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.