10 Tips for Traveling with Kids

My Top Ten Favorite Travel Hacks for Vacationing with Kids10 Tips for Travelling with Teenagers

We just returned from our second two-week trip through Europe with our kids and although we had a few small mishaps (aka setting off the train station alarm in Brussels) we also picked up a few great hacks to share.

While making an adventure like ours (15 days, six countries, seven hotels, plains, ferries, trains and automobiles) work is helped by the fact that I travel globally about 100 days per year for work, I think these easy tips can make family travel with kids less stressful for any family.

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Visit the Google Information page to view the busiest days and times to visit.

  • Research, Plan, & Prepare: There are a number of times where spontaneity is delightful – an unplanned evening out, or day at an amusement park for instance – but an extended family vacation is not that time. Do your research, use tools like Google Flights, and Google localized business pages to plan for the best value on your airline tickets, or best time of day to visit museums and popular attractions.
  • Pack Light, Use Local Amenities, & Buy as You Go: When traveling with children use the rule of twos: only bring the amount of luggage and gear that can be carried with two hands per person: that means four people, no more than eight pieces of luggage or gear (that includes suitcases, carry on, purse, strollers, or diaper bags). Hotels offer cribs, rental car companies offer child safety seats, and diapers are available in every city of the world. Don’t let your luggage dictate your adventure!
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Everything we packed for four people on a two week trip to Europe.

  • Bring the Best: To help the packing light process along, CURATE! Only bring the best: the shoes you love to wear, your comfiest most fashionable clothes – not the T-shirt with the stain for lounging around bring the silk pajamas, and pack the makeup you use every day, don’t “try” something new on vacation. 
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    I like these cosmetic pot jars for skincare, hair gels, and liquid makeup.

    Consider repotting items into smaller containers if needed. Travel is not the time to bring your “good enough” items because you’ll find yourself feeling less energized and more weighted down, instead bring your best stuff and USE it. That’s the whole point. Marie Kondo your vacay and only bring the items that spark joy.

  • Book Flights Early and Reserve Your Seats in Advance: The time to save money is NOT by booking the lowest cost econo seats that give you seat assignments at the airport, that guarantees unnecessary stress (I’ll go into tips on saving money on travel in a later post).  Buy your way out of travel stress. Book directly through the airlines (more on that later) and select your seats, and potentially your flight days and times, based on the most desirable locations, get aisle seats, toward the front of the plane, and read up on the inflight amenities so you know what to expect.

Pro Tip: For the best prices, book flights mid-week, always including a Saturday night stay, six to twelve weeks in advance, and ALWAYS book seats that allow you to review the seat map and select your seats first.

  • Book Flights the Right Way: An airline snafu can throw your entire adventure out of order, and correcting that snafu becomes exponentially more complicated if you book through a third-party site because, if your flight gets canceled or rescheduled to an unworkable time and needs to be rebooked you’ll have to call the third party, who will then call the airline, and all that game of telephone wastes your valuable travel time. Trust me, it isn’t worth the $10 you’ll save, and you’ll have access to more perks (like travel apps and lower cost upgrades) when you book directly through the carrier. Airlines really are the best way to get the best deals, especially if you’re flexible about the time of day, days of the week, and when applicable the airports (I.e. Miami vs. Fort Lauderdale).
  • Understand Your Hotel Amenities: Read the fine print on your hotel booking, is there a resort fee? What does it include? Is there a free breakfast? What hours is it available, will you actually be at the hotel to enjoy it and make it worth the extra cost? The best way to maximize your hotel stay is to read all the little details on the “about” page, calibrate your expectations, and know all the little extras you’re entitled to, I.E. a welcome drink, free internet, complimentary coffee or happy hour reception. Today’s hotels offer a lot of little perks you’ll only learn about by reading the fine print. But, just as these little extras can really add to your experience, hidden fees can bump up the cost for parking, daily hotel taxes, and resort fees which can be as high as $60 a night!
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    Working on our “Daily Briefing” travel itinerary.

    Go slow to go fast: It can be tempting to go-go-go and try to pack every activity into your itinerary, figuring out your route on the way, but with Kids (and husbands) this can turn into sun-baked meltdowns. Instead, create a daily plan of activities you’d like to do, in order of proximity (remember transit times, lines, and security) and outline a rough but flexible time of day to hit each spot, then choose one or two as your “must do” and the rest as “would be nice”. That way, if you show up to the Churchill War Rooms in London to see a line around the block, you can easily decide to skip it and move on to the next, less crowded activity.

  • Skip The Lines: One way to derail a family vacay is to expect people to complacently wait in a line for some must-do activity, restaurant, or boat ride. Instead, book Activity Passes in advance that let you skip the line or the ticket window, research after hours your options (like visiting the Colosseum at night). Every time I walk out of the Vatican Museum to see people waiting in a three-hour line to get in I shake my head. Ten minutes of advanced planning can get you out of that line and into the Sistine Chapel without incident, and usually with only a nominal additional charge. Visit the websites for each of the locations you plan to visit and research if appointments are available for the sights you’d like to see – especially in Italy where reservations to the most popular sites are an absolute MUST and don’t cost extra.
  • Spring for Space: When booking hotel rooms, read the room descriptions that list square footage. Go for the larger room if possible, that extra ten feet, or with older kids, second adjoining room, can add so much extra luxury and comfort to your vacation.  I’d forgo an extra night of vacation rather than downgrade to the smallest most economical room available.  I know that people often say that “Hotel rooms don’t matter, you’re only in it to sleep” but, SLEEP is critical! Which leads me to my final tip.
  • Schedule Sleep: Tired cranky families fall apart on vacation, meltdowns, runny noses, forgotten passports, brothers throwing fisticuffs in Vienna hotel rooms – this all comes from being overtired.  When planning a trip it can be easy to overlook the importance of eight uninterrupted hours of sleep (at least most nights) but don’t! If you have a busy day the night before, arrange for a leisurely morning the day after.  I know that we all want to maximize our go-go-go fun-button-punching while on a trip, but getting that little extra sleep will ensure that you can maximize your travel fun and minimize mishaps that come when your brain is run down from too much going.

What did I miss?  What are your favorite travel tips to remember?

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Rhine River Ferry: One Day Itinerary with Teens

Our German River Cruise Experienceimg_1438-2

Five years ago, as an extended family, we took an amazing two-week river trip down the Danube. While we were by far the youngest travelers on the ship we found the relaxed pace and force-fed charm was a perfect way to see the villages of Germany.

So, you can imagine our delight when we learned that DIY single-day River Ferries for the more adventurous set are available as an alternative to the two-week leisure cruise.

Correction: Now having done the river ferry, the set is not “more adventurous” apparently river cruising is something most often done by the senior set.

About the Rhine a River Ferries

Each morning, starting in Cologne and Mainz KD Ferry operates boats heading up and down the Rhine River. Most people prefer to start their ferry experience in Mainz and head north to Cologne (getting the prettiest portion of the route earlier in the day and taking advantage of the quicker speeds the follow traveling with the current). But, we were traveling from Brussels and Bruges, so beggars can’t be choosers.

P.S. – the additional speed of the current once you leave Boppard is nominal, don’t believe the people who make it sound like disaster will ensue if you take the Ferry “upstream”.

Rhine River Cruise Itinerary

We started the day in Cologne and took an early morning train to Boppard, skipping some of the earlier but less high-impact stops so that we could allow our boys a little sleeping-in time (to ensure domestic tranquility) and arrived in Boppard at 11:00 AM.

Boppard Along the Rhine PromenadeStarting the day in Boppard with a pleasant stroll along the Rhine Promenade

Our day in the Rhine was made en-route from Belgium to Switzerland where we’ve planned to spend two nights and three days, so we were traveling with luggage; and although we are a carry-on family, we’ve decided to focus our Rhine stops in cities that offer luggage storage which meant St. Goar and Bacharach where we stowed our luggage at the Tourist Information offices.

Tips for Luggage Storage in Bacharach and Saint Goar

I did a lot of research before the trip and had a hard time understanding the logistics, so I’ll break it down for you for convenience:

Saint Goar offers luggage storage (free) upstairs at the Saint Goar Tourist Information Center. They close for lunch from 1:00 – 2:00, and for the day at 5:00 PM, so plan accordingly. There is a convenient shuttle stop to Burg Rheinfels Castle, just a half block down from the TI (at the gas station) so it was super easy to hop off the Rhine Ferry, walk 1/8 mile to the TI, Store our bags, and go up to the Castle.

Bacharach also offers Left Luggage services at the Bacharach Tourist Information Office just a few blocks south of the Cathedral on the Main drag. Once again, they close for lunch mid-day, and have a hard stop at 4:59 for luggage storage pick up, but it’s free (though the attendant is about as unfriendly as they come) and a convenient way to take the Rhine Ferry and still find workable luggage storage.

Taking the KD Rhine Ferry

I purchased our Ferry Tickets in advance through KD Rhine (I’m a fan of skipping lines wherever possible and tend to get a better conversion rate when I book in the USA). The process of turning in our voucher for tickets in Boppard was easy and painless.

To cap off our exciting day on the Rhine we spent the evening at the Hotel Lindenwirt of Rudesheim am Rhein.

TBH: I would have skipped Bacharach if I’d known Rudesheim would be so charming, but it was cool to see the Werner Cathedral Ruins.

Hotel Lindenwirt, Rudesheim, Germany

Photo: Courtesy Hotel Lindeniwrt

Cologne to Mainz KD Rhine Ferry Schedule

Favorite Rhine Travel Videoimg_1438-2

 

Classic Sunday Dinner

In my mind Sunday dinner equals family, gathered around a table, for a hearty meal. Perfect Sunday DinnerIdeally, the meal should be eaten at a leisurely pace, with the table cleared between courses, a tablecloth, and linen napkins.

In my mind nobody does hearty, leisurely, cuisine quite like the French.

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Casual French Cuisine

My go-to Sunday dinner:

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Desktop Organization

It had never once occurred to me to “organize” my desktop.

Sure, I purge every now and again, search, find, and lose – but never have I really organized this space that I use every day, all day long.  I just hadn’t put much thought into it.  Until I came across Iheartplanners, a blog dedicated to all sorts of organizational tips and tricks – and this post about desktop organization graphics.

Her blog got me all sorts of excited about how to maximize my own desktop space and viola, twenty minutes of Power Point later my desktop is as gorgeous as that desk calendar I’m still searching for.  Have you found an adorable, affordable, date neutral option?

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Feel free to use any of my desktop graphics, or make your own using the “Format Background” tool in Power Point.

Desktop Graphic, Purple:

Desktop Graphic - Purple

Desktop Graphic, Green:

Desktop Graphic - GreenDesktop Graphic, Gray:

Desktop Graphic - Gray

Other organization blogs I like include:

30 Minute Laundry

My 30 Minute Laundry Routine

Laundry isn’t exactly the sort of topic that gets everyone all up in a lather with excitement, but it’s something that must be done … into each life a little Tide will fall.

When I’m home for a good long stretch, Sunday laundry day is one of my favorite days of the week. And, by applying my professional know how to this seemingly endless task, I’ve figured out how to take a week’s worth of laundry for four into a 30 minute task (wash and dry time not included).

Laundry Hacks My Approach:

Step 1: Build Laundry Mountain

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On Sunday morning I start the washing machine loading up alternating batches of colors (I don’t sort jeans, towels, or laundry types just keep it simple – whites together and colors together). I alternate between white and colors so I don’t run out of hot water for other favorite Sunday tasks: bubble baths.

As each load finishes I dump it on my master bed. With loads of whites I leave the socks in the laundry basket and just pile the next load right on top of it, as the day goes on, my layer of socks gets bigger and bigger.

Then, I turn on the terrible reality television, do a little yoga, and move on with my day. Every time I pass the laundry room I status check and advance the ball. By 3:00 pm, I’m five Kardashian episodes down and the clothes for my family of four are washed and dried, and toppling over my bed.

Step 2: Quick Sort

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After the laundry is ready for processing I do a quick sort based very roughly on “type” rather than by person. All jeans in a pile, all kitchen towels in a pile, shirts, items for hanging up, etc. And still, all socks remain in the hamper.

By this point, I’m two minutes in and an overwhelming project has become quite bite-sized (though I still wish I could get my boys not to automatically throw every clirty* item into the laundry.

Step 3: Muscle Memory

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Next, I use the theory of muscle memory that makes repetitive task kind of pleasant, and fast. I fold all the towels at once, according to their final destination. This means display towels get folded once according to where they’re hung, closet towels together, tablecloths together, wash clothes together, etc. This enables me to get into a fast, thoughtless rhythm and gets the easiest task behind me.

Step 4: Jeans

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Towels finished, I’m in a solid flip, flip fold rhythm and it’s a perfect transition to jeans. I tackle them all at once and stack them by their final destination as I go. (I know some people hang, but not for 9 year old boys).

By the time all the jeans are folded I’m only ten minutes in; you’d be amazed how quickly the first steps go!

Step 5: Shirts

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Now comes the part I hate, and the reason the bad TV comes into play. Once I get to shirts I’ve moved just enough of laundry mountain that there’s a me-sized space between all the fluffy towels and crisp pillow cases and I reward myself with a little vegging time. I sit and mindlessly fold shirts, pajamas, and all the little pieces (by type, so I can use muscle memory to repeat the same motions again and again) and stack them according to where they’re going.

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As I fold shirts I place anything that needs to be hung-up together. Then, with all the shirts hung up I grab hangars (which I keep stored together) and place everything on hangars at once. Even items that need to be ironed eventually get hung, then just put away in a staging location until I finally get around to them.

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Step 6: Socks

With the lion’s share of the work done, and with my butt still planted on the bed, I tackle socks – again with the sort and conquer approach. I start by putting socks of a type together (black socks, white anklets, etc.) then divide piles further, and smaller until matches are obvious – rather than searching through the basket for a mate.

And, because my kids don’t particularly care, I don’t put too much effort into ensuring their socks are a perfect match. Close enough is good enough for my boys.

Typically, I’ll do one laundry session on Sunday, and a much smaller wash-and-fold of a few loads on Wednesday nights. All told, my routine consumes about an hour per week, and keeps my kids from presenting me with a no-sock fiasco on Thursday morning.

As for keeping my laundry room stocked and pretty, that one I’m still working on.

Pretensious D-Bags and an LA Blow Job

Here I am, at a Hollywood hot spot, post $35 blow out, sporting my “Kelsey” (apparently named after a celebrity I know not) manicure, drinking a glass of $15 Pinot Grigio.

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All this Hollywood glamour brings only one thing to mind, “Pretentious!”

Sitting at Sunset and Vine I’m eavesdropping on some would-be-perhaps-is “Film Guy” pontificate to his latest Twink (said with respect for the poor guy who is this D-Bag’s self-proclaimed dinner companion) on the filmography of Robin Williams, juxtaposed against a Director’s work who apparently can’t finish a project.

Really? We must glorify a man pressed so far he surrenders against an artist who can’t meet deadlines?

Now, before you think I’m soft and permissive, I will clarify: I believe that if one accepts a position, for pay, regardless of their craft, one should deliver on promises.

Did you see any clarification, caveats, or exceptions there? No! Because I make none.

That is the difference between an amateur (hobbyist/volunteer) and a professional (one who pursues a field for pay). The quality of that output (in artistic fields, according to me) is the difference between adequate, good, and great, which may be the difference between prolific and prosaic.

None of which has any impact on anything except for my judgment of a person, in general. But, I do feel heartfelt sympathy for anyone who takes their own life …. can you imagine the despair? I am sure you can.

We have all known someone who has succumbed in some way to severe depression.

And, in a roundabout way, what I’m saying is: Try not to judge Holly-whites against the accomplishments of their peers. We know not the degree of difficulty they are managing. But, if you are going to pass judgment, do so based on an artist’s quality completion rate measured relative to quantity.

Hell, even porn stars can complete 10 films a year, and nobody is nominating them for an Emmy!

Home Organization: Make-up Brush Holders

I am an addict. I am addicted to make-up tutorials and home organization videos.

I know, there are more important ways for me to spend my time, but they just don’t offer the same mind-numbing thrill as turning on a good “Get Ready with Me” make-up montage while prepping, primping, and priming for a day at the office.

This weekend, I kicked it up a notch and went a little beauty guru myself.

Enter another useful way to use Downy Unstoppables (one of my holy grail 1,001 use products).

Make-Up Brush Holder Supplies

All the supplies you’ll need to make an easy, sweet-smelling make-up brush holder.

What you’ll need:

  1. Container: cute, wide-mouth container with enough depth and width to easily hold all of your brushes, leaving a little breathing room between each brush to make it easy to grab and replace them.
  2. Rice: enough to fill your container 3/4 full
  3. Downy Unstoppables: 1 Large tablespoon

Steps:

Pretty self-explanatory here, but the instructions anyway, because I figured out a little tip I like …

  1. Mix the rice and Unstoppables in a large container (I used the large clear vase shown here because it was hanging around in my laundry room), then pour the mixture into your container.
  2. Place the brushes (soft part up) into your container:  Tip – I organize my brushes in order of use, that way I’m never looking for a brush.
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Put brushes into your storage container in order of use: foundation brushes to the outside and fine, detailing brushes for your eyes on the inside. This way, when doing your make-up you work from one end of the container to the next, and you’re never looking for supplies.