When we got orders to Germany 2 years ago, we knew we wanted to make travel a priority. Both Nick and I have wandering souls and we wanted to make sure our kids got a chance to see how big and beautiful this world is (nevermind that they were 1, 3 and 5 when we moved here). We’ve traveled throughout Germany, and well as internationally, which is a huge feat given…you know…RONA. From day trips to week long adventures, we’ve learned a few tricks and tips to make travel—and life—easier.
Here in the Clark house, we love a good day trip! Whether we’re visiting palaces, hiking to ruins or exploring a new city, sometimes we just need a change of scenery for a day. We set a 3-hour drive ratio for these trips, which works well for us since we have DVD player in our minivan.
- Clean the house The day before a trip, we get clean the house and get all the laundry done. While this may seem a bit silly, it really helps my anxious soul to relax, knowing I’m coming home to a clean house (even if it’s just a day trip).
- Plan wake up, leave times In Germany, most places don’t open until 10am. We usually plan to be there right when they open, then walk back the times to make a loose itinerary. Pro tip: Add in 15-30 mins for traffic, depending on your area. For example, if we’re going to Ludwigburg Residential Palace, which opens at 10am and it takes 1 hr 15 min to get there, we round up to a 1.5 hour drive, so we need to leave by 8:30. To make sure we have time to wake up, eat and get ready we usually try to give ourselves (i.e. the kids) at least an hour between wake up and leaving, so we need to be up and moving by 7:30.
- Plan return time + any must dos We try not to eat out for dinner if we can avoid it because 3 tired kids in a restaurant is no one’s idea of a good time. Plus it gets expensive to eat out with a family of 5, especially when the kids refuse to eat the same thing, so they can’t split a meal. With this in mind, we try to plan to be home around 5-5:30pm. Again we work backwards and add in time for traffic to plan when we need to leave. Going of the example above, we would need to leave around 3:30-4pm. This gives us an idea of how long we have so we can plan any must-dos or detours for the trip. Some trips don’t have must-dos, but are close to something else we want to see. It seems counterintuitive, but knowing how long we have helps us stay more relaxed and in the moment.
- Plan dinner We usually plan an easy meal or something we can throw in the crock pot before we leave. Knowing we don’t have put in a ton of effort for dinner when we’re all tired is another huge load off. Plus, we can get dinner on the table fast so bedtime isn’t delayed too long. Some of our favorite day trip dinners include: chicken patty sandwiches, pulled chicken or pork, tortellini soup, and grilled cheese.
- Pack the bag When Vara was still in diapers, this mostly meant double checking the diaper bag and putting in the van. Nowadays, we usually carry a backpack with our passports, raincoats, sunscreen, bug spray and my camera gear. Depending on the weather and where we’re going this could also mean packing a bag with towels, bathing suits and/spare clothes.
- Clean, fuel and stock the van I can’t tell you how many times we’ve gotten everyone packed into the van and realized we only have 1/3 of a tank of gas. Not a great start to the day. Now, we make sure to gas up the night before, which for us means driving to the base with a gas station—conveniently located next to the food court with a Taco Bell and a block away from the commissary. I usually grab a Monster for Nick and make sure we have quick breakfast options—Greek yogurt, pancake-on-a-stick, breakfast burritos—and plenty of snacks for the trip. I also take a few minutes to clean out the van, getting rid of any trash, masks, toys, headbands, etc. that may have been left, dusting off the dashboard, and vacuuming up the crumbs and dirt. It just feels more peaceful and special to travel in a clean vehicle…like we got a rental.
- Bedtime We all lay out our clothes for the next day, to make the morning easier. After the kids go to bed Nick + I put the travel backpack by the door, fill up water bottles, and pack the snacks/lunches for the trip. I also prep my coffee pot, because…mornings. We usually go to bed a bit early, so we can get plenty of sleep and not feel cranky and tired the next day.
- Morning routine We start the day with our typical morning routine, which usually means I’m up first to have my coffee in peace before everyone gets up and I go into mom mode. Once the kids are up, they get dressed and make their beds while I get breakfast together (i.e. heat it up in the microwave or pour it in a bowl). Then it’s off to brush hair and teeth, go potty and get shoes one. While this sounds super fast, it’s inevitable that there will be at least one meltdown and couple play distractions, which is why we allot at least an hour.
- Off and running When it’s time to leave we grab the backpack and head to the car. I make sure the snacks are within my reach, since Nick usually drives. We let the kids choose a movie and double check that we have everything before we leave. Depending on how far we’re going, I give the kids a snack about half way there or 30 minutes out, to stave off any boredom/hunger complaints. We try make sure we can enjoy some exploring before we need lunch.
- Lunchtime Lunch always look different depending on where we go. If we’re hiking to ruins, it’s sandwiches or meat, cheese + pretzels. Exploring cities and castles, we usually find a nearby café that has a kid’s menu. In Strasbourg, France it was a café/bakery with Nutella crepes for the kids and tarte flambee for Nick & I. In Nuremburg, Germany we ate Nuremburg sausages and potato salad while the kids split a plate of chicken nuggets and fries.
- Heading home When it’s time to head back, by kids have 2 modes: complaining and wanting to stay or done…with…it. When we get in the car, we give them a snack, take of their shoes and choose another movie to watch on the way back. There’s a 95% chance all 3 will fall asleep at some point. We always make it a point to share what our favorite part of the day was, which has lead to some interesting insights.
- Back home Once we’re home, it’s showers, dinner, a little play time and then bed. I try to clean out the van so we don’t have trash or crumbs all over, but depending on the day I may put it off until the next day. We unload the backpack and put our souvenir magnet (we get one for every new city/castle we visit) on the fridge. If we have muddy/dirty clothes, I get them in the wash right away.
When we started our family, we heard so many people say that we wouldn’t be able to travel anymore. Honestly, it’s complete bullshit. Sure we have to plan things out a bit more, but there’s no reason we can’t still go place and enjoy living abroad. And honestly, with COVID restrictions and closures, we wouldn’t be able to just go anywhere at the drop of hat anyway.
Do our kids go a bit crazy and run through allies like a Dickens character? Yes. Do they look at us like we’re crazy when we tell them they have to try new foods? Absolutely. Have they caused a seen on a train, bus, or plane? You betcha! We’ve learned to embrace the chaos and ignore the judgements (mostly), and you know what? We love traveling as a family and getting to share these experiences! There’s nothing that lights me up more than watching my kids play “Adventure Girls” as they explore ruins or run through a castle garden. They’re only young once and these days are going by too fast not to enjoy them.