Things We Learned: Traveling to Germany and Austria With Kids

We’re back from our amazing 11-day trip to Bavaria and settling back into our summer routine. While on the early-morning train to the Munich Airport, our little guy exclaimed, “I don’t want to go home, I wish we lived here.” And Clay and I shared a look and responded in unison, “Me too.” Baby girl was too preoccupied with complaining about a stomach-ache (foreshadowing the events on our 9-hour flight back to the States) to contribute anything to the conversation beyond, “I liked the pretzels and riding bikes.

city view of Old Salzburg

I’ll talk to a wall about my desire to live overseas and while Clay is totally onboard with the idea, the Army keeps giving him his best career-advancing assignments stateside. Waiting until after he retires to live overseas is a realistic goal but we’d prefer to live the expat life sooner rather than later. But such is life in the military, I suppose. And as Mick Jagger and Keith Richards so delicately wrote, “You can’t always get what you want.” So until it’s our turn, it will be my lot in life to roll my eyes extra hard whenever I hear/read about someone complaining about receiving an overseas assignment. And keep to keep traveling internationally for as long as our wallets and schedules can afford.

Neuschwanstein castle from Queen Mary's bridge

I plan to recap our trip by breaking it down into posts about our time in Munich, Salzburg, and Garmisch Partenkirchen but I wanted to address a few things before diving into itineraries, recommendations, and highlights – a lessons-learned of sorts.

Flexibility is crucial. When we go on our big trips (big meaning anything over 5 days and 1000+ miles away from home), we choose to operate with a rough itinerary rather than meticulously planned out days. Of course we book anything that requires advanced notice but we try our hardest to take each day as it comes. There is little we like more than wandering foreign streets not knowing what is around the corner and gathering recommendations from locals. In fact, some of our most treasured vacation memories have been moments that we weren’t even planning on experiencing.

little girl in Munich street

When your child breaks a bottle of wine in a train station grocery store, fess up and accept responsibility. Prior to boarding our train back into Germany from Salzburg, we popped into the super nice grocery store in Salzburg Hauptbahnhof (the station) for some snacks because our train ride to Garmisch Partenkirchen would be 3+ hours. Violet accidentally kicked a bottle of wine from the bottom shelf and it shattered all over the floor. My instinct was to get the hell out of dodge but because my husband is a better human than I am, he flagged down an employee and offered to pay for the (extremely cheap) bottle of wine. The employee rolled his eyes and mumbled something about Americans under his breath but when he alerted his supervisor, we were told not to worry about it and thanked for bringing it to their attention.

The Bayern-Ticket is the way to go when traveling between/throughout Germany and Austria. We did not research enough and grossly overpaid for our train tickets from Munich to Salzburg. When on the train, we met an extremely nice family from Chicago on vacation with two children similar ages to ours. She is a German teacher and her and her husband met in Vienna when studying abroad so they were very well-versed in travel between Germany and Austria. They explained the Bayern-Ticket to us and because of them, we saved significantly more money on our train ticket from Salzburg to Garmisch Partenkirchen. When we inevitably go back, we will be sure to take advantage of the Bayern-Ticket.

father son in Munich

Google Maps isn’t always right. Traveling internationally in the 21st century is a million times easier that it used to be due to smartphones. Having a personal handheld computer that can translate phrases, book last-minute tickets, give us access to restaurant reviews, and tell us where to go is nothing short of amazing. But yes, even Google Maps can be wrong. We ran into a few situations when what Google Maps was telling us contradicted the directions from local sources – we always yielded to local and successfully made it to our destination.

Don’t assume your debit card will work in rural ATMs. Cash is still king in Germany and Austria. We used our American Express whenever we could (points, points, points!) but we made our fair share of ATM withdrawals during our trip, especially in the rural areas. We learned the hard way not to assume that our debit card will work in an ATM. When we arrived in the outskirts of Salzburg, we were famished and in desperate need of cash. We struggled to find an ATM and ended up digging through our pockets and backpacks for enough Euros to purchase lunch. Thankfully we emerged victorious (5 euro coins FTW!) and after eating delicious pizza (yes – Austria has fantastic Italian food), we eventually found an ATM in Old Town Salzburg that worked with our card.

Attempting key phrases in German is better than just speaking English. This is a no brainer – whenever you travel to country that speaks a different language, it is always best to try and not be an ‘ugly American’ by assuming everyone speaks English. We had our kids say at least please and thank you in German everywhere we went and it earned them quite a few cheek pinches from proprietors.

Eat vegetables whenever you can! When Clay and I traveled to Scotland a few years ago, we learned the hard way that fresh vegetables weren’t a given when dining out, especially at pubs. We found the same to be true in Germany and Austria – meat and carbs are king. Tasty but not the greatest for the digestive tract. I wasn’t always successful but I tried to order at least one green item each day. Pictured is the salad I ordered outside of Neuschwanstein Castle. It interestingly came with a baked potato, potato salad, kidney beans, and corn…the joys of ordering food when you don’t speak German! 🙂

And finally if you’re debating about whether to go or not – JUST GO! Travel somewhere new with your kids. It doesn’t have to be internationally or even across the country. But do not underestimate the power of traveling to a new place together as a family. Obviously don’t put yourself in debt to do so but investing in travel and adventure as a family is never a bad thing. You learn so much about each other. There will be times of frustration, there will be moments of pure wonder, there will be belly laughs, and there may even be a few tears. But most importantly, there will be memories that will remain with you for the rest of your life. And who doesn’t love a good “Hey – remember when we …….” family conversation around the dinner table?

family view from Hohensalzburg Fortress
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The Art of Knowing Very Little

The other night after dinner, the four of us were playing a game at the table when I was struck with one of those moments of disbelief – the type when it feels like you’re floating above the room keenly observing the people and events. If we were in a Nancy Meyers film, the screen would’ve given way to a gorgeous and unnecessary oversized kitchen as Summer Samba (So Nice) floated in the air. I stared at my hard-working husband and curious children and the Ticket to Ride: First Journey game board and thought to myself, “I am here.” The three of them were laughing about a mispronunciation of a train station as I looked on with reverence. I was reflecting on our path that lead to that precise moment in time when my son called out, “It’s your turn, Mom!” – which sent me crashing down from my ethereal birds-eye perspective.

the great thing about getting older is that you don't lose all the other ages you've been

madeleine l'engle quote

I’m getting older. The laugh lines on my face are more pronounced than they were five years ago. When I stare at my hands, I’m struck by how much older they appear than the years my birth certificate indicates. The sands of time seem to be falling at feverish pace and I know they will continue to do so with each year. And while I am more confident than ever and grateful for what I’ve been able to experience thus far, I am continuously reminded that I know very little about this world.

Grand Canyon family sunset

We’ve been lucky to travel to some pretty amazing places that will be forever etched in our hearts. But there is a reason why I am quick to recommend the Grand Canyon as a must-do family vacation – being able to participate in the transformative experience of soaking in the indescribable view with our children is something I’ll treasure for the rest of my life. Sitting on that ledge, we were reminded of just how small we were in the most overwhelmingly way possible. And what is perhaps most astonishing is that if were were to sit in that same exact spot right now, the view would not be the same because the canyon is ever-changing. Just like life.

Sometimes I wonder if I deserve the life that I’ve cultivated over the years. I’ll look down on the events taking place around me and think, “How did I ever get here?” and confuse perception with reality. I wonder if I express enough gratitude. And I question whether I’m seizing the moment enough to maximize the experience. But when I float back down, I’m reminded that the beauty of life lies with understanding just how little we understand of it. I am lucky that I’ve had the time that I’ve had and I can only hope that there are many more years ahead of me. After all, I still know very little.

Germany and Austria – Our {Rough} Itinerary

I can count on two hands the number of days left before we board our flight to Munich. To say that we’re excited is an understatement. Eeeeek. Earlier this year, I wrote about how we chose our big summer vacation. And last year, I really enjoyed writing about how we chose our adventure and our rough itinerary, and recapping our time in the Cotswolds, London, and Paris. So I figured I’d give a brief overview of what we plan to accomplish during our time in Germany and Austria and how we plan to incorporate lessons learned from our trip to Europe last summer.

Munich. We scored an amazing deal on roundtrip tickets to Munich so we’re bookending our trip in the capital city of Bavaria. We initially considered incorporating Berlin into this trip but ultimately chose to focus on southern Germany and Austria in order to really experience the scenery and culture. Yes – we will be sure to visit Hofbrauhaus, Marienplatz, Frauenkirche, and more but we’re just really looking forward to wandering around the city and seeing where each day takes us.

Salzburg. After our initial stay in Munich, we’re renting a car and driving to a villa on the outskirts of Salzburg. We will stay there for a few days and explore both the city and countryside. Yes, we will be doing a Sound of Music bike tour and will have no shame singing Do-Re-Mi in Mirabell Gardens. We hope to visit a lake or two, we’re looking forward to hiking Untersberg, and of course eating our way throughout the city!

Edelweiss Lodge & Resort. We had already pretty much mapped out our trip when we received news that Edelweiss Lodge & Resort changed the eligibility requirements back to those stationed outside of EUCOM. We were able to score a few nights at the resort so we will be heading back into Germany after our time in Salzburg. We plan to relax during this portion of our trip and leisurely explore the countryside and visit Neuschwanstein Castle and other famed Bavarian sites. And I am almost positive we will fall in love with Garmisch-Partenkirchen and will never want to leave. We will also be in town for Garmischer Fest so we will be able to experience a true German festival.

Munich. We are ending our trip back in Munich and will have a couple of days to explore more of the city before flying back home.

What We Are Doing Different This Year

More time. Due to Clay being an aide-de-camp at the time, he was only able to take a week of leave. We made the most of our 7 days in the United Kingdom and France but because of our tight schedule, our days were packed and we were exhausted by the end of the trip. This year, we will have more time and we will have more opportunities for rest and relaxation.

Less guilt. This ties into the previous point but we are not going to let ourselves feel guilty if we want to have a quieter day that doesn’t involve running from landmark to landmark in order to maximize our time. Clay and I have trouble relaxing but we are going to force ourselves to have a few hours of down time built into each day – even if it means eating a leisurely meal or sitting in a park and letting the kids play while we sip drinks.

Listen to Rick Steves. We love watching his show and reading his books so we have no reason not to follow his advice. His travel philosophy is simple and we will be sure to be fanatically positive and militantly optimistic during our trip.

Those of you who have been to Munich, Salzburg, and/or Garmisch-Partenkirchen, what do you recommend?

The Art of Being Bored

How can it already by the second week of July? School starts back up next month. Next month. How is that even possible? My elementary school summers were spent in Phoenix, Arizona. Perhaps it was the unrelenting heat, but the almost three month break from school seemed to last for.ev.ver (said like Michael “Squints” Palledorous from The Sandlot).

Me – circo 1990 in Glen Arbor, Michigan

Back then, my summer days involved countless hours in our swimming pool, one massive road trip to Michigan, and day trips down to Mexico. I had very relaxed summers growing up. My mom stayed home and we didn’t do day camps, classes, or any other scheduled events that seem to dominate kids’ schedules nowadays. We’d go to the library and Video Showcase, where each of us kids were able to rent a movie on $1 Tuesdays – discovering such films as Mac & Me, He Said/She Said, and my beloved Three Men and a Little Lady. And yes, I was bored – some days more than others.

Thank goodness.

The art of boredom is dying – especially among children. It is alarming the amount of children who are rarely given the opportunity to fully use their imagination and fill empty time with self-created adventures. Perhaps I am more cognizant of this trend living in Northern Virginia – the pace of family life in this part of the country really can feel relentless at times.

I purposely do not fill up our summer days with activities and outings. Yes – we still do quite a bit and my children experience plenty but they also have quite a bit of days with absolutely nothing scheduled and they’re left to their own imaginations for entertainment. Yes – they use the iPad and watch plenty of television but they’ve built an entire city out of LEGOs in the basement, they created a vending machine out of a giant cardboard box, they worked together and wrote a book, they designed a scavenger hunt, and they play outside plenty. Most importantly – they’re learning how to self-motivate and work together as a team.

The internet has no shortage of articles about why bored is good for the soul. Study after study have demonstrated why unstructured time is crucial for childhood development and psychological well-being. I admit there are times when I doubt my instincts and wonder if I am doing enough for my children this summer. But then I am reassured when I’m called down to the basement to marvel at their newest invention made out of BBQ skewers and Play-Doh.

We have plenty of family adventures planned for the rest of summer but there will also be a lot of down time where they will harness their boredom and transform it into independent creative play. They will draw. They will paint. They will make a mess. And they will clean up after themselves. I will not comb Pinterest for activities to keep them occupied day in and day out. They will have time to think. Time to plan their own day. They will play outside unsupervised. They will build forts. They will fight. They will be sent to their rooms. They will read. They will be bored at times. And they will have a fantastic summer because of it.