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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.

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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

The Modern 13th Century at The Augustine Prague – A Photo Tour

When traveling with two kids two and under, there comes a time when one kid wants to nap and one wants to explore. So, on a recent trip to Prague, my son and I took to checking out our hotel, while my daughter and husband slept in the room.

We were staying at The Augustine hotel in the Mala Strana district. It is close to shops, restaurants, and public transportation. As I’ve mentioned before, my son LOVES public transportation. There was no way we could have headed outside without him running to jump on a tram. Instead of going outside at all, we went on a tour of the hotel.  I’m glad we did.

The Augustine is one of Prague’s newest hotels, but it is composed of 7 buildings including a 13th century monastery. It’s tricky. The decoration is modern, Czech Cubism to be exact. Yet, the oddly angled hallways with random steps and stairwells reminds you that this is an old building. And while the structure has been updated, the layout is still the same. This combination of old and new together made our walk very interesting.

Below is a photo tour of The Augustine’s hallways.

Augustine Hallway

In some places the floors slightly sloped.

 

Augustine Stairs

A funky staircase. From the windows you can see the Prague Castle.

Statues

This little alcove between floors had a nice life-sized statue.

Augustine Halls

These simple table lamps look to be as tall as my son.

I tend to love walking around hotels anyway, but The Augustine is unique. Walking around the hotel, even with a toddler, was really calming.

Do you have any recommendations for unique hotel experiences? Please let me know in the comments so I can dream of future visits.

This post is part of Photo Friday at Delicious Baby.2014 honda accord sedan car coverapple smart case leather for ipad airdigsalenissan 350z car cover ukz350 car cover

Fun for the Whole Family – Organic Farms in Germany

“We went to a farm.”

“Hmm… that sounds… fun?”

This was a common conversation with my friends Monday mornings. It seemed that at least one of my friends would visit a farm with their family over the weekend. And while they seemed to flock to farms, I was doing everything I could to avoid them.

Farms, they just aren’t my thing. When our friends would bring that option up to us, we would suggest anything and everything else. Then one day, we were tricked. And the plans we had settled on, well, they changed at the last-minute. Instead of the beautiful park walking distance from our apartment, we were going to go to a farm.

The whole drive there, I was nervous. I’m not an animal hater, but I’m not an animal lover. I didn’t want to pet anything, feed anything, milk anything, and I definitely didn’t want to clean up after anything. Our drive took us out of our city, past several cute german towns, on and off the autobahn, more cute smaller towns, and finally into a large area where we could scream as loud as we wanted, and no one would hear us.

We found the farm and walked in and I was immediately happy that we were there.

Yes, there were animals. Cows, goats, donkeys, probably other things to; I wasn’t even paying attention. The farm was filled with families! There were kids from my son’s age (2) and up!

Immediately we all noticed that there were plenty of riding toys for the kids. There was actually enough for each kid to have more than one! (And so my son and his friend immediately grabbed two each. One to ride, and one to drag.)

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There was a field filled with playground equipment (a see-saw, a trampoline, swings, slide, climbing toys).

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They kids could play on big tractors.

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And while the kids ran, jumped, slid and played, the adults could sit outside with a cup of coffee and a slice of organic cake sold at the cafe on property. The cafe even had a small area of handmade goods on sale.

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The best thing about all of this? It’s free! The snacks were typical cafe prices, but all the activities at this farm were free of charge. The crowd is definitely more local, but the staff speak great English. I highly recommend a farm visit for any family looking for a relaxing day for themselves away from a city, and some fun activities for their children.

Oh, and I didn’t have to milk any animals!

For more information on this farm:

We visited the Hof Zur Hellen, located less than hour from the city of Dusseldorf, Germany. For a small price, you can arrange a tour with the farm to learn more about organic farming. The website is in German, but translates nicely with Google Translate.

I never knew that a visit to the farm could be so fun. So tell me, is this how farms are everywhere? Have you visited a farm, what was your experience?

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Our First Overnight Trip with Baby, A Tale of Planning Gone Wrong

My plan was to rent a car, pack it up, head out, allot for an extra hour in a two-hour drive, arrive into Frankfurt early enough to look for the US Consulate, have a nice dinner, and check into our hotel.

My plan had other plans.

When my husband and my dad got to the car rental shop, it was closed. They called me to try to find an open one, anywhere near us. After an extensive search, I was finally able to find a place on the other side of town. They rushed over, rushed back to the house, and rushed packing up the car. We left several hours later than planned.

That’s ok, though, right?

We did not own a car yet in Germany. We had lived here for only 8 months at the time, which meant our US license was no longer valid. We took the opportunity of my parents visiting from Florida to rent a car and go to Frankfurt to apply for my son’s passport.

My dad drove. With his brand new and very first grandchild in the backseat, my dad set off very carefully. He slowly approached every sign and crossroads. He often waived his priority, unsure of the road rules in another country. Plus, he was still getting comfortable in the rental car. Once we were on the autobahn his concentration switched. There was no priority to waive on the autobahn. Cars were zipping past us. And as they were, my dad was thinking of his brand new grandson seated in the backseat.

Then it started to snow. Hard.

Did I mention my parents were from Florida?

It was the first snow of the season. Early and unexpected. My dad turned off the radio and all talk ceased. He stayed to the right to let the faster cars (all the other cars) pass. A cry from the back interrupted the calm and quiet inside the car. My son was awake, it was time for him to eat.

He wasn’t the only hungry one. We cancelled our plans for dinner in Frankfurt and pulled into a rest stop. And here we experienced another first. Using a public changing room. Fortunately, my husband handled that situation.

While my husband and son were in the changing room, I took the opportunity to look at the shop. My parents and I chatted for a bit. We decided it was too late, and too snowy and we should just get up early to head to the consulate the next day instead. We talked about what they would do while we were in the consulate. How we would contact them since cell phones were not allowed in. They made sure I had all my documents. After a while we wondered, why are C and W still in the changing room?

I went to check on them.

In the process of changing our son’s diaper, C had managed to dirty every outfit I packed for him except for one long sleeve onesie. Our son, a three-week old baby, was going to have to face the snow and drive in only a onesie.

My dad went to the car to start warming it up. I put my jacket on my son and attempted to rush to the car without slipping on the icy sidewalk.

We arrived into Frankfurt many hours later. We headed straight to the hotel and collapsed from exhaustion. I washed one of the thicker outfits that was dirtied earlier, and let it dry on the towel warmer.

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Here’s what my son wore during his first snowstorm!

I sat in the hotel room thinking about the night. Where did I go wrong? This was supposed to be an easy trip. I read all the tips and tricks for traveling with kids. I OVERpacked. I took care of arrangements in advance, allotted so much extra time for everything and still ended up getting into Frankfurt late. I was a traveling mom failure.

I grabbed stationary and took notes of what I would do differently next time.

That was 2 and a half years ago.

Since then we’ve stayed in countless hotels, survived many road trips, flights, and train trips. Things will go wrong and that’s ok. It’s all a learning experience.

When it was my daughter’s turn to have her first hotel experience we were more proficient travel-with-baby travelers. Even considering the overseas flight, time difference, and jet lag we still had enough energy to go out for her first Halloween!

Not only did we have energy after our first trip with our daughter, I was also able to get some finishing touches done on her Halloween costume (she was a ghost).

Traveling with babies requires a new sense of humor, a new normal, and a new way to approach problem solving. But, it’s so worth it. Nothing is harder than those first trips, but I promise, it gets better.

How was your first overnight trip with your children? Any tips for parents heading out for the first time?

The post is part of Friday Daydreamin’ at RWeThereYet. Click on the link for more travel tales.lingeri pour femme pas cherprotective case macbook air 11 inchReplica A556Cowon AE1

Rotterdam Architecture Inspired Kids Art: Wordless Wednesday

photoI’ve added this post to the Engineering Theme Link Up at kcedventures.

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