Traveling on Your Own

I was 21 the first time I traveled on my own. The truth is, I was miserable a lot of the time. But that wasn’t just because I was alone. I had just had the summer of my life, studying abroad in Germany. I not only lived in Germany for the first time and improved my German. I met people from all over the world. Not just Europe, but truly the whole globe: Italy, Sweden, Georgia, Lybia, Israel, Mexico, Brazil, Indonesia, Thailand, Japan, Hong Kong. It was incredible – so very eye-opening!

I had thought I would meet others at the school who would want to travel after the 8-week session. But everyone seemed to already have their own plans. So I took a deep breath – as well as what I’d learned already from traveling with my new friends that summer – and dove in! I cried a lot on the trains. But not really because I was alone. It was because I knew I would probably never see any of these new friends again. Okay, maybe I could travel to their respective countries for a visit … some day…. But in 20 years, I never have. I was just so sad!

But I still managed to see an awful lot of Europe on that trip. Well, some big highlights at least! Munich, Salzburg, Vienna, Budapest, Venice, and Florence. That was when I finally got to meet up with a few friends from my program. I’ve never been so happy to see two people in my life!! From there, we met up with our Italian friend at his parents’ summer villa and got to relax on the beach and have a local’s view of Rome! We stopped in Pisa as we headed back north, and I crashed with my friends who were staying with relatives in Lucerne.

When I got back to Freiburg, I had such a treat! For that one night, the students my class who were staying for the next session (along our fabulous teacher) had planned to meet up on Schlossberg – the scenic beer garden overlooking the city! I was thrilled to be able to see everyone again!

It was a tough trip … and a very long week alone. But I saw so much! And experienced so many wonderful things. Most of all, I was growing – and building my character. When I returned home, I was a different person. I was stronger and more confident. I was more independent. I knew myself a whole lot better … and I knew what I was capable of.

Since then, I’ve traveled many times by myself. Mostly in Britain, but also in Germany and Italy. Once I knew what to expect, I welcomed the time to myself. I knew it would be different from traveling with friends or family. There would be no one to laugh with (unless I met others along the way), and no one to look back and share the experiences with. But it was a time when I could decide to do whatever I wanted. Mostly, though, it was a time of introspection. A time to get to know myself even better.

I made some big life decisions on some of those trips. And I’ll always be grateful that I decided to travel on my own.

I was inspired to write about some of my past travels after reading a blog post by Sitting Pretty in the Queen City: What no one tells you about solo travel. Thanks!!

Rome, 1996

Here I am in Rome in 1996 (learning my truth?), after meeting up with friends. What a long time ago!

The Weather in the Netherlands

The weather in the Netherlands, as you may expect, can be very … wet. There were days during our month when it just poured from morning until night. Luckily, those happened to be days we’d planned to have a quiet day at home anyway. Good timing!

Mostly, the rain isn’t really a big deal. You see the clouds coming, get out your umbrella, and continue on your way. The rain stops, you fold up your umbrella, and continue on your way. It certainly doesn’t stop the Dutch! There are still just as many cyclists on the road, even in wet weather!

PER says his mother always used to tell him and his brother, “You aren’t made of sugar. You won’t melt!” We tell our boys that they are more than half Dutch, so they will be just fine in the rain 🙂  (I myself am 1/8 Dutch, and so I tip the scale for them a bit!)

Sometimes if you are really lucky, you might even see a rainbow! When we first saw this one, it was just a faint streak in the sky. And it wasn’t even raining on us yet. As we got closer, the color intensified. Then it started to rain, quite hard, but we could still see the rainbow. And then we got a real treat – it spread over the street into a full arc! I took several dozen pictures, but of course it was never captured quite as brilliantly as it appeared in real life.

Usually, if it rained at all, it was just a short time. And the sun would come out from behind the clouds and warm us all up. It would often start out at around 70 degrees – or cooler – in the morning. But by the afternoon, we were shedding our jackets and glad we’d chosen to wear sandals, as it warmed up to about 75. Not exactly the stifling heat and humidity of the Philadelphia area in August!

Most of the time, I wore cropped pants, short sleeves with a light sweater or rain coat, and shoes or sandals. We did have some hotter weather when we first arrived, and we were wearing shorts and tanks. The bottom line is, you have to be prepared for all kinds of weather in the Netherlands! And layering is key!

Now, if you know anything about the landscape of the Netherlands, you may know that it is flat. Very flat. One of the reasons it’s so ideal for cycling! But it is also good for harvesting wind. The modern windmills are peppered across the green acres of land. But sometimes, you see so many, you can’t even begin to count them. When we were on our way to Hans & Grietje in the Flevoland region, we were gaping at the number of them! Again, you just can’t really capture that on film. But I tried!

 

2017 NL: Ready for Takeoff!

It’s time to go! This is our third year traveling to Germany and then driving to the Netherlands, so we kind of have it down. Go through customs, get the bags, get the rental car keys, go to the bathroom, pick up a few drinks, get in the car, and go!

I have a couple of tricks for the car to make the 4-hour drive a little easier. In one of our suitcases, I pack two things: busy bags and snacks! As PER sets up the car seats (well, this year, we graduated to backless boosters, so that was much easier!!) and loads the suitcases into the back of the car, I first open up the suitcase with my “magic tricks” and set up the boys!

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This is our smallest suitcase (carry-on sized). On the right is a car organizer filled with busy bags. There’s a diagonal divider, so I put the ones for Froggy on the right and the ones for Hippo on the left. I tried to color-code them, but alas! I didn’t have enough of the same colored bags 🙂

On the left side are three stainless steel food containers. (I had to order two sets of the 3 nesting containers, but I think they were worth it!) Two are for the boys, and one is for me 😉  They have an air-tight seal, which is great, but also makes them a little difficult for the kids to open. No one is very hungry when we land, after not getting much sleep on the plane. So the snacks for the road trip are important! Here’s what went into each of their boxes and how it all fit:

  • Homemade mini pumpkin muffins
  • Peanut butter crackers
  • Goldfish
  • A juice box
  • Raisins
  • Homemade blondies

I froze the juice boxes the night before!! So they should still be cold the next morning. I also put them in a zip-top bag, just in case there is too much condensation from them as they thaw. The first time we took this route, we tried getting drinks at the airport, but guess what? We could only find Apfelschorle – which has carbonation – but not plain apple juice (Apfelsaft). And of course, my kids aren’t going to drink that. So I’ve learned to pack a beverage, too. I also put their empty water bottles in their backpacks and fill those up with bottled water before we get off the plane.

And so, we’re all packed and ready to go!

UPDATE:

After a relatively uneventful flight (except when Hippo spilled apple juice down his pajamas, so he had to sleep in his clothes!), we went through our usual steps, made it to the rental car, and headed on our way. This year, though, as we were about to take our first exit, Froggy all of a sudden announced he was going to be sick!! The one thing I forgot to pack was some extra bags! Yikes! I scrambled for a pastry bag (PER and I decided to get something extra at the bakery in the airport), but knew it wouldn’t be enough. Luckily, Froggy hadn’t really eaten anything on the plane, so there really was nothing to come up. Phew! Sweet little guy, though, was not feeling well. He fell asleep almost right away, as did Hippo. They slept almost half the way to Huizen. Then they weren’t too hungry, so they didn’t really eat anything from the snack boxes. And there was enough to see that they didn’t really need the busy bags! Well, they intentions were good! And on another trip, who knows?!

Notes for next time: pack a grocery bag or two … just in case! And some paper towels or napkins would have been a good idea, too … if they had eaten anything!

Travel Food: Pumpkin Muffins

No matter where we are going, I always bake up a big batch of pumpkin muffins before we travel. My boys love them, and they are relatively healthy and easy to pack. Well, they may get a little squished, but they still taste good! Sometimes I make mini muffins, and sometimes the regular size. The recipe makes a lot, too – about 3 dozen regular or 6 dozen minis! If there are leftovers, I freeze them.

My mom used to make these muffins with her first-graders ages and ages ago. Since I started making them, I’ve been updating the recipe. I now use wheat flour instead of all-purpose. And I’ve swapped out coconut oil for vegetable oil. I don’t care for the taste of coconut, but I never notice it interfering in the recipe!

Not only do I make these for travel and just any old time to have in the house, I also bake about three batches at the holidays to give as gifts to all my kids’ teachers and people who work at their school. I bake them in paper loaf pans, wrap them up, and tie off with a pretty ribbon. It makes a great gift!

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Ingredients

cups wheat flour (or 3 1/2 c all-purpose flour)
1 3/4  cups sugar
tsp baking soda
tsp Kosher salt
tsp cinnamon
tsp nutmeg (about 1/3 fresh clove freshly grated)
3/4  cup coconut oil (or 1c vegetable oil)
1/2  cup water
eggs
15-oz can pumpkin
tsp vanilla

Directions

1.  Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour pans.
2.  In a medium bowl, sift together the dry ingredients (flour through nutmeg). In a large bowl, mix wet ingredients (oil through vanilla). Slowly blend the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients.
3.  Bake in the preheated oven.
  • Loaf pan: 50-60 minutes
  • Mini loaves: 30 minutes
  • Muffins: 20-25 minutes
  • Mini muffins: 17-23 minutes

Notes

–  I like to melt the coconut oil, but then you need to be careful adding it in to the wet ingredients, so you don’t scramble your eggs!
–  You can make it in a standing mixer. I used to do it all by hand, but it’s a lot of batter and gets pretty tiring!
–  You can freeze the muffins for 3 months.
–  If making a half batch, use these measurements:
1 1/3 c wheat flour (1 1/2 c all-purpose flour), 1 c sugar, 1 tsp baking soda, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp nutmeg, 1/3 c oil, 1/4 c water, 2 eggs, 1 c pumpkin, 1/2 tsp vanilla

Koffer packen: Staying Organized

Last year, I posted some printable packing lists for kids in German. As we prepared for our first summer trip, I printed them out for Froggie & Hippo.

You would think with all the travel we’ve done as a family — and all the travel I did when I was single — that I’d have this whole packing thing down to a science. But I don’t! Every time we go somewhere, I forget something. And often when we pack up to come home, something gets left behind – or almost does.

So for our coast-to-coast trip, I decided to use the kids’ packing lists to try to stay extra organized. The German packing lists were a great place to start. We gathered everything on them and checked the boxes as they went into the suitcase. But of course, there were other things we needed for this trip that weren’t on those basic lists. So I scribbled them down on the papers. Everything that went into their suitcase is on those lists somewhere!

And when it was all zipped up, I slipped the lists into the outside pocket. Now when we are ready to pack for home, I’ll know exactly what came with us and what has to go back into those suitcases. It sounds very simple, but it’s one extra little step that I’m hoping will make a huge difference!

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You can see what I mean when I say I scribbled the items on the papers! You might not be able to read it at all 🙂  If you can read some of it, you’ll see that I forgot to stick to German on some of them. I also used a “W” on the clothing list if they were going to wear an item on the plane. Hm, I guess that should have been a “T” for tragen instead! Well, it’s always a work in progress!

Gute Reise!

Summertime = Traveltime!

Summer’s here! For our family this year, that means it’s time to take to the air and hit the road! So I’ll be sharing some of my travel experiences and tips we pick up along the way  –  from traveling with kids to places to go.

Our first trip keeps us Stateside to visit family. But we are traveling coast to coast. So while I don’t expect to get much German work done this week, I can still share some of my favorite travel tips.

Do you use packing cubes? I love these things! We each get a set of 3, in different sizes, and they are color-coded for each member of the family!!

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For the kiddos, the large one holds tops & bottoms, socks & underwear. The medium cube is for pajamas, raincoat, and hat. This time, I used one of the small ones for shoes and the other for a mini diaper bag with pull-up, wipes, and change of clothes. Luckily we didn’t need it!

The other thing I like about packing cubes is that I can start packing days ahead of time and then just throw the cubes into the suitcases. Sometimes I’ll admit, they can be tricky to fit. It’s kind of like a mini game of Tetris! There might be other versions out there that have solved this problem, but I don’t know.

Happy travels!