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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Exploring the German and French Country Side with Teenagers: Our One Day Itinerary

Four years ago, my husband and I did a River Cruise down the Danube, starting in Nuremberg (following three days on land in Prague) and finishing in Budapest. The trip was beautiful, relaxing, and absolutely enchanting – we loved every second of it (which surprised me considering how I felt about our previous experience with cruising). So, as we started to plan this adventure we originally researched taking another River Cruise, but just couldn’t find the perfect combination of dates, lengths, and locations to satisfy our family. So instead, we decided to add a little DIY River Cruise on the Rhine for one day of our adventure, followed by one day driving from Rudesheim (the final stop on our journey) to Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland with plenty of stops to explore along the way.

Here is Our One Day Itinerary for Driving through the French Countryside into Switzerland

Exploring the French Countryside with Teens

Alsace, France

Rudesheim, Germany to Mainz

Hotel Lindenwirt, RudesheimStarting our Journey at Hotel Lindenwirt, Rudesheim

We started the morning by taking the train from Rudesheim to Mainz where we’d arranged to pick up our rental car at the Mainz Hertz Rental Car office, which turned out to be trickier than expected due to unpublished train schedules on the weekends. But, after a thirty minute delay, we were off on the roads of Germany

Maginot Line Bunkers, Fort Schoenenbourg (Ouvrage Schoenenbourg)Maginot Line, Fort Schoenenbourg

Visiting the Maginot Line

With 90 minutes worth of driving under our belt we decided to stop at The Maginot Line. With a family full of war and history buffs, there was no way we were learning about underground bunkers and NOT making a stop to visit the underground bunkers and picnic in the Forrest on a self-guided tour.

This French line of defense was constructed along the country’s border with Germany during the 1930s and named after Minister of War André Maginot. It primarily extended from La Ferté to the Rhine River, though sections also stretched along the Rhine and the Italian frontier. The main fortifications on the northeast frontier included 22 large underground fortresses and 36 smaller fortresses, as well as blockhouses, bunkers and rail lines. Despite its strength and elaborate design, the line was unable to prevent an invasion by German troops who entered France via Belgium in May 1940.History Channel Online

Visiting Strasbourg France

Following our stop for the boys in the family, mom wanted a charming little village in France and so our original plan was Colmar, France. But, time had gotten away from us in the morning and during our stop at the Fortress, so we called an audible and stopped at Strasbourg instead. Which turned into the biggest EPIC FAIL of the trip.

Strasbourg, France: Cradle Of Alsatian CultureStrasbourg, France, Alsace

Where we were hoping for dinner in a charming little village, Strasbourg (unlike the stunning Instagram photos) is a major city, with a City Center screaming with tourists from every stretch of the world, which made it a little challenging to find that Belle-in-the-Village moment I was seeking.

Which provides a great moment to reflect on what NOT to do on vacation: Do not let Instagram build unrealistic vacation expectations.

Instead follow to stoic advice of Epictetus

“Whenever you are about to start on some activity, remind yourself what the activity is like, … If you go out to bathe, picture what happens at a bathhouse—the people who splash you or jostle you or talk rudely or steal your things. In this way you will be more prepared to start the activity, by telling yourself at the outset, ‘I want to bathe, and I also want to keep my will in harmony with nature.’ Make this your practice in every activity.”

We trudged our way through hordes of humanity to tour the Cathedral, past throngs of tour groups through gift shops and the river front, up and down steps of historic corridors, accidentally following the ubiquitous umbrella-led masses, then stopped for lunch at the Aux Armes de Strasbourg where we patched together a dinner of French and German fair, a little Rose of Provence for me (the non-driver), and bottles and bottles of water and buckets of ice since it was about a million degrees outside.

Overall, not what I expected or wanted – we wished we had grabbed a snack at a roadside service station and kept with our original plan of Colmar, but live and learn. I’m sure so many people LOVE the Strasbourg experience … that person wasn’t me.

Driving from France to Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland

  • If Strasbourg disappointed, every moment of Switzerland delighted, starting from the moment we left Strasbourg and the Bernese Alps started to appear.
  • Bernese Alps

    Jungfrau, Bernese Alps

    We drove through Switzerland past lakes and peaks, across Interlaken and into Lauterbrunnen where we dropped our car at the Lauterbrunnen car park, gazed at the amazing Staubbach Falls illuminated by moonlight and spotlight, then took the 10:30 PM train straight up the mountain to the car free village of Wengen, where we stayed at the charming Hotel Falken.

    Hotel Falken, Wengen, Switzerland

    Hotel Falken, Wengen, Switzerland

    We spent two days of cable cars, gentle mountain walks, mountainside meals, and gaping open-mouthed at the sheer beauty that is the Jungfrau Region. It was perfection!!

    Jungfrau, Bernese Alps, Switzerland

    Jungfrau, Bernese Alps, Switzerland

    Have you visited the Alps, as enchanted as we were, we can’t wait to go back? Where should we visit next?

    Additional Reading

    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

     

    Prague with Teens: Two Day Itinerary

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    Prague Two Day Itinerary for Travelling Europe with Kids

    This July, our family of Four will take off for two weeks in Europe (our second Grand Voyage through Europe as a family. We’ll start in London and work our way via ferries, trains, and rental cars to Austria and then on to Prague for a quick two days before flying back to London.

    Our Prague Itinerary

    • Arrive from Vienna by Train on Day One
    • Check in to the Prague Carlo IV Hotel
    • One Full Day Exploring Prague
    • Depart by British Airways on a Direct Flight to London on Day Three
    Prague, Czechia – Wenceslas Square Prague, Czechia – Old Town Square

    Our Prague Itinerary Philosophy

    Yes, this is a city full of culture, history, art, amazing day trips to places like the gorgeous Český Krumlov but on this trip we will be hitting Prague after a fairly aggressive pace of Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, and Austria so Prague will provide the perfect opportunity to relax, unwind, and soak up the ambiance – preferable in a cafe, with a cold beer, and view like the stunner above.

    With Prague, just wandering the narrow alleys, popping into charming shops and cute little coffee shops, one can love Prague without ever checking a single item off the Prague Family Traveler’s Bucket list.

    ” Prague isn’t just a city, but an entity of some kind.”

    – -Sezin Koehler

    Day One:
    Arriving in Prague

    Day Two:
    Prague Itinerary

    London, Stonehenge and The Cotswolds with Teenagers: A Three Day Itinerary

    Our Itinerary for Three Days in England, Travelling with Teenagers

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    Plan coming – keep checking back; I use this page as an active planner for all my trips, an interactive Apple Wallet.

    London Itinerary Day One: Arrive in London from Prague, pick up Rental Car and drive to Stonehenge

    Driving Time: About Three Hours, without stops

    • Stonehenge Visitor Center – we Booked our tickets in advance online for the 11:00 option and selected the Family Pass to Stonehenge for £49.40
    • Salisbury Cathedral – home to the best preserved of only four surviving original Magna Carta (AD1215)
    Salisbury Cathedral Day Trip from London with Teens

    Photo Courtesy: https://www.firsdown.org.uk/salisbury-cathedral

    • Chedworth Roman Villa – Built towards the end of Rome’s imperial domination of Britain, the villa is a fine example of the advances in Romano-British engineering, and a well-preserved Villa full of history and design.
    Chedworth Roman Villa, Day Trip from London with KidsPhoto Courtesy: https://archaeology-travel.com/england/chedworth-roman-villa/
    • Cotswolds – Following a visit to Stonhenge and Salsbury Cathedral our family of four will be hangry, so a leaisurely country drive, stopping in for snacks and a light lunch on the water will be the perfect way to wrap up the day before heading back to London.

    London Itinerary Day Three: Victoria & Albert Museum and High Tea in London with Teenagers

    High Tea in London

    As a mother of sons I recognize, I need to pick my battles.  But, High Tea in London is a battle I am willing to wage.  I could go on and on about “culture” and “exposure” and “how good it is for their global awareness” but really.  I want some pretty – and I’m planning this expedition so two hours or my say so is what happens.

    So, for our second full day in London, we’ll be hitting tea at the Mad Hatters Tea Party at the Sanderson hotel for an afternoon tea, with teenagers.  I researched the Savoy and the Ritz but decided against the more traditional options due to the required “Smart Casual” dress.  There’s no reason to lug “smarter-than-average” casual attire through Europe for two weeks when the rest of our activities are more in the range of “smarter-than-your-average-tourist” casual attire.

    So, we’ve booked in for a Mad Hatters Tea Party in London for

    Into Everyone’s Life A Little Motivation Will Fall

    Six hours

    I have six hours until I need to be on a flight to the UK, followed by three days “on”, a day to fly home, two days of laundry, groceries, and prep then four days in Chicago, five days in Rome, and one week home. Then it’s on to one week in New York, a long weekend in Louisville, a few days of baseball practice, birthday parties, and laundry, a week in Dusseldorf, a week at home … two weeks in Eastern Europe. Then, finally, I’ll get a nice long six week break before I start it all up again.

    I’ll earn this year’s Gold Medallion status in just one quarter of work travel.  But, today, I just can’t seem to must two f*cks to give. 

    I love my job. I love to travel. I love to pack, and head out on a great adventure.  But sometimes, I love to sit on my bed, with a nice glass of Pinot, and watch Keeping Up With Kardashians.  And, until July – there will be no time for such luxury.

    So, right now, instead of going to get the mani-pedi I desperately need, or packing up my still empty suitcase, or tackling the laundry mountain that is threatening to swallow me whole, I am wallowing. I’m still in last night’s T-shirt, snuggled under the covers, too pre-emptively tired to even reach across the bed for the remote control, and Pinteresting packing ideas (as if that will magically fill my suitcase with clothes).

    For those who’ve never experienced it, pre-emptive exhaustion is the practice of being exhausted not by what you’ve done, but by what you’re preparing to do. I haven’t yet flown for 15 hours straight, haggled to get a trunk full of sample merchandise through customs, and then been charming and “on” for four days of double-face-kisses and global sales dominance, before washing, rinsing, and repeating in another city, another W hotel. But, I know it’s coming, and right now, just the thought of it is more than I can handle – exacerbated by the fact that following her performance review, the world’s worst assistant quit, with no notice, and an inbox full of To Do’s.

    Damn, I wish the liquor store opened before 11:30, it’s the perfect Pinot-and-Kardashians kind of morning.

    I

    One Day in Rome

    The thing which never happens, has happened! On my upcoming trip to Italy I will have 24 full, unscheduled hours – all to myself.

    No colleagues to entertain

    No meetings to attend

    No children to attend to

    Just me, my map, and an ungodly amount of Frascati

    I’ve visited Rome before, years ago, and after two weeks in Venice, Sienna, Cinque Terre, Bologna, and Florence I found it a sore disappointment: dirty, crowded, and overrun with tourists too lazy to do more than visit the big ten greatest hits.

    But, Rome is the Eternal City for a reason. With a history that spans nearly 3,000 years Rome is one of the oldest continuously occupied cities in Europe. Rome is commonly considered the birthplace of western civilization and was the capital city for the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire.

    So, yeah, I get that it is important … but so is Detroit; I don’t exactly want to visit every Christmas.

    In fact, I’ve always kind of considered Rome the Italian city that tourists visit when they don’t really take their time to research the beauty that is Italy (hence the endless brigade of tourists marching nose-to-tail behind a flag wielding tour guide).

    As for my interests, want amazing ruins, visit Turino, want breathtaking chapels – Venice, and don’t forget the art, culture, and food that is Florence!

    However, I recognize that I’m sorta … well … wrong.  In 2011, Rome was the 18th-most-visited city in the world, 3rd most visited in the European Union, and the most popular tourist attraction in Italy (which is exactly the type of description that would keep me away). But, people love Rome. People eat, pray, and love their way to Rome and back year after year.

    Rome is ruination and reinvention, thriving, bustling, sleepy, and special.  There is no denying that moment when you walk around a corner and come face to face with iconic ROME – the Trevi fountain, the Vatican, Hadrian’s Arch, or any of a thousand other spectacular glimpses into the astounding history of this eternal city.

    So, I am putting on my rose colored glasses (they fit quite nicely after a catastrophically shitty trip to Bali, strep throat in Istanbul, and a July heat wave in Shanghai) and prepping for the next great adventure.

    My itinerary for one day in Rome:

    1. Skip the Caesar Shuffle and the Vatican, I’ve been there and done that. Instead I’ll start the day with a leisurely stroll and cappuccino in Trastevere.

    2. Then, I’ll continue across the Tiber to the Parthenon, a visit to the daily markets of the Campo De’ Fiori, and a stroll through the Piazza Navona .

    3. After a full day of wandering, I’ll end the afternoon with the Dolce Vita stroll (as coined by travel guru Rick Steves) starting with a glass of wine and snacks at the Piazza del Popolo then a saunter down the Via del Corso and up Via Condotti to the Spanish Steps to surround myself with smooching lovers and that feeling of being painfully alone … for just long enough to make a Skype call home to my family as they settle in to their day.

    And, hopefully, this time Rome will leave me aching to return, understanding what those nose-to-tail tour group tourists have been raving about for years.