Traveling Internationally with Children: Tips and Tricks, Part I

Traveling Internationally with Children: Tips and Tricks, Part I

We are soon headed for our second trip “across the pond” with our two youngest in tow. Now 7 and 5, the girls’ last international travel adventure was a little over two years ago. We will travel from Chicago to London, from London to Paris, from Paris to Nice, back to Paris, back to London (with a small layover in Ireland) and then return home. Our itinerary is similar to the last, replacing time in Germany with the pebble beaches of Nice (and a little extra time to explore both Paris and London).

I remember our first time traveling abroad, my husband was living in Germany temporarily for work. I couldn’t find a direct flight from the United States to Germany for the girls and I through Expedia (my preferred method of booking travel – I’ve yet to have a bad experience). All available flights were routed with a layover in Turkey. Traveling alone with small children, I wanted to be able to speak the language and, at the time, international travel to Turkey was not encouraged. I played around with the flights and found that the girls and I could travel to London first and then fly to Germany for cheaper than the flights to Germany that were routing through Turkey (and because a pit stop in London, duh).

I have traveled domestically throughout the United States many times (my 7-year-old has already been to 27 of the 50 states and stuck her toes in the Pacific, Atlantic and the Gulf), I’ve taken the all-inclusive trips to Mexico, and I’ve crossed over to Canada a handful of times, so international travel is appealing to be able to see some “new” sights while crossing “new” countries off of our collective bucket list.

I have always been a “bargain hunter” for our trips, and have never compromised quality for price. International travel is no different. I’m our family’s personal travel agent (as most moms and dads probably are – especially if you’re currently reading this), dedicating lots of time to researching areas, the hotels, the food, the locals and then I book our trip at a fraction of the cost (so get ready to research)!

If you’re looking to travel overseas (more specifically with children), I have lots of tips and tricks to share with you. Most of my advice will apply to domestic travel as well, you can just ignore the suggestions that obviously don’t apply. To clarify, I will be advising based on the assumption that you’ll be using Expedia (which I am NOT receiving compensation from), but if you have your own preferred travel app use that instead.

*First and Foremost – have/get/find your passport. It is recommended that you allow six weeks turnaround time (to be safe) when ordering a new one. Make sure it’s not expired (ten years for adults, five years for children) and also make sure you have applied for a new one if you have changed your name since your last trip*

The first step I take to traveling is to know where I want to go and what we would like to see. What is the main goal for your trip?

Relaxing? Sight seeing? Both? You’ll want to book hotels based on your ultimate take-away goal. You can buy flight and hotel packages which can save you some money, but the hotel may not be anywhere near the beach (for example), which means you’ll have to pay to travel to and from the beach (or rent a car) and that extra cost could have been better spent on a hotel closer to your preferred destination or landmark.

If you’re traveling with children, you’ll also want to make sure that the hotel is child-friendly. I once booked a flight/hotel combo package to Florida and ended up at a hotel that was essentially in spring break mode year round (I’m talking vomit on the balcony – it was bad), despite that the pictures online showed a colorfully painted pool and several playgrounds. We took all four of our kiddos on that trip and ended up booking a second (and quiet) hotel down the strip for the remainder of our stay. Double booking certainly didn’t save any money.

The second important question to answer is how many days you would like to be gone on this adventure. All of these questions are better answered with a budget in mind, of course. We would love to travel to Europe for a month at a time, but our budget worked best for about two weeks (and my husband’s vacation time wouldn’t allow a paid monthlong vacation, either). The biggest cost of your trip is the flight and hotels, but don’t forget about the somewhat hidden extra cost of bag check fees and an Uber or taxi(s). Four checked bags can add about $200 (or more) both ways (plus you have to lug that mess around). Plan to pack light and with only a {generally free} carry-on per traveler if possible (hey, no worries about lost luggage and no waiting at the baggage claim). If you’re staying somewhere with laundry service (or in an apartment or Airbnb), consider that you can also wash clothes or have them washed on your trip.

In Paris, there is a regulated taxi fee of €50 to and from the airport to your hotel. We were able to budget that into our travel cost but many places are based on a combination of mileage and time and are not as easily budgeted (be sure to look into these specifics while researching your destination, you may find helpful information regarding regulated costs or preferred modes of transportation in the area – your hotel may offer a free airport shuttle and that is definitely worth considering when it’s time to book a hotel if you’re trying to save money).

Speaking of transportation when traveling with children, car seats and area car seat laws should be researched. We purchased two BubbleBum Inflatable Backless Booster Car Seats off of Amazon. They pack easily without taking up much space (and then you also avoid the sometimes extra cost of requesting a car seat through your Uber or taxi service), AND, most importantly, your children are safe while traveling.

Are your dates modifiable? If so, the extra wiggle room can save you hundreds of dollars. Final round trip costs from Chicago to London were $515 per adult and $415 per child because we are leaving on a Thursday and returning on a Wednesday. I have read that there are certain days that are cheaper to fly on, however, I personally have never found this to be consistent. I always play with the dates (and different months if you can) to make sure that extending it (or shortening it) one more day would save money (leaving on a Wednesday and returning on a Wednesday would have cost us $203 more, per traveler so it was definitely worth shortening our trip by a day). Just make sure that you check general weather habits for the time you are traveling. Snow and rain at home could mean sun and heat somewhere else (and vice versa). Avoiding high travel times and holidays will always save you money. Don’t forget to research low travel times for your intended destination (you don’t really want to share the beach with 10,000 spring breakers and your three-year-old).

Hotels are typically more expensive on weekends versus weeknights so if there’s a fancy hotel you have your eye on, you can actually save more money by staying there through the week. Sometimes, staying only one weekend night can also save some cash. We stayed at a hotel in Paris in a duplex suite with a near €1000 nightly price tag for only $289USD per night (I’ve easily spent double that on hotels in Chicago that weren’t nearly as nice).

The best part of using your Expedia app for booking flight and hotels, is that once you book your flight, you save an additional percentage off of a hotel(s) in that area (and gain Expedia points for future travel). For example, the first time we went to London, I booked our flights and saved almost 70% off of a Hilton Hotel. I ended up with a total cost of $63 for the night, and it even offered a breakfast buffet (it wasn’t included in the price but the availability is convenient).

Breakfast buffets can be really great for efficiency, convenience and even budgets. Sometimes children are free, but almost always their meals are at a reduced-cost. It’s an easy way to find something you like in a county that offers a variety of “new” and maybe different foods. If you’re staying at a tropical resort, foods are usually catered towards the majority of travelers to that area but it’s not always like that when staying in a different country. In London, for example, we had baked beans and chocolate croissants for breakfast; in Oelde, Germany, melon, prosciutto and fresh baked bread. This is something to keep in mind for picky eaters (our youngest being extremely guilty of this), buffets generally offer something familiar.

Fun fact: Most other countries have much stricter government regulations and guidelines on their food than here in the United States. In many other countries (most, in fact), you won’t find an overabundant number of preservatives (if any at all) in your food, and definitely not corn syrup. I loved that in Germany, the condiments were made daily from fresh ingredients (but be prepared picky eaters, even something as innocent as fresh ketchup definitely tastes different).

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Unrealistic Expectations

Unrealistic Expectations

I love reading, probably (definitely) more than I enjoy writing (and I really enjoy writing). I know that I have read something really great (in my opinion), when it inspires me to write. I read blogs, books, magazines, newspapers, social media posts, memes – anything that inspires me, encourages me, helps me better myself (as a person, as a mother, as a wife, as a daughter, at my job); anything that teaches me something new (among my favorites: politics, traveling, other civilizations and/or demographics, specific areas/regions of the world, grief; and pretty much anything related to families, children, and raising children); DIY projects, remodeling tips and ideas, cooking, baking and hobbies; basically, I love reading and the world of opportunities it brings to think, reflect, learn, and absorb.

I recently came across a couple of women who have partnered together as best friends and mommies to showcase their trials and triumphs through motherhood. As I was reading their blogposts, I noticed a newly published book of theirs that I immediately (and I mean right then) purchased from Amazon. “Mom Truths” by Catherine Belknap and Natalie Telfer (Cat and Nat) came the very next day (thanks, Amazon Prime) and I was able to take it on our weekend camping trip (actually, I may have driven back to town from our campsite to pick it up from the UPS driver himself – I HAD to read it).

I read all 221 pages this weekend between roasting s’mores, a (very hot) day trip to the beach, and sitting around chatting with my own mom friends/mom tribe (most of whom I have known since grade school) as our children (15 of them, give or take, depending on if you counted friends that stopped by and/or borrowed children from other campsites) ran around (or rode bikes/scooters/hoverboards) freely and with minimal adult direction (shout out to the older kids who made a financial killing off of supervising our littles this weekend).

I cannot rave about this book enough – it spoke directly to me as if it were written about my own family, our experiences, and our own trials and triumphs. I caught myself (more than once), reading lines (or multiple paragraphs) aloud to my husband, both of us noticing a direct association to one of our own children. It was a book written by mommies, for mommies, and it is spot on. It highlights society’s (and our own) unrealistic expectations of mothering and of our children (and of other mothers) – it made me really put some these expectations in perspective. I cannot emphasize enough how unrealistic most mothering expectations truly are.

Recently, I saw (and posted) a meme on Facebook that said, “Behind every photo taken at home is a mom pushing random crap out of the way so her house appears clean.” That meme, paired with this book, made me realize that I am just as guilty of setting unrealistic expectations of myself (and maybe even of others). Should I not take the picture of my daughter beaming with pride over her latest artistic creation, because her craft supplies are strewn out all over the background? Should I not take the pictures that will include the sink full of dishes in the background (I didn’t do the dishes because I was helping with craft time)? Should I not take that spontaneous trip to the pool because I didn’t get the laundry put away? I am guilty of these things, friends. Guilty.

I clean every day and, inevitably, every day, a new mess will appear – maybe exactly where the last one was, maybe somewhere completely unexpected. My children are not great at picking up after themselves, sometimes I am not great at picking up after them, and that is totally ok. It’s ok that there’s a mess in the background, take the picture. It’s ok that you didn’t fold the laundry before you left, make the memory. It’s ok that Sally’s house down the street is spotless AND she found time to take her children to the pool – you are not Sally. You are you, and you’re trying your best – that is enough.

I started thinking about the photograph I would pair with this post, imagining how I would stage it ahead of time. I was going to use my kitchen table, where I read the last few pages of “Mom Truths” while I drank my coffee – and that is exactly what I did. To stage the picture, I pushed away all of the “crap,” wiping down the table, cropping out the wallpaper on my kitchen wall that I strongly dislike – laying my copy of the book next to my coffee cup. I took 28 pictures of the same setup, keeping the one I liked best, and adding filters to it. It’s the first thing you’re going to see when this post pops up and it may even encourage (or discourage) you to read this post in the first place.

But, the picture at the bottom of this post is the real one. It shows what my table looked like minutes before I staged the first photo you saw. It shows my coffee cup, where I left it after finishing my book – but my coffee had long since been cold. It will show that my centerpiece had just served as a hanger for my newest pair of sunglasses (the ones I didn’t need but hey, they were on sale); the pile of paperwork that I HAVE to do something with, but haven’t sat down and completed (including stamped and ready-to-mail bills that I haven’t taken to the post office, even though I go there once a day); the obvious emptying of chapstick from my pockets (two tubes, a pair of earrings and a hair tie); the paint stains on my table (one of the newest pieces of furniture we own and it, itself, is like 7 years old) from the time I let the girls paint canvases with acrylic paint (PSA: it does NOT come off of tabletops easily, if at all); the scratches in the shape of a flower (or a cloud, depending on your perception) that my youngest (and definitely the one responsible for this “masterpiece”) does NOT know how it got there (“Maybe it was Windsor?” – Windsor is my dad’s dog); the table that, based on my first picture, you can’t even see my husband sitting at while he plays Mario Kart on the DS we just bought our kiddos as a bribe to keep their rooms clean.

When I pushed the “random crap” out of the picture, I cut out what was real and raw and TRUE. I am guilty of routinely editing the “random crap” out of my pictures – I am also guilty of setting unrealistic expectations of myself based off of viewing others’ edited pictures (the ones that they staged and pushed all of the “crap” out of).

Don’t set yourself up to fail. Don’t pressure yourself to do more. Don’t convince yourself you’re not doing enough. Don’t beat yourself up over a bad day. Don’t worry about the mess. Don’t compare yourself to other moms. Don’t compare your child to other children. If you’re doing your best, that is enough.

© 2019 Lauren Johnson; http://livingthroughherlegacy.com

Link to purchase this book off of Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Cat-Nats-Mom-Truths-Embarrassing/dp/0525574913/ref=mp_s_a_1_1?keywords=mom+truths&qid=1561931

Anything Helps, Even a Smile

Anything Helps, Even a Smile

Lauren Johnson

We had just left Dairy Queen. I was feeling incredibly guilty because drive thru meals have increased as we have found ourselves always on the go. Coincidentally enough, my weight has also increased significantly – I am certain that the two are correlated. Regardless, we left the drive thru and pulled up to the lights to head South on the highway, me with a mouthful of BBQ Snack Melt, when I saw a man standing there with a cardboard sign. The sign read, “Anything helps, even a smile.”

It had been one of those incredibly windy days and the man was clearly doing everything he could just to hold on to his sign. I couldn’t help but think about how cold this man had to be, and before I knew it, we had changed course and headed back toward McDonalds to get the man with the sign something warm to eat.

Collins slept through this whole adventure, but Kendall was fully alert, curious as to why were at McDonalds when we had been on our way home just a couple of minutes before. I explained to her that we were taking the “man with a sign” something to eat, further explaining that he quite possibly hadn’t had anything to eat all day. She was very upset at the idea that his “tummy was rumbly,” and thought fondly of our mission to alleviate that issue for him.

I have to figure that if someone is asking for help, then they really need it. I would’ve came home and worried about this man all night had I not done at least something for him. To be honest, I’ve worried about that poor man since the second I saw him and his wellbeing has consumed my thoughts.

We took the “man with a sign” his two cheeseburger meal and some extra cash. As I handed it out the window to him, he nearly cried (and so did I). He said, “oh, bless you, bless you!”, before taking off across the street to his bike. It made me wonder how long that man had stood there hoping for something warm to eat. How many cars drove by him, a block away from a drive thru, ignoring his pleas for help. How many people went home and regretted not helping, and how many never gave it a second thought?

The entire drive home, Kendall was full of questions.
“Who was that man?” “Does he know how to eat?” “Why is he hungry?” “How did you know he was hungry?” “Where does he live?” But after I answered all of her questions, her wheels started turning from why we helped this man, to what else we could do. “We could invite him to our house?” “I could give him my candy!” “Can we buy him a bed?” “We could visit him so he has friends!”

We continued our discussion and I told her that sometimes in life, we experience hardships and although I’m not certain, the “man with a sign” may not have had anything other than the clothes on his back and his bicycle. I asked her how she would feel if all she had was a coat and a bicycle. She replied, “well mommy, that would make me sad!”

I hope Kendall can always look back on this day, and without using any judgement at all, follow her big heart to find a way to help others. I also hope that the “man with a sign” can look back on today and know that even though hundreds of people went on by, there will always be that one person who will help him when he needs it. Maybe someday he will be able to return the favor, I will bet that if he can – he will. Until then, we should all learn a very valuable lesson from this man and remember that anything helps, even a smile!

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
⁃ Ralph Waldo Emerson

© 2019 Lauren Johnson; http://livingthroughherlegacy.com

Showing Compassion

Showing Compassion

“Who makes mommy happy?”

“Me!”

“And who else?”

“Kendall!”

“That’s right! You two make mommy soooo happy.”

There isn’t a single day that goes by that we don’t have this exact conversation, and usually more than once. I hope my girls always know how much they are loved, even on those days when they feel completely alone or broken hearted, they are always loved so much.

I never questioned whether my mom loved me, not once. She told me often, but more importantly she taught me HOW to love. She taught me love, compassion, empathy and respect for others. She showed me how to be selfless and giving; beautiful on the inside. I try my very best to teach my girls these traits.

I read once that compassion is the antonym to bullying. Having compassion for others, taking the time to really understand them and remember that each individual is different – wouldn’t that prevent you from harboring hate? What if we gave everyone a chance before judging them, or picking on someone for being different from us? What if we just level the playing field? We are all in this for ourselves, but we are ultimately in this for each other; the greater good.

This week, at dance class, there was a little girl pushing the other little girls. Finally, her mom got up, took the little girl out of class and said to the rest of us, “I’m sorry, but my daughter is NOT going to be a bully.” When she took her out of class, she didn’t yell at her. Instead, she had her daughter, tears welling in her eyes, watch the rest of the class. She sat and calmly (along with her father, the little girl’s grandpa) and explained to the little girl why her behavior was inappropriate. I commend that mom, she taught that little girl not only that pushing/bullying is wrong, but she remedied it with compassion.

I read on Facebook this week that a friend of mine, one who recently lost her husband, was finally getting back out and trying new things solo. She joined trivia night and had something weekly that she could look forward to. She said that her team wouldn’t always have the answers, but they had a lot of fun playing together. That is, until another team consistently made fun of them, and now my friend has quit her team and seemingly lost confidence in herself.

According to the dictionary, a bully is “a person who uses strength or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker.” Had they known my friend recently lost her husband or her story, would they have shown compassion? Why were they unable to show compassion regardless of her story? Why are we a nation full of bullies and bullying; a bunch of people who feel that they are entitled to treat people in any way other than just plain nice?

When I take these two stories and think about the impact compassion had, versus the impact that bullying has, it is clear to me that my job as a human being and as a mom, is to show as much compassion as I can. To do what is right, no matter how hard that is. To not turn the other way, when I know something is wrong but rather do the best I can to make things right. What impact do I want to have on my children and on this world? I want to live my life – everyday – knowing that I did what was right, or at the very least that I tried my very best.

“Compassion is sometimes the fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else’s skin. It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too.”

⁃ Frederick Buechner

© 2019 Lauren Johnson; http://livingthroughherlegacy.com