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!

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!

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!