Earlier this month, we returned from a 12 day trip to Europe. We had gone to Paris with Caleb when he was 8 months old, but Paris was our only destination for 10 days on that trip, and he was just barely mobile. This time around, our itinerary was a little more complicated, it was winter, and there were two kids to deal with as opposed to just one. We survived and we made some great memories, but it definitely was not an easy trip.
While I admire families like The Bucket List Family, the reality is that we are not them and this is not our full time gig. Traveling with small kids is a lot of work. We made some beautiful memories, but it is NOT for the faint of heart.
We decided to take this trip because Eddie's cousin (who is Chloe's godmother) had a baby girl in September and we wanted to meet her. They live in Luxembourg. But we also figured if we were making the trip, then we were going to add a couple of stops while we were there.
We booked everything on this trip ourselves and did not use a travel agent. I checked fares for a few weeks until we found something we were comfortable with. (A tip: Use Google Flights or Skyscanner to help you find the best combinations out there. You can't book it on Google, but it will send you to the sites to book with the rates they find.)
For hotels, we had points with several of our credit cards, so we browsed their sites and booked what was most convenient for us and what fit in with our points value. We then booked our travel arrangements from one city to the next. We flew from London to Luxembourg and we took a train from Luxembourg to Paris (it was significantly cheaper and way less time consuming than sitting in an airport). We also booked a rental car for the days were staying in Luxembourg.
We did not book any tours or activities in advance because we weren't sure what the kids would be up for. We decided to take it day by day.
This was a winter trip, and we were expecting temperatures in the thirties, so we wanted to make sure we packed accordingly. However, because of the transfers and traveling to different cities, we wanted to keep our packing as minimalist as we possibly could. We didn't totally succeed, but we had very few pieces of clothing that didn't get worn on the trip. We ended up with three suitcases - one large one for Eddie & I, a medium one for Caleb and Chloe, and a small carry-on bag that we used to carry a change of clothes for each of us and prescription medications.
Fashion and perfectly curated looks were not a priority - I mean we all still looked put together, but my outfits were probably not the most stylish. I went for function, convenience, and being able to use pieces multiple times. I stuck to a color palette - in our case black, white, and grey, and threw a few more colorful pieces in for each person. We each had two pairs of shoes, but we all could probably have left one pair behind.
We packed plenty of light, thin layers that we could add or remove depending on the weather, and each of us had a puffer jacket. We made sure to have enough socks for layering, gloves, hats, and scarves.
For Chloe, I packed enough diapers to last us through the day of travel and two days after. I ended up stopping in a grocery store and picking up a small pack of diapers once during the trip (they had the exact brand of diapers we use for Chloe - Pampers Pure).
We packed all the medications we knew we would need on a regular basis, and all the regular emergency medications. Things I wish I had: the nebulizer and an extra bottle of Benadryl packed in one of the suitcases. They took our children's Benadryl at security in London Heathrow, and we couldn't get anymore while we were there.
Planes, Trains, & Automobiles
Before this trip, Chloe has never been on a plane. I wasn't sure how she would do. All things considered, she did pretty well. We booked an 8 hour overnight flight from Miami to London (Virgin Atlantic) in the hopes that the kids would sleep. We arrived at the airport early, and we were able to get bulkhead seats and a toddler cot. Caleb slept about 2 hours at the start of the flight. Chloe didn't fall asleep until about 5 hours in. Once we were able to transfer her to the cot, it was much more pleasant.
From London, we flew to Luxembourg, but that was a very short flight. We flew British Airways. The security line at Heathrow is pretty insane and they are very particular about liquids. We had our Benadryl taken away here and there was NO getting around it with them.
Once we arrived in Luxembourg, we had a rental car waiting for us. We booked directly through their website (Sixt) and we rented car seats for this kids. We ended up with a BMW X3 and it was perfect for car seats, two strollers, and all our bags. Having a rental car was one of the nicest things we did on the trip. We were able to take multiple day trips, and being able to leave things in the car was nice. Plus, the kids are used to being in cars, so their behavior was usually much better in the car than in other settings.
We took a train from Luxembourg to Paris, and that was pretty fun, too. However, France's transit workers were on strike so our first train got cancelled. We were able to rebook, thankfully, but the train was PACKED when we got on it. I would definitely recommend "splurging" for the first class train - we were able to sit at a table and had large, cushioned, comfortable chairs; and have a game plan for getting bags, kids, strollers, etc. on and off the train.
Our final flight was from Paris to Miami. We flew Air France, which has to be one of the most family/kid-friendly airlines I've been on. As soon as they noticed that we had small children at the boarding gate, they ushered us to a separate line for families. We were able to board after the first and business class passengers, which is always helpful with small kids. As soon as we were in the air, the crew handed out kids activity kits, and for the meals and snacks, kids were always served first. Their meals were really kid friendly and appropriate, too.
What Did We Learn? SO MUCH.
If you're planning an international trip with small kids, I hope this helps you!
This post had been sponsored by JOHNSON’S®. All opinions are my own.
My word for the year this year has been to Simplify. While it’s not always at the forefront of my mind, I find myself making subconscious decisions all the time that help to simplify my life. One of those decisions was to start bathing the kids together.
With both of my kids, there are a few things that have always stayed consistent through their bath time routine. For one thing, bath time almost always comes after dinner. But as their needs change, the routine is adjusted and the products we use change. When Chloe was tiny, I would bathe her alone in a baby bathtub, but as she got older and sturdier, I started to bathe her with Caleb. I want bath time to be as easy as possible, so they go in at the same time, get washed up with the same products, and they come out at the same time.
Once they started bathing together, we made the switch to JOHNSON’S® Head-to-Toe Wash & Shampoo. This is something else that has helped me to simplify. It’s one product that works for everything from - you guessed it - their heads down to their toes. Head-To-Toe® Wash and Shampoo is an ultra-mild, gentle cleanser that is safe for a baby’s sensitive skin (and eyes). It’s also free of parabens, phthalates, sulfates, and dyes, which was a big part of JOHNSON’S® renewed commitment to Choose Gentle. The pump bottle makes it easy for me to get the product out and onto the kids without having to pick up a slippery bottle, and the kids love to use it on themselves - even Chloe holds out her hand so I can put some in it and then she scrubs her belly.
JOHNSON’S® Head-to-Toe Wash & Shampoo really streamlines the bath time process, and when you’re in the middle of the crazy evening hours, one less step counts for a lot! Because it is such a great multi-purpose product, when we go on vacation, I make sure we always buy a bottle and we can all use it all over (including Mom & Dad)!
Another product that we have added into our routine, especially with all the drying activities of summer like swimming and sweating, is JOHNSON’S® Baby Lotion. Their classic baby lotion is now made with coconut oil, and it keeps delicate skin soft, smooth and feeling healthy. Baby’s skin is nourished for 24 hours with this mild formula. It has the classic smell we all know and love but it has no parabens, phthalates or dyes. I keep this on Chloe’s changing table and after her bath, I make sure to apply some. The best part about it is that is absorbs quickly and doesn’t leave any unwanted residue, so my hands aren’t slippery or greasy afterwards (because it doesn’t leave a residue, this is actually what I use on myself, too!).
The great thing about these products is that they are really affordable, and you can find them anywhere, including online at Target.com or Walmart.com
Have you ever felt like the thing you experience with your kids couldn’t possibly be true unless somebody else was there to witness them? A lot of times I wish I had been recording my kids when certain things happen, or that someone else had been there to witness whatever funny/crazy/unbelievable thing they did.
I have never felt as seen before as I did when I was reading Whitney Bausman‘s soon-to-be-released book, Herding Cats. Her stories about raising her toddlers Clark and Annie feel like they were pulled straight out of a scene in my house. The challenges, the atrocities, the hilarity, and the really special moments that just tug at your heart strings are what make Herding Cats a fun, relatable, and at times even tear-inducing read. If you are currently a parent of a toddler or toddlers, have been a parent of toddlers in the past, or even just know any toddlers in a capacity which is more than in passing, then you will definitely enjoy this book. I couldn’t believe how many times I literally laughed out loud. From stories about poop, to boogers, to germs and illnesses, when it comes to kids it was truly one of the most relatable and funniest reads!
It was also honest and authentic. Whitney isn’t talking about parenting in the most popular way, she’s talking about parenting in the most real, authentic, and “Oh, good, I’m not the only one who feels this way” way possible. More than once I breathed a sigh of relief that there are more parents out there like me who are middle of the road, who don’t think the TV is pure evil (only partially), and who are totally okay with giving their kids frozen waffles in the mornings.
Through several parts of the book, I thought to myself, “Whitney and I must share a brain,” but then I realized that it’s not only Whitney and I who could be sharing a brain, but nearly any parent of any toddler out there. I write this as Chloe is pulling my hair, has fought her nap today tooth and nail, and I am getting ready to go sit in the car with her until she falls asleep and has a decent nap. If you’re looking for a funny and relatable read that will make you think of your own toddlers’ antics, and make you realize you aren’t alone, then check out Herding Cats by Whitney Bausman, which will be available on Amazon this Friday, August 30 (you can preorder now, though!).
This post is sponsored by Smartick. All opinions are my own.
When I taught middle school, I taught the same students in both 7th and 8th grades. Every year, in August, I had to cover and review with my eighth graders basically everything I had taught them the previous year. It made for a boring first two months of school because the kids felt like they had already learned the material (they had), and I felt like I had already taught it (I definitely had). The summer slide is real, friends, and if we aren't actively seeking to push our kids and practice learned skills with them, they will forget those skills.
I'm not saying we need to sit and do lessons for an hour a day, but we do need to make sure that we are regularly reviewing skills they already have. Caleb is in preschool, which means he's not needing to retain copious amounts of knowledge. But we have been making sure we continue to practice the skills that he mastered last school year.
We have been using a couple of things to help us keep those skills honed. In Caleb's case, it has been mostly letter recognition and practice in writing his letters. But there are also skills like logic and reasoning that he gets on a regular basis when he's in school and he might not be getting as regularly at home. So what are we using? A couple of different things!
Smartick is a leading online math program for children ages 4-14. It consists of daily 15-minute sessions and can help your child master the math foundations, develop critical thinking, and problem-solving skills. Smartick has collaborated with the MIT G-Lab, published by Harvard Business Review, and has been spotlighted as an Apple app favorite. Harvard research shows that children are more likely to forget their math skills, as opposed to reading, over the summer - learning loss isn't a joke! You can get a better scope of the program and register for their free 15-day trial at www.smartickmethod.com.
Caleb has been doing his lessons daily and he calls it his "work". He likes that I let him do his lessons on the iPad, and he is excited to complete them. Once he completes his lesson, I get an e-mail that tells me how he did on that day's lesson, what his speed was, and how many he answered correctly/incorrectly so we know if we need to work a little harder on anything in particular.
Want to try Smartick out? The awesome people over at Smartick have graciously offered you - my readers - a 25% discount on your first subscription. If you're new to Smartick, use this link to register and redeem your discount. If you have already signed up, apply the code: ToddlerandTopknot directly to your account from the Parent Page. Still have questions? You can reach out to them directly via e-mail or phone: email@example.com / 617-903-8842
Kindergarten Tool Kit
The Comprehensive Kindergarten Toolkit helps build a basic foundation of reading, writing and math skills as your child prepares to enter Kindergarten. The lessons are simple and written in a way that any parent can be a "teacher" to their child. The Toolkit comes with a booklet that contains lessons and information on teaching your child those lessons. It focuses on 10 main Kindergarten goals. It comes with four sets of flashcards (Upper and lower case letters, numbers 1-20, 25 Kindergarten sight words, and 10 colors and shapes). It also includes a whiteboard, pen and eraser, and a piece of sidewalk chalk. We have been using the letters, shapes and color cards mainly, but my goal is to start working on some of the sight words in the last few weeks of summer.
Magic Sketch Boogie Board
The Magic Sketch Boogie Board is an e-writer. This particular model has inserts with pages that can be traced, and some of those pages include letter practice. Whenever we have an outing, I pack the Boogie Board in my bag - it's lightweight, compact, and keeps him entertained. He doesn't always have to use the letter practice pages - there are coloring pages, mazes, and a few other sheets. It doesn't make noise, it's got a replaceable coin-cell battery that lasts for 5 years (yay for one less device charger!), and it's durable.
Sometimes I will model a word for him and he can copy it. Other times we dictate letters to him and ask him to write them, or we write the letters and ask him to identify them.
The Big Fun Preschool Workbook
I've shared this workbook before in my stories, and it's been a big hit. It's got activities for fine motor skills, for letter practice, and all kinds of stuff. It's done in a way where Caleb doesn't feel like he's "working" and that's always a good thing, right?
At the end of the day, I always try to make it fun. When we drive, I point out letters and numbers and ask him to name them. I'll have him count the number of grapes I serve him, and draw the number in the air. Magnatiles and STEM-based toys are always great (LEGOs count!), and anything that helps him learn a little about science (like the Melissa and Doug Magnetic Puzzle pictured above). If you're interested in some more toys that can be helpful for practicing some of those preschool concepts, check out my recommendations here.
Happy learning, friends!
I often get asked how I do everything that I do, and the truth is that while it may seem like I do a lot, I have developed some pretty decent time management skills in the last few years. I like to produce, but I also like to be able to enjoy myself and my family. I have also learned that there are things I should put importance on, and there are others that I’m not really all that concerned about. Here are some of the things that I don’t do as a mother that allow me to seem like I “do it all.”
1. I don't do it all.
Whether it’s my husband, my parents, my in-laws, a babysitter, or housekeeper, I use the resources that are available to me so that I don’t get overwhelmed. It’s really easy to get caught up in saying, “I have to be the one to keep my house perfectly clean,” and “I have to be with the kids 24/7.” But in coming to the realization that I CANNOT physically do it all, I learned to ask for help. Sometimes that means it’s asking my husband to take care of dinner, or asking our parents to watch the kids so that I can go get some errands done.
2. I don't stress over what my kids eat.
I don’t really stress over what my kids eat. In the first year of life with both of my kids, I stressed over them consuming enough milk and gaining enough weight. But past that, I stopped stressing. Suer, I try to limit sugar, and I don’t give them sugary drinks at home, and I definitely try to push the healthier stuff, but I don’t stress it if they do or don’t have something. Some days that means that they snack and graze all day; other days that means that they have three really hearty well-balanced meals. And still other days, that looks like the drive-through of Pollo Tropical or some frozen meals heated up in the oven. I’ve come to understand the kids go through phases, and that not every day is going to be full of perfectly balanced nutritious meals. If Caleb wants microwaveable macaroni and cheese, then guess what? That’s what’s for dinner. If Chloe tosses her lunch on the floor and feeds it to the dog, then she might just be getting a pouch for lunch. And again, I’m not going to stress it. One of our friends, whose mom has three kids told us one time, “By the time they turn 18, they’ll have eaten a well-balanced diet.” So Eddie and I try to remember that whenever the kids are giving us a hard time over what we’re feeding them. At the end of the day, they’re just like us, and some days they might just not be hungry. Other days, they may really just want a certain kind of food, and that’s OK, too! They’re allowed to have likes and dislikes just like we do.
3. I don’t buy into the more is more mentality.
There are a lot of sources out there telling us that we need ALL THE THINGS for our kids. More toys, more clothes, more gadgets, more STUFF. But I have become a big believer in the fact that kids don’t need as many things as we think they do. For the most part, they’re happy with a couple of toys that they really like. The best thing for them is going outside, playing, using their imaginations, and being kids. I will not be on the hunt for the most popular toy this Christmas, because I know that is not what is going to make my kid happy. One perfect example was for Caleb’s birthday this year. We decided that since we were surprising him with the Disney Cruise, and his birthday is so close to Christmas, that we were going to forgo buying him a gift. The day of his birthday, I woke up with a little guilt that he had nothing to open. But you know what? He never asked for anything except for the waiters to sing him Happy Birthday. And the day we got off the ship, he THANKED us for taking him on the cruise.
4. I don’t let my coffee get cold.
I also get dressed every morning, and do my hair when I need to. I take care of myself, because I need to be able to take care of them. If that means that they are strapped into the high chair or watching TV for an extra five minutes in the morning so I can drink my coffee hot, then so be it. But I make the time in the morning to do that one thing for myself.
5. I don’t spend all day entertaining my kids.
I sit on the floor and play with Chloe for a little bit each day - time I dedicate just to her. Or I spend some time with Caleb outside or coloring or reading. But I’m a huge proponent of independent play. I want my kids to be able to entertain themselves and each other. They have a pretty free range of the main area of the house, and there are toys for them to play with, so there’s no reason why they should need to be entertained constantly. I’ve always got an eye or ear on them, but if I’m making dinner, or replying to e-mails, or folding laundry, you can bet that they are playing independently.
6. I don’t feel guilty about what I do or don’t do.
No explanation needed, no guilt. Sometimes I’ll have twinges of guilt over something, but for the most part, I don’t feel guilty about any of the above.
So there you go. Next time you find yourself wanting to ask, "How does she do it all?" Know that I really, truly don't. There are a lot of things I don't do, and that is what gives me the ability to do what I want to do. And always always always remember that social media can be deceiving! Anyone who looks like they do it all more than likely has a team/village/small army helping them appear that way!