Last month, the boy and I went on a quick tour of Europe; visiting Brussels, Amsterdam, London and Paris. On our third day in Paris, we decided to explore the city through our stomachs. We linked up with the No Diet Club and they took us to some of the best food spots in Paris.
Whenever I am looking to book a ticket, one of the first websites I go to is Skyscanner. Often, this means that I will end up booking my ticket through a third party website. Which means I will sometimes have a long layover somewhere to help curb the costs. (I don’t know why this curbs costs, but whatever)
On our recent trip to Brussels, we had a 13-hour layover in Istanbul going there and a 23-hour layover coming back. That’s a looooooong time to be sitting in an airport when you don’t have lounge access. So once the ticket was confirmed, I began looking online to see if the airline or the airport offers a free hotel say.Continue reading
Brussels is one of those cities that you’ve heard about, but it never is really on your list of places to visit. At least this was true for me. With the exception of waffles and fries, I didn’t really know much about the European city. But when a flight deal calls, I come running!
I found a flight from Addis Ababa to Brussels for about $370 and saw I could catch a train to Paris and Amsterdam from the centralized location and booked it back in March. My experience flying Turkish Airlines back in February was pleasant, so I wasn’t worried about the experience. And the added long layovers were appealing as it would allow us to visit another city in the process.Continue reading
We were in Brussels for only 2.5 days and I can’t tell you one landmark or historical site that we saw. Okay, that’s a lie. We actually saw quite a lot despite being completely focused on eating anything fried and delicious that we could get our hands on.
We took a City Sightseeing Bus and saw most of the city during one of the full days. We got off a couple times to explore the area and even stumbled upon a museum dedicated to musical instruments around the world. We paid the extra 2€ and got the audioguide where we were able to listen to the actual musical instruments being played.Continue reading
This past week, I went on a field trip with the grade 11 students from my school. We went to Gunma Prefecture to do some outdoorsy stuff and be at one with nature. Now, I am not the most outdoorsy type of person so I had my reservations initially, but it ended up being really awesome.
The camp is about 3 hours outside of Tokyo, so I put on my headphones and got some work done on the ride with about 35 talkative girls. No biggie. The scenery was amazing on the way up and you could just smell that mountain air once we arrived. We dropped our bags and put on our swim suits to get ready to go rafting not moments after we stepped off the bus. I had been rafting before, so it wasn’t that big of a deal.
They suit us up in uncomfortable wet suits, life vests, and helmets and we head off to the river. They put all the teachers in the “cool raft” and we are given brief instructions on how not to die while in the raft. It was comforting. We set off and did pretty well. The scenery was amazing and I often found myself looking around, rather than looking at what was ahead of me. The river was at a 1 or 2 grade, so it wasn’t that bad and often we could get out to swim in the water. At one point, we all docked and jumped off a big rock. It was really incredible out there.
So, fast forward to day 2 where we were to go canyoning. For anyone who doesn’t know what canyoning is, it’s basically you are wading through a rocky river and sliding down waterfalls. Not sure why it’s called canyoning rather than waterfalling, but whatevs. We did that. I even did the ones where I was upside down getting tossed over (I have this thing about doing anything that requires me to go head first). I was proud of myself.
On this day, we had to wear more gear than we did the first day because we would be in the water most of the time and the water is colder up in the mountains. We were given socks, and extra jacket, and gloves to wear. And the water was COLD! We were also told to go pee before we put on our wetsuits because “the wetsuits are not toilets”. So I did and instructed the girls to go as well. All was well until about halfway through the course.
I’m sitting there waiting my turn and after one of the jumps or whatever, my body is like “Um…we gotta pee! All this cold water isn’t working well with out ability to hold our bladder.”
And I’m like “Um…ya’ll gonna need to hold it because I can’t go pee in this thing.”
And they were all “Right.”
So about halfway during the course I did one of the slides or jumps and my body said “fuck that” and just started to pee. I was trying to remain calm as the stream just continued to fill up my suit, but my face was like “ohshitohshitohshit” and I just had to go with it because it was a little too late at this point. I figure, it’s a wetsuit, maybe if I linger in the water a bit, it will flush all of it out some kinda way.
It’s a wetsuit, doing what wetsuits do. So my bodily fluids just hung around and I had to open up a leg so that it could move elsewhere. I figure I could get it out some kinda way and just keep jumping and eventually it all would flush out. “Ain’t no way I’m getting back on that bus smelling like pee”, I kept repeating to myself in a panic.
So we’re moving along and I’m trying to stay in the pools of water as long as possible to get some of the pee out and all of a sudden, I feel this flush of warm liquid around my left foot as we’re walking.
Yep. There’s pee in my boot.
Despite my best efforts, the pee did not filter out of the wet suit as I had hoped. But rather, found its way into my left boot and settled. It was funny, walking with one cold foot and one warm one, slushing my way up the creek. Conveniently putting my foot into puddles to try to dilute the solution before heading back up the hill to the bus. It was quite comical.
Thankful for the open windows on the bus, my anxiety decreased when I realized that I might not be sniffed out. After we got back to camp, I tucked into separate shower area from the girls to strip off my suit and quickly chucked it into the wash area to avoid anyone else smelling me out.
Funny enough, this isn’t the first time I’ve lost control of my bladder. I mean, my son was huge, weighing at almost 9 lbs, so they tell me this is expected, right? But this was the first time it’s happened in a massive amount and with a group of people for which I could be forever ridiculed. Teenagers are harsh, yo.
Pee incident aside, the trip was really fun. I was able to chaperone and participate without having to really do anything. I challenged myself in ways I never would have without the security and encouragement that the staff at Canyons gave. The guides were amazing and really took care of us. I definitely am going to try and get the boy back here and have some fun in nature.
If you’re ever in Japan and have some time on your hands, look them up. It’s really a great place to experience and the staff are super helpful and have the greatest sense of humor. I think had they known I wet myself, they would have found a way to make it funny and a little less embarrassing. Maybe.
But I couldn’t take that chance.
Just for kicks and giggles, here is a video montage of the canyoning 🙂
Have any of you had any embarrassing incidents like this? How did you recover or save yourself from complete humiliation? Let me know in the comments!
We’ve all seen this meme. Finding its way through Facebook groups and Tumblr pages. Perpetuating the myth and misconception that you if you have children you can’t possibly be like “what country am I going to next?”
We also know those people who circulate this madness. That single friend who thinks it’s funny to continue to highlight her choice to not procreate by demeaning those who do. Or that veteran parent who has reached the age of parental freedom and is celebrating by traipsing the globe, but forgetting those years of weekend soccer games and bake sales. Attempting to taunt and tease those of us who have school-aged children and assume we actually care.
But despite their ill-conceived assumptions, there is a population of us who have children and *gasp* travel the world. With and without them. Despite the world’s thoughts on if or how we can do it, we are doing it. We are the wandering moms and dads, exploring the world with our junior nomads. We are out here, literally nurturing the next generation of global citizens.
I’ve been on a few trips with travel groups and most often found myself thinking that my son would love this experience just as much as I was. So I set off to travel more with him, but often wanted to travel in a group setting. We both enjoy meeting new people and doing more group activities (hence our love/hate relationship with tours), but in my research I failed to find companies that cater to parents and their children.
So when a friend launched a program to travel and work remotely for a year, it inspired me to create something more short-term. Something to cater to those of us who want to take trips with our kids and expose them to the world. So I did.
This week, I’m working hard to launch my website, Raising Vagabonds, and I’m excited to help moms and dads just like myself to lose themselves in countries foreign to us and finding ourselves in each meal and every experience.
Why am I starting Raising Vagabonds?
Well. I’ve been traveling with my son since he was two weeks old. Seriously.
This was us on the plane to visit family the day after our 2 week appointment with the doctor. We were traveling from Philadelphia to Arkansas to visit family and show him off. Wasn’t he tiny?!?
Since then we’ve been on countless planes, trains, and busses to travel to 20 US states, 17 international cities in 12 different countries together. Some pretty dope adventures have happened in his short 9 years on this planet. He’s zip-lined across the Zambezi River, witnessed several wonders of the world, and learned how to say key phrases in over 5 languages.
In our travels together, I’ve learned how to navigate the most insane situations, cope with a picky eater on a 16 hour flight, and fine-tuned some amazing travel hacks. I can say that I’m an accomplished traveler and I want to share my knowledge and experiences with families like us.
In this blog, I share a raw and unedited account of my travels and offer transparency and advice on how others can too. With Raising Vagabonds, I offer the same. In real-time, Skype of FaceTime conversations or messages. We offer support in helping you travel or move abroad with your child, help you plan the ultimate family vacation, or bring you along on one of our adventures.
I ultimately started Raising Vagabonds because I knew that there were more families like ours. We’ve met them on our travels, we’ve seen them in their own adventures through their Facebook profiles. But I also knew there were those who were once like me. Those who dreamed of a life of travel. Those who didn’t know where to start and longed for the day that they could figure out their finances to be able to take their family on a vacation. I know there are families out there who think they can’t do it and I want to show them that they can.
That it all starts with a decision. The rest is logistics. And I want to be the one to guide them through the latter.
I invite you to join us on this next phase of our journey to make every country a kid-friendly country.
Need some inspiration? Watch this!
Want to learn more about Raising Vagabonds?
If you read my previous post on how we went to Italy for under $2000, you would know that I promised you a real breakdown of the trip and how we enjoyed it. If you didn’t read it, go read it now so you can completely understand how much we packed into a week for really really really cheap. (Considering it was two of us and I travel with a human garbage disposal)
For the trip, I had to create an itinerary for us. When I travel alone I usually wing it, but with the boy, I have to plan and plan again because we will end up staying in the room and not seeing anything. I try to be flexible with everything and most often we don’t end up doing everything I plan for the day, or we get lost and lose time and end up seeing something completely different, but we’re really adaptable to whatever the Universe brings us so we usually just roll with it.
Here’s how our trip went:
We land in MXP and we catch a shuttle to central Milan. It’s important to know that the airport is far, far away from the city, so expect to ride for a good hour.
After arriving, we head to the train station and find out train in the nick of time. Well…it would have been if our train hadn’t been delayed. In addition to getting there right when Brexit hit, there was also a strike with the local train union. So trains were not running as scheduled and there were tons of people hot, sweaty, and bored sitting outside waiting for the train to finally show. We adapted, found food, and waited.
What I didn’t anticipate (and what TripAdvisor doesn’t tell you) is that when we needed to go to the restroom, we needed to pay 1 euro to do so. Each. I told the boy he better make sure he empties all four corners of his bladder because I was not paying for toilet use again.
The train eventually came and we high-tailed it to Rome. (Seriously, it was a bullet train and we got there in a little over 2 hours. Not bad) Our seats were those that have the table and you sit across from someone. I had seats where the boy and I were sitting across from one another, but for some reason, the people who were sitting near us wanted to switch seats. Whatevs. But what happened is that we ended up sitting the whole trip sitting across from them, not really talking (because the language barrier was real) and fighting for foot space. It was definitely an experience, but we were a little over it. Plus the wi-fi didn’t work, so there was that.
Once we arrived in Rome, we took a taxi to the Airbnb and played the rest of the day by ear. Which basically meant we found the wi-fi, turned on the AC and were sleep by 6pm.
Side note: The Airbnb was amazing. It was at this lady’s apartment, top floor and we were in the elephant room. It had a curio cabinet full of elephant knickknacks and photos. I was in heaven. But we were tired so we didn’t spend much time taking photos and gawking over the ambiance.
End of day 1. Sponsored by jet lag™.
We woke up early and ate breakfast at our Airbnb. We walked to the Colosseum, which was about 20 minutes away, and arrived just in time. They opened at 10 and we got there a little before 9:30. It was perfect. We were able to clown around before it got too hot and see most of the Colosseum before the huge crowd (and the sun) hit.
We were able to walk around and take photos (or try to) without too many people being there. This was our attempt at using the self-timer. We got such a kick out of the people walking through the photos.
After about an hour or so, we felt a bit claustrophobic and decided to leave and catch one of the big tour busses.
After grabbing a sightseeing bus, we first breezed past the many sights and took photos from above. We planned out our strategy and then got off the bus when we reached the Trevi Fountains. We took awkward photos throwing coins over our shoulder and got hustled to pay €10 for a Polaroid of us doing so. But it was cool.
Well…it was hot. We were so hot that we ended up disliking one another at this point. But it was a fun day. We packed a lot into this day. We saw the Forum, the Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum. We saw the many fountains that are all over Rome.
We even wandered into a restaurant filled with locals and ate the most amazing carbonara and lasagna and I even drank half a bottle of wine. The boy was excited because he got a bird that was trying to eat the bread from our table to finally fly into his hand.
Afterward, we (meaning I) tipsily wandered around the rest of the city until nightfall. In the evening, we found a gelato place that was packed and amazing to people watch. Too full from lunch, we ate our gelato and headed back to our room to take it down for the night.
No, we didn’t see the Pope.
On this day, we were told that the Vatican was free on Sundays so we woke up early and made it there around 7:30. The line was already to the corner of the block. But it was fun standing there with all the tourists and getting into conversations about where we were from and the places we had traveled.
I’m kidding. I didn’t get into any conversations at all. I was tired and hot and played a game on my phone with the boy.
We got into the Vatican and it was amazing. We walked the gardens and toured the statues in the museum. We eventually made our way to the Sistine Chapel and I nervously snuck a photo of the famous ceiling.
Why was I nervous, you ask? Because people were overtly taking photos and getting swiftly carried out. Security was even catching people sneaking photos and asking people to leave. One dude refused to leave and it almost got physical. I was sweating bullets. But I got my shot tho!
Afterward, we left and walked around Vatican City and saw St. Peter’s Basilica. It was really too hot at that point to stand in line to get inside so we just took photos outside of it and decided to wander. This is where the fun began.
We got lost trying to take the metro for a sense of adventure. We ended up in some random part of town and had to walk to find a taxi to take us back. The busses weren’t going back to the city and everyone knew it but us. Annoyed, hot, and irritable, but it wasn’t a complete loss of an afternoon.
After we got back to the room, the boy passed out and I washed and twisted my hair watching Sponge Bob in Italian. Walking around the city all day was exhausting.
I don’t remember eating a proper dinner that night. I just grabbed a snack from the shop downstairs and the boy slept until 5am. Jetlag is a beast.
We got up super duper early and walked to find the Piazza di Spagna. We had a ball taking detours and looking at the several fountains and castles along the way. When we got there we were kinda let down a bit. It had a gate around it and it was closed for renovations or something. Womp womp.
I had this idea in my head that we would sit at the top and watch the sun rise and have this bonding moment between mother and son. That didn’t happen. It was still nice, we walked to a cafe afterward and ate pastries and drank coffee and hot chocolate. We still had our bonding moment, it just looked a bit different than we’d hoped.
We went back to the Airbnb and packed to make the 9am train. We learned from our previous experience and picked seats that didn’t have a table, to get more leg room and not have to stare at people for 2 hours. I took a nap, the boy did whatever he does when I nap.
We take a taxi to our hotel, the DaVinci Hotel, and on the ride we realize that it is a bit far outside of the city. No wonder it was so cheap 🙂 The taxi wasn’t too bad, but more than I budgeted for that day, and ended up being 16 euro. Made it to the hotel around 1 and checked in. The hotel is amazing and full of all this art and amazing colors. It was really fun walking around playing with everything and taking photos. Our room was really nice as well. Really swanky.
The restaurant closed at 2. As did most of the restaurants in the area until about 7. So our only option for lunch was Mickey D’s. Which was about a 2k walk from where the hotel was located. Like, walking through an apartment complex, walk down the side of the freeway, past bushes and shit. It was crazy. And BLAZING! But, you could get beer with your filet-o-fish, so all was forgiven.
We chilled in the room and explored the grounds and then got dinner at the restaurant that evening after a nap. It wasn’t too bad, just really vague and not worth the 15 euro. But there was wine, so all was forgiven.
(Can you tell I’m easy to forgive when liquor is involved? Judge me not)
Roosters, actually. I was awaken at 3am by confused roosters. Wondering where they were and where they came from, and more importantly, WHY THE HELL WHERE THEY CROWING AT 3 F%#&$^@ING AM!?! I felt like I was in an episode of Sex and the City.
Seriously. I was cranky as hell the next day and talked to the front desk people like “so…what’s up with the roosters?” and they looked at me like “what roosters?” I just walked away.
We had breakfast in the hotel and caught the train to Milan Central to get tickets to the sightseeing bus. Or we already had them. I can’t remember. But we decided to do the tour because it would get us around the city to the main sights without wasting time doing things we don’t want to. We were able to see quite a bit.
The tour we went on passed through all the must-see spots, but then also took you to the fashion district and more historical areas of Milan. We like these also because you get to learn the history and sometimes entertaining facts about the city and take awesome photos without actually having to walk around all day in the sweltering heat. As a bonus, most busses were offering free wi-fi while onboard.
The boy was really excited to learn about DaVinci and his inventions so one of the first stops we went to was the Leonardo3 Museum. We got to look at some of his creations, build our own, and see how his famous painting, The Last Supper, as been restored over the years. Afterward, we went to get gelato and splurged on lunch. We had some extra money from previous days, so we decided to go all out.
Was it worth it? Eh. It’s whatever. The gelato was bomb tho!
The rest of the day was a blur. We were all over the place and eventually got bored on the bus and wandered a bit until we found ourselves back at the train depot. We walked around a bit more around that neighbourhood and I got more gelato and I got my nails done. This was before 7, so we were very limited when we got hungry.
We were able to walk around some more and see the mean streets of Milan before heading back to the hotel for the evening.
Our flight was at 10am, so we were up and ready to eat breakfast when they opened at 6am. We scarfed down all we could and rushed out to meet the taxi. I even burned my tongue trying to gulp down coffee in a hurry. Bad idea. Ran back to Milan Centrale and caught our bus to the airport just in time. I was nervous because we needed to be there around 8am at the latest to avoid any issues with Etihad (they be trippin sometimes, you know). All was well. We had a great flight home and made it back just in time for our jet lag to be in reverse.
Impressions, reflections, and observations
The trip was good, overall. Love, love, LOVED the food in Rome. The history and just the overall feel of Rome was one of our favorites. The pasta, the wine, the gelato…ummm.
Rome is dirty as shit. I mean, Philly is grimy and disgusting at times, but Rome was just gross. Not at all what we were expecting. Milan was okay and a little better with the filth, but still gross. And everybody smoked. EVERY-WHERE. So that’s another thing we had to get used to as well.
Graffiti. Didn’t expect that much of it either. And not in that eclectic, street art, kinda way, either. It was straight up Beat Street, Ramon looking for the white train, 80s style graffiti. It was cool. It was just EVERYWHERE.
We did have a good time, but I’m not too sure we will be back. If we do return to Italy again, we may explore Florence or maybe go back to Rome for spaghetti carbonara.
Seriously. The food was THAT good.
I should note that while we were there, I felt like we had some encounters with racism and discrimination. Once when we went to get gelato, we were waiting our turn to order and once my number came up, I approached the counter to order. The guy saw me and hesitated. So I waited and watched him look at another guy to see if he would finish up so he can help me instead of him. He didn’t so the guy walked over to take my order. He was rather impatient and was a jerk when I mispronounced the flavors in Italian and refused to speak English.
This was a bit shocking because while I was waiting, I observed him playing and joking with other foreigners when they made mistakes and even smiled at a few of them. But me, not so much. In talking about this with someone else about the issues, they cited the “immigration issues”, saying that might be the cause of the turmoil. Nah, son. Italy has a long history of that foolishness and even still doesn’t make it right.
Even our hotel staff were a bit…not-as-courteous as they were with guests that were a little less melanin blessed. It’s whatever. And crazy because in all my travels this was my first time really have any encounters like this. Eh well.
Anyway, if you go, I would say pay that extra bit to stay closer to the city. The taxi ride was not necessarily worth the difference. Depending on how long you say (we only stayed 2 nights) you might want to see if the 20 euro difference can be met at another hotel. Plus it affords you more options in that food drought that happens between lunch and dinner. We were not near any restaurants or grocery stores, so we were kinda assed out when we were starving around 3pm.
I would do more research before I go again, as well. This trip was really last-minute and I didn’t do a lot. Which is really crazy how I lucked out on not spending so much. But we learned a lot of tricks by talking with out Airbnb host. As much as I don’t like interacting with people I don’t know, she was really helpful with telling us where to do, what to see, and how much you should spend when you get there.
Also, I know I paid more for my train tickets than I should have. Because I booked them really close to my departure date, I know I could have gotten them for cheaper than $156 each way. (Calm down, this was for both of us). Regardless, my entire weeks trip still came up to less than $2000.
Don’t believe me? Check the receipts.