Raising Vagabonds and changing the game in family travel.

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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.

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Receipts

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?

Visit our website, our Facebook, or Instagram page! We also have a Twitter account (although I’m still learning how to use this one) We’d love to hear what you think!

How to: Milan and Rome in under a week

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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:

Day 1:

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.

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Seriously some bullshit.

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.

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End of day 1. Sponsored by jet lag™.

Day 2:

Buongiorno, Roma!

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.

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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.

Day 3:

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.

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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.

Day 4:

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.

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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.

Hello Milan. 

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.

But.

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)

Day 5:

The chickens.

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.

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Two roosters and a pigeon.

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.

Day 6:

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.

But.

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.

Have you gone to Italy before? How did you like it? What tips would you give me if we decide to go next time?

24 hours in Abu Dhabi: Pt 2

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Early this summer I caught an amazing flight deal from Tokyo to Milan for a little over $300. (WOWZERS!!) The only catch? It had a 24 hour layover in Abu Dhabi. You should know by now that I love taking advantage of a layover, so this was perfect!

Now, for some this would completely freak them out. What am I gonna do in Abu Dhabi? Is 24 hours enough to see anything? I don’t wanna be stuck somewhere for 24 hours, that’s too long (or short) of a layover! (wah, wah, wah)

But for us? We were excited to be able to freak two vacations in one. I had visited Dubai last year, but was excited to see what Abu Dhabi had going on. The boy was hype just to check off another country on the list. Win-win.

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Our week in Italy and how we did it for under $2000!

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As you know, I’m constantly trying to save money when I travel. From flight glitches to Groupon, I’m always in search of a way to make my money stretch. I’m constantly telling people that traveling with kids is not expensive and doesn’t have to be limited to the continental United States when you’re on a budget. That’s why I HAVE to share how we went on a family vacation to Rome and Milan for $1950.69.

You heard me. Less than $2000 for two people. Flights, food, EVERYTHING!

Here’s how I did it:

Transportation

One day I was minding my own business and I get an email from secret flying.com telling me that there was a flight deal from Tokyo to Milan for $309 roundtrip. 309 US Dollars to get there and back!

Say whaaaaaa?

I played around with the dates and realized that I could make something happen. The only thing was, it was on Momondo.com’s Italian site. I tried to change the language, but that changed the pricing. So what did I do? I opened that bad boy on Google Chrome and let the website translate it for me and booked that flight deal quick, fast, and in a hurry!

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I don’t know what any of this says, but it translate to me as FLIGHT DEAL!!!

I was so hype. I had never been to Italy and the boy had never been to Europe. It was a win-win for the both of us. What was even better was that it came with a 24 hour layover in Abu Dhabi!! Another place neither of us have been. The boy was so excited and I was hype to visit another UAE city.

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The thing was, I only had a few weeks to prepare for the trip. The deal was for the end of June and I had to work out the details and what to do in a few weeks AND finish up with work. But I’m a superhero, so it was no big deal.

Because I’m a geographic opportunist, there was no way that we would come all the way to Italy and NOT see the Colosseum. It’s one of the Great Wonders of the World and the boy and I are on a mission to see all of them at some point in our lifetime. So, I looked up train tickets from Milan to Rome and worked out the itinerary. The train tickets ended up being 312 euro for both of us, round trip. I could have possibly found these cheaper, but I waited until the last-minute to buy them, I didn’t purchase them as a roundtrip ticket, and purchased the tickets the day or two before. Rookie mistake, I know. I’ll learn one day.

Total costs: $983.90 

Lodging

I found an awesome Airbnb in Rome that was walking distance from the Colosseum, near transit, and close to restaurants and parks. I was sold! It was only $307 for the three nights. It came with free wi-fi, they had stuff in the kitchen for us to make breakfast and coffee each morning, and the hosts were amazing and informative. They gave us maps to find our way around the city, asked us about our plans and offered suggestions. They even told us that the Vatican is free on Sundays to save us money!

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The hotel I booked in Milan ended up being a bust in a lot of ways. It was cute and eclectic, but had some issues. After arriving we found out that it is really far from the city and even farther from restaurants, so we were stuck with eating at the hotel (which wasn’t really that good) or walking to McDonald’s (which we ended up doing). But, for $76 for two nights, we couldn’t really complain. I found this deal on Hotels.com and had a credit from my hotel stays in Thailand that gave me a $56.86 credit. With taxes and everything, it came up to $86.16 with the fee they charged at the hotel once we got there. (they only charged us 10 euro instead of the 20 for some reason)

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Total costs: $393.16

Budget for activities, food, and incidentals

Before I left, I set a budget of ¥10,000 a day (we live in Japan…) and I would only exchange that amount in cash when I got there. It’s also important to note that when we arrived in Milan, Brexit just happened, so the exchange places were not allowing any exchange of Euro or British Pounds until they figured out what was going to happen. I was able to use an ATM when we first arrived and then found a bank that would allow me to do so later when we got to Rome.

Because of my budget, I kept an intense account of what I spent, where, and how much I had left at the end of each day. Most often I had money left over for the next day that helped us splurge on a fancy lunch in Milan.

What I ended up spending for that entire time was $573.63 (according to the current exchange rate). For all of that, we took taxis and rode the metro, we ate huge lunches but small dinners and breakfasts, we saw the Colosseum, the Forum and the Palatine Hill all included in one fee, and the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museum for free. We also rode the big bus tour to see more of the city and get off at the stops that interested us. We even capitalized on student discounts by using my good old ID from grad school (it also helps that my melanin keeps me looking young).

Itinerary

I’ll detail the itinerary in another post, but here is generally what we did each day so you can get an idea of how much we did and saw during our time in Rome and Milan. We definitely packed a lot into the schedule, but because of jet lag we didn’t see and do as much as we had hoped. It was still a pretty awesome time.

Day 1:

  • Landed in Milan, took a shuttle bus to the city center
  • Bullet train to Rome
  • No sightseeing this day, completely exhausted from travel

Day 2:

  • The Colosseum
  • Roman Forum
  • Palatine Hill
  • Trevi Fountain
  • Sightseeing bus tour to optimize our time and sights for the day
  • Amazing lunch of carbonara, lasagna, and wine
  • Refreshing gelato in the evening

Day 3:

  • Breakfast at a local cafe
  • Vatican City
  • Vatican Gardens and Museum
  • Sistine Chapel
  • St. Peter’s Basilica & Square
  • Metro adventure where we got lost (more on that later)

Day 4:

  • Breakfast at a local cafe
  • Piazza di Spagna
  • Train to Milan
  • Lunch at McDonald’s (more on why that was later)

Day 5:

  • Breakfast at hotel
  • Metro to center city Milan
  • Sightseeing bus to optimize sights
  • Castello
  • Santa Maria delle Grazie
  • Milan Cathedral
  • Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
  • DaVinci Museum
  • (probably more, but that day was a blur)

Day 6:

  • Breakfast at the hotel
  • Metro to center city Milan
  • Bus to airport
  • Flight back to Tokyo

 

Budget Breakdown

Transportation: $983.90

Lodging: $393.16

Food, Activities, Souvenirs, Miscellaneous: $573.63

We ended up spending less than our anticipated ¥10,000 per day budget (roughly $95). It was sometimes challenging to stick with the budget, but I did it. I am really proud of myself to sticking to the budget and we had an amazing time.

I hope this gives you an idea of how I travel on a budget with the boy and still manage to have an amazing time. I’m not loaded with cash or have a sugar daddy financing these trips. With a little planning, budgeting, and preparation, you can travel like this too.

What are some tips you have for saving money while traveling? Let me know in the comments!

24 hours in Abu Dhabi: Pt. 1

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This is a rant. I’m just gonna put that out there first. The TripAdvisor review will come later. I’m hot and stinky and really really tired, so this is what you get right now.

We begin our journey landing in Abu Dhabi Airport at 2:30AM. We left Narita Airport at 9PM, so I really don’t know what time my body thought it was by the time we landed. I didn’t sleep well, but the boy remarked that he “slept like a baby”. So I was already irked.

We landed 2 hours ahead of schedule, therefore we had to wait for the Good Samaritan we solicited to wake up and come get us. No biggie. We just enjoyed the wonderful sights and smells of the airport arrivals area until our electronics died. 

Oh, the smells…they were a-plenty!

I have to also mention that we are in the UAE during Ramadan. For those of you who don’t know, Ramadan is the month in which Muslims around the world fast from dawn until sunset, which can be up to 15 hours. This observance is in accordance to the five pillars of Islam and it is a time of spiritual reflection, improvement, and increased devotion and worship. Muslims are required to refrain from consuming food, drinking liquids (including WATER), and having sexual relations.  Most begin fasting as soon as they reach puberty, so long as they are healthy, without disabilities, and aren’t pregnant or in old age.

Breaking fast, which occurs around 7PM, is Iftar and all who care to can join in and break bread in a communal way that encourages connection and celebration. All over the city there were tents set up, providing a free meal for all those who wanted to take part. We were told that tens of thousands come to take part in Iftar in each of the many tents the government sets up.

For those of you who don’t know, we are not Muslim. But we are in a Muslim country that requires not only it’s citizens to observe Ramadan, but it is also law that any visiting non-muslim has to observe as well. This means, no eating, drinking, smoking, or whatever in public. Seriously, I saw someone get chased down for walking down the street with a bottle of water. They don’t play.

But I knew this ahead of time so to prepare I checked out websites and blogs that offered suggestions to get through the holy month as a tourist. You can eat at the airport, they said. Everything is okay as long as you don’t exit the building, they said. But they didn’t know that my flight would get in before anything really opened. Whatever. We waited.

We’re picked up and headed to a friend’s house. She was amazing and picked up some water and fruit to get us through the day. I ate that and the boy had waffles. This was around 6am. We relax in her house until it’s time for us to get dropped off for our first tour at 8:30. We have about an hour before we are picked up, so we check out the Starbucks she told us was open to serve us. At this point in the morning, the heat was already coming in at about 38 degrees (100.4 F) and we walked as fast as we could to get to the Starbucks.

We arrive and set to order our drinks and the boy’s donut. We’re all happy to be in the air conditioning and the guy making the drinks says something to me in Arabic. I look confused like “What did he just say?” The cashier goes “Oh, you can’t sit down”. 

Come again?

He goes on to explain that we can order, but we have to leave to eat it. So I ask, “How am I supposed to eat it outside of here without getting arrested?” He says “Oh.” Really. He just says “oh.” like he didn’t think about that part of the equation. He eventually says that we can hide in a corner of the place and eat and drink quickly so they don’t get in trouble. So I change my order to cold drinks for quicker consumption and we hide in our corner and scarf down everything. Even hide the evidence, making sure we aren’t still chewing when we leave.

Back to the heat.

We are picked up for our tour and see the amazing Grand Mosque and date market and heritage market where we saw how Emirates lived back in the day and all that. In the heat. At this point it was up to 45 (114 F). 114 fuckin degrees!!! 

For real. 

I’m not sure at what point things spontaneously combust, but I’m sure we almost got to that point. For the second half of the tour, the boy elected to stay in the van. He was like “I’m seriously over this shit”. He didn’t say shit, people. But his body language did. I was pissed because I brought an outfit to change into to be more modest and get into the Mosque, and was told that I was still showing too much clavicle and had to wear an abaya on top of the long dress and long sleeved shirt I was wearing. I was sweating in ways I could have never imagined.

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Anyway, after all that we are dropped off at 2pm to find food. We were hot, sweaty and irritable at this point. Mind you, we hadn’t eaten ANYTHING since 6am. Both of us were so over this day and regretting any life decisions that had brought us to the UAE in the middle of all this heat and fasting.

Walking to find the mall (that we were told we could find lunch) the boy is complaining and I told him that we might need to get the Subway that someone told us was open. He breaks into a tantrum about how he doesn’t want Subway and that he wants pizza or something.

I honestly don’t really remember what he said because once the tantrum started and I heard “I don’t want…” I snapped. Like seriously was about to grip him up and all I remember was shouting “LISTEN! I had to sneak and drink water in a bathroom stall, you really think we have options on where to eat right now?!?”

No, seriously. I had to sneak and drink water in the bathroom stall. Not the open bathroom, but in the stall. Same place where I, and many other folk, pee and other things. Among bacteria and other thoughts I don’t even want to entertain. I was NOT about to woof down a chicken leg standing over a toilet. 

I’m not above doing a lot of things, but that was one of them.

That was one of many arguments we had that day. We generally have a good relationship, but heat that intense makes it hard for anyone to be a reasonable human being.

Needless to say, we were not able to get food at that mall. So we ended up meeting up with another helpful friend who lived in a more “western” part of town and he took us to a restaurant that allowed us to sit and eat like the civilized people we are. However, we had to be sneaky. This place was covered in drapes and dining areas were behind the partitions. This place looked like you needed to knock three times with a password like it was Hernando’s Hideaway.

But. That burger was everything. Literally gave us life and the boy and I emerged better people after that meal.

Beyond that, everything was great. I bought some clothes to change into because I was sweating in places I shouldn’t have been. We were picked up again for our next tour and went on a dune safari and rode a camel. The boy attempted to dune surf and I laughed at him.

We ate BBQ and I smoked shisha for the first time. I’m still trying to figure out what it really is. The boy thought I was getting high. Look at his judgmental face:

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Overall, the day was amazing. There were some frustrating points and we were exhausted at the end of it all. Without thinking about it, we were up for 24+ hours from the time we arrived at the airport to the time we left at 2:45. We fell asleep as soon as we got on the plane and even slept through the food service. Insane!

This small stint in Abu Dhabi taught us a lot about ourselves and our relationship. We have bonded over the fact that we both hate summer officially now. 

We also have redefined what hangry means, have a new respect for anyone enduring this fasting month in or outside of the UAE, and an increased appreciation for the Muslim faith.

How to travel the world with your child and not lose your mind or end up with them in CPS when you get home.

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In other words: How do I make travel with my kid look so easy and effortless?

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Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe | Spring Break

The long and short of it is: I only put the good photos online. Nobody wants to see the ones of us arguing or me crying in a corner because I am trying really hard not to book a flight back home because he’s being incredibly ungrateful and I’m frustrated and tired from booking so many countries in a small span of time.

*ahem*

Traveling with your kid can be amazingly rewarding and fun. You get to spend all of your time with your child and be solely responsible for teaching him all the wonderful things about the world. First hand. In real time.

He gets to see the Colosseum and the Great Wall of China; instead of just reading about it in the history books. He gets to eat sushi in Japan and green curry in Thailand. He gets to see actual African elephants IN Africa!

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Chobe, Botswana | Spring Break 2015

However, traveling with your child as a single parent brings forth its own set of challenges. You spend all of your time with your child and are solely responsible for teaching him all the wonderful things about the world. Just you.

There’s no time out or someone else to tag in when you don’t feel like exploring. Or someone there to occupy the kid so you can get in a good, uninterrupted bath after a long day of walking the city. And it gets even more frustrating when your child, who is usually open to new things and experiences, is super picky when you want to try Korean BBQ and they want pizza. And tries to pull a tantrum. And you argue and fight and eventually pull mommy rank because there is no freakin way you are eating pizza in freakin Korea and you don’t feel like rationalizing with the small crazy person.

It’s not all fun. It’s not all silly faces and jumping off benches for a great photo. Being in a hotel room with a kid who you pay extra money every month for him have his own space at home on a regular basis can be demanding, to say the least.

But there is a way you can survive that spring break trip with your tantruming toddler or social media addicted tween. There is hope, my friends.

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Bangkok, Thailand | Christmas 2015

Plan and schedule everything. Seriously.

When I travel alone, I usually just wing it and go where the wind takes me. With kids, you can’t really afford to do that. They will almost always elect to stay where the electronics and wifi are. Scratch that. Always. They will always want to be somewhere with wifi.

As much fun as this kid has on safaris and running around a foreign city, he gripes most of the time because I won’t allow him to take his iPad or that when he does have it, there is no wifi. So, to try to avoid the inevitable argument, I plan an itinerary for every day we are on that trip. Because I know it will happen, I make allowances for weather and just plain old laziness. And to help the boy not seem like I’m forcing him to do everything, I include him in the planning as well. I ask him to research three places he would most like to visit and we try to fit that in the schedule. Most of the time we end up at aquariums and arcades tho, but at least he feels like he has some control over the holiday.

You have to take these extreme measures and pretend you’re a travel agent scheduling every minute of the day for a group of senior citizens. Otherwise you will be sitting in the hotel room binge watching Netflix because you were tired of wandering the city for a day and didn’t see anything they recommended on Trip Advisor and have basically gotten lazy and tired because the effort just isn’t worth fighting the blazing sun.

Seriously. You have to figure out how to plan and have a schedule, otherwise you will get overwhelmed with trying to figure it out when you get there. Which isn’t really fun, let me tell you. That happened to me in Korea. Let my lack of preparedness be a cautionary tale for you.

Also, you owe it to your self to not be insanely stressed out during your trip. Your child will probably not thank you, but your sanity will. If, of course, sanity could actually thank you.

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Ayuthaya, Thailand | December 2015

Be flexible.

Here’s one thing I have learned, Murphy’s law is in full effect whenever you travel. So you have to learn to adjust when things don’t go as planned. It may snow in Korea and freeze you to the bone and have you end up in your hotel room all weekend watching Netflix. A monsoon may decide to come through your island vacation and maroon you to an island with only a volleyball as your friend. You gotta just learn to roll with it and dance in the proverbial rain.

In that flexibility, you have the power to change the course of your travel. You may not get to take that selfie with that famous tourist attraction, but you may find yourself in a random neighborhood having lunch with a local family and sharing stories despite the language barrier. It can happen.

Do your research.

I cannot stress this enough. You have to understand where you are going and not just wing it in an amazing country where you found a glitch fare. There are many countries who have policies on single parents bringing children across their borders alone. There are countries that are going through holidays that restrict not only its citizens from eating or drinking water in public, but also tourists (Ramadan Kareem!). There are countries that do not allow you to sunbathe in your two piece bikini no matter how beautiful their beaches are or where you are from. Burkini anyone?

You have to know what you’re walking into. Even when thinking about the potential safety and health issues that are present in any country, you need to know what to expect. This will save you lots of time and frustration when you show up at passport control and they ask for that notarized letter from your spouse or parenting partner indicating that you have permission to enter the country with your child. Or needing certain vaccinations to even enter the country. Real talk. This happens.

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Livingston, Zambia | April 2015

Let’s be honest: You probably won’t be #teamcarryon.

Traveling with kids require stuff. The younger they are, the more change of clothes and things to occupy them you will need. Seriously, kids are messing little beings who just attract dirt and noise and smells. You will have to check that bag. If you don’t, may the gods bless you and your minimalist minion.

Checking a bag isn’t so bad, honestly speaking. Nothing is more frustrating than wanting to explore the city during a long layover and having to put your bag in a locker or airport storage for the time being, or WORSE, drag it around with you because you’re too cheap to pay the $7. (Guilty!)

Even if the layover isn’t that long, it’s just easier to schlep through the airport to your connection without it and your kid and their book bag because they will probably ask you to hold theirs as well.

But you have to be mindful. Sometimes bags go missing. Or get damaged. Or a bunch of other horrible things that happen to bags in that Narnia between you and baggage claim. If you have to check a bag, make sure you have a change of at least undies, and at most a full outfit, in your carry on. Ensure all necessary medications and cash are with you and your electronics. Because, airport thieves are real.

Besides, the truth is you will probably buy a bunch of crap while you are on holiday and you will need another bag anyway. Might as well upgrade from that 22 inch and #checkdatish! That is, of course, if you have free check in. Makes no sense to pay a gazillion dollars for a checked bag. Even less sense for a checked carry on. That’s just stupid.

*cough* Spirit Airlines *cough*

Be realistic.

When my son gets annoyed at something, particularly insects, I tell him that they are only doing what they were created to do. I also use this reasoning when I hear of people getting upset at children on flights. Children whine and fart and poop and get irritable and are extremely particular about what they want when they want it. Much like adults who whine and fart and poop and get irritable and are extremely particular about what they want and when they want it.

When you travel with a child, no matter the age, there will be people who don’t have kids who will complain about the fact that tiny humans exist. Fuck em.

Travel with your child and explore all that this amazing world has to offer. But know that traveling with an irrational and unpredictable human comes with its challenges. Know that you will be frustrated and your trip might not go as well as you thought it would.

And also: shit will probably go wrong. You will probably hate most of your time in that country that looked so amazing in all the photos you saw on social media. I know. I will probably never spin in a custom-made dress with my mini me and Mykonos in the background. We’re not that glamorous. I just envy that stuff.

You gotta figure out what works for you. Your toddler and you may never climb Machu Picchu, but you can definitely go on a hike through El Yunque and find some pretty amazing waterfalls. Or if international travel is out of your bank account’s reach right now, you can find a way to explore your own city until it is. Don’t go breaking your bank or losing your house trying to keep up with the Kardashians. 10 times out of 9 they don’t pay for their flights anyway.

Do you, boo boo. And what is realistic for you, your family, and most importantly your budget. Because there ain’t nothing cute about getting back home and your lights are off. The ‘gram will have you living with your cousin.

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Phi Phi Islands, Thailand | December 2015

Know thyself. And thy child.

We like snacks. And we tend to get hangry when we haven’t eaten in about 3 hours. So I always have snacks, even on long plane rides where they feed you often.

I know my kid is more unpredictable than the weather in the Midwest, so I always have a back up just in case. I also know my child gets “bored” easily so I try to make sure things are happening at all times. But I also know he’ll eventually come around once we get going and I should never really have him make a choice DURING the trip. Again, he will almost always choose to stay in the room and then get mad because we didn’t do anything while on vacation. Been there, done that, don’t wanna do it again.

Knowing who we are and how we travel best helps me to prepare and plan. Occasionally I will try to get him to try new things, but I know my son and what he is open to and what he is not. This helps me to avoid conflict on what should be a nice and fun family vacation.

So know who you are and the type of traveler you are BEFORE attempting to recreate some cross-country schlep some lady did with her toddler strapped to her back. Stop trying to be these other people who have trust funds and just be you. The fact that you just want to travel with your kid is pretty awesome. Be the awesome and amazing family that you are.

But also…

Be present and enjoy yourself.

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Somewhere in New York | July 2015

Travel is supposed to be fun and relaxing. It’s about finding more about yourself and strengthening your connection with your family. About creating traditions and new experiences that can hopefully be passed on to future generations. What is the point of exploring these new worlds if you’re not here mentally to enjoy it? Answer: There is no point. You should have stayed your ass at home, that’s what.

If you do the research and a little bit of planning, you are sure to enjoy whatever time you have with your family wherever you are in the world. You can’t always plan for every little thing that could or couldn’t go wrong, so don’t even try. But know yourself enough to know what you can prepare for.

Parenting is hard. Single parenting is challenging. Traveling while being either of those is admirable and, not to boast but, a talent.

So, if you’re gonna do it, make sure you enjoy the hell out of it. Find a way to take some time for yourself also. Book a massage and get some time to yourself while your kid is with the hotel babysitter (they have those, you know). Enjoy that book while your son splashes around in the pool. Find a way to enjoy yourself on YOUR vacation. Because it is yours as well.

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Trickeye Museum | Seoul, South Korea | November 2015

I hope this helped. Please share your comments and additional suggestions below!

Happy travels this summer!

The weekend wanderlust.

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A summary of this week’s victories, lessons and roustabouts.

This weekend we met up with a friend from London who was visiting Tokyo for the week. We decided to explore Odaiba and entertain the children for a few hours. After eating lunch, we found ourselves at Lego Land Discovery Center and spent way too much time there. Afterward we went walking on the dock and found hover boards bubbles. My sense of adventure is halted at the risk of losing my balance and breaking my neck, so I didn’t try it. It was a very long and exhausting day chasing a toddler and a pre-teen behaving like one (because he’s jealous of the attention I was giving this adorable little girl).

In our exploring, I discovered there is a shore area where we can play in the sand and take boat rides. We definitely have to go back some other time and do more than explore headache inducing kiddy lands.