*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.

* 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.

*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.

*All things Airplane

Our best advice for airplane travel is to Simplify. You probably won’t have time to read a book or peruse a magazine. You probably won’t even have time to take a nap. So, simplify your carry-on as much as possible. When you signed up for parenthood, your bucket bag and your briefcase got traded in for a diaper bag.  Trust us – you want to leave everything possible in your checked luggage: your kids will be enough to juggle. These are the things that I put in my carry-on:

  • Diapers, wipes (in a travel size case), and disposable changing pads. (When we get on the plane, the in-flight IMG_1535magazine comes out of the seat-back pocket and this list of diaper changing supplies goes in. It’s nice to have these things in a convenient, dig-proof place on the plane).
  • Baby food and formula (and extra baby food and formula)
  • Snacks (things that can be given one at a time double as a food and an activity)
  • Dum-Dum Suckers (for take off)
  • Pacifiers (work like dum-dums for the ever so tiny traveler).
  • Footed pajamas – One piece of clothing as opposed to three or four. Pack and spare pair just in case.
  • -A couple of small toys or games. We also download a movie or two on our ipad.
  • Wallet, Passports, Cash, Phone, etc.
  • -A hard copy of travel itinerary and flight confirmations.

IMG_3794 If your kids can carry a backpack let them take it. Our 2-year-old takes her own carry on. She has a little Dora the Explorer backpack that she loves. Inside there is a coloring book, crayons, a very small story book, and a couple of snacks. The less you have to carry yourself the better. But  at a small age, make sure to pack the bag for them. They are not going to know how much is too much to carry. If the bag is too heavy for them you’ll end up with it. Aside from the sheer practicality of having them carry their own things, this also gives them both a responsibility and a “security blanket” of sorts. It will be an object that young kids can identify with as something from home while traveling to a new place.

For International Flights, here are a few extra things you will want to consider.

Call ahead! Unlike domestic flights, you have to pay the taxes on a lap child’s flight. Because of this, there is a bit more fuss involved when bringing the “under 2” crowd along for the ride. Check and double-check that your infant has been added to your ticket. I’ve had a problem with this on EVERY international flight I have been on. Make sure to print out a confirmation of your tickets before you go to the airport. Get there early and make sure you have PRINTED boarding passes for each person (baby gets his own) for every stop on the trip. Keep these with your passports in a safe place. Without them, you will probably miss a tight connection.

IMG_1296Request the front row of your section.  Many airlines have baby bassinets for the really small ones (call ahead to arrange for this). They clip into the wall on the front row of any section. For me, this is a game changer. It means not having to hold that baby for 10 hours. It means you are not their bed. You might even have a chance to sleep. Also, being on the front row means extra space. When the seat belt sign goes off, we put a blanket down with some toys and sit the baby down for some play time. Being on the front row also means that the flight attendant is keenly more aware of you and usually willing to help out.

Strollers: Some international policies say that your stroller will be checked all the way to your FINAL destination – even if you check it plane side right before boarding. When you check your bags, make sure they put a white final destination sticker on your stroller or there is a good chance it will get lost. This also means that you may not have it for your layover. I know, I know… ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

stroller_0We are not kidding you. The laws have to do with customs and there is really no way around it in some countries (Germany and France for example). So plan for it.  You can ask the front desk to call ahead to the other airport and have someone meet you with an airport issue stroller. These, however, do NOT come in double form so if you have 2 little ones you will need to request 2. You can also bring a baby carrier (something like a Moby wrap or ErgoBaby) for the infants. Just make sure it fits in your carry-on bag.

Pack an Overnight Bag. On an international flight you’ll want more than your diaper bag. This overnight bag will have everything you would need to be on vacation for 24 hours. Think of it as an emergency preparedness kit. First of all, it is going to be a long flight so you will want whatever things you may need to have on the plane. But more than that, this bag is a safety net in case you miss a connection and get stranded in Timbuktu. You’ll also need it if your bags don’t make the same flights that you do.

Go in knowing that if it can go wrong, it probably will. Your bags will get lostIMG_0787 (especially if you are flying through Paris) and your kids will cry. You’ll miss a connection or get put on standby. But you will make it: so, keep the faith! Remember that 30,000 ft. is not the place to teach your kids life long lessons or to shape them into the wonderful people they will one day become. If they are screaming, just give them the candy already. You are a better parent for it right now and the people sitting around you will thank you. Treat flying like the special experience that it is. You can reinstate all of your rules, time outs, and bed times when you are back on solid ground but from airport gate to airport gate, just try to get though it with as much as your mind as possible.

Worried about jet lag? Click here to check out our post on Jet Lag for ways to help the little ones cope with big time changes.

*Kraków, Poland

Dear European Traveler,

Gather round and hear a little secret…we know who you are. You’ve visited the Colosseum and soaked in the Tuscan sun. You’ve tasted chocolate in Belgium. You’ve viewed the Eifel tower, the Mona Lisa, and Notre Dame. When you made it to Croatia you though “Now I’ve been somewhere exotic”… and you had been. You went north to see Van Gogh,  skipped over to have tea with the Queen, journeyed down to run with the bulls, packed it in and called it good. This was your picture perfect, couldn’t have asked for more, complete tour of  WESTERN Europe. But stop there and you are honestly missing so much more than you realize.

To ease you into the half of the continent that you somehow totally forgot about, here is a guide to one of the greatest cities in the world: Kraków, Poland (also known as Cracow). It’s just about the only city in Poland that wasn’t ransacked or destroyed in WWII. Hitler took a shine to it and, for some unknown reason, spared it from total ruin. Kraków is an amazing city and should be a high priority on your next European adventure.

What to See

IMG_41971. The Old Town Square: It’s the largest old town square in all of Europe as well as one of the oldest. It has a festival feeling all the time and there always seems to be something going on. You’ll find street performers in abundance as well as lots of places to eat. Don’t miss the cloth market that runs directly down the center of the square; It’s full of fun little shops and vendors.

2.The Wieliczka Salt Mine: wieliczka
located a 40 min bus ride from downtown. The mine has been around for nearly 1,000 years! Inside you will see sculptures and  entire rooms carved out of salt. There is an extremely impressive salt carved Cathedral near the end of the tour. You are required to enter the mine with a guide but they have regular English tours that leave every 30 min. (Tours are also given in French, German, Polish, Spanish and Russian).  Because there are several hundred stairs descending into the mine you’ll want to pack the babies on your back if possible. Also, it gets chilly down there so even on a hot day you’ll want jackets. It’s about a 3 hour tour so bring some snacks for the kids. After the tour you will find gift shops, restrooms, a restaurant  and a child’s play place area. This is an amazing experience not to be missed.

IMG_42413. Wawel Castle (pronounced Vavel): Full of old legends of Kings, Knights, and even Dragon’s, the Wawel castle has a magical feeling. It’s about a 20 min. walk from the square and is free to tour the grounds.  
There are lots of museums and exhibits priced (very reasonably) al a cart style, including: The Stateroom, The Treasury  and The Tower. There is even a Dragon’s Lair that is sure to delight and spook the kiddies (but be warned of lots of tight downward stairs as you descend into Smok’s dark and dripping cavern). The Cathedral is an additional cost but is free on Sunday’s after mass (12:30pm). All of the castle’s attractions are closed on Mondays so be sure to plan ahead.

IMG_4306_24. St. Mary’s Cathedral: A beautiful and stunning Cathedral located right in the Old Town Square.  Rebuilt in the 14th Century, St. Mary’s is one of the oldest buildings in Poland and has a beautiful and unique exterior. The inside is famous for the Altarpiece of Viet Stoss which is the largest Gothic Altarpiece in the world. There is a small fee to enter the Cathedral unless of course you sneak in for Sunday Mass.IMG_4218

5. The Underground City: Worth a visit, especially if you like archeology. This site is located directly underneath the Old Town Square and was excavated in 2006. It’s a well-preserved view of ancient Kraków, complete with artifacts, old foundations and even vampier bones. Be sure to get tickets in advance because they tend to sell out. You can reserve tickets in person or on-line.  Backpacks are not allowed so you will have to check your child carriers at the front desk and carry the little ones through the exhibit. The whole thing takes about 45 min to an hour.

6. The Auschwitz Concentration camp is about an hour drive from the city. We decided that we weren’t quite ready to see it and wanted to wait until our next trip to Kraków. But if you are interested in going you can easily find tours that will take you from Kraków to Auschwitz. .

Accommodations and Travel

We stayed at the RedBrick hotel and would highly recommend it. It’s a lot of bang for your buck. Nice accommodations and a friendly English speaking staff. But most importantly it has an ideal location. It’s a 2 min walk from the train station and a 5 min walk into the old town square. Also, bus 304 picks you up outside the front door and will take you right to the Salt Mine. We passed on the over priced breakfast and found some quaint bakeries inside or close to old town instead. We also saved 30% by calling instead of booking online.

As far as travel goes, you can fly right into the Kraków airport or come in by train from Warsaw (about 3 hours). It’s also just a 5 hour train ride from Kraków to Vienna, Austria. Polish trains in the North can be a bit slow but in the southern part of the country there are express options and even sleeper trains available. The Polish country side is beautiful and worth seeing. Traveling by train is comfortable and enjoyable. Children under 6 travel free and still get their own seat. Be sure to ask for tickets for a compartment car (think Harry Potter style instead of airplane rows). This makes for a more enjoyable experience, especially with your tiny travelers.

If you’ve been to Kraków, please feel free to leave additional comments and advice below.

*The Keukenhof: world’s largest flower garden

2The Keukenhof is located in Lisse, The Netherlands. Lisse is in the center of the bulb field region of Holland – where all the tulips grow. The Keukenhof  is open at the height of spring for about eight weeks every year (from about mid March to mid May) and houses more than 7 million flowers. We visited this year – the first week of May – with our two kids (ages 2 years and 6 months). What an amazing tourist destination. If you have plans to be anywhere in Western Europe in the spring time, the Keukenhof is a MUST see. 22

Because Lisse is a small town with very few hotels or travel accommodations, the best way to get there is to stay in a neighboring city and take a day trip by bus into the festival. We 20recommend staying in Leiden because it’s a bit closer and a lot cheaper than Amsterdam. You can buy a combo bus (round trip) and entrance ticket at the Leiden Central Station for about 22 Euro. (Children under age 4 are free). 28Buses come and go from the gardens about every 25 min. There is food available for purchase inside the park but the prices are high and the lines are long. So, it’s a good idea to pack your own snacks and lunches before you go. While you can leave and re-enter the park, the Keukenhof isn’t close to anything but flowers so don’t plan on finding a grocery store or a restaurant outside the gates.


It is a very family friendly experience. Once you are inside the gardens, in addition to the flowers, you will find a small petting zoo, a couple of play grounds (with teeter-totters, slides, and swings) and a maze. For older children the front desk offers a scavenger hunt around the park and educational information about the flowers.

26Just outside the gates you can rent bicycles for about 10 Euro per person. They offer single and tandem bikes as well as attachable baby seats and bike trailers. Mid-day, our little family took a four-hour bike ride around Lisse to see the 23windmills and the bulb fields. There is no time limit of the bikes (as long as you have them back by closing time). You’ll ride past millions of flowers planted in straight lines like Iowa Corn. You can even stop and walk through the flowers and take some pictures.

If you live too far away to get your family all the way to Holland, there are lots of regional spring time flower festivals all around the globe. Places like The Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm in Aurora, OR; The Canadian Tulip Festival in Ottawa; or The Flower Bulb Jubilee in Belle Plain, KS.  So get 31outside this spring time and behold the beauty of the earth.

If you have a flower festival in your area let us know about it in the comments section below.

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