*7 Things That Can Ruin Your Vacation

There are things in life that were designed specifically with the intent to ruin your day. In our travels, we have come across a few “vacation spoilers”. So, below we’ve done our best to help you outsmart the travel blues. Here’s a list of 7 things that can ruin your vacation and how to prevent them wrecking all the fun.


Catholic Holidays or any religious or government shutdown for that matter. When you have time off you likely want to travel. The problem is, when you have a day off from work chances are that so does everyone else. In Europe, where the religious climate is a bit more rigorous than in the U.S., everything seems to shut down on holidays: shops, restaurants, grocery stores, etc. This doesn’t mean that you can’t travel on holidays. It just means that you will need to do a little more planning. When we were traveling in Paris for the Christmas we did some research and found what things would be open Christmas Day. Most of the museums and Christmas markets were closed. However, the Opera House was open along with The Eiffel Tower, The Moulin Rouge, and – of course – all the shops in the Jewish district. Likewise, the Pompidou Center is closed on Christmas but it is one of the few places open on New Years Day.

Remember that it’s not just big holiday’s like Christmas but little ones like 3 Kings Day in January and The Assumption of Mary in August. Just check a country specific calendar before you go so that you can plan for it.  Also, it’s good to be aware of the holy day of the country you are visiting and know that there is a good chance things will be closed.

071018_coldmeds_hmed_630.grid-6x2Sickness. Whether you get a cold or a sunburn, a sickness can turn a fun family vacation into a tough situation. When you are traveling, you often don’t know where to find a pharmacy and if you are in a foreign country you probably don’t know what to look for even if you find one. So, we like to take a little medicine kit with us when we travel: sunscreen, aloe-vera, children’s Tylenol, cough drops, essential oils, etc. You don’t have to pack the whole medicine cabinet just bring a few emergency essentials. If you are traveling by plane, remember to check the carry on size requirements for liquids and gels. Security WILL make you throw things away if they are too big.

It’s always a good idea to prevent where you can. Put on sunscreen, wash your hands, don’t eat “questionable” food. There are some ailments that can be avoided.

With sickness, you may have to change your plans a little bit. When we were in Hawaii a few years ago we had a family member throw out her back. We had planned to go for a scenic drive but that was out of the question. So, we set up camp on some blankets and had an extra beach day instead. In Copenhagen this winter, our 3-year-old came down with a temperature and we had to forgo our planned day trip to Malmö, Sweden. A bit sad but not the end of the world. Sickness isn’t any fun, especially on vacation, but be prepared and try to roll with it as best you can.

IMG_8571Weather. Rain, snow, wind… we don’t want them but they come anyway. This is another thing that can ruin your fun if you aren’t ready for it. So, be ready. The snow is colder in t-shirts, I promise. But it’s really not that bad in a winter coats with hats and gloves and all the fixings. The biggest thing to make sure the weather doesn’t hurt your travel is to embrace it. Check before you go and pack for it. I know it sounds like such a simple thing but a poncho can save your vacation. This is another place where will also benefit from some planning. If the weather says rain on Tuesday, consider making that your museum day.

Lost Luggage is more likely than you might think. The Huffington Post has some tips on how to prevent lost bags but just in case it does happen you will want to have a backup plan. We like to use our carry on space as a kind of emergency bag. We pack the essentials for at least 24 hours after we land. Toothbrushes, extra changes of clothes, electronics, diapers, medicines, and other essentials ride with us and not under the plain.

unnamed (1)We also take extra care to protect our wallets  and passports when we travel. I cannot even imagine losing these items in a foreign country. Keep them close to you and watch for pickpockets. Keep your wallet in your front pocket and your passport close. You might even consider wearing them on your person. Just in case you do lose something as important as a passport make sure you know where the embassy of your home country is located. The United States Bureau of Consular Affairs recommends that you make a copy of your important documents to leave with a friend back home in case of emergency.

Overspending can also put a damper on your excitement. Try your best to budget ahead of time but plan for things to cost more than you anticipated. Have a talk with your travel partner(s) before hand about their views on overspending. It can be a contention point so it’s good to discuss these things before you are standing in the ice cream line.

49540Getting Lost can be a big pain. Make sure you have a good map of the city and always write down the address of your hotel. Make note of landmarks and street signs. Make a special effort to pay attention to how you got somewhere and don’t be afraid to ask for directions. Even if you don’t speak the language, charades can get you pretty far.

On the flip side, sometimes getting lost can be the best thing that ever happened you. You might wander into some fantastic sights and memories. Go with the flow and enjoy the experience.

Melt Downs. If you can make it through a normal week at home without your 2-year-old throwing a tantrum, please come teach me how. If you can make it through a week-long vacation, you must be the child whisperer. The point is, your kids will not suddenly be immune to being kids just because you are inside the Taj Mahal.

IMG_8251That being said, there are some things that you can do to help. 1). make sure that your trip has things for both child and parent fun. You have your list of things to see but don’t forget theirs. Traveling with kids, you will see things that you wouldn’t have seen otherwise. They want to visit the park and the zoo and the toy store. Sometimes these stops are more fun than you might have originally thought. You’ll get a real feel for the people and the culture by experiencing some of these more normal, day-to-day activities. It will also help your children feel like this trip is for them. We’ve found that an hour at the park or an hour-long nap can work wonders for their mood and their willingness to be dragged along to the next destination on the bucket list. 2). Never underestimate the power of a bribe. The promise of ice cream once bought us an extra two hours in the Louvre. SO worth it! 3). We’ve found it helpful to plan some extra time in your days. Everything just takes a little longer with kids. Good time management when you travel is a great stress fighter.

Parent your little heart out and just do your best. If your kid does have the melt down to end all melt downs in the middle of time square, just chalk it up to a win that you don’t know any of these people and you will never see them again.

If you have other thoughts or ways to help avoid classic travel pitfalls please share with the peanut gallery by leaving a comment below.

* The Castles of Transylvania

We love European cities. We love the art and the culture and the food. We love the old buildings and the museums and the people. But  a word of advice when visiting Romania, get out of the city! Rent a car, and leave it all behind because the Romanian countryside is one of the most beautiful places you will ever see. On our recent trip to Romania, we flew into Bucharest and immediately hit the road. Best decision ever!rupea2

First off, the Transylvanian region of Romania is much safer than Bucharest. You don’t have to worry about pick pockets, stray dogs, and drunkards. We felt 100% completely safe traveling through Transylvania with our 2 little kids. Besides that, it is almost completely surrounded by the breath-taking Carpathian Mountains. Adding to the beauty of this region, ancient castles and citadels dot the landscape and make you feel like you have taken a step back in time.  Below is our recommended travel plan.  It will only take you about 5 hours to drive the whole loop (map here) but of course you’ll want to stop in each place and soak it all in. We took 4 days, which was just a bit rushed. I would have liked to have 5.peles2

Peles and Pelişor Castles – Peles is the larger of the two but they are situated within walking distance of each other. We actually only paid to go inside of the first one but I don’t feel like we missed out by not seeing the other. Peles is absolutely stunning from the outside. You can park just to the East of the castle and then walk (about 10 min.) up to it. The inside is remarkable as well. It has a very Baroque feeling with lots of dark wooden carvings. I’m not sure if it was just our guide or the entire staff, but she seemed to have it out for children. And not just ours.  So, just a warning: they’ll let them in but not in a baby carrier, and they make no promise of friendliness. The museum is also very strict and if you so much as breath on something wrong, you’re sure get a scolding look. All in all, however, it was incredible to see. They have a website where you can look up tour times and prices.

img_1352Rasnov Fortress – The best thing about this fortress is its placement in the Mountains. I still dream about that view. The second best thing about it are the actors. There are about 5 or 6 paid actors who dress up in old medieval clothes and pretend to be people from the time period. We’re not sure if they are famous or not because they all sell autographed photos, postcards, buttons, and kitchen magnets of themselves in their costumes. It’s so great! There is such a fun feeling in the air here. My new dream job is to work at Rasnov.  It’s a good little hike to get to the top but it’s worth it. Again, I say, look at that view! Rasow

Photo Credit: rolandia.eu

Bran Castle – Just a 15 min drive from Rasnov is this amazing structure, also know as “Dracula’s Castle” for its fictitious ties to Bran Stoker’s novel. This is by far the most popular tourist destination in Romania. We waited in line for about 30 min. just to get in. The surrounding area houses an old marketplace with lots of vendors. Right along the strip they are mostly selling tourist junk like “I love Dracula” t-shirts and fake vampire teeth. But turn the corner and you’ll find that others are selling more worth while items like hand painted pottery and homemade Romanian sweet bread called Kurtoskurtos”. SO yummy! It’s hard to get a decent view of the outside of the castle unless you are willing to drive away from it. But the inside is beautiful. Funny that it’s closest fictional ties are to Dracula when it feels as though it should be home to Prince Charming (except for maybe the torture room, but that’s an extra fee anyway). Once inside, the self guided tour takes about an hour. It really is rather impressive. For more information on visiting the castle, click here.

Rupea Fortress – One of the best things about Romania is that grande fortresses, like this one, just appear along the side of the road. We had no plans to see this castle, but on our drive up to Sighișoara, there it was. And we just had to see it. Let’s just say that the hour detour was well spent.

Sighișoara Tower- Actually the entire town of Sighișoara is worth seeing.  The Tower itself cost a small fee but you can see the whole city from the top and it really is amazing. We just wandered around town for half a day and took it in. sighisoara The cemetery and the church at the top of hill are also worth the hike. Sighișoara is said to be be birth place of Vlad the Impaler – Dracula! And they won’t let you forget it. You can even pay about a dollar to see “the room where Dracula was born”. Which is just an old man dressed like a Vampire waiting to scare you in a dark attic as some corny music plays in the background. So funny. But maybe not for the kids. The food at the Dracula House restaurant (on the second floor) is quite delicious. This is a great little city.

biertanBiertan Fortified Church – Another spontaneous stop. We saw a sign that said “Castle 2 Kilometers —>” and we went. A bit off the beaten path, but that’s part of the charm. The castle is the focal point of this tiny town as it reigns supreme from its home on the hill-side. It’s surrounded by a little farming community of about 1,500 people. The tour isn’t expensive but it closes at 5pm and they won’t let you in after 4:30. We barely made it and we’re glad we did. Biertan is also just a short 30 min. drive from the city of Medias (where you can’t drive a car anywhere in the old town so plan for a little walking).

Hunyad Castle. Photo Credit: rolandia.eu

Făgăraș Caslte – What a tragedy that we ran out of time and didn’t get a chance to see this castle.  I’ve included in on the must see loop because I regret that we didn’t make it here. Făgăraș is completely surrounded by the original old moat. This castle was the home of the Transylvanian Princesses and has many items, like wedding dresses and veils, on display. If you’ve ever been here, let us know what it was like. We’re dying to know. If you have an extra day, Hunyad Castle (also called Corvin Castle) is about a 2 1/2 hour drive west of Făgăraș. We didn’t make it out that far but the pictures look amazing! We hope to make it back someday.

brasovIf it’s a city that you are looking to see, we would suggest staying in Sighișoara and Brașov. The city of Brașov is right off the main highway and it’s adorable. It is nestled right up against the mountain and has a great little old town square. Not to mention the best chocolate I’ve ever tasted in my life. And we’ve been to Belgium. It’s a little shop called “chocolat” (yes, without the e). It’s right across the street from the old town square. Don’t miss it! When traveling through Romania, remember that this country is not nearly as developed as some of its neighbors. You probably won’t get a map of the city from the hotel and you might not always be able to find wifi. We were also warned not to drink the tap water. But despite all that, or maybe because of it, it holds a peaceful and preserved charm like nowhere else we’ve been.

Oh, Romania! I can’t imagine a life where I never met you. So GO! Start planning your trip. I promise you won’t regret it.

*The Great American Road Trip

Originally posted on Let’s Get Together**

Dear President Eisenhower,

On behalf of every car-driving, gas-guzzling, interstate-cruising, great-American-road-trip-loving person in these here United States of America, I just want to say thanks! Thanks for bringing us memories of drives to “the world’s largest can of Spinach” route_66and hours of Pat Benatar mix tapes.  Thanks for the sibling bonding that came from having to sit on “the hump” in the middle of our station wagon between my squabbling sisters every summer as we drove across the vast Nevada desert. Thank you for recent remembrances of driving with my own kids as we sang “Old McDonald” across the entire state of Kansas. Thanks for making the tradition possible.

Sincerely, A Road Trip Lover

As warm weather approaches, let’s all just take a minute to rejoice in the fact that we probably get to take a 10621_101415059875790_2417720_nroad trip this summer! If you are anything like me, you can’t wait to get behind the wheel of your mini-van and cross a state border or two. But the truth of the matter is that on this side of 22, road trips are a decidedly harrier tale than they used to be: especially if you have little ones.  So, here are some tips on how to help your kids love road trips just as much as you do.

IMG_0331Make sure that you can reach them. If there is an extra seat in the car, it goes next to the baby. That way you can sit next to them if you need to. For the very little ones make sure to bring a bottle. If you are nursing, bring a breast pump so that you can feed them without having to take them out of their car seat. Bring along toys that are brightly colored and make noise. Check the car seat before you leave and make sure they are safe and comfortable.

Toddlers: One of the biggest concerns for toddler age children is potty training. If you know
huggies-pull-upsyou are taking a long trip soon, you may want to wait to start potty training until you get home. If you are already in the full swing of things, you might consider putting some extra planning into your road trip bathroom strategy. You may let your toddler wear pull-ups for the duration of the trip. You just never know how long it will be until they can get to a bathroom. You also might consider brining along their little kiddy potty. Then you can pull over on the side of the road wherever you are. If neither one of these ideas is your style, just make sure to take frequent potty breaks and have extra clothing easily accessible – just in case.

2Ditch the Devises – Ok, not completely: you’re not a crazy person! But just remember that a family road trip isn’t just about getting from point A to point B. There are memories to be made. Sing songs, play games, read a book together. There is totally a time to bust out the Diamond edition of Beauty and the Beast on DVD. All I’m saying is that if the road trips of our generation turn into 10 hour-long Daniel Tiger marathons, we are severely missing the mark.

Here are a few websites that have some great game ideas for little kids:

sf3Road Trip Presents – A fun tradition that we have in our family is road trip presents. Take a trip to the dollar store before you go and buy things like stickers, special sweets, and small toys. We even wrap them up in wrapping paper and pass them out throughout the trip as fun surprises. These little presents are nothing expensive but just fun distractions. It’s amazing how exciting fake mustaches can be after 7 hours in a car.

UntitledSnacks – How ever many snacks you think you should bring – double it. Make them fun. A snack can be an activity too. Also, you’ll want to pack things that are travel friendly. Make your life easier and don’t bring anything that requires a spoon. You can even pack everyone his or her own individual snack box.With older kids, you might consider letting them come to the store to choose some things that they are excited about.

imagesStrategic Packing – How you arrange the car is more important than you might think.  Take a few minutes and make a list of things that you think you will need on the drive. Things like snacks, garbage bags, wet wipes, diapers, toys, games, maps, phone chargers, etc. I like to use boxes to organize these things into groups. Then, put them somewhere that you can reach them (like at your feet or at the feet of a toddler). I like to ask myself “what are we going to need in the next 12 hours?” Everything else goes in the trunk or out of the way.

 Mess Control packing list:1

  • Wet wipes
  • Paper towels
  • Trash bags
  • Spill proof Snack Cups
  • Sippy Cups or closed containers (even for older kids)
  • Zip lock bags
  • Bucket or sturdy plastic bag (for unexpected car sickness)

Another mess help is to pack everyone his or her own little backpack. This is a place to put shoes, jackets, Mr. Bear, coloring books, etc. Keeping things organized will go a long way for your sanity. At least it does for me.

IMG_1664-2Don’t buy into the myth that you can’t take your little kids on long trips. So many people think “My kids couldn’t possibly sit still for 10 hours in a car” (or a plane or a train or a minivan or whatever). Here’s why it’s a bad idea to wait: If they don’t learn to road trip as children they will only hate it more as teenagers. Teach them young and they will get used to driving long distances; wait until they are older and they will probably hate it forever. Your kids will be better travelers at 5, 12, 16 and 40 if they get used to it at age 2. So, buckle up, hit the road, roll down the windows and breathe in that warm summer air.

**Jack and Jill Travel was recently asked to guest blog on a family site called Let’s Get Together. You can see the original article here. You should spend some time looking around this amazing blog full of all kinds of family fun. From Birthday party brainstorming to the world’s best brownie recipes, they have it all. Happy reading.

* The Jet Lag Woes

Jet lag, you sly dog, you’ve done it again. You’ve fed them after midnight and turned my sweet little angels into sweet little monsters. Well, we’re not going down without a fight. Here are our best tips to help with the jet lag woes.

IMG_6042Hydration – Studies show that one of the best ways to prevent jet lag is to stay hydrated. Use this as a preventive measure even before you take off. In the days leading up to a long flight make sure that everyone in the family gets plenty to drink and give your kids get lots of water on the plane. Don’t be afraid to ask the flight attendant for an extra round of apple juice. Flying is notorious for causing dehydration so, you will want to drink more than you think you need. For the adults in the family, keep in mind that alcohol and caffeine can actually cause dehydration so it’s best to avoid them around travel time.

Keep a Schedule – As much as possible you’ll want stick to your normal schedule. As soon as you land (or even before) change your clocks to the local time. Try not to think about what time it “really” is back home. That only makes it worse. When traveling west it can be very tempting to go to bed at 5:00pm. Don’t. And try your best to keep your kids up until as close to bedtime as possible. If anyone wants a nap don’t let it be a long one (when I say long I mean longer than normal). The first day is always the hardest but I have found that if we can keep a good schedule we can kick the jet lag in just a couple of days.

Sometimes vacations are scheduled for you with very little wiggle room. So, if you are traveling for a special event, like a wedding, you might want to consider getting there a few days early so that your kids have some time to adjust before they are paraded around for inspection and cheek-pinching by your friends and relatives.

IMG_1363Soak up the Sunlight – use it to your advantage. The sun naturally signals to our bodies that they should be awake. So, do your best to spend your first day of jet lag outside. When traveling East, your kids might want to sleep in. I know… that sounds SO wonderful! But don’t let them sleep too long. Get them up and take them outside. Let them see the sunshine. It will help their internal clocks (and yours) regulate to the new time.

IMG_1065-2Midnight Snacks and Stories – Especially when we are traveling east, our kids will almost certainly wake up bright-eyed and ready to go sometime around 2:00 in the morning. If they do wake up, the first night or two you might consider letting them get up for a little while. Keep this time calm and quiet. Sing lullabies instead of running around, don’t turn on too many lights, etc. Make them a sandwich, watch a short movie, read some stories and tuck them back in bed.

IMG_1906Roll with it – Confession: last time we got home from an overseas trip I crawled into the crib and slept there with my one-year-old son. It was 1 in the morning and even after a snack, a story, and an episode of Dora he would not fall asleep. So, I just climbed on in for a little snuggling (drastic times you know). Mind you, this in not a normal practice in my house but it worked. After half an hour he was asleep. Later that night our two-year-old found her way to our bed and was not removed for several hours.

Avoid Un-prescribed Medication – Many parents have been known to give their children some Children’s Benadryl or other similar medications to help kids sleep. I’m the kind of person that is weary to take medication even when it’s prescribed so you can imagine what side of this controversy I’m on. Even so, I’m not one to judge. If you are considering medications, let me just suggest that you ask a doctor about it first and make sure that you talk about proper dosing as overdose is the largest concern. Also, it’s important to know that while antihistamines have known drowsiness effects in adults, they can actually have very different side effects in kids. Children’s Benadryl says that it may cause “excitability” in small children, which is kind of what you are trying to avoid in the first place.

With all the risks associated with giving children medication without doctor approval, I would recommend just avoiding it all together. Instead, you might consider a more natural solution. Lavender, for example, has natural soothing and calming properties. I have some essential lavender oil that I rub on my kids feet and pillows before bedtime the night we get home from a long trip. It’s not going to knock them out but it is a much safer sleep aid.

IMG_0213Culture Shock vs. Jet Lag – If it’s been a week and you still think they might have switched out your kids for different ones at customs you might recognize that maybe jet lag isn’t the culprit. Sometimes kids have a hard time being taken our of their home environment. New beds and new faces can contribute to grumpiness just as much as a new time-zone. You might want to take a special stuffed animal or toy with you on your trip to remind them of home. Be patient with them, make sure to show extra love, and they’ll get used to it.

If you have any other ideas on how to help kids with jet lag please leave us a comment. We love to hear from you.

* Vienna, Austria

Austrian National Library

We have taken our little family on a lot of European Adventures. Every place we’ve visited has only been enhanced because we had our children along for the ride. That was until we got to Vienna. Don’t get me wrong, Vienna is a beautiful city and certainly worth visiting. To be fair, I think  that our rocky experience may have been because of lack of planning but Vienna was by far the least family friendly place we have been to in Europe. Thanks to some great friends, we had a good list of things to see in the city. We just forgot ask all the “kid questions”. If we had to do it again, there are so many things I wish I would have known about bringing children to this amazing city. In short, go to Vienna! Take your kids! But do your research before you get there.

Vienna Town Square

Vienna is a performance city. From the Opera and the Symphony to the violinists on the street corners, people want to entertain you. It’s one of the reasons that you go. January and February are considered “ball season” and you can attend dance lessons and dinner events in grande 15th Century style ball rooms. Obviously, children are not allowed at these parties and performances. So, this city would be a good place to bring along friends, family, or a nanny to watch the kids.

Crown Jewels of Austria

Not only are the events closed to children but even the tour of the buildings themselves can have limited age access. The Opera House, for example, does not allow children under the age of 6 on the tour. You will want to check the age limits for all the places you plan to visit. Vienna isn’t afraid to turn you away if you have little children. We were denied admittance to churches and other places because our kids were too young. The Spanish Ridding School for example, has an age limit of 4 and up. We had told our 2-year-old all day that we were going to see the horses dance. There was some heart-break when we found out that she couldn’t go inside.

Schönbrunn Palace

There are some family events in Vienna but you have to look  a little harder for them. We would highly recommend a visit to the Schönbrunn Palace as it has a lot of activities specifically for kids. There is a Children’s Museum as well as the Imperial Zoo (this is the most amazing Zoo I’ve ever been to… as well as the oldest in all of Europe). Kids are also allowed on the tour of the palace (about 45 min.). And it was quite nice just to let them run around and explore the extensive gardens after the tour.

Imperial Zoo

Also, on the grounds is a puppet show theater but don’t assume that just because it sounds like it’s something for kids that you can take them. We made that mistake. Our last night in Vienna, we planned to see a performance at this quaint little theater but when we got there they turned us away because we had kids. My apologies, I didn’t realize that a puppet show was “no place for children”. Here’s the good news: they do special matinée performance for the wee ones. So, just get tickets in advance and make sure it’s a kid friendly performance.

Stephen’s Dom

St. Stephen’s Cathedral in the very center of the city is quite beautiful and free to enter. For a fee you can see the bell towers as well as the crypt. We wondered if the crypt would be too scary for our young kids but decided to risk it… and I’m glad we did. It’s not as spooky as it sounds and it was pretty awesome. The Royal Hapsburg Family’s bones are buried here and their innards are displayed in opaque jars where they have been preserved with alcohol. Creepy! Your 9-year-old boys will love it. If you have a chance, we recommend getting high enough to see the roof of the Cathedral. It’s really impressive.

Grave site of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Make sure to find yourselves some Schnitzel and Apple Strudel. The Austrians also know how to rock a bowl of ice cream. So, you won’t want to go home without tasting some gelato. When it come to food, just be aware that Viennese will nickel and dime you so be careful how you order. Some other family friendly activities might include: The Royal Treasury, The Naschmarkt, The Hoffburg Palace, and the Zentralfriefhof Cemetery (where Beethoven and Mozart are both buried).  All in all, Vienna was an awesome city: one I think we’ll try again in 20 years.

* Sleeper Trains

So, we might be a little crazy but we are always up for a good adventure. We recently took our kids on a sleeper train from Warsaw to Vienna. It went surprisingly well. In fact, I would do it again… maybe with a few tweaks. If you are considering a sleeper train with kids, here are some things that we learned from the experience.


Germany-couchette-6There are different kinds of bunks in an assortment of price ranges. Lines are going to vary from country to country but most of the time you can purchase a private cabin (which will cost a bit extra) or you can choose to share your bunking experience with strangers.  It’s not as creepy as it sounds. It’s really a first class vs. economy type choice. The “sleeper” cars have real bunk beds and a little sink with some towels, etc. It’s more like a tiny hotel room. The other option is the “couchettes” which is what we had. There are 6 bunks: 3 on each side and you are just paying for a bed. There is also a communal bathroom on each car as well as a washing station that has a sink and available drinking water.

What to Expect

Kids usually ride for free until at least 5 or 6 but if you want them to have their own bed, you will have to buy them their own ticket. When we purchased our tickets we were able to request the bottom bunks, which was helpful with children. A sheet, pillow, and blanket are all provided for each bed but we also brought a couple of extra blankets as we had some extra bodies. There isn’t a ton of space, though, so it’s a good idea to try to pack light.

IMG_2231It’s way easier to take a night train than a red-eye flight. Even though it’s small, your kids (and you) have an actually bed to lie down in. Still, it’s not home so we brought things like movies (on our iPad) and little snacks to make the trip go smoother. For our littlest one, I had a bottle all ready with formula so all I had to do was add some water from a water bottle in the middle of the night if he needed it. There’s a small pouch where you can keep a few small items. It’s a good idea to put anything you might need during the night in there before you go to sleep. Once the lights go off, it’s hard to find anything or even get to anything in that little space.

If you do need to get out and stretch your legs or walk around there is a long skinny hallway on every car that connects the rooms. It’s a good place to look out the window  for a change of scenery. Some trains even have dinner cars but check before you board so you know if you need to bring your own snacks.


imagesMake sure that you are smart about being safe on your trip. Keep any valuables close to you; within immediate reach on your person. Also, talk to the conductor before you go so you know what to expect. For example, if you can expect any interruptions during the night. People have been known to come by in the middle of the night pretending to be “passport control” etc. So, unless instructed otherwise, lock your bunk once you’re in and don’t open it for anyone until the morning.

Things to Consider

The train itself was just fine. Our kids slept well with no major issues. The problems that we didn’t expect came from our arrival and departure times. We rolled into Vienna at 6:00 in the morning, we couldn’t check into our hotel and nothing was open yet. So, we wandered the empty streets with a couple of grumpy kids for a couple of grumpy hours. We were SO not prepared for that. Also, on the day we left we had to check out of our hotel at noon. They held our luggage for us but our train didn’t leave until 10:30 that night. So, at the end of the day we ran into a similar situation: seeking refuge at a Starbucks. Just something to think about. If you have a choice on timing, think about it carefully. If you don’t, just make sure you plan better than we did. All in all, though, it was a good experience.

More Info

I have yet to find a good website on eastern european train travel. But the RailEurope site does a pretty good job in Western Europe and the websites for Train Line and East Coast are both good options for train travel in the United Kingdom. This website also has some pretty useful information on night trains in the U.K. And don’t forget that AMTRAK does sleeper trains in the United States.

Here is just a short list, from The Lonely Planet, of the top 8 European Night Trains:

  • Moscow to St. Petersburg
  • London to Fort William
  • Paris to Venice
  • Trondheim to Bodo
  • Amsterdam to Copenhagen
  • Budapest to Split
  • Prague to Kraków
  • Sofia to Istanbul

And we would add Warsaw to Vienna to that list. Happy Travels.

* Athens, Greece

IMG_7645At the risk of sounding extremely over-privileged,  I am going to tell you that after a while Europe starts to blend together. The old town squares and the cobblestone streets all begin to look the same. Amazing, but the same. That’s why Athens was such a refreshing vacation. It’s like nowhere else I’ve ever been before. The Mediterranean has a vibe and a feeling all its own but add more than 2,000 years of history to that and you are left with an odd mix of culture. One that puts you somewhere between the awe of the ancient world and the relaxation of the ocean.  It’s kind of incredible.

IMG_1479We saw a lot in the 5 days we spent in Athens, so here goes. Getting up to the Acropolis is a bit of a hike and you won’t be able to take a stroller. So, if your kids are small enough you will definitely want to carry them. It’s a good idea to make this one of your first days in Athens so that everyone’s legs, big or small, are fresh and ready for a good climb. You’ll have to make (at least) a 15 min ascent from anywhere in the city just to get to the gate (which is also where you will buy tickets). Then, the hike continues as you make your way up to the Parthenon, the Erechtheion, and Nike’s Temple. IMG_7364It is up pretty high but it’s well protected and I never worried that my kids were going to fall off the edge. However, it’s not exactly a place that the little ones can run wild, so you will want to go when they are feeling… respectful. I would plan at least half a day to see it. There is a bathroom at the entrance and one just next to the Parthenon but you won’t find anywhere to buy food or drinks (not even water) so be sure to pack something with you.

IMG_1572Your tickets for the Acropolis are good for 4 days and will also get you into The Temple of Zeus,  The Roman Agora, and The Temple of Hephaestus. A word of warning: these ancient sites close remarkably early (when we were there in November everything closed at 3:00pm). So you will want to plan to go in the morning or early afternoon.IMG_7426

The entrance to the Acropolis is just a stones throw from Mars Hill (or the Areopagus) so make sure not to miss it. There is no admission fee and the view is spectacular. There are two sets of stairs to get up on top. One is an old staircase carved into the hillside. And while it looks a lot cooler, it’s carved out of marble that has become quite slick over the last thousand years. So just be sure to hold hands and be cautious going up with the kiddies. The other stairs (just to the right) are newer and a bit more stable.

IMG_2056Directly south of the Acropolis, you will find the new Acropolis Museum which opened in 2009. So great! The museum houses the original Caryatids from the Erechtheion along with all sorts of other impressive excavations and findings from the Acropolis. We were pleased by the family friendliness of this museum. You can borrow a Family Backpack full of fun activities for the kids as well as free-to-rent strollers. The other big museum, the National Museum is across town and while it was probably more impressive, it was definitely less child-proof than the Acropolis Museum. I was a bit worried the whole time that my almost 3-year-old was going to topple over an almost 3,000-year-old statue. IMG_7587That being said, it was SO amazing that I would totally risk it again. But next time, I might put my kids on a leash (don’t judge because I’m only kind-of kidding). Also be sure to visit the Parliament building for the changing of the guard and the University Library just down the street from that. Both are worth seeing.

Aside from the BIG tourist attractions listed above we would also recommend a few off-the-beaten-path places.

IMG_77011. The Temple of Poseidon: You can take a tour for around 50 Euro or just catch a bus for about 5 Euro. Everyone says to go at Sunset but make sure to check bus times so that you don’t miss the last one back to Athens. We caught the 2:30pm bus down to Sounion and the 6:00pm bus back and had ample time to see it. The bus stop is a little hard to spot if you don’t know what you are looking for so be sure to ask someone at the travel office or at your hotel for directions. It’s about 3 hours travel time, round trip. The drive skirts the Ocean the entire way and makes for some pretty incredible views.

IMG_06232. The Central Market: Not to be confused with the Roman Agora. We don’t want to spoil the fun by telling you all about it but just trust us on this one… you don’t want to miss it!

3. A Ferry Ride to a neighboring island: We took the metro down to the Piraeus Port. It’s the last stop on Metro 1 line (or the green line).  From there we boarded a little ferry (you can buy tickets right at the pier) and took a day trip out to the island of Aegina. We stripped our kids down to their diapers and let them play in the ocean water. It was fantastic. We had fried octopus for dinner. It was not so fantastic. The harbor is beautiful and it was fun to explore the little island.

IMG_1552  IMG_1545

We used Athens as our home-base and took some day trips to other places close by. Our hotel was in a part of the city known as Plaka. I wouldn’t have traded that for anything. It was the perfect place to stay; close to everything and such a fun atmosphere. There are lots of little shops and fun places to eat. Our hotel was called the Magna Grecia, located right across the street from the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens. We booked through Orbitz and got a pretty good deal. We had an amazing view of the Acropolis. Once you added 2 baby beds for our kids, the room was pretty tight but worth it for the location and the price. I would recommend it to anyone.

*Cathedral Etiquette

You will not take a European vacation without entering a church. I doubt it is even possible. So, here are a few guidelines to follow when entering places of worship.

St. Nicolas’s Church, Ghent, Belgium

Dress: Usually in Catholic churches, no one is going to kick you out if you are not dressed properly. That doesn’t mean it’s not offensive when you don’t dress the part. Orthodox Temples are more likely to deny admittance for improper dress. Either way, it’s best to be respectful. When you enter make sure to remove your hat. In Orthodox buildings women are required to cover their heads with a scarf so it’s a good idea to pack a shawl or a light weight piece of fabric in your bag. Synagogues require that men and boys wear a Kippah but if it is required of visitors they are usually provided. It is considered rude to expose your shoulders so avoid tank tops or bring a cover. You should also wear pants that at least cover your knees. Try to wear soft soled shoes. The acoustics in these buildings are incredible and the wrong shoes can serve as loud and unwelcome distraction.

St. Bavo’s Cathedral, Ghent, Belgium

Taking Photos: Most of the time it’s ok to take pictures but make sure to check for posted signs just in case. Even though it is usually alright to take pictures there are a few rules to follow. The majority of places I’ve been ask you to turn off the flash.  Also, never take pictures during Mass or during any service. Don’t gather a large group of people in front of the altar or next to a Saint and say “cheese”. Try to stay out-of-the-way and be respectful. Just remember that it was place of worship before it is was tourist destination.

Food: Spit out your chewing gum and finish your snacks before you enter.

St. Michael’s Cathedral, Brussels, Belgium

Whisper: Use reverent and hushed tones. Do your best to keep your kids quiet (I know it’s not always possible). If the little ones are really riled up it’s a good idea to come back when they are feeling a little calmer. Maybe take a lap around and see the outside first. It’s also good to remember that Jesus Christ said “suffer the little children… to come unto me” (Matt. 19:14) So, don’t worry too much if they aren’t perfect angels.

A couple more things: 1) It is considered rude to enter the altar area or cross directly in front of it.  2) If you do not belong to the religion, you don’t have to cross yourself, light a candle or participate (though you are usually welcome to do so). It is just fine to pass through as a spectator.

*Ghent, Belgium

Just a 30 min train ride from Brussels, Ghent is one of our favorite cities in Europe. The old architecture and medieval feeling of the city make you feel as though you have been transported in time. This little canal city is just close enough to find without trouble but  far enough off the beaten path that it doesn’t get too many tourists. For this reason it has retained much of its middle age charm. It’s not a large city so you can see just about everything in 2 or 3 days, making it perfect for a short weekend trip.IMG_2129

The train station is a quite a way from the city center so you’ll want to take the bus or a taxi into downtown. Once you are there, however, you shouldn’t need any other transportation as everything will be within walking distance. We stayed at the Ghent Marriott, which was very reasonably priced (this may have been due to the fact that we were there in the off-season. We visited at the end of April). We found that the location of the hotel was absolutely perfect and the service and accommodations were great as well. They had 2 clean and assembled baby beds waiting for us by the time we checked in and got upstairs.

IMG_2893The best way to see Ghent is just to walk around the city. In 2 days of wandering we felt like we stumbled in to all the right places. In our meanderings we found good places to eat, lots of fun buildings and even a couple of little parks where our kids got to take breaks and play. There are a few things below, however, that you’ll want to plan to see.

The Cathedrals: there are two as well as a bell tower (which we walked past but didn’t enter). The first Cathedral is St. Nicholas’s Church. It is stunning. The walls seem to climb for miles before the finally meet the ceiling. St. Nicholas’s is free to enter and welcomes visitors from 10:00am to 5:00pm Tues. – Sun. The church is closed for Monday morning mass but opens briefly afterward from 2:00pm to 5:00pm. IMG_3078The second is the St. Bavo Cathedral which houses the famous Ghent Altarpiece. The Cathedral itself is free to enter but there is a fee to view the altarpiece which is set up in a separate guarded room in the corner of the cathedral. St. Bavo’s was consecrated in 942 A.D. but has undergone many renovations since that time. It is an intricate and spectacular building. As you wander the halls you will find many sculptures and paintings including Saint Bavo enters the Convent at Ghent  by Peter Paul Rubens. The church is open to the public everyday from 8:30am to 5:00pm. While you can certainly light a candle and offer a prayer, both Cathedrals are meant more for viewing than for worship. This made us feel more comfortable bringing in our, sometimes not-so-quiet, children.

IMG_2997Gravensteen Castle. The fortress towers down over the river just north of the center of town. You can’t miss it. It is free to everyone under the age of 19. Tickets for adults run between 4 and 8 euro depending on your age. While the castle itself doesn’t close until 6pm, last admission is at 5pm. Once inside you will find a self guided tour of the structure. Plan on lot of stairs and tight spaces. Thus, no strollers are allowed (or even possible) so bring the child carriers.

IMG_3069Saturdays there are little markets set up in the square where vendors sell everything from live chickens to antique jewelry. This part was particularly fun for the kids. The little ones will particularly enjoy the animals. You might consider giving each child a couple of Euro at places like these and let them pick out their own souvenir (provided they don’t choose a chicken, of course).IMG_2936 Other than that just make sure not to miss out on the Belgian Chocolate! There is a chocolate shop between the bell tower and St. Bavo’s called Van Hoorebeke’s Chocolate Shop. Here you can look down through the glass floor and watch as the chocolatiers work their magic. The staff is also known to have a soft spot for children and will often treat them to a free chocolate in exchange for a smile. Overall we found Ghent to be a charming and friendly city. Defiantly worth a visit.

*Aulani Disney Resort and Spa: Kapolei, Hawaii

They say that Disney World is the happiest place on earth. I beg to differ.  Just imagine all the magic of the planet’s most popular theme park, strip away the crowded lines, and replace the rides with a tropical paradise. This is what you can expect to find at the Aulani Disney Resort in Kapolei, Hawaii. Disney, you’ve really outdone yourself on this one! If you are searching for the perfect family island get away, look no more – this is it.

Our family visited Aulani last May as part of a company gathering. The resort is located on the island of O’ahu (about a half an hour drive from the Honolulu airport). Within and hour of the resort you can be to the North Shore, the Dole Pineapple Factory, Waikiki beach, Pearl Harbor, and a whole bucket list full of awesome family activities. The Disney staff can help set you up with organized excursions or you can rent a car right on site and go it alone. But quite honestly, you could spend a whole week just hanging out at the resort and love every second. Here is a list of things to do without even leaving the Aulani grounds:

  • h3Play on the beach
  • Kayak and canoe rentals
  • Snorkeling
  • Outdoor Disney movie nights
  • Luau’s and entertainment
  • Spend time at the Spa
  • Hang out with Disney characters
  • Adventure trails and nature walks
  • Golf
  • Shopping
  • Manta Ray experience
  • Swimming pools (complete with water-slides and a lazy river)
  • Restaurants

And if the parents want a little alone time,  Aunty’s Beach House  is a spot (free of charge) where kids ages 3-12 can have some supervised time to learn about Polynesian culture, sing songs, and play games. This place really has it all. We went on the company’s dime but take into consideration that it does cost a pretty penny so you’ll want to start saving. We loved every second of our vacation spent at this little heaven on earth and recommend it to anyone who likes a little pixie dust with their sand.

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