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The Top Electronics to Have in Your Car

With the fast-changing world of communication technology available today, gone are the days of travelling with a map book (if you are doing holiday or long-distance travel) and communicating from a phone booth at a roadside restaurant or hotel. Today, we navigate, communicate, and entertain ourselves electronically from the comfort of our seats and with direct efficiency and results. Here is a list of the most important electronic tools to have with you on the road:

– Mobile phone communication is virtually standard in South Africa, and you will not be travelling without your mobile phone. For safety and in compliance with road traffic ordinances, as a driver, your mobile communication must be hands-free, so you should look into installing a hands-free system in your car.

– Navigation today is electronically aided, and you should have a navigational system in your vehicle. Today, these are not just used for directional indication. Live traffic update systems allow you to be directed to your destination by avoiding areas of traffic congestion and accident warning, as well as road policing points, getting you to your destination in the shortest possible time.

– In-car entertainment is now a given when traveling on holiday or with the children for a weekend away. Mobile DVD players are popular, and a range of movies can be viewed on board. Alternatively, you can buy a touchscreen LCD with VGA for in-car entertainment too.

– Digital and portable music systems are always good to have. You can look at a 2-in-1 Bluetooth stereo audio receiver and transmitter for your speakers, on-board TV, mobile phone, and MP3 player.

– Buy an FM transmitter if you don’t have an AUX input into your car radio. This will deliver your iPod’s tunes over an FM frequency to your car stereo for on-demand tunes over a good audio system.

– You might also want to get a mobile digital TV receiver that connects to your car’s existing DVD player and can decode MPEG-2 and 4. Choose one with an HDMI output, a port for PVR, and duel tuner.

– For those times when you are unsure if you are safe to drive, you can have a digital alcohol tester in your car for peace of mind.

– You will need to charge these devices so why not have a power inverter in your car that turns 12v DC current into 220V AC current? You can charge and run your tablets and other devices while driving.

– Alternatively, you can buy a cigarette lighter-driven USB charger that will allow you to charge any of your electronic devices.

– For motoring safety, you can take a portable emergency jump starter in case your battery runs dead during the night.

If you live in or are travelling to South Africa any time soon, you can find any of these electronics on a website like Gumtree.

Image by mroach under Creative Commons license.

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Barcelona: a 3 day Itinerary

In terms of sophistication and European glamour, you don’t get more sparkling than Barcelona. Full of fancy eateries, cocktail bars, fantastic night-life, shopping, sports, and historic architecture, you can’t fail to be impressed by everything this Spanish city has to offer.

Having said that, how do you know what to concentrate on, and what to pass on if you only have a small amount of time to spend in one place? Well, below you’ll find a suggested three days’ itinerary, helping you to identify where you should go, and what you should do during your break in the (hopefully) sunshine.

Day 1

You will have heard of La Rambla, even if you’ve never visited Barcelona, and this is where you should focus your first day’s attentions. You will find winding, cobbled streets with picturesque coffee shops, perfect for a spot of people watching, as well as small eccentric-style shops, where you can easily pick up an unusual souvenir or two. Do beware of pick pockets in this part of the city however, so only carry what you really need.

Next it’s time to move onto the Gothic Quarter where you will find olde-world charm by the bucket-load. You will also find plenty of examples of Gaudi’s work around here, so for fans of history and architecture, remember your camera.

This should take you most of the morning, however the afternoon is about further sightseeing, by jumping on the famous hop on/hop off bus. This is the perfect way to see the major sights, such as the famous cathedral, without giving yourself blisters or getting lost.

Day 2

Whether you like sport or not, the Nou Camp has to be visited. The famous home of Barcelona FC, you can footballer-spot, although you probably won’t see one, and visit the famous trophy room. The size of the place will make your jaw drop, and if you have any sports loving fans in your entourage during your travels, then they will be enthralled by this particular activity.

After yesterday’s busy sightseeing, and your morning walking around the Nou Camp, it’s time to take it easy and line your stomach with some delicious Spanish food. Paella is fantastic around this part of the country, and the seafood is simply divine and fresh. Alternatively, tapas is hugely popular, and a good way to try lots of different dishes, and maybe find a few favourites. Then, head out and party the night away. Head back to the La Rambla area for busy, vibrant night-life.

Day 3

You’ve partied, you’ve shopped, you’ve done the sights, and you’ve probably walked miles, so it’s time to relax. Jump on the R1 train from Station Catalunya under the Plaza Catalunya and head to El Maresme, the coastline just north of the city centre. Here you will find a chilled-out beach vibe, with plenty of opportunity to kick back and relax, and soothe those aching feet, before heading back to the city for your last night of partying.

Photo Credit: Bert Kaufmann under Creative Commons license.

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Buying a Frugal House

Here at Poppy Mom we are all about simple living. Sure, you can do simple living in any home, but if you choose a home that conducive to being frugal, it can give you a massive head start. Here are some of our tips.

– Choose a smaller home. The smaller a house is the less it costs to renovate and maintain. You can go with higher quality finishes because your square footage is less e.g., real wood floors and not laminate.

– You or your real estate agent may be able to get information about the average electricity bill in the past 12 months as well as the highest bill during that period. This will help you know if the house is energy efficient. Pay attention to the direction the house faces and where the windows are positioned so you can ascertain if it’a going to be warm/cool (which of these you prefer will depend on your climate).

– Think about the costs of maintaining the home e.g., is the water bill going to be really high if it has a lot of grass and you’re in an area where you pay for water use?

Spend some time researching all the factors you should consider when you buy a home, before you start looking. There are lots of resources out there online, such as this quiz below, which we’re including below in partnership with the company who’ve developed it.

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How to Negotiate Discounts

1. Ask if there are any ways of getting a discount

e.g., you may be able to get a discount on your car insurance if you take an easy online defensive driving course, or by giving them the details of the college where you received your degree.

Companies won’t offer these discounts until you ask!

2. Sign up to be a member of an organization that has prenegotiated discounts with the company you wish to purchase with.

This is outsourcing the process of negotiating the discount to the organization who has already negotiated it. For example, you can sign up to the Freelancers Union for free just by giving your email address. You’re then able to get discounts on Geico insurance among other perks. Once you know what you want to buy, Google around for organizations that have negotiated discounts with that company.

3. Show evidence of a better alternative offer.

If you can show evidence of another company’s offer you should be able to get the company you want to work with to match or beat that offer, provided that all the terms are similar. Sometimes you can get a company that offers better terms, offers, or perks to match a competitor’s offer. You get the price and the extras you want.

4. Get something extra thrown in.

If there is something you would need to buy anyway, you may be able to get this thrown in with your purchase, which is in effect a discount. Come to negotiations armed with things you are going to need to buy that could be included in your package by the supplier.

For example, someone who is selling you the filing cabinet should be able to throw in a box for files for you. Think about what additional items you would need to purchase immediately to make your purchase usable.

5. Do your research online first.

Car buying is a completely different experience these days because you can do all your research online, see who has the car you want available, and the play these dealers off against each other. Go in knowing the price you want to pay. If they will still make some profit on the deal, it’s in their interests to do the deal.

6. Just flat out ask.

For example, “Can I have a loyalty discount? I’ve been with this company for X years.” Or, emphasize your desire to do future business. Be specific i.e., I’ll be ordering again next month if we can agree on a price.

“Can you give me the wifi for free?” – This actually works at hotels I’ve found!

Sales people are experts in their jobs and you shouldn’t underestimate them. Wherever possible don’t go into situations without information about what discounts it’s possible to get. However when this isn’t possible, ask cold and hope you get lucky with a salesperson who is willing to work with you.

Always questions any assumptions you have about services where it might not be possible to get a discount. However also take care to not give service providers the impression you’re going to be e pain in the butt to work with.

photo credit: Unhindered by Talent via photopin CC

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Multi-Generational Trips to Europe

What’s the big plus of multi-generational travel? Free child care!!

Of course, I also mean quality bonding time for grandchildren and grandparents, as well as for you and your parents.

But really, what I mostly mean is free child care, lol. Who can look past the potential benefits of free child care while traveling, meaning that you actually get some relaxation while on your vacation.

Bringing grandparents on your travels means you have the option of going out in the evenings as a couple since your kids can stay safe “at home” in your hotel or Airbnb apartment with Grandma.

If you’re going to go this route then there are a few things you’ll need to keep in mind.

– Who’s paying? Families vary a lot in terms of financial resources. In some case you should accept that you’ll need to pay for the expenses of your accompanying grandparents. Hey, they changed your nappies and put up with your teenage goth phase, you owe them! At the other end of the spectrum, you may have parents who are financially comfortable and who want to pay for more than their share of the expenses. We know families where the grandparents come on the trip and insist on paying for virtually everything except flights. When they have more money than they can ever spend themselves, they seem to like to do this and it’s not particularly awkward. You just need to make sure you can comfortably pay your share if for some reason they deviate from their usual pattern.

– Grandparents may have some special needs. For example, consider their ability to walk up stairs. Some places in Europe don’t have elevators so think about that before you book a 3rd floor apartment or budget hotel. Since you’ll be doing more walking than usual, everyone will probably be tired and not have much energy by the end of the day. The types of trips that allow for more relaxation and less walking, are things like French river cruises and tours.

– If you’re travelling somewhere with a hot and/or muggy climate make sure the apartment or a budget hotel you book has good air-conditioning.

– You will need to pace your days slower when traveling with young children and older adults. If your kids are still taking naps then this can be a good reason for everyone to have a siesta in the mid afternoon or for just a long leisurely picnic lunch back in your apartment.

– If you’re hiring a car, keep in mind that it might not be as easy for older people to squeeze in the back. It’ll probably be cheaper to book a large size car at the outset rather than upgrade at the rental car counter. Rental agencies will likely have much more inventory of very small cars in Europe since small cars are more common there than in the US. You’re therefore probably less likely to end up with a free upgrade to a large car based on them running out of small cars, as often happens in the US.

Photo Credit: Creative Commons, Dany13

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Cutting Down Your Travel Costs When Travelling as a Family

When you travel with kids you’re going to need to expect that your costs will go up compared to travelling as a couple or as a solo traveller.

Here are a few things to consider:

– Hotels will tend to charge you for extra rollaway beds for the kids. In the US, you can usually book a room with 2 queens and make that work for a family of 4 by having 1 adult sleep with 1 kid in each bed. However in many places, you won’t have the option of two queens. A good solution is to buy a portable travel bed for your child and take it with you. Have them try sleeping in it at home so you can make sure they will sleep in it before you leave on your trip – that way you can return it if your child refuses to use it. There are quite a few options available from Walmart or Target and the like.

Don’t forget annual multi trip travel insurance as an option for saving money if you take more than one international trip a year. Insurance is important as a solo traveller but it’s even more important when you’re travelling with kids. You don’t want to even think twice about whether you take them to the doctor or emergency room if any mishaps happen or they’re not feeling well. Make sure you shop around as there can be large differences in the premiums and coverage, what is best for one family won’t be best for another.

– Eating out. Kids usually don’t want to eat at a restaurant for every meal. In fact, we know lots of travelling families who don’t eat at restaurants at all when they travel because their kids don’t like to sit still and wait for food, and it’s more hassle than it’s worth. Overseas it may be harder to get a high chair at restaurants than it is in the US. Consider eating more meals in your hotel room, or stay in vacation apartments. You might also consider doing takeaway. If you don’t have access to cooking facilities, you can still usually make do with picnic style meals. Take some basic picnic supplies like plastic plates. Brainstorm some ideas for hotel room picnic style meals in advance. If your kids eat toast for breakfast every morning, you might even consider purchasing a cheap toaster for your room. If your kids like cereal, then make sure you book a room with a mini fridge.

– If budget is a big issue but you still want to travel, consider buying cheap camping gear at your destination. We prefer renting a car and bringing a tent to renting a campervan. Buying gear at your destination will often be cheaper than hauling it with you, but do the sums. Camping gear can be expensive in some places such as Australia and New Zealand. For some countries, bringing it is definitely the best option. If tenting is too rustic for you, you may be able to rent cheap cabins at campgrounds or book a family room at a hostel.

Photo credit: Creative Commons, Aidan

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Paris for Families

Paris is known for romance, but can it also be a family travel destination?

- Pastries!

Just as for adults, food can be a trip highlight for kids too. Your kids will probably even find McDonalds in Paris entertaining because the menu is in French, but what kid isn’t going to love a trip to the boulangerie. Do a bit of research in advance to find out which pastry and baguette shops you are keen to hit.

No matter how old your child is, try to teach them a little bit of the language. Older kids can try asking for their baguette in the store. Younger children can learn how to say Bonjour and Merci. You’re bound to get a great response from Parisians if you’re kids are trying out their French.

- Falafel in the Marais.

Falafel in the Marais is another family-friendly meal idea. It’s delicious, healthy and inexpensive.

- Smaller Museums

If you’re going to take on a museum you might choose something like the wonderful Musee D’orsay over the Louvre. Now it’s not small, but it’s not as giant as the Louvre and the queues tend to be shorter. Make sure you pace yourself and don’t expect your kids’ attention span while travelling to be much longer than it is at home.

- The Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower is iconic enough that even most kids will be interested in seeing it. Going up to the top can involve long waits so make sure you’ve had some nap time if you plan to try going to the top of the tower in the evening.

- Disneyland Paris.

If you’re planning a trip to Paris and want to make sure you’re kids feel that their preferences are being taken into account, then Disneyland Paris is a no brainer. Shop around for your Disneyland Paris kids tickets to look for the price and package that works best for your family. It’s tempting to get a long multi-day pass since the cost per day is less but remember you don’t need to see everything on one trip. Disneyland is fun but there is a lot else in Paris that is worth devoting time to.

- Segway tours

If your children are 12 and over they’ll likely enjoy a Segway tour. You can even do night time tours. For younger children, you’re more limited to the hop on, hop off buses but bear in mind that there can be significant amounts of waiting involved with these too.

Our main tip for a trip to Paris is to plan to do much less than you’re thinking. Give your kids lots of chill out time so that they won’t be too tired or grumpy to tolerate waiting in line. Allow them to have some time playing on their computers or tablets at the hotel rather than expecting them to be on the go all day. Ideally, try to keep to the same schedule of bed, meal and nap-times that you do at home.

Photo Credit: Creative Commons, Jeremy Thompson

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Exploring Less Familiar Regions

When Americans go to Europe, they typically go to London, Paris, and if they’re feeling adventurous, Tuscany. However there is much more to Europe than just these hotspots. Many people we know say they have a better time in “second cities” than in capitals. I’m sure this is partly an expectations issue. For example, our expectations of like Paris tend to be so high, and our travel dreams don’t feature a subway that smells like pee, long lines at the Louvre, all those types of travel realities.

What if you want to do free ranging exploration? Young travelers will often get a rail pass to explore Europe, or go on a bus tour. Rail passes are slightly less good value now because of the abundance of budget airlines but are still definitely an option to consider (as are point to point rail tickets).

Organized bus tours are falling out of favor, especially with with millennials who want a more unique experience and have confidence in being able to arrange their own travel due to the internet. There are other ways to get around, ranging from cycling at the very inexpensive (but hard work) end, or if you’ve got the budget, then luxury river cruising in Europe . The cruises take in some of the most historical cities like Prague, Budapest, and Nuremberg. Looking at the itineraries cruises use is a great way to think about what route you might like to take. The great thing about Europe is that traveling from country to country is like traveling from state to state in the US because the distances are much shorter. International travel by land (or water) is definitely a viable option.

When you’re thinking about going somewhere like Prague or Budapest, remember that these aren’t particularly exotic or intimidating destinations for Europeans and Brits. They are just normally cities. You’ll easy find a hotel and a Starbucks ;-) or the location equivalent. Even vegetarians shouldn’t have too many problems travelling in these regions. For example, Happy Cow has over 50 listings of vegetarian or vegetarian friendly restaurants in Prague.

If you still feel a bit unsure, what can you do to feel more confident? You could try the following: Talk to other people who’ve travelled extensively in Europe. If you plan to travel with kids, then talk to people who’ve done it with kids. If you’re planning a trip to London, Paris, or Florence, then why not add a few extra days to see somewhere this just slightly more adventurous. Somewhere in Eastern Europe would be a great option but you could also do a second city just in the main country you’re visiting. Using this method, you’re still spending most of your time somewhere you know you’ll like but can step outside your comfort zone just a bit. Once you’ve organized your own travel a few times you’ll most definitely become bitten by the travel bug. Fortunately the more you travel, the more you’ll learn to travel well on less money.

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How to Teach Your Kids to Be Good Travellers

Travel broadens the mind, but for kids it is also a case of travel really teaches them about the world, opens their eyes, and shows them differences and cultures. It is probably the best education there is, other than academia of course, so just how do we teach our little ones to be respectful and adventurous travellers?

Here’s five tips.

1. Help them learn some of the local language.

I’m not suggesting fluency, or even full sentences, but just ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ are major steps, and also instils the importance of manners, which is one of the most important lessons in life as a general rule. A fun way to do this is by downloading an app which help them learn in a colourful and game-like way.

2. Practice eating street food, as well as in restaurants and fancy hotels.

Street food is a huge part of many cultures, and if you’re trying to travel on a budget too, you might find this the best option, and eating at a fancy restaurant every night will stretch even the most flexible of budgets. Many parents are a little wary of snacks bought in this way, because of the possibility of meat not being cooked properly or cross-contamination etc, but looking for vegetarian options will cut out worries over meat, or other foods that are deemed ‘safer’. It’s also a good idea to carry a small tub of anti-bacterial gel for washing hands on the go afterwards, which helps them also understand hygiene and travel.

3. Speak to people of different backgrounds in your home country.

Even without travelling, you can quickly and easily help your children understand that differences in where people are born or their backgrounds is just a difference, and that we are all equal at the end of the day, and that really, differences are what make us who we are. A good way to do this is to encourage them to mix with everyone, not just others the “same” as you, e.g. other middle class white people in your area, if that is who you are, etc. Visit Asian supermarkets, which also shows differences in cuisine and helps avoid food fads, and encourage welcoming behaviour to new neighbours from different backgrounds. Showing that equality is important is invaluable for life as well as travel.

4. Celebrate festivals and important landmark days

This doesn’t have to involve celebrating religious festivals of religions that aren’t your own, but discussing what they are and what they mean helps build understanding. A check on any calendar will give you the important days to note down. Also celebrate days such as Chinese New Year, by having a theme evening maybe, or Australia Day and discussing what happened on that day and what people do to celebrate etc. If you do this in a fun way, this is more likely to stick in their minds.

5. Encourage inquisitiveness, but discuss safety

Being scared of travel isn’t a good thing, yet on the other hand, being too gung-ho can equally be worrying. To get a happy medium, encourage inquisitiveness where travel is concerned, but talk about the importance of staying safe, such as crossing roads, not being too trusting etc, without instilling fear of the unknown. Road safety as a whole is a general skill, but explaining about how people drive on different sides of the road in some countries, how you need to look both ways and then again is useful. Also talk about things like holding onto your belongings when travelling, and not taking valuable things out with you.

Travel is a treat, and being respectful of different cultures and countries is something that all children should learn at a very early age.

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Achieving Connection with Grandparents Who Live Far Away

Grandparent-grandchild relationships are some of the most special relationships in a child’s life. If the grandparent lives far away, they might only come for occasional visits, especially if they don’t like to travel.

Here are some suggestions for building and maintaining a strong connection between grandparents and small children.

1. Show don’t tell.

Little kids, especially wee boys, usually aren’t interested in long phone conversations. However what they love is to see things.

Show:

– the view out your window

– what you have in your fridge e.g., show them the yoghurts in your fridge and ask them to show you their yoghurts.

– new purchases you’ve made.

2. Dollar store or locally made presents.

Send small presents back and forth. These can from a dollar store or might be locally handmade presents, if you’re travelling in developing countries. Get in the habit of finding out the cheapest ways to ship items and looking out for small, light items that are easy to mail.

If you have friends visiting from where your grandchildren live, send them home with a package.

3. Display their artwork.

Print out artwork your grandkids have done and display it. Alternatively, they can mail their artwork. Take photos of their artwork in your house or show them it over video.

Grandparents: try waiting till your grandchildren are on a video call with you to open any mail you have received from them.

Artwork can also go the other way: Grandparents can do artwork and send it to their grandkids.

4. Carry photos.

If you’re travelling around, travel with a photo of your kids and their grandparents together. Carry in a way that leads to them looking at it frequently. For example, your child may have a photobook of memories from home, that they can view themselves and show to people they meet on their travels.

5. Keep conversations short.

Short conversations beat long conversations. If price is off putting, download a free calling app to make it easier. Even very small kids love apps and can figure out how to use them! If grandparents don’t have smart phones then, using an
international calling service can be a workaround to still get cheap calls.

6. Let them know when you’re going to see them next.

Virtual communication is all well and good but nothing beats real life hugs and in person time. Try to see them twice a year, or once a year if twice a year isn’t possible. Make this a priority. For example, plan vacations together where possible. Older children may even want to go stay with grandparents as unaccompanied minors, if grandparents are in good enough physical/mental shape to take care of them.
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There are some more tips on this topic here.

photo credit: LennyBaker via photopin cc