Someone once said to me, “Traveling is like getting a tattoo. You do it once and it’s almost impossible to stop there. It becomes a part of you forever.” As someone who never mustered up the courage to get inked, I can only imagine the similarity between the two. Because when it comes to travel – I simply can’t get enough!
It didn’t take long after relocating to Barcelona for the “wanderlust bug” to whisper in our ears! And in Europe, with flights under two hours and less than 100 euros to virtually any country, it’s hard to resist!
If you follow our journey on Instagram at @theexpatchronicle you’ll see the adventures we’ve taken and the smiling faces of our party of five. Does this mean we’ve become expert travelers with it all figured out?
But we’ve learned some good lessons and tips along the way that might be worth sharing. In our short years living abroad we’ve traveled as a family to Vienna, London, Bellagio, Paris and many villages in Spain. All those miles, you sure do learn things along the way!
1. TAKE YOUR TIME!
Too often we cut our time short or failed to fully plan ahead which only achieves one thing – stress for us all! Children are naturally slow movers, easily distracted. It takes my son close to seven reminders to successfully put his socks on! So when you add in dragging suitcases and pushing a stroller while corralling three toddlers and pressed for time, it’s basically the perfect storm! Whether you’re traveling via plane, train or auto my very best advice is to SLOW DOWN, especially when children accompany you.
Leave two hours from the time of your arrival at the airport until your flight departs. This takes into account checking luggage, printing boarding passes, passport checks for international flights, lines at security (and there are always lines) and of course bathroom breaks.
Unfortunately for us, rushing to exit our plane in Milan meant forgetting my two year old’s special baby blankie behind. I realized this after arriving at Baggage Claim on the other side of the airport and knew it was too late to go back. Oh the tears and mom guilt that followed! I still haven’t forgiven myself – but thankfully my little girl was too young to remember! Lesson Learned.
2. HOPE FOR THE BEST, PREPARE FOR THE WORST
If there is one thing Tony and I have learned as parents living and traveling abroad with three young kids, it’s this: shit’s going to happen!!! Stuff will go wrong, blankets will be lost. You just have to roll with it.
Some travel bloggers recommend packing as little as possible – I totally disagree! Take the extra step to consider packing (without getting too carried away of course!) a variety of medications, thermometer, snacks and more snacks, plastic bags (because when was the last time you DIDN’T need a plastic bag?!), ponchos/umbrellas, warm clothing (yes even if traveling to the islands in July – wind exists everywhere!), new toys/activity books for kids, etc.
Also, spare set of house/car keys, photocopies of all important travel documents and portable power bank. This extra “stuff” has made all the difference and offered us a peace of mind.
Don’t assume someone won’t get sick, the weather won’t suddenly take a turn or your wallet (gulp!) won’t get stolen. Sure, its a modern world and anything you don’t have can always be bought – but take it from me. When traveling far from home, you don’t want to be frantically searching for an open Pharmacy at 3am. BE prepared.
One last point about packing essentials. It can be difficult to decide what will keep kids occupied during long flights or road trips – beyond iPad screens! I’ve often selected toys/games that provided no more than an hour of entertainment – deeming it useless for the remainder of the trip.
I love the idea of packing surprise travel goodie bags for your little ones. They aren’t allowed to open them until travel begins. Doesn’t have to cost a lot. Few dollars/euros at the local store can fill a small bag with enough trinkets to last hours.
3. PLAN ACTIVITIES FOR ALL
Your days of leisurely sipping cocktails poolside and waiting to see “how the day unfolds” are OVER if you plan to vacation with young kids. Little ones like knowing what to expect, so do your best to plan a daily schedule while traveling.
No, I don’t mean minute-to-minute – where’s the fun in THAT?! But staying organized with your time and prioritizing activities to make both adults and kids happy will make for a more enjoyable time for everyone. Tripadvisor (http://www.tripadvisor.com) is my GO-TO app for planning trips – where to stay, what to visit, where to eat, which areas to avoid and most importantly what activities are offered for children.
We have a little agreement with the kids when we visit a new foreign city. Our 7, 5 and 2 year olds aren’t necessarily interested in touring the Van Gogh Museum and ancient cathedrals (for my tips on visiting a museum with kids, click https://theexpatchronicle.net/enjoying-an-art-museum-with-kids-yes-its-possible/) However, my husband and I live for these highlights! So we always plan to do both and make sure to prioritize a trip to…say, the amazing Transportation Museum in London which my son freaked over. Or even a stop at the local playground thrilled them all.
Smiles for both kids and parents 🙂
4. CONSIDER THOSE WHO PROVIDE A SERVICE
This goes back to the golden rule, “Treat others how you would want to be treated.” But when traveling with kids, it goes even further than just being polite and respectful. Taking the extra effort to show anyone in a position of service how much you appreciate them can make a huge difference especially during stressful travel moments.
Bus drivers, tour guides, train conductors, airline stewards, restaurant servers – these people can help make your traveling experience either ultra pleasant or perhaps a nightmare!
A great idea I totally stole from a parenting magazine is to pack a little “thank you” bag for an airline steward with candy, a magazine, crossword puzzle and maybe hand lotion. What a great way to let staff know you appreciate them (and in turn, your kids might have a chance to meet the captain or grab an extra blanket).
Little effort for a lot of return!
Happy trails, ya’ll!