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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

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The Golden Rules of Simple Eating While Traveling

If you eat regularly at restaurants in the US, you’re almost guaranteed to pack on weight and consume far too much fat and salt. As an alternative, I like to self-cater while traveling. However, I just stay in normal hotel rooms. Usually they only have a fridge but sometimes they have a microwave or there is one available in the lobby.

Here’s how I make it work.

Rule 1: 4 ingredients max.

At home you can buy a bunch of ingredients, fill up the fridge and know you’ll use everything within a week or so. When traveling I stick to only meals that I can make with 4 ingredients or less. Usually this means under $13 or so for the meal, even if I need to buy all 4 ingredients.

Rule 2: Ingredients that can do double duty.

For example, wraps can be used to make mexican inspired burritos or middle eastern style hummus wraps, or a bunch of other options. Buy ingredients you know you’ll be able to use in multiple different meals with different flavor profiles.

I love baked savory tofu. The flavor is just a hint of umami and saltiness. Therefore it will work with Italian, Mexican, anything you like.

You can also get precooked vacuum packed lentils in many supermarkets. These can be used to add protein to salads, sandwiches etc.

Rule 3: Two fat options.

Choose whether you want cheese, mayo, butter/marg, or avocado but not all of these. Make do with two. This will give you some versatility in your dishes without a lot of waste.

Rule 4: Instant oatmeal is your friend.

You can make instant oatmeal in a hotel room by using the coffee maker for hot water if your hotel’s lobby doesn’t have hot water/coffee available. Instant oatmeal will work for an early breakfast or late night snack.

If you have an early flight the next day, grab some oatmeal sachets and a banana from the hotel breakfast (skip the breakfast – it might be free but it’s not free in terms of unhealthiness).

Hotels often start breakfast too late for people who have morning flights.

Rule 5: Convenience doesn’t have to be frozen and microwavable.

For example,

- If you stick to the 4 ingredient rule, it’s just as easy to make your own burritos as it is to buy frozen.

- You can get prewashed greens for sandwiches and salads.

- Having a basket of fruit visible in your room will encourage you to eat it. They say “out of sight, out of mind” and of course the reverse is also true.

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The Transition to Travel with Kids

If you’re making the transition to travel with kids, here are some of the things you need to think about:

1. Packing

If you’ve previously been a carryon only traveler and traveled very light then there can be a bit of mourning associated with packing for family travel. Kids need lots of changes of clothes and at least a few toys. You’ll often also need to bring both a car seat and a stroller. You’ll need to practice pack long before the night prior to your departure. Family travel blogger Keryn from Walking on Travels has some great packing tips and lists for traveling with babies and toddlers. She’s an inspiration because she often travels solo with her two little ones.

2. At the airport

Packing itself is often easier than figuring out how you are going to manuever all that stuff plus your child/ren through the airport. Sometimes it’s like you never have enough hands, and even getting all or stuff onto one trolley takes a bit of practice. This is of course much easier if there are two adults traveling or if you have another adult (such as Grandma) who can at least help you get checked in. Of course, even when you’re one adult with one or more kids, it can be done. Just expect there to be a learning curve. Allow time and bring plenty of snacks and drinks to keep the kids happy.

3. Is the place you want to book even child friendly?

Do they allow children? Do they have extra fees for kids in the room? When you’re not a parent, you typically don’t even think about whether somewhere is child friendly or not. Some sites allow you to easily see that information. For example, if you booking a trip in Europe, Neilson holidays has a “family friendly” tick box so they will only show you family friendly resorts. Therefore you don’t have to sort through to find that out yourself. They have holidays to Greece and Turkey, which are ex-UK so if you’re coming from the US, you could have some city time in London and some play time in the sun. Yes, you can still take that dream trip to Greece or Turkey if you’re a parent!

4. Are there enough activities for my child’s energy level?

Especially if you have a little guy who NEEDS to go to the playground every day to burn off excess energy then you might consider an all-inclusive that has kids play options right there. You might find the idea of the beach relaxing but your kids might find it too boring unless there is more to play with than just water and sand.

5. What gear do I need to buy?

It’s far easier to travel with bedding for little kids rather than . Things like this Nap and Go Bed for babies under 18 months is a good place to start.

6. Who am I going to travel with?

You might be used to traveling alone but when you have kids, it can often make sense to try to coordinate trips with “babysitters” and by this I mean free babysitters like Grandparents or dotting aunties. A big carrot can be if you’re renting an apartment or villa and can provide your free babysitter with some accommodation for their stay. This often works out great for all concerned.

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Educational Travel Games for Kids

Passing the time during a long journey, or even a short one, can be a nightmare when you have kids in tow. “Are we nearly there yet?” – how often do you hear this throughout the course of a journey?

You might want to shout “not yet!” but you have to understand that travelling for little ones, or even big ones, isn’t the same as it is for adults. We understand that it takes time to get somewhere, and that the waiting is worth it, but they don’t, they just want to get where they’re going, and are usually over-excited as a result. The key? Stay calm, take deep breaths, and your serene exterior will hopefully seep its way to your children.

Despite that, the key is also to keep them entertained, and thanks to modern technology, with iPads and tablets now owned by most families, games with an educational twist can be played on the go quite easily.

There’s no excuse not to instil a bit of learning into a journey, after all, you might as well put the waiting to good use. Age plays a part in what kind of games you can play, so let’s check out a few suggestions.

Younger children (ages 0 to 6)

Bingo – a quick internet search will give you plenty of worksheets you can print out, and a fun child-friendly game of bingo is a great pass-the-time idea, which also helps children recognise numbers. You can also play this with shapes for the younger children in this bracket. The winner gets to pick a treat!

Match colours and shapes – again matching colours and shapes is a game of repetition, which is how we learn best. You can easily print out some shapes and colour blocks before you leave and put them in your travel bag, whipping them out when boredom kicks in, and this is also a different twist on a game of snap!

Words that start with… – Practising the alphabet and developing vocabulary is easily done on the go, simply say a letter, and get your little ones to give you a word that begins with that letter. Again, a prize for the best suggestions.

Eye spy – I’ve put this in the younger age range, but its great for any age really, and also helps develop awareness of surroundings and the alphabet again. You can pass hours with this one!

Older children (ages 6 plus)

iPad – Older kids do tend to turn towards technology for keeping their minds active. Whilst the iPad is great for playing games, you can also download some educational apps and play them together. Even games such as Candy Crush Saga can be used to help develop matching skills, but why not download a language app and learn some of the language of the country you’re heading to, together as a family?

Carmen San Diego – The famous computer programmes aimed at children of around 8-12 years will pass hours, and they won’t even realise they’re learning. Cleverly using characters and plots, weaving in word play and using alliteration, this is a good way to learn language skills and vocabulary, and can be done on the go.

Country’s flags and currencies – Weave learning into where you’re going, by matching flags and currencies, flags and languages etc.

As you can see, all our suggestions take away the focus of learning, yet sneakily kids will develop skills whilst they’re doing them. That’s the best way to do it in my opinion! Imagination games, word play, using awareness of space and surroundings, asking questions on what they think things are, and discussing it – these are all ways to pass the time and learn something along the way.

 

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Managing Your Digital Life Made Simple

Life these days is lived increasingly in mid-air, somewhere we can’t see, in the ether if you will. It can be easier paper-wise, so you don’t have a drawer full of receipts and files, but whilst you can’t see all this information, it can feel like you have no reins on it, no control. This is all a bit of a recipe for stress.

So, how can we organise our digital life, so to speak, to make it less stressful, more streamlined, and less destructive on those forests by cutting down the paper?

Be password savvy – Any secure website will require a password, and it’s never advisable to use the same password for them all. If you get hacked then you’re running a huge security risk if you don’t mix it up a little. Variety is the spice of life, after all. Having said that, you don’t want to be remembering a head full of different passwords, and you certainly don’t want to be writing them down. A good way to use a password manager like Last Pass. Always generate important passwords using a strong password generator, rather than using real words.

Back up your files – Whilst they’re not paper-based, computer files still need to be organised and backed up. If your computer dies, you don’t want to be losing all your data, so for that I’d recommend using Dropbox as the cloud-type of storage you read so much about these days. Simply logging into your account will drag your information down from the sky and onto whichever machine you log into. Simple, and much safer.

Organise your files – Creating folders for the month and storing all paperwork relating to that month within it will make it easier to find things on the go. You can easily download your online statements etc and store them in that particular months’ folder. To keep it up to date again, delete folders after, say, three months, and keep it on a rolling system, so you don’t end up with a computer full of useless folders from four years ago!

Spreadsheets – They sound geeky, but they’re really not. If you’re a freelance worker, or undertake any kind of freelance work, then you will of course need to keep records of your work for tax purposes. I find a spreadsheet is a good way to keep a basic running tally, to go alongside the other records you need to keep. A simple tally like this will help you make quick calculations, rather than stressing yourself out with trawling through more complicated records.

Review regularly – When you’re trying to go paperless, you’re basically streamlining your life, so the key is to keep it simple. If it’s not working for you, play around with it a bit, and keep updating everything as you go. I don’t like to leave things to pile up, because that’s what clutters my mind and leads to stress. If you can keep on top of your admin, then you’ll be freer and more organised as a result.