My Answers to Commonly Asked Travel Questions

Even though I often write about our travels on And Then We Laughed, I don’t consider myself a travel blogger by any means. I am not near as well-traveled as I’d like to be – while my ‘list’ boasts 45 states, it only has a measly 9 countries. I’m working on it though! Clay and I have traveled quite a bit with our children (and a few big trips ourselves) over the years – both domestically and internationally, so I like to think that I am fairly well-versed in family travel and all of the wonderful, horrible, and extraordinary things that can happen on such adventures.

Whether it is exploring a nearby town for only the night or trekking throughout Europe for a couple of weeks, we’ve ventured quite a number of places together as a family and don’t plan to stop anytime soon. Occasionally I get asked travel-related questions – both in-person and online – so I thought it’d be a good idea to compile my answers in one blog post. So without further ado, here are my answers to the travel questions I am asked most…

What is your favorite way to travel? Honestly? Anyway we can! While jet-setting around the world may be a dream, it isn’t our reality. Our time and resources are limited so we sometimes have to get creative when planning travel. We don’t shy away from multi-day road-trips and we will gladly take a connecting flight if it means we can save hundreds of dollars. I’ll admit that I prefer to fly if a destination is 12+ hours away but that isn’t always in our budget. I am always amazed when people tell me they refuse to travel further than 6-8 hours by car. I get it – it may not be as luxurious as airline travel, but if we limited ourselves not driving more than 6-8 hours, we wouldn’t be able to experience half the things we do.

For example, we drove 16 hours roundtrip to Colorado Springs within a 72 hour block of time when we were stationed at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas simply because we wanted to spend some time in the mountains. Was driving 8 hours across Kansas preferable? Not exactly…it sure is flat. But being able to hike in the Garden of the Gods and take the cog train up to Pikes Peak made it totally worth it!

What do you do to help make travel more affordable? We prioritize travel. I admit it helps that neither Clay nor I have expensive hobbies so a lot of our ‘fun’ money gets funneled into travel plans. To be honest, we have two financial goals that we shape our lives around: 1) paying for our children’s college and 2) being able to afford to take trips – both big and small – throughout the year. However, we do not have unlimited resources for travel once we take care of our day-to-day living expenses, retirement contributions, and real estate investments. So we take advantage of travel reward credit cards (American Express Platinum and Chase Sapphire Reserve), airline miles, and we are strategic with our hotel choices to maximize points. For example, the points we earned from our trip to England and France in 2018 allowed us to fly to Germany and Austria for free in 2019 to Germany and Austria.

As discussed earlier, another affordable travel tip is don’t be afraid to drive! Road trips can be fantastic bonding experiences and a great way to get off the beaten path. We’ve discovered little towns throughout the United States that we otherwise would’ve ignored (Paducah, Kentucky; Iowa City, Iowa; Madison, Georgia; and Hannibal, Missouri come to mind). Another thing we do to make travel more affordable is we remain flexible. A lot of our travel destinations that require a flight are determined by what airport is cheaper to fly into at that point in time.

What is the best meal you’ve eaten anywhere? Our first meal in Paris was nothing short of magical. What’s funny is that the restaurant itself was nothing special. In fact, while decently rated, it is also in a somewhat touristy neighborhood near the Eiffel Tower. But I was finally in Paris – somewhere I’d been wanting to visit since was 10 years old. We took our time eating delicious food – soupe à l’oignon gratinée, bavette de flanchet aux échalotes, and creme brûlée. Clay and I savored the Bordeaux while the kids drake Coca-Cola from glass bottles. Our waiter was fabulous, the setting so perfectly Parisian, and I was with the people I love most in the world.

What type of mishaps have happened to you when traveling? Well – our family is sort of known for getting Norovirus each time we’ve visited New York City as a family of four. In full disclosure – we’re a bit scared to attempt the city that never sleeps again in the near future as a family of four.

We’ve run out of Euros in Salzburg, Austria and couldn’t find an ATM that would accept our card. Our plan to get a hotel room when we arrived in Phoenix backfired due to the NCAA tournament being hosted there so we ended up driving three hours south to Sierra Vista, arriving at 1am, just to have a safe place to sleep for the night. But we turned lemons into lemonade and incorporated a visit to Tombstone the following day! Again – being flexible is the key to having great travel experiences!

We’ve miscalculated a red-eye flight from the west coast to the east coast and ended up needing to catch up on sleep at a North Carolina rest area so we could drive back home safely. And when in Montreal, we went to a very authentic Chinese restaurant that was filled with mobsters (we think) and served us only deep-fried chicken feet. But I think my favorite ‘mishap’ is when Clay and I were seated next to a monk/priest in full garb who held a crucifix in his lap for the entire 6 hours flight, sweating profusely and chanting in a foreign language. It was quite the experience!

What’s something you pack that’s not absolutely essential but you like having? Baby wipes! Despite our children forgoing diapers years ago, we always throw a pack or two of baby wipes into our backpacks when we travel. We’ve used them to freshen up after long flights, wash our hands when there isn’t running water to be found, clean up puke, cool ourselves down, etc… The possibilities are truly endless!

What do you know now about traveling cheaply that you wish you’d known earlier? It can be done! When we were in our twenties, we put off a lot of ‘big’ trips because we assumed they were not in our budget. I think there was also a part of us that felt travel was a frivolous thing to spend money on and we needed to funnel our extra money into real estate and just settle for small low-key trips because that was more ‘adult’. Thankfully, we no longer have that attitude and we feel that travel offers us a fantastic return on our money. Being able to experience other cultures (both regional and International) with our children and showing them as much of the world as our resources allow is something for which I’ll be forever grateful.

The opportunity to explore is one of the many reasons why Clay chose to turn his 4-year commitment to the Army into a career. We take full advantage of being stationed someone new and pepper nearby weekend getaways throughout our tenure at any given location. We likely would’ve never visited Fort Worth, Texas for a long weekend if we weren’t stationed at Ft. Still, Oklahoma but then we wouldn’t have been able to experience the Stockyards or eat at the famed steakhouse. And while we haven’t been stationed overseas (yet!), we haven’t let us stop us from traveling overseas. Because one thing we’ve learned over the years, nothing is guarenteed!

Do you prefer to stay in hotels or an Airbnb? While we’ve stayed in both over the years, we find that we prefer hotels because we almost never take advantage of having a kitchen at our disposal. One of our favorite aspects of traveling is eating local food and discovering restaurants so we hardly ever eat anything beyond snacks in our room. Furthermore, we typically only use hotel rooms to sleep and shower so having a lot of space isn’t a priority for us. We’ve really enjoyed our stays in quaint inns (if you’re ever in Bourton-on-the-Water, you must stay at The Broadlands Guest House) and local hotels but we’re also pretty loyal to Marriott around the globe.

What one place would be your ultimate bucket list destination? Hmmm – this is a hard question. I do have a dream of the four of us hiking Kilimanjaro as a family when the kids are older. And Clay and I have the goal is to set foot on all 7 continents before we leave this world. In the near future, my bucket list destinations are probably Australia and New Zealand. We hope to make it a reality for our family within the next few years.

What has been the most magical place you’ve visited? Scotland. Clay and I took a kid-free vacation there a few years ago and I can’t wait to go back with the kids. A piece of my heart was left in the Highlands and along the coast. We barely scratched the surface during our 6 day trip and if ever given the opportunity to live there, we’d jump at the chance.

What is the best travel tip that you give people? Just do it. Take that trip. If you’re waiting for a perfectly planned trip to fall into your lap, you’ll never go. Don’t push off travel until retirement – after all, time is not guaranteed. Make it work now. It doesn’t have to be a big trip. Go explore a nearby town you’ve never been to before. Whatever you do – just go. As Mark Twain wrote in Innocents Abroad

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

Mark Twain

The kids are starting to ask us when we can start planning our big summer adventure. Since the Army is moving us to Chicago at some point during the summer, we’re at the mercy of their timetable; only time will tell where our big adventure will be this year. But wherever we go, it will be a wonderful because we’ll be experiencing it together as a family.

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