A Family of Hobos We Have Been

Thrifty Travel Mama | A Family of Hobos We Have Been: Indefinite Travel with Kids

This is one of my insanely long posts. Instead of just passing it off as tl;dr, make yourself a cuppa and stay a while… or just skim the headers. We can still be friends.

We are that crazy family… the one that others sometimes speak of as brave when they really mean insane.

In case you’re new ’round these parts and aren’t sure if I’m for real about the nutty bit, this post should convince you.

The Overview

Rewind with me to last autumn. We left our home in Freiburg at the beginning of October 2014, and ended up in Arizona just shy of New Year’s Eve. Seems simple, right? Ha – not so fast.

Hang on to your hats and follow along on our ride from Germany to Arizona via a dozen other destinations.. with all the madness and mayhem in between!

Please note that I am including some links to posts that have not been published yet. If you discover one of these, you can bookmark this post and come back later to read the linked posts, or you can just follow the blog via email (sign up on the right) or Facebook to be notified of all future posts.

By the way, if you’re reading these posts for the culture shock aspect, I’ll be honest and admit that recapping the events below is difficult for me. There are certain aspects of living in Freiburg that I miss somethin’ fierce, and I get a bit choked up when I dwell on certain memories for too long. So keep in mind that this adventure is two parts insane, one part pain.

Leaving Freiburg

Moving is never easy, and moving from one continent to another just multiplies the trouble. The ins and outs of our move is beyond the scope of this post, but I will briefly mention that we shipped most of our things to the US via DHL. Because of this, we did not have to schlep ten, fifty-pound checked suitcases and three children. Just the three kids, they’re non-negotiable.

Thrifty Travel Mama | A Family of Hobos We Have Been: Indefinite Travel with Kids

Testing out the new headphone splitter and learning to share one small DVD player.

Instead, all five of us all had backpacks and carry-on suitcases. Additionally, we took two gigantic checked bags and a car seat bag. If my math is right, that’s 13 pieces of luggage.

Hey, I never said I’m a pro at moving light – just packing light.

We bid Freiburg farewell and boarded a train to Leipzig. When we changed trains in Frankfurt, and Alpha and I literally ran to Chipotle in the rain to fetch one last German burrito. While there, we bumped into old friends from the US I haven’t seen in over ten years, also getting their burrito fix. Super fun, and super random. It’s a small (Mexican food) world, indeed.

Leipzig and Dresden

In Leipzig, Doc Sci attended one last conference for his post-doc while I had a fun meet-up and playdate with a blog reader (hi, Rose!). I also took the boys to Dresden… by myself.

Gulp.

Istanbul

After three days in the City of Heroes (Stadt der Helden), we flew to Istanbul on Turkish Airlines. Turkish offered the cheapest fare, and it actually turned out to be even less expensive to stay in Istanbul for 3 days on a stopover rather than going straight to the US.

We experienced three intense days in Istanbul, soaking up as much as we could of the local flavor and Turkish culture. Stay tuned for a budget-friendly “Istanbul with Kids” series!Thrifty Travel Mama | A Family of Hobos We Have Been: Indefinite Travel with Kids

Welcome to America

Our first stop in the US was Washington Dulles to visit family.

Of course (of course!), we landed on the day that the extra special screening for Ebola at passport control rolled out. Not exactly the best welcome to be stuck in customs/immigration for hours…

The boys enjoyed a weekend running crazy with the cousins. All five kids took advantage of a favorite autumn pastime – jumping in gigantic piles of leaves.Thrifty Travel Mama | A Family of Hobos We Have Been: Indefinite Travel with Kids

Orlando

We then flew to Orlando to reunited with friends, boxes shipped from Germany, and our car.

The last time we drove our car, Charlie was in an infant seat. Now, we have three lanky boys, all in forward-facing car seats. We shoved, pulled, squished, and prayed that three car seats would fit in the back row… of our Honda Civic.

In the end, we managed – but just barely. Good thing, too, because this car was to be our home for the next two months.

During our time in Orlando, Doc Sci started applying for jobs. We took turns hanging out with the kids and searching for open positions. At night, we both researched universities, cities, companies; we emailed out CVs and cover letters.

We dreamed, and we prayed.

Thrifty Travel Mama | A Family of Hobos We Have Been: Indefinite Travel with Kids

We celebrated the birthdays of Bravo and Alpha while on the road, one at the Lego store…

Thrifty Travel Mama | A Family of Hobos We Have Been: Indefinite Travel with Kids

…and one at Legoland!

Nashville

Just before Thanksgiving, we road-tripped up to Nashville for a change of scenery. We set up camp at Grandma’s house, hung out with friends and family in Music City, and applied for more jobs.

It was during our stay in Tennessee that Doc Sci had a phone interview with the university that eventually hired him. But, we didn’t know that at the time, so after two weeks, we then set our sights on the Big D.

Dallas

One of our Freiburg friends is from the Dallas area (hi, Cheril!), and her parents were up for letting five dazed and confused ex-expat strangers take over half of their house. Generous souls!

We drove from Nashville to Dallas, and unpacked the car once again. More fabulous reunions with friends in the heart of Texas, employment meetings and emails, spelling tests, and math worksheets.

This is beginning to be a repetitive story, eh?

The News – and the Dilemma

Somewhere in the middle of the Metroplex, we got the call that a university in Arizona wanted to offer Doc Sci a visiting professor position for the spring semester.

Great news – except for one thing. The job started in less than one month.

Oh my.

Should we say accept the position? Should we move for a job that was not guaranteed for more than four months?

Beyond the philosophical, we also faced a physical dilemma. We stood, at that moment, halfway in between the Arizona job and our stored possessions in Florida.

Should we attempt to rent something furnished and run the risk of having to go back to Florida if the job turned out to be permanent? Or, should we go get our things in Florida now?

To complicate things further, Doc Sci had set up an in-person meeting in Atlanta for two days later.

Seriously?

Seriously.

What did we do? Why, we packed up the kids and drove to Atlanta, of course!Thrifty Travel Mama | A Family of Hobos We Have Been: Indefinite Travel with Kids

Atlanta

One more interview and less than twenty four hours in Atlanta later, we were zooming down I-75 on the way to Orlando again. We were positively sick of being on the road, but we needed those four hundred and fifty miles to discuss whether or not we would move to Arizona.

Orlando.. Again

Ultimately, we said yes. And, we took our stuff.

Just shy of two weeks after that major decision, we emptied our storage unit, packed a truck, and said goodbye to Orlando.

Road Trip!

Over the next week, we logged a minimum of eight hours of solid driving each day – not including breaks – to make it to Arizona as soon as possible. We needed to have at least one week to move into a house and prepare for Doc Sci to teach (for the very first time, I might add).

I drove our car with the three boys in the backseat, and Doc Sci manhandled the moving truck. If there’s such thing as an ideal road trip, this was the exact opposite.

We encountered some of the most intense rain I have ever driven through, a hail storm while on the “stilts” of I-10 in Louisiana with no place to pull over, snow in Texas, and ice in New Mexico.

I had done my best before we left to buy new DVDs, arrange little goody bags, dollar store toys.. you know, all those cutesy things you see on Pinterest.

But, after a couple thousand miles and sitting ALL DAY LONG for days on end, things got pretty frazzled in the back seat (okay, in the front seat, too).

Hey, at least no one threw up.Thrifty Travel Mama | A Family of Hobos We Have Been: Indefinite Travel with Kids

Dallas.. Again

The one bright spot was spending Christmas Eve and Day with our new friends in Dallas (remember those nice people that let perfect strangers take over half of their home?) and the rest of their family.

We’ll always remember 2014 as the Christmas where we literally could not uphold any traditions (no Adventskranz, Adventskalendar, cookie swaps, or gingerbread) and barely managed to fill the stockings. Instead, we received the fabulous gifts of generosity and hospitality from strangers turned friends. Humbling, indeed.

Arizona, Finally!

We rang in the new year at a hotel in Arizona, roasting marshmallows in the fake fire pit outside.

Hey, it could be worse. We had survived our road trip, and we were all healthy and alive!

Thrifty Travel Mama | A Family of Hobos We Have Been: Indefinite Travel with Kids

Happy New Year!

Unfortunately, the house we rented wasn’t ready for us to move in until after Doc Sci started working. In the meantime, I shopped with the kids in the mornings, looking for basic furniture for our new home. When we moved to Germany, we gave nearly everything away because it didn’t make financial sense to store it.

In the afternoons, the boys did school while Charlie napped. When Doc Sci came home from work, I left to do more shopping and research.

Home…?

On moving day, we pulled up to our new house and found that all the vendors (painters, cleaners, etc.) had packed down the snow in the driveway, leaving us a housewarming present of a two-inch thick slab of solid ice on which to unload our things.

A kind neighbor lent us a snow shovel; the boys chipped away at the ice while Doc Sci and I tried not to break any bones.

Insert snarky comment about how with America’s fabulous system of healthcare, we wouldn’t have had coverage for any ice-related injuries since Doc Sci had not started work yet…

Once we were moved in, Doc Sci had to turn his attention back to the paying customers – students – leaving me to assemble the furniture, unpack, and set up our home.

After sleeping in twenty different beds in a mere two months, we felt like guests in our new-ish house with brand new furniture. The scars of pro-hoboing must be deep because even after six months here, that feeling has just started to subside.

Since the job in Arizona was only temporary, I wasn’t exactly motivated to really move in – you know, hang pictures, decorate, make things “for real.” Plus, it was hard doing everything alone.

Doc Sci left early in the morning, worked all day, came home for dinner, and then worked again until nearly midnight almost every night in an effort to stay at least one class ahead of the students.

I know this is reality for many families, but it was new to me and just.one.more. adjustment coupled with all the other changes.

The Bright Spot

The bright spot in all of this was that the two of us did not grow apart, though that would have been rather easy to do. We both worked hard in different ways, and we respected each other’s efforts. We asked for help when we absolutely needed it, and gave as much as we could to each other in that time.

Looking back, I do not know how we made it through apart from the grace of God.

Thrifty Travel Mama | A Family of Hobos We Have Been: Indefinite Travel with Kids

Hiking in Arizona!

Our kids managed to overlook our flawed and stressful selves. Although they moaned and complained here and there about having to do school, I think they were just so relieved to not be hobos anymore.

I love to travel, but those months were an adventure I surely do not want to experience ever again.

Things are looking up for us now, maybe because it is summer break or because we have made some friends here and we don’t have any more boxes to unpack. I do still have more pictures to hang and projects I think would make this place more like home. But, we’re getting there. I can feel it. Inch by inch, centimeter by centimeter, minute by minute, day by day. We’re making it.

How about you? Have you ever had to move from place to place, looking for a job? Has a new location shifted your life in a big way?Signature Thrifty Travel Mama

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Thrifty Tricks for Using Your Smart Phone While Travelling

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

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

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

“Now, where do we go?”

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

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

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

Perfect, right? Well, almost.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The blue arrow shows your location on the map.

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

You can zoom into a high resolution view.

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can upload trails and routes to Mapswithme.

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

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

2)   Download offline travel guides with Scribd.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My travel folder in Google Drive.

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

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

4)   Find free Wi-Fi.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Cheap (Family) Eats: Edinburgh Edition

Thrifty Travel Mama | Cheap Restaurants for Families in EdinburghOne of the biggest ways we save money as a traveling family is to stay in a vacation rental and prepare our own meals. A cheap dinner out for a family of 5 can easily be 50 euros, or more if you happen to be in an expensive city like Paris. In Italy, we ate out only twice during our two-week vacation because the prices were high as were the stakes in betting on the quality of the food.

But in Edinburgh, we ate out every day.. for lunch AND dinner. We couldn’t believe the affordability of budget restaurants, the generous portions, nor the variety of mouthwatering dishes.

Now, when I think Scottish food, the first thing that comes to mind is haggis (you, too?). I’m not an adventurous eater, and I often walk on the vegetarian side, so clearly the sheep stomach specialty wasn’t going to be an option. But, I was thrilled to find that not only does Edinburgh have plenty of ethnic food options, but they have some seriously spicy burritos!

Below are a few of our family’s favorite cheap eats in Edinburgh plus a list of restaurants we didn’t have time to visit. You can find more suggestions for kid-friendly restaurants and things to do on my Scotland with Kids Pinterest board.

Our Favorite (Family) Budget Restaurants in Edinburgh

Thrifty Travel Mama | Cheap Restaurants for Families in Edinburgh

Baseball bat burritos at Illegal Jack’s.

Illegal Jack’s. Oh. my. Illegal Jack’s has a reputation for seriously good burritos and even better service. It did not disappoint. It’s not the best Mexican I’ve ever had, but you’d be hard pressed to find anything better for the price in Europe. We ordered two burritos and the beef chili nachos for the five of us to share. The burritos were mysteriously missing lettuce (?). The chicken can’t compare to the tender, marinated strips from Chipotle, but the beans, salsa, and guacamole had a little Mexican party goin’ on inside my mouth. Our favorite, however, was the flaming pile of beef chili nachos smothered in white cheddar cheese. Whoa, Nelly. Add to that free wifi, free refills, and high chairs – I’m already wishing we could’ve gone back for seconds.. and thirds.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Cheap Restaurants for Families in Edinburgh

Nachos!

Wannaburger. Burgers, fries, onion rings, Dr. Pepper, pancakes, MILKSHAKES! I only had to browse the menu (and the prices!) for a few seconds before I knew Wannaburger would be one of our favorite meals in Edinburgh. I wouldn’t list hamburgers on a list of favorite foods, but when we eat them, it reminds us of home and of great American institutions like In-N-Out and Five Guys. The portions are small, in line with the prices (kids meals are TINY). The black bean burger was not what I expected, but in a good way. The kids loved the chicken goujons, but the burgers were the best (pass on the hot dogs). After the blandness of German food, Doc Sci and I fully appreciated the heat that the cajun fries delivered. But, really, the absolute best thing on the menu at Wannaburger is the chocolate milk shake with peanut butter. Dear me, I might have to go recreate that in my kitchen post haste!Thrifty Travel Mama | Cheap Restaurants for Families in Edinburgh

 

Thrifty Travel Mama | Cheap Restaurants for Families in Edinburgh

The best peanut butter shake EVER. If we would’ve known, we wouldn’t have ordered the kids’ size…

The Tailend Restaurant And Fish Bar. While I wouldn’t consider us serious fish & chips fans, we always make a point of indulging in a local chippy whenever we’re in the UK. The Tailend is rumored to be the best fish fry in Edinburgh, and their “to go” prices are a steal. For example, the haddock fish supper comes in at £6 for takeaway; the same fish special sells for nearly double in the restaurant.

Yocoko Noodle Bar. I remember reading somewhere that the service at Yocoko leaned toward the snotty side, so I planned accordingly. In reality, the restaurant was just busy, and the waiters were simply doing their job. Don’t expect warm service, but don’t be put off by their demeanor. This is a student hang-out, after all. One thing that was rather annoying, though, was that one could choose either chopsticks OR a fork, but not both. My husband and I prefer to eat with chopsticks, but the kids haven’t learned yet. It was a bit stressful to arrange for the kids to get forks. But, when our gigantic bowl of udon noodles arrived, I embraced the awkwardness and took the opportunity to slurp my soup. The fried noodles are nothing to write home about; go for the udon instead. The kids went nuts for edamame and fully enjoyed drinking weak-but-free green tea from tiny cups.

Los Cardos. A total Chipotle knock-off (seriously, look at their website), Los Cardos only has one advantage over Illegal Jack’s.. they deliver! I didn’t think it would work since I don’t have a UK phone number, but I somehow was able to set up a dinner delivery for our last evening in Edinburgh. The food arrived on time, hot & fresh. Unfortunately, without salsa, these burritos have no claim to fame. Again, the lettuce was absent (?!), and the rice and beans bordered on bland. But once we heaped the delicious black bean & corn salsa on top, and scooped up the salsa verde with or tortilla chips, we didn’t care. Even Los Cardos on a bad day is better than most German attempts at Mexican food.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Cheap Restaurants for Families in Edinburgh

Burrito from Los Cardos. Just add salsa.

More Cheap Eats

  • The Baked Potato Shop.  Jacket potatoes with your choice of hot or cold filling. Vegetarian and vegan options.
  • Red Box Noodle Bar.  Fast and filling, veggie or carnivore, eat in or takeaway, choose your own Asian noodle box adventure.
  • Viva Mexico. Touted as Edinburgh’s “original and most authentic Mexican restaurant,” I’ve heard rumors of lunch specials for £6, Fajitas for £9, and dinner entrees for £12-15.
  • Black Medicine Coffee Co. Not a restaurant, but a friend who lived there for a year promises this is the best coffee she has ever tasted.
  • Mums Great Comfort Food. If mushy peas or bangers & mash are your thing, I’m told this is the place to indulge.
  • The Holyrood 9A. The burgers are a big pricier here (£9), but they have SWEET potato fries! Red Squirrel is another handmade burger joint with sweet potato fries. Seriously, we need a burger & sweet potato food truck in my city..
  • Union of Genius. Soup Bar – 6 soups daily with a sampler option. Served with artisan bread. Great for warming up on a grey, Scottish day.
  • Mother India. Daily specials and take-away menu items under £6 as well as many (Indian!) tapas dishes under £4. I’m rather disappointed we didn’t have time for this one.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Cheap Restaurants for Families in EdinburghPrices are current at the time of writing. As always, double check restaurant information and current prices before visiting.

Would you have gone for the haggis instead of the habanero? What kind of budget restaurants do you look for when visiting a new city?Signature-Marigold

Cheap (Family) Eats: Paris Edition

Thrifty Travel Mama | Cheap (Family) Eats: Paris EditionParis might be a gorgeous gal, but she’s an absolute shrew when it comes to penny-pinching travelers.

We lucked out on accommodation; a friend of a friend lent us her place for the week. But food was a different story. While we could save money by cooking dinner at the apartment, logistics made lunch out a necessity.

As I briefly mentioned in my post on the French version of Chipotle, 9 euros for one burrito was actually reasonable in Paris! If you want a burger (which hopefully is only the starving expat crowd), be prepared to pay even more. We stumbled upon FrogBurger in the Latin Quarter and couldn’t believe it… 11 euros for a skinny burger?! At least they have some comical brews.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Cheap (Family) Eats: Paris Edition

FrogBurger prices!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Cheap (Family) Eats: Paris Edition

FrogBurger beers.

I combed Pinterest, scoured the Rick Steves city guide, and searched high and low in the blog world for the best budget eats in Paris. Below are a few of our favorites plus a list of restaurants we didn’t have time to visit and a few splurges.

Our Favorite (Family) Budget Restaurants in Paris

Thrifty Travel Mama | Cheap (Family) Eats: Paris Edition

Chez H’anna Falafel with a gigantic grilled eggplant on top.

Chez H’anna. Delicious, fresh falafel for under 6 euros. I could’ve eaten one of these every day! If you want to have a falafel tasting, do not waste your time at Chez Marianne around the corner. See L’As Du Fallafel below which is just down the street from H’anna.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Cheap (Family) Eats: Paris Edition

You never know what you’re going to find at Churrasqueira Galo!

Churrasqueira Galo. A short walk from the Sacré Cœur in Montmarte, this unassuming Portuguese chicken joint serves up gigantic platters for 9 euros. All five of us stuffed ourselves full of rotisserie chicken, salad, rice, and fries. We ordered two platters and barely finished the food. Even David Lebovitz recommends this place.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Cheap (Family) Eats: Paris Edition

My dark chocolate crepe at Chez Nicos.

Chez Nicos. One of the cheapest crêperies we found, and one of the best. The dark chocolate crêpe was stuffed with nearly a whole bar of chocolate! Doc Sci and T-Rex devoured the specialty – Nutella with an entire sliced banana.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Tips for Exploring Paris by Bike for Families with Kids

Eiffel Tower pizza picnic from Pizza la Gourmandise.

Pizza la Gourmandise. Not anything near true Italian pizza, but the pies were a steal compared to most pizzerias in town. We ordered ours to go and ate in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower.

More Cheap Eats

  • L’As Du Fallafel. We ate at Chez H’anna instead, but this one is Lenny Kravitz’s favorite. Beware the queue! Mi Va Mi is across the street to add yet another option to the falafel question.
  • Gusto Italia. Pizza place (takeaway or dine-in) near the Eiffel Tower, slightly more expensive than Pizza le Gourmande. Two locations across the street from each other at 199 and 218 Rue de Grenelle.
  • La Charlotte de l’Isle. A cute and quirky tea room serving loose leaf and hot chocolate. We arrived just as the last customers were seated and the cozy dining room was completely full. Boo.
  • Breizh Cafe. Apparently, they serve the best salted caramel crepes and affordable savory galettes, but we visited on Monday when they were closed!
  • Berko. Another closed-on-Monday strike out, I must’ve been on a salted caramel kick when making trip notes because this cafe has the coveted flavor in meal-replacing cheesecake form.
  • La Crêperie Bretonne. Each crepe costs approximately €7 (as of September 2013), and the Ratatouille galette comes highly recommended.
  • Krishna Bhavan. Indian specialties, suitable for vegetarians and cheapskates.
  • Le Royal. Located on the infamous Rue de Grenelle. Carte highlights: 5 euro omelets, 9 euro plats, 14 euro menus.
  • Apparemment Café. After heavy French food and fried falafel, a create-your-own salad shop would be nice for a change.
  • Smooth In The City. Another stop for those in search of healthier fare. Fresh fruit smoothies and menus available.

Places to Splurge for a Special Treat

Thrifty Travel Mama | Cheap (Family) Eats: Paris Edition

  • Angelina. At nearly 8 euros for a hot chocolate, this cafe is not cheap (nor easy to get into if you visit the location near the Louvre). Sneak into the Angelina tucked into a corner at Galeries Lafayette instead. Sure, the service is snobby, but savoring the liquid chocolate and fluffy cream is (nearly) priceless.
  • Berthillon Ice Cream. Lines were out the door here, even in winter!
  • Pierre Hermé or Ladurée Macarons. These cookies are obnoxiously expensive, but you shouldn’t leave Paris without trying at least one. Bet you can’t guess what flavor I’d recommend… (salted caramel!)

Thrifty Travel Mama | Cheap (Family) Eats: Paris EditionBon appétit! Did I highlight or pass over any of your favorites? Let me know in the comments below!Signature-Marigold

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

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.

19 Cheap & Easy Last-Minute Halloween Ideas

Over the last four years we’ve lived here, I’ve noticed Halloween has become more and more popular in Germany.  While I don’t see trick-or-treating going viral yet, stores have at least started carrying costumes and snacks for the occasion (though sadly, not candy corn).

This year, we’re putting on a small party for some of the kids in our building, and I needed some fun yet simple ideas for food, decor, and activities. 

I really can’t justify going to great lengths to plan an amazing bash.  My kids aren’t even familiar with the word Halloween or what the holiday really entails.  They were too young to remember the holiday in America (and we usually ended up in tinfoil in honor of Chipotle’s free burrito day).  Plus, this year we’re busy getting ready to head over to Scotland (yay!).

So, if you’re strapped for time like I am, check out these inexpensive, cute, last-minute Halloween ideas from Pinterest.  Have more fun food, decor, and crafts?  Leave a link in the comments below!

Food:

Hard Boiled Monster Eggs from Chew Chew Mama

Banana Ghosts and Clementine Pumpkins from Creamty

Spooky Popcorn Hand from Little Nummies

Spider Web Snacks from Mom Endeavors

Pumpkin Pretzels from A Thrifty Mom

Mandarin Orange Pumpkins from Serving Pink Lemonade.

Decor:

Halloween Eyeball Topiaries from Crafts ‘n Coffee

Glowing Recycled Milk Jug Jack O’Lanterns from Sassy Girlz

Trash Bag Spider Webs from How About Orange

Halloween Pac Man Garland from Minieco

Plastic Cup + Sharpie Halloween Lanterns from The Australian Baby Blog

Activities:

Haunted House Halloween Cut Out from Sarah Jane

Q Tip Skeletons from Crafts for all Seasons

Footprint Ghosts from Hand Print and Foot Print Art

Paint Chip Monster and Candy Corn Cards from All Free Holiday Crafts

Leftover Candy:

Candy Bar Cookies from Pip & Ebby

Leftover Halloween Candy Bark from Brown Eyed Baker

Halloween Candy Gingerbread Houses from Cake Central

November Thanksgiving “Advent” Calendar, Harvest Tree, and Turkey Pinata from Alpha Mom

It’s time to break out the craft supplies, corral all the extra candy, and give some of these ideas a try!  Which is your favorite? Signature-Marigold

Apple Madness! A Recipe Round Up to Whittle Your Stash

Thrifty Travel Mama | Apple Madness! Recipes and Ideas for Whittling Down Your Apple StashOur boys so loved picking strawberries this past summer, that I determined we must go apple picking once fall arrived.  Well, fall is certainly here, and her glory is starting to show.  So, a few weeks ago, the boys and I headed out to a nearby farm with some friends to see how we fared at harvesting our own apples.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Apple Madness! Recipes and Ideas for Whittling Down Your Apple StashI was a teensy bit worried that apple picking wouldn’t turn out to be a good activity for little boys who are even more vertically challenged than I am.  Luckily, the fruit was within their reach, and we picked about 13 kilos in less than an hour.

Um, yeah.  13 kilos…

All I can say is that it didn’t SEEM like a lot at the time.  But we were (and kinda still are) up to our eyeballs in fragrant fruit.

So, if you find yourself fortunate enough to be wandering an apple orchard or unfortunately sitting on ten bushels of the suckers, here are some scrumptious ways to use those apples up.

By the way, Kim at Stuffed Suitcase has some excellent tips on going apple picking with kiddos in tow.  Check them out here.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Apple Madness! Recipes and Ideas for Whittling Down Your Apple StashApplesauce.  Duh.  There are a zillion variations (sugar, honey, no sugar, spiced, crockpot, stovetop).  Just pick one, and go with it.  It’s okay if you don’t have any special equipment (I don’t).  We’ve whipped up four batches of silky puree; the kids love making and eating it.

Apple butter.  Contains no butter – apple butter is really just applesauce cooked down further, usually with a little sweetener and spices.  The crockpot method is the most fool-proof, but you can also make it on the stove.  Some recipes contain a LOT of sugar;  I’d recommend only adding a tiny bit of sweetener and then adjusting to taste.

Fruit leather.  You’re basically drying out your applesauce in the oven when you make fruit leather.  Try this easy peasy cinnamon variation.

Apple chips.  Another simple, healthy, kid-friendly snack.  Even the kitchen-challenged can make apple chips.  I like the simplicity of this no-sugar-added recipe.

Dried apple bits.  Make these at the same time as the apple chips, and use the bits in oatmeal or yogurt.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Apple Madness! Recipes and Ideas for Whittling Down Your Apple StashApple S’mores.  This was one of those happy accidents, born out of the desire to make a quick and easy apple dessert that went along with what I was already making for dinner on the grill (these juicy fajitas).  You don’t really need a recipe, but here’s what to do:

Wash your apples, core them, and slice into 1/2″ thick rounds.  If you don’t have an apple corer, use a knife to carefully cut out the core after slicing the apple.  Grill about 5 minutes.  Then flip, and grill the other side.  When the apple slices are done, cool slightly while you roast the marshmallows.  Carefully slide a gooey marshmallow onto an apple slice, and finish with a dollop of apple butter.  Devour while warm.

Baked apples.  I’ve made these in the crockpot and the oven.  My kids loved the Skinnytaste version.  For an extra special treat, serve a la mode.

Apple nachos.  These are on my recipe list for the weekend.  Apples?  Peanut Butter?  Nutella?  Yes, please!

Apple crumble pizza.  An indulgent-yet-healthy dessert.  I served this at brunch with chai tea.  Wowzers.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Apple Madness! Recipes and Ideas for Whittling Down Your Apple Stash

Apple butter donuts.  Alas, I do not have a donut pan, so I made these as muffins.  And instead of the glaze (though I’m sure it’s scrumptious), I filled the muffin cups with half of the batter, then added a tablespoon of apple butter before topping with the remaining batter.

Apple walnut lentil salad.  Crisp, sour apples make excellent salad toppings, especially when paired with spinach.  Add toasted walnuts, cooked brown lentils, and Parmesan cheese.  We ate ours drizzled with a balsamic honey mustard dressing which is really just a hybrid of two of my all-time favorites.

BBQ chicken apple pizza.  Everyone in the family LOVED this pizza variation.  I used an ABin5 dough, slathered it with a thin layer of BBQ sauce, and added finely sliced apples followed by a mix of cheddar and mozzarella cheeses.  I topped it off with BBQ rotisserie chicken and sliced onions.  A new family favorite!

Apple pie grilled cheese.  Change up your lunch routine with this funky sandwich.  Doesn’t it look scrumptious?  I can’t wait to try it!

Apple cheese cookies.  I’ve made these several times now, and they make perfect road trip snacks.  I’ve got a whole post on these babies coming soon!

Scrumptious apple pie.  And last, but certainly not least, if you need a showstopping dessert for any occasion, I can highly recommend this recipe from Pioneer Woman.  You’ll never go back to regular ol’ apple pie again!  (p.s. – it’s pretty easy to make your own caramel sauce!)

Thrifty Travel Mama | Apple Madness! Recipes and Ideas for Whittling Down Your Apple StashIf you’ve been paying attention, I’ve made all of the recipes above (except the nachos and grilled cheese which will be making an appearance at my table very soon)… and I still have more apples! 

So, instead of going bonkers for a few hours on Pinterest, I’d love to hear your favorite apple recipes.  Leave a link in the comments, and I’ll gladly take a peek.

If apples aren’t your thing, don’t worry – pumpkins are next!Signature-Marigold

Make It Yourself: Bagels!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Make It Yourself - Bagels!A bagel is as practical as you can get when it comes to breakfast on the road.  Back when the bagel first became a hot item, bakers could easily display and transport the goods thanks to the giant hole in the middle.

Nowadays, that hole is the perfect size for little hands and an excellent vehicle for a nutritious on-the-go meal.  Fill it with peanut butter, almond butter, cream cheese, whatever!Thrifty Travel Mama | Make It Yourself - Bagels!There’s just one problem.

Germans aren’t into bagels.  Oh, the horror!  But, ’tis true, my Panera- and Einstein-loving friends.  Once or twice a year, the discounter grocery stores sell a package of 3 or 4 “American” bagels full of preservatives.  Outside of that offering, you’ll have to settle for a whole roll.  Thrifty Travel Mama | Make It Yourself - Bagels!So, why not try your hand at making bagels yourself?

Actually, I have tried once or twice.  But, I used the recipe from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.  I love their dough.. for bread.  The bagels turned into a sticky, sloppy disaster.  Thrifty Travel Mama | Make It Yourself - Bagels!I’d given up when I came across this recipe on A Beautiful Mess for everything bagels.  Emma always makes everything look so easy.. and gorgeous!

I resolved to give bagel baking another shot… and score!  We all loved these and chowed down on them while driving through Switzerland on our way to Schilthorn in the Alps.  Thrifty Travel Mama | Make It Yourself - Bagels!For the recipe, hop on over to A Beautiful Mess.  Since comments there are closed, if you make these everything bagels, leave one here instead to let me know how they turned out!  Thrifty Travel Mama | Make It Yourself - Bagels!Need more road trip meal ideas?  I’ll be posting more on this topic very soon!  Until then, click over to my Pinterest board, Meals For Traveling Families, to check out hundreds of ideas.

Signature-Marigold

DIY: Map Wrapped Floor Lamp

Thrifty Travel Mama | Map Wrapped Floor LampHey y’all!  Today I’ve got a fun DIY project to spruce up your home with a little travel style.  I love decorating the house with little touches of trips we’ve taken (or even just imagined).  With an hour and a few materials, you can transform a boring lamp into a conversation piece!

This restyle uses the IKEA HOLMÖ floor lamp, a bargain at $9.99 (€7,99), but you could use any barrel-shaped lamp shade.

Want to make this yourself?  Hop on over to Renee Angela Photography to see the full DIY post.

For more project inspiration, follow me on Pinterest and check out my Travel Crafts & Projects board. 

More of my map projects!  Wall Art & Pencil Holders.Signature-Marigold