404 Thoughts

Traveling with my son’s security blanket

My son’s blanket was laying way down on the train tracks. THE blanket. I was running to catch the train. Something fell out of my backpack. I wasn’t even going to check, but when someone yelled, “YOU DROPPED A BLANKET” I had to look.

Here's the blanket on a trip to Hamburg.

Here’s the blanket on a trip to Hamburg.

 

When my son was first-born, 7 months earlier, everyone told me to give him something to associate with sleep. When he gets that item enough at bedtime, they said, he’ll know it’s time to close his eyes. I tried various things without luck.

Until this blanket.

It’s made of two materials, one on each side. Light brown on one side, dark brown on the other.

We never intended for this to be his sleep associate. We wanted something small and easy for our travels. But, as we started using it and he started sleeping better, we knew we were in for it.

We brought it on our trip to the US a month earlier. We used it on the flight over. People on the flight told us they didn’t even realize a baby was on board. We used it at the hotel. He only suffered through one night of jet lag. We used it on our road trip from North Carolina to Florida. He slept most of the way.

It was a magic blanket.

Look how happy this blanket makes him!

Look how happy this blanket makes him!

And now it was about 5 feet down in the train tracks. Laying behind the train that was going to leave Amsterdam Centraal Station any second. The train I needed to get on to get home.

Several people gathered around me, muttering what I could only assume to be their condolences for my lost sleep. Images of my son sleeping peacefully with the blanket intermixed with images of him screaming all night without it. My neighbors were going to love me. None of us would ever sleep again.

I was snapped out of it by one strangers voice. She was a little louder than the others and saying something in Dutch. Another woman, a very tall woman, was bending over the side. Stretching as long as she could, she used her umbrella to pick it up. Then she handed it to me. VICTORY!

I tried to stuff it back into my bag. My face was red with the mixture of rushing, anxiety, adrenaline, relief, and more anxiety. I took off for the train again, but this lady’s voice grew louder and louder. I turned to look at her and she said something in Dutch. I looked around not knowing what she could be saying – did I drop something else, did I care?Then she said it in English, “your train, it doesn’t leave for 10 more minutes.” I looked at the clock and she was right.

Have you ever lost your kids security blanket or toy while on vacation? 

My friend, Farrah, over at The Three Under, is an expat living in the Netherlands. I recently asked her what she thought I should blog about and she immediately said, “why you love the Netherlands so much.” As I started thinking about it, I realized that there were too many reasons for one post. Instead of one post, I’m collecting several stories, tips, and pictures to illustrate our experiences. These should explain, directly or in directly, why we like it there. 

 Olympus 10×25Proline HC-300A

The Importance of Learning About New Destinations Before You Go

Before you spend any time researching hotels and things to do, spend some time reading about the place itself. Why does this place appeal to you, what there would appeal to your family? What is its history? What’s the climate like when you will be there? Get a feel for the lay of the land. Find out what vacation-destination has that interests you.

Why should you do this? It’s the key to planning a vacation that fits your family and the things you value.

I’ve spent a lot of formal education and working years learning about other cultures. It’s how I like to spend my time. I’m confident in my ability to get by when I’m traveling to a new place. I’m not the most well-traveled person I know, I’m not even close, but I get by. I’m pretty fearless traveling with my kids, and I’ve been known to say that being outside of my comfort zone is my comfort zone.

I recently learned, however, that just because I love other cultures, have a flexible travel attitude and a bit full of myself, doesn’t mean I’ll enjoy it as much as I could.

My story

We spent Easter weekend in Prague. I’m familiar with the city. As a travel agent, I helped many clients plan their trips there. As a study abroad advisor, I worked with professors to plan educational tours of the city for their students. I have good friends who are from the Czech Republic, friends who have told me about must see spots. I googled “kid-friendly Prague” and made a loose plan for our days. I was armed with knowledge from the broadest sense, from an educational standpoint, and from locals.

charlesbridge

The Charles Bridge in all it’s pedestrian wonder.

On the way to Prague I told my husband, “you know this is the first time since I was about 8 that I have travelled somewhere that I don’t know any substantial part of the history, that I had absolutely no clue to the language, how to say thank you. I don’t even have a general idea of what the city’s layout is. Weird.” Yes, I downloaded an app to teach me basic Czech. But, the 5 minutes a day I spent a week before the trip just wasn’t the same as studying a language. I knew that our hotel was in an ideal location, but I didn’t know what made it ideal. I figured that I’ll just know when I get there.

Then I got there. I realized that I knew nothing. And I wasn’t learning through osmosis. I didn’t know what made the Charles Bridge so popular; I didn’t even know that it was a pedestrian-only bridge. As we were walking around this city, this amazingly beautiful city, I wasn’t fully appreciating it. I wasn’t connecting to it. All I could think to myself was how beautiful it was, and what now?

When we went back to the room, I was a bit confused. Why the disconnect? Part of the reason was that although I had all this “things to do in Prague” superficial knowledge. I didn’t have the “why do I care” part figured out. My husband, who had been to Prague before and loved it, wanted to help me. He took over planning the rest of our trip. The first thing he did was book a walking tour for Easter Sunday. During this tour, with kids in tow, in the rain, and with a large group of people, I started to learn about Prague. As we passed by various buildings and bridges, the tour guide pointed out some historical facts or told an intriguing story. I slowly started to enjoy myself and the city.

What I Realized

On the way home to Germany, this was the big topic in the car. Somewhere in my cockiness, in my” worldliness”, in my zest for going with the flow and just doing, I forgot the essential part of why I loved traveling. I’m a firm believer in the journey is the destination. Part of that journey is learning. Part of that learning is finding out why you think traveling to a particular place would be a good fit for your family.

I hear people who travel around Europe come back and complain that all the cities are the same. There’s no real difference. And this makes me sad. Each place, regardless of how small or how similar it is to other places, has its own history, story, and uniqueness. If someone is traveling and senses that every place is the same, it means one of three things: they haven’t taken the time to learn about what the place offers that applies to their life, they’ve been traveling too much and need a break to process it all, or they shouldn’t be traveling at all because they just don’t appreciate it. (Ok, there’s also the fourth reason which is like my mom, they spend too much time in the shopping zones and those truly are similar from city to city.)

I’m lucky. Prague is a 7 hour drive away. We can easily return. Not everyone has that convenience. Actually, I don’t have that convenience everywhere I travel. We are all limited by either time or money or both. We have to make the most of our travels, and as families, we have to do what we can so that everyone will look to traveling as a positive thing.

Three days after returning from Prague, I started this blog. My goal from the beginning has been to encourage families to explore and engage in the destinations they travel to. I think it’s more fulfilling. There is no right or wrong way to travel, but I  the more you learn about where you’re going, the bigger the payoff.

This post is the first in a series I will be doing about managing expectations while traveling. This post is part of Travel Tips Tuesday with Suitcases and Sippy Cups and Walkingon Travels click on the links to read more great travel tips! 

Have you ever felt disconnected to the place you were traveling to? How did you try to change it? Are you going to give that place a second chance? Let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear about it.incase macbook pro sleeve 13 inchPrima micro

I’m Leaving on a Road Trip

Many travel-loving people worry how travel will change once they have kids. I was one of those people. Put me any place in the world and I’m usually comfortable. Make me adapt my travel plans because of little people I had yet to meet? No, thank you!

I found out I was pregnant one month before we moved to Germany. As excited as I was about the baby, I was also worried. No, I wasn’t nervous about giving birth in a foreign country (though that changed), or having no family within a one continent radius of where we lived (which is actually a blessing), or even how we were going to afford this bundle of joy (Germany has great programs for families.) I worried about how this baby was going to cramp our traveling style. We were moving to Europe! For two* years! And I had plans to travel, travel, and then travel some more. But, really, how could we do it between work obligations, financial obligations, and baby obligations?

First, I decided that I loved this baby too much to let it carry the burden of blame for why I couldn’t have the travel lifestyle I wanted. Then I decided I loved travel too much to not let my offspring experience it. And finally I decided that it was time to get crafty. And that meant business trips.

One thing my husband and I discussed before we had kids was his work and my work. My work was to stay home with the kids (which is something I wanted to do and is mostly rewarding), his work involved a lot of business travel. My husband likes travel a lot. I sleep, eat, and breath travel. I told him this: I want to be a stay at home mom (because working a 9-5 job with limited vacation time also ruins a nomadic lifestyle.) However, my greatest sadness (yes, I was this dramatic) would be to stay home while he went on all these fabulous business trips all over the world… sob, sob, sob.

So when he goes out-of-town for his work, we all go out-of-town for his work.

Except today.

Today, I am leaving for a travel blogger’s conference. And because I have a nursing 8-month old, the whole family is coming with me. And even though they won’t be at the actual conference, I’m pretty excited to have them all there. Being a trailing spouse on a business trip isn’t always easy. Now I get to see my husband’s POV when we go with him, and he gets to see mine. Even more importantly, my little ones will get to spend some quality time with their dad in a new place. I can’t wait to hear their stories at the end of every day.

Another thing I’m looking forward to? Adult conversation, about travel, with people who love it just as much as I do. Eating with people who, I’m pretty sure, don’t drop more than 75% of their food onto the floor. Using the iPad without little fingers trying to take it from me. And meeting all the bloggers. This will a great weekend.

One blogger I’m especially looking forward to meeting is Farrah from The Three Under. She’s an expat living in the Netherlands with her family. We live close enough that our families can (and will soon) get together to explore our host countries. She invited me to guest blog for her, so please go on over to her site and read more about my expat experience. Thank you for inviting me, Farrah!

*Our original plans to move to Germany for two years has been extended to indefinitely.villa in miami beach