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Packing for Multiple People

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Someday, my kids will be able to pack for our travels themselves. Until that day, however, I’m responsible for making sure that my girls have enough clothing. (My husband contributes, of course, but I care more about matchy-matchy clothing aesthetics than he does.) On two memorable occasions I have forgotten pants for our youngest and pajamas for our oldest. Since then I decided to get really organized. Here’s a breakdown of how I pack for our family of four.

1. Lists, a smartphone, and more lists

Getting ready means first sitting down with a weather report and our itinerary. How many days? How active will we be? What specialty items do we need? Then I open up Google Keep on my laptop. Google Keep is a note-taking app; you can use the free-form template and the checklist template. I use the checklist feature to build several packing lists: one for the girls’ clothes, one for me, one for electronics, one for dry toiletries and medical items, one for liquid items (as those have to be packed separately), and one for snacks. I like having a small stockpile of familiar, high-protein dry snacks for the airplane or if we’re going to be in a car or coach for a long time.

 
Being organized is everything. Photo: flickr, opoponax

Being organized is everything. Photo: flickr, opoponax

 

The great thing about doing Google Keep lists on my laptop is that it automatically syncs to the Google Keep app on my phone. I have my phone with me in the staging area and can add items on the fly, which is important if I’m still laundering some of the clothes or need to buy anything for the upcoming trip.

Wait, what’s a staging area? On to step two.

2. Staging your stuff matters

Our three backpacks get laid out in a row. There’s my 40L bag, dimensions approved for even the stingiest budget airline; Kid 1′s 18L pack, complete with waist and sternum clips; and Kid 2′s 12L, which is purple just like Dora the Explorer’s bag. If it doesn’t fit in these three bags–or if the bag, when packed, is too heavy for our children to carry–we cull until it does. In front of those bags go the packing cubes. We each have our own color cube. Clothing is folded in stacks in front of the packing cube until everything is accumulated. Toiletries go to the side. Everything is in neat rows. The packing cubes and toiletry kits are not zipped to go until every item on the checklist that’s supposed to be put inside have been acquired. They get put in the backpacks, and then the backpacks aren’t zipped to go until they’re fully packed–usually not until the last moment.

The important thing is that everything is laid out neatly so you can see what needs to go where. And don’t worry, we don’t make the two-year-old carry her own clothes–too heavy! Her bag, which she usually carries proudly, is our lightweight diaper bag.

3. Make separate piles for the airplane

Off to the side of the staging area, I make piles for the airplane. Those piles are the outfits we’ll be wearing on the plane (lots of light, stretchy layers to accommodate temperature variations), extra outfits (kids are messy, ok?), diapering supplies for the little one who isn’t quite toilet trained but who is well on her way, our snacks, and some airplane entertainment items. We plan to put those things in bags that will go under the seat because there’s nothing worse than realizing you need someone’s fresh outfit ASAP and it’s a few rows away in the overhead storage. The diaper bag is fairly lightweight and easy for our two year old to carry for half an hour while we get through the airport.

Nothing guarantees a smooth trip with kids. The flight is usually physically taxing for everyone, and the change in routine can ripple out into your child’s behavior in ways you can’t anticipate. But organization, efficiency, and prior planning make for calm, happy adults, and that attitude will ripple out to the children’s behavior as well.

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Gifts for the Smallest Travelers

Filed under Gear and Gadgets, general
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Our oldest daughter turns five next month, and her very first passport expires in September. In those five years, she has visited almost two dozen countries on four different continents. We have been fortunate to live in an area of the world where travel is easy and done often, but we are not and never will be location-independent permatravelers. When we’re at home, we keep our girls interested in the world with fun books, games, and apps to whet their appetites for the road. Here’s a few items we love to keep in mind for the tiny traveler in your life.

 
New travel backpack. Photo by deannanmc.

New travel backpack. Photo by deannanmc.

 

First up: a good atlas. We have two that we love. One is the Usborne Children’s Picture Atlas; the other is the Barefoot Books atlas app. The Tripwolf app is awesome for adults, but kids need a little less text and a little more engaging illustrations and easily digested facts. These are two great places to start. Read More »

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Robert et Louise, Paris

Filed under Food Culture, France, general
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I like traveling late in the year. Cold weather opens the door for a lot of culinary experiences that just don’t quite settle right during the summer. I’ve been to France four times in three different seasons, and while we ate amazingly well in Provence in the summer the heavy meals had to wait until late evening when we were out of the heat of mid-day. On our last trip to Paris this past December was cool and rainy–just the right temperature for hearty, warming fare. In that spirit, we made stopping at Robert et Louise for a steak a priority.

 
Steak dinner. Photo by deannanmc

Steak dinner. Photo by deannanmc

 

Robert et Louise has gotten some popular notice thanks to Anthony Bourdain featuring the restaurant on “No Reservations.” Unlike a lot of places showcased by the Travel Channel elite, it didn’t feel overrun with English-speaking tourists (though the proprietors had no trouble understanding us, nor we them). The large open wood-fired stove at the back of the upstairs room sizzled with delicious cuts of meat and gave off a rosy warmth. Read More »

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Product Review: ScotteVest Women’s Travel Trench

Filed under Gear and Gadgets, general, Travel Tips
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I have a bit of a bag problem. I love them a little too much. Clutches, purses, carryalls, duffels, backpacks–it makes no difference. I just adore them. That’s not the real problem, though. The real problem is that my back is pretty weak and I have to manage the needs of two small kids when we travel. That usually means a small backpack in and of itself. So, when my husband got me the ScotteVest Women’s Travel Trench for my birthday, I was beyond thrilled. This looked like the storage solution of my dreams.

 

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The travel trench has 18 pockets. They range from large enough to hold an iPad to tiny compartments for SD cards and a cylindrical one for lip balm. You can also use the discreet clips to run your earbud cords from the MP3 pocket up to your head. My personal favorite is the inner sunglasses pocket with an attached chamois cloth. The jacket is structured to not look lumpy even when fully packed, though I don’t recommend trying to stash disposable diapers and wipes in any of the pockets–there’s just no way to hide that bulk.

My first test of the coat was in Paris for a long weekend, and within 24 hours I nearly got a chance to test their $1,000 anti-pickpocket guarantee. (Being obviously American and juggling small kids on the Parisian subway at rush hour = easy target.) A kind gentleman scared off the pickpocket before a) I knew what was going on, and b) the pickpocket could work out the coat. Safe money, safe info! Winning! It also kept me warm enough on the second test of the coat: Dusseldorf’s Christmas markets. Read More »

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Dining in Dusseldorf

Filed under Food Culture, general, Germany
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Just before Christmas, we were able to duck out of England for a long weekend in Dusseldorf, Germany. As a tourist destination, Dusseldorf doesn’t get a lot of notice next to Germany’s bigger names like Berlin or Munich. We chose it because it was a discount airline destination from our closest airport, and we’re glad we did. It was a cheerful and pleasant city–especially decorated for the Christmas markets–and we managed to slip away from the kids for an evening of proper German dining at Hausbrauerei Zum Schlüssel.

Drinks in Dusseldorf. Photo by deannanmc.

Drinks in Dusseldorf. Photo by deannanmc.

According to my husband, who has a bit of German heritage, mustard is the key to German food. Specifically, it’s beneficial to eat the rich breads and carbs with mustard as it helps speed digestion. This helps with that food-baby bulge that normally leaves you gasping for your belt buckle after a big meal. In that spirit, I started with the mustard cream soup. It was spicy and smooth, perfect for the house brew and the great slabs of brown bread that came with our meal.
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Crossing the Atlas Mountains by Bus: A Survival Guide

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During our adventure in Morocco, we wanted to get out of Marrakech. Not wanting to fuss about with the responsibility of doing our own driving, we found a reputable-looking tour website and booked four seats in a commercial passenger van to travel from Marrakech to Ouarzazate. You’ve seen Ouarzazate; numerous movies and television shows that feature desert scenes are filmed there (including Lawrence of Arabia). On the way we were to stop at Ait Benhaddou, a fortified hillside city and UNESCO site. But before you arrive at either of these gorgeous locales, you must first cross over the Atlas Mountains.

The mountain road. Photo by DeannaNMC.

The mountain road. Photo by DeannaNMC.

The tour website we used to book said that the road from Marrakech to Ouarzazate would take roughly 2.5 hours, which was corroborated by a Google Maps cross-reference. This doesn’t include the following: an hour where you’re picked up from your hotel and brought to a central spot, where you and your fellow passengers are shuffled around a little while the drivers decide who will take which group; any sort of traffic delays (though your driver will careen around those like nothing); herds of livestock and small mountain villages with traffic congestion that seem to disappear as quickly as they arose; and finally, it does not include breaks for you or the other people in your bus to vomit. The final tally clocked us at just under five hours each way–and the way back was in the pitch-black of night. There are few lights on the mountain road. Read More »

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Buying Leather in Morocco

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“Madam, you do not understand leather.” After nearly a week in Marrakech, this gentleman who ran one of the souks deep in the heart of the Marrakech market was entirely correct. I researched, I Googled, I window-shopped until I had spun us in circles, but the fact remained: I didn’t understand Moroccan leather. And frankly, I definitely didn’t understand how to haggle. I was about to get schooled.

Moroccan leather. Photo by deannanmc

Moroccan leather. Photo by deannanmc

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Travel Shoe Review

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We’re getting ready for a week in Morocco, which is thrilling. As per usual, we are not renting a car and we’re not taking a stroller for our two daughters (now four and just-shy-of-two). That requires some truly excellent footwear, but I’ll be frank: most of the travel-recommended shoes I’ve seen seem clunky and somewhat heavy. I need arch support, and while I’m not even remotely a fashionista I’d like to look a little bit trendy. Here’s what I’ve come up with as my two favorite go-to travel shoes for warm-weather, dry-climate travel.

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Why I Won’t Travel Alone

Filed under Adventure, general, Travel Tips
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Beep. Beep. Beep. The emergency room monitors sliced through the fog of narcotics and anti-nausea medications. The IV in the crook of my arm made it impossible to get comfortable. My neck and head throbbed with a pain I had never experienced before. Over three days and the course of two ER visits, an MRI, a CAT scan, a few hits of intravenous morphine, and a few prescription bottles filled with muscle relaxers and Vicodin, I had become convinced: after this week, I would never, ever travel alone.

Emergency Room. Photo by KOMUnews

Emergency Room. Photo by KOMUnews

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A Day in Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Filed under general, New England
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Almost halfway between Boston and Portland, ME lies the small waterfront community called Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Founded in 1653 as a part of the Strawbery Banke settlement, it’s not a huge city today–the population seems to hover between 20-25,000 people. However, with its blend of historical quaintness and influx of modern restaurants and a lot of nightlife, it’s a great destination for a quick day or long weekend trip.

Market Square, Portsmouth. Photo by HBarrison

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