People are always asking about our top tips for family travel, so I thought I would put this list together about the top ten things that we are most glad that we have done or brought along with us.
1) The top tip is to use an RV which we find really the best way to travel as a family. We have not tried it yet on other continents ( besides North America including Mexico) but it has been an incredible way to go in Europe and we are so thrilled with it that we are excited to try it on other continents. I have talked to others who have traveled by motor home in Africa, South America, Australia, New Zealand and even around the world who have also been thrilled. We tend to stay in campgrounds, but one can save even more money by wild camping. If you are outside the high season, even luxury campgrounds can be very cheap like eight euros a night in June or September in Portugal or eleven for Barcelona at the beach, even less for a long stay. Put bikes on the back for even greater freedom and fun. We bought our 3 in Europe along with a seat for Mozart on back of dad's for high traffic areas.
I love this article from Transitions Abroad written by a tour guide who has tried every possible way of travel. Cynthia Harriman, author of Taking your Kids to Europe also highly recommends this route for families. Surprisingly, the small space is not that hard to adjust to and if you go slow, it is also not very expensive for gas as one is often taking mass transit, bikes, even long ferry rides which saves tremendously. We have traveled all over Europe, but have not put that many miles on our vehicle (20K miles so far). We do add some hotels, pensions and rent a car occasionally, which breaks it up from time to time, since we spend seven months straight traveling in the RV. It is great for a family to be able to just pack once primarily, do most of their own cooking and carry their "home" with them.
2) We love the seven months of slow travel in the RV combined with 5 months of deeper immersion in a rental home. If one can do it for more than one winter and in an area where it is warm, where one can walk to everything or take mass transit, that adds to the convenience. If one can find it off season, it will also help greatly with costs.
I just googled holiday rentals and looked at lots of links like this ( randomly picked for an example) and contacted people about winter monthly rentals as I knew most would be open and the price for monthly is usually less or similar to weekly rates in busier times. I highly recommend a village house rather than a country house because you can connect with the villagers better, not be so isolated and can walk to everything or take mass transit. I picked several possibilities which helped me to negotiate the best price and deal. I found it all on the internet and paid just 600 euros a month our first winter for a 4 bedroom, ocean view, 2 terraced village house on the main street and a similar one the second winter which was even easier. Southern Spain is the warmest with tons available, but the same can be done in France or Italy (I would stay as far south as possible in winter) or anywhere.
3) We love the travel vest for kids. Mozart was only 30 lbs when we left, so needed to be in a car seat or booster seat. Luckily we found this online and it has been great for the RV and is also handy to use in rental cars or taxi's when we use them.
4) Microfiber towels. These are spectacular in many ways and this is the brand we bought in the neutral colors of gray and dark blue. I was not sure if they would be really useful when I bought them,but they have been worth their weight in gold for our kind of travel. We have been very happy with ours, but I have seen others with these which are more terry-like instead of like our fake suede types and costs less. They have multiple uses and can be used as a blanket, sarong, beach towels to lay on or shawl. They are great for drying long hair quickly or hand washed clothes. They take a little getting use to after terry, but are amazing at how quickly they dry and how much water they can absorb. We have one terry one for Mozart's beach towel and it is horrible in comparison. With these we can take a shower in the morning, hang them to dry on the outside mirrors while we have breakfast and they are dry by the time we leave. We love this long, super fast drying washcloth from Japan too which is textured, extra long, softer and more sanitary than loofah, more effective than a washcloth.
5)Smart wool socks. DaVinci and I have been basically wearing one pair of socks for almost two years now, so we are avid fans of smart wool socks which are great for walking, prevent blisters, remain cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Mozart had a pair too, but somehow we lost them. We got them on sale and definitely got our money's worth.
6) Laptops and Skype free calls. We basically lead a digital life, so find laptops absolutely essential for mobile lifestyle. We use them for communication with family and friends via email and webcam skype calls, for the blog, tracking expenses, banking, investments, schooling for Mozart, e-books and e-libraries, watching movies, handling photos, making videos and more. We have two Macs and a Vaio PC and this combination really works well for us as sometimes one is needed over the other, although we use the Macs more than anything. We did not buy travel size and have had no problem with that with our lifestyle, even when we carry them with us on our extended daypack tours. This Targus backpack is an excellent sturdy backpack to use for computers, we love it! This is the small mobile printer we use and love.
7)Garman GPS. We had never used a GPS device before our trip and now we are addicted as they really save you lots of time. We bought the best model that was available when we left in 2006. We bought it in Amsterdam (has a different number there) as that was the best deal for us as it came with European maps and we do not need the American maps now. It is not perfect and it is important to have a travel map to have an idea where you are going in case there is an error (we use a European travel map book that we found for free at the beginning of our trip). It makes life so much easier when driving in foreign lands and we miss it terribly in the rare countries where it does not work. It can be used in the car and also hand held for hiking.
8a) Exofficio clothes. We like all clothes that pack easy, take up little space, are comfortable, wash and dry quickly by hand, are versatile and last forever. We have been thrilled with Exofficio clothes which fit all of these plus are also often bug resistant, wrinkle resistant, odor resistant, and stain resistant. DaVinci's basic wardrobe consists of 3 pairs of Exofficio pants, 2 of their shirts, a sweater, sweatshirt and 2 pairs of underwear. He has been wearing this for almost two years and always looks great. The black pants look totally appropriate at the opera or on a hiking trail. Mozart also has some buzz off exoffico clothes which she sometimes uses even to sleep in to avoid mosquito bites.
b) Other clothes items that have been great decisions are our 3 down-like black vests, Mozart's is a lifesaver that we alway put in our pack in case it gets cold before we return. It is in a size 4, so I hope I can find another to replace it. Her waterproof black boots have also been great as well as her crocks for hot weather as she can easily get them on and off, yet they are more supportive for walking than flip-flops. SAS shoes have been great for DaVinci, but I was a little less thrilled with mine and supplement them with my Berkenstock sandals. I finally wore out my favorite pair of pants which were black gaucho pants that could be worn on any occasion or weather. Black is definitely the color de rigueur for family travelers, even for young ones. We picked up a very basic black sweater for Mozart in a hypermarket in France that has also been indispensable and worn more than anything, sometimes topped by the black vest.
9) Have someone at home for a snail mail address and to send things or handle any unforeseen problems. My mother and both our sisters have helped us in this area. Much of this has been for Mozart for books or presents or comfort things for us all like maple syrup, vitamins we like and baggies. So a lot of it is not essential, but it helps to have someone at home who can keep an eye on things. We get very little snail mail, but it is handy especially at tax or Christmas time, to have a helper or two. One can use a mail service, but family works best for us since there is little to deal with.
10) Personal relationship with your banker and investments. We consolidated most of our investments and finances to a domestic bank, international bank and a direct brokerage company that we manage ourselves. We have a contact person with each of the banks which tends to make things go much more smoothly. We saw the problems with the U.S. dollar coming, so we chose to use mostly different currencies and various ways to hedge against that trend since we knew we would be in Europe for a while. If one is going to do extensive travel or mobile living for years, it is wise to be aware of trends and make plans accordingly if at all possible. Being able to pay bills online will be essential as well as means to do that safely like using a VPN.
Jump in, the water is wonderful! Make your own plan for extended family travel. I will be writing more on this topic.