On making family travel traditions

I can’t stop thinking about an article I read in the New York Times in which editor Wendall Jamieson discusses why he knowingly went into debt to provide his children with memorable, international vacations before they went to college. Here’s an excerpt:

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I’m writing this now because that trip to Japan, in April of this year, was something of a final chapter for Helene, Dean and Paulina and myself. Dean is 17 and off to college. For seven years, we have taken an ambitious trip during spring break. Everyone has had a vote in our destination — Europe four times, Hawaii, the West Coast (spiritually a different country than Brooklyn, where we live, right?) and Japan.

Their public school vacations always lined up, making planning a snap. But that won’t happen anymore with Dean in college. Also, we’ll be broke.

Helene and I went all in on these trips — dipping into the home equity account some years, and letting my American Express travel account grow alarmingly — because we saw a brief window when Dean and Paulina, who just turned 14, would be old enough to get a lot out of these journeys, and be fully mobile, yet young enough that they enjoyed spending time with us. These windows snap close fast.

We developed a model, and certain patterns emerged. We’ve mixed food and history with views and long walks and mastered transit systems. We plan but not too much. We try to fly nonstop, and accept that at some point someone will get sick. We don’t worry about the weather… It can be done. Debt or not – these trips were worth every penny.

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His logic doesn’t come across to me as foolish; it makes sense to me. I consider travel an important part of one’s education. Numerous studies have linked a child’s exposure to different cultures with an increased ability to empathize and succeed. Of course, I realize that not every family can afford that luxury. It is far more budget friendly to expose a child to literature, museums and people from different backgrounds than to hop on a flight to Japan.

But if you could take your family on an international vacation, where would you draw the line in terms of budget? Would you go into debt?

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My husband and I are careful with our budget, but we do have a pretty sizable piece of the pie dedicated to travel. Now that we are looking to the future and considering settling down in the U.S., we want our life to continue to be filled with travel. As we discuss where we might like to live in the U.S., “proximity to an international airport” ranks high on our list of wants.

What has worked for your family? I’m all ears. Meanwhile, a few links for your weekend:

How to mix health and travel in 2018

Should I try these foldable travel shoes? The cute factor ranks highly.

Stay close to home: The most underrated U.S. cities

I was really taken with this article on female ambition

The 27 items travel agents pack in their suitcases (#1 is a must for me!)

This made me wistful for autumn in Northern California

We’re watching this film in anticipation of an upcoming trip

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Small town vacation: Beaufort, N.C.

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Life is slow in Beaufort, North Carolina.

Syrup-y slow.

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Which is a good thing because it gives you a chance to notice all of the charm packed into this small town at the southern end of North Carolina’s Outer Banks. My family’s been vacationing here for more than a decade, so we’ve had plenty of time to see everything that Beaufort has to offer. There are 15 restaurants and seven churches. I think we’ve visited them all. That’s not why we keep coming back.

We keep returning for the pace of life. A true vacation pace.

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Beaufort is the kind of place where you’ll start taking a “morning constitution” and an afternoon nap — and call it a pretty full day. Even the Pirate Blackbeard took a break from his looting and pillaging lifestyle to retire in Beaufort. Historians say he purposefully ran his ship aground just offshore and settled down with a nice, local girl. (That is, before he was beheaded by the Royal British Navy.)

Suffice to say, Beaufort has long held a reputation for being a restful respite.

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Should you visit Beaufort? It’s not Paris, New York or even Charleston. Beaufort is smaller, quieter and a bit sleepier. But you will be charmed by this special place. I recommend you:

Have a coffee with the locals. CRU Coffee Shop is where you will find them, reading the Carteret County News-Times every morning.

Rent a bicycle. A beach cruiser, if possible. Better yet, take a Hungry Town bicycle tour.

Check out the local craft. Peek in the Watercraft Center to see how wooden boats are made. Then, head across the street to the Maritime Museum to learn about Blackbeard.

Have a waterfront drink. Watch the sun set from the Stillwater Rhum Bar. Thank me later!

Stalk the wild horses. Grab a ferry or a kayak to visit the Rachel Carson Reserve on nearby Carrot Island. There you can watch the wild horses in their natural habitat.

Get the fish of the day. Beaufort Grocery Company is the best spot for local flounder.

Stop in for a night cap. Have a craft beer at the rowdy Backstreet Pub or a martini next door at the too-cool bar Aqua.

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The photo is cute, but it gave me a heart attack when my dad propped up the baby like that!

We always leave Beaufort well-fed, well-rested and feeling a bit more connected to each other. I can’t say enough good things about this sweet town, but please don’t tell everyone. We’d like to keep it a small town. If you are interested in more reasons why you should try a vacation in Beaufort, N.C., read this article in Our State magazine.

 

Travel style: Planner or last-minute?

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Things got heated last night between my husband and me as we discussed what should be the happiest of topics: Future travel destinations. We don’t disagree about the location, lodging or budget; we disagree over the timing. Whereas I’d like to plan an international journey at least one month out (at minimum..because really I could linger over planning a trip for six months), he’d prefer the “where are we flying this weekend?” approach.

Just thinking about booking a flight for tomorrow is giving me heart palpitations!

Neither approach is better than the other. One is not right and the other wrong. They’re simply different. Rather, we’re different. We’re wired differently when it comes to the idea of “adventure.” His definition almost requires an element of last-minute-ness and mine requires weeks of research. Does that make me un-cool?

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According to a 2010 study “vacation anticipation” increases a person’s sense of happiness for a full eight weeks before the travel occurs. And a 1997 study found “vacationers were happier in the period leading up to their time off than during the vacation itself.” Wow.

That said, I don’t think I plan because of the happiness I derive from it. I plan because I’m a risk-averse person …who is only becoming more risk-averse as I delve deeper into parenthood. How about you? What’s your travel style? Meanwhile, a few links for a rainy day:

Eight scientifically-proven ways to become a happier person

This looks tasty. Are you as obsessed with soup as I am?

Look up! A history of overhead photography.

I started reading this book last night and I’m hooked

What to pack for a long-term trip (I swear by #11)

The fantastic film I’m watching to prepare for an upcoming trip

Have you ever experienced travel burnout?

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You’re probably thinking “first world problems,” right? Well, I’m not talking about being sick of flying or going to Paris or seeing new, exciting things. I’m talking about actually getting sick after traveling just too much.

We returned to Switzerland on Thursday after a one-month stay in the United States. We weren’t visiting new places or even staying in hotels. Our only goal was to get the baby to meet as many family members and friends as possible while he is at this sweet, precious age. Our goal was simple and we’ll treasure the memories from the trip, but our execution may have been a little too ambitious for a five-month-old. We took four flights, five road trips, and hit five states spanning time zones across nine hours.

By the time we boarded our flight back to Geneva, the baby said “enough!”

He cried for two hours straight and refused to sleep anywhere but in our arms for the three days following. Talk about parenting guilt — oof! To make matters more interesting, we all came down with nasty colds. So we’ve been trying to slow down, not think about the growing laundry pile and recuperate. How have you been?

We binged this British home show through the weekend

This simple soup recipe warmed us from the inside out

Do you live near water? Maybe you should.

I’m reclaiming “me time”

This sweater looks like something I’d wear all fall

Image via A Cup of Jo

On making travel ‘mistakes’

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The other night my family was sharing stories of “travel mistakes.” You know the ones: Taking the wrong train, losing plane tickets, forgetting to pack underwear. How you handle these short, panicked moments say a lot about you as a traveler — and I believe — you as a person. Moreover, they make for the funniest stories to share years later.

The best travel mistake I’ve made is getting off a Greek ferry one stop too early to discover that I may be stranded there for days. (Read about it if you want to feel better about your travel blunders!).

What mistakes have you made? More importantly, how did you cope with them? Every day I have to remind myself to take a deep breath and relax. If it is not “life and death,” then it is not worth my stress. Easier said than done, but I’m working on it.

Meanwhile, here are a few fun links for what is a rainy Tuesday in North Carolina:

How to help those affected by Hurricane Harvey

The best time to book flights for every major holiday

I’m earmarking these quick family dinners for fall

I’ve been thinking a lot about on how to do a 1970s summer

Listen to this Ted Talk on how to say no (NSFW)

Do you suffer from “full closet but nothing to wear?”

I’d love to get this towel for next summer

Travel rewind: Sarakinko Beach on Milos, Greece

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People say Sarakinko Beach on the Greek island of Milos is the closest you can get to standing on the moon without leaving earth. The blindingly white sand has been hardened into ghoulish shapes over years of being whipped by the brisk maltemi winds. The ever-present winds on the beach are so deafening that you cannot have a conversation with someone 10 feet away from you. The other-worldly site, accompanied by the inability to speak, makes seeing this beach a near religious experience.

I often return there in my dreams.

What are you up to this weekend? We’re driving from the top of North Carolina’s Outerbanks to the bottom tomorrow, with a barbecue pit stop halfway. I hope you are savoring the last days of summer. Meanwhile, a few links for your Friday:

How many of the best documentaries have you seen? (I’ve seen four)

We made this recipe with fresh clams yesterday and… wow!

Holy moly, I want to live in this Brooklyn apartment

Lace up your tennis shoes: Exercise can help you learn a new language

This live Bear Cam in Alaska is so addicting

How designers prolong the life of their favorite clothes

Who wants to start a cookbook club with me?

Why “vacation-shaming” is a growing problem among millennials

 

 

On flying solo… with a baby

I’ll admit it. There are moments in my life when I’ve been pretty proud of myself. College graduation. A tennis championship. Making a soufflé that looked like the photo in the cookbook. But one of my proudest moments was last week when I flew cross-country alone with a four-month-old baby on my lap.

Minutes after booking the round-trip flight from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles my anxiety began to mount — reaching a fever pitch as I said goodbye to my husband at Dulles, crying baby in tow. I bounced him nervously on my hip as tears welled up in my own eyes. I suddenly really really did not want to get on this flight. I said aloud “I don’t think I can do this.”

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Long story short: I did it.

The baby slept nearly the whole flight to Los Angeles and did not sleep one minute on the way back to D.C., so I feel somewhat qualified to relay what I learned from flying alone with a baby. Here is what worked for me:

Call the airlines. Alert them you are traveling with a “lap infant,” because the baby requires his own ticket and fees. Call again in the days leading up to the flight to see if they can place you next to an empty seat. If they can, your baby can sit in his or her carseat during the flight. We’ve done this on an international flight and is was lovely to be hands-free. Additionally, most trans-Atlantic flights offer a bassinet for babies weighing up to 25 pounds. Unfortunately, both of my recent flights were full.

Book an aisle seat. Since the flight was full, I booked an aisle seat near the back so I could get up with the baby as much as possible and hang out in the rear flight attendant area. The plane’s engine is loudest back there, giving the baby the ultimate “white noise machine” experience. Pro tip: Always book a seat on the right side of the plane when traveling with an infant since there is an extra oxygen mask on that side of the plane.

Check the carseat and stroller at the ticket counter. Although strolling a baby through an airport is easier than carrying him, I didn’t want to collapse and reassemble the stroller at the gate while holding a baby who cannot sit up on his own. It was much easier to check the stroller and carseat at the ticket counter while I had an extra set of hands. I wore him in our baby carrier instead. Pro tip: Checking a stroller and carseat is free on all airlines. If you have a stroller travel bag, you can fill that thing as full as you’d like with items that did not fit in your suitcase!

Feed the baby at take-off and landing. If you can bottle or breastfeed the baby at these times it helps alleviate the air pressure in their small ears.

Flying alone with a baby also required strategic dressing. Here’s what I wore:

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Layers. These H&M nursing tops are perfect for when you need to feed the baby on-the-go. I layered a white one underneath an ultra-light, white t-shirt for stealthy nursing.

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A swaddle cloth as a scarfAden + Anais’ Silky Soft Swaddle cloths come in such fun prints that they easily pass as scarves. When I needed to clean-up some spit or burp him, the burp cloth was already around my neck. No scrambling around in a bag for a cloth.

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A jacket with many pockets. Tickets and passports in one pocket. Hand sanitizer and this toy in another. Emergency pacifier and money in yet another. J. Crew’s classic field jacket would fit the bill, but I wore this lightweight jacket. Pockets, pockets, pockets.

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Slip-on shoes. Going through airport security while holding a young baby requires some Cirque de Soleil-level acrobatics. Make it as easy as possible by wearing slip-on shoes.

Here’s what the baby wore:

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Kimono-style pajamas. I always put him in pajamas since planes are extra air-conditioned. This kimono style makes for easy diaper changes in those airplane bathrooms. Pro tip: Add a bandana bib that can be removed at the end of the flight to reveal clean pajamas.

Don’t forget!: Sunscreen (for you and the baby) because the sun’s rays are much stronger on a flight, a diaper for every hour of travel and an extra t-shirt for yourself should the baby ruin the one you are wearing.

It should be noted that I do not come up with all of these ideas on my own; I rely on the community of other parent travel writers who share their advice. What are your tips? I’m all ears. Here are some more ideas:

Why you and your husband should sit apart when flying with the kids

Must-haves for flying with baby (this diaper changing mat)

A whole book about how to fly with a baby

I’m eyeing these slip-on mules for winter flights