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Discovering the World with a Baby on Board

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7 Tips for Traveling in Spain

The beautiful Alhambra towering over Granada

The beautiful Alhambra towering over Granada

Spain has much to offer: incredible museums, jaw-dropping architecture, inspiring music, warm and hospitable people, beautiful weather, and an excellent public transportation system. This makes it one of my top recommendations in Europe. Their updated high-speed rail system now makes it incredibly fast and easy to zip from one major city to another, which makes it a great destination for a one to two-week (or more) vacation.

Now that my son is a major crawler, I was a little worried about traveling with him, knowing that he would be itching to move around and not be as willing to sit in his stroller for long stretches of time. And, I was partially right. It was easier to tour around all day when he was five months and perfectly happy to hang out in the Ergobaby while we traversed Italy. But, luckily, it wasn’t that difficult in Spain. We made a few more pit stops so he could stretch his muscles and we built in some siestas so he could explore our hotel room, but all in all he ended up being a very good travel toddler and made me excited about continuing our nomadic lifestyle in the coming months and years.

In future posts, I will highlight each of the cities we visited and give recommendations on what to do in a short amount of time. But, first I wanted to give a few general tips for traveling through Spain (with or without kids).

1. Travel off-season

This is often a tip for travelers going to popular countries, but it applies especially to Spain. We went in February and while it wasn’t the super sunny and warm Spain we know and love, it actually turned out to be the perfect time of year for us to explore the cities and avoid hordes of tourists and excessive heat. The temperature was about 50 degrees most of the time we were there, getting warmer in the afternoon sun and a bit cooler in the early morning. But, we saved a ton of money on comfy hotels in great locations, never waited in line for museums or major sights (the only thing we had to book in advance was our visit to Alhambra in Granada), and essentially enjoyed the country with its citizens rather than tourists. I can’t recommend this enough. Since most of the US and Europe is cold in the winter anyway, it helps make the season bearable when touring interesting cities, visiting beautiful museums, and basking in some not too intense sunshine in majestic piazzas.

2. Hostals are not your typical hostels

We stayed in a couple of hostals (Spanish for hostel), which are hostels in the sense that you can have multiple beds in a room, but most of them are private rooms, with private bathrooms, cleaning service, and all the amenities you would normally get in a hotel room. The only difference between a hostal and hotel is that some of them do not have restaurants attached, so you can’t eat breakfast there, and there won’t be the luxury additions like a spa or pool. But, if you are traveling with kids and want a more spacious room with more beds without having to pay hotel prices, these are a great choice. One night we stayed in five star hotel and though the bed was more comfortable, we actually had way less space than in our beloved hostals, which were located in the best spots in each city. So, check out tripadvisor for reviews and don’t be afraid to book a hostal in Spain.

3. Get the Renfe Spain pass

Most travelers in Europe have heard of the Eurail pass that allows you to hop on and off trains for a limited amount of time in select countries at a set price. However, the Renfe Spain Pass is the best bet when doing Spain. You can buy it at the train station or online (though the train station might be optimal so you can also book your reservations for where you want to go on your trip). A normal adult pass is 169 and it lets you take 4 trips (e.g., Barcelona — Madrid — Granada — Seville — Madrid). Most of these trains are super high speed, going 300 KM per hour, which means you can zip across the country must faster than with a car and avoid the hassle of finding parking in the city. We bought our passes at the Barcelona train station and booked our reservations (reservations can be cancelled up to 15 minutes before the train leaves and the credit will go back on your pass, so it doesn’t hurt to book ahead of time to make sure you get the train you want). Children under 4 travel for free, and older children have a discount. You can also get a pass that allows for 6, 8, 10, or 12 train rides (note that if you have to change trains, each ride counts as 1). The only hitch is you have to make your reservations for the trains at the train station, so I would just make them all in one go and change if needed. Also, even though babies travel for free, you also need to make reservations for them, so don’t forget to mention that when you are booking. Plus, don’t forget to take a picture of your Spain Pass in case it gets stolen or lost! With the number, they can easily replace the pass for you.

Note: I would use the pass only for long, more expensive trips. I wouldn’t use one of the journeys to go from Madrid to Toledo which is only about 30 roundtrip.

4.  Do more day-tripping than hotel-hopping

My rule of thumb is usually a minimum of two nights at one hotel, but I prefer three. In cities like Barcelona or Madrid, you can easily take day trips to see other parts of Spain (Toledo is only 30 mins by train from Madrid), and avoid having to lug your suitcases from city to city. Plus, the big cities have so much to offer that one day doesn’t do them justice. Less is more here… so instead of trying to make a new city each day, get to know the country better by spending more time in each place and saving something for another trip!

5.  Make lunch your big meal

Spanish restaurants have some pretty amazing lunch deals where you will get a first, second, dessert, and drink for 9-10. The portions are generous and filling and since Spaniards offer lunch until 4 p.m., you can easily do a later lunch, make it your big meal of the day and just enjoy a few tapas for ‘dinner’ instead of waiting to eat at the official dinner time of 9 p.m. (most restaurants don’t even open until 8 p.m). Tapas bars offer food from 5 or 6 p.m., so you can join Spaniards in their ‘appetizer’ phase, try a few small dishes, and get to bed at a decent hour.

6. Look for tapas deals

Tapas used to be offered for free with the purchase of a drink and some places, especially in Granada, still adhere to this old tradition. We actually didn’t know this and one evening in Granada we popped into a tapas bar, ordered two bottles of water and two tapas, which were actually dinner sized portions, and walked away with a bill of 3 . Needless to say, we were pleasantly surprised. You can check online for tapas bars that still offer these deals. Otherwise, a tapa will cost between 1 and 5 (depending on the place and size) and a drink about 2. Still, a pretty cheap dinner with quality food.

7. Learn Spanish!

Unlike many other countries in Europe, English has not become the de-facto official language in Spain. Many people do speak English (especially at the hotels and at more touristy restaurants), but it is not as ubiquitous as in other European countries. So, brush up on your Spanish, download a translator app, and be prepared to challenge yourself a bit with some new phrases. I, shamefully, do not yet speak Spanish but I was lucky enough to get by with Italian wherever I ran into people who didn’t speak English. So, if you speak Italian or Portuguese, that will also help!

 

Orvieto – An Unforgettable Day

A stunning 14th-century cathedral, Etruscan caves, world-famous wine, and a town surrounded by Tufa rock, towering above the Italian countryside.

If you haven’t been to Orvieto yet, go. One of the most picturesque towns in Italy (and there is stiff competition), this beautiful city has enough sights and experiences to make it well worth a full-day or even two-day visit.

We only went for one day this time, so the following will be an itinerary if you don’t want to do an overnight. However, for an unforgettable overnight experience, I recommend booking a room at La Badia, the 12th-century Abby turned hotel that lies amidst acres of countryside at the bottom of the hill. This 4-star abode has been frequented by celebrities from across the world, but inside you will feel like you personally discovered your own peaceful, rustic, romantic getaway in one of Italy’s most visited small towns.

11 a.m: We arrived by train (about an hour from Rome) in the late morning and took the Funicular that is right across the street from the station to the top of the hill, into the old town of Orvieto. Surrounded by walls, the town is emblematic of the Etruscans, who always built their cities high up and surrounded like a fortress to protect from evil invaders (like the Romans). The Etruscans were also known for their development underground. Caves and passageways have been found throughout the area, where Etruscans would store wine, weapons, statuary, and build rooms for the dead. If you are interested in seeing some of these tombs, you can visit the largest Etruscan Necropolis near Civitivecchia and outside of Tarquinia.

At the funicular, we had a taxi take us to Orvieto’s majestic church that crowns the town and glistens in the sunshine as if made with fine gems and paved with gold. Sitting on one of the stone benches in front gazing at the masterpiecesof it, we craned our necks to take in its majestic glory. It is truly one of the most beautiful churches in the world, and alone is worth the visit to Orvieto. We then went inside and paid a nominal fee to see the masterpieces, among them The Last Judgement by Luca Signorelli. It is a different experience to see these paintings in situ, as they were meant to be shown rather than in a museum, and you can create several wonderful church tours in Italy that will be better than visiting some of the most famous museums.

 Yy<<<y baby typing

^was left there on purpose. While I was writing the draft for this, my little one crawled up and started typing on the keyboard, which I couldn’t bring myself to erase.

1 p.m: Small towns in Italy shut down during the hot afternoon hours, when workers go home to eat delicious lunches and then rest for a bit before returning to work, so take advantage of the quiet and do the same. We ended up at a touristy spot, where the prices are inflated and the food mediocre. However, we enjoyed a delicious glass of Orvieto Classico wine. This wine is famous world-over and the restaurants here usually have the best years on hand. Another famous Orvieto wine is Est! Est! Est!. The story behind the name derives from a German bishop’s quest for the best wine as he was making the long journey to see the pope. He sent a prelate ahead of him to search and received a message when the servant reached a nearby commune called Montefiascone and the message read Est! Est! Est! (here it is, here it is, here it is!).

Street in Orvieto

3 pm: I wanted to see the Etruscan caves in Orvieto and there are a couple of ways to do this. There is the official cave tour, which lasts about 45 minutes and you can buy tickets for it at the cave tour center right across from the church. However, because they are long winding tunnels, I wasn’t comfortable carrying my baby down there, so I skipped it (my husband went though and really enjoyed it, as they explained how the caves have been used throughout the centuries after the Etruscans). However, I did enjoy the second option, which was a tour of a private Etruscan cave. The owners of the restaurant La Buca di Bacco discovered Etruscan caves underneath their property during an archeological dig and Etruscan cavethey invested a lot of money into making them tourable and beautiful. Carving Etruscan statuary inside and showcasing some of the relics found there, they have turned this into a must-see for tourists in Orvieto. There is a fee to participate in the tour, but it is worth it. They also used to serve several course meals down in the caves for certain tour groups (my mom runs a tour company and we enjoyed many a meal down there, with candles flickering everywhere and wine flowing). Now, they only serve tour Inside Etruscan cavegroups upstairs, but you can still participate in the cave tour if you call ahead or stop by the shop and talk your way in.

4 pm: There is an archeological museum right next door to the church – it’s not going to blow your mind away, but it is a nice, small museum with some Etruscan treasures. They also have rooms with Etruscan paintings on the walls, which look just like the tombs. It won’t take you very long to go through here and when you leave head left for a stunning view of the countryside and the aforementioned La Badia hotel.

La Badia nestled in the countryside

La Badia nestled in the countryside

Orvieto is also famous for its hand-painted pottery and there are also beautiful stores along the old streets, so take some time to shop and just enjoy the atmosphere of this ancient town before heading back to Rome!

 

 

Baby Monitor on the Go

As a nomadic family, we do our best to limit how many devices, toys, distractions that we have to cart around. That is why I was THRILLED to discover there are baby monitor apps!

Not only do typical video baby monitors cost around 200 bucks, but they are extra devices that you have to remember to pack, buy adapters for if traveling internationally, and are simply one more thing that you might lose on the road. We had been debating on whether to buy one for a few weeks (since we co-sleep it hasn’t been necessary) and almost did before I found out that there are a few apps out there that are cheap and do an amazing job of creating your own little digital baby monitor wherever you are. We have so far used it at home, but will obviously use it whenever we travel or if the little one stays with family members at another house.

Baby Cloud Screensaver

We are currently using cloud baby monitor, which works wonderfully. For 7 dollars, I bought the app on my Mac, downloaded it also on my iPhone, and it worked immediately. You can also use an iPad as one of the units. I set the computer as the ‘child unit’ and face it toward my sleeping angel. I set my iPhone as the ‘parent unit’ and carry it with me around the house. It can work on multiple Apple devices and there is even a function to watch more than one child. The only hitch is you need an internet connection (3G, Wifi, Bluetooth, etc) on both devices, which isn’t always available when traveling abroad. Some of the features the app includes are preset lullabies that you can play remotely (you can also add your own songs to the list), a button that allows you to talk to the baby, a screensaver with moon and stars to set on the ‘child unit’, and a nightlight button. Considering this is 20 to 30 times cheaper than a normal video baby monitor, it is essentially risk-free to try.

There is also a newer app out called Baby Monitor 3G, which has similar functions. I would have happily tried this one, but because I didn’t see any reviews yet, I opted for cloud baby. Additionally, there are similar baby monitor apps like Dormi and Baby Monitor.

So, before you invest a bunch of money in yet another device, try these out and get more out of the devices you already have. Plus, you can put the money you save towards another trip!

 

5 Great Aperitivo Places in Rome

As I have mentioned in previous posts, discovering Italy’s aperitivo scene is a little bit like discovering El Dorado. All of a sudden your dinners aren’t limited to pasta and pizza (living in Italy spoils you a bit, where these otherwise delicious foods become a chore to eat) and you’re opened up to a whole new world of food variety without having to commit to one dish. Plus, it can be much cheaper and you can eat earlier, yet still be part of the ‘scene’ instead of going to a non-aperitivo restaurant and sitting alone with the few other pale tourists who aren’t used to Italy’s late dinner hour.

Now the deal with most aperitivi places is you only pay for your drinks and then a buffet is included. Some places (as we found out only after a large bill) also charge per dish at the buffet so just check ahead of time. Also, I am only listing places that are baby-friendly. There are much trendier spots in Rome to see and be seen, but are too crowded and loud for a child (or children).

That being said, here are some of my favorite aperitivi spots in Rome.

Fancy Schmancy

La.Vi. : We happened upon this place right off Rome’s famed Via Condotti after I made my mom visit the ‘Church of Souls in Limbo.’ (NOT recommended. It is a room with a few books and those books have hand prints on them. But I digress…)

Now, being somewhat of a budget traveler, meaning I would only pay a lot for a meal if it really offers an incredible experience, I would not go here for regular dinner. It is expensive. It also isn’t the cheapest aperitivo joint, but the food is good, the wine is amazing (at least my mom liked it) and the fruit drink they put together for me was delish (tons of fresh fruit that I requested all blended together into a creamy heaven). The drinks are straight up 15 Euro each and they come with a free all you can eat buffet.  The great part is that because this is usually a pricey restaurant, the food is actually really good and much better than some of the other buffets. From quiche to broccoli to pasta and fish, it is a great spread and will fill you up. So, for 15 Euro (assuming you have only one drink here), you get a great meal in a beautiful ambiance. Plus, you might meet some interesting people.

Cheap and Juicy

Baylon Cafe: Though we lived in Trastevere for more than a month, we only discovered this place in the last two weeks. But, boy did we become regulars. One reason is (when the juicer is working) they have delicious fresh juices (i.e. lots of greens with a little apple, etc). Also, their buffet is pretty varied, so you can enjoy a variety of vegetables, traditional dishes like eggplant parmigiana, protein-packed goodies like chick peas, and some fresh options like salad. Plus, the price is great. As with many places, you pay for your drink and the buffet is free, but the drinks here are affordable and delicious. The minimum is 7 Euro per person, so opt for the more expensive glass of wine since you will be paying for it anyway. Cocktails cost a bit more but this place is SO hipster that they won’t disappoint you with their cocktail making skills. If you google aperitivo spots in Trastevere, you will see countless sites toting Freni e Frenzioni. It is the oldest aperitivo spot in town and gets very crowded, but there are only a few tables and it mostly caters to teens who don’t mind sitting on the concrete in the sun to eat some cheap food.

Food With a View

Vivi Bistrot: My mom loves to spend time in the most scenic spots in Rome (scenic = expensive). I love to eat cheaply. Vivi Bistrot fits the bill for both. This restaurant is built into Palazzo Braschi, a restored palace and museum, and the tables look out onto Piazza Navona. The cost of a drink is about 10 Euro and includes the buffet, which has hummus, ricotta cheese, little sandwiches, pasta salad, and some fresh veggies. Here, they also make non-alcoholic cocktails, but for those who want a little fizz, they have fruit-laden prosecco spritz cocktails, which are tasty and refreshing. Compared to what you will pay at any of the restaurants in Piazza Navona, this is a much cheaper way to enjoy the view without forking out a lot of money for mediocre food.

 Quality and Wifi

Compagnia del Pane: Let’s be honest: sometimes you just want some tasty food and free wifi. We are back in Trastevere with this restaurant and I should say first: what it lacks in ambiance (kind of like a Panera Bread but not as big), it makes up for in freshness and quality. Certain nights of the week, the restaurant lays out a spread of bruschetta, cheeses, breads, and meats. For around 10 Euros, you can fill up and enjoy a great glass of wine. CdP boasts quality ingredients and specially sourced spreads. Having enjoyed many a lunch here, I can attest to it also being a delicious pit stop throughout the day. The only catch is they don’t offer the aperitivo buffet every day, so you might want to check ahead of time.

A Holy Snack

IMG_1435

Cajo e Gajo: Again, in Trastevere, and not an aperitivo buffet like the others. Here, you pay for a drink (a glass of wine costs about 4 Euros) and they bring out a spread of little pizza bites, french fries, chips, olives, and crackers. So, it isn’t exactly dinner fare, but for a cheap snack, it is a great place to visit. The added bonus, and one of the main reasons it made it on this list, is it sits in a square that hosts a building owned by the Vatican. That also means that sometimes the pope swings by, as happened one day when we were sitting there. So not only do you get an inexpensive drink with snacks in a beautiful square, but you might get a chance to see Pope Francis himself!

 

 

 

 

The Appian Way to a Perfect Family Day – Rome

Baths of Caracalla, a 2,500 year-old road, magnificent villas, and a picnic to boot.. here is our itinerary for the Appian Way day.

Despite having to been to Rome probably a dozen times in my life, I had never visited the Appian Way – probably because it is out of the way. But, I am happy to report that this 2,500 year-old ‘Queen of the Long Roads’ is not only worth discovering, but it is a must-see. And, with a little planning, we found that we could create the perfect day on the Appian Way (no, I never tire of the rhyme).

Now, first off, a little history. This road isn’t just any old road.. it is the beginning of ‘all roads lead to Rome.’ Built in 312 B.C. by Appius Claudius, it is the first long road that allowed Roman troops to really start conquering all of the lands around them. Extended over the centuries, it witnessed the incredible rise and fall of the Roman Empire, as well as served as more than just an avenue for transport. In 71 B.C., after the slave revolt led by Spartacus, 6,000 slaves were crucified and the crosses carrying their bodies lined the road for miles. Sorry, a little gruesome, but not at all an unusual punishment back in the day.

But, you don’t have to picture that particular scene when you head to the Appian Way. We mainly marveled at the villas, imagined ourselves marching down this road thousands of years earlier (not to our demise), and relished in the undiluted history that graciously embraced us as we went back in time.

appianway1

Morning: Rise and shine! We woke up fairly early to avoid spending too much time in the afternoon heat and headed out the door, baby strapped to my body. We caught the bus from our apartment in Trastevere to the Circus Maximus, where we glimpsed a view of the imperial palace atop Palatine Hill before making our way to the Baths of Caracalla. The baths are amazing for a couple of reasons: almost nobody goes there, so you can really walk among the ruins and let your imagination run wild;  it is included in the combo ticket that also allows you to see two villas on the Appian Way (we will get to those next); it is an incredible structure and once served 6,000 bathing Romans a day, who also did their exercise there, engaged in political discussion, plotted against their enemies, and so on.

appianway4

Mid-Morning: After seeing some of the beautifully preserved mosaics and the enormous walls at the Baths of Caracalla, we caught a taxi (about 10 Euros) to the old part of the Appian Way (Via Appia antica). There are many ancient buildings you can see along the road, which extends for miles, but since we had a baby and I am a firm believer in less is more while traveling, we limited ourselves to a couple of sights and opted for a more relaxing experience. The ticket for the Baths of Caracalla include entrance to the tomb of Cecilia Matella and Villa dei Quintili, and our plan was to do both of these, but because of Italy’s belief in very long lunch breaks and the heat, we ended up doing just Cecilia Matella, which was beautiful. The truth is, you can see most of the villas and tombs from the road, and there really isn’t a need to buy entrance tickets to any, unless you are dead set on looking at more mosaics.

appianway5appianway3

Noon: Along the road, there is a little restaurant that also has sandwiches and salads to go. We picked up a couple of sandwiches, bottles of water, and fruit cups, and wandered until we found a good place to picnic. Now, what we ended up doing is not officially allowed, but again, this is Italy. We saw a beautifully manicured lawn filled with statues, benches, and a small villa, and decided to hunker down there for our little picnic. Innocently spreading out our blanket and food, we played with the baby, took pictures, and happily ate before the groundskeeper came and informed us that this wasn’t actually a public space for picnics. It ended up being the grounds to a museum and the Appian way information center, which turned out to be quite convenient. But, what I love about Italy is the groundskeeper waited until we had finished our picnic and even spent time playing with the tot before asking us to pack up. No doubt he saw us earlier, but who can resist a cute little family enjoying some quality time outdoors? Certainly, not Italians. In case you don’t want to kicked out, a little further down the road there is a park, where you can legally picnic and play.

appianway2

Afternoon: We leisurely walked down the road, took in some of the sights, and then randomly hopped on a bus (there is only one out there) that took us to an even more random road from which we found a taxi and headed back home.

In a nutshell: The Appian Way is magnificent and if the weather is cooler, you can spend even more time out there than we did. The Villa dei Quintili looks incredible, as do so many of the other sights. So, come with good walking shoes and get ready to explore, wander, and get lost in time. The road is very bumpy (made of big rocks) so I would not recommend a stroller. Baby carriers are the best!

 

 

 

 

The Beauty of the Antipasto(ish) Platter

Antipasto platters are wonderful. You get a little taste of many delicious foods without feeling bloated from too much pasta or pizza or any of the other tasty carb-laden delights Italy has on offer. When we were in Rome, we started making our version of an antipasto platter every day, mainly because we knew we would eat out for dinner and we wanted lunch to be a little lighter. But, even now we love to make these as an afternoon treat. Sitting outside with a chilled glass of wine and a delicious platter of these finger foods, you can almost transport yourself to the Tuscan countryside, lovingly embraced by the warmth of the Italian sun.

Since we’re vegetarian, the antipasto plate we put together on a daily basis didn’t include Italy’s famous prosciutto and the like, but obviously you can include whatever your little heart desires. When we had Italian guests over, they also made up some quick platters (including meat) and suddenly, within 10 minutes we had a delicious meal on our table for all to enjoy.

So here is an idea for a yummy, easy antipasto(ish) platter. Normal antipasto platters that you buy at a restaurant will include grilled vegetables, along with some meat, and cheese. But, here is our light version. The main rule is : decide on whatever sounds good to you, put little portions of it around the plate, and sit back and enjoy.

  • Fresh olives (preferably from the supermarket’s olive bar) but you can use jarred olives if that is what you have
  • Sharp Parmesan cheese nibs or another cheese that you love cut into bite sized pieces. Alternatively, you can put a burrata cheese ball in the middle.
  • Fresh strawberries (or, as my husband prefers for some reason, cut up raw red pepper)
  • A handful of pistachios or walnuts, whichever nuts you love the most
  • Some crackers

antipasto2

Here are some alternative platters. With almost no work, you can create a delicious presentation and eat a great meal. If you are traveling, pick up seasonal, fresh foods from the local market and try this out. If you are back home, this is a great way to relive your wonderful vacation!

Left: Prosciutto straight from the deli on a bed of rucola (rocket lettuce)

Middle: Three types of Italian cheeses (also from the deli) with rucola in the middle, covered in yummy olives

Right: A delicious Caprese – buffalo mozzarella cheese (ideally packed in their juices when bought) sliced up with the sweetest tomatoes you can find (datterini in Italy), tons of fresh basil, and topped off with olive oil and a smattering of salt.

These are simple, easy to make platters that you can have anywhere, even while traveling since no cooking is required. They are also great appetizers for guests. With so many different foods on offer, everyone is bound to taste something they love. And, remember, these platters are basically an ensemble of whatever delicious foods you find that are fresh and easy to prepare!

Top Ten Tips: Traveling on the Cheap

More travel is always a good thing, so if you have a budget but want to see as much of the world as possible, check out some of these tips and save some dough! This certainly isn’t an exhaustive list, so feel free to share your own tips in the comments section!

Look Local

Trains:

There are a lot of US-based websites through which you can book transportation, but you probably aren’t going to get the best deals. In fact, I have seen some serious rip-offs. So, before buying all of your train tickets through an online agent, check out the local train websites in each country you will be visiting. Sometimes, you can’t book out of the country, but if you are adventurous enough, you can book when you get there. This works for some places, others not. Germany’s trains are usually much cheaper if you book ahead of time. In Italy, it doesn’t really matter, but their website often has two for one deals, discount trips, etc. When we went to Slovakia, we found trains to Budapest for 14 Euros. We would have paid much more had we booked it through the German train system. So, if you don’t mind some surprises, it can pay to wait. Additionally, there are some car-sharing websites  where you can hitch a ride with someone for a fraction of the train ticket cost. Again, this is for the more adventurous and probably not for parents traveling with children.

Buses:

More and more, long haul buses are popping up in European cities as competition to the train monopoly. And, they are much cheaper. For example, if I book a last minute ticket from Munich to Berlin , it will cost around 121 Euros. If I take the bus, which is about 2 hours longer, it costs around 30. And, they go to tons of cities around Europe. This is probably not ideal if you are traveling with a baby (we did it once and it sucked) but the buses themselves are clean, comfortable, and efficient modes of transportation. Plus, some have wifi.

This also applies to ‘deal’ websites. In Germany, check on LTur for last minute trains or travel deals. Many countries will have websites like these with some great deals, so if you do some digging, you can strike gold (or at least a budget hotel room).

Go offline (gasp!)

Just to be clear: I am a major proponent of booking almost everything online. However, these bricks and mortar travel agencies sometimes just have better deals. For instance, when I lived in Singapore, it would have cost my dad more than a thousand dollars to book a flight from Singapore to Thailand plus a hotel from a US website. In Singapore, we just popped into an agency and got a 7-day great vacation for a couple of hundred bucks. Most cities in Europe still have travel agencies all over the place, with great deals advertised in the windows. Believe it or not, every hotel in the world is not that internet savvy yet, so sometimes the best deals can still be found offline. Sometimes.

Negotiate on Airbnb and the like

Some of these airbnb hosts are getting a little ahead of themselves with the prices they are trying to charge. I always, always try to negotiate and have succeeded almost 100 percent of the time. Sometimes, I am almost offensive about it, requesting a 50 percent discount from their published price. Usually, we meet somewhere in the middle. Remember, a booked room is a booked room and if demand isn’t that high, it is a renter’s market.

Learn to love Hotwire

I’ll admit it – I get an adrenaline rush from ‘blind booking.’ As I enter my credit card details and wait for the booking to process, I can feel my heart race as I wonder which wonderful or not-so-wonderful hotel will be awaiting me at my next destination. And, it isn’t always a crapshoot. On Hotwire, they tell you the number of stars a hotel has and its general vicinity. A little googling and you can probably narrow down which hotel you are going to get. In the US, this also works for rental cars (I think I once hotwired a rental car in Cali for a week.. cost me about a hundred bucks). I have never tried flights.. I would much rather pay extra for a flight that won’t make me miserable than get a ‘sweet deal’ and end up sleeping in airports.

Budget airlines aren’t always budget

Budget airlines are great as long as you carry no luggage with you and maybe have someone available to pick you up at podunk, no name airport in the middle of the field. Usually, they take you to different airports, where the only available transportation is their own bus, which is another fee. And, bringing luggage costs a pretty penny too. Sometimes it is totally worth it when airlines like Ryan Air charge 5 Euros to go somewhere. But, a lot of times the prices aren’t that much cheaper, so just check first that it takes you to a convenient airport, where you won’t have to buy another expensive ticket to get into town. Also, if you do go with budget, always buy the luggage allowance when you are booking, because it is much more expensive if you wait to pay at the airport. That being said…

Always check budget airlines

Sometimes, like the aforementioned Ryan Air example, you can get GREAT deals. When that happens, snatch it up, because who cares if you are basically living through a nightmare in-flight advertisement if the flight is only two hours? Additionally, some airlines, like German Wings, have these blind booking deals (my heart swoons just mentioning it), where you can get a cheap round trip flight to one of several cities (price goes up as you eliminate destinations you don’t want to go to). I did this and ended up in Maastricht, which was beautiful! Plus, some budget airlines also have budget car rentals, which can be cheaper, so they are worth a look.

House sit, house swap, or couch surf

Two are family-friendly, the other probably isn’t. But, there are great websites where you can apply to house sit for someone if you agree to walk their dogs for a a few days (or months). They have a membership fee, but if you get a placement, it will save you tons in hotels. Also, I have a lot of friends who house swap and absolutely love it. Various websites like home exchange are set up so people wanting to visit your town can stay at your home and you can stay at theirs (you never even have to meet). Unless you live in Sucksville, Nowhere, there is a good chance you can find a swapper.  Finally, couch surfing is an option for the more adventurous. I have made some friends through couchsurfing – it is basically a free way to explore a new city and meet new people along the way. Sometimes, you can get a nice bedroom all to yourself, sometimes an air mattress on the floor, so just be sure to get all the details first.

Find happy hour deals and lunch specials

Whether you are in the US or in Europe,  happy hour is a wonderful invention for people who want to eat cheaply. In Italy it is called ‘aperitivo’ and for the price of a drink, you can often get a buffet of delicious food for free. After gorging ourselves with pasta for several weeks, we came to find these aperitivi a wonderful alternative. Some restaurants even serve fresh juices if you don’t want a cocktail (breastfeeding mama here). Also, as we aren’t big on eating at 9 p.m., the earlier ‘dinner’ time worked out perfectly for us. If you prefer eating big in the afternoon, in most countries you can find some great deals on lunch and then maybe just have a light dinner (or grab a sandwich at one of the million bakeries and eat in a pretty square).

Always do the free walking tour

First of all, wanting to save some money or not, these are usually the best tours in town. The guides speak great English, they are friendly, and they will answer your questions because they work for tips. I have usually enjoyed the free walking tour offered in most cities much more than the paid ones. And, you may even get more freebies with it (i.e. entrance costs, funicular costs, etc). So google free walking tour and the city you are visiting and make sure you join in the fun.

Download free (and almost free) audio guides:

A friend visiting Rome clued me in on this and I was thrilled to learn Rick Steves (travel guide extraordinaire) offers free audio walking tours through tons of European cities. The app is also free to download. And, they come with lot of extras – an in-app map, pictures, and even interviews with local guides and authors to learn more about what you are seeing. I would just download the tour I wanted through the wifi at my hotel, plug in my headphones, and go on my merry way with the babe strapped to my chest. Free and actually better than a lot of the more costly audio guides at each sight.

 

 

 

 

 

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