I love to travel. I especially love to travel to Europe. I have not had the opportunity to travel extensively but I have been lucky enough to go to Germany, France, Scotland, Italy, England, Belgium, The Netherlands, and, finally, after 17 years of marriage into a Latvian family, Latvia. I really thought it was never going to happen. We turned down many other wedding invitations, but, when this wedding invitation arrived, setting my own personal desires aside (yeah, right), I said, it’s time to take the kids to the motherland.
Since I love to travel, I travel pretty well and I have learned many things like pack light, don’t be afraid of public transportation, and expect to walk a lot. Like, really, a lot.
Since this was the first time I traveled across the ocean with my family, I taught a few lessons and I learned a few lessons. Here’s my helpful guide, with the backstory, to traveling overseas with a family.
The Trip: Chicago to Philly to Munich to Riga to Wedding to small town Latvia to Riga to Munich to Philly to ChicagoThe Lessons:
1. Men are just as (more) high maintenance as women. When my husband says he needs some item whether it’s extra socks, a certain style of shorts, or a favorite hole filled t-shirt, I should never, ever try to talk him out of it or less of it or a different it, because, when I’m ready to explore exery tower and examine every decayed brick at an ancient castle in the middle of the Latvian countryside, I will be unreasonably intolerant of every suggestion to head back to the car. He told me before we left that he needed (NEEDED) x, y, and z to be comfortable. Let me tell you, when you aren’t comfortable, you don’t want to hike out to look over the Gauja River. If I had listened to him, it wouldn’t have been a struggle to get to do what I wanted to do.
Wait? Did I say what I wanted to do? I meant what the boys wanted to do, naturally.
2. When 2 out of 4 in your group are sleepers, plan accordingly. I think I may have mentioned that sleeping is my super power. Any where. Any time. Any place. When we took our seats on the plane going to Germany, we sat according to how we always sit when we go out to eat. The hubs was with the younger kid. I sat with the older kid. The older kid inherited my sleeping super power. Couple my years of experience of sleeping while traveling in planes, trains and automobiles with my natural engineering skills (pillow stacking), the older kid and I slept for hours. Things on the other side of the aisle didn’t go so well. I wasted my pillow skills on the kid that would have slept leaning against the airplane engine. As a result, the younger kid didn’t concede to exhaustion until we were on the train to Munich. By the time we got off the train, he was so far into a deep sleep that I had to hold his hand to keep him from walking in the opposite direction from us. Next time, when getting sleep is important (getting it at the right time), I need to save my skills for those that need it the most.
3. When it comes to food, go with your gut. While in Riga, we rented an apartment with a kitchen. It was my intention to buy food from the store for breakfast and lunch. Breakfast worked out beautifully. All that were hungry ate while I took my sweet time getting beautified for a day of pictures we’ll never delete. I highly recommend getting provisions for breakfast. Plus, think of the experience of shopping in a foreign grocery store! Lunch would have gone smoothly too, if only… The hubs is the one who always cooks the meals at home. So, when we go on vacation, he wants no part of food preparation. Who can blame him? I relented and it was agreed that we would eat our lunches out at the restaurants. I should have stayed my ground on that one. Even when someone can read the menu, it doesn’t translate easily, or it’s in a pricy part of town (tourist traps), or it just isn’t the same as back home (carbonated apple juice?!?), or there isn’t enough options on the menu for two adults and two teenagers, or the one restaurant you know is good is a long walk away. Eating out twice a day was actually pretty stressful. I still think that a loaf of rye bread (maize) with salami and swiss cheese (siers) would have been a much wiser decision and, possibly, it would have been nicer to just sit in the park looking at the Freedom Monument.
4. While I may have been wrong in what I let the hubs pack, I was correct in saying, “no, we do not want that gigantic suitcase”. The hubs argued it would be no problem since we would check at the airport. In the end, we had to take the big suitcase for all fancy clothes we needed for the wedding and his cousin’s lawn mower blades. Yup, we packed lawn mower blades. Even better that two were the wrong blades so we had to take them back home with us! So, unless you need to take lawnmower blades, pack backpacks because the last thing you want to do is lug a big suitcase around the train station and drag it to the hotel on a 10 minute walk after being up all night on a trans-Atlantic flight, or try to stuff it into a tiny car trunk in Italy. It’s not even that fun to carry a big suitcase up multiple flights of stairs in a latvian apartment building after a good night’s sleep. We were so relieved to get rid of the lawnmower blades, for one day.
5. Rent an apartment or stay with family. Hotels in Europe aren’t designed for large American families. The rooms are small and barely fit two twin beds. I was not surprised by this. So, we rented an apartment in Riga. It was the best and much cheaper than two hotel rooms. I could have gotten a very nice apartment for the cost of 2 hotel rooms. But, I wanted to save money for all that eating out so I went more economical. Still, the apartment was way beyond its value. We even did laundry (allowing us to pack less) once we figured out the Polish instructions on the washer. I wouldn’t hesitate to rent an apartment again.
To recap: He gets his way on what to pack. I get my way on eating. Get as much sleep as possible for the group as a whole on the plane. Pack in easy to carry small luggage. Apartments rule.
While I’m sure we learned more travel lessons than what I have listed, I’m ready to try to relay my Latvian high lights. I should have written it months ago when it was fresh. I only hope I can recall it all.