Travel with Kids

Berlin on a Budget

I think those who travel the world with children are a special breed of crazy. We are the rare few who have vision in abundance (I’m going to see the world! If we just pack this stroller, and this carrier, then we can make it to this city in this amount of time and for only this little amount of money!), persistence to the point of self-harm (I don’t care if baby is teething and toddler is potty training, we’re going to see Greece, dangit!), passion that exceeds natural human caution (oops, we’re pregnant again), and a lack of patience and discipline (sure, I could see Europe when I’m financially secure and don’t have 3 small kids in tow, but I’m here NOW and therefore need to see it NOW).

I also think this crazy is genetic. My mother is this breed of crazy. The last time I was in Berlin I was a baby and my mother took my brother and I on so many trips around the city that she “wore the wheels off” of the umbrella stroller she pushed me in. So that’s where I get this from. And that’s why I wanted to go to Berlin again – to see if I could find some thirty-year-old stroller tires.

I think the hardest thing about planning our trip to Berlin was deciding what to take the kids to see. There were so many child-friendly options! We were only going on a trip for a long weekend, so we knew we could only see two or three things.I think the hardest thing about planning our trip to Berlin was deciding what to take the kids to see. There were so many child-friendly options! We were only going on a trip for a long weekend, so we knew we could only see two or three things. My parents suggested the zoo and this blog post by Not a Ballerina had a great list of museums. We decided on the natural history museum because my boys love dinosaur skeletons. We also decided on a free walking tour of Berlin through Sandeman’s (we also went through this company in Amsterdam and attempted to use them in Prague).

We left on a Friday after school and battled through the traffic to arrive at the hostel we were staying at before nightfall. This was our first experience with a youth hostel and honestly, it wasn’t bad. We had a family room which meant we were not sharing our room with any other people and we had our own bathroom. Breakfast was served buffet style in a small cafeteria, there was free Wi-Fi, and plenty of vending machines and Foosball tables.  It wasn’t fancy, but it was in a good location (near the subway and free parking), affordable and quiet. We were able to park our car near the hostel and then just buy day passes on the subway to get around the city, which worked out really well.

Saturday morning we got up and ready and headed to the Berlin zoo by subway. First of all, let me just take a second to mention how great the subway system was in Berlin. The trains and stations were clean, timely and not at all crowded. I remember when we went to Paris trying to get on a train was nerve-wracking because there was hardly enough room to shove your way in and never any room to sit down. Later on our tour of Berlin we learned that the city had been expected to grow to a population of 10 million people by 1950 but due to war and then the division of East and West Germany, the population dwindled and to this day is only at about 4 million people. This means that although it is a big city with great facilities, transportation, and lots to do, to me it never felt crowded or too busy which I liked a lot.

Anyway, back to the zoo. It was AWESOME! Seriously, the Berlin zoo is one of the bestzoo
we’ve ever been to (definitely better than the Zurich zoo). It is beautifully landscaped, you are close to the animals, they have a great playground for the kids and of course great German restaurants on site. My oldest especially liked the nocturnal animals exhibit where you get to go underground in a dark room and see lots of animals that are only active at night. I enjoyed the exhibit too. I remember going to the Honolulu zoo and seeing the anteater, which was always just lying there, and wondering if he ever moved. Turns out they’re nocturnal so I actually got to see an anteater moving in Berlin. So cool! (I know, I know. I’m a nerd.)

We spent the morning and lunchtime in the zoo and then headed back to the subway toward the Brandenburg Gate to catch our afternoon walking tour. The tour was a nice way to get around and learn a little something about the major sites of Berlin. We got to see things like the remnants of the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, the Berlin Concert House and the place where Hitler supposedly committed suicide. Our guide was very informative and interesting. After the tour we got some Döners (mmmm…) and headed back to our room for the night.

jarsSunday morning we went over to the Berlin Museum of Natural History. They have the largest fully assembled dinosaur skeleton in the world displayed in this museum. They also have a T-Rex skeleton, displays on how taxidermy is done, all kinds of weird creepy jars of things in formaldehyde, models of the solar system and all kinds of rocks and crystals. The building itself is not that big. It only took us maybe two hours to see the whole place so it is a nice thing if you only have a little while to spare. After the museum we went back to the hostel, packed up and checked out and headed home.

All together I found Berlin to be a very child friendly place with a lot of fascinating history. With all the things to do and see in the area I think we could have easily spent a wholet-rex week there, but I was pleased with how we planned our weekend and think that our whole family really enjoyed it. Check out the city for yourself and let me know how you like it!

P.S. Still didn’t find those stroller wheels. Guess I’ll have to go back again someday…



6 Reasons why you Should Travel the World with Kids

Are you the type of person that thrives on excitement? Are you the kinda guy (or girl) that loves a challenge? Are you slightly masochistic? If you answered “yes” to any or all of these questions then you, my friend, should try traveling the world with a kid (or two or three)!

6 reasons to travel with kids

People often ask me why I travel with my kids. I’m not really sure if it’s because they are just curious or if it’s because they are concerned for my sanity. Either way, I sat down and thought about it and came up with a list. So without further ado, here are the reasons why I travel with my kids and why you should too (travel with your kids, that is, not mine… although you can totally borrow mine for a week or so if you want)!

1. A pack mule is your spirit animal. Do you dream of laying on the beach in your bikini with nothing but a Mojito in your hand? Ew! Me either! I’d much rather shove my mom-pooch into a “figure-flattering” ruched one-piece while I carry a baby in a car-seat, a toddler, a six-year-old’s hand, towels, buckets, shovels, a picnic basket full of snacks, a cooler full of drinks, hats, sunscreen, diapers, wipes, water shoes, Hot-Wheels cars, an umbrella, a camera and car keys. Sure, son, I can definitely hold your sunglasses too! I know you aren’t holding anything else and you can clearly see I’ve got my hands full, but I wouldn’t want you to have to strain your delicate little wrist, now would I? That’s right, just balance it precariously on top of the cooler while we try to cross the street without getting hit by a truck… Good times!

2. You think looking at historic landmarks for a duration of more than 3 seconds is overrated. Oh, look, the Parthe – Jonah, don’t chew on that leaf – non. Oh, look, you can see the whole city from – Nate, stop throwing rocks over the castle wall you’re going to hit somebody in the head and kill them – up here! You know that the only way to truly appreciate the wonders of the world is to realize that life is short and that this 3-second glance is all the time you will get to enjoy what’s before you before your children run away and/or injure themselves and/or destroy a famous building that’s stood for hundreds of years – until it met your horrific offspring. Ah, building mem’ries!

3. You can finally compete with those “crunchy moms”. Did you know that every time you bottle feed a baby a crunchy mom dies? Don’t worry, it’s okay, all you have to do is clap your hands three times and say “I don’t believe in vaccines” and they’ll come back to life. No longer do you have to deal with feelings of inferiority for clearly not loving your child as much as a crunchy mom does because you don’t use cloth diapers! If you travel the world with kids, the next time a crunchy mom gives you a dirty look for feeding your child a chicken nugget you can respond with “Oh, believe me, I know this is basically a gluten-covered dog turd – it’s nothing at all like the chicken nuggets we fed our children in Paris, don’t you agree? Oh, you haven’t taken your children to Paris? I see.” (Insert smug stare here). Now they feel guilty and inferior! See how I turned that around? Bam!

4. You love being broke. You know that feeling when you’ve paid off all your debt, you’ve built up a good emergency fund and you’re making solid monthly contributions to your Roth IRA? Blech! Like, sooooo annoying, right?! Even the Bible says that money is the root of all evil, so it’s pretty much your Christian duty to get to spendin’!

“Money is bad.” – God

Aw, bummer, I found a great deal on flights – it’s only $200 to fly from Europe to the US. But wait! I’ve got 5 people in my family, so now I get to spend $1,000! Plus, lets add some baggage fees for all the crap my family has to bring everywhere it goes. YES!!! Just have some kids so you can multiply all your travel expenses by 5 and money will disappear from your bank account as fast as Oreos do from my pantry when I’m pregnant (that’s pretty much lightning speed, BTW)

5. Mario Kart was your favorite game as a child. Didn’t you just love swerving all over the road to avoid obstacles, listening to the catchy sound effects and music while being shot with turtle shells? Well, now that you’re traveling with kids you can relive your favorite childhood game! Except now the obstacles are real-life 5-hour traffic jams, the music is “The Wheels on the Bus” 18,000 times in a row, the sound effects are a screaming baby and arguing preschoolers (don’t worry, you can hardly hear them over the sound of your own sobbing), and the turtle shell is a sippy cup flying at your head! Awesome!

6. You want your children to see the good and the beautiful in the world. This is it. I know we’ve been having fun till now, but this is the real reason we travel with our kids. The more we travel the more we realize that people everywhere are more similar than they are different, there are more good people than there are bad, and that if you look hard enough you can find something positive in almost every place and situation. You should travel the world with children to teach them that the world is bigger than the little corner that they are used to. You should travel the world with children to show them that no matter where you go in life your family will keep you safe and try to help you have fun. You should travel the world with children so they will appreciate coming home. Even though it can be a challenging and scary, you should travel the world with children to show them that working as a team and being brave can help them get to the places that most other people never have a chance to see.

Have you traveled with children? WHY, please tell me WHY(?!?!?) you would do such a thing in the comment section below!



5 Days in the Netherlands: Part 2

 

5 Days in the NetherlandsDay 4: Cheese Farm and Amsterdam

I don’t know about you, but when I think of Holland I think of wooden clogs. And cheese. Well, I pretty much always think of cheese. Mmmmm… cheese… Naturally, we had to go to a cheese farm/clog making factory that was right outside the city the day we were scheduled to visit Amsterdam. Enter Clara Maria dairy farm. This was a cute place where they do demonstrations on how to make wooden clogs and cheese. There is a shop where you can taste and buy the cheese they make there (as well as many other souvenirs), a barn where you can look at the cows, and a little restaurant. It takes less than an hour to look around the whole place and if you go in the spring you can see cute little newborn cowscalves. However, if your kids are like mine they will find the barn too stinky and the cows terrifying and will not really appreciate the rustic nature of the whole thing. I liked it though. And we got some pretty good cheese. If you can resist buying stuff in the shop (who are we kidding, we all know you’re going to buy at least one block of cheese) this is a completely free activity. If you’re going to be near Amsterdam it’s worth the trip.

Once we were full of cheese we headed toward Amsterdam’s city center. Did you know there are companies that give FREE tours of most major European cities in English? Well there are! The tour guides work off of tips so you don’t have to pay anything (although you should if you like your tour guide. C’mon, don’t be a jerk). I reserved us spots on one of these free tours of Amsterdam through Sandeman’s tour company. After the farm we drove to the link-up point in the city center and found some parking. Make sure you leave an extra hour for traffic and finding a parking spot, which is always challenging in European cities. We brought the double-stroller for our two little ones since the tour was scheduled to last about 3 hours, plus I brought the baby wrap ( Boba Baby Wrap, Grey )in case the baby got tired of the stroller. If you only have one day to spend in a city that you don’t know a whole lot about, I would definitely recommend one of these tours. We were able to see all the major highlights of the city without having to worry about getting lost, looking up what the major highlights were ahead of time, researching why these highlights were historically or culturally important, etc. It’s the lazy woman’s way to learn. The tour guide was great and explained lots of interesting facts about all the places we saw. We took a 20 minute snack/potty break about half way through and she was helpful in pointing out places that people might want to check out after the tour on their own. The only potential down side was it was a lot of walking. We did okay with the stroller and our 5-year old has boundless energy so it worked out for us. Oh yeah, and they do take you through the red-light district so you may have to cover your kids’ eyes for about 5 minutes if you don’t want them seeing nakie ladies. Our 2-year old and baby were too young to notice or care and I pretended the cobblestones were suuuper interesting and kept pointing them out to my 5-year old. Between him trying to look at the cool pathway and being in between my husband and me so our bodies mostly blocked his view when he did look up, he seriously did not even notice the girls in the windows. Or you could just not be as prudish as us and not worry about it… whatever floats your boat.amsterdam

This was a fun, educational, and cheap day. Ain’t that the best?! The only thing we had to pay for was parking in the city. We did tip the tour guide and buy cheese at the farm, but that was our choice. Plus we saved money by packing PB&J sandwiches for lunch and going back to our trailer to cook dinner. Winning!

Day 5: Madurodam and the drive home

Our last morning in the Netherlands we packed up and headed out for a stop at Madurodam before we drove home. Madurodam is an amusement park that has miniature versions of all the major cities and sites in the Netherlands. There are little activities throughout the park that teach you about the history of the Netherlands, architecture, windmills, canals, etc. There are also two huge playground areas and an indoor sports area where you can kick around a soccer ball. We sboyspent a few hours here and our boys enjoyed it. They especially liked the playground. We ate lunch at the café on site and then headed out for our long drive home.
This place is neat, but I think it would be better for older kids. It is pretty expensive for little ones who pretty much just want to play on the playground. The
food in the café was good, and fairly priced (we paid about 40 Euro for our family of 5) but when you are used to bringing your own sandwiches for lunch, that can add up. I would say if you have school-age kids this place is totally worth it because there really is a lot for them to see and learn, but if you have little ones like us just go find a free playground instead.

After lunch we drove all the way home. Originally I had planned to stop overnight in Frankfurt, but traffic was flowing pretty smoothly by the time we reached Frankfurt so we decided to tough it out and keep on driving all the way home. We had officially reached the point at which one is just completely over vacationing and just wants to sleep in one’s own bed. Of course once we passed Frankfurt we were in one continuous traffic jam the rest of the way home (AAARRRGGHHH!). We drove and drove and sat in hours of traffic and drove about 11 hours and a bazzilion potty breaks later, we were home.

Reflections:

Must do’s: The windmills! Also, take a tour of Amsterdam for sure. What to skip: If you are short on time don’t bother with the cheese farm. Unless it is April-June don’t worry about seeing tulips.

Where we saved $: Booking lodging at campsites; using Esso stations and our gas rations program and fueling up in Germany before crossing the border to the Netherlands; packing sandwiches and taking advantage of the kitchen in our trailer to cook dinner most nights. Where we overspent $: We ended up grabbing KFC after we saw the windmills, which was too expensive for food that was not special; I could have researched better places to park in Amsterdam so we wouldn’t have spent so much on a parking garage; I bought a few too many souvenirs; the tickets at Madurodam.

Overall, we really enjoyed this trip. We didn’t completely break the bank and we were able to see a lot of cool sites in just a few days. The car ride was torturous, but you really can get out and see the world even with three little kids! Go!