Star Gazers

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As part of our road trip, we’ll be going to the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, AZ.  My kids, have taken a curiosity to space, the stars and planets.  So I was excited when I saw that this week with the Little Passports Blog-Camp Explorer Week 3, you can download a free constellation activity sheet so they can learn the names and shapes of six constellations!  Full Disclaimer: The Little Passports link in this post are affiliate links and I will receive a small commission if you make a purchase after clicking on my link for Little Passports.

In other space news, did you know that the Perseid Meteor shower, which happens every year, is going on right now?  It will peak between the 9th and the 14th of August.  While we won’t get to the Lowell Observatory during that time, we’ll still be in southeast Arizona where the dessert and limited cities lights will be a perfect place for my kids and I to do some stargazing.  I’m excited to just sit on my grandma’s front porch and stare up at the stars with them, just like I did as a kid!

If you are looking for a hands on activity for your kids in the Seattle area to learn a little more about space, check out the Seattle Museum of Flight.  In addition of their wonderful flight and airplane exhibits, they have some pretty cool pieces from past space crafts for kids to walk through as well as many space related exhibits.  They also have a 3D movie “Journey To Space” that captivated my 5 and 7 year old’s attention, as well as mine! The first Thursday of every month is free admission for entry after 5:00 p.m. and the museum stays open until 9:00 p.m.  So mark your calendars for August 6th!!!

Bringing the World Home

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Now that we’re living back in American and our children have begun elementary school, travel is more restricted.  So I am always looking for new ways to keep my kids learning about other cultures and excited to go to other countries.  I came across Little Passports, A Global Adventure that looked just like what I needed.

Little Passports is a monthly subscription of educational kits featuring different countries around the world as well as a U.S. version that highlights a different state in America each month.  The three different product types are called Early Explorers (ages 3-5 years old), World Edition (ages 6-10) and the U.S. Edition (recommended for ages 7-12 years old).  Your first mailing is a starter kit, that includes a little suitcase, a world map, an interactive passport, an activity sheet, stickers, a postcard and the first letter from “Sam and Sofia” explaining the start of their global adventure.  Each month, after that you receive a package in the mail that includes another pen pal letter from fictional characters, Sam and Sofia, telling your kids a little about what they have experienced in that month’s country.  It also includes a souvenir from that country and an activity booklet with craft ideas, recipes or games.  The kids also get stickers to place on their suitcase, in their passport and “push pin” for the world map.  One final thing was the “boarding pass” tags that include a code for you to enter online to access games and trivia about your country of the month.

The kids were so excited to open their World Edition starter kit from Little Passports!

The kids were so excited to open their World Edition starter kit from Little Passports!

Because of my blog, they offered to send me the starter kit and the first two countries (Brazil and Japan) in their monthly subscription pack if I would write some reviews on how we used them in preparation for, during, and after our trip to Japan.  I was excited to try them out with the kids!  My 7 year old was the most interested since he could actually read and complete the games and puzzles.  But even my 5 year old was curious about the online games, the souvenir included and the global trivia. Overall, my kids love getting things in the mail and the kits are a great jumping off point to getting your kids interested in more than just maps and geography.  I’ll be highlighting the package for Japan in my next blog post.

Little Passports' World Edition starter kit contents.

Little Passports’ World Edition starter kit contents.

If you’d like to check out more about Little Passports or even give them a try, just click here!  You can dive right in with a pre-paid one year or six month subscription or choose to try it out month to month.  The first 3 kits have been such a hit in our house that I decided to join their affiliate program to share these products with my friends and readers.  Full Disclosure: as an affiliate, I will get a small commission from any purchases my readers make by using the affiliate links within my posts.

I hope your kids enjoy them as much as mine have!  And to start it off, their summer promotion is going on right now, but there are only 2 days left for the 15% off.  Just go to the Little Passports website and enter the promo code “SUMMER15” at check out, by June 16, 2015, for your discount.  For my readers outside of the U.S. they do ship regularly to some countries and can arrange for shipping to others by contacting their customer service department.

Austria’s Saint Johan im Pongau. Truly a “kinderparadise” and a Family Vacation Gem! Part 1

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My husband loves Austria, and I don’t blame him.  The entire country is full of beautiful landscapes and marvelous cities.  While I’m a little more of a fan of places like Vienna and Salzburg, Austria is one place that a city girl can enjoy the outdoors with her adventurous husband without having to hike 10 miles with mountain gear on your back.  Maybe a 20lb toddler instead.  Here is our arrival and day one in this beautiful part of Austria that turned out to be one of our BEST family vacations!

Burg Hohenwerfen in Werfen, Austria.

Burg Hohenwerfen in Werfen, Austria.

For this trip, our destination was determined by what was available through our timeshare exchange that would sleep five people (a majority of European properties are for two to four people).  There happen to be an exchange with a hotel in Sankt Johan im Pongau.  It was a large sports hotel, next to a mini shopping “mall” and across the street from a lovely park with a playground.  The Alpine Sports Hotel lived up to its name.  It had its own racquet ball courts, a large swimming pool and a group fitness/dance room.  The staff was incredibly friendly and offered tour and vacation planning services as well as housing two restaurants within the hotel.

Immediately after hitting up the tourist pamphlet stand for the whole Pongau area, I wished we had planned for longer than three days.  Our reservation was just for three nights and four days (Monday through Thursday) as that was all that was available when we booked through RCI.  Our plan was to go into Slovenia on Thursday for two days before returning to Munich.  After our late arrival in Austria on Monday night, I came up with a proposed plan for how to spend our few days in the Pongau region.  As it turned out, the world’s largest ice cave was located just 20 minutes north of our town!  It immediately became a priority for our trip.  Across the highway from the mountain with the ice cave was a hill top castle as well.  The Tuesday morning goal was to feed the kids then head to the castle followed by an afternoon tour of the ice cave.  On the drive to the castle, I happened to read the brochure for the ice cave again and it said to allow for 6 hours! It also said that the last gondola up to the top of the mountain was going to be at 4:45 p.m. that day.  Still, I was not discouraged!

We arrived at the castle with the threats of rain looming over us and about an hour behind schedule.  To get to the castle, there was the choice of a 15-20 minute walk up to the top or quicker option, the gondola.  To save time, we took the ride.  The castle, “Burg Hohenwerfen” turned out to be a gold mine for the kids! It was well kept, had the feel of walking into a knight’s strong hold, and had marvelous programs and activities specifically for kids!  At the ticket office we were given a story book map for each of the kids.  There were stations around the castle that you have to answer the questions for to solve a puzzle at the end.  When you got them all correct, you could take your booklet to the office at the exit for a little treat.  This immediately captured the attention of our two boys (6 & 4 years old) who had grown accustom to walking around Castles and Palaces that sometimes got boring.

The ride up to the castle.

The ride up to the castle.

In order to go into the interior rooms of the castle, you had to meet in the courtyard for an official tour.  Fortunately for us, the English guided tour was to start about 15 minutes after we arrived and the line was much shorter than the German one.  In addition to the guide, we also had the electronic wands that gave added information about each room.  The kids got their own special wands with a unique children’s program that highlighted more interested points for them in a fun story book kind of way.  I listened to a few and had wished we all just got the children ones!  While there were not elaborate rooms with lots of furniture in this castle, we did get to go up into their working clock/bell tower.  It should be noted that this included some narrow and steep stair passages.  I had my 18 month old on my back in the Ergo.  Had I been alone on this particular tour, it may have been difficult to guide the two boys and balance myself with the baby on my back up and down the stair cases in very tight quarters.  One parent who had carried their child in their arms, even accidently whacked the poor little one’s head on a wood beam while trying to descend. I was thankfully with my husband on this part of our trip so we managed, and the view from the top of the bell tower was worth it!

A special kids guide in English for the tiny tourists.

A special kids guide in English for the tiny tourists.

After the tour of the castle, back in the courtyard, we played with several old fashioned games they had set up in different stations.  There were walking stilts, wooden unicorns that you tossed rings over the horn, and then a ball pendulum that you tried to knock over pins with in a circle.  All three of the kids had a wonderful time playing the games.  It was tough to drag them away, but I was bent on getting to that ice cave before the last tour and their booklets with the scavenger hunt puzzle was a nice incentive.  We didn’t sit to watch the hawking show because we wanted to finish the kids’ hunt and go to the ice cave.  This I regret.  Even though we spent about 4 hours at the castle, I felt we could have spent the entire day!  But, it was time to get on over to the ice cave in my mind.  Despite me being in a hurry, the kids wanted to walk down to the car through the trails, so we did.  It provided a nice conversation about why we stay on the path at historic and natural sites and a brief lesson in soil and root erosion.


Top of the bell tower.

Back at the car we headed the short distance across the highway to the road up to the next mountain for the ice cave.  I didn’t know what to expect as we approached the parking lot stages.  We arrived at a place to park rather close to the “entrance” and had one hour before the last tour was going to start.  We weren’t sure if we should take the stroller or just the ergo.  Since we were in a hurry, I thought we’d try the stroller.  By time we got up to the ticket counter, we had 50 minutes left to make it to the cave entrance and they told us it was a 20 minute walk to the gondola and then another 20 minutes to the cave entrance from the top of the gondola. The whole time my husband kept telling me that we should just wait till the next day, that they kids couldn’t do it, that we wouldn’t make it.  But my stubborn self would not listen.  I knew the kids could do it, and just felt he didn’t know them as well as I did and I would “show him” that he was wrong.  So we purchased the tickets after asking if a full refund was possible if we didn’t make it.  They said yes, the ticket had 2 parts, one for the gondola and the other for the cave tour and they tear off a piece of the ticket at each stage, so which ever wasn’t torn off, we’d get the refund.

View of the castle from the ice cave mountain side.

View of the castle from the ice cave mountain side.

With tickets in hand, we started up the mountain.  Now, one would think, knowing that it was a mountain we were going up, that I would have anticipated just how steep the walk was going to be.  However, as gradual as the path up looked, it turned out to be pretty exhausting to push the stroller up the path with a toddler in it!  We pushed on, panting, and my husband incredibly annoyed at the speed I was trying to push everyone.  After 18 minutes, we made it to the gondola station, only to find a really long line.  I was still optimistic that we would make the last tour, until 5 minutes went by and no one moved.  Then 10 minutes and the gondola had then come 2 times and we barely made progress.  I’m ashamed to admit I was in a full 2 year old pouting fit.  It was clear we weren’t going to make it up in time for the tour.  I was so mad and even blaming the ticketing counter for selling us a ticket when they clearly must have known there was no chance that we’d make it.  “If they had just told us there was no chance to make it, we wouldn’t have suffered through the first leg of the hike for nothing!” I reasoned.  But in fact, my husband told me this, and the ticket counter told us what the hike times were.  Even without a wait at the gondola, we only had a 5 minute window for error on the hike times alone.  I learned a tough lesson that day, actually a few tough lessons and reminders.  1. Your attitude effects everyone on the trip. 2. Sometimes your spouse IS right. 3. Don’t rush your experiences, quality rather than quantity is going to give you the better outcome and memories on a vacation.  Had I just resided myself to the fact that we were going to just do the castle that day, we could have also learned more about the birds and scene the falcon and hawk show and, if something (like the ice cave) is important enough to visit, you will make time for it.  As we did the next day of the trip.  With so much to see and do in that area, I was so set on getting to try out as much as I could.  But the thing is, you won’t really miss getting to do the thing you don’t see, but you will miss getting to do the stuff at the place you do visit and rush through.  So, learn from my mistake and take your time!  And check out the next post coming soon about our big day in the ice cave!  We did make it, the following morning, and from parking lot start to finish, it was a 6 hour adventure that was well worth the wait!!!

The boys checking their final answers from the scavenger's hunt.

The boys checking their final answers from the scavenger’s hunt.

When Kids Get Sick On Trips

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Kids get sick, that’s just a fact of life.  Most of the time you are at home where you can deal with illness without much of a hassle other than re-arranging your day.  Such as my son throwing up all over our car a couple weeks ago just as we were loading up the car to leave for the baby sitters so mommy could go to her skating practice.  But what do you do when your child gets sick on your vacation?  Especially if you’ve flown thousands of miles to get to your destination!  Here are a few tips to manage a sick child on holiday while trying to still salvage your trip.

When my son threw up the other day, it reminded me of our vacation to Budapest and Bratislava a couple years ago when my oldest son (then just 4 years old) threw up all over our hotel room in Slovakia on the last day of our trip, an hour before we were supposed to check out of the hotel.

We were still living in Germany at the time and drove the 6 hours to Budapest, Hungary and Bratislava, Slovakia.  We were going to be gone a total of 6 days.  After a wonderful time in Budapest, we on to Bratislava for the last 2 1/2 days.  The morning we were going to check out and drive home I was packing some things in our suitcase when I heard a cough, then a quick gagging sound.  I immediately looked over at my son, already knowing what was coming next and shouted at my husband to get him to the bathroom since he was a closer to our son.  My husband lunged over to him and picked him up from behind and started to walk to the bathroom.  At the exact moment my husband took his first step, my son let loose the full contents of his stomach.  The spew spilled out directly in the path of travel my husband was on and just like in a cartoon, his next step went right into the slippery pile of puke that sent my husband’s feet right out from under him.  He landed flat on his back, in the puke, arms clinched around our son who landed safely on my husband’s stomach.

It’s just one of those things you can’t help, laughing through. The problem however, was that I had become an efficient packer, and even though we were road tripping it and that allowed me a few extra luxuries for the long drive, clothing was packed rather precisely and finding something clean enough for a toddler to wear on the last day of vacation was a challenge.  My poor husband was in the same boat!  It was also a Sunday so all the regular shops were closed so I could just pop into a store and buy a new outfit. Fortunately we were in a very friendly hotel and the late check out was not a problem nor did they make a big deal about the mess.  Somehow we managed to clean up everyone and made it home safely.  Thank goodness it was the last day of our trip!  But just in case yours is at the beginning or the middle here are a few things to be aware of and some tips for prevention.

Strolling around all bundled up and with an eye infection :(

Strolling around all bundled up and with an eye infection 😦

1. Even if you have enough clothes for your trip, still wash the first set of outfits in the sink after the first day and let dry in the place you are staying so that you will always have an extra set of “just in case” clothes that are clean.

2. Look up what a Pharmacy is called in the country you are visiting. In German it’s the Apotheke in French is Pharmacie. You will notice similar variations with the “Ap” or “ph/f” at the beginning of the word for many European countries.  And a red or green “+” (plus) sign is very common for medical/pharmaceutical locations.

3. Be aware that in some countries, such as Germany, these are closed on Sunday and holidays. However there is always an emergency pharmacy open in the city somewhere and a sign should be on the closed ones telling you where the emergency pharmacy is located.

4.  For young children, most European medicines such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen and other medicines for anti-vomiting come in suppository form instead of an oral pill.  So if it looks a little waxy like and larger than you think a kid should be able to swallow, you know you’ve gotten the suppository and that it is for your little one’s bum not the mouth.

5.  In the event that your child isn’t feeling well and you dread wasting a day cooped up in a hotel, make that day a park or nature day.  If your child is small enough for a stroller, go outdoors and see the natural environment of your destination, or stroll a public park.  As long as they are appropriately dressed for the weather, the fresh air will do them some good in getting over the illness.

6. Gallon size ziplock bags and baby wipes can be your best friend!  Even if your child is already potty trained, baby wipes are wonderful for cleaning up messes in a pinch.  Ziplock pages are a great way to seal soiled clothing, or rags should an unexpected illness arise.

7.  Anti-bacterial hand sanitizers are always a great idea.  I’ve also found anti-bacterial hand wipes from The Dollar Tree when I didn’t want to take the risk of  liquid bottle accidentally squeezing out inside my bag.

8. Take some powdered packets of Pedialyte. Easy to pack and then just mix up with water in case you or  your little ones get traveler’s diarrhea.  If you don’t have these, look for Gatorade or Poweraid (I found Poweraid to be more common than Gatoraid in Europe) to help replenish lost electrolytes. Also remember to stick to bottled water if you’ve gotten sick, as there is a chance that it was the tap water that made you or your child sick, depending on your destination.

9. Talk to your doctor/pediatrician or travel doctor before you go on your trip if you are venturing anywhere slightly exotic.  They may be able to give you some antibiotics to take with you to treat specific illnesses common to your area of travel, such as traveler’s diarrhea. You should also check if there are any specific vaccinations you should get before traveling to that area.

10. Know your medical insurance.  If you aren’t covered for travel outside of your home country, ask before a trip if you can purchase a short term traveler’s protection policy.  It might be cheaper and easier to use than a 3rd party trip insurance.  If you or your child gets really sick and you need to seek medical non-emergency medical help and you haven’t purchased coverage already, still try to call your insurance company before you go and see if you can get it activated on the spot. And lastly, there are also 3rd party travel insurance groups that can provide short term trip coverages for illness.  We’ve never used any 3rd party travel insurance as our insurance we in Germany covered all of the EU and we bought the extra package with our current insurance in the US that covers international travel.

A sign on a local German pharmacy on Sunday telling customers where the emergency pharmacy will be open for the day.

A sign on a local German pharmacy on Sunday telling customers where the emergency pharmacy will be open for the day.

Be sure to check out my other post “Travel Doctors-Help Protect Your Family On Your Next Trip Overseas.

10 Reasons To Make Traveling Abroad With Your Kids a New Year’s Resolution.

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I admit, I am jumping on the bandwagon of new year’s resolution blog posts. Finding time to finish writing and posting about all of our trips is high on my list this year!  So here it is, a challenge for you to add something that I’m sure many moms and dads have considered, and perhaps dismissed….travel more with your children.  I know what some of you moms (and dads) might be thinking, a trip to the grocery store without kids can feel like a vacation, so why would traveling WITH kids to a foreign country be fun?! It’s a feat in itself just to pack them up to take them to the park or the library for an hour let alone a one to three week vacation overseas!  But here me out, the hassles you will face when traveling with your kids are not really any more difficult than if you stayed at home with them today.  So why not get out and experience something new!  Here are a few reason to try to convince you that it’s worth the perceived hassle to pack those bags up and hit the jetways.


At an art gallery in Strasbourg, France.

1.  You will create life-long learners and explorers.

2.  Traveling sparks curiosity and wonder, traits that can spill over into learning about new things in school.

3.  They develop a unique awareness of other cultures that can allow them to explore new ways of thinking.

4.  It provides an opportunity for them to learn how to behave in different social settings.

5.  Because watching your child(ren) interact on the playground with other children speaking 2-10 different languages reminds us that laughter is the universal language!


6. Long train and airplane rides give you a chance to have all of those conversations you mean to have with your kids that life often gets in the way of letting you have.

7. Seeing how other people live, whether in worse or better conditions than their own, shows children how people can be happy in many different lifestyles.

8. Interesting and unique travel scenarios (good and bad!) strengthen the bond between family members.

9.  Because Venice could sink before you get to see it!  Seriously!

But on a very serious note, one of my favorite reasons for traveling with my kids is that…

10. Your children will teach you more new things on a trip about their abilities and character (and your own!) than you ever imagined.

So break out that Atlas, spin that globe or simple stay tuned to my blog and start planning your next (or first) big adventure abroad with your little ones!