"Congratulations! Your Travel Days Are Over..."

How many times were we told that Selima would bring the end of our travel lives? Too many to count. People would say "you did it right. You got your traveling out of the way before children". As if when the she came out, there would be this invisible barrier that prevented us from walking out the front door of our house. Or even worse, when people found out we were having a baby they would say "Well, I guess you're traveling days are over!". As if that little embryo crawled up Kailah's uterus and flipped the ol' "travel switch" permanently to off. Honestly, it was disheartening. But it was also motivating. And fortunately for us, we made the commitment to each other to continue to do what we love.

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Selima has now been to 4 countries (Iceland, Switzerland, Austria and Germany), California, Washington and Texas. She's flown on 10 different airplanes. Chugged along on over 25 trains. And walked (or been carried) tens of thousands of steps. Kailah and I are proud of ourselves.

I say all of this, to say…that it has also been hard. We'll be the first to admit that travel is far from the same with a baby or toddler…not to mention if you have multiple. There are minimal dinners out past 5 PM (unless we invite grandparents on the trip!). Rather than sightseeing, or enjoying a relaxing glass of wine on our balcony, we very well might find ourselves at the park in town swinging and sliding. What it comes down to is that we would rather be traveling with Selima, than not traveling at all.

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Many people have asked us how we've "done it". How have we continued our love for visiting foreign lands, with a baby (and now toddler) in tow. For those that do travel with their kids, they know that there isn't a single answer to that question. We are all different people, with different children and since our kids are constantly growing, we are always traveling with a new version of our child. So how the heck can we help others by providing advice? We can only do our best to try.

Instead of listening to me babble on about in-flight tactics and travel planning with kids, I think it's best to talk about our high level mindset (however, don’t hesitate to email us at travelplanning@nowhereonearth.com for any specific questions!). The entire ordeal of travel, from a difficulty standpoint, is really all psychological. If we were traveling alone, we would deal with most of the same stress that we do with Selima, but with her getting added to the mix exaggerates those worries. For example, after a long day of flying, the last thing you want to do is stand in a line for two hours at customs. When you add a screaming child to said line, the anxiety can sky rocket.

So how do we do it? We start by booking the flights…

Well "duh" Kyle. Everyone knows that. But seriously, it's literally one of the most difficult things we do. When we commit ourselves to hundreds (if not thousands) in airfare, it creates a pretty damn good motivator to follow through. It also does something more important. It starts the ball rolling. It represents action and commitment. There is such a huge difference between planning a trip that we have purchased flights for and planning a trip we haven't. Especially when traveling abroad.

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The next part is discipline. And this really starts at a young age. When 4 month old Selima was screaming in her crib and had been for 30 minutes, we watched with frantic, weary eyes from the baby monitor. All we wanted to do was go in there and pick her up. But the doctor said she'd learn to put herself to sleep. 10 minutes later…she was out like a light. It seems small, but it's this level of discipline that is so helpful for us when traveling. It helped prepare us, and Selima. When you know that screaming baby is ready to close her eyes for the remaining 7 hours of a flight and you just have to fight through the next 20 minutes of bouncing, shushing, screaming and crying…it gets easier, and less stressful. This goes for more than just tired babies. Once you've learned to keep pushing through, that cancelled flight, or two hour wait in customs doesn't seem so bad. Last week in Switzerland, my phone stopped functioning (thank you Selima for punching it repeatedly), Amazon compromised our credit card (and then did it again 2 weeks later) and somehow we got separated at the train station in Bern. I literally watched in disbelief as my wife and daughter drove by me on a bullet train headed for Interlaken, while I stood on the platform. These types of things would be stressful at home, within our comfort zone. But in a foreign country? …Only if we allow it…

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The final piece when traveling with children, in my opinion, is "expectation versus reality". We do not travel with the expectation that we will be able to follow our plans. We ALREADY KNOW that kids AND travel are unpredictable. So we set that expectation in our PLAN. If we convince ourselves that one dinner out on the entire trip would be "nice", then two dinners is a bonus! (plus, shopping for local foods and sampling them at your apartment rental is a blast and cheaper). If we want to see multiple sights in one day, then we might leave the next day open. If the first day's plan goes awry, no problem! The moral of the story is that we will do less, but still more than if we were at home. We just need to be sure to set our expectations correctly.

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To tie it all together, the key to travel with kids is really like doing anything else in life. It's a combination of the “why”, our discipline and expectation versus reality. We do it because it's WORTH the effort to us, we remain disciplined to push through the difficult times and we set our expectations correctly. If we do these things, we are at least setting ourselves up for success. The rest is just noise. Usually screaming…

 

Kyle

Booking Airfare: Why is price relative? Our guide to choosing flights.

Whenever someone tells me that they found "cheap" flights to a destination, especially abroad, I immediately question the value. It blows my mind in our culture how we get so focused on price when making a buying decision and blind to everything else. Cars, consumer electronics, vacations, clothes - you name it and we let companies manipulate us to their advantage when we put on our purchasing blinders. The same goes for airplane tickets. There are so many variables when it comes to flights that price should only be a piece of the pie and far from the most important slice. For me, flying sets the tone for a trip and enhances the travel experience. Instead of thinking of it as a burden, I try and optimize my time and in-flight journey, so that I enjoy myself and arrive as rested as possible. Balancing this experience with cost is the key to buying airfare. Here are the things I consider when booking in order to maximize the value for my money. 

 

1. Number of stops and duration of travel

This one's easy. Avoid long and multiple layovers when booking. You're time is the most important and valuable asset when travelling. One stopover alone introduces risk into our schedules when flying, however it is generally necessary in order to reach specific destinations, or make a trip financially feasible (remember, cost isn't everything, but it certainly is part of the equation). However, two stops is only worth it in a small percentage of bookings (ie HUGE savings, or remote locations). At the end of the day, is $100 worth it to you to lower your risk of missing a third flight and sacrificing a day of your vacation? The same goes for length of layover and length of flights. I am careful when choosing because I want to avoid 3+ hour layovers and flights that take me WAY out of my way for my destination. For example, if I was traveling to London, it wouldn't make sense for me to save a couple hundred bucks to travel through Istanbul with a long layover. I'll fork over the extra money in a heartbeat, in order to get my vacation started sooner. 

2. Service

When you see negative airline reviews, this is usually the cause. In my mind, there are a few reasons for this. I'll touch on two in this section and then the third will be mentioned in #4, the legroom section. I wanted to mention legroom here because for many reviews that I have read, comfort is a major driver of service and sets the tone for a flight. It doesn't really matter how great the service is, if people aren't comfortable, airlines are going to get a lousy review (Google Air Canada Rouge reviews).

As for the other two drivers of service, I'm talking about availability of food/beverages and overall customer service. The first seems obvious, but we have actually flown on a 10 hour flight where all they served were snacks (Again, Google Air Canada Rouge). When we went to order our dinners (commonly complimentary on long haul flights) we found out that not only did they not provide the free meals, we couldn't even order them if we paid. This was a major bummer, especially for a 20-week-along pregnant woman :). Needless to say, I do a little research about what is offered on flights before I book them. Meals? Complimentary beverages? Snacks? And then if the price is still too good to pass up, we simply plan ahead by bringing plenty of food with us. Something of note here, when we flew Emirates to Thailand, we were served all complimentary meals, snacks and drinks in economy. Not only did we receive free meals, we were presented with a menu prior to serving, so that we could choose what we wanted to eat. Now that is service in the sky! 

Overall customer service isn't generally something we think about when flying. If you are strictly a domestic flyer, this may not be on your radar because the flights are too short for you to get hungry or thirsty more than once (with the exception of cross country legs). But on 6-7+ hour day flights, it's a huge kudos to service when food and beverage are at your disposal. Not to mention if they are high quality items that taste good too. To take it a step further, imagine if the staff also welcomed you with a smile and treated you like the loyal customer base that you are. Now that is service. On our 7 hour Emirates flight from Dubai to Bangkok, we sat in the front exit row seat in economy (see #4 for tips on getting exit row seats) and our stewardess went above and beyond to ensure we had the best experience possible. Want water? Here's a 32 oz bottle and two cups to drink at your leisure. Hungry? Let me see if we have any more of those mini pizzas to snack on (she gave us 4). Oh it's the little things...

3. Entertainment

This is becoming less and less relevant, now that we all have laptops, tablets and phones when we travel. However, I think it is still worth a mention. Most long haul flights currently have seat back entertainment, including live TV, movies, music and games. I usually research and factor this in when making an airfare purchasing decision. I like to be able to pass the time when I can't sleep and there really isn't any better way to do so than watching a few movies. With that being said, I think most airlines will be transitioning to exclusively "stream your own device" from an entertainment standpoint. This really won't be a burden on the passenger, as we all have our own devices already. The key will be to make sure that the flights we book offer these internet and streaming opportunities free of charge. 

4. Legroom

For us "tall drinks of water", this one is big. When I book a flight, I always search for flights on a third party site such as Kayak, Orbitz, Skyscanner etc. Once I decide on my flight, I then go directly to the airlines website and run the same parameter search. Generally, the price is exactly the same. So what is the advantage you might ask? With most companies (no not Southwest), you can then choose your seat on the aircraft. You generally aren't able to do this on the third party site. In addition to seat selection, you can pay a fee to sit in an exit row. When Kailah and I flew to Greece, through Montreal, we paid $100 a seat for exit rows. Sounds expensive? Trust me my tall friends, on a 10 hour flight, you will be kicking yourself if you don't cough up the extra cash. If this strategy falls flat (usually because of a specific airline's seating operations), I arrive at the airport 3 hours before the flight because this is when the ticket counter opens. At this point, no one else has been assigned the exit rows because I am first in line. I then ask the gate agent for an exit row seat and secure my legroom. Ticket in hand, it's time for a beer! 

5. Plane size:

This one actually holds little weight, but I figured it was worth bringing up. I check the size of the plane before I book long haul flights (6-7+ hours). As a timid flyer, I like to know that I'm flying on a larger plane for a couple reasons. First, I've read that you feel less turbulence on large planes, so why not? Second, I like the freedom to be able to get up and move about comfortably. It's nice to be able to have the extra space to stand and stretch at your leisure and not be in the way of food/drink carts, or other passengers. In fact, on some of the 777s and A380s we've flown on, there are large open areas that several passengers at once can stand when they are sick of sitting. 

6. Price:

Alright, alright. Price holds its weight as well. We all have budgets when we travel and depending on the length of your stay, flights can be a large portion of the expense. Since time is more important than money for me, I balance all of the other factors above against dollars. What am I willing to pay for the flights that meet my criteria (layovers, flight duration, seats/legroom, service, entertainment, plane size). Am I willing to sacrifice any of these variables for my hard earned money? These are the questions I ask myself before booking airfare. On every. Single. Trip.

 

As you can see, we put significant thought into our flights because they bookend our itineraries and set the foundation for our adventures. At the end of the day, a flight strategy is defined by the traveler. What balance is right for you and your budget? If you need help deciding, we would be more than happy to talk through your plans with you. Simply fill out the contact page or shoot us an email directly at kyle@nowhereonearth.com.

Happy flying!

Kyle

 

Packing: 16 days, 2 countries, 1 backpack

We packed one backpack each when we visited Ireland and Italy in April for 16 days.

Why?

Because on our first trip to Italy we broke every travel packing rule known to man. Here were a few of our grossly overloaded stats:

- 2 large suitcases, 1 medium suitcase, 2 carry ons and 1 camera bag (7 bags?!?)

- 20 pairs of shoes (I won't tell who brought the majority...)

- 15 pairs of clothes each

- a blow dryer, hair straightener, beard trimmer, tablet and laptop (trimmer and blow dryer got fried on day 2 - thanks to poor 220V conversion)

In addition, we packed so inefficiently that while we were sitting in the Rome train station, we were able to re-arrange one of the large suitcases and fit the medium one inside of it. Mind blowing. 

So like good humans, we learned. We vowed to never travel like that again. Especially given our travel style - going location to location - it made moving by train, plane and automobile formidable at best. In fact, we decided to swing the pendulum so far, we would only allow ourselves one travel style backpack per person. 

 

Our packing philosophy: The question is not "how do we shove as much as possible into a smaller bag?". Instead, our goal is to make less go further by packing as efficiently as possible. We can wear shorts more than once. We can wear sneakers to dinner instead of dress shoes. We can even do our laundry. The idea is to think practically and not get caught going down the "what-if" scenario rat hole. There will always be a time where a raincoat is convenient, or a pair of pleated slacks would look nice at dinner. The truth is, street vendors everywhere will be begging to sell a $7 umbrella and the best restaurants don't require dress clothes. Moral of the story, we pack light and worry about the rest when we get there. It never fails that Kailah "conveniently" forgets items at home, which leaves room in her suitcase for the return journey...

Our gear: The travel bags that we use are Rick Steve's Europe brand, but there are many others on the market. We use these packs because they offer adequate space, useful pockets, compression straps and arm straps which allow us to wear them like a traditional backpack. They can also be compressed down to "carry-on" size for air travel, which means we never wait at the baggage claim and our bags never get lost on a layover. This can be a pretty big win when we don't feel like hunting down a shopping mall on our first day of travel. At the same time (and as you can imagine), some of our most memorable experiences seem to happen when we unexpectedly need something in a foreign culture - so we don't stress! Last but not least, backpacks are just plain convenient - they are easier to maneuver on and off trains, they fit into the trunks of those tiny European rental cars and they make walking from transport to transport a breeze.

Kyle's list: As an example, here is what I would pack nowadays for a week in Italy in June. Notice how simple it is. The most important items are probably my trip documents, as I generally can't reproduce those.

- Toiletries (toothbrush, tooth paste, floss, razor, deodorant and Q-tips). We either use the soap/shampoo from our accommodations, or buy these things when we get there.  

- 7 days worth of socks and underwear. If we are going for longer than 7 days, laundry is in our future (or shopping - This past April I got a few pair of local wool socks from a shop in Dingle, Ireland)

- 3 pairs of khaki shorts and 1 pair of dark jeans. Don't forget a belt!

- 7 t-shirts and 2 light golf shirts.

- 1 sweatshirt/sweater

- 1 pair of sport shorts for sleeping or relaxing.

- 1 pair of sandals and 1 pair of comfortable sneakers (I always wear the sneakers on the plane to save room in my bag). Sandals aren't necessary, but they take up minimal room and are easy to slip on and off around the accommodations.

- Power adapters specific to convert Italian outlets to 120V  (to charge cell phones, tablets etc)

- Lastly, I bring my camera bag as my carry-on and include any books or electronics I want for the plane ride, plus all documents that need to be brought along (train tickets, copies of passports, itinerary etc)

 

In our minds, our "learned" packing strategy is an integral part of enjoying our trip. The key is to not stress and as I alluded to earlier, it is the unexpected adventures that tend to leave us with the longest lasting impressions.  

Happy Travels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Free Travel - Credit Card Rewards Strategy

Since 2013, Kailah and I have saved over $2,500 on travel through credit card rewards.

On one trip to Italy, we cashed in $900 on $1,400 worth of air travel, lowering our flights from Boston to Rome to $250 per ticket. This fall, I'll be flying and staying 3 nights in Vegas for $275 because we redeemed $475 in rewards points - this includes a direct Jet Blue round trip flight and 3 nights in a suite in Caesar's Palace.

We thought we might share how we make it work. Here are the 5 main rules we follow:

1. A rewards credit card that meets our needs

We did our research on this one in order to find a card that compliments our travel. Some cards offer general travel rewards, while others partner with airlines and hotels to provide brand specific point redemption. This means that you get more points when you book flights or hotels with these specific companies (Marriot, Delta, etc). As an example, if you are always staying with Marriot properties, it might make sense to get their card, so that you rack up points and get free rooms. On the other hand, if you enjoy flying Southwest because they offer great rates and flexibility, it might be best to hop on board with them instead. For Kailah and I, we currently use the Barclay Card because it offers us flexibility to travel both domestically and internationally - as well as a solid rate of return on points per dollars spent (not to mention a healthy $400 sign on bonus with no international transaction fee). 

2. Always use that card

It's simple, we don't spend money without it going through the credit card - gas, groceries, bills etc.. This maximizes the amount of points earned. Cash may be king, but it earns nothing. There are very few exceptions - but one example would be if you pay your electric bill with your card to get 2% back in rewards, but the utility company charges you 3% in a credit card fee. You are actually losing $$$ in this scenario, so hook up your checking account instead. With that being said, we use common sense and send as much as possible through the card. 

3. Make sure we hit our sign on bonus

Most cards will come with a sign on bonus if you spend a certain amount of money within the first month, or three months. This sounds like a gimmick, but it isn't, so we use it to our advantage (as long as we aren't spending beyond our income and can still fulfill number 4 in this list). Our Barclay card gained us 40,000 bonus points as long as we spent $3,000 within the first three months (Barclay point redemption is $1 per 100 points). Thanks to number 2 in this list, we had no trouble hitting our $3k mark. 

4. Always pay our balance in full

This is the most important point in our list. We pay our balance every month. We set a budget and don't exceed it. We keep track of our spend. This probably goes without saying, but it makes zero sense to redeem points when you are losing money to interest on a credit card. 

5. Automate to relieve stress

We set up auto payments to pay the full statement balance every month on a specific date. The only disclaimer here is that we have to keep an eye on our cash balance in our bank account to make sure that timing with other bills isn't an issue. If we are spending within our income, this isn't a problem. To avoid this stress all together, we just keep a cushion in our checking in case bills overlap. 

 

There ya have it. By following these rules, we have accumulated tens of thousands of points and enjoyed discounted travel. If you aren't doing it already, go grab yourself a card and start earning some free money!