Delightful (Cheap) Diversions for Kids in Paris

Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun, Cheap Stuff to Do with Kids in ParisParis is an adult city in many ways. I know plenty of children live and play there, but even the youngest French citizens just seem so civilized and classy. Maybe it’s all the berets and trench coats, expensive cafes and brasseries, world-class art museums and fancy chocolatiers. But when I think of Paris, kid-friendly is about the last thing that comes to mind.

However, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t travel with tots to the City of Light. You can – and should – take your children to Paris.. for the art as well as the chocolate. Just watch your wallets, and check out these inexpensive, fun things for kids to do in Paris.

The Madeline Tour

Do your kids know and love Madeline? If not, get them hooked ASAP. You might think the smallest of the “twelve little girls in two straight lines” is of no concern to boys. But mine really enjoy the story (maybe it’s the scar on her stomach?).

We pulled out the book a few weeks before our trip and read it occasionally. I made sure to pack it in my backpack so we could whip it out in front of the famous landmarks and compare the illustrations to actual places.

This turned out to be an excellent way to keep the boys interested and give them a reason why their four and six year-old selves should be interested in things like opera houses.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun, Cheap Stuff to Do with Kids in Paris

Examining the Garnier Opera House in the book and real life.

Tips

This website gives great information about where to find the locations illustrated in the book. However, it’s not comprehensive so you’ll need to do a bit of detective work yourself to figure out the other locations (hint: the Sacré Cœur isn’t listed on that site). See this thread in the TripAdvisor forums for comments on the location of Madeline’s house.

Cost: The DIY tour is free, but you’ll need to pay for transport to get yourself to the various sites.

Carousels

Carousels are practically a Paris institution. They can be found all over the city, and children of all ages will love whizzing around on fairy-tale horses and grungy motorcycles.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun, Cheap Stuff to Do with Kids in Paris

The carousel at Montmarte.

Tips

The merry-go-rounds are scattered all over the city. Click here for a list of the six most beautiful and here for a more detailed list.

Cost: During the month of December, many of the carousels around Paris are FREE! However, we found that not all carousels were gratis; only the ones with signs stating so. Otherwise, the best value we found was 10 euros for 6 tickets (nontransferable to other carousel locations, sorry).

Auto Showrooms

The Champs Elysées may be one of the most expensive and fashionable shopping streets in Paris, but you might be surprised to learn the boulevard offers something for the young and young at heart… auto showrooms.

Car manufacturers such as Peugeot, Citroën, BMW, Toyota, and Fiat compete to have the most elaborate display of their innovative models. The best part for little boys? Some showrooms allow customers to actually sit in the cars. My boys went nuts when they got to sit in a “real racecar” at Peugeot.Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun, Cheap Stuff to Do with Kids in Paris

Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun, Cheap Stuff to Do with Kids in Paris

Kids going for a test drive. This car is a bit above their pay grade, no?

Tips

Click here for a manly take on some of the showrooms, and here for another post with loads of photos.

Cost: Free.

Playgrounds

This is kind of a no-brainer for us. We always visit local playgrounds wherever we go. Paris has some lovely parks and play equipment, but the locations are not as plentiful in the city center as you might think. The Notre Dame Cathedral is a notable exception (for the location, not for the amazing playground) as is Luxembourg Gardens which deserves its own section below.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun, Cheap Stuff to Do with Kids in Paris

A small playground can be found here, behind the Notre Dame and just to the right.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun, Cheap Stuff to Do with Kids in Paris

A few other playthings are located along the south side.

Tips

A few Paris playground locations to add to your Google map:

  • Champ de Mars. Big toys are located at the non-river end of the park (with your back to the tower, it’s to the right). Pony rides, puppet shows, and go-carts are in the center of the park.
  • Parc des Buttes Chaumont. More wild and natural than your average play place.
  • Place des Vosges
  • Parc de La Villette
  • Monceau Park

Also, Lulaville has a gigantic list of Paris playgrounds that you can find here.

Cost: The playgrounds listed above are free. However, attractions such as pony rides and puppet shows cost extra.

Luxembourg Gardens

Another Madeline location, this is THE top park recommended for kids in Paris. Adults will love the peaceful atmosphere and the gorgeous fountains, statues, and monuments. Parents will appreciate the fenced-in playground for big and small kids (note the cost, below) and the bathrooms complete with changing tables and kiddie potties.

Kids will be thrilled to watch the marionette puppet show which comes highly recommended even if you don’t speak French as well as riding the park’s classic carousel and floating boats in the pond.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun, Cheap Stuff to Do with Kids in Paris

An hour too late to visit the Luxembourg Gardens. Doh!

Tips

Lucky Little Travelers gives a great write-up of the park here. If you visit in winter, keep in mind the park closes quite early in the afternoon.

Cost: The Luxembourg Gardens are free, but an admission charge applies to the kids playground, carousel, and the puppet show.

The Centre Pompidou

If you’ve flipped through photos of Paris, you’ve most likely seen the Pompidou Center, a funky building that was designed to literally be built inside out. It houses modern art that adults can (hopefully) appreciate as well as interactive exhibits just for kids.

Tips

Petit Paris offers an excellent guide to visiting the Pompidou Center with kids including a breakdown of what’s interesting for each age group.

Cost: Check the center’s website for current admission prices. If you’re on a strict budget, you can pay the nominal fee to ride the escalators to the roof for a lovely view of Paris. Or, just enjoy the vibrant atmosphere in front of the museum.

Boat Tour

Given the success of our boat tour in Brugge, I knew my boys would have loved to see Paris from the Seine. However, we plum ran out of time. I’ve already got it down on our wish list for the next visit.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun, Cheap Stuff to Do with Kids in Paris

Boat Tours leave from here on the Île de la Cité.

Tips

Several companies run Seine boat tours. Vedettes du Pont-Neuf seemed to be the most reasonable, offering both day and night cruises.

Cost: Prices are rather steep for walk-ups. Visit their website in advance to book decently discounted tickets for adults and children.

Love Locks

I know that love locks are a “thing” in various locations all over the world. Sheesh, there’s even a bridge practically in my own back yard that’s piled high with padlocks. But seeing as Paris is the quintessential city of love, you really should make a stop and look at the gobs of metal declaring eternal L-O-V-E.

My boys are intrigued by the concept, but they don’t quite get it. T-Rex wanted to dive to the bottom of the river to find all the keys and open all the locks. I couldn’t explain to him the sheer futility involved in that (but maybe this episode of The Amazing Race would help).

Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun, Cheap Stuff to Do with Kids in Paris

Pont des Arts in the quiet of the morning.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun, Cheap Stuff to Do with Kids in Paris

Tips

Visit the Pont des Arts in the early morning to have the place to yourselves. If you want to attach your own steely statement, purchase one in advance. I’ve heard vendors hawking locks can be found at the bridge, but I didn’t see any.

Cost: Free – plus the price of a lock if you so desire.

Ice Skating

At the beginning of the Christmas season, the city of Paris sets up several ice rinks for residents and visitors to enjoy. The most well-known location is in front of the Place de l’Hôtel de ville.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun, Cheap Stuff to Do with Kids in Paris

T-Rex learning to ice skate.. all he wanted to do was learn tricks like the hot shot hockey players swishing around. Actually ice skating wasn’t on his agenda.

Tips

Popular ice rinks are located at Place de l’Hôtel de ville and Montparnasse.  I also noticed a small one at the Place du Trocadéro Christmas market. Since ice skating in Paris is as fun as it sounds, it’s understandably popular. The wait time for those needing rentals (especially at the Place de l’Hôtel de ville) is utterly horrendous.

Cost: Admission to the rink is free. Skate rentals cost extra (5 euros at the time of writing).

Christmas Markets

Christmas markets are all the rage in Europe, and the whole family will love walking along the stalls, admiring the wares and sampling the food. Note that some markets are still up after Christmas, but some close before the 25th of December.

We only walked through one market at the Place du Trocadéro, but I liked this location better than many other markets I’ve seen in France and Germany. Each booth had its own country as a theme and sold various treats and trinkets from that land. Delightful!

Tips

Check the Paris Info website for locations, hours, and dates of operation.

Cost: Admission – free.

Printemps and Galeries Lafayette Window Displays

If you happen to be fortunate enough to visit Paris during the Christmas holidays, make a point to walk the window displays at Printemps and Galeries Lafayette. When we neared the mega-stores, I wondered what all the fuss was about. As we pressed closer, I understood… they’re animated! Music! Lights! Wonder!Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun, Cheap Stuff to Do with Kids in Paris

Tips

The displays are obnoxiously crowded, and you’ll have a hard time navigating with a stroller. Let the kids sit on your shoulders for a better view. And, speaking of views, don’t forget that Printemps and Galeries Lafayette have some of the most amazing free views of Paris!

Cost: Free.Thrifty Travel Mama | Fun, Cheap Stuff to Do with Kids in Paris

Even MORE Delightful Diversions for Kids in Paris

Have your own list of budget-friendly attractions for children? Add a link in the comments below!

What’s your favorite place from the list above where you’ve already been or would like to go with your kids? Signature-Marigold

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An Expat Christmas: From Australia to Croatia

Thrifty Travel Mama | An Expat Christmas - Croatia (Chasing the Donkey)We’re finishing up our Expat Christmas series today with a journey to the beautiful country of Croatia where we’ll hear from native Australian Chasing the Donkey.  Read on to find out why she’ll be burning a log soaked in liquor and what’s cooking for Christmas dinner in Croatia.

By the way, things will be rather quiet here on Thrifty Travel Mama while we take some time to celebrate Christmas in our little family… and to take a quick trip to Paris!  I wish you the happiest of holidays and a joyful new year.  See you in 2014!

Our Very First Croatian Family Christmas

Yippity skippity, it’s almost here! My very first Christmas in Croatia. I am overjoyed that in addition to being in my new home country for Christmas, this will be our very first Christmas together as a family. Last year when my son was just 4 months old, my husband was required to be abroad for work on Christmas Day. I was sad that day, but this year I will be overjoyed!Thrifty Travel Mama | An Expat Christmas - Croatia (Chasing the Donkey)

What do I expect for this festive season? Honestly I am still a little unsure however what I do know is we plan to spend the day with our extended family. Now, I can’t just  fly by the seat of my pants and wait to see what our family does so we do have a few things planned to contribute to the day. Then next year I’ll combine the new traditions with my old favourites. Christmas traditions will be aplenty I am sure, after all here in Croatian the majority of us are Roman Catholics, and Christmas is the day we celebrate the birth of Our Jesus Christ.Thrifty Travel Mama | An Expat Christmas - Croatia (Chasing the Donkey)

New Traditions

Christmas Wheat

I have already prepared to celebrate the feast day of St. Lucia on Dec 13th. I have a small bowl ready to fill will some cotton and wheat seeds. What is the wheat for? Well, you see I have been told that the wheat seeds should grow big and tall. How big and how tall is believed to be in direct correlation to my luck and prosperity for the upcoming year. Gulp, that’s what I call pressure.

No one said I can’t add fertiliser, just to encourage the wheat and ensure our good fortunes for next year! After watching the wheat grow until Christmas Day, I plan to make it the centre piece of my table, that is unless of course it fails to grow, in which case I’ll use a candle.

Badnjak

Back in the day (how long I really have no clue) it was tradition to send the men folk outdoors in search of a big fat log of wood. Once found the log would be dried & decorated with ribbons & flowers and such, and then it’s known as Badnjak. Once finished it would be  douced with rakija and then on Christmas Eve it would be burned in the home’s fireplace. I am still not sure I can bring myself to pretty up a hump of wood or wasting perfectly good rakija, but the burning I can do, so I plan to add it to my traditions list.Thrifty Travel Mama | An Expat Christmas - Croatia (Chasing the Donkey)

Traditions From Australia

Pig on a spit

Yup, a little piggy will rotate around a big long metal skewer on a bed of hot coals from around 9am on Christmas morning in our backyard. After about 3 hours, it’ll be carved and will be placed next to the Christmas Wheat as the main meal for the day. What it will be served with is still unknown, a little surprise as to what the family plans is part of the excitement.Thrifty Travel Mama | An Expat Christmas - Croatia (Chasing the Donkey)

My sparkly tree + stockings + gift sack

I always have a big tree covered in a myriad of baubles, birds, beads and whatnot. This year will be no different, except that I only packed a small box of my favourites from home, and this year I’ll be at the shops scooping up a bunch of new decorations.

I loved having my very own Christmas sack that I laid out on Christmas Eve, so I had one made for my son that we used for his first Christmas, and I am looking forward to stuffing it this year.

Equally, we never had the red and white stockings hanging in my house as a child and I always used to see them and want them, so I had those made also. They’ll be hung on Christmas Eve along with the sack close by the tree to round out my must have traditions.

I hope that the mix of new and old will be right, so that it still feels like home, yet we embrace our new country. I guess in a few days time I will know. Until then Stretan Bozic {Merry Christmas} from my family to yours.

Chasing the Donkey blogs about expat life in Croatia where she lives with her husband and son.  Follow her adventures on Instagram and Twitter.

And once again, a very special thank you to all of our guest bloggers who took the time to contribute to our Expat Christmas series:

From around the world, we wish you a merry Christmas!

Signature-MarigoldPhoto credits for Expat Christmas graphic here and here.

An Expat Christmas: Food, Friends, and the 12 Pubs of Christmas in Ireland

Thrifty Travel Mama | An Expat Christmas - Ireland (Wanderlust Marriage)We’re nearing the end of our Expat Christmas trek around the globe, and today we’re lucky to have Alex and Bell of  Wanderlust Marriage with us!  Read on to find out how they cooked Christmas dinner without an oven and why you might see the Irish running backwards in tacky sweaters just before the big day.  If you’ve missed any of the fascinating (really!) Expat Christmas posts, you can catch up here

Ooh, but just one more quick thing before we begin this fantastic post.  Have you voted yet for Thrifty Travel Mama in the 2013 Expat Blog contest?  If not, please click the badge below, and leave a comment on my entry.  Be sure to confirm your comment via email.  Thanks, friends!!
Expat Blog Awards 2013 Contest Entry

Christmas in Ireland: Food, Friends, and the 12 Pubs of Christmas

Alex and I are coming up on Christmas number 6 in Europe! This has meant no family in the same international dialing code for either of us for quite some time now. Some of these past Christmases have been more memorable than others, that is for sure.Thrifty Travel Mama | An Expat Christmas - Ireland (Wanderlust Marriage)

Our first in Europe was spent in our apartment in Amsterdam. That one was unforgettable… why you ask? Because we didn’t have a full size oven, as many apartments in Amsterdam are too small for such luxuries! So we popped our little convention oven in the living room, and roasted our dinner in there while we used the kitchen stove top to make our sides. It was cold, and it was just the 2 of us… but we had a lovely day. That year we also discovered the joys of European Christmas markets and Glühwein (mulled wine), which remains for us the best part of a European Christmas.Thrifty Travel Mama | An Expat Christmas - Ireland (Wanderlust Marriage)

Last Christmas was spent here in our new home of Ireland. We crammed 4 other expats who were in town into our living room and enjoyed a fun afternoon of over eating, drinking and being merry! Both the Netherlands and Ireland are fairly similar to our home countries of America and Australia in that Christmas Day is a public holiday and people generally spend the day with their families eating.

While there are many similarities there are fun differences too. The Netherlands does things quite a bit differently, with Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet who come and deliver presents on the 5th of December. Yet Christmas Day is still a public holiday where many go to visit and eat with their families.

Ireland does Christmas pretty much as we would expect in our home countries. However, we enjoy watching the pre-Christmas Day tradition of the 12 pubs of Christmas. This is a fairly new trend in Ireland, where a group of friends put on cheesy Christmas sweaters (the best we’ve seen depicted the nativity scene!) and completes a pub crawl that involves… yep you guessed it, 12 pubs! There can be drinking rules, so if you are visiting Dublin around this time of year and see a bunch of people running backwards with Christmas sweaters on, they are probably on route to the next pub! Also, if they are hanging from a lamp post, try to lift you up on the street, throw you in a friendly head lock in a pub or are walking around the bathroom with their pants below their waist as their friend is badgering them for the pub map, you are probably witnessing these festivities. Yes, we’ve seen and experienced all this in Dublin for the 12 pubs.

Thrifty Travel Mama | An Expat Christmas - Ireland (Wanderlust Marriage)While these are entertaining and different traditions to get involved in, being an expat abroad during the holidays isn’t always fun. While Alex and I always have each other, a Christmas tree, lights and something delicious to eat on Christmas day, it can be a little lonely. In the years that we have been gone we haven’t been able to fly to either of our homes for Christmas. The closest we came was the year we went to Greece where Alex’s extended family lives; his dad was also in Greece at the same time. We’d probably argue this was the best Christmas we’ve had in the past 6 years as we shared it with loved ones… Alex and I can be a wee bit sentimental!

Alex and Bell are an American and Australian husband and wife traveling team, who met over 10 years ago in a dingy, but raucous hostel in Bruges, Belgium.  Follow their adventures on Wanderlust Marriage or find them here on Twitter.Signature-MarigoldPhoto credits for Expat Christmas graphic here and here.

An Expat Christmas: A Finnish – Kiwi Celebration

Thrifty Travel Mama | An Expat Christmas - Finland & New Zealand (Free But Fun)We’re hopping continents and hemispheres today as we hear about Free But Fun‘s Christmas adventures in far-flung places such as London, Sydney, New Zealand and her native home of Finland.  

Read on to find out why Finnish families start their Christmas celebration at the cemetery (yes, really!), and how to beat the holiday heat in Australia.  If you’re just joining us, click here for the rest of the Expat Christmas posts.

From Scandinavia to the South Seas: Christmas Across the Continents

I love the idea of publishing a series of Christmas posts portraying experiences  celebrating Christmas as an expat!  I was thrilled to be asked to participate even though I am not currently an expat. I am a Finn married to a Kiwi, and although we are currently living in Helsinki we have together celebrated Christmas in four countries.

London

The first time we celebrated a Christmas together was almost a decade ago in London. We got together with a number of my husband’s friends from New Zealand and Australia that were on their “OE” (“overseas experience”) in U.K. Already the idea of celebrating Christmas with friends instead of the family was unfamiliar to me as I grew up with Christmas being a pretty quiet family celebration.

But this was before kids, and our British celebration turned out to be not exactly Christmas-y (Christmas in a pub???!!!), but a whole lot of fun. The girls did a great job creating some Christmas atmosphere in the tiny apartment we stayed in, especially considering how few things young traveling expats typically have. Also, that was when I for the first time met my bridesmaid – so yes, great people and great fun in good ol’ London.

My biggest shock from that Christmas really was about the city itself: how is it possible that a metropolis the size of London completely shuts down for a couple of days, no public transport and next to no taxis?! Isn’t that the time were you *really* need the public transport to avoid all the drunk drivers?

Sydney

After the initial Christmas we have pretty much taken turns to celebrate Christmas in Finland and in New Zealand, but we also had one in Sydney. When we stayed in Australia I was determined to cook a “proper Christmas menu” feeling sorry for all the Aussies missing out on “the main things,” such as loads of candles (it is *dark* in Scandinavia at Christmas!) and loads of oven-baked hot food that takes a while to prepare.
When Christmas time came in Sydney, I had changed my mind:  cold salads and drinks are all I can ever wish for in this heat. I was happy to have a pool on the yard, sing Christmas carols sitting on the ground in the domain, and I never even thought of “the mandatory” candles in the great company of friends and family. Thrifty Travel Mama | An Expat Christmas - Finland & New Zealand (Free But Fun)

The only thing I stuck to was making ginger bread houses; Kids love them, and they didn’t seem too out of the place looking at the Christmas decorations in Sydney including loads of snowmen, reindeer and sledges anyway (is it just me who thinks they were a bit out of the place in that environment? I would have thought Aussies would have developed something else instead, but hey, a nice reminder of home!). Thrifty Travel Mama | An Expat Christmas - Finland & New Zealand (Free But Fun)

Again, not a very Christmas-y holiday to me but loads of fun, and a great time together – and delicious food.

New Zealand

In my husband’s family in New Zealand, there never seems to be just one Christmas celebration with the core family but always parties around it. And I love the way people of all ages come together in these gatherings. This may also have to do with us not living in New Zealand, so when we are there, we tend to be busy and it is important to catch up with everybody.

Also, my mother-in-law is an awesome cook, but I am happy to help out with what I do best: mulled wine that definitely gets the spirits up. Even though I still somehow feel that everything is not right when it is Christmas and warm outside, I have to admit that it adds some great opportunities for fun, such as bbq, eating outdoors and water fights.Thrifty Travel Mama | An Expat Christmas - Finland & New Zealand (Free But Fun)

Finland

In my family, and I assume Finland in general, Christmas is a celebration for the family and not a real party-party. First, you pay your respects to loved ones at their graves (the candle-filled graveyards look awesome!).  Thrifty Travel Mama | An Expat Christmas - Finland & New Zealand (Free But Fun)

Thrifty Travel Mama | An Expat Christmas - Finland & New Zealand (Free But Fun)The dinner is pretty much always served with ham, often several sorts of fish, peas, sour-sweet potato casserole, suede casserole and  carrot casserole, redbeet salad, the traditional dishes from the old ages. Of course there are plenty of cakes and other sweets for dessert, and there can not be a Christmas without ginger bread and mulled wine.

The Christmas sauna is important and sooo relaxing (and also refreshing if you add a roll in the snow). Even though most Finns are not very religious, many go to church on Christmas, if only to sing the most beautiful carols. And of course there’ll be sharing of gifts from under the tree. Often the evening ends with board games or a DVD together. Rice porridge with an almond in is also a very typical meal e.g. for breakfast.Thrifty Travel Mama | An Expat Christmas - Finland & New Zealand (Free But Fun)

In Finland we celebrate on Christmas Eve; in UK, Australia and NZ on Christmas Day. Neither I or my husband has ever even thought of that really making a difference, we just do “what the Romans do” according to where we are.

In our home, we have a mixture of traditions, like I’ve taken home Christmas socks for the kids from New Zealand. I grew up associating certain things with creating the Christmas spirit but after all the different Christmases I’ve come to the conclusion that the only thing that matters for Christmas is that you share it with people you care for and feel comfortable with.

As for my husband, he did originally think our Finnish Christmas was quiet and starting celebrations with going to the graveyards weird (put that way, it really does sound weird, doesn’t it?!). But maybe he is getting acclimatised, as he just confessed that he is looking forward to the holidays and the casual time together without too much hassle.

I wonder if living abroad makes it easy for people to appreciate variation, to adapt to different ways of doing things and to enjoy the variety… Or is it the other way around, that people who are not too stuck in their own traditions are happy to move abroad?

P.S. There is one Christmas related issue me and my husband probably will never be able to settle on: what is the real Christmas tree… a spruce or a pine?  But at least we agree on this: no, the Christmas tree cannot be plastic, at least not in our home. 😉Free But Fun is a mother of two toddlers living in Helsinki where she shares ideas for how to have a full and fun life without spending too much.  Check out her blog here.

Signature-MarigoldPhoto credits for Expat Christmas graphic here and here.

An Expat Christmas: An Intentional Season in Germany

Thrifty Travel Mama | An Expat Christmas - Germany (Travel Turtle)If you’ve been following our Expat Christmas series, you might wonder why my own host country of Germany hasn’t made an appearance.  I’ve rambled and mused here and here on German Christmas quirks and traditions, so I thought you might want to hear from someone else for a change. 

Today Ann from Travel Turtle shares what she’s learned to love and live without in the past four holiday seasons.

An Intentional Season in Germany

Being an expat in Germany during the holidays is a special experience. I’m lucky to live in a country that embraces the Christmas season. There are many traditions I can continue from my home, but there’s still a lot of trading the traditions I’m used to for the traditions of my host country. This December is my 4th in Germany, so I now know what to expect – a non-stop mix of celebration, celebration, celebration.

That sounds exhausting doesn’t it? Don’t worry.  I’m very intentional in my approach to the holiday season. For the past 5 years I have been recording our December Days via inspiration from Ali Edward’s December Daily. I start off the season thinking about what is most important. For me, that’s family. Everything we do is meant to be simple and enhance our time together.Thrifty Travel Mama | An Expat Christmas - Germany (Travel Turtle)Holiday festivities still start with American Thanksgiving. It coincides nicely with the opening of German Christmas Markets most years. We celebrate Thanksgiving twice. On Thursday, whether we are at home or visiting other expats, and then again on Saturday with our English-speaking Kids Club group. We’re fortunate to have a nice group of locals who start our season celebrating a very non-German holiday with us.

The next big day is St. Nicklaus Day. On December 5th our kids leave their boots outside their door before going to bed. They wake up the next morning to the boots filled with small toys and candy. This tradition exists in our family because we are in Germany. We would not have done it if we were in the US and I don’t know if it’s something that will continue when we leave Germany. For now it works.

December 6th in our area of the city is a fun day. We walk along the main shopping strip and St. Nicklaus hands out fresh baked goods and oranges to all of the children. The shops will usually have a small sale, and our grocery store will actually bag groceries for us! (This is the only time of the year I know this will happen – it is a real treat!) Then we head to our community center to enjoy a smaller handmade market, the warmth of the indoors, snacks and drinks, and the kids play with other kids.Thrifty Travel Mama | An Expat Christmas - Germany (Travel Turtle)Weekends are devoted to visiting Christmas Markets within an hour or two from our home. In the week or two leading up to Christmas Day, we like to take a short vacation to another area of Germany. It’s a nice time to see new sites and visit new Christmas markets. I’ve come to really cherish these trips because it is all about being together.

The traditions we miss back home boil down to driving around looking at Christmas lights and photos of the kids sitting on Santa’s lap. Unfortunately (or fortunately, I don’t know, it does seem a little chaotic), photos of my kids on Santa’s lap don’t really exist. The one year we actually saw Santa, my son just sat next to him for a few minutes and there were no official photographers. Last year we happened to see a Lego Santa while we were in Berlin, and decided that was good enough.Thrifty Travel Mama | An Expat Christmas - Germany (Travel Turtle)The big event: Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are celebrated very similarly in our home here as they would be if we were in the US. That is not saying that we do things as the Germans do. We don’t. But, I wouldn’t mind incorporating some of the traditions a lot of my friend’s families hold on to. They put up the Christmas tree just before Christmas Eve and light the candles (real candles on the tree, not electric lights), and everyone sits around the tree to talk and sing. They’ll open up gifts on Christmas Eve, and I don’t really know what people do on Christmas Day.

For us, Christmas Eve is devoted to being together, eating a big meal, opening one gift (pajamas), and reading ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. Christmas Day we open stockings and presents, have a delicious baked French toast breakfast, Skype with our families, and take nice, long walks outside together.

I think we’ve managed holding on to our traditions and allowing our local traditions into our holidays without overwhelming ourselves. I don’t feel the stress of Christmas, and for that I am very thankful.

Ann Belle is former travel agent. She is currently an American expat living in Germany with her husband and two kids. She blogs about traveling with kids and offers tips and tools to help children and families embrace travel at her blog, Travel Turtle. Ann is happy to connect with you via facebook or twitter.Signature-MarigoldPhoto credits for Expat Christmas graphic here and here.

An Expat Christmas: Greetings from the Netherlands

Thrifty Travel Mama | An Expat Christmas - The Netherlands (The Three Under)Today’s Expat Christmas post comes from Farrah at The Three Under.  Read on to find out what traditions she’s keeping from the US, adopting from the Netherlands, and what she might ditch altogether.

To find all the Expat Christmas posts in one handy dandy place, just click here.

Sinterklaas & Santa – Christmas in the Netherlands

My family of 5 (three year old twins, four year old, husband and myself) have been in the Netherlands just over a year via the US. Last year we arrived weeks before Thanksgiving, and it seems like the entire holiday season was a blur. Fortunately, this year I have more of a handle on our day to day life and am actually able to research, dig in, and decorate for Christmas!Thrifty Travel Mama | An Expat Christmas - The Netherlands (The Three Under)First and foremost, I realize that we’ve been competing with the whole ‘Sinterklaas‘ thing. Well, maybe not competing – but my boys are most certainly confused with how it all works and who lives where. For example – we’re all clear that Sinterklaas comes from Spain on a boat with his horse. My four year old is now confusing the fact that SANTA comes from the North Pole on a sleigh at the end of the month. There have been little gifts (cadeautje) left nightly in their shoes, and the big gift night is December 5th. We’ve been riding this goodie-high for over a month now and to be honest, I’m a little worn out.

We’ve kept up with the Elf from home – that little guy that sits on a shelf and didn’t move the whole month. Well, the boys are now at an age where they are truly excited over his antics – so for the first time we’re making an effort over his ‘creative placement’ at night. Nothing elaborate – but it’s fun. I can only imagine what the Dutch would think of this tradition!

Last year it was quite the conundrum as to what we’d do about a tree. For my entire thirty-six Christmases I have had a real tree. It took quite a bit of convincing from my husband that we were going to go the artificial tree route while in Europe. A real one just didn’t make sense if we wanted to do any traveling over the holiday. And bright side: this was a tree we would always have as our ‘European experience’ tree if we brought it back with us. Never mind that we’ll have to find a plug adapter – but he had a point.

When we go back to the states I liked the idea of having this tree and a real tree in the house. Plus, I’m finding the whole pre-lit, no needles, no water thing *almost* makes up for the lack of smell. For that I have asked relatives to ship me pine scented candle tarts to burn daily.

As for other new traditions- we plan on taking full advantage of the Christmas market scene here and see as many as we can in nearby Belgium, Germany, and in our own Netherlands backyard. Our weekends have been strategically planned out from now until January- which I can easily see doing every holiday season while we’re expats. It really is a magical season in Europe with so much to enjoy and experience.

The one tradition that I might be letting go of while abroad is cooking an elaborate meal. The amount of effort that I have to put into just cooking with Dutch recipes and Dutch ingredients (and the translating! oh the translating!) on a daily basis has me incredibly intimidated at the idea of pulling off a family holiday meal. I didn’t cook for Thanksgiving (and it was fantastic), so I am on the fence over attempting a Christmas feast. There’s still time – so I might. At least I figured out how to make our traditional Christmas cookies as that’s a pretty big deal to all of us – now that I know how to use the stove
properly!

Farrah can be found at her blog The Three Under where she shares their expat adventures and fiascoes as well as on Twitter and Instagram. She has three really cute boys who really know how drive her crazy.

Signature-MarigoldPhoto credits for Expat Christmas graphic here and here.

An Expat Christmas: Seasoned Greetings from Singapore

Thrifty Travel Mama | An Expat Christmas - Singapore (Journeys of the Fabulist)‘Tis the season!  For the next few weeks leading up to Christmas, we’re going global with the festivities!  I’ve asked a handful of expat bloggers to write about what Christmas is like for them in their host countries – experiences, observations, quirks, and all.  Even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, I think you’ll enjoy reading these stories from around the globe.

Please give a warm welcome to Journeys of the Fabulist as she kicks things off! 

CHRISTMAS IN SINGAPORE: SEASONED GREETINGS

I didn’t realise until we moved to Singapore, but Christmas is traditionally a religious holiday celebrated by Christians. It’s ironic, because Singapore itself struck me as a giant shopping mall centred around excess consumption.

Thrifty Travel Mama | An Expat Christmas - Singapore (Journeys of the Fabulist)

Punctuated every so often – quite incongruously – with an ice skating rink.

It took a little while to appreciate the kaleidoscope of festivals which brings us, in turns, from New Year’s Day to Spring Festival to Easter, Labour Day, Vesak Day, Hari Raya Puasa, National Day, Mid-Autumn Festival, Hari Raya Haji, Halloween, Deepavali, and the Great Singapore Sale – which the tourists seem to celebrate with more zeal than any of the rest.

When we first arrived in 2006, I had to work my fledgling social networks to track down a Christmas tree, and the main reminders of the season came as invitations to midnight mass and a significant exodus, confined to particular subsections of the population, and facilitated by the lack of competition for Christmas leave.

Thrifty Travel Mama | An Expat Christmas - Singapore (Journeys of the Fabulist)

First signs of Christmas: shopfronts displaying exodus-wear.

The exodus is still one of the main Christmas traditions of Singapore. We’re taking part in it this year. But the more widely-celebrated secular version of Christmas –  the one based on consumption with a vague sentiment of goodwill – seems to be gaining traction.

Streets and malls are decorated with the Christmas Bunny:

Thrifty Travel Mama | An Expat Christmas - Singapore (Journeys of the Fabulist)…or in the style of Christma-vale:

Thrifty Travel Mama | An Expat Christmas - Singapore (Journeys of the Fabulist)It would be a cute, narrow failure to ape a foreign custom, except that, in reality, they are hitting it square on the head. Case in point: I’m from Australia, where we’ve started celebrating Christmas In July. It’s something to do with snow or fir trees or chardonnay or we can’t remember let’s eat and buy presents! As usual with Singapore, it’s unsettling because they get it so right, as if Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong sees you more clearly than you see yourself.

Thrifty Travel Mama | An Expat Christmas - Singapore (Journeys of the Fabulist)

PM Lee: this man checks his lists more than twice. Photo credit: from the official facebook page.

I’d say it’s my imagination, this shift – my increased familiarity with the city and my slow drift towards my niche therein – but others have felt the change, too. This year, A has jumped in at what appears (judging from the lengthy, sincere and apologetic reply) to be the forefront of a Christmas tradition those from home are already bored with – writing to people to complain about how much earlier it gets each year. The “kids these days” will probably start receiving presents from Santa and everything. Not even my young Christian colleague got them “in her day” – although several animated debates indicate he may start deliveringred packets instead of stocking-fillers.

The problem, though, is not that Christmas is “becoming commercialised” or “losing its meaning”. (My friend the anthropology graduate would argue that, anyway, Christmas is simply one of many calendrical rites which help transition society from one season to the next, using, in this case, pagan rituals mixed with other pagan rituals all covered with a thin veneer of Christianity – exactly the sort of fascinating statement which makes anthropology graduates risky dinner party guests.)

The problem is that Christmas in Singapore has, like a lot of Singaporean culture, gone through some sort of looking glass. A casual glance will reveal nothing but your own reflection, shining back politely and tastefully. But if you poke around a little, you’ll find you can step through like Alice into Wonderland, revealing a uniquely Singaporean fusion of cultures and traditions.

Thrifty Travel Mama | An Expat Christmas - Singapore (Journeys of the Fabulist)

Christmas in Singapore: Double Happiness Pizza

Thrifty Travel Mama | An Expat Christmas - Singapore (Journeys of the Fabulist)

Christmas in Singapore: soy Santa milk

To those who observe it, Christmas in Singapore is often more a celebration of community: the Christian community. Not your family, or your friends and colleagues, or winter at the North Pole, but your church. You’ll know what I mean if you’ve ever seen the look bafflement on someone’s face when you tell them you can’t spend the whole of Christmas Day at their church function because you need to eat lunch with your mum. Even the most devout Australian Christian would leave the main feast for their immediate family circle.

And the rest of Singapore? They won’t just be keeping the lights on and the emergency rooms open, they’ll be getting on with business as usual (save for a single public holiday).  As an Australian who remembers our month-long Christmas shutdowns, thank the multicultured heavens for that.

So if you want to celebrate Christmas this year Singapore expat style, with an exodus or an enormous hot lunch and some other expats, you won’t hear any chiding from me. This year and last we’ve done one or the other.

But if you want to find out how the locals do it, see what your nearest church has on offer – or head to the beach for a day off and a barbie and then get back to work.

  • The kids can visit Santa in his workshop (and get their pictures taken) at Tanglin Mall until Christmas Eve.
  • St John’s and St Margaret’s Church will host its usual Christmas Eve Gospel Service from 10pm until midnight. You can check their online calendar for other services over the Christmas period.
  • The area adjacent to the PPH Community Services Centre at Teban Gardens (run by the PPH Brethren Church) will turn into a tent city on Christmas Day at around 10am. There’ll be worship, community outreach and family-style fun (face painting, bouncy castles, etc).
  • There are loads of other churches in all corners of Singapore. Check their noticeboards or websites carefully for information. Most offer at least two sets of services in different languages, so make sure you’re heading to one you can understand.
  • Traditional Christmas feasts are offered at many of your favourite brunch spots – though you may have to actually book this time. I’ve been told they’re a bit crowded and prolonged for young children, so consider wisely and come prepared. (I have no experience or recommendations but there’s an Expat Living Singapore article on Christmas brunches or try The Finder.)
  • If you fancy heading out to the park for a barbecue, don’t forget to book your pit well in advance. There’ll be competition!

Shout out to Singaporeans! Add your Christmas Day plans in the comments, whether you observe Christmas or not, and especially if you’re doing something completely different to anything I’ve written about here.

Thanks to friends, colleagues and Singaporean taxi drivers for their input.

You can find Journeys of the Fabulist on Twitter @JOTFabulist where she writes about kids, travel, geography, history, culture, social responsibility, logistics, marine biology, civil engineering, and sometimes, coffee or wine.

Signature-MarigoldPhoto credits for Expat Christmas graphic here and here.

13 Practical Gifts for Traveling Families

Thrifty Travel Mama | Inexpensive, Practical Gifts for Traveling FamiliesOkay, okay, I’m hopping on the holiday gift wish list bandwagon… but, I’m kicking and screaming the whole way.

Confession: Gifts are just not my thing.  I love to give and be generous, but I’m better at offering my time… or cupcakes.

When it’s my turn to pick out a present, step one is usually to panic.

Step two is to accept help, usually in the form of gift guides scattered around the Internet.  But, most of the guides for men and kiddos (I’m the only female under this roof) are technology-laden.

We don’t need any more electronics, and my five year-old is just not getting a Kindle.  Or his own iPad… mini, gigantic, telepathic, whatever.  Ain’t gonna happen.

And, if I do manage to find a few items I like, I start hyperventilating when I see the price and end up suggesting to the intended recipients that we do handmade gifts, consumable gifts, or no gifts at all.  (aaaaaand we’re back to cupcakes!)

However, I don’t like being a Scrooge, so this year I’m putting out my own list, a mix tape of gifts for traveling families. 

Practical.  Affordable.  Fun.  Suitable for male recipients.  Enjoy!

Oh, and before I begin, you should know that at this time I do NOT use affiliate links.  I have not been compensated in any way by any of the companies below. 

  1. Streamlight Septor LED Headlamp Fun for kids and adults alike, headlamps can be used for your next after-dark adventure whether it takes place in the mountains or under the covers on the pages of your favorite book.  I like the extra strap on this headlamp, but other models with just one strap are less expensive.

  2. Handmade Silver Travel Necklace with Globe Charm Show off your wanderlust with this pretty, pretty necklace.  Choose from four chain lengths and four font options.

  3. Nibbles Apple iPad Charger Holder.  Keeps unruly cords in check both at home and on the go.  And, it’s hilarious.  Also available for iPhone chargers.

  4. Deutsche Bahn German Railway Map T-Shirt Not just for expats, this tee is travel nerd fashion at its finest.  Good thing they have men’s and women’s sizes!  Be sure to check out the other art, science, and travel t-shirt designs in babbletees Etsy shop.

  5. Scribble It! 30 Postcards My boys are constantly asking if we can mail the drawing of the day to a friend across the world.  I’d love to reduce the bulk (and save on postage!) by using these postcards which they can color and then send.  Plenty of margin space for doodling and personal messages.  The hardest part will be convincing the boys not to send all the cards at once!

  6. Airplane Mode Pouch Unisex packing organizer, pencil case, camera holder, catch-all clutch, etc.  Just one Fab’s fabulous travel accessories.

  7. Curious George Magnetic Tin Play Set What toddler doesn’t love Curious George?  Leave the stuffed animal at home, and take this traveling tin with you.  Features three scenes and loads of magnets sure to delight and entertain your favorite pre-schooler.

  8. Men’s Grunge Airplane T-Shirt Order one for the pilot, mountain man, or armchair traveler in your life.  By the way, OhSudzGifts also has clothing sporting bicycles, Chucks, compasses, and the Eiffel Tower.  Yeah!

  9. NYC Metro Cuff Not recommended as a suitable tool for navigating the New York subway, but fashionable and fun anyway.  NYC not your thing?  Designhype offers cuffs with San Francisco, Washington DC, Chicago, Brooklyn, London, Paris, Berlin and Milan maps in several finishes.

  10. Sticky Mosaics® Vehicles Set.  Finally!  Fun crafts for boys that are easy enough for kindergarteners to tackle.  Take this kit on your next holiday or bust it out when cabin fever sets in, oh say about mid-January.  Also available in girly and grown-up kid versions.

  11. Pirate Passport Cover.  With five passports to juggle (thank God none of us have dual citizenship..), we’re always fumbling with the stack at check-in.  From cars to camo to cupcakes, Pokey Passports has you covered with dozens of designs that are sure to please every member of your traveling family.

  12. iTunes Gift Cards.  Personalize an impersonal gift card with a list of recommended or favorite apps.  My boys love Smart Fish: Frequent Flyer, Roxie’s a-MAZE-ing Vacation Adventure, Toca Kitchen Monsters and Hair Salon, and Minion Rush.

  13. Skip Hop Zoo Neck Rest Stash this adorable travel pillow in the car for naps or shove it in a backpack so you (er, I mean your child) can snooze in style.

If you love this list but your extended family could max out a cruise ship, don’t miss the following suggestions from other family travel bloggers:

But, what if you’re like me and homemade is more your style?  Everything Etsy has an excellent list of 25 DIY Gifts for Travel Lovers.  (I might need to make some of these for myself!)

Which of these gifts would your kid(s) love?  Which one are you secretly adding to your own wish list? Signature-Marigold

The Token What-I’m-Thankful-For Post… 2013 Edition

Thrifty Travel Mama | Thanksgiving 2013Happy Thanksgiving Day!  Even though Thanksgiving in November is an American thing, we can all benefit from a pause to count our blessings.  This year, I’m keeping my list short.

Does it mean you’re less thankful if you just focus on a few things? 

Our little family has been SO privileged to travel all over Europe and the US in 2013.  I don’t say it much ’round these parts, but travel is just that – a privilege.

As Americans, we are free to roam around (mostly) as we please.  Many countries open their doors to us; visas are (relatively) easy to obtain.  We’re financially blessed with a little extra left over every month to fund our wanderlust habit.

And through all of the highs and lows of traveling together as a family, we’re strengthening our bonds and raising up world citizens.

As I worked on updating our Where We’ve Been page, memories kept popping up.  Remember when… we stood on top of the world in the Swiss Alps, jumped into the sea at the Cinque Terre, acted like tourists in Salt Lake City, beheld the wonder of a zillion tulips at Keukenhof, and tasted the world’s best French fries in Brussels?  How great was that?!

I am so, so thankful for the opportunities we’ve both seized and been given this past year.  Not every year will be like this one, and we probably can’t support a regular adventure habit once we move back to the US.

Therefore, I’m taking time now to say… thanks, God.  Thanks for all you’ve allowed the five of us to experience, work through, and walk together in 2013.

What one thing are you thankful for this year?

Other Thanksgiving Posts: 2010, 2011, 2012, plus some rather amazing chocolate pecan pie.  Yeah.

Signature-Marigold

Make It Yourself: Family Activity Advent Calendar

Thrifty Travel Mama | Activity Advent Calendar IdeasHappy Thanksgiving week to all of my American friends!

Not to add one more thing to your (virtual) plate this week, but… psssst!  Did you know that this Sunday is December 1?  You do have your advent calendar done, don’t you?

So far, I’ve only put together three homemade advent calendars.  The first two years, I stayed up until well after midnight working on the dang thing.  You are more organized than I am, right?

I vowed to be more on top of things this year, and I set a reminder early in my calendar.  I put it off last week, but since I am not roasting a turkey this year for the big thankfulness feast, I made time to finish our family advent calendar before Thanksgiving.  Whew!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Activity Advent Calendar Ideas

Naughty little Big Foot, photo-bombing my project.

The Design

If you’re freaking out right now, can I do that annoying thing people do and say… don’t!  An advent calendar does not have to be Pinterest-worthy.

Remember that the whole point is to slow down and make memories with your family.

So, if brown paper bags are all you have?  Use them!  Kids construction paper lying around?  Grab the stack!  White business envelopes?  Pfft, you got this!

I upcycled last year’s calendar that my husband (mostly) made by replacing the paper numbers with some cute felt ornament stickers and glitter glue I had on hand.  Not really homemade, but my kids totally do.not.care.

For another easy idea, see my not-so-crafty matchbox calendar here.  It’s just big enough to slip in scraps of paper with your chosen activities scrawled on them.Thrifty Travel Mama | Activity Advent Calendar Ideas

What Goes Inside?

The first year I put together an advent calendar for our family, I went with 50% activities and 50% candy because that’s what I knew I could handle.  Last year, the activity percentage climbed to about 65%.

We’re hovering at around 75% make-your-own-fun this year, and I’ve replaced the candy with books.  I absolutely love the idea I saw on Simple As That of wrapping up Christmas books.  I know other bloggers have done this too, but it was news to me.

P.s. – I will be getting most of my books from the local English library (keep an eye on due dates!), but I may order some from Amazon as well.Thrifty Travel Mama | Activity Advent Calendar Ideas

A List of Family Activities

In no particular order, I present you with a list of suggestions for your own family’s activity advent calendar:

  • Bake a favorite Christmas cookie recipe (or find a new one)
  • Make gourmet popcorn to eat or give as gifts
  • Decorate a gingerbread house
  • Watch Elf and eat your gingerbread house
  • Brew your own Christmas punch by simmering a combination of orange, apple, cranberry, and black currant juices spiked with whole cloves and cinnamon sticks on the stove or in the slow cooker
  • Create your family’s signature hot chocolate using white chocolate, dark chocolate, peppermint extract, chai spices, peanut butter, homemade marshmallows, etc. (just not all together… please)
  • Donate toys and clothing to children in need
  • Set up an advent wreath
  • Cut out paper snowflakes and tape them on the windows
  • Visit a Christmas market (if your city offers one)
  • Compose a silly letter to Santa (adults too!)
  • Head to your nearest St. Nick for a chat on Santa’s lap
  • Celebrate the coming of the European St. Nikolaus on December 6 by setting out stockings and reading the real story of Nicholas of Myra
  • Go sledding (geography matters on these next few, sorry)
  • Pick teams for a snowball fight and have at it
  • Make a heavenly host of snow angels
  • Find out if any local attractions feature an indoor winter wonderland
  • Experience a live nativity scene
  • Go ice skating
  • Attend a Christmas concert in your area (or put on one in your living room)
  • Get out the glitter and make Christmas cards for your neighbors
  • Host a Christmas pizza and movie night
  • Use felt or paper to make stockings for the kids to hang in their room(s)
  • Sing everyone’s favorite Christmas carols by candlelight
  • Go on an Ikea Christmas Scavenger Hunt (modify this one to include holiday merchandise which you can browse on your preferred Ikea website)
  • Construct a holiday village out of milk cartons (okay, maybe just one house) and use LED tea lights inside (like this)
  • Make luminaries for your front porch, balcony, or backyard
  • Take a drive to see the Christmas lights
  • Attend midnight mass (even if you’re not Catholic)
  • Read the real Christmas story (Luke 2)

Obviously, that’s more than 24 (or 25, if you prefer).  And, really, who has time/energy/money to do one of these every single day?  Just pick the ones that work for you, and fill the rest with books or these advent calendar devotions.  Simple or snazzy, your whole family is sure to love your activity advent calendar!

If you’re Jewish and celebrate Hanukkah instead, Sweet Happy Life has Hanukkah calendar ideas and Made by Mamaleh has a printable countdown.

What’s in your advent calendar this year?  I’d love for you to add to my running list in the comments below.Signature-MarigoldDisclaimer: At this time, I do not use affiliate links. You’ll only find honest personal recommendations in the links above.