Two kids, a Giant Puppy, and a Minivan: How do you Pack Light?

Our next vacation is just around the corner.  The packing list has been started and I’m not sure how everything is going to fit.  In a minivan.  Which seems completely absurd.  Isn’t the whole point of a minivan its spaciousness??  We’ve never had to pack light for a road trip before.  But now we have Murphy –  our giant 7 month-old puppy who happens to weight about 90 pounds.  Needless to say, he takes up quite a bit of room.  Good thing he’s so cute. Murphy

I keep telling myself – and everyone who asks how we’re going to all fit – there’s nothing to worry about.  We’ll pack light.  Except, I don’t really know how to pack light.  Our lovely lake house has a washer and dryer so that should keep clothing to a minimum.  But we’ll be in Canada with warm days and cool evenings.  We also plan to do some hiking, swimming, biking, and kayaking.  All of this adds up to the need for a variety of clothing options: pants, shorts, hiking shorts, short and long sleeve tops, sweatshirts, bathing suits, and, well, you get the picture.  IMG_1148

While I’ve got my list and I feel organized, there’s still too much on the list – and even more not on the list.  Somehow we’ll make it work.  The laws of physics are what they are.  But it’s not going to be pretty.  Once we get there, yes – but oh, the process.  Sigh.

If you have any packing light tips, I would certainly welcome hearing them.

Planning a Kid-Friendly and a Dog-Friendly Vacation

Now that we have acquired the cutest puppy on the planet, we need to make room in our lives for this beast – um, I mean puppy. For me, a big part of that is making sure we still have family time to get away and explore new places. With a new puppy and two kids, vacation planning has suddenly become a bit trickier but wheels started spinning almost immediately.  We have 2 weeks set aside for a summer trip, and I’m hoping I’ve come up with a perfect destination – Canada!

How did we pick Canada? We had a few specific criteria for our destination in addition to being dog and kid-friendly:

  1. drivable
  2. cooler weather than where we live because it’s better for our thick-coated mountain dog
  3. easy access to hiking, nature, water, etc.
  4. somewhere new
How I started the search:

I may be new to dog-friendly vacation planning but I started the same way I always do – with Google Maps and Airbnb. We almost always stay in vacation house rentals and Airbnb is a great way to narrow down the destination options even if you decide to go with a different house rental provider.
Cooler meant north – duh. Since we are originally from New England, the somewhere new meant upstate New York and Canada were the top contenders – even though it’s pushing the envelope on being drivable. Despite having been to Maine before, I will admit it was a contender for a brief bit – primarily because Acadia National Park is one of my husbands most favorite places.
Thankfully, Airbnb has a pet-friendly filter. I also found 2 websites that help find pet-friendly hotels, restaurants, activities: Go Pet Friendly and  Bring Fido.

The searching nitty gritty:

I spend a ridiculous amount of time on Airbnb. I’m perfectly content zooming in and out, changing search filters and clicking on endless numbers of properties to find the perfect spot. If I find a house that looks like a great setting, I’ll then research the area and see what’s around if I’m not familiar with the spot. This is how we found our house in Kallo Knippla, Sweden. I would never have thought to look at that island if not for seeing the house listing first.

Reading the reviews for properties is also incredibly helpful. Often people will write about the location – close to shops/restaurants and public transportation, or secluded with nothing for miles. Depending on what we’re looking for, that will help me understand a new spot and give hints for how I should read the map information.

I also look for reviews in the same season as we’ll be traveling.  We often travel in the offseason as it’s more affordable.  Maybe it’s a beach house with ineffective heat during colder months or a town where all the shops/restaurants close in the offseason – the reviews will often leave clues.

The final decision:

After seeing a number of listings that fit the bill, we decided to commit. The house we booked looks perfect – secluded but not isolated, on the water with lots of space to explore with the kids and dog.  Even though the listing came up using the pet-friendly filter, I reached out to the owner before booking to confirm Murphy is welcome – especially since he’s a large breed. Thankfully, the owners love dogs and were ok with his size.

Out of the 2 weeks we have off, we’ll be spending 9 days in a lovely little house on a lake outside of Montreal.  Before arriving at the house, we’ll make a stop in New Hampshire for a few days. The timing gives us plenty of time for the drive home if we need to take it slow and stop overnight.

I was thinking of spending a few days in Quebec before heading to our Airbnb rental, but as with planning a kid-friendly trip, I think less is more with a dog-friendly trip.  Now we’re just hoping in the next few months that Murphy’s car sickness issues resolve.  Fingers crossed…

8 Things about Us

1 – We took the Amtrak Auto Train from Virginia to Florida in 2009.  The twins were not quite 2 and 1/2 years old. It was a pretty chill way to travel with small kids.  They don’t have to be strapped in their seats for hours – once you close your cabin door, they can squirm and explore.  The gentle swaying of the train also rocked the twins right to sleep.  Since we were headed to FL in February it was essentially a train full of doting “grandparents” – instead of giving a traveling family the stink eye, many seemed happy to see small kids. The free wine and snacks when you board certainly helped.

2 – I travel with tea bags to make sure I can always get a cup.  My grandmother was British and she got me hooked when I was a teenager. I’m always looking for the perfect spot to enjoy a cup.  I think I’ve found quite a few.

3 – I used to be scared of flying but now I’m much more chill about it.  Oddly enough, the longer the flight, the happier I am – 12 hours is the longest flight I’ve done.  Just think – no dishes to do, no meals to fix, no negotiating over what we watch since we all have our own screen, no laundry…You get the idea.  It’s nice to just chill out with absolutely no chores to do. The twins are also old enough to not need our constant attention.

4 – I’m afraid of heights.  If there’s a sight to be seen from up high, I will likely wait behind and J and the twins will go on up.  I made it up to the top of the Eiffel Tower but there was a moment in the elevator where I thought I had made a terrible mistake. My eyes were closed the whole way up.  But I ended up doing ok.  I was also pretty miserable on the top of the Rock of Gibraltar.  That surprised me as I usually do ok on terra firma even if up high.

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Look at me all the way down there!

5 – I grew up in Massachusetts as did my husband.  In fact, we first laid eyes on each other in 8th grade band class when I moved to his town.  I then moved to Florida in high school and stayed there for 10 years.  I moved back to Massachusetts when I was 25, where J and I reconnected and feel in love.  Oh the romance.

6 – J is a musician.  He will always stop for street performers when we are traveling.  I like that about him.

7 – We have a cat named Elvis. He’s always well cared for by our neighbors when we are away and I can tell he’s excited to see us when we get home.  Maybe not as excited as a dog would be…

8 – I have 53 wish lists on Airbnb.  Hotels just don’t work well for us as a family.  It’s heaven to have a spot to tuck the kids away and then still enjoy being up.  Plus, I hate going out to breakfast.  If I have to shower and get dressed before breakfast, it just doesn’t feel like a vacation.

I don’t know why I picked 8 but there you have it.

Preparing for Sweden

The Wandering Twins’ Perspective

Yay! We are going on another European Trip! But this time we’re going north to Scandinavia. To be pacific, Sweden. We go in just a few weeks! We have snack bags full of delicious treats for our trip. Lara bars, Cliff Bars, and Tic Tacs etc galore.

Hi! Nate here and I would like to tell you my perspective of preparing for Sweden. We got a TON of books so we will like, never be bored and there are SUPER yummy snacks and I am trying to get mom and dad to go to Malmo to see the tallest building in Scandinavia, the Twisting Torso, powered by geothermal energy. Super awesome, right?


The Parents’ Perspective

We leave for Sweden in just a few weeks!  With less than a month to go, this is when my wheels start to spin. I’m noticing a trend as we prepare for this trip – about a month out, I tend to start buying lots of clothes.  I’m not much of a shopper so my wardrobe is not exactly robust.  Faced with having to pack several days worth of casual clothes, I realize that I have 2 pairs of pants that fit (fit being the operative word these days) and I should probably get another pair or two.  I also realize that all of my casual shirts are stained or have tiny holes in them. Oh, and the kids need new shoes, of course, because they’re kids and all they do is grow out of shoes or destroy the ones that do fit by playing in the mud. But at least I can earn lots of miles through credit card or airline shopping portals since I refuse to physically go shopping.

I’m also hard at work gathering provisions for the oh-so-crucial snack bags that keep us nourished no matter the travel circumstances.  Okay, so it’s really about keeping my kids quiet, who am I kidding?  With a healthy bit of junk, it’s definitely not all about nourishment.

I’ll be honest, I do not have a reputation for being organized when it comes to packing. The past few conversations I’ve had with my mother, she’s mentioned packing cubes each time.  I just don’t get them.  I cannot figure out why putting your stuff in a cube is better than cutting out the middle man and putting it straight in the suitcase.  With that being said, it would surprise my family to know that I usually create packing lists.

Packing listWe have just 2 1/2 weeks to go for our trip to Sweden and I’ve already started the packing list. Getting the list started, along with acquiring provisions for the snack bags, puts a little spring in my step and makes me feel like the trip is right around the corner.

Growing up, we went to the beach every summer for two weeks and rented a house. Every year, a few weeks before our vacation, my mom would put boxes in the dining room.  With each trip to the grocery store, she would add provisions to the boxes for our trip.  As the weeks went on, we’d watch the boxes fill up and get excited knowing our vacation was around the corner. Obviously, we can’t bring groceries with us to Sweden, but the packing list and snack bag provisions have the same effect.

As for other trip preparations, no one around here is on board for my suggestion to head over to Ikea for a Swedish meal. I think it’s a brilliant idea and they’re nothing but a bunch of grumps.

We might also be working on our Canadian accents since we’re not sure what kind of reception Americans will get.  I shudder to think some one would assume we’re happy with our current political “situation.”

*And yes, I do know that Catherine used the wrong word in her section, but I can’t bring myself to tell her. I think the mix up is too cute.

 

The Day the Magic of Travel Failed Us (a/k/a The Granada Incident)

In 2014 we went to Spain with my sister and my parents.  It was a big family trip to celebrate my 40th birthday.  We all flew into Madrid, spent a few days there before renting cars and heading to Osuna which is about an hour east of Sevilla.  It was a great trip. Except for our day trip to Granada which, um, had a few wrinkles.

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Looking happy and in love while touring the Alhambra

It started out as an ordinary travel day.  We all loaded up the cars and off we went – our GPS calmly guiding our way.  One thing of note – while we had 2 rental cars, we only got 1 GPS in an effort to minimize expense.  The GPS was in our car and my sister and parents were following in the other car.  This is a key fact that becomes relevant later…

We went straight to the Alhambra and parked.  For those who haven’t been to Granada, the Alhambra overlooks the city of Granada below.  After touring the Alhambra, we decided to explore the city.  We hadn’t done much advance research on what we wanted to see or do in Granada. Maybe not the best approach.

As we gathered our thoughts in the plaza, I noticed a gentleman selling a large sketch of the plaza itself.  There was a sign that said he lost his passport and was selling the sketch for 20 Euro.  I loved the sketch and bought it immediately, feeling good that I was helping this man.  My husband was wandering around the plaza at the time I made the purchase.  When I brought it over to him and explained what it was, he told me that I probably just gave a pedophile money. J insisted the only reason why people “lose their passports” is because they are criminals.  Now bear in mind, J is a law enforcement officer so he does tend to assume the worst in these situations.  Naturally, I was crestfallen and feeling badly about giving him money.  But I loved the sketch.  The Sketch Incident was the first sign of rocky times ahead.

I don’t like to drive and quite frankly, I’m not that great at it.  I get flustered easily.  I don’t do it often since I commute by public transportation. This is a key fact that becomes relevant soon.

J had done all of the driving on the trip thus far.  After a long day of sightseeing and in an effort to rebound from the Sketch Incident, I offered to drive the 2 hours back to Osuna so he could enjoy a beer or two with dinner.

After a lovely dinner, our little caravan headed home with me and the GPS in the lead and  my sister and parents following.  The first sign of trouble was when I encountered a rotary or traffic circle or roundabout, depending on where you’re from.  Whatever you call them, I don’t like them.  But I bravely drove forward into the circle of traffic.  Which is precisely when J started barking at me because apparently, my approach was a touch on the reckless side given that my sister was following.

That traffic circle behind us, quite literally, I took a deep breath and thought, if I just make it to the highway, all will be fine.  Or not.

For some reason the way the arrow was painted on the road of the entrance ramp threw me for a loop and I had this thought that I was going the wrong way on the ramp. I may have become a little flustered and sought reassurance from my husband.  Unfortunately, he didn’t understand why I was flustered. Instead of reassurance, there was more unhelpful barking.

I then recall trying to exit the highway to get gas but missed it and then drove to a dead end because J failed to provide navigational assistance.  My sister and parents dutifully followed me to the dead end.  I asked my beloved husband to give me some clearer navigational guidance. I believe this is the point where I started to cry in frustration. Actual tears with kids in the backseat and my sister and parents stopped at the dead end right behind us.  J’s response was to start saying really helpful things like “go straight” and “go straight again” every 20 seconds when there was no other option but to go straight. This was not as helpful as he thought.  By the time we turned ourselves around and got back on the highway and then properly exited for the gas station, I was a touch frazzled.

Because we are parents, the first thing we do at a gas station on a road trip is find the bathrooms.  I grabbed Catherine and set out – without saying anything to J because I was a touch frazzled, remember? I met up with J as we walked out of the restrooms and said “Where’s Nate?” His response: “I thought you had him.”  Oops.  Turns out we had left Nate in the car.  At a rest stop on the side of a Spanish highway.  At 10pm.   Of course, all was well and Nate was happily entertaining himself in the car.Yes, my sister and parents were also getting gas but they were at a pump that was not in view of our car and they were making their own trips to the bathroom.

Thankfully the rest of our journey was uneventful and we made it safely back to Osuna without further incident.

I did not attempt to drive again while in Spain.  We did not bicker again the rest of the trip. Coincidence?  I don’t think so.

Car Spain

Happier times in the car – with me in the passenger seat and J behind the wheel.

A footnote to the Sketch Incident – I  left it behind at the gate area when we were boarding our plane home.  J was the one to notice I didn’t have it and raced back to get it.

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The Sketch which now hangs in our finished basement.

It’s been a little over 2 years since the Granada Incident.  We can now laugh about it. We laugh, look at each other fondly and say “we need a Granada do-over.” Okay, so I also do this thing when J is being annoying where I raise my eyebrows and say “go straight, go straight” in a jerky manly voice. It seems to get the message across.

 

Our 1st Adventure -Georgia (no, not the state…)

The Wandering Twins’ Perspective

I loved the plane! Well, you can expect that, as it was me and Nate’s first international flight ever! We were switching from movie to drawing to reading and back again, just in a different order. Me and Nate were so exited, we nearly yelped with joy when we saw that there were video game controllers. The seats were arranged two by two so it was possible that Nate and I wouldn’t argue and bicker over the window seat. There wasn’t much to see because, well, it was an overnight flight. Still, it was cool to look at the sunrise as we landed in Turkey for our layover. Why Turkey? We were riding on Turkish Airlines, where the flight attendants served some Turkish delights every now and then. They served the kind with almonds and pistachios, not the other kinds. When we landed, I forget what time it was but it was time for dinner. I was like, so confused because um.. we didn’t have lunch on the plane. We were only served breakfast on the plane because we had to wake up really early to catch our flight.Wait… we had to wake up at about midnight. I might have fallen asleep during the flight but it was so long ago, I totally forget most of the flight. I was in first grade at the time, and now I’m in fourth grade so I hope you understand why I forgot. Overall, it was fun and I had a good time. When we landed, I was shocked at the size of the airport. I had never been in one this big before! There was even a hotel! Because the layover went overnight, that’s where we slept. We weren’t tired because we were jet lagged so we decided to go and play with each other- like that worked out well! We can barely even being the same room without harassing each other.

The Parental Perspective

There weren’t a lot of airline options for flying to Tbilisi and the route on Turkish Airlines seemed to be the best.  We flew from Washington, DC to Istanbul and from there to Tbilisi. Our flight from DC left at 11pm and we arrived in Istanbul at around 4pm local time. I had a few options for the timing of our layover. We could either choose a shorter layover with arrival in Tbilisi in the middle of the night or opt for a longer layover and arrival the following day at mid-morning.  While I would usually go for the shortest travel time possible, in this situation it made the most sense to pick the later flight.  Thanks to my friend’s guidance, I was aware of the TAV Airport Hotel located inside the international terminal at the Ataturk Airport in Istanbul.  This hotel allows for reservations to be made in 3-hour blocks of time.  It was perfect!

As soon as we landed in Istanbul, we made our way to the airport hotel.

This wasn’t quite as straightforward as I was hoping, but we eventually figured it out. Turns out we had to go through security because our plane disembarked outside and we took a bus to the terminal.  We weren’t expecting that and kept thinking the hotel should be before security.  Once we sorted ourselves out and dutifully made our way through security, we checked in at the hotel.  As you can see from the picture below, our kids promptly scattered their things and my husband happily curled up in bed.

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Our TAV Airport Hotel room – Jason headed straight for the bed and the twins made quick work of spreading their belongings around the room.

Our plan was to get dinner and then explore the airport before going to sleep.  When we told the kids the plan, Catherine’s response was “what happened to lunch?”  That clever kiddo doesn’t miss a thing – except our pre-trip discussions of time zone changes.

Speaking of disembarking outside rather than pulled up to a gate, that presented its own challenges.  We were pulling up the rear when it came to getting off the plane since we had lots of stuff and tried to be considerate and let others off behind us.  The bus taking passengers from the plane to the terminal was tightly packed by the time we got off the plane.  Stupidly, we stepped to the side and thought we’d wait for the next bus.  After some stilted exchanges with airport personnel we realized that was it.  The only bus.  And now it was even more of a squish to get on.  But we did and it all worked out, though I was holding on tight to my kiddos to make sure we didn’t get separated.

Dinner was a bit difficult, to be honest. We were all tired from our lack of sleep on the overnight flight and we weren’t sure what to make of the restaurant options.  In the interest of time, we went to the food court rather than a full-service restaurant.  We stumbled our way through the line and ordered food that we thought looked good even if we weren’t sure exactly what it was.  In hindsight dinner at a seated restaurant might have been the better option as that would have given us time to consider choices rather than trying to rush through with a line of people behind us.

Once we finished dinner, we then made our way back to the hotel.  The food court and the hotel are at opposite ends of the international terminal.  As we walked, I’m sure we looked a bit “country mouse goes to the city” which I’m not used to since we don’t exactly live in a rural area. It was bustling with travelers from all over on the world and people from all walks of life.  Once again, I was a little stressed about keeping a hold of my kids; I was relieved to get back to our room so I could close the door and not worry about keeping an eye on everyone.

That night everyone slept well but me.  Go figure. And it was all my fault.  With the time zone changes, I hadn’t done a good job of staying away from caffeine and I probably had a cup of tea too close to the end of the day.  But I was in Turkey – I couldn’t resist trying the tea.

Our flight the next morning was around 7am and by the time we landed, got our luggage, and passed through customs, it was right around noon in Tbilisi.

Because we stayed overnight in Istanbul, I think that minimized the jet lag for the kids. When we arrived in Tbilisi the kids and my husband were ready to hit the ground running. I, however, was a hot mess. But I did what moms do and sucked it up.

Our Story

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The Wandering Twins’ Perspective

Hello, I am Catherine, a Wandering Twin. I am 10 years old and in the fourth grade with my brother, another Wandering Twin. I live in America. I love to travel, just like my family. I like to travel because I find it very exiting and informational. Also, it’s just and excuse to watch T.V. (Rick Steve’s Europe). I recommend it to you travelers. Another thing I like about traveling is meeting new people and trying new things ( especially the food)! Traveling is a great thing for people who want to see how other people embrace the world.

Hello I am Nate, another traveling twin and I like to travel to see new things and taste new things also it is fun to meet new people and see landmarks! I am very lucky to be born into a Traveling Family and I hope you will travel around the world and I wish you luck, May the Force be with you!

The Parental Perspective

I have always loved to travel and was determined that having kids wouldn’t keep me from seeing as much of the world as possible.  We took our first “big” trip when the kids were in 1st grade.  With daycare expenses behind us, we could finally save for vacations!  Making our first overseas trip with the twins even easier, I had a dear friend living in the Republic of Georgia who has a daughter the same age as the twins.  Not knowing how long they would be in Tbilisi, we jumped at the chance to visit them.  I soaked up all the advice my friend gave about traveling with kids and it made a world of difference for how we approached the trip – I was more relaxed and confident and the kids pick up on that.

One morning a few weeks ago, my daughter asked me what my dream job was.  After answering, I posed the same question to her.  Catherine’s response: a travel writer.  To support the pursuit of her dream job, this travel blog was born.  Many of the reviews and posts will be from their experiences with a good bit of “Parental Perspective” thrown in for additional insight.

Since our trip to the Republic of Georgia, we’ve had a few more adventures.  As the kids get a little older, making them a part of the planning has made each trip a little more interesting.  So welcome our blog and the stories of our adventures!