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Idiots Abroad (the Sequel)

Guys, I just got back from our insane trip, so my brain is kind of hazy from the jet lag and stress of the whole experience. I’m going to skip the news round-up this week because I literally have no clue what’s presently going on in the miles and points world (more on that later).

Still, I wanted to put together a post with few thoughts and observations, while they are still fresh in my mind. Trip reports are a pain in the behind to write (just ask any blogger), so it may take awhile for me to cover each destination separately, though I  plan to do it at some point. I am kind of looking forward to covering our stay in Spain during my next installment “Barcelona: Russians, strikes, lingerie billboards and man buns” You like, you like? Stay tuned.

I’ve decided to split this particular introduction into several sections, so you can skip to the portion you are most interested in:

Kinder egg, Kinder egg!!!

Separate rooms or apartment when traveling with an extended family?

Practical tips on luggage and beds for young children

Unexpected discoveries and delightful surprises

Travel in the age of social media: just say NO to constantly posting selfies!

 

Kinder egg, kinder egg!!!

Traveling to Europe from US is hard under the best of circumstances. The time difference, long flights, culture quirks and unfamiliar language make it a challenge, to say the least. And I’m originally from Europe, so that should tell you something. Bringing kids makes everything three  times harder. The more kids you have, the harder it gets. The younger they are, the more they will drive you crazy and make you long for your sweet home routine back in good ole’ USA.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun to discover new places with your “mini-me”,  I just want you to have realistic expectations of what’s ahead. I’ve already covered a lot of the points in my post  Idiots Abroad: Taking Small Kids on a Whirlwind Tour of Europe, so won’t repeat myself. Instead, I would like to focus on how things have evolved in that department. Keep in mind, last time my kids were 4.5 and 7 years old, this time they were 6.5 and 9, respectively.

So, the good news is, they both handled  jet lag much better this time around. They adjusted rather quickly to the new time and slept without any issues. My son enjoyed this trip much more than the last one, and was able to handle the plethora of flights and non-stop sightseeing without a major meltdown. So, if your youngest  kid is 4 and you are debating if you should wait a couple of years to cross the pond, it may be wise to do so. Obviously, every child is different, so I don’t claim that my son’s temperament matches your child’s.

On to the bad news. Both of my kids are extremely curious and strong-minded individuals. That’s not the bad part, in fact, I’m happy that they are similar to myself in this respect. That said, I know better not to step in front of traffic or crawl into a hole in a medieval castle. Since they are now older, they had more energy for their mischevious exploits, and made me a nervous wreck almost the entire time. They also got more sassy over the last two years and figured out how to turn adults against each other in order to get what they want.

It mostly manifested itself in begging for toys and various “expensive crap” items that we need as  much as a fish needs an umbrella. Here is one:

My daughter somehow managed to convince my sister-in-law to get her this heavy mass-produced fabric cactus in Barcelona for 20 euros (about $23). In case you are wondering, Barcelona isn’t located in a dessert. I wouldn’t take it  if someone offered it to me for free. And yet, here it is, in my house, in all of its tacky splendor (smh).

The one item my son coveted  most in Europe was chocolate Kinder egg, which is not sold in America:

But it wasn’t sufficient to get a few and move on. Nope, the whole trip turned into one massive Kinder egg hunt. Anywhere we went he wanted to look for it. His response to us telling him about yet another  excursion was predictable question: “Will there be Kinder eggs there?”

One time we went to a store in Germany  and he searched the entire premises for Kinder eggs. Finally, my husband spotted them and brought the darn things to my son. He started dancing in the middle of the store and loudly chanting “Kinder egg, Kinder egg. Kinder. Egg.” Over and over again.  It was cute and annoying at the same time.

 

Separate rooms or apartment when traveling with an extended family?

I’ve addressed this topic somewhat in my post Challenges of Vacationing with a Large Family in Europe and More Basically, it’s simple. If you butt heads in USA, what makes you think you will get along splendidly with certain relatives while staying in a tiny, cramped  apartment in Europe? I’m talking to myself here.

We invited my sister-in-law  on this trip to help us with kids, and while I don’t regret bringing her along, I probably should have done things a bit differently. Namely, I should have researched hotel room options before deciding to get an apartment in Spain. Having  separate space in the morning and evening while recovering from jet lag would have been welcome news.

This is a tough one. Apartment is extremely convenient due to having a washer and a kitchen. If you have young kids, I don’t need to explain why. Getting an apartment can also allow you to afford a stay in a more central location, with kid-friendly amenities. Our rental was absolutely incredible, I couldn’t have asked for anything better. It even had a small rooftop pool and a patio with amazing views of Barcelona.

There was also a playground which my kids enjoyed. Most importantly, it allowed us to stay close to the center, yet away from the hustle and bustle of busy Barcelona city.  It was like an oasis in the midst of a chaos, a wonderful refuge. The name of the rental is Bas Apartment Barcelona (Catedral) and I highly recommend it IF you can afford it (it’s not cheap). I wrote about redeeming UR points on this place in a separate post.

Still, while I loved the rental, sharing it with my SIL created a boat load of tension. There were moments I’m not proud of, and one incident I’m downright ashamed of.

 

Image courtesy of artur84 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The worst part was losing my temper in front of the kids, something I really try to avoid. But I’m a hothead IRL, and being tired, jet lagged and stressed doesn’t exactly improve my disposition. I won’t go into details or say who was at fault (doesn’t matter). But we both decided that getting separate rooms, whenever possible, is the way to go from now on. Though I’ll probably change my mind if the price is right. I’m cheap that way.

We also had a little incident in Belarus where my mom thought  the server gave her an off-brand coffee rather than the one promised on the menu. She is picky about her coffee, just like me. Anyway, she was rude to the lady and I was quite embarrassed. Later my mom was remorseful for her behavior and asked me to translate this to Doug (my husband): “Sorry, I like to make scandals a little bit.” My husband started laughing hysterically and said: “Boy, does that sound familiar.”

In all  seriousness, if (or rather when) poop hits the fan, don’t let one or two bad arguments define the whole trip. Find a way to move on, no matter how hard it may be.

 

Practical tips on luggage and beds for young children

Packing light is incredibly important when you are traveling to Europe with young kids. Many airlines within Europe only allow 44 pounds per bag.  I also recommend you take backpacks as your carry-on, so your hands are free at all times. In general, the less junk you carry, the better. Why? Well, some of that junk may be quite expensive to replace, like the camera my husband left in Frankfurt airport.

A new one on Amazon retails for $1,000, gasp! Don’t worry, it appears someone has turned it in and I’m waiting for email instructions on how to pay to ship it to US. So, I’m cautiously optimistic. BTW, when the whole thing transpired, I told my husband not to feel bad. Resign yourself to the fact that things will go wrong, so you don’t go into meltdown mode. You’ve got kids to take care of, so keep it together, man/woman.

Back to luggage. I really like  spinner-type suitcases and I actually ended up buying a new one for this trip. I’m in love! Introducing IT brand luggage. The 26-inch suitcase version weighs only 5.5 pounds and has 4 smooth/silent wheels.

I waited to review it because I wanted to see how it handles our  flights. Well, it was up to the challenge. The wheels were intact and zippers were fine despite the fact that I used the expander. I can’t say enough good things about this luggage. Highly recommended.

It looks like blue color is currently sold out on Amazon, but you can view IT Luggage Mega Lite Luggage Spinner Collection Upright, 26 Inch – Black for $59.99 with free shipping (my Amazon affiliate link, or go through Jet Blue site) which I recommend anyway. My blue suitcase has some stains on it from airport abuse.

One of the challenges of taking young kids to Europe is coming up with a suitable sleeping arrangement. My daughter (who is 9) is really too big for inflatable cots. However, my son, who is a skinny 6-year old, can still make do with a less than perfect bed.

Originally, we were just going to wing it and see what’s available at our accommodations. However, I was informed by the hotel in Germany that there isn’t a couch in the room and that it costs 65 euros per night to add a rollaway. Say what? Even my husband thought it was nuts.

On top of it, my mom didn’t really have an extra bed for our son and was planning on letting my kids share a couch. That didn’t go over well last time we tried it, so I decided we needed to bring something with us. I wanted to take an inflatable mattress, but those are quite bulky. So,  I ended up buying this contraption instead:

This Self Inflating Sleeping Pad with Pillow- Lightweight Camping Mat – Water Repellent Coating – Made for Hiking, Backpacking & Camping – Foam Padding Bow Up Beds- L72.8” x H 0.98” x W23.6″ – Blue (affiliate link) weighs only 2.8 pounds and my son was perfectly happy using it during the night. It doesn’t have a ton of cushion, so it probably won’t work for heavier kids.

The mat rolls up or you can just fold it after letting the air out. We simply covered it with a blanket brought from home and requested a comforter, which was provided to us free of charge at the hotel. I also put a regular pillow on top, though there is an inflatable pillow attached to the pad.

Verdict: recommended, though there may be better options.

Unexpected discoveries and delightful surprises

Remember my post  where I’ve mentioned a Soviet time mineral water dispensing machine? They are baaack!

Only this time they provide disposable cups. I love how they made them look like the old version from my childhood. So vintage.

I was also surprised by how nice our VIP suite at Nesvizh castle in Belarus actually was. I was totally blown away. I expected  Soviet style accommodations, but instead got something unique and dare I say, opulent. Growing up poor, I never thought I would be sleeping in a place like that, yet here I was. If you are in Belarus, try to make an effort to stay there for at least one night. I’ll have a separate  post on our visit, so stay tuned.

My mom in front of the Nesvizh castle

Travel in the age of social media: just say NO to constantly posting selfies!

Technology has made travel infinitely easier and more accessible. However, it also made it hard to disconnect and truly appreciate the moment while it’s unfolding. My policy is  to not write, post or do any social media while I’m on the road. I find that it hinders my ability to connect with family or immerse myself in local culture.

Online world is a beast that is hard to tame sometimes. If you are a blogger, it’s even harder because you are constantly told that readers will forget you  unless you slam Twitter and Facebook will selfies every 10 minutes during your trip. No thanks! Besides, I’m allergic to selfies.

Obviously, blogging (that also happens to be a business) is a constantly evolving and demanding world, and you can’t just walk away for weeks at a  time. Thankfully, I have a wonderful partner Nancy who replied to emails for me while I was gone. I did pop in every 4 days or so to check on how things were going, but for the most part, she ran the show.

I recommend you also leave your work affairs behind if you possibly can. In most cases, things can wait till you get back, I promise. And just say No to Twitter/Facebook. It’s a black hole that will suck you in and take you away from living in the moment. The moment you were looking forward to for so long.

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Author: Leana

Leana is the owner and founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.

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15 thoughts on “Idiots Abroad (the Sequel)

  1. That cactus is cracking me up! How hideous. LOL. And your mom and the scandals. I hope overall the trip was a blast. I can’t wait to readt your trip reports.

    • @Jennifer I HATE the cactus! I’m trying to scheme a way to break it (accidentally, of course). 🙂 I really enjoyed Barcelona, and will try to have a post on it within the next few weeks.

    • @Russ Thanks! I will try to have all the posts out in a timely manner. I’m a bit of a procrastinator in that department. While they are fun to write, trip reports take an absurd amount of time, at least for me. But that’s why we collect miles and points, right?

  2. My younger two kids are the same ages, so I can totally relate. Two days in and I’ve already purchased them 6 Kinder Eggs each! They don’t even like the chocolate part! Everywhere we go, their first question is, “is there a gift shop here?” Oy.

    • @Nancy You are a brave woman to take both kids by yourself. I think I would lose my mind! And yeah, those Kinder egg are definitely a hit with kids.

      • But did you harness the full power of the Kinder Egg? The kids know that they can’t get them in the US so it’s a special treat. We use them as a behavioral incentive – if they exhibit mostly good behavior during the day, they get to have a Kinder Egg in the evening. At least for the under 10 crowd, the tactic works quite well.

      • @Erik LOL I don’t think I harnessed the full power of Kinder egg on this trip! I’ll try to do it next time.

  3. 😀We love Kinder Eggs! I might be on the kinder egg watchlist for once trying to bring 8 of them over the land border in my car trunk from Canada. I didn’t know they weren’t allowed until my trunk was searched. My kids cried when they were thrown in the trash!

    • Oh no! I can’t believe they threw them out in front of your kids. My son would go into hysterics, for sure. It’s funny, I didn’t know you are not allowed to bring them to US. How ridiculous.

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