Tablets for Travel: Life-Saver or Horror Story?

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It may only be the end of February, but we are already planning our summer trip to Europe. I was going back through some of my own travel advice and realized I had never written about a very important topic.

These days, it seems wherever you go, you can see a child with a tablet or smart phone. Frankly, I find it frightening. From everything I have read, they can do some serious damage to young brains.

But I am not here to judge.

I do, however, want to share some crucial advice about using a tablet while traveling with young children.

We have rules in our house about screen time for the boys. One of them is about how much they can watch. Usually no more than an hour in a day, broken up into two or three chunks of 20-30 minutes at a time.

I used to call these rules our “ground rules” … because they stay on the ground when we fly. Cute, huh? 🙂 I figured one day a year, when we have a day flight home from Europe, it can’t hurt to let the kids watch as much as they want. It’s a real life-saver. Right?

Wrong.

When Froggy was 5, he watched for almost the entire 9-hour flight from Amsterdam. It seemed great at the time. He was happily distracted. Mama & Daddy got to rest or read or watch a film of their own!

We weren’t off the plane for 5 minutes when I realized our colossal mistake!! While the boys and I waited for PER to pick up the stroller, I watched in horror as my sweet 5-year-old disintegrated into the worst meltdown he’s ever had. He was crying and whining and carrying on like never before. I don’t remember what started it. But really, it doesn’t matter. Any little thing could have ignited the blowup.

For he was indeed like a ticking time bomb. And WE had created it. By letting him be mesmerized by the addictive images of the screen, it was like he turned into another person. His brain was fried. He had no coping mechanism. Within minutes of leaving the plane, the fuse had reached its limit. The ticking time bomb exploded. 

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That was bad enough, but of course, the situation got worse. Seven planes – count them, SEVEN!! – had landed at the same time. And we were all squished in line to get through immigration. I’ve never seen a line that long. It snaked back and forth for an eternity and spilled over into the corridor. That’s where we entered the line, of course.

Hippo was pretty miserable, too. (Heck, we all were!) So even though I wasn’t supposed to by holding him (back injury left-over from pregnancy), there I was, holding him the entire time we were in line. I think it took us an hour-and-a-half to get through it.

Froggy was such a mess, he couldn’t even stand. So he got in the stroller.

Do you know the kiosks they have these days where you scan your passport and get your picture taken? Well, we FINALLY made it to one of those. PER and Hippo and I all got our pictures taken. But Froggy refused. I felt a panic coming on and snapped at him, “Seriously?! We’re NEVER getting out of here if you don’t do this!!” So PER picked him up to hold him in front of the camera. But Froggy held his arms up in front of his face. “Aaaaaaghh!!!” So while PER held him, I pulled his arms down. I can’t even imagine what that picture looked like!

We laugh about that part now. But it was no laughing matter at the time.

Of course, you could say he was just tired from the long flight. Sure. We were all cranky. But I am convinced that it was much more than that. It was as if he had really lost his mind. Along with the ability to make his body function. He was a miserable, limp noodle.

So… fast forward to a year later.

The next time we flew home from Amsterdam, we took one of our “ground rules” with us. This time, Froggy could only watch for 20-30 minutes at a time. Then he had to take a break for at least that long, preferably longer.

It was like night and day. Sure, we were all a little cranky by the end of our long travel day. But he was able to walk off the plane, up the ramp to immigration, stand in line, and get his picture taken. All with minimal whining. No crying. No drama. He was still my sweet little boy.

We learned our lesson the hard way. So I hope by sharing this story, you will avoid having to endure such a horror scene yourself. Take a lesson from our page. Do yourself – your child – and your child’s brain – a favor. Limit the time he or she spends on devices.

(For tips on what to do when your child is not using the tablet, check out my page of travel activities.)

Gute Reise!

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!

Road Trip Scavenger Hunt auf Deutsch

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Today was the day! We drove 5.5 hours south, from the Netherlands into Germany. So what did we do to keep the kiddos occupied? Well, they actually slept quite a lot! A month abroad has taken it out of them! They did a buys bag or two. (There were some new little puzzles I’d found at the Hema in the NL – it’s kind of like Target, only smaller.) And we also did a road trip scavenger hunt 🙂

Last year, I posted a set of travel games for road trips in Germany and the Netherlands. It looks, in part, like this:

There are also sets with just pictures and just words (so you can play games such as memory or go fish), plus a search for just vehicles (3rd image here).

Froggy had a great time with the scavenger hunt last year and managed to cover all of his boxes!

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This year we were driving from the Netherlands to Germany again, so I packed them up once more. But I also found a new scavenger hunt. This one has 52 things to find. And it’s all in German!! It also is only words with no pictures. That meant the boys needed help with the hunt. Heck, I had to look up a few words for myself before we left!

As we drove down the highway toward Baden-Württemberg, we found a whole bunch of things, right off the bat. And then Froggy got tired and lost interest. I think PER and I ended up having the most fun with it 🙂  I still have 9 items that I never found. But as we got closer and closer to our destination, I was SO excited to check off just one or two more things: ein rotes Cabrio!!! ein Mini-Cooper!! I still say I saw a green Jeep, but as it wasn’t an actual Jeep brand, I wasn’t allowed to cross it off my list 🙂  You can see all my scribblings on the scavenger hunt:

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You can download your own copy over on Isi-im-Glück. Herzlichen Dank, Isi!

A Month in the Netherlands … with Kids

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Last summer when I wistfully declared, “Wouldn’t it be nice to spend a whole month in the Netherlands???” – well, I never imagined it would actually happen! But within a few weeks of returning from our 2-week trip to Europe, my darling husband started showing me houses we could rent for this summer!

It’s not exactly what I was picturing…. I thought we’d get a house close to a town, so we could walk to the shops and really live in Europe for a month. Maybe take a Dutch class or get a tutor to help the kiddos and me learn some of the language….

Instead, we rented a big, beautiful home out in the forest. And we’ve been on-the-go tourists. Part of that had to do with my parents visiting for 2 weeks. And that was fantastic!

Now that Froggy and Hippo are older (7 and 4), we can do so much more with them, too! So here is a recap of all the fun places we’ve been to in the Netherlands, with links to the blog posts about each one.

Places to Play and Learn for Kids
Cultural Attractions
  • Canal Tour in Amsterdam
  • Clara Maria: cheese farm and wooden clog factory
  • Madurodam: the Netherlands in miniature
  • Muiderslot*: castle
  • Zaanse Schans: a step back in time – visit working old-fashioned windmills, the first Albert Heijn, a cheese shop, a pewter foundry, plus a museum of the area’s history and tour a chocolate factory (and don’t forget to stop for pannenkoeken for lunch!)
Museums
*Tip!

If you’re planning to go to a number of museums, you might want to invest in the Museumkaart. It can get you into over 400 museums around the Netherlands! If we had known our boys were going to be so interested in museums, we definitely would have gotten one this summer! The pass lasts for one year. Adult passes cost €59.90. For children 18 and under, passes cost €32.45.

I’m going back to update the posts with a final review of whether or not it was good for kids. I’ll also try to make sure I have info on the locations. I’d love to give some information about the cost, but once again, my darling husband has been doing all the planning! If I have anything to offer, I’ll put it in the posts 🙂

I’m also collecting a list of all the yummy and interesting foods we’ve eaten here in the Netherlands! Here is the link to that post!

2017 NL: Hansel, Gretel, and Pancakes

We’ve been trying to slow down, as we are in our final week in the Netherlands (before heading to Germany for a few days). But we had to fit in just one more adventure!

We had heard about a pannenkoekhuis that was fairy-tale themed and had a large playground. It’s called Hans & Grietje – or Hansel and Gretel. I’m sure you can imagine what it looked like! But I’ll show you some pictures anyway 🙂

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Outside there were all kinds of things to do for all different aged children. A sand pit to dig in and a small bouncy hill for the little ones. A huge bouncy hill for older children (who often needed a boost from parents to reach the top!), along with a spook house, swings, jungle gym, and “race track” with tricycles.

Inside, there was so much to see! An entryway with a covered book-way, an upside-down room with furniture on the ceiling, a cauldron for … well, you know what that’s for! There were  witches doing laundry, playing an organ, and flying a plane. In one dining room, the floor actually moved! It was hinged down the middle, so all of a sudden, it would lift up, and your table would be leaning one way. Then it would go back down, so your table was leaning down! Oh, and those tables – they had witches legs! There were also fantastic slides for the kids.

Oh yes, they have delicious pancakes, too!

Is it good for kids?

Of course!! They have something for children of all ages.

What about the cost?

There is no charge to get in. Just pay for your food and drinks!

Where is it?

For some reason, the google map is not working today. Here is the address: Hans & Grietje Pannenkoekhuis –

2017 NL: Monkeys and Marbles

Today was another special day for our boys … because it involved a marble run! They have been following the enormous and astounding marble runs created by the young Dutchman, Jelle Bakker, for a few years on his YouTube channel. Two years ago, we wanted to go and see one of them. But alas! it was not working and in the process of being fixed. Well, today, we finally made it to Gouda to see the Knikkerbaan Tsunami! It’s an appropriate name for a marble run that has over 13,500 marbles!! It’s really hard to capture on film, but I tried:

The marbles collect on one side, and when it gets to over 10,000, the whole table tips to send them rolling on their way!

The marble run is a permanent feature at the indoor playground Monkey Town in Gouda. You have to go back behind the large climbing structure to see it.

Monkey Town is a chain of indoor playgrounds in the Netherlands. It’s a great option for when it’s raining 🙂  They have seating in the center for parents to sit and still be able to keep an eye on the kiddos. They also have a small menu of lunch and snack items. This particular one in Gouda was a little tricky to find. It shares a building with a gym.

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Is it good for kids?

Well, of course! It’s made for kids! The adults on the other hand…. Well, it’s a good way to let the kiddos burn off some steam 🙂

What about the cost?

Adults are free. Kids cost €7 each. Food is extra. (This was at the Monkey Town in Gouda. I don’t know if prices differ in other locations.)

Where is it?

Check out the main website to find your nearest location. We went to the one in Gouda:

2017 NL: Escher’s Illusions

Today we spent the day in the Hague – or den Haag. It is the seat of the Dutch parliament. It is also the city where the king does his work, in the Noordeinde Palace (16th century). It is the home of the U.N.’s International Court of Justice, headquartered in the Peace Palace, and the International Criminal Court.

But it is also home to the M.C. Escher Museum, located in the former palace of the queen: the Lange Voorhout Palace.

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This museum also had a kind of scavenger hunt for children. It was really well done. They asked you to take pictures of certain pieces of artwork and then you could see the inspiration or the study from it in another piece elsewhere in the museum. See the study of the plants that was later used in the “Waterfall”? And look closely at the artwork that the man is studying!

As you move along the three floors of the museum, the optical illusions increase. Most of them are Escher’s, but there are a few others, too.

If you make it to the museum, be sure to stop and look at this piece (sorry I don’t know who did it – and that it’s crooked!):

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Doesn’t look like much, right? Stare at it straight on, and then sway a little from side to side. After you experience the movement in the piece, move toward the fireplace while still keeping a close eye on the artwork. That’s all I’m going to say! We were all shocked by what we saw!!

After experiencing all the fun in the Escher museum, we had lunch and then took a walk through the city to see the parliament buildings.

 

Is it good for kids?

Hippo (age 4) was probably still too young. Froggy (age 7) might have enjoyed it more toward the beginning of our month, but he was starting to wind down. He did enjoy the optical illusions. And if your kids like scavenger hunts, there is a special guide for them to look and learn as they go.

What about the cost?

Adults cost €9.50. Children ages 7 – 15 are €6.50. Children 6 and under are free. The Museum Card is not accepted here. They do have other discounts, including a family pass (2 adults + 2 children) for €25.50.

Where is it?