Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Traveling with Kids - Week 3 Getting Excited

Preparing kids for the experience of a lifetime.

Amid all the preparations it is easy to get consumed with itineraries, shopping, or organizing and it becomes easy to forget that kids become more excited when prepared for the trip. To do this, here are a few suggestions:
  1. Involve them in the decision making. Give them several options of things to see or do and ask them what they prefer to do. This allows them to be part of the planning and in so doing they become excited to visit the places they chose.
  2. Read books that take place in the location you are traveling to. This enhances their understanding of historical events and gets them thinking, questioning and looking forward to the visit. The best website I have found is this travelforkids site. I love it because within each country and city are lists of activities to do and things to see. At the bottom of the page are book suggestions that take place in a specific area or in a different era. This is extremely useful and reduces the time needed to find appropriate books.
  3. Watch movies related to the area. For example, if visiting Germany there are so many options. The Book Thief, The Diary of Anne Frank, Monuments Men or Disney's Night Crossing. Austria? The Sound of Music. I even love Ocean's Eleven if visiting Italy:)
  4. Buy a large wall map and mark all the places to be visited with push pins. This gives kids the visual of where they are now and where they will be going. This was a hit at our house.
  5. Print our phrases from each country and let them practice.
  6. Look up information on the climate, social habits, lifestyle, history of each place and read it together or have them read about one portion and share what they learned with the family.
  7. Eat food from the area you will be traveling to. 
Activities like these can enhance the child's experience. I was in college the first time I went abroad. We went to Switzerland with Dr. Barton to study french. We travelled for 3 weeks before arriving in Switzerland. We stopped in Rome and Italy to see some of the world's famous art work. Before leaving I was required to read The Agony and The Ecstasy. This is one of the best things I did in preparation to go. It opened my eyes to the work that went into the creation of these pieces of art and I was in awe. I thank Dr. Barton to this day for giving me some required reading.

Traveling with Kids - Week 4 Credit Cards

Four weeks before leaving is a great time to take a look at which credit cards are available and the terms of current cards.

Why is this important? 
Many credit cards impose an international fee per transaction. This will eat your money faster than anything else. Be aware of:

  • If the card has international fees
  • What is the charge for cash advances (getting money out of the ATM)
  • Is there a yearly fee associated with the card
  • Are there any bonuses (airline miles for signing up and spending $2K-$3K in the first 3 months)
  • What is the dollar to sky mile ratio
  • APR 
We found that the Barclay MC and the Bank of America chip and pin visa worked the best for our needs. We wanted a card with no international transaction fees, one that earned us sky miles and one with a reasonable yearly fee. 

Both cards offered 40,000 miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months. One card waived the yearly fee the first year and neither card has international transaction fees. We decided to go with the Bank of America card specifically because it has a chip and pin associated with it. The card itself has a chip embedded into it. Some places in Europe do not accept a card unless it has these specific features so we thought we would be safe and get it. With airfare alone we were able to earn the bonus points no problem. 

The Barclay MC has a 2 point per dollar spent towards sky miles/travel. They also give you 10% back in miles when you book your travel points through them. This is the best deal we could find. The Bank of America visa gives 1.5 points per dollar and no interest the first 12 months. Still a good option.

Be aware that each time you need to withdraw money a cash advance fee is incurred. It is better to put everything on the card and pay it off when you get home. Take some cash or euros for those small out of the way places that may not take a credit card, they still exist.

Check into this early enough to apply and receive the card without having to pay rush fees. Depending on credit scores, the Barclay card states it can take up to 4 weeks to hear back if not immediately approved. 

My philosophy is to get a card that works for you by earning money, points, or travel rewards.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Traveling with Kids - Week 5 Organization

About 5 weeks before we leave (if not sooner) we purchase a small 3-ring binder. This binder will stay with us throughout our trip.

It's purpose? To help us keep track of all things related to our trip.

I have never before used a binder and I found it to be extremely helpful in keeping us organized. We just kept it in our backpack and pulled it out whenever there was a question or we needed the paperwork. One example is in Berlin. In order to go visit the Freitstag building you must be pre-approved and show the email to them at the entrance. No email no entry. Or the Harry Potter Warner Brothers Tour in London requires pre-purchase of tickets. Using a binder dramatically reduces the stress level when traveling with kids as well as giving parents a peace of mind that everything is there ready to go.

It is helpful to have the following information handy and organized so no one is scrambling during the trip to remember where to go, the hotel name or what day and time we need to be somewhere.

What do I put in the travel binder?

  • Hotel, hostel, resort reservations - in case of mix-ups we have the confirmation with us.
  • Paperwork to pick up transportation cards in other countries - In London the kids get discounted or free travel if we purchase Oyster cards for them at least one month before our travel dates. This is done on-line and then we choose where in London to pick them up when we arrive and what date we will pick them up. Trying to remember all the details without the binder would be difficult because we are trying to remember so many other things at the same time. there are museum passes and city cards that work the same way. 
  • Venue reservations - Because many are pre-purchased it is important to know when we need to be there. We would hate to miss our play in Prague because we weren't organized.
  • Itinerary - Convenient to have an idea of what we would love to see and what else is available to us in the area. 
  • Emergency phone numbers / Insurance information - Friends in the area, family members back home, etc.
  • Hotel addresses and phone numbers - To call a day before to double check the reservation or if we are going to be checking in later than we are suppose to.
  • Receipts - It is so nice to keep track of how much money is being spent. I found that as I researched into how much it would cost our family to do a trip to Europe I found only 1-2 people who actually knew. I find this info helpful in the future to know how much we need to save to go.
  • Budget - Knowing how much we have allocated in each country or for each day alleviates excessive over spending.
After deciding what you are going to keep in your binder, you can start putting everything in it as you go. 

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Traveling with Kids - Week 6 Shopping

Six weeks before we leave I find myself starting to gather the clothes and other items from my packing list. By starting early I can shop the internet for the best buys and look at local discount stores as well. By taking time to look I have saved lots of money and walked away with fantastic deals on great outdoor clothing and shoes.

Check out my favorite place to shop online. Go to and sign up for the email. You will receive lots of additional discount offers off the already lower prices. If you click through this link HERE it will activate a $10 coupon for your first purchase :) I am able to buy $60-70 pants for around $20 on a regular basis. When I find something I think we need I place it in my cart and wait for the discount email each day. It usually will drop lower in price than the normal sale price and that's when I snatch it up. My kids travel pants, rain gear, shoes, and luggage all came from this site. They have a great return policy as well.

I have been able to find things such as travel money pouches, eye masks, travel pillows at stores such as TJMaxx for a lower price than I can find anywhere else.

Traveling with Kids - Week 7 Packing List

This is the week where I start putting together my packing list. It has been our experience that if children have the correct gear and clothing the enjoyment factor increases substantially. I learned long ago that whether it was in a baby back pack, hiking in the rain, or winter camping, gear is essential for a happy child. We made the mistake of not having good gear once...the tears, the misery, the complaining was enough to never venture back out if we would have let it stop us. Most of the time you get what you pay for. $10 ski gloves are bound to leave fingers red and freezing cold. That isn't all it does. It leaves a bad taste in the child's mouth for the sport or activity associated with that gear. We are trying to increase our children's love for the outdoors not the opposite.

Now, back to our packing list. Some things to consider:
1. Temperature, climate and time of year.
2. Types of activities.
3. Length of trip.
4. Laundry opportunities.
5. Walking, hiking, needed footwear.

My number one rule for what we take is this:
  Can we layer what we have to accommodate temperature and weather variations? 
An example of a packing list for Europe -
Fleece Jacket
Rain Jacket
Wool socks
2 Pair Shoes
4 Pair Pants (quick dry or travel type pants)
6-7 Shirts (including church shirt, performance shirts, a collared shirt, t-shirts and a long sleeved shirt)
2 Pair Shorts
Underwear for a week
Wool Socks for a week
Skirt (girls)
Essential Oils
Backpacking Quick Dry Towel
Swim Suit (if needed)
Flip Flops for shower
Reusable Lunch Bags for snacks
Reusable Grocery Sacks
Medicine (Ibuprofen, Tylenol, Stomach Acid Aid, Eye Drops, Neosporin, Allergy Meds, etc.)

Europe doesn't offer plastic bags for groceries or ziplock bags for snacks so we take our own reusable bags to make it easy to buy food and take it with us for the day.

This list would change for a tropical vacation or a summer versus winter vacation.

Taking as little as possible helps tremendously when traveling as a family. Trust me when I say that it is not easy trying to get around your destination with too many bags. The fewer the better.

Traveling with Kids - Week 8 Itinerary

Eight weeks before a trip is a great time to head to the internet and plan the itinerary. I enjoy using Top rated attractions and reviews of these experiences are available to read. This is extremely helpful when visiting a new area or wondering if a particular attraction is suitable for children. Trip advisor often times has a link to the attraction website making it easy to see pricing and availability.

Why do this so early? I found that many attractions were less expensive if purchased beforehand. Other attractions, such as the Lion King in London, sell out quickly. If tickets aren't purchased early...out of luck. And still there were several venues that did not sell tickets at the door.

Some key things to keep in mind while planning an itinerary is that traveling and sightseeing with children is different than with a group of adults. Here are some tips that help us.

1. Keep in mind that this trip is for the children. Don't plan anything the first day. This gives children time to adjust and get settled especially for oversees adventures.

2. Flexibility is an absolute must. When children get tired or overwhelmed, take time to find somewhere for them to be kids and relax. For example, playing at the park, people watch while sitting at a street cafe, simply wandering around getting to know the surroundings, etc. Some of our funnest times are the result of doing just this. If you can't get all 10 museums in, that's ok. Some of the funnest memories may end up being the time they climb trees with kids in the park in Germany.

3. Have several options available on the itinerary. I highlight the one thing I really want to do each day. After that I list a couple other options. I have learned that things don't always go as planned. Sometimes the kids don't want to do something we had planned or they are too tired. This way we have other options to look at. Other days the kids do great and want to see more than I thought they would be able to handle. Either way, we are prepared.

4. Involve the kids in the planning. Give them 2-3 options and ask them what they would prefer to do. This helps build excitement and allows them to feel some responsibility. Willingness to attend the attractions and have fun increases and it almost always eliminates any negative feelings about wanting to go. My kids excitement doubles when they help with the itinerary.

Planning now helps reduce stress later. Flexibility helps maintain sanity. Not over scheduling keeps everyone smiling!