Category Archives: Europe

Off to Scotland!

This, my friends, is another delayed post.  We visited Scotland in May 2017 and we can’t wait to go back. We met the kindest people and thoroughly enjoyed our visit.  The words may have been lost for a bit but the adventure was not!


Somehow I am lucky enough to be leaving for Scotland in a few days. Since we are traveling internationally, watch this space for run-ins with border patrol.  Something odd always happens to us. From a VERY un-amused guard at Heathrow to our first ever jovial guard on the border between Ontario and Michigan. 

Before all the border crossing fun begins, let’s get to the planning shall we?  As I’ve mentioned before, I really love to plan trips. By this I mean, I like to know what there is for us to do in a place and then partake of whatever strikes our fancy when we find ourselves in that city, or in this case, that barely inhabited section of the Scottish Highlands.  I’m so excited! I’ve wanted to go to Scotland for a very long time. 

We will be in Scotland for 10 days and we are essentially breaking our trip into 2 parts. First we’ll be in Edinburgh for several days and then, once we are fully conscious, we’ll be renting a car and headed out for a very different kind of adventure. In Edinburgh we’ll spend a day walking the Royal Mile and then take suggestions from our Airbnb host and other people we meet who are lucky enough to live there as to how to fill the rest of our days. I bet we find some great local places!

Once we head into the Highlands, there are a few whisky distilleries we plan to stop at, including my husband’s favorites.  (Did I mention we are taking this particular trip sans kiddo?) We also have a couple of castles on our list, a Skyfall sight or 2, and some time on the Isles of Skye and Iona.  For the most part though, we are going to take our time driving and stop wherever we like. It’s a beautiful place and we have no intention of speeding past it.

We will be staying at Airbnbs the entire time. During this trip will be mostly in private rooms in homes as opposed to having the whole place to ourselves. Our hosts are already helping us figure out what to see and do and ensuring we have a great time.  I just wish I could figure out a small American gift that is easy to pack and would be enjoyed by all of our hosts. We always pitch in around the house but a small memento might be nice too. Hmm.

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Why I Fly Carry-On Only and You Should Too

Why I Fly Carry-On Only And You Should Too

There are lots of theories on packing for a trip, this is mine.

Plan very carefully, pack only what you need and then you can fly with just a carry-on anywhere you go.  When you fly carry-on only you get to skip the ticket counter and the quibbles and problems of other people trying to check items in line ahead of you, you get to skip the baggage fees, you get to skip baggage claim, the airline can’t lose your luggage and once you reach your destination you move with ease through transit. All of this leaves you with more money, more time, more flexibility and less stress. Yay!

London Underground

Despite every single person I know telling me I was crazy, last October my family of 3 traveled for 11 days in Europe with just 3 carry-on sized backpacks. This made our lives so much easier. We had no trouble getting our luggage in our tiny rental car while we had it, we had lots of floor/table space in our friend’s home and hotel rooms, we moved with ease through Tube, train and Metro stations not to mention the streets of London and Paris. The friend who took us to the airport even commented, “It looks like I’m taking 3 kids to school not a family to the airport for a European vacation.”

How did we do it?

  1. We used 2 carry-on size convertible backpacks and 1 smaller one for our daughter.  We also rolled our clothes and used packing cubes. 
  2. We packed small toiletries and shared the space in our 3 allowed (1 per person) 3-1-1 bags.
  3. We used technology to our advantage with phones, iPods and eReaders serving as our entertainment.An eReader is your friend
  4. We made sure everything we brought could be used at least 2 ways.
  5. Each person packed a limited amount of color coordinated clothes;
    • 4 long sleeve shirts
    • 3 short sleeve shirts
    • 2 sweaters or hoodies
    • 3 pairs of pants
    • 2 pairs of shoes
    • 1 semi-formal outfit for the wedding (did I mention we attended a wedding too?)
    • 1 warm jacket
    • 5 pairs of socks
    • 5 sets of undergarments
    • No more than 3 accessories (my daughter and I took scarves and my husband chose not to take anything).
    • 1 pair of small gloves
    • 1 warm hat
    • 1 small umbrella (we were headed to England after all)

Some simple math would indicate that we didn’t have 11 of anything. My friends, laundry is YOUR friend on a trip like this.  We stayed with a friend the first 2 nights and made use of her washer before we left her home. From there on out, we did laundry as needed at the hotel either in machines or in our room.  I do a lot of hand-wash laundry at home managing my daughter’s dance clothes so it took no time at all. (To be perfectly honest, we pack this same way regardless of where we are flying not just on international trips.)

If you end up doing laundry in your room, I have two suggestions;
  • Do it as soon as you arrive, it will have a much longer time to dry,
  • Consider bringing a clothesline to string in the shower, though the lovely European heated towel racks will do in a pinch and are actually much faster what with being heated and all.  As a rule hotels don’t love you doing your laundry in the room because they worry you will string it up everywhere or leave it draped over all of the furniture and ruin the finishes.  If you keep it in the bathroom, especially in the shower, you will have no problems at all.

Trust me on this, 20 minutes of managing your laundry will certainly be worth the aggravation and space you save.

When picking out clothes, choose 1 color palette so all of your clothes will go together.  Be sure to bring pieces that layer well so that you will be warm enough if it gets colder than you are expecting. We only had one day that was really cold, of course it was the day we went to the top of the Eiffel Tower and later experience the tail of a hurricane sliding through Europe.   Nevertheless we had fun and got some great pictures.

Eiffel Tower - 22 October 2014

Happy Travels!

*Note: I have no affiliation with eBags, I just happen to like their stuff and have had good luck with everything have I purchased thus far.

I’m your mother, not your valet

I'm Your Mother, Not Your ValetMy child hears this one a lot.  I believe in teaching her to do for herself; as much as possible and as soon as she is able.  I’m not lazy, I’m trying to teach self-reliance, life skills and a good work ethic. This is especially important when we travel.  There are so many things to learn and when we are traveling or getting ready for a trip it all seems FUN!

When my daughter was teeny tiny, we did everything for her of course.  However, since she was about 4, she has been responsible for carrying her own carry-on or managing her own bag in the back seat on a road trip. She could bring whatever toys or games she wanted but it had to fit in the little rolling backpack we got her.  Her clothes fit in a carry-on suitcase with mine and her father and I managed those. As she has gotten older, she has gotten incrementally more responsibility. Just this last fall when she was 9, she packed her own convertible backpack and small purse/entertainment bag and jetted off to Europe with us for a wedding.  Since we all had backpacks and flew carry-on only to Europe for 11 days, we were all REALLY careful about what we brought knowing it would be on our backs through airports and train stations aplenty. I was so impressed by her ability to cull her choices to those she knew she would need and those that she would use often enough to justify carrying.  She was even very careful about her purchases knowing she had to carry them.  She came home with postcards, pictures, a couple of books, bookmarks and candy.  She’s 9, of course there was candy.  She saved her money all year and we converted it to pounds and euros.  She got to spend it on whatever she wanted but if she ran out, that was it. Thus continuing our lessons on budgeting.  She was really careful with her money and even had some left when we came home so she could show her class what it looked like during her presentation.  She made a scrapbook full of the pictures, postcards and her travel journal entries. (Whereas my scrapbook is still in pieces in a bag waiting for this weekend’s crop!)

Since she started reading, my child has been responsible for getting us to our gates for our flights and helping us find exits on road trips. Have we ended up heading down terminals we didn’t need to be in? Sure, but that little girl can now navigate an airport with the best of them, even in French if she has to.  With family all over the country, she will be allowed to fly on her own at some point and I will know she has the skills she needs to get from point A to point B managing her paperwork, money, etc. as she goes.

LondonHeathrowAirport

All this planning and self-reliance has earned her the ability to help plan our trips.  When we went to Florida a couple of years ago, we met Winter the dolphin for Dolphin Tale at her request. When we went to Europe this last fall, she got to choose museums and other locations to visit.

Our adventures encompass everything from science, math and literature to architecture, history and art of all kinds.  There is no major structure, just listening and talking. I always do some research before we go, usually with my child, and for everything else there is Google.

So please, give yourself a break, don’t be your child’s valet at home or on vacation.  Have your kids pack and carry their own bags, manage their own money, lead the charge through airports, do their own laundry, keep their stuff organized. Teach them the difference between credit cards and debit cards, what it takes to earn money, and to manage every day expenses.  Teach them to deal with disappointment when things don’t go their way. Teach them to travel and to see the great big world around us, to enjoy what others have created, to celebrate differences and understand that this place would be really, really boring if everyone was the same. Encourage them collect states and countries along with you. The memories and the stories will last a lifetime.

This is all very easy for me to say, it is how I was raised so I don’t know any differently. My parents made sure we had all the necessary life skills to survive in the world.  They also made sure we saw as much of this great big country as possible and taught us both how to travel and how to it love every minute of it – even if it doesn’t always go as planned.  The missteps and surprises make the best stories anyway.

Airport photo credit:
By Jnpet (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Want to figure out who you are? Take a trip!

Well that’s a tall order for a vacation, isn’t it?

Hear me out.  Travel is one of the best ways to figure out what you’re made of.  It is life, concentrated.  Lots of activity, locations, emotions all in a short period of time. No matter how much planning goes into your trip, something will go wrong. When things go wrong you figure out how to make the best of it and just how resilient you are. When things go right, you find great joy in unexpected places.

You Are Stronger

  • Your missed flight turns into a 7 hour layover, so you learn to find fun in the airport. You play silly games with your kids or treat yourself to that bestseller everyone has been talking about and enjoy the peace and solitude you never get at home.
  • Your hotel overbooks or loses your reservation. You learn how to find another quickly and how to get a refund.
  • You get stuck in a cab in a monster traffic jam. You learn to use the subway system.
  • You’re super hungry and can’t find an English menu, you learn to guess at the local language and enjoy the pulse of life in a new place.
  • The attraction you have traveled so far to see is closed.  You learn to laugh at your misfortune and go looking for other adventures.  At the very least, you learn not to swear in public.

Next comes the things that go right.

  • You visit museums and realize there are a few artists or schools of thought you just adore!  Yay, a new hobby.
  • You score tickets to a play, concert or ballet and find a new passion.
  • You climb to the top of the tallest thing in the city and you are grateful for your health. Maybe you find out you aren’t so scared of heights after all.
  • You happen upon a warm local restaurant on a cold night and find a brand new cuisine that you didn’t know you enjoyed.
  • You sit next to a stranger on a plane and meet your soulmateNight Sky with Stars by Juskteez Vu - unsplash
  • You go camping for the first time and learn that you sleep deeply and fully outside. You find that you love to hike and that everything tastes better when cooked over a fire.  You realize just how MANY stars there are and stare at the heavens for hours each night.
  • You keep up with a packed itinerary and you find that your legs are much stronger than you thought.
  • You test out your new camera and find out that you have a knack for photography.
  • You say yes to new experiences and learn that you are still young and fun after all.

No matter what happens you will come back changed.  You will be stronger, wiser, and more self-reliant.  You’ll have victories to remember for the rest of your life.  Share them if you can, you will change other lives too!

Text Added Road to sea by Gerard Moonen - unsplash