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 busy 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!

UPDATE (29 May 2018): I have made a new version of my Road Trip Scavenger Hunt! This one is adjusted more to traveling by train, but it could work well from the car, too! Check out THIS POST to get the new FREE download!

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?

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: Muiderslot – Storming the Castle!

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I think today was my favorite day on this trip! I’ve been to my fair share of castles throughout Europe, but the Muiderslot Castle in Muiden was an interactive surprise – especially for the kids!

The day didn’t start off so great. It was a gray and rainy day. Not one of the quick rain showers we’ve had often enough, but pouring down, feet-soaking rain. The wind was blowing pretty hard, too, so our umbrellas were of little use. Add to the mix that you can’t park very close to the castle, so it was about a 15 or 20-minute walk, and I think we were all a little grumbly.

We were greeted by a horn-rimmed owl! Really – there was a woman standing there, with an imposing owl perched on her arm!

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As we climbed the steep, time-worn stairs in one of the turrets, there were places to stop at different levels and learn a little more about the castle. But on the way down, the fun really began! We all got to be knights and ladies of the castle! They had fun dress-up opportunities for adults and children alike!

That chain mail was astoundingly heavy! I thought Froggy was faking a little as he slowly drudged over to the fireplace to have his picture taken. But it was really weighing him down!

In the next room, there was a virtual jousting tournament, where two visitors can “mount” a saddle and see who knocks the other off first. Froggy knocked his grandmother down twice! 🙂

There was so much to see and do! Be sure to get the little booklet for the kids. They collect stamps along the way and get knighted at the end! We missed this part, and I’m sorry we did!

There is another tower to climb that allows you to go up along the castle wall. And after you finish storming the castle, there are lovely gardens to enjoy. There is a small cafe, too, but we decided to eat our lunch in town.

We enjoyed the old town of Muiden. On our walk to the castle, the rain let up just enough for us to enjoy a swiveling bridge that opened to let a big boat go through!

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The sun had come out when we were walking the gardens. And we decided to have lunch outside in the old town. Among us, we enjoyed tostis, uitsmijter on toast (sunny side up eggs), a smoked eel sandwich, bitterballen (like mini round kroketten), or some even had appeltaart (apple pie) for lunch!

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Is it good for kids?

Definitely! I think Hippo was at just the right age (4). I’m not sure I would have taken him last year. And Froggy (age 7) really enjoyed it, too. It’s so interactive, there is plenty for everyone to enjoy.

What about the cost?

Online tickets for adults are €13.50. Children ages 4 – 11 cost €9. And children 3 and under are free. It is also free with the Museum Card. The children’s quest costs and additional €2. They also offer group prices.

Where is it?

2017 NL: Zaanse Schans Windmills

I think Zaanse Schans is one of my favorite places we’ve been! We went there last year, too, and the kids were excited to go back. They wanted to show it to their American grandparents.

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It is like stepping back in time – minus all the tourists! But it’s not overly crowded. It’s like visiting a village from the 18th or 19th century.

There are plenty of things to see, but we like to go to the windmill first. The one called De Kat is a paint windmill from 1664. Yes, they actually mill pigments! And they still do today! You can even buy little bottles of them to take home and make your own paints – instructions included!

You can tour the windmill to see the large gears at work. Climb the tall, steep ladder to go to the upper level and walk out on the deck of the windmill to see the sails turning up close, as well as beautiful views.

There is much more to see and do here as you walk through the picturesque old town. There is a chocolate shop, a bakery, a cheese shop, and a pewter foundry. There is also a museum of the original Albert Heijn grocery store. It looks quite different than the ones we go to today!

Near the parking lot is also the Zaans Museum and Verkade Experience, where you can learn about the history of the area and take a small tour of a chocolate factory.

Oh, and did I mention there is a Pannenkoekenhuis where you can have a delicious lunch? There is another restaurant and a cafe, if pancakes aren’t your thing. But really – what kid doesn’t like pancakes?!

Is it good for kids?

We took the boys here last year, too, at ages 6 & 3, and they had a great time. It’s nice to be outdoors, and they loved the windmill. Although Hippo had to be carried up and down the steep ladder at age 3. This year, he needed some guidance, but that was all. Then again, he’s our adventurer. Froggy needed some help getting down last year (age 6), as I recall. Last year, we did not visit the museum, as the boys had had enough. But this year they were up for it! They enjoyed the free audio tour, too.

What about the cost?

There is no entrance fee to the grounds, but you do pay for parking (€10 per car) and to go through the museum and chocolate factory. Sorry, I can’t find any info on the prices on their website!

Where is it?

GPS address: Schansend 7 in Zaandam