This past year we’ve decided to travel more. Not that we’ve ever decided to travel less, it’s just that you know how it is – you need the time, the money, the right aged kids, the good weather, the correct frame of mind and mostly the inclination to actually get off the sofa, to travel. This year had started so horrible, and yes, maybe we wanted a tiny bit to escape where we were, so we decided to travel more. And when I say more, I actually mean more than zero times per year, which is kind of easy for most people, but apparently not for us.
We managed 11 short breaks this year. We were aiming for 12 (once a month, because we are OCD like that), but when you take into account that last year we were at the grand total of 1, that we always take the kids with us, and that we just moved to a new country, I think eleven is not so bad. Who am I kidding, to me eleven in an astronomical number. It is also a number which makes me a Master-of-Travel.
Master of travel is a hard title to achieve, it is not given to anyone. Apparently to learn about travel you have to make loads of mistakes while travelling, go through some really weird “what was I thinking” moments, and find a place our hairdresser hasn’t been to (no mean feat. But even she hasn’t been to Tromso). On the way to becoming Master of travel, we learnt really important life lessons, like why it is never a good idea to not check the back of the kids seat on the plane. Apparently it costs a fortune to replace forgotten pieces of mismatched and mishmashed LEGO characters (don’t ask. But if you ever find yourselves in the same jam, go to Firestar Toys). Or why you should never ever forget to bring all the cables and adapters you have at home, because the extra phone battery, which is supposed to fix the life-or-death-emergency of the phone running out of battery, will run out of power when you forget the right cable. Every time.
Or how we should never, ever leave the house without Yon’s favourite food, or there will be hell to pay. And mostly, that it is never worth the money to take my kids on the bus-tours, because they fall asleep five minutes after leaving the station. Well, actually maybe it is worth the money. That hour on the bus is our romantic getaway, complete with 7-Eleven coffee and these cinnamon things we can’t find around here (but because of this post discovered I can order on Amazon, so yay me).
I know, I know, lessons to live by. Told you I am the Master of travel. I just didn’t know how many things I have no clue about. Apparently the world has changed since the last time I travelled. Did you know they don’t use paper-maps anymore (If the kids didn’t think we were old before, they sure did after we explained about the paper maps. And the A-Z)? Or paper airplane tickets? Thank God they still use toilet paper. Honestly, when we decided to start travelling more, I was really entering the “things you don’t know you don’t know” realm (I didn’t even know that both travelling and traveling are correct). But I’m a fast learner, and every travel writer I’ve seen has lists, everything comes in lists with those people, so I also made a list – 11 of the weirdest lessons we’ve learned in 11 trips (I did say I am OCD like that):
- Night trains in Germany are what we around here like to call “an experience”. Especially when you go into the little compartment and close the door and have no idea what is going on on the other side of your door. Or when the train stops along the way without telling anyone or any apparent reason. It is not a problem if you sleep through the night, or if the phrase “trains in Germany” does not make your ancestors roll over, but if like me, you wake up and find yourself in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere, it does make you wonder if they also do time travel and not only intercity ones.
- When you are on a train in Germany and you need to go to the toilet, or fancy something from the restaurant (which is always 15 minutes walk from where you are seated), don’t forget to take your ticket. The people checking the tickets has the same sense of humour (and general attitude) as the people working in Border Control. On the other hand when there are four of you and only one piece of paper in way of tickets, you have a real dilemma.
- When you fly domestic connection from Oslo you have to collect your luggage, check it in again using the automatic machines, and go through the whole security check again. After we did it for the first time with a one hour connection, four suitcases and two kids, and with ten minutes to spare(!) we did look around to see if we won The Amazing Race. Actually we won the ability to pee at the airport (instead of on the airplane. Which is always an experience in its own right) and have enough time to buy the kids chocolate (yes, all chocolate, cakes, and sweets bought along the way are always for the kids. If we end up eating all of them it’s coincidental).
- When you search how to order cheap flights and holidays and such every blog or website with tips always tell you to clear your cache, clean your cookies and hide your country. To say we were skeptical will be an understatement. Until we tried to book our trip to Disneyland Paris. We treated it like a military operation – dressed in camouflage, hid in the tranches, and sat in the living room with two computers while trying every possible combination known to man and blog. Apparently if you change your country to France when you browse their website it lowers a few good hundred Euros off the price. You don’t need to clear the cookies. Unless they are the edible kind.
- Last thing about money. Promise. Say you are unhappy with your airline company. And say that company starts with Easy and ends with Jet. You write a complaint and get a (really rude) answer that they do not believe in compensations or care if you ever fly with them again (after all, the company, not the client, is always right). If, like me, it doesn’t sit well with you (around here, we are not very good at being disrespected. Or bullied), just follow these steps and lo and behold – you get compensation. Which you can only use if you call their customer service team to make your next booking. We did end up saving 50 Euros on our next flight. We just spent it on the phone bill, since it took them 3 hours to successfully book a flight from Berlin to London.
- Kids are an asset on airports. Yes, I know you think I am crazy, but hey, you get the family queue at the security check, the fast tracking through most queues, and the ability to use the toilets even where there aren’t any (like the sweets, the toilets are always because of the kids). And if like us, you can ask for special assistance then you even get to ride those cool airport cars and look snobbishly at all those people actually *walking* all the way.
- In every European city there is always a church, a town square, a river, and a science museum. Oh and an aquarium. It is always “the biggest” in somewhere, and when you google “x city with kids” they will always write about the parks. Sure, because I just spent all this money to have them run in the park. Not at all an activity they can do in the backyard.
- Packing is harder then it seems – I always have the wrong amount of clothes, which are anyway the wrong type, the wrong amount of toys, and way too much snacks. At least I always manage to cram them all into three small trollies which can go onto the plane. Because waiting for luggage with anxious kids is not an experience I wish to ever repeat again. Ok, I lied. The kids couldn’t care less (as long as the iPads are safe). It’s me. I’m the basket case.
- If you don’t know you are supposed to look for the carriage number on the platform, or don’t understand how train-platform in Germany works, you’ll find yourself running through a very long train with a hysterical 6 years old who is obsessed with not missing a train (or a plane), even though we are an hour early everywhere.
- You can buy records, yes the old vinyl ones, at the main train station in Berlin (the Hauptbahnhof). They are not even all that expensive. However you won’t find even one magazine in English.
- Kids can love to travel, nag you for weeks that they want to go until you buy the next tickets, and still spend half the day asking when can we go back to the hotel so they’ll get their iPad time.
But the weirdest lesson I’ve learned this year is that while you can’t become someone else while you travel, like you don’t really become someone new every time you move a country, you can still venture away from your comfort zone, and enjoy things you never would have thought possible. Like a night train in Germany.
Our travel map for 2015