Saturday, November 5, 2016

Travel More, Spend Less

                               (This is the current photo cover of my travel binder-Guadaloupe in December!)

Please note, these are tips to help you save and travel more! Pick and choose those that appeal to you. We don't apply all of these at once, and there are times we choose convenience over saving every possible dollar.  Some vacations cost more than others and that's perfectly fine! If we are shorter on time, we fly. If we are in a cooler climate or traveling with babies or toddlers, we are less likely to camp. Sometimes it makes more sense to buy plane tickets and a rental car versus driving and camping. We have stayed in condos, rented boogie boards, rode the ferry, purchased souvenirs... we have payed too much for crappy hotels and fussed and fumed at rain water getting into our tent. The point is that we all have different priorities, values and various amounts of money and time to work with. Don't stress! Have fun researching destinations and find ways to save for your dream vacation...whether that is a trip to Disneyland, several weeks in Europe or a weekend camping trip in the Ozarks!

One of the many benefits of living simply and with less, is that dreams become clearer, and you realize what is most important in your life. Getting rid of the noise and distraction of physical and mental clutter has helped us realize how much we truly love travel and adventure!  I've heard many comments such as, "You must make a LOT of money, to be able to travel the way you do...." "Must be nice to have that kind of money..."  First of all, we are fortunate enough to have a career that enables us to travel several weeks at a time without doing great harm to our real estate business. That is something to be grateful for, to be sure.  But we are not wealthy by American standards. There is no paid vacation, big benefit packages, and no big money rolling in. For quite a number of years, we lived on very, very little. At or below the U.S. federal poverty line. Those were very difficult times but I am not ashamed of this. I am proud of our tenacity and grit, and grateful for the way it has shaped our character and taught us valuable lessons in frugality and stewardship. Travel and adventure have always been important to us. Even in the early years when we were barely getting by, we camped and found inexpensive ways to travel. We are no longer in that place, but we are still squarely in the middle class.
If you truly want to travel and you have money for Netflix, cable TV, mani/pedicures, Xbox/Wii, or take-out pizza, YOU can travel! If you have other activities and interests that you wish to pursue, you may still find ideas here on how to save for the things that really matter to you!

So how can we travel 4-6 weeks out of the year and still pay our bills?

1. We have prioritized our spending and live frugally.2. We've found ways to cut travel expenses.

1. Prioritize your spending and live frugally. Money is a sticky topic in general. Suggest ways to spend someone else's money and you can make enemies rather quickly. But if you've made it this far, I trust that you really do want to travel and you are willing to learn. ;) Take a look at where your money is going and decide where you are willing to cut spending. I am not suggesting you live on bread and water and never have fun. I have things that are important to me, such as whole foods, organic greens, quality shoes, and high quality coffee beans. Don't believe that you must give up everything you enjoy in life, to travel. What a dull and depressing existence. Rather, think about what you are willing to give up for your dreams and spend your money intentionally. I'm going to give you a list of things that we/I do, to help you get started.

*Our living expenses are very low, due to the fact that we live in a small home. Just to give you an idea...our mortgage payment (including taxes and insurance) is around $320/month. If you don't believe me, I'll be happy to show you the numbers.
*We live simply and don't buy a lot of the junk that fills most American homes. When we do make a purchase, (especially bigger items) we put a lot of thought and research in, before forking over our hard earned money.  A lot of the furniture in our home was either free or purchased used. I can't think of a single piece that we bought new aside from our mattress set. We don't worry about the latest decorating fad or hottest fashion trends.
*We don't have TV. Neither of us grew up with television. We tried it once for a year or two and decided it was a waste of money since we watched an average of  2-3 hrs per month. When I revealed this to someone recently, their jaw dropped and this question was asked, "What do you do for fun?" I don't have time to explain how wrong that question is.  It's preposterous. Watching other people's lives through a glass and plastic box, versus finding your own adventures and living your own life? I'll skip the plastic thanks. There is no way I will pay someone to fill our heads with advertisements, or trashy reality TV. Our values don't support this expense so it's a no-brainer. Not all programs are garbage and I'm sure if I knew how to read a TV guide, I'd find channels to enjoy.  The bottom line is that it's not important to us at all, so we are able to save hundreds per year.
*No Netflix. Yeah I TV or Netflix? We must be from another century! If we want to watch movies, we see them at the theater, or rent them.  And quite honestly, this happens infrequently. Think 1-2 times per month, average.  The kids may have up to 4 Apps each on our mobile devices, and they have a set amount of screen time per day (after all homework and other duties are done) which is often used for Minecraft, Roblox, or YouTube.
*I don't spend any money at all on manicures/pedicures/tanning/spa treatments.  I've never spent a penny on this, and I don't regret it. If this is important to you and is an effective form of self care, then by all means do it!
*I drive a paid-for, older vehicle. We have never had a vehicle payment in the entire 15 years of our marriage.  That could change. We do our research and purchase used, quality, fuel efficient vehicles and drive them until they're practically dead.  My van is 14 years old, and has over 250,000 miles. I would like to have a newer vehicle vehicle is not cute or cool and someday I will replace it. But it is inexpensive, reliable transportation and in my mind it would be foolish to purchase a vehicle solely on the fact that it is not hot or sexy.
*We save a quite a lot by not purchasing soda, tea, or fancy coffee drinks. I may step on toes here. I know it is unwise to get between a coffee addict and their coffee, but hear me out! It's simple math. Take the price of your daily or weekly latte times the number of times you purchase per year and you will see how expensive that latte really is. We do occasionally treat ourselves to Starbucks and decaffeinated soda for a special occasion or as a treat.  But we don't purchase these drinks regularly.
*Dining out/take out. John and I have an average of one date night per month. It can be as simple as a picnic dinner at a lake, takeout sushi and a bottle of wine on a rock by the river, or a fancy sit down restaurant.  Other than this, our family rarely eats out. We get take-out pizzas several times per year and occasionally we purchase drive-through meals when travelling to visit family. This does not factor in, our meetings with clients for coffee or lunch because it is necessary to meet in a neutral location. This is figured as a business expense. Most of our meals are cooked at home and made from scratch. It's not an exaggeration to say that we save thousands per year.  Some nights I don't want to cook.  But when I do the math and think of all the packaging waste in takeout food, I choose to cook.
*We buy used over new when possible.  Not only does this save money, it also keeps perfectly beautiful and useful items from filling the landfill. America is wasteful. Clothing, furniture, and household items are just a few of my thrifting categories. If this grosses you out, think of all the people who may have tried on that new-with-tags Macy's outfit in the store's dressing room. Clothing and most thrifted items can be washed and sanitized. There are people in every income bracket and social class in the world who purchase used goods. It's a responsible and intelligent way to live.
*We spend little on gifts for our family. We buy quality items that last and are conducive to creativity, but we spend very little. Birthday and Christmas combined, $50 or less per year/per child. Go ahead and report me to Santa, I dare you. :) What our kids really want, is our time, attention and love. Not the over priced, made in China junk that fills the shelves of most department stores.

I could list many more ways we save, but lets get on to the second point.

2. We've found ways to cut vacation expenses.
You can spend very little on vacation or you can spend a lot. It all depends on what your goals are. I've read statistics that state the average family of four spends $4,300 on a one week vacation. (Jaw drops to the floor) This would put our family of 5 at $5,375 per week. No wonder people think we have a lot of money! We've never come close to spending this on our vacations. In a recent 7 day trip to Florida, we spent well under $1,000 for 5 people.  Thanks to generous in-laws who paid for 3 weeks in Europe with my husbands family, we did take one trip that probably cost this much.  But we have never personally, come close to spending $5,375. We have never stayed at an all-inclusive resort. Could we? Yes. If we wanted 1-2 weeks of vacation every 5 years, we could save our money, leave our kids behind and live it up. Or we could take that same amount of money and in 5 years, have 15-20 weeks of vacation, WITH our family in many beautiful locations.  One day we will likely stay at an all-inclusive resort (at a discount of course!!) ;) but for now, the second option is a clear choice for us. Our kids may wear thrifted clothing and receive gifts that are far less expensive than the gifts that their friends receive. But they have traveled thousands and thousands of miles, to many beautiful and amazing destinations. In 20 years, even 5 years they will have forgotten what they got for Christmas. But they will always remember our family vacations.

So now that you have saved for your vacation, how will you maximize your funds?

*Camp. I know, I know, I can hear the groans now.  If you truly hate it that much, then skip this one and go to the next point. Here is an example: Our family loves to visit St Joseph's peninsula in Florida. We could get a condo for 5 people/5 days, for $600-$1200..depending on how fancy we want to get. Or we can camp at a state park and spend $120 for 5 days. Our family enjoys camping and we've made many memories this way so its an easy choice! In this example, we saved a minimum of $480 on lodging. My sister recently travelled New England for two weeks without paying a dime on lodging! Read about her adventures at Thirteenthparallelsouth.
*If possible, drive instead of flying. If you have a very limited amount of time, this may not work for you. If you do have time flexibilty, you can save a TON on travel expenses. Using the above example, our family spent less than $150 on gas. Take the cost of 5 plane tickets to Panama City or any other Florida city (MINIMUM $400 over spring break) and we saved $1,860! It's a clear choice here.
*Air B&B is a great resource. This site offers many unique lodging options. Choose from a shared room/hostel, private room or an apartment/entire house.  You can usually find lodging options at a large discount.
*Priceline. This is a hit or miss. In some cities you can bid on hotels and save up to 60%! We've stayed at 4 star hotels for as little as $50.
*Skyscanner is great app for purchasing discounted airfare. This app has been the best tool I've found so far, for purchasing airline tickets. Recently we were able to purchase tickets through Skyscanner, to Guadaloupe, a French island in the Caribbean, for $198! Websites such as Expedia and Kayak, are quoting prices of $450-$600! Thanks to my sister Leia for this tip!
*Pack and cook your own food! Our family has saved thousands by cooking and packing food from a grocery store, versus eating out. Generally, on travel days, we will purchase one hot meal per day, such as Chipotle or Pizza. When we arrive at our destination we do most of our own cooking. We may purchase fresh seafood from a Florida fish market and cook it our camp, or treat ourselves to a local restaurant, but it's usually no more than once or twice per week. I know this may sound inconceivable to some of you.  COOK on vacation?!  You do the math, you decide. :)
*Coupons and gift cards. If you have restaurant or gas gift cards or coupons, now is a great time to use them.
*Avoid souvenir shops! Being the minimalist that I am, this tip is quite easy. Over priced toothpick holders and unflattering cotton tee shirts are a great waste of money to me! However, if you do decide to purchase these items, try to buy them in places such as National Park Visitor centers, as this supports our National Parks!
*Skip touristic attractions that require a per person fee. There are so many amazing free activities available, there's no need to spend large sums of money unless of course, it is something that you are certain you will enjoy greatly.
*Be flexible and keep an open mind. We never dreamt of going to Guadeloupe. We never knew it existed. We only knew we wanted a warm sunny place away from the crowds. Using Sky scanner, I browsed tickets in the "Everywhere" tab and found Norweigan Air was selling tickets way below the normal rates. After researching the island and finding many wonderful adventures awaited us, we bought the tickets.  Our dates aren't as flexible as those of you with no children or at least with no children of school age. I have family members with no children and a flexible schedule who were able to spend a week at an all-inclusive resort in Mexico for $600 per person, the weekend after Thanksgiving. Airlines and resorts discount their prices on dates when people are least likely to travel, in order to attract business.

Bonus Tip:

I find it helpful to keep a travel binder with clear plastic sleeves to insert my packing lists, receipts, itineraries, "to do" lists, "to buy" lists, tips for our destination, etc... In the front cover, I place a photo of a destination I am planning to visit or hoping to visit. I find this to be a great source of inspiration and motivation.


Live intentionally. Choose what is important to you, work hard and make it happen.

What are ways you save on travel expenses? I would love to hear your ideas!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

12 Ways To Maintain Simplicity In Your Home

                                                  Isn't this a lovely scene? It was taken while I was on vacation in Germany. To me it speaks of slow, intentional living.

 Cultivate an attitude of gratefulness and contentment. This is tip number one for a reason. I find it the most difficult to practice, but most rewarding!  Our culture and the advertising world do their best to wear us down.  More, more more they cry! "You need this special face cream to be beautiful! Your kids won't feel loved if you don't buy the Pokemon backpack!!  You will be admired if you drive the flashy sports car!"  Discontenment and envy prompt us to buy more. We believe the lie that true happiness can be found in tangible things.  Peace and joy can only be found within.
Appreciate the things that already surround you. Prepare your morning coffee in the french press that you selected carefully to fit your needs.  Inhale the aroma of your favorite coffee beans and sip from your special mug. Slow down, be present and be intentional.
2. Behonest, be ruthless!! How committed are you? Look at photos of your pre-simplified, cluttered life. Do you want to go back? How much do you love the progress you've made? If you truly believe in this concept, you won't allow your home to go back to its original state. Avoid recluttering your home by identifying the problems. Ask yourself how your house originally got to its bulging overflowing state. Is your kitchen table a clutter hot spot? Do other family members throw laundry in every room of the house? Address the problems.  Denial is likely the path that leads most of us to stuff overload.
3. Keep a bag or box in an out of the way space that is designated for donation.  I keep a plastic grocery bag on an "S"hook, hanging from my closet shelf. If I happen upon an item of clothing which my children outgrew, or I suddenly realize that I don't need 24 forks, in they go! Immediately. Don't tell yourself you'll do it later. You know you probably won't. You will look at that overflowing silverware tray and tell yourself the same thing 10 more times. Just do it. It takes 10 seconds or less. When this bag fills up, I drop it off at Goodwill. I have no room in my home or my head, for things I don't need.
4. Edit and evaluate. I do this with ever single item we own, at least twice a year. If you stick to this, things will never get too far out of control.
5. Make lists of things you actually need or want. This rule applies to more than the grocery store. If your kids have grown out of the current seasons's clothing, make a list detailing every single item you need, down to socks and underwear. Most of us do not have perfect memory. If I don't stick to this, I will find a gigantic stack of short sleeved tees for my daughter, when I only needed six. I'll forget about the belt my son needed, and purchase 6 pairs of pants when I only need 2.
6. Say no. No to recreational shopping, no to free magazines, no to promotional pens and t-shirts. No to cheap jewlery and the latest "As seen on TV" junk. No to anything and everything that you don't truly need or want.
7. Regular clean up around the house. Whether that means once a day or once an hour. Don't let your hard work go to waste. Instead of throwing the mail on the countertop or table, immediately recyle junk mail and file or pay bills. Designate a time of day as clean up time. After school, insist on your kids putting every item where it belongs, which brings me to my next point.
8. Have a home for everything. EVERYTHING. Don't allow your keys or shoes to be put in 7 different locations around the house. Find the most practical and efficient home for each item and always put it there. If you do this, you will have much less to pick up at the end of the day.
9. Respect other peoples's space and their possessions. You must first examine your own posessions before you can convince the rest of your familys of the merits of minimalism. The rest of my family is not as minimal with their possessions as I am. I have perhaps a dozen books or less and their books fill the rest of our 6 shelves. I am ok with this. But I set limits for my children. When they leave home they are free to live as they choose. But while they live in our home, they may not stuff their closets and drawers.
10. Make limits. Decide on how much memorabilia (or Legos, books, whatever..) each family member is allowed. When limits are being pushed or exceeded, its time to edit and donate. For example, in our home, each family member has one 13 gallon plastic tote, labeled with his or her name. All treasures that are to be kept "forever" must fit in this box. In addition to this, they each have a small, rectangular clear box, (slightly larger than an 8 1/2 x 11 piece of paper) in their rooms with precious papers and treasures which they want more accessible for play. Occasionally I will find a certain child's box bulging and unable to close. I set a time limit (usually 1 week) for this family member to edit and toss enough so that the lid can comfortably close. This has worked very well for 4 years and I highly recommend this for parents of small children!
11. Buy quality. We have all heard "buy quality over quantity" and this is absolutely true.  Here's an example from our family.  Several years ago I purchased a pair of poor quality athletic shoes for my older son. They cost $12. These shoes lasted exactly 3 months.  Had I kept purchasing these shoes, I would have had to purchase 3 more pairs that year. $48 for 4 pairs of shoes that only looked nice for a few weeks after each purchase. 4 pairs of shoes that will end up in the landfill. Plus I had the added time and hassle of shopping for those shoes over and over.  We switched and now pay $35-$50 for a better brand. These shoes last a year or more, depending on how soon he outgrows them. They look nice for the entire year. (No peeling shoe soles!) and I only need to purchase his athletic shoes once a year! I find many quality, better brand items for our family at thrift stores. Don't be afraid of purchasing used items!
12. Utilize the "One in one out" rule.  After Christmas, insist on donating exactly the number of items your family has received, to your charity of choice. Exchanging one small Hot Wheels car for a new backpack doesn't count! Donate an item of similar size and volume. If you have pared down your wardrobe to only the items that you need, love and use, then you will only need to replace those. Bring home a new pair of jeans and immediately donate the previous pair. Don't hold onto them in hopes that you will turn them into a craft project unless you have a good track record of turning used clothing into jean purses or quilts! Don't put them in a box because they still have life left and it feels wasteful. There are few things more wasteful than moldy, moth eaten boxes of clothing and other items which someone else could have used!

Make minimalism work for you. Don't try to be an exact copy of  anyone else. If you aren't seeing results, you haven't discovered your brand of minimalism.

Share your tips and ideas, I love to learn!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Traveling Light (Part 4) Entertainment, Snacks, and other Misc Travel Neccesities

With all of the options available today, with digital media, we have no need to drag books, or other heavy entertainment items along on vacation.  Take a pair of headphones and a tablet, e-reader or smart phone, and you can read, play games, listen to music, or watch movies.  Most flights have personal in-flight entertainment systems, which allow you to listen to music or watch movies.  A lot of airlines now have WiFi on board as well, which is available for a small fee and totally worth it for long, overseas flights.  I know some of you will always prefer paper books, which is perfectly fine if you are willing to add the weight and bulk. Try to find paperback books instead of hardcover, as this can cut your book weight in half.  Card games are another option for in flight entertainment. However, these can easily get lost and slip in between seats, so make sure you check your area before leaving your seat.  If you're a parent with small children, you will likely be occupied with caring for your kids during the flight, and have no trouble with boredom!
Kids entertainment:
"Less is more" has never been truer, than when traveling with children!  
Before you add anything to your carry-on bag, ask yourself how many things you are willing to keep track of during your trip.  I try to picture myself in my car or plane seat, gathering all the parts and pieces.  That puts things into perspective very quickly!  
Here are my recommendations:
-Don't take things with small parts, such as Lego's, Poly Pockets, packages of foam stickers, Scrabble, etc.. You WILL lose pieces. And bending down to the floor while sitting in your seat is very uncomfortable and awkward.  Not to mention all the time it takes to gather things.
-Avoid taking items that roll.  I made the mistake of taking crayons and small cars on one of my first flights with kids.  I had an 18 month old and 3 year old and somehow crayons ended up several rows back and a car was found in the very back of the plane.  When that car starts rolling, there will be no catching it! 
-This goes without saying, but please, out of respect for your fellow passengers, do not take toys with noise or lights.  It will drive you and everyone else around you crazy!
Here are some items I recommend: (Pre-K and Elementary age)

-Origami was the favored item of the trip.  Buy a small Origami book and small to medium sized Origami paper and store in a Ziploc bag.  My kids loved it!  We had quite a few papers in my bag but they are all flat, light and easy to store.  And they were constantly making new things so they didn't mind pitching creations they were tired of. My kids even made special Origami art for my birthday, which happened a week into the trip. :)
-Water Wow pad, by Melissa and Doug. I'm honestly not sure what to think of this one. The kids loved it but the pen attached to the pad made it awkward to store. I ended up removing it which helped a lot. Fill the plastic pen with water, after passing security and let the kids "paint" their reusable pages.
-Small containers of play dough. A big hit! In my research on TSA liquid restrictions, most people said Play Dough didn't need to fit the 3-1-1 rule so I decided to risk it. We passed through security with no problems.
-Magnetic tin. My four year old really like this!
-Top Trump Cards. My daughter's favorite! We played this often while in the plane, bus, rental van, and also in the places we stayed. We took the Countries version but you can choose Animals and manyother versions. This game is great for kids who can read, and adults have fun too!
-Anti-virus. A fun game with many levels for different ages. This was mostly played while in Europe and not so much during travel.
That's all toys and games we took. Our kids had songs, movies, audio books, and games on the tablet and phone, but while in flight, they mainly watched parent approved movies on their personal entertainment system provided by the airline.
Misc travel items (I keep this with me in my seat, on the plane or in the car) You can take as much or as little as you want, in the way of luxury items.
Here are a few things I like to use when I travel,most of them make my "non-negotiable list".
-Headphones and smart phone 
The following items I like to keep in a small zip pouch:

-Travel pillow (I haven't found the perfect one yet....they are not all created equal!)
-Ear Plugs -Sleep Mask
-Lip balm (especially on a plane, as the air is very dry)
-Small tube of lotion...I use a solid stick of coco butter, which you can find on Amazon.
-Small compact mirror
-Extra hair tie and a few bobby pins
-Face cleansing wipes, I like the Simple brand
-Small trial sized deodorant (If anyone knows of a natural, trial sized deodorant, please let me know!)
-A few panty liners (girls you know what these are for so no explanation!)

-Small first aid kit: I used two small plastic boxes (Johnson and Johnson First Aid boxes found in the trial section of most stores) to store the following:

-Various sizes of bandaids including butterfly bandages 
-Small tube of Neosporin
-Antiseptic wipes
-Painkiller (adult and kids) Note than in most European countries, children's painkiller is not available without a prescription.
-A few gauze patches
-Mole skin for blisters
-A dozen, medium sized safety pins
-Sleep aid for adults and kids (melatonin works great)
A few more items I carried in my carry-on hand bag:
-Antibacterial wipes (wipes are more compact to store and easier to get through security. Plus, no worries of the container bursting mid flight.
-Small package of tissues
-Packages of Pedialyte powder (found in the baby section at the store)
-Small, reusable, grocery bag (Chico is a good brand) See green bag with snowman above. ;)
-2-4 plastic grocery bags for messes or dirty clothing
-2 pens
-Permanent marker (for marking luggage tags, keeping kids toys separate, etc..)
-Carabiners These came in handy many times! Clip water bottles, grocery bags, or other items to your bag or back pack for easy access, or to free your hands.
-Instant coffee packages (Starbucks of course), and tea bags. These are very small and light and all you need to add is hot water and sugar if you prefer, and you're good to go!
-Small note book to jot down directions, lists, etc.. This one is a toss up. I use my phone for most note taking, but sometimes I want real paper to write on, or tear a piece out to leave a note for someone.
-Small zip pouch with an ID, one credit card, debit card, and some cash. This was the way we chose to carry money and ID, but there are many other ways. I recommend getting a neck wallet with electronic pick pocketing protection when travelling abroad. Here is the one we have.
-Passports plus digital, and paper copies in case you lose them. (Also carry in neck wallet)
One item I took that was unnecessary, was an umbrella. I hadn't planned to take any, but it was a last minute item because some in our group were pretty sure we'd need them. Another reminder to go with your gut and your own research. The blue bag you see below, is a small cross body bag I threw in to use for short trips to the grocery store, or times when I didn't want to carry my larger handbag. It was very handy but I wouldn't recommend this particular was a thrift store find so no loss when I donated it back to the store. The pink container is my retainer which I was wearing full time at the time we were traveling. All of these items easily fit in my large hand bag, along with snacks.

I took a lot of snacks, because we have 3 kids and because we were crossing quite a few time zones. I knew there would be times we were hungry and no meal was being served, or we wouldn't have time to grab food on a layover. I was glad for everything I took! It lasted through our very long flight and the three hours ride, to the first destination. Plus, we had extra for the first week we were there. Here are some items I took:
-Sunbelt Granola bars. One of the healthiest grocery store versions, and they are very light.
-Dried apples and prunes. These were not a hit with the kids but extra fiber when traveling is helpful. ;)

-Cheese sticks
-Olives. Buy them in these small, plastic, single serve containers (with no liquid added) or buy them in a can, drain them, and separate into small single serve Ziplocs
-Pita chips (to eat with the olives)
-Turkey sticks. These provide great protein and are pretty much non-perishable, thanks to preservatives. 

-Fruit leather. Light and healthier than fruit snacks. 
-Trail mix. This isn't exactly light, but my kids love it.
-Reese's pieces for those desperate "I really need you to be quiet and hold still RIGHT NOW!" moments! :)

-Single serve pouches or containers of peanut butter and Almond Butter. We are addicts...all of us. So we filled one of our five allotted TSA approved, liquids bag, with these. Great with crackers, fruit, bread, or eating plain! 
All of my snacks fit in a large, zip up pouch. Thank you again Thirty One Gifts! We have a theme going here...what can I say? My sister works for Thirty One so we have everything Thirty One!
-Dark chocolate, not pictured because it was hidden in a secret compartment of my bag...Mom only chocolate! Dark chocolate doesn't melt easily, but if you're not worried about that, take whatever chocolate suits your fancy.
Also not pictured; a water bottle for each person. Fill them up after passing security if you're flying, and keep hydrated to help with jet lag and to combat the dry air in the plane. 
Electronics: We took a set of headphones for each person, one phone, a tablet, two headset splitters, and two battery packs for the times we didn't have a great place to charge electronics, as well as a multi-socket adapter for European outlets. Keep them in a zip up pouch to avoid tangled messes.
We like to choose souvenirs (if we buy them at all) that are consumable, or items we will use regularly, rather than dust collecting memorabilia. On our most recent trip, we chose wine, beer, chocolate, Nutella, Alp cheese, Kinder Eggs, a scarf, earrings, a down comforter (found for $8 at a thrift store!) and a piece of pottery, which I use at least weekly in my kitchen. Since we travelled light and took no checked baggage, we bought an inexpensive piece of used luggage in Switzerland, to carry our souvenirs home. We had no baggage fees for checked baggage, and I knew if it was delayed, our airport would deliver it to our house eventually. Nothing broke or melted and everything arrived safely! I hope that you have found this series helpful. Please add any tips you have, in the comment section...I'm always looking for more ideas!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Traveling Light (Part3) Clothing

No matter where I go, or how long my vacation is, I always pack my clothing last.  Most other items are just a matter of collecting things  from around the house, and putting them in a bag.  Clothing however, requires a few more brain cells. ;) Clothing is still not my favorite part of packing for vacation, but I've come a long way since the days of cramming my luggage to the brim.  I'll share my tips with you and I'm hoping you will have more to add!

1. Since I've incorporated the capsule concept (read more here)  into my wardrobe, packing has become much easier. Most items in my closet can go with any other item and I don't worry much about coordinating colors or fabrics. So when it's time to pack for vacation, I'm creating a capsule within a capsule.

Ideally, I would have taken two pairs of footwear but I didn't have the perfect versatile pair.

2. Consider your fabrics and choose carefully.  Find pieces that are “easy care”  and don't wrinkle or stain easily. Especially if you are traveling with small children. Think dark  fabrics, cotton, denim… Choose thinner fabrics to save space. One exception to this rule is denim. You can wear a pair of jeans, many many times, while a pair of lighter colored pants or skirt, may look worn, or dirty after a few wears. Maybe this is TMI, but the same goes for underwear.  Sports underwear (guys or girls) lace or other quick drying fabrics are wonderful and dry overnight. Cotton underwear is usually still damp by morning. Silk is amazing if you have it. I had a silk tank that did not wrinkle, weighed maybe 2 ounces, and was worn at least a dozen times on the trip. I didn't wash it the entire time and it had no wrinkles, no stains or smells. One of those “perfect travel pieces.” Don't fall for the “travel clothing” specialty stores. Often these items are very costly, unattractive, unflattering and not the type of clothing you will wear at home. You can find great clothing for travel, in your own wardrobe or at Target, thrift stores, etc…
3. Try to take as many “multi-use items as possible. For example; when we traveled to Europe this summer, I chose a pair of shorts that could be used for running/working out, sleeping, or beach cover up. A scarf can be used as a beach cover up or worn as an accessory.
4. Layers. This tip is great for vacations with a big range of temperatures and weather conditions, as well as saving space. One example of this is to take a lightweight jacket in a neutral color, and a cardigan, instead of a sweatshirt/hoodie. You can wear the jacket and/or cardigan, depending on the temperature, activity or occasion. My lightweight merino wool cardigan and lightweight jacket took up less space together than my hoodie by itself, and I could add long sleeves or short for my base layer.
5. Re-wear clothing that doesn't look or smell dirty. If this grosses you out, then maybe packing light is not for you. :) All members of our family do this.  We look presentable, we don't stink and we save a TON of laundry! If you have a small dirty spot on a piece of clothing that is otherwise clean, just spot clean it. No need to wash the whole item with just a small, removable spot.
6. Packing cubes! These have been a lifesaver! I recommend getting medium and small cubes, as I've found that larger ones are harder to pack well because of their size. You can find many brands, types and prices ranges on Amazon. Personally, I've used only eBags packing cubes. They are well made and have been used quite a few times in the 3 years that I've owned them.

Rubberbanding your cube when half empty will keep things rolled up.

7. Roll your clothing. Combine this with tip #6.  Rolling your clothing will save you tons of space. If you do it correctly, you won't have many wrinkles. Choose your outfit the night before and lay it over a chair to take care of any wrinkles that may have formed during travel. For bulkier items that want to unroll, use a rubber band. When your packing cube is getting empty at the end of your trip, push all the clothing to one side, fold the empty part over and rubber band it.
8. Unless you are one of those people that are always cold, wear light layers to travel.  Over and over I read/heard “Wear your heaviest/ bulkiest pieces of clothing to travel. So I did. And I nearly died of heat stroke. Maybe it depends on the airline, but I nearly roasted on Iceland air. By the time I found my seat on the plane I was sweating profusely and gasping for breath. I removed my scarf and jacket and regretted wearing jeans, about 50 times.

Laundry: This will depend on length of travel and the facilities you have. If you are staying in one place for the entire trip and you have easy access to laundry  facilities, take only 3-5 outfits per person. You can eliminate a ton of luggage weight this way! On our summer vacation, we stayed at about 8 different places, only one of which had good laundry facilities.  We tried to save laundry by re-wearing clothing, and did quite a bit of hand washing and spot cleaning. It's very expensive to have your clothing washed by hotels in Europe.  They don't have a laundromat on every corner like we have here in America, washers are tiny, and the price per load very expensive.  And who wants to look for a laundromat every few days?!
I took a small cinch sack for each family member, a travel clothesline (highly recommended) Tide To Go pen, universal sink stopper, and a small bag of concentrated, powdered detergent. After the first ten days, (where we did have access to a washer and dryer) I hand washed a few things every couple nights, and by morning they were usually dry. Some bathroom sinks did not have a drain which is why a lot of people recommend taking the sink stopper. Also, if you are traveling with infants and toddlers and your hotel room only has a shower and no tub, you can use this to make a “tub” of sorts, in your shower. The travel clothesline which I keep in my camping box at home, stretches to fit your space and the hooks can be fastened to door knobs, towel racks, curtain rods, etc. The design eliminates the need for clothes pins. Be careful when doing laundry in hotels or hostels. Do not hang dripping wet clothes over carpeting, wood floors or tile. The water can create a slip hazard on tile, make the carpet smell and ruin wood floors. I like to hang it over the tub until it's done dripping completely then stretch it out over a bigger space to finish drying. I chose a small laundry bag for each person because I didn't want to add extra bags on travel days. Each person had one bag or backpack  of clothing and the cinch sack compressed to fit the bag and kept clean and dirty laundry separate. The Tide To Go pen works amazingly well. Treat the stain when the item of clothing is removed at the end of the day and when you do your laundry, you won't have to scrub much at all. If you're a traveling in the states, it's handy to take several rolls of quarters to make laundry day easier.

Hand washed laundry at our hotel in The Black Forest of Germany.

At our house in Switzerland.  Sorry Mom, I know you taught me to not show my underwear. ;)

Sink stopper and sink at our hotel in Zurich.

Prices for hotel laundry in Zurich.  I saved $18 by hand washing three tee-shirts that night. Does anyone actually pay that?!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Traveling Light Part 2 (toiletries)


Whether you are checking baggage or doing carry on luggage only, you’ll want to take the least amount of toiletries possible.  If you run out, chances are, you can buy what you need at your destination.  America isn't the only country that sells toothpaste. :)
There are many people who choose to buy all of their toiletries at their destination. This is certainly something you may want to consider. Especially if you plan to be there for an extended length of time. The main benefit of doing it this way is that you can check less and don't have to worry about restrictions on liquids. Personally, I prefer to pack all of my toiletries. In our recent,  three week trip, we carried all of our toiletries on board with us and didn't check any baggage so the tips you'll find below, reflect this strategy.  My reasons for taking all of my toiletries are these: I know what works for my hair and skin, and don't want to spend my vacation buying toiletries in a place where I may not be able to interpret the label.  I'd much rather put thought into it before, and use my vacation time for climbing mountains or bathing in the sea, rather than looking for shaving cream at a drugstore.

1. Remember the 3-1-1 rule when carrying liquids or pastes in hand luggage.  (Paste includes things like peanut butter.) All liquids must be in containers that are 3 oz or less, in 1 zip top bag, 1 bag per person. There are exceptions for prescription medications, and baby formula. And remember that you need to remove this bag and place it in a plastic bin at security, so don't pack it at the bottom of your bag. You  can check the TSA website for any questions you have on this rule.
2. Each person may carry one safety razor. I was shocked by this because I was under the impression that no razors could be carried on board. So if you're attached to your Venus razor like I am, or Schick, Gillette, etc….don't let this deter you from traveling carry-on only.  Initially, when planning our trip, I was stumped on this one. I didn't want to buy a razor on vacation because one,  I already have a razor…two, razors are expensive and three, there is no razor like a Venus razor. ;) I was happy to discover that I could carry it with me. Straight razors are banned.
3. Choose solids or powder over liquids.  You can find almost every kind of toiletry in solid form.  Here are a few ideas to get you started; Sunscreen can be bought in solid form, antibacterial wipes versus liquid, Shea butter stick instead of liquid lotion, bar soap,  shampoo bar,  powdered foundation, stick concealer, powder eyeliner or a pencil, versus liquid liner, solid deodorant instead of liquid roll on, powdered laundry detergent, versus liquid, soften sheets for laundry instead of liquid. You can even find Pepto bismol in tablet form! This list goes on, but you get the idea.
4. Ziploc's, Ziplocs, Ziplocs! I'll keep repeating this because these are a life  saver and have a million uses. The zip top bags you pack your toiletries in to travel, may be worn out before the return trip so take extra in case you have to bring some toiletries back with you. Which brings me to my next point.
5. Figure out how much shampoo, conditioner, etc that your family uses and take only that. If you start guessing, you may end up with half of what you need or bring back ¾ of your toiletries. Here's how I did it: Buy refillable 3 oz bottles or trial size versions of what you plan to take. Write the date on the bottom with a Sharpie and have your family use from these bottles in the following days. When the product is gone, check the date and you'll you know how many oz your family uses in x amount of days. I found this extremely helpful.  This technique helped me figure out how many ounces of contact solution, shaving cream, shampoo, conditioner, etc that my family uses in a week. I had one ounce of shampoo left and two ounces of conditioner left when we returned. It works, and it's worth it. Just do it. :)  Take notes for future trips, so you don't have to repeat these steps.
6. Don't assume that trial size is best.  Unless you're only going on a weekend trip, as a single person or couple, you might  want to check into refillable, three ounce bottles or check for products in the main health and beauty section of the store. Here's an example of what I'm talking about;  I knew we planned to not check any baggage. So when I started estimating how many trial sized tooth paste tubes we'd have to take, I was a little shocked. Trial sized toothpaste tubes have about half an ounce of paste. Three weeks, five people…not gonna happen. So I searched the toothpaste isle for toothpaste, with a product volume as a close as I could get, to three ounces. I discovered that Crest made a toothpaste in a 2.7 ounce tube. Two tubes of this takes up a LOT less room than 6-8 trial sized tubes. Check around. You'll be surprised at how many products you can find in the regular isles of the store that fit the 3-1-1 rule.  Another plus to skipping “travel sized” toiletries is that you will pay less per ounce.
7. Consider leaving some of your luxury items at home. Skipping face cream for three weeks, and leaving hair spray or liquid foundation at home, isn't the end of the world. I chose to take a few make up items along and leave some behind, but I don't own a lot of make up anyway so this was no real hard ship. Take what you need to feel confident, but remember that you going to have fun and relax, not to win a beauty pageant or impress other tourists. :)
8. Remove excess packaging. This may seem obvious, but I'll mention it anyway, because it's important.  Remove any cardboard or plastic that isn't needed. We tend to generate enough trash on the plane or in the car.  Anything you can eliminate, will make your luggage lighter, more compact and you'll have less trash to deal with. Instead of taking a plastic travel sized box of q-tips, remove them and put them in a snack sized Ziploc. You'll be surprised at how much space you gain by doing this!
9. How you choose to transport your toiletries is up to you. (Outside of the 3-1-1 rule) I highly recommend choosing a toiletry bag that you can hang from a hook or bar, and one that has multiple compartments. This make it easier to store and access your toiletries.

10. Use what you've tried and products that you know will work for you. Vacation is not a good time to try out a new moisturizer or shampoo.  You may find that you hate the smell, it doesn't clean your hair or skin well, or you have a bad a reaction to the product.

I am including some pictures of how we stored and used travel toiletries, as a means of illustration. I would love to hear any additional travel tips you have to add!

The picture above is a picture of my toiletry bag, the one below is John's. Each person in our family had a Ziploc bag of liquid/paste toiletries in their hand luggage.  Here are the four we took, in addition to a bag of pouches/single serve peanut butter. (essential for a peanut butter addict!) All of our toiletries were stored in these two toiletry bags, with the exception of the extra saline, shampoo, etc. We kept only one shampoo, one conditioner, one saline in our toiletry bags, at a time. In addition to these, I had a stick of shea butter, lip balm and face wipes in my carry-on.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Traveling Light Part 1

As many of you know, our family spent three weeks in Southern Europe this summer.  As I planned and searched the Internet for traveling tips, I realized that travel has changed a lot in the last decade. Most airlines no longer serve meals or even a small bag of peanuts, to their passengers. Baggage restrictions have increased and we now have to pay baggage fees on most domestic flights.  I became increasingly aware, that traveling with three children was going to take a lot of preparation. There are literally, thousands of packing videos on YouTube and many blog posts dedicated to the subject. However, most of them seem to be geared toward adult travel and not so much, toward children and families.
I am planning a 3-4 part series on packing and traveling light.  It will not be specifically for families,  but will include a lot of family-related travel tips. I will be referencing air-travel quite a bit, but most of these tips can be applied to road trips as well.  Packing light is always a good idea!

Why travel light?
I think we've all experienced baggage overload. Struggling through the airport with giant suitcases full of stuff, sweating and straining our way through customs or airport security, and mentally kicking ourselves for packing so much.  I remember traveling to Haiti, as a teenager.   I maxed out the 'two checked baggage, one carry one and one purse' rule.  My luggage was absolutely stuffed, with clothing and toiletries. For a two week trip. How could anyone possibly need so much stuff for two weeks? Somehow I thought that bringing more would help me have a better experience.  Needless to say, I've come a long way since then. Our entire family traveled to Europe with less luggage than I took on that trip. The dilemma we face when packing, is that we fear not having what we need or that we didn't bring the right things.
One thing is sure.  If you throw a bunch of stuff in a suitcase and bring everything you could possibly need, you will too much of “not the right stuff”.
So let's get started with packing tip number one, shall we?

#1. Plan ahead, make lists, and do your research.
I can't stress this enough.  There is no such thing as too much travel preparation, especially when traveling with small children.  Check the weather/climate for your destination. Make lists of things you want to bring and update them as you get closer to your departure date. Check the baggage restrictions for your airline.  How many bags can you bring, what can be carried on? What items fit the 3-1-1 rule? Are there fees on checked baggage?  If so, is it more economical to not check a bag and buy some items at your destination? Can you rent a car seat or stroller at your destination? I knew a year ahead of time, that we would be taking this trip.  I began research immediately. And it was none too soon. If you have time to think and prepare, you will make better decisions. If you wait until a month before departure, you will not have time to test out items you may want to bring, and if you purchase the wrong item, you may not have time to return it and/or find a better one. Check Amazon for reviews on packing cubes, travel games, etc…there are many places, you can gleans tips and information on travel related items.
Traveling light, pertains not only to physical objects but mental clutter as well.  Arrange for pet or plant care, house sitter, mail, bill paying, trash pick-up etc, ahead of head of time. That way you can leave for vacation in a more peaceful state of mind. I like to make very detailed “to do” and “to buy” lists. I don't  have to worry about forgetting anything because it's all written down to the last thing I do, before I walk out the door.  No returning to stinky garbage, moldy food in the fridge, or an overflowing mailbox.

#2. Digitize
The more you can digitize, the less you have to carry.  If you plan on taking copies of passports or other important documents, which I highly recommend, scan them into some place like a Dropbox file, and you won't have to worry about losing the copy, or having it stolen.  You can access it from anywhere in the world, with Internet access.  Music, books, and movies are much safer on your phone or tablet.  They create no extra bulk or weight.  Another thing to consider, is scanning a copy of your eye prescription,  if you have contact lenses or glasses.  If the unthinkable happens, you won't have to walk around half blind for the rest of your trip, because you can find an optometrist and order a pair of glasses or contacts. Obviously, you can also take an extra pair of contacts (recommended) but you will have that scanned copy as back up.  If you plan on sending postcards to friends and family back home, make a list of all the addresses you need, on your phone.  Basically, anything that can be digitized, will save you time, space and weight.  You won't have to keep track of it, organize, repack or carry it.

#3. Tag ALL of your luggage
This is more of a general packing tip and not specifically related to packing light. If your luggage gets lost or your carry-on bag gets left behind, checked on the wrong flight or delayed, your chances of recovering that item will be greatly increased if you have your name, physical address, email address, and phone number attached to it.

#4.  Choose your luggage, based on your own personal needs.
I agonized over this one for hours.  Our airline (Iceland Air) had a maximum luggage allowance of 2 checked bags per person, one carry-on and a personal item (purse, laptop bag, etc).  Checked luggage was free so that did not play into our decision at all.  I knew that my number one goal, was to take as little as possible. There are many reasons for this, but the top three were: I did not want to be bothered with hauling, keeping track of/maintaining, or packing and re packing a gazillion things over the next three weeks.  We were going on vacation to have fun, not to make a fashion statement with a new outfit every day or to experience all the comforts of home.  And I knew my kids could not carry very much so it would be up to my husband and I to take care of 90% of our family's belongings. In the end, I decided on 1 carry-on piece per person, plus a purse for me and cross-body  bag for John.  On the way home we checked a suitcase that I found at a second hand store, filled with chocolate, wine and other goodies. :) We also checked two of the carry-on pieces we had brought. This worked out well and we were easily able to pack everything we needed in carry-on only luggage. The only downside was that even though our kids only had a small backpack to carry, they got tired of it.  So it ended up on the floor in security lines, or being drug around on the floor.  It was very nice to not have to go to baggage claims to wait for luggage or worry about our luggage getting lost. We had a three hour drive after arriving in Zurich, so I knew that delayed luggage would be a huge issue.  Checking in for our flight home, I knew that if our luggage got delayed, our airline would deliver checked baggage straight to our house at no cost to us.  Would I do it this way again? I'm on the fence. If we had to pay $40-60 per bag then YES. I am not paying hundreds of dollars to get my family’s clothing delivered to our destination! If it was only my husband and I traveling then it's a no brainer…I'd never check baggage. We are easily able to carry everything we need, whether it's a three day or one year trip.  With kids? If they are under the age of 6, I don't expect them to carry more than 2-5 lb.  Elementary age kids, it's a toss up.  My eight year old is extremely strong and tough.  He runs races, and his energy is boundless.  But he got tired of his back pack which weighed somewhere between 5-8 pounds. My ten year old is small, petite and she got tired of her backpack as well. Teenagers? There's no reason they couldn't physically carry their own luggage.  I think if I could do it over, I would check one piece of luggage for my kids and they wouldn't have to carry anything. Otherwise, I'd probably do the same thing.  Carrying everything you need, keeps you honest. You'll think twice before throwing in that “just-in-case” item. Lastly, go by your own research and instincts.  Don't throw in last minute items because other people in your group, or your cousin's best friend is doing it.  Get an overall sense of what has worked best for people in your situation, and don't go by one persons opinion on a YouTube travel channel.

In the next part, I will address toiletries, cosmetics and other hygiene items. It's an in-depth topic and worthy of its own post. :) Part three will address clothing, packing cubes and all things wardrobe-related. Part four will be a misc,  general packing tips post, covering things like travel pillows, snacks, etc…

Below, is a picture of our luggage cart, at the hotel before we left.  My husband knows how much time and research went into this, and named it, "Rachal's Masterpiece". :)

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Thoreauvian Summer

Words are easy.  Actions require energy, time and at least a certain level of commitment.
Summer vacation has been a great opportunity, to turn my words into actions and put my ideals into practice.
I've been excited about summer vacation, all Spring.  No lunches to pack, no getting up at 6:30 and stumbling around the house getting everyone out the door by 7:45. Lots of unscheduled, free time to play or work on projects….I pictured long, blissful summer days, filled with sunshine and fun.  Instead, we've have had days upon days of rain, dentist and doctor appointments, and reality is that I still have to cook, clean, and do laundry.  I was beginning to feel frustrated with myself, my family, and life in general. I  was suddenly hit with a revelation.  I could either stew in my frustration and anger all summer or I could take my ideals and creativity to the next level.
Most of you know I'm all about living simply, and with intention. Valuing people and experiences over material possessions…after all, that's what this (neglected) blog is all about. As a parent, I apply this to my parenting strategies.  My kids don't have a lot of toys, no Netflix, no X-box, no Wii, and no Cable. This doesn't mean they are screen free kids.  They watched way to much YouTube last winter, they play Minecraft, and we occasionally rent videos.  However, I believe that hands-on play, exploring outdoors, and spending time with friends and family, are important keys to giving my kids the tools they need to become healthy, stable, intelligent adults. But (here's the kicker) I also value personal space, and privacy and I'm an internal processor.  Sometimes, these two are in direct conflict.  Putting my kids on an electronic device can give me hours of alone time, or enable me to cook dinner. But it doesn't accomplish the goal of giving my kids real life experiences.
As kids get older, their needs change.  I can't give my 4, 8, and 10  year old, a basket of toys and expect them to be entertained all day. Their developing, inquisitive minds need to be fed and stimulated, and their bodies need to be challenged and moved to develop and grow. I  grew up on 5 acres, running and playing in the woods and creek. My Dad taught me to hunt and fish, and our family camped every summer.  I want my kids to have those same experiences.  Ideally, I would have my tiny house on 5 acres.  :) But reality is that I don't have those five acres, which requires more creativity and flexibility on my part.  The creativity is not so hard, the flexibility, ouch.  We have a small creek close to the house, but for all other outdoor fun, please see mom and her minivan. A.K.A. pack up all the kids, the snacks, the water bottles, and other gear, potty check, footwear check, and contraband check (iPad, library books, or breakable and fragile  objects).  This part of the process can be a big deterrent and keep even the most adventurous of us, safely at home in our air-conditioned houses. But what fun is that?!
Yesterday, we did some exploring and played by the river, Saturday we hiked in the rain, and last week we went swimming in the rain. We had lots of laundry, but our clothing dried, the mud washed off and bug bites will heal.  :)
#screenfreesummer hashtags don't mean my kids haven't had screen time in June. It’s a goal, not a purist accomplishment. Every  outdoor activity we  engage in, gets us closer to that goal.  Next time you feel the urge to start Netflix, pause, take a deep breath, and ask yourself what you're replacing.  If your sanity is at stake, then by all means, start that Lego movie! But if you're making a decision out of habit or by default, consider all the adventures that await you.  There are snail fossils to find, butterflies to chase, rivers to swim, hills to climb, and crayfish to catch.  The sun is waiting to kiss your skin, and a whole world out there, is waiting to be discovered. :)