Archive for the 'Blog' Category

Reading things that massage your brain

It can be hard to replicate consistently, but being able to read things, which massage your brain – and get you thinking is invaluable.

I notice it, I’ll take a deep breath, whatever I’ve been reading has made me pause for a second. And mentally feel refreshed after reading. It’s a great feeling. But one you can forget.

This post is about not forgetting that, and a reminder to continue to seek things that you enjoy reading and stimulate you.

October 14th, 2022

Travel Activity Packs

I’d mentioned my wife puts together these great activity packs when we travel to keep our kids engaged. Whether its at a restaurant (so we have peace and quiet), in a car, or a train but mostly on planes. I’ve tried to convince her to sell them – but to no avail.

The packs get adjusted based on the mode of transport, and if we’re on a bigger trip, she’ll keep activities back, to keep them fresh and engaged with new things. And everything is washable.

On our recent trip they included things like:

  • Lego dot bracelet, that they put together on the plane. Aldi/Lego.
  • Dinosaur figurine, which they constructed and put stickers on. From FlyingTigerCopenhagen.
  • Happy Meal toys, can source from eBay.
  • Water pen books, you fill a pen with water, and they can paint in the picture. Endless re-use. Or Magic Ink books, but they’re single use. Water Wow by Melissa and Doug. Or FlyingTiger has some.
  • Scratch & reveal books. From FlyingTigerCopenhagen.
  • A small pencil case, with a mini notebook and washable crayola crayons. And usually some stickers, to go in the book.
  • A new book to read.
  • Reusable sticker books.
  • Miniature soft toys, or small plastic animals (like insects, bugs). Matchbox car. A little toy to play with, that’s also quiet.
  • Magnetic dress up like Petite Collage.

When they were smaller:

  • Something can put stuff in/out of, zip ouch, with pom poms, in/out of. Or old wallet, with coffee cards for in/out. Old milk bottle, miniature pegs and colorful rainbow erasers in/out.
  • Threading games.
  • The plane itself yields a few activities, plastic cups, the flight safety manual, sick bags, blanket or headphones.
  • Busy books.

When they’re a bit bigger:

  • Mini pots of play dough.
  • Travel magnet games, like snakes & ladders.
  • Mini pick up sticks.

Initially she used oversized travel document holders (A4 size) that had buttons to close to store these in. Then once they were bigger, a drawstring bag each, with their names sewn on. And we also put their headphones in each of their bags.

Most of these items cost $1-$5 each, so are not terribly expensive. Some of the magnet/reusable stickers can be a bit more pricey but they last for years. Dollar stores are good places to look to fill out the bag – stickers & small toys. Ebay. And then Amazon. Aldi often has little toys as well in their weekly specials if one is nearby.

The bags will also have snacks or treats in them. Something they like and something new.

October 10th, 2022

Two months travel with two under five

Are we mad? That’s exactly what I asked my wife, the night before we were to fly out to Europe. Readers know that I love to travel, I get itchy feet at about six weeks from the last trip. The compounding problem is that she’s the same! Without kids, it was much more flexible. Although we’d always be up against the paid leave limits.

But so, in 2018, we spent three weeks traveling around Europe, Germany, Sweden, Greece. And wanted to double down and do it again in 2019. But our second daughter arrived that year, then cue covid in 2020/21. Even this year, when planning through winter, it was kind of uncertain if this year could be the year.

I thought I’d share more of the – how did we actually do that. And maybe some trip highlights in another post. Yes we probably are a bit crazy. Hopefully you find it helpful for your own travels and maybe consider traveling with your kids more!

Initially we started out with a view of getting a place (i.e. house), or two places, and doing lots of little trips from there. This sounded good, but we felt like we’d be coming/going too much. Also, it was harder to find a place. Because if you have a good place to rent, why rent it for a month, when you can rent it for a week and charge a bit more. The ole slice it up and sell it for more trick. Or the other factor, if you were the type of person to go for a month, if it’s a good place, you would book it for the next year, to lock it in. Finally, all the travel from post covid was swamping supply.

When we left, we still had over half of it unbooked, but an uncanny thing is that you would see AirBNB supply adjust to suit, with new listings coming online. Either people themselves going away for a month and renting their place, or completely new listings.

But I’ve skipped ahead a little, so how did we plan this? We started off, over a drink and nibbles, just jotting down all the places we wanted to go. Nothing off the table, just places we’ve always wanted to go. That gave us a list to work from.

Then we would research and plan itineraries for each place, how do we get there. What’s going to be our best entry point from New York. We also wanted to minimize flying/trains for covid reasons (this turned out to be prescient, as we saw all the flight delays over summer and lost luggage). However in the end we did use trains. And ended up with a disjointed flight, New York to London and return via Milan. Often airlines will give you the same rate for this, as they would return from one destination. So am a big fan of this approach.

This let us plan accordingly. We wanted to visit friends and then have us time to explore. A couple of times, we spent too much time, trying to work in with friends, when we should have just kept it shorter, and whilst maybe not enough, have made full use of the time. i.e. come in for 2-3 nights, have a blast, then keep going.

A key part of our itinerary, meant using rental cars. Which is where prices were mental too. So what we did, is opt to look at local car sharing services, like a Turo. Through this, we found Share Now and Virtuo. Both offer cars for driving around the city but they also let you drive out of the city. And in Share Nows case, if you pay an extra fee, to other countries. And given with two kids, we can’t get the smallest car available, this meant these services were cheaper than a rental.

However, they were not without trade offs. Virtuo was especially nice, they drop a car off near you, you pick it up and go. Have to fill it up, and return, and notify that you’ve done that. They have a slight surcharge for miles, but it was reasonable. We got a little Mercedes A-Class, it was tight with luggage but did the trick and perfect for getting through the smaller lanes across the UK.

Share Now, you can pre-book the car, and then go pick it up. Share Now is primarily used in cities, to get around, or quick trips out. This means that they’re not always clean. A couple of times I had to reject a booking once got there because it was dirty. This introduces some uncertainty, where it may take a couple of tries to get a car. Which then means planning this into your itinerary. However that timeframe was usually still less than you spend at the car rental desk.

Both use an app to open the car. Virtuo, I believe has a key, but Share Now often didn’t. Which did mean, when the car wouldn’t unlock via app, we couldn’t unlock the car at all. Which ended in tears in France. More on that later.

But these were both great options, there was another option Hiyacar we considered in the UK, but it wasn’t available to tourists. Note, for Share Now, you had to sign up, pre authenticate with a license. Then send in your entry visa on landing, as they can only offer it for first 6 months of entry for tourists.

Time wise, we had thought three months, but that was with the idea of getting a place as a home base. With that not working out, and also, sandwiched by when our daughter would start school. We ended up at 2 months. It’s kind of nice, the US School Summer holiday is longer than NZ. And timing wise, it meant we started our trip before others had finished school, and then at the end, kids were back at school. So we got some quiet periods of travel.

Traveling with two kids, and also me doing some work late afternoon to evening, we planned our days like this. We would jump up, have breakfast in, or have something lite and have a bigger morning tea. And get to what we wanted to do for the day early, meaning we could be back by late morning/early afternoon. This meant we mostly avoided crowds, the heat wave was less of an issue and it gave the kids (and us) built in downtime each day. It actually was a brilliant way to travel. Sure sometimes we broke the schedule and did a couple of days all out, but this as a repetition worked well. We also tried to do more popular things during the week, and chill out in weekends.

To keep them entertained, we did take some toys, and at destinations (which we forewarned them on) we’ll get some more toys. Like the beach, or Munich. And they could add to it. This paired well with, we took gifts for friends, and as we unloaded those, we replaced with those! We didn’t do lots of shopping on things to take back, but did top up on clothes at various spots. Or nabbed some European brands we liked. Flying Tiger Copenhagen is ideal for activities and only a couple of euros each, if you can try stop at one on the way. Unfortunately through covid the New York ones closed down.

My wife is also the master of activity packs, they each had a little bag, filled with little activities, they could do on the plane, or in restaurants, so we could have some peace and quiet. This could be coloring books, stickers, little toys, scratch and reveal. This also meant no screen time activities.

In terms of screen time, we would save a few shows/movies offline so they could watch those. AudioBooks, Spotify Kids if you fav a book, it saves it offline. As well as Duolingo Kids, Duolingo itself (doing it with us) to practice the local language. And Khan Academy Kids.

We use Google Fi, which worked in most places, but occasionally you need to run off ‘automatic network’ detection and manually swap to another. In Italy, it would sometimes not connect, so we had to reset a few times, so the sim would register on the network. Otherwise it worked well.

On luggage, we did need to keep it light. We wanted it, so between us we could carry everything, for at least 500m, which was a good plan in the end. We swapped out our regular car seats, for lighter/travel ones. We have a Cybex travel pram. We stayed at places which could give us a travel crib. We used travel pods, just Amazon Basics ones, which worked brilliantly for packing, as we had a pod each type thing. Made it so so much easier. I even went – how can we take less charging cables etc, and ended up swapping for a Anker MacBook charger and they have a European adapter, with two USB plugs on it. And then one Apple iPhone USB charger, but we have the travel adapter kit. This combo covered us, for white noise machine, charging. And saved space/weight.

My personal list, was like two pairs of shorts, togs, jandals, three t shirts. Pair of sneakers. One sweater. Two pairs of pants (should have only taken one). Socks. Boxers. Three summer shirts (could have taken two). Hat. Running shoes, exercise bands, running singlet/shorts/boxers. I also never wore my sweater except for the flight!

It’s hard, as you sometimes need to look nice/smart casual for restaurants/activities. But then you need to be able to go up Garmisch with the kids. This combo worked well.

Our itinerary, took us through the UK first, with the first 3 days in London – specifically for jet lag recovery. For those without kids, they recover before you actually can. Which is why we planned it that way. And it worked well.

Basically we flew into London. Rented a car and drove about. Then flew to Milan, and used car/train to get around Germany/Hungary/Austria/Italy and France. A few mechanics here, I once took a train to Munich, to pick up a car and bring it back – as cross country drop off wasn’t going to work. So we had to build flex into the plan.

Currency wise, most things were in Euros. We use Wise (ex TransferWise), they have a travel debit card, which means you can pay all transactions in local currency. And they either convert it on the backend, or you can have loaded currency prior. And that’s what I did for the six months leading up to it, each week I’d buy some currency, just a little, but it was a nice build up, to think about the trip each time I did that. And it also meant we got a good price on the currency. You can also withdraw local cash, up to $150 free, then a small charge after that. We used this for most local purchases. Super handy.

Where did we do our planning? It would always be a mix, see if we can get some Monocle travel video for the town, TripAdvisor, just Google. And also, would follow a subreddit for the place for a few months, to see what common questions are – and the recommendations.

We do know, in each place, our kids want to see animals! My wife likes stationery shops. And I like a good cafe/restaurant – and if I can find a place to run. So we’d try work that in, so each of us was getting some of the things we know we enjoy.

Where we stayed, we leaned into AirBNBs, because they tend to have more family friendly accommodation around Europe. Hotels are good, but often small, or we’re all in one room. Whereas for the same price, we could get a couple of bedrooms, washing machine, and stay in a neighborhood. But we would mix it up and treat ourselves. For example staying in a hotel in Florence, with a rooftop pool.

AirBNBs don’t always work, but reviews help ease that, some places had like 500 reviews, which is nuts. But usually meant a smooth operation. Others we were some of the first guests, so you know they’re working out the kinks but that’s usually offset with a better price. So some give and take. Hotel Tonight was good for finding spots but the rates (at least more most of this trip) were as good as booking direct.

Gadgets -> we didn’t have a lot. iPad mini, kindles (for us to read on) and GoPro. The latter I am a big fan of, as you get nice footage and helps bring the family back to that moment in time. Also their GoPro Quik app, means you can quickly make little videos to share. Also a shout out to Apple Memories in Photos, this is so good and is getting better over time.

We like to use Google Photos to put together photo books (now that Apple doesn’t have it built in). But are finding this more cumbersome when you have lots of photos. So if anyone has tips – let us know!

Travel insurance isn’t used as much by US travelers we’ve noticed but kiwis definitely do. So yeah we got that again for this trip, it usually costs a few percent of your coverage. If needed, RentalCover is a good alternative to the rental car insurance, which we’d use where the economics made sense. We didn’t end up making claims for this trip – but a prior earlier this year – we have noticed delays in processing them.

That does bring me to, our car broke down in the South of France. Which I’m ambivalent about, if you travel enough, a car has to bread down somewhere – and as far as I can recall we’ve not had a break down on any trip. However, with two kids, it does complicate things. The car basically bricked itself, like an iPhone, we couldn’t unlock it with the digital key on our phones, and the rental car company couldn’t do remote unlock. So we had to get it towed, then make our own way back. Which was pretty challenging, last minute, with many of the trains around France booked out in a holiday weekend. But we figured it out and as a bonus got to see Nice. Our AirBNB host was very gracious and even gave us a ride to the next town, when taxis weren’t available – thank you.

Eating wise, we leaned into more eating dinner at home as a default, with planned special evenings here and there. And we’d eat out at lunch/morning tea. This worked well, food in Europe is quite cheap (and delicious). And it was kind of nice some days to know, oh we’re not going out again, so can recharge the batteries.

Fitness, I know people have a mixed bag on this. And I respect either way, when traveling its hard to keep up routines, the days can be long/physically draining anyway. But so, I tried to run in each place we stayed, see my post on the Foreign Run, am a big fan of this. And I keep them to 5km, so its not like I can’t do that and still have a busy day. And then I took exercise bands, and used those with a few different exercises, either where we stayed or at a park nearby. Usually trying to sneak out first thing in the morning, or in the afternoon when we were staying put.

I didn’t do anything before the trip to prepare but a few months before someone on Twitter had said to incorporate carryalls into my workouts, which I did, ironically two 20kg kettlebells. One day as we humped the luggage through an airport, I realized that was the perfect weight for this actual scenario ha. Also, with kids, you are going to carry them more, with more steps, they’re tired etc.

For keeping track of the itinerary and all the bookings etc, we use Evernote. With a shared notebook, so we have redundancy, and have synced that offline on both our phones. So we have cloud, and a version each. For each city, we would make an Evernote, then jot down the things we wanted to do, and then if we had any bookings. This worked well. And its something we’ve done for years anyway.

How do you rationalise all this? It’s a bit mental. And with young kids, its easy to go, there are other things that are easier. But they are only this age once, and we don’t know what the future holds, if we can do it now, why not know. I’ve never regretted any travel I’ve done. And it is a heck of a lot of fun, the payoff is worth it. When thinking about it, starting with your dream destinations, and then they things you want to do in each place, helps too. As you’re like, wow I’ve always wanted to do this. The alternative was another summer in the city with trips upstate/around. Which is idyllic, but an adventure like this every now and again is healthy. For us it was also very cathartic, to get out of the city for a sustained period of time, to try lots of new things. And to return mentally fresh – to tackle the new challenges.

I think that’s it for this post, so that’s some of the how, I’ll share more of the highlights in another post. It was a phenomenal trip. And so good for the whole family, to each have their own experiences, to meet new people, try new things and just work together through things. Not easy at times but I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

October 6th, 2022

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