own entertainment) kind of party.

 

My One Complaint

If I had anything negative to say about my experience flying easyJet with an infant, it would be the extreme inconvenience of not receiving gate-checked items immediately upon leaving the aircraft. 

Generally, if I take a stroller with me through security and all the way up to the boarding gate, I also receive it at the gate after the flight.  Not so with easyJet.  ALL checked items, regardless of if they are checked in at the desk or at the gate, end up at baggage claim.  This is a total pain if you have a heavy, sleeping child you’d like to transfer to a stroller ASAP for the long walk to customs and the luggage carousels.

Update: It’s still the case that all gate-checked items end up at baggage claim.  Yes, it’s annoying but not enough to make us swear off flying easyJet forever.  Just plan accordingly as the walk from the airplane to customs and then finally to the luggage carousel can be verrrrry long.

 

The Verdict

Despite the one flaw, I still maintain I was delightfully surprised by my adventure on easyJet with a baby on board.  I will definitely consider using them again should my future travel plans happen to line up with the airline’s (somewhat restrictive) schedule.  Thanks, easyJet for a great flight!

Have questions about my experience with easyJet I didn’t cover in this post?  Ask them below in the comments, and I’ll be happy to answer!  Also, if you’ve flown easyJet with children, I’d love to hear about your experience, too!Signature-MarigoldPhoto credit

Shameless Repost: London’s Coolest New Attractions

Doc Sci and I in London, 2006.

We’ve been watching the Olympics this week – have you?

The games have been inspiring my boys to make up new sports in their room and inspiring me to dream of traveling again soon.

Ahhhhh, London.  Doc Sci and I were in the British city in 2006 for a missions trip.  We spent two weeks (including Christmas) there and we loved it.  From where we live in Germany now, its possible to fly, drive, or ride a train to London.  We may just have to take the boys there in the not-so-distant future.

And, while visiting London during the Olympics will be impossible for us this year (and probably for most of you reading this), rest assured that this year’s events will leave their mark on the city.

For a list of London’s Coolest New Attractions, visit Travel + Leisure’s website for a slideshow of the latest and greatest.

I’d like to see The Shard and the ArcelorMittal Orbit – what about you?

Kids on a Plane

Worse than snakes on a plane?

Maybe.  But I hate snakes.  The terror doesn’t subside with snacks or toys or earplugs.

One of the things I pinned on my Tips & Guides Pinterest board was this article, “50 Ways to Entertain a Kid on a Plane.”

Wanting some fresh ideas to keep my sanity intact to Asia and back, I had a look around the 50 ways.  My verdict?  Disappointing.

Perhaps my expectations were just all wrong.  I had hoped for creative ideas that included items I already had around my house or inventive ways to repurpose things that wouldn’t necessarily be appealing to kids.

Unfortunately, most of the “ways” involved purchasing products, some expensive.

I’m all about picking up a few dollar store cheap-o distractions.  If they get lost or mangled (extremely likely with my two boys), it’s no biggie.  It also doesn’t bust my trip budget.  But to go out and buy new things that I’m going to have to lug around with all the other junk I have to bring just seemed silly and counter to my nature.

One idea actually included a safari set.  Seriously?  Has the author seen the size of tray tables these days?!

The article wasn’t all bad, and I managed to find a few I’d like to try.

The Cheerio necklace.  We don’t have real cheerios here (did you know that in Australia, cheerios are Lil-Smokies-type sausages? haha!), but the imitation ones will do.  The idea is to bring dental floss (which hello, you already need that) and cheerios and let the children go to town making edible jewelry.  I think even my boys could get into this since it involves eating.

Rubber band ball.  Rubber bands are simply fascinating to three year-olds.  T-Rex would love to get his hands on three bags of these things to make a rubber band ball.  I can see this activity taking at least an hour.  One down, nine and a half to go!

Post-it Notes.  Several ideas included post-it notes.  I liked the idea of having your child tell you a very simple story which you write down on the notes, a sentence or two on each.  Then the child gets to draw the pictures.  The leftover notes can be stuck all over the tray table, seat, parent, and flight attendant.  Genius.

If I can remember to include these things in my carry-on, I’ll let you know how the above ideas actually hold up.  It’s one thing to make a list, another thing to actual try it!