*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.  
IMG_4234
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.

19

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.

* Teach Them to Swim

No matter who we are, most of our favorite vacation spots include water. Whether we are driving to the Oregon cost, camping at our cabin on the lake, or taking our long-awaited trip to the Bahamas, we love the water! And our kids love it too. That’s why teaching your kids to swim is an essential travel skill. You don’t want to have to worry about them falling into the hotel pool for the rest of their childhood. I promise that helping your kids with water safety will be a huge stress relief on vacations from now until the end of time.

h2If you have little ones, it’s a really good idea for both Mom and Dad to get familiar with child CPR. The best way to do this is to take a class at somewhere like the American Red Cross or at your local Swimming Pool. When you go on vacation there won’t always be a lifeguard around. Make sure you know what to do if your kids get into trouble in the water.

It’s also a good idea to teach your children the importance of a swimsuit. This may sound silly but if you drill it into their heads that they need a swimsuit to swim, they will be much less likely to jump into the water with their clothes on. Help them pick out a suit that they like and will be exited to wear. Make a big deal about putting on their swimsuit so that they know that swimming is something you get ready for and do together.

They are never too young to start learning. While you cannot expect that your 1-year-old is going to swim by herself, she can still
h1be exposed to the water and learn not to fear it. Take her with you in the water as much as possible. Help her get used to feeling safe in the water as you hold her. A baby will naturally hold their breath if you blow on their face. So, when you think they are ready, count 1…2…3…, blow on their face and briefly and gently dunk them just under the surface of the water. This will help them get used to holding their breath and having water over their heads.

As they get a little older you can teach them to blow bubbles, kick their legs and help them learn to float on their backs. You can do a lot of the instruction yourself but if you aren’t comfortable teaching your own children to swim, find a friend who is or put them in formal swim lessons. Vacations, especially summer vacations, will inevitably come with their fair share of H2O. Give yourself peace of mind by teaching your kids to swim well and swim early.

* There’s no place like home: Exploring your own city

It’s amazing how much time we can spend planning a trip to The Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls and yet salemwe’ve forgotten about one of the best travel destinations in the world… our own backyard. imagesIt’s true that the grass is always greener on the other side of the state line but you don’t necessarily need to go far to explore the world. Just get out and see your own home town. There’s a lot to love about it. After all, you did choose to live here once.

Practicing your exploring skills in your hometown is a great way to help your kids get used to being on the go. If they get tired you can just take them back to the house for lunch and naps. Treat your neighborhood like a training ground for traveling with your kids.hbf-brochure-1 See how they do when the stakes are low. You can help them become good travelers from the second they leave the doorstep.

Take a walk or a drive and see what you can find.  Be observant and spontaneous. When you see a new park or bike trail, write it down on a list of things “to see” in your city. 
Stop on a whim and read the historic landmark signs on the side of the road. You can use apps like google field trip to help you on your quest to find the fun and exiting things around you.

mNVMWYnqby4pqNz5qKjGiOQPretend like you are on vacation at home. What would you go see? Look up your city’s website and check out what is in your community. I’ll bet there are 10 museums within half an hour of your house that you’ve never set foot in. Even Challis, ID (population 909) and Bridger, MT (population 708) have websites with “events” and “recreation” activities. So spend some time planning a trip to “visit” the place where you live.WalkingTourBrochure_ad

You can even take a tour of the city. This might sound strange, especially if you’ve lived in the same place your whole life but a tour is a great way to learn about your stomping grounds. We often know less about the place we live than the places we’ve traveled to. So why not let someone tell you about it? You can go on a guided tour of your city. Lots of places even have self-guided walking tours. Swing by city hall, they usually have pamphlets and maps available with great information. Try to view things with a fresh pair of eyes. Buy a guidebook, take a camera, and make an adventure out of it.  

* Invest in a child carrier or backpack

This is one of our most important pieces of advice. First off , big crowds make it tough to maneuver a stroller. Having a backpack allows you to take your kids as part of your person. You’re not worried about their safety because they are attached to you. Also, you can better weave in and out of large groups of people. If you have 2 small kids, get two backpacks: one for Mom and one for Dad. Second, popular travel destinations are often not very push chair friendly. There are usually lots of stairs (down to the subway or metro, perhaps). This increases the appeal of being able to take your kids on your back. The same principles are also true for outdoor destinations like hiking. It’s a simple but practical way to optimise the ease of transportation.

Our Top Pick: The Kid Comfort II by Deuter.

deuterThis backpack goes for about $240 and is well worth it. You can pick it up in-store at someplace like R.E.I. or you can order on-line from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk. This bag beats out the competition for reasons of  both design and comfort. The pack is adjustable  according to your height and size. With both chest and hip straps, the weight of the child is better distributed  on your body making it easier to cover more ground. The straps are well padded making the backpack quite comfortable. The kickstand makes it possible to take off the backpack and set in down without taking out your child  every time you want to stop (a very convenient feature). There are also several pockets and pouches that can store items essential for traveling with kids. Things like diapers, wipes, snacks, toys, sunscreen, water bottles, etc. We would recommend picking up the sunshade for an extra $30. There are also kid comfort’s I and III but we’ve found that the II has more storage space than the small and is not as bulky as the large. Thus, it is our star pick in child carriers.