Barcelona’s La Sagrada Familia

A quick weekend girls trip to Barcelona was enough to fall utterly, completely in love with Gaudi’s work starting with the still unfinished La Sagrada Familia. Time is of the essence when visiting Gaudi’s masterpiece. Take the time to absorb the quiet noise, but don’t forget that it’s still primarily a house of worship. Reservations are needed to enter but once inside, you can linger all you wish.

Most valuable tip from locals: Don’t miss your ticket time for the main gate nor for a tower visit!

Tip for those with children, vertigo, claustrophobia: If you choose to climb the steps of either of the 2 towers currently open to the public, don’t look down. You may also wish to skip stepping out onto a balcony, too. Just saying.

Special thanks to gal pal Ana & my Bella for posing it up for me. Muwahhh!




ChitChat pack 1.6: Fall for these favorite links

chitchat pack image small bites in your inboxSchool is back in session and the ChitChat Pack is back after a brief pause. I’m building a similar pack for my Biz page as it’s been a while since I’ve blogged there. No excuses as to why, just that I got superbly busy. That means that although life was chaotic and for a time, I was solo parenting, life was all in all Superb. With a capital “S”. As long as I have coffee at dawn and the occasional chocolate. I’ve been collecting a ton of fab posts and links that I’ve been dying to share with you, so this is slightly bigger than the last post. I hope you’ll fall for some or all of my favorite links, too, starting off with a fun video about going down the proverbial rabbit hole (I’ve done that a few times building up this post).


MUSIC VIDEO: Going down the Rabbit Hole with Whitney Avalon and Jonathan Hurley

The past few days has been a social media struggle NOT to go down the proverbial rabbit hole. Between breaking news on water found on Mars to the refugee situation in Europe, I’ve been jumping over and into rabbit holes all week. So, in honor of Rabbit Holes, I present this YouTube video from funny lady Whitney Avalon. It goes back a couple of years, but it still holds true.


Infographic “10 Best Places To Live” courtesy www.wemissourtv.com  best countries for expats

I’ve lived overseas for most of the last 10 years (Japan and Germany, with a brief sidetrip to Afghanistan for the Navy). So when the folks at WeMissOurTv asked me to take a look and share this fun infographic, I thought, why not? It’s their list of 10 best places to live overseas, in bite-size chunks of info. Perfect for the ChitChat pack.

The US Expat Guide – A graphic by We Miss Our Tv


 From hops to beer: How to get ready for Oktoberfest  how to get ready for Oktoberfest

The fall season here in Germany is here and so is the massive party known as Oktoberfest. Contrary to popular belief, not all Germans own a pair of Lederhosen (leather pants or shorts, worn by either gender) or do the ladies all own a bust-enhancing Dirndl and wear them around town. That is truly something found in Bavaria, where a massive 6 million attendees will descend upon Munich, its capital.


Fashionable Travel Hacks that won’t hurt your budget   travel hacks

One of the best and worst steps for me when traveling is the packing part. (2nd to the planning part, which involves numerous rabbit holes…) I love traveling. I hate deciding what to bring along or not bring along, especially if it’s a combined work/play trip in more than one location or time zone. So, I added this list of travel hacks to my permanent list of go-tos.


14 Untranslatable Words Shown in Incredibly Stunning Illustrations   Untranslatable words

We love languages in our home, so much so that anyone listening might hear 3 or 4 different languages in one sentence. We’re a bit weird like that. I’ve heard most of this list from our time in both Japan and Germany. You can Google these words to get a straight up, Refdesk, Webster dictionary definition, but take a look at these illustrations! Some are creepy as my 6 year old would say but you’d be hard-pressed not to be able to recall the meaning!


Why more African-Americans Need to Travel Around   gloria atanmo

I love how Gloria Atanmo puts her soul and spirit out there, sharing intriguing and maybe even uncomfortable photos of her being the token black female while traveling, even addressing the haters who criticize her ability to travel as a single childless woman, completely missing the tongue-in-cheek flavor of this piece. Haters gonna hate, peeps.

Note: My mom just completed her 2nd two-week European trip (Spain and Portugal); I’m going to ask her if she was the only Asian in her travel group of American senior citizens…


The best Paris Restaurants Right Now Best paris restaurants

I’m a foodie, you’re a foodie, let’s check out this list of hot/haute Paris restaurants, shall we?


Social Consciousness: What did you see first?  personality test

This is like a Rorschach test meets a Crayola box of 64 crayons. My favorite viral internet personality test this year!


Declining Student Resilience: A serious problem for colleges  student resilience

As parents of an only child, we’re hyper aware of the focus on children reading on time/early, getting good grades early, everything early. So how do we reconcile the fact that we don’t want to get “that” parent, the “helicopter” parent? We teach our child to be resilient and not need us (or an adult) to pull her out of a scrape (provided there’s no blood and guts spilling out). The bounce factor is important here, whether on the playground or in the classroom. Heck, if she can be a 6 year old doing flips on the back of a moving horse, I think we may be onto something here.


Free Financial Tool: Personal Capital Retirement Planner  retirement planning

I retired a couple of years ago and am blessed that I have a pension coming in while still in my 40s. I’m far from rich, but 20+ years in the military meant that when I retired, I could choose to continue my personal investments into my retirement fund as well as into our child’s college fund. Now that my husband is preparing to retire within the next few years, we’re focusing on our future even more, especially since I started freelancing as a virtual assistant. Questions like “where” to retire in the US or in Europe come up weekly. How will we prepare for aging parents and a college age child? Are we doing enough? Stress is normal but I don’t want us to be caught offguard. So when I found out about Personal Capital and some of their free retirement planning tools, I thought I’d share them here.


MILITARY MIGHT: VAQ-136 Summer 2005 Cruise Video

It’s no secret if you checked out my About page… I loved my time at sea. There were some seriously crappy days. There were at least 2 times where I got so busy that I failed to hydrate during summer cruises that I was a patient on my own ward. That sucked because I would wake up on the ward and have a stack of folders with papers to sign. (It’s nice to be needed, eh?) Anyway, I found this cruise video from one of the airwings during my 2nd summer on the Kitty Hawk. Enjoy!


MUSIC VIDEO: 4th Power, The X Factor UK 2015 Titanium cover/Boot camp

This group of Filipina sisters are nothing short of amazing. Watch it. I dare you to disagree.


MUSIC VIDEO: Burn by the Cure/O’Keefe Music Foundation

Since our child started music lessons (violin or Geiger in German), I’ve been intrigued with childrens music and art foundations. OMF is fantastic. The kids who produce these videos are as young as age 2! Worth the follow if you’re a music lover!

 

Thanks for reading! Comments are always appreciated (unless they’re totally snarky and rude or you’re a spammer, then you’ll get the big D).

 

Cheering you on,

Melody




ChitChat Pack 1.4: Tech in our Home

chitchat pack small bites The summer is flying by quickly. The past week has had unbelievably good weather – sunny and not too warm – perfect for reading outdoors. I’ve done quite a bit of reading this summer (love the Kindle app for my Android phone) but also am addicted to watching Periscope. (I’ll chat more about it in a minute.) We’ve got a lot of tech in our home in the form of cameras, smartphones, iPads and our computers. So it’s no surprise that our child is comfortable with different technology and software. She’s a natural behind the camera and knows how to take decent photos on our phones as well as with digital cameras. (She even videotaped a series of how-to-make-origami animals a couple of weekends ago. I need to edit them for her but other than setting up a tabletop tripod and camera for her, she did everything else – impromptu scripting, set up, etc.)

david fugazzotto photography

Isabella captured her father perfectly here when she was 4 or 5.

We monitor her use and have taught her how to use our basic equipment (cameras, laptop, mobile devices) and to respect our rules for what she can watch and which sites she may visit. Also, since my work computer is located in a shared family space, I’m conscious of what I view and read on screen now that she’s reading at a 9 or 10 year old level. I’m also careful what I post because she’s bound to Google me or her dad one day. Teen angst is bad enough without being embarrassed about something your parents wrote about you when you were younger.

Anyway, moving right along to a few of my favorite discoveries from the last few days. This has become a blog post of mini-blog posts, eh?


dog with a blog screenshotDog with a Blog

The other day, little B was feeling under the weather so I let her use my computer for a while to watch iTunes, specifically a Disney show she loves, Dog with a Blog. It’s a clever little show with a blended family and smart, charming kid actors. Sometimes the parents are corny, naive, and maybe a little clueless about what’s really going on in the mind of their teenage daughter. Just like in real life.


Podcast: Stuff Mom Never Told You

SMNTY broaches topics that my Filipino mom would NEVER in a million years talk to me about. Never. This enlightening podcast allows me to listen to those touchy subjects in the car, on headphones, in private. Brilliant! PS: Headphones are strongly recommended for those who blush easily.


clementine daily screenshot Clementine Daily’s Daily Quotes

When I need a little boost, I’ll seek out an inspirational quote or 2 or 3. I adore the daily quotes in Clementine Daily, founded by Design for Mankind‘s Erin Loechner. And who can deny the calming pull of peach and white?


Visual Supply Co’s Journal

If you love eye-catching photography, creative shoots, brilliantly designed pages, check out VSCO’s Journal. You won’t need to open an account to surf the journal’s collections. Here are a couple of my favorites. Enjoy!

common comfort izzy rael Izzy Rael: 15 year old uber blogger/photographer

Izzy’s website Common Comfort is such a gorgeous site that it’s hard to believe she’s only 15. Check out her VSCO photo collection here.

Mustafah Abdulaziz: American photographer based in Berlin.

Fantastic collection “Water”… See his latest photo collection here.


Social Media updates

Why Facebook Strong-Armed an App Developer and Crushed His Viral App

I’m unsure if I would have downloaded an app that could show who unfriended me on Facebook, but I do find it interesting that Facebook quickly dashed it into the ground. An app like “Who deleted me” would help quickly clean up friends lists much like how Twitter users can see who unfollowed them via other 3rd party apps. Perhaps Facebook will create an option in a future update? One can only hope.


screenshot periscopePeriscope Rocks!

I’m a relatively new Periscope user and I’m still figuring out the ideal time to catch up with those I follow (being across the Pond from popular US based Periscopers can be painful!). Wait, you don’t know what I’m talking about? Start off with a quick read from popular photo site, FStoppers. Even if you’re not a photographer, this article gives you a good idea what it can be used for in terms of sharing information “live” to up to 1000+ viewers and having it up for followers for 24 hours. For instance, Hubby and I were watching Neil Diamond in the UK last week live on Periscope – one of his crew was broadcasting from the arenas (it was announced on Periscope and Twitter feeds).

Here are 2 broadcasts I enjoy watching on a regular basis  (nearly daily!):
Portrait photographer Peter Hurley (he’s funny and engaging)
American expat in Rome Katie Parla She’s a historian and a foodie who broadcasts Roman sights (popular and obscure)


33 Websites That Will Make You a Genius

Bookmark this site for a rainy day or weekend project. Medium provides a wonderfully concise list of useful websites to make you smarter about practically any subject.


Music and Video

MuseRadio.org’s interview earlier this year with Michael from Marlais

marlais michael museradio Marlais’ Electronic – folk music brought MuseRadio out to Berlin earlier this year for a great interview. You can read more on the MuseRadio blog and catch the podcast here.

Cheerleader – OMI: The Filharmonic (A Cappella Cover)

I grew up in Texas with traditional Filipino parties that always had a Minus One or Karaoke sing-off. Singing contests were part of our Filipino community and to this day, there’s a sense of pride when popular rock and YouTube stars include singers with Filipino blood. Lea Salonga, apl.de.ap (Black Eyed Peas), Darren Criss (Glee), AJ Rafael (YouTube) and now The Filharmonics, who played the Filipino acapella group in Pitch Perfect 2.

 




ChitChat Pack 1.3 – Humpday edition, The Written Word and a bit of Irish Dancing

the written wordWhat are you doing this summer? The school holidays started in our part of Germany this week and my normally scheduled-to-the-hilt calendar is sadly empty. My 6 year old has been in weekly summer camps since mid-June, when her American school went on summer break.  Until last week, she had regular German activities that still kept her busy twice a week, but now they are also on “Urlaub” (holiday). Now? I’m at a loss. Thankfully, we have a child who inhales a couple of books every few days, having recently graduated to chapter books while in Kindergarten (her dad & I were early readers, and still always have a book or e-book nearby). Her reading hobby makes things like bus trips and long car rides tolerable. I’d rather have her nose in a book than in a videogame or watching a movie. (Don’t misunderstand me; she has a couple of video games on an old iPhone, but we don’t own a videogame player and don’t plan to. Ever.) Instead, we offer lots of reading material. I hope she grows to love the written word, in nearly any format. Childrens readers like Little House on the Prairie and the Magic Treehouse. The back of the cereal boxes. Reading my emails and text messages over my shoulder… well, you get the picture (thankfully, my texts are “clean”). To keep her focused, I got her a blank book so she could track what she’s read this summer. That’s her summer goal before 1st grade. This weekly post, my written word mash-up, with a closing music video (or 2), is my summer reading “log”. I’m a couple days later than intended with this post, but I think I’ll move it to Wednesdays in the future. I hope you’re enjoying it so far! And I hope you’ll be a regular visitor, too.


For the writers who need free photos…

parent reading sketch

Image taken from page 19 of ‘Songs for Little People. [With illustrations by H. Stratton.]’ Copyright – Public Domain, from the British Library

The British Library, Flickr, & some of the most fantastic and rare photos in mankind’s history

As a blogger, I sometimes (ok, often) hit the mental wall of silence. Writer’s Block. Procrastination. Or I just run out of ideas and steam. At the same moment. As a visual creative, thought-provoking images and words help get the mental juices running. Check out the free photos from as far back as the 17th century, some which still needs to be tagged properly, but with this sort of stockpile, you can add a bit of quirk, flair, and historical reference to your own work.

Tip: How to properly attribute Creative Commons Zero Public Domain


For the blogger with writer’s block…

Blog Title Generator

blog title generatorI initially jotted down “writers block hangover cure” when I found this link and knew I wanted to eventually share it with you. ‘Nuf said. (You still have a bit of work to do and plug in a few words here or there, but it’s a nice little prompter if you’re stuck on a title.)

 


For the Parents/Grandparents out there… or folks who love children’s books…

baby hand Love You Forever by Robert Munsch

This is one of my favorite children’s books. It means a lot to me personally but I can’t help but think of my own parents as I listen to author Robert Munsch reading aloud on his own site. I suggest you have your own copy (& child nearby if you wish) while he reads you a story, or 2 or 3. Drop him a note too (he responds pretty darn quick).


For the authors waiting to publish…

The Best Writing Advice for New Childrens Authors from Top Editors

And while you’re at it, check out The Times’ Childrens fiction competition for this year.

The Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction Competition 2015 terms and conditions

18 countries, 18 publication opportunities

If you’ve got an idea for a manuscript or you have a completed one, waiting for the chance at publication. Maybe you’ve toyed with self-publishing or releasing it online, chapter by chapter. Have you tried overseas publishing companies? Aerogrammestudio‘s list can get you started.


Meg Wollitzer – Summer Camp

swimming holeStorytelling at it’s best from The Moth. If you’re a fan of audiobooks or poetry slams, you’ll love this storytelling site. Meg Wollitzer’s coming of age tale highlights summer camp from the eyes of a young girl trying to keep up with her more sophisticated fellow campers. Ah, I don’t miss the tween/teen years. At. All.

 


The Power of Roller Derby Skate Names

roller derby skate namesA young woman I worked with years ago is on a roller derby skate team. Knowing how quiet she could be around me when I first met her, seeing photos of her in her roller derby gear at first caught me by surprise. This article gives me a bit more insight into the world of roller derby…I’m intrigued. I can imagine what kind of alter ego names I like. Maybe something from the Potter world. Definitely not Disneyana. What about you? [Tweet “Skate names are like alter egos.-Regina Lampert @frogmouth_inc“]


Musical break…

We’re Irish Dance fans in our home by default, although hubby saw Riverdance nearly 20 years ago. Our 6 year old took it up a year ago and has really taken to it. She dances a jig instead of walking most places now. These last 2 videos are for her.

The Try Guys try Irish Step Dancing

The fearless four known as the Try Guys do their best (worst?) attempt with Irish dancing.

Freedom

A friend of mine shared this story and video earlier this week by Joe.ie’s columnist Tony Cuddihy: These 3 Irish Dancers are going to be absolute superstars. The Facebook video prompted a couple of things for me: (1) look further into Facebook video vice YouTube video and (2) research the Chaplin archives for the 1940 speech from The Great Dictator film. Click on the black screen below to start the Freedom video.

 

Thanks for reading! Comments are always appreciated (unless they’re totally snarky and rude or you’re a spammer, then you’ll get the big D).

Cheers,

Melody AKA Nymphadora Taunts

(Kidding! I can’t even skate backwards)




ChitChat Pack 1.2 – Sound Bites

chitchat pack sound bitesAs I’m writing this late in the night (early in the morning?), I’m listening to a mixtape by Scottish-born DJ Stillhead. It’s a super-chill mix to start with and perfect background music to write about this week’s collection of stories and links. I’m a natural sharer and with each new discovery, I bookmark, tab, highlight relentlessly with the diehard intention to share. Sometimes I get a common theme going and other times, it’s a literal, verbal hot mess or brain dump. This week’s edition is a collection of Sound Bites, focusing on 2 of my favorite themes: Music and Food on a global stage. You see, after living in Europe, Asia and the USA, I would be hard-pressed to ignore the different cultural influences pockmarking my musical and gastronomic tastes. I hope you’ll check out some of these special finds, enjoy listening or reading about them and maybe, just maybe, seek them out in your piece of the world. Because, dear readers, [Tweet “the world has so much to offer and what’s life without a bit of adventure?”]


Intentionally Mysterious: A Freunde von Freunden mixtape by DJ Stillhead (AKA Alex Cowles)

A couple of years ago, I attended a blogger conference in Berlin, a city that visitors either love or hate. I’m one of those travelers who enjoys the cultural mix that makes Berlin unique and alive, more so than other cities in eastern Germany. Two of the conference speakers came from Freunde von Freunden, an international publication that introduces different cultures, cities, industries from around the world. I learned that mixtape talents often came from the local Berlin music industry, which is just as much a melting pot as the city itself. Stillhead’s mixtape for FvF is best listened to while traveling. Plug it in to unplug from your crazy morning commute.

FvF mixtapes found on Mixcloud or iTunes are unique and you can count on a new one every 2 weeks.

Mixcloud link: https://www.mixcloud.com/fvonf/freunde-von-freunden-mixtape-90-by-stillhead/

Freunde von Freunden Mixtape #90 by Stillhead by Fvonf on Mixcloud


Discover Paris with Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos

meet me in parisI won’t lie to you; we love Paris. Heck, we love France. My husband is a bonafide Francophile although I think he could live anywhere in the world and be happy. When I stumbled on this little video after having visited Paris at the end of June, I had to share it here. While we do make a point to visit typical tourist spots, we also prefer to mix up our itinerary with a lot of wandering, preferring to enjoy the overall experience as much as possible. You’ll see a lot of the Paris I love when you watch Eve Jackson’s video with 3 prolific British artists (a singer, portrait artist and actress). You’ll get a look at a food and music lover’s walk around Montmartre, wander through a favorite Parisian museum housed in an old train station, and visit an artist’s studio. (You know I paused it a few times to catch the names of a couple of the food shops they visited for our next visit to the City of Light!)


Did you know that July is National Ice Cream Month in the USA?

japanese ice cream It’s no secret to anyone who’s lived in Germany that the Germans love their ice cream or “eis”–the creamier, the better. And the Italian gelato ice cream truck is a favorite sight to see year ‘round. (Eis Tony comes to the bottom of our driveway at 1700 or 5pm, every day, rain or shine.) There are so many yummy flavors in this world from personal favorite Goma or black sesame ice cream in Japan to straciatella in Europe.

Here’s a lovely and yummy recipe from chef and author David Lebovitz for Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream.

And to top off your ice cream dreams, a more recent writeup on an adventurous ice cream shop in Australia with luscious and experimental flavors and toppings


Another great list from Matador Network: 9 Things that only happen when you travel solo

life is a daring adventureIf you caught last week’s ChitChat Pack, I mentioned that I only recently started becoming comfortable traveling solo. Why? When I was in the Navy, at one point while assigned with the 7th Fleet in Japan, I always needed a travel buddy to leave the ship whenever we pulled into a foreign port. Before then, I’d only had a chance to wander around a new city a couple of times on my own timeline with my own checklist (or non-checklist). Of course, I quickly figured out with whom I was comfortable traveling around a strange city and I have fab memories of those visits! But there’s a lot to be said about traveling solo. This quick list of 9 things is so very true… I’ve met some of the most interesting people and collected fantastic memories that would not have happened if I wasn’t traveling solo.


Profile: German Violin maker Frank Rittwagen

A couple of weeks ago, our child decided that she wanted to learn how to play the violin. I thought maybe it was just one of those fleeting whims that every young child gets. (Natch, she’s still very much obsessed with it so we have a trial class at a local school soon.) Neither my husband nor I play the violin (he played briefly as a youngster before switching to trumpet). I’d hoped perhaps she would want to learn the piano or keyboard first. I don’t normally subscribe to “signs” but when I was listening to FvF’s mixtapes earlier, I found their profile on German violin maker, Frank Rittwagen. Maybe it’s a “sign”…


MAKE WINE NOT WAR

make wine not war syrian wine We live in wine country (that’s my child running through a nearby vineyard) and I love learning about the different wines produced in this region, especially when the local vineyards open up their businesses and offer dinner a couple of times a week in the summer. Imagine my surprise when I learned about a pair of brothers who, against all odds, are continuing their family dream of making wine in a Syrian war zone.

 


International Mashup:

We (my child and I) are fans of YouTube musical artists. I’m also a fan of mashups. Here’s a crazy fun mashup from uber-popular Kurt Hugo Schneider’s channel from earlier this year when he and his buds traveled to India. Enjoy!

https://youtu.be/yHA9lxVhNdo

Thanks for reading! Comments are always appreciated (unless they’re totally snarky and rude or you’re a spammer, then you’ll get the big D).

Cheering you on,
Melody


Photography Credits: 

  • Britney Brown, Des Moines-based photographer. You can find her at Britney Brown Design or follow her on Facebook 
  • Morguefile. One of my main go-to free stock photo sites.
  • Canva. I use this fantastic and free/low-cost site for simple and beautiful graphics for use here on my blog, my business site Global VA Connect, and on social media.

 




ChitChat pack 1.1 – Links We Love

chitchatpack1.1 links we loveHave you ever experienced writers’ block? That staring-blankly-at-a-white-page zoned out look? I’ve been in a writing slump lately and hoped a bit of personal travel would help. While it helped to recharge, the brain cells still needed a sumpin’-sumpin’… a spark. Not sure what it is, but even after a trip to Paris and visits with out-of-town friends and family, I’m still on the hunt for the elusive spark. I’ve started and stopped a half-dozen writing projects in as many weeks. I’ve recently started a 3-day Business Blogging Badass Challenge with Anne McAuley that had me thinking of all the “stuff” in my overflowing inbox, all the potential content! Every week I get tons of stories in my inbox. So I scrubbed, I hemmed, I hawed. Finally…here’s a small collection of links we love, digital finds, favorite stories, tips & hints.

Older parents rock!

We never intended to be older parents. Since we didn’t marry until our early 30s, we knew we’d be a bit older than other parents when our child/children reached schoolage. What I never expected is that I’d be (1) in my 40s and (2) retired from one career when our daughter entered kindergarten. I don’t think it takes a research study to tell me that being older and having more financial means to provide for my child has an impact on our overall lifestyle and yes, happiness. But it’s still an interesting 2-minute read.

[Tweet “Older Parents are happier parents according to German researchers”]

http://www.thelocal.de/20150706/older-parents-are-happier-parents-claims-study


Just in time for summer festivals: A beer and food pairing guide

beerfoodpairingWhen it’s hot and humid, sometimes a cold beer is the perfect drink to accompany the different foods available at the different festivals here in Germany and around the world this summer. I wish this infographic was a bit bigger as it’s a Tweet from The Wine Wankers in Oz. (Maybe they’ll see this and post a full image? One can only hope for a pocket-sized version…)

Beer and food pairing guide


And what festival would be complete without the local version of a hot dog?

ultimate hot dogOne of my favorite traveling food critics, Andrew Zimmern, waxes poetic about the ultimate hot dog. Here’s his ultimate hot dog… recipe! Pssst… it’s more than just a grill or a pot of water on the stovetop!

Andrew Zimmern’s ultimate hot dog


Solo travelers will appreciate this next piece!

links we loveAs an introvert who loves to travel but hates crowds, I’m lucky that my husband shares similar tendencies. It’s only recently that I’ve taken to traveling solo and have enjoyed London, Berlin and Paris for a few days at a time to recharge. If you wondered how an introvert travels solo, take a few minutes to read World of Wanderlust’s guide to understand the introverted wanderer.

12 Tips for the Introverted Traveler


Bargain lodging doesn’t have to be a flea motel

I love a bargain and am always on the lookout for unique places to stay. If I’m traveling solo or with my child, I also look at places that are relatively safe but offer a bit of culture outside the door. This collection of hostels around the world makes me want to book a ticket.

10 Awesome Hostels around the World


Campers and caravans: the ultimate roadtrip

camper_TII worked with a family guy who loved to travel around the US in his luxury RV. His twin boys loved being able to stretch out while mom or dad drove the huge RV, sometimes towing their car, from state to state, coast to coast. I enjoyed hearing the stories and especially hearing about how much money they saved by staying in campgrounds than in expensive hotels. Maybe one day, we’ll join the camper craze! Conde Nast traveler recently reviewed the best campers for summer road trips.


Summer project: Closet Detox

The Chalkboard online magazine is a new favorite addition to my daily feed and I’ve been following the Closet Detox this summer. My goal is to get a capsule wardrobe started by the time summer ends. However, I need a serious closet detox first!

The Closet Detox Part 2


RIP Chuck

I’ve been following one of the original mom bloggers, Heather Armstrong of Dooce.com for years now. I admit, I started following her because of the fantastic and funny photos of her dog Chuck. If you are an animal lover, do not read this without a box of tissues nearby.

Read Dooce’s tribute to Chuck “How I wish I was not here” 


Taylor Swift on repeat

This week’s most addictive tune on endless loop in our home, thanks to the wee one who’s a big Taylor fan.

https://youtu.be/QcIy9NiNbmo

 

Thanks for reading! I hope to do this on a regular basis to jumpstart each week. Comments are always appreciated (unless they’re totally snarky and rude or you’re a spammer, then you’ll get the big D).

xoxo, Melody



The Best Children’s Suitcase: The JAKO-O Cupboard Trolley

Childrens suitcase

Checking in at the airport

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged. I apologize to y’all because I’ve been truly busy working with awesome client projects at Global VA Connect the last couple of months. I’ve got several blogs in draft mode, waiting to be scheduled. However, with spring in full swing and travel on the mind, I thought I’d start the week off with a product review. Since we just came back from a last minute trip to see family across the Pond (Atlantic), I thought I’d share a quick review of JAKO-O Children’s Cupboard Trolley, what I now consider the best children’s suitcase with wheels.  I’ve highlighted 3 main reasons below: it’s age and height appropriate, its excellent design promotes efficient and organized packing (frazzled parents of independent children, this is a MUST), and it’s lightweight.

AGE AND HEIGHT APPROPRIATE:

There are 2 sizes available, based on the child’s height. I’ve met some really tall 6 year olds… in fact, just this past week, we met a friend at a playground and her 6 year old was a full 8 inches taller than our child! That little girl would be perfectly fine with either the small or large model. The smaller is appropriate for a child 1 meter tall; the larger is meant for children 1.5 meters tall. Our daughter is just over 1 meter tall and it was perfect, even with the small trolley bag attached (it slides nicely over the telescopic handle).

She used the trolley bag as her main carryon, although we ended up carrying it since the little books tucked inside actually made it heavier than it looked. (I wish it had backpack straps, she wishes it had wheels and a telescopic handle.)

childrens suitcase

4 shelves and an antique milk jug of marbles

EXCELLENT DESIGN PROMOTES EFFICIENCY & ORGANIZATION:

My favorite quality of this trolley is it’s truly a cupboard, with adjustable (velcro) shelves that have nice straps to contain clothes. The designer placed a lot of thought and consideration to the commuter child (visits grandparents or divorced parents) or the frequent child traveler.

Our 6 year old packed her bag herself with minimal help (a checklist to use and a final visual check from a parent), sorting clothes, toiletries & a few toys onto each shelf so she could easily find them later. She even managed to keep her clothes off the floor at her grandparents’ homes this past week when we were traveling. (Her old suitcase was one big space and even if she used small organizer bags to separate clothing like undergarments, socks and hair accessories, we’d still see a huge mess on the floor.)

There is no space for hanging items but her frilly little church dresses and tulle skirts easily rolled (no wrinkles!) and fit into one of the 4 shelves.

Outer pockets: The 4 side pockets were a nice size and could fit her toiletries, hair accessories and a couple pairs of shoes.

Laundry/sport/wet clothing bag: included in purchase is a nice size waterproof bag that matches the gray shelves. It’s perfect for dirty clothes or wet swimsuits.

Suggestion for Jako-o designer: Place a handle at the base, where the wheels are located so that it’s easier to grab out of the boot (trunk) or off the baggage claim. Also, add 2 wheels and make them all 360 degree spinner wheels, too. It would make for easier transport through busy airport terminals like Atlanta and Heathrow.

LIGHTWEIGHT:

Since it’s a lightweight bag and smaller than typical luggage, we really don’t fear overpacking. In fact, if you look at the photo above, you’ll see a milk jug of marbles. That heavy antique glass jug wouldn’t fit in my luggage without tipping it over the maximum weight but was tucked in nicely on the bottom shelf of my child’s bag. (We did ask her first as it’s the polite thing to do.)

Nice to know information follows… 

COST:

It’s a bit pricey for a one-time trip, but since we do travel quite a bit for long weekends as well as weeklong (or more) trips, it’s worth the 99+€ for the cupboard trolley. This will likely be our last luggage purchase for her for a couple of years if not more. It’s well-made and protected contents well. If you want to protect your investment, you can also buy a trolley protector, a waterproof bag cover for a few euro more. (We didn’t)

WHERE TO BUY:

Since we live in Europe, those are the links I’ve added above. Unfortunately, JAKO-O stores are located Germany and apparently, mail order is only available in continental Europe, Great Britain and Ireland. I’ve scoured English speaking sites but haven’t found a wheeled suitcase quite like this one. *If you know of one, please share!

FINAL THOUGHTS:

Cost and exclusivity aside, this is the best single luggage purchase for children we’ve seen. No other bag has been able to address a child’s need for organization and independence as well as Jako-o’s cupboard trolley. And the colors are vibrant but not tacky, yet easily identifiable in baggage claim. I’ve hunted around for something comparable for myself, to no avail. I may just head back to the store to pick one up for myself. 

Disclaimer: I did not receive any compensation, product or discount for this review. 




The Nanny Files: 8 Very Simple Things You Can Do To Save Your Sanity When Traveling With Kids

Tuesday Tips with Tasha

Carriage Ride Vienna Spanish Riding School

Waiting for our Carriage Ride outside Vienna’s Spanish Riding School (I really like this photo of them!)

Happy Tuesday, Blog Family! A few weeks ago, our dear nanny pal Tasha had a short Q&A session about modern childcare options. She’s been quite busy as a London nanny of 3 active children so we had to delay her next post to this week. When I asked her what she’d like to write about, we bounced around a couple of ideas until this one landed. Perfect for all the upcoming trips that families are oft to do when warmer weather strikes. (Although I suggest traveling in winter weather to get out of the winter blues!) Without further adieu, here are Tasha’s 8 proven simple things you can do to save your sanity when traveling with kids.

1 Have snacks, ALWAYS.

The last thing you want is to have kids saying “I’m hungggrrrrryyyyyyyyyyyyy” and go on and on and on till you go in the shop to get something (which then turns into another nightmare). From ricecakes to fruit, have something to give them. I normally carry 3 different sets of snacks, plus something for yourself.

2 In the car, on the tube?

travel by streetcarSo you say you don’t want the kids on the iPad or phone the entire time? Get them too choose a colouring book/sticker book and a small little toy with which they can play on the journey, and stop the boredom and restlessness from appearing!

3 Let your children have their own little backpack, WHICH THEY KNOW THEY HAVE TO CARRY.

This allows them to have free access to the colouring books/reading books and little toys while on the journey and reduces the amount you have to carry. Make sure you tell the child before you leave he will be carrying it and be FIRM. If you end up carrying it, what’s the point?

4 Know where the toilets are located wherever you are going.

Simple, logical yet sometimes forgotten.

5 Write your mobile/cell number in PEN on the child’s arm.

Don’t write the child’s name just ‘mum’ ‘nanny’ ‘dad’, just in case they get lost. This helps ensure that someone will contact you.

6 Have a password with your child.

A pre-agreed word for safety to be used in case a stranger ever turned up and said ‘your mummy told me to get you’ and wanted the child to accompany him. If your child knows there is a password, he would ask the stranger for it, and know that he shouldn’t go with that person without the password. Remember if someone is picking up your child…..tell them the password. 

7 Have a plan A, B and C.

Just in case, you never know…and this means you can move onto the next plan without anyone knowing but yourself.

8 Don’t stress about what anyone else is thinking about how your child is acting, or the way you’re parenting.

If your child misbehaves, tell them off and don’t be afraid to do so because you’re out in public. Otherwise your child may become the ‘nightmare’ child as she knows you won’t do a thing once out in public. If your child is talking loud, playing her games, is happy and having fun, but the people around her don’t like it…tough! You and your children have every right to be there too. There is no need to get stressed over other people.

So, lovely readers, what did you think? Do you have your own tips to add to this list? I’d love to hear about them in the comments! 

 

Special thanks to Tasha for her easy to remember tips and we’ll see her soon, here again on a future Tuesday! If there’s something you’d like her to discuss, pop it into the comments or send an email to melody@globalfamilytreks.com. Thanks for stopping by!




Omg! The Best Budget Friendly Travel Sites Ever!

angkor wat siem reap

Visiting Angkor Wat

Over the years, I’ve gone from super-anal, stressed out travel planner to go-with-the-flow, slightly stressed out traveler. A lot of this is due to my expert business and adventure traveler of a husband. We’ve both done a good amount of traveling: business, military, solo, adventure, family and the most complex kind. The kind that combines 2 or more of the above. So when travel expenses are limited by different variables like travel preferences (luxury or boutique or hostel) or our bank account, locating the best budget friendly travel sites means we can do more with less expense and maximize the travel experience for all of us. These are our family favorite sites that we frequently revisit in our couples/family traveling over the last 10+ years. We use them for all types of travel, business, solo, adventure, family (with and without dogs) and multi-purpose (i.e. events like weddings combined with business).

There are nearly as many useful apps and tools as there are countries to visit. These sites and apps promise easier travel planning or expense recording, but honestly, you won’t know if it works for you and your family if you can’t try it first.

But if you’ll trust me, I’m here to tell you that either my husband or I have used them for our own business and personal travel planning. Also as an executive assistant in recent years, I used many of these same sites and tools when planning national and overseas itineraries for C-suiters and their travel teams. Unless otherwise noted, the links below are international or have international links.

If you read all the way to the end, I’ll also list some fantastic travel bloggers who provide fab travel tips… cheap, free, luxury, and everything in between. Some have affiliate links (nothing wrong with clicking them to help support like-minded travelers if you so choose).

For airline booking, you can use these sites to compare prices and stay within budget. *compare these prices with your favorite airlines’ posted flights

  • Skyscanner: definitely my favorite resource
    • How to use it: compare airfare for destinations and dates, filter by price or departure/arrival time
    • What’s so awesome about it: you can choose to purchase flights through their links with discount sites or through the airline’s company site and you aren’t paying any fees to Skyscanner
  • Kayak
  • Expedia
  • Travelocity
  • Special mentions: you can also check discount long-distance carrier, Condor Airlines
  • Tip: Check out the typical weather for any stopovers during your travel dates. One winter, I was delayed in Atlanta every time I flew through from Washington DC to San Antonio. EVERY TIME.
  • Tip: Add extra time or days to your travel plans if you’ve got unique travel situations like ferries or sea planes. Last winter, I traveled with Lufthansa (a personal fave airline) to Vancouver, British Canada. My final destination was the eastern side of Vancouver Island, which could be reached by bus, ferry, or seaplane. The bay is known for heavy fog during the winter months, effectively grounding planes and ferries between the mainland and the island. I ended up taking a seaplane there and a small commuter flight back, altering my original travel plans twice and returning a day earlier. I opted to stay in Vancouver city to ensure I wouldn’t miss my flight home to Germany (found a discount for a 4 star hotel via one of the hotel links below!).
  • Tip: carve out some quiet time to go through Google’s powerful ITA matrix like the Pros.  You can’t book here but you can use the information to head over to the airline website to purchase tickets. If it saves money, why not do an extra step or 2? Or you can use kayak or Skyscanner (who uses the matrix too!)

 

apartment holiday rental Brussels

Holiday rental in Brussels

For lodging options, if you’re a frequent traveler, check out your options related to your mileage or lodging program. Here are our family’s favorites, depending on where we are traveling (USA or international). This is not an all-inclusive list, but the ones we use at least annually for business or personal travel.

  • Airbnb: we’ve used this successfully throughout Europe (Brussels, Copenhagen, Berlin) and several friends have too. It pays to read reviews and look closely at the details in each listing, i.e. extra fees, stairs or elevators, parking space included.
  • VRBO: Vacation Rentals by Owner; great for short and long term stays. We used this recently in Austria when we shared a great home with 4 other families.
  • Booking.com: filters for hotels, apartments, vacation rentals.
  • Hotels.com: same as Booking.com.
  • Tablet Hotels: I love looking here for boutique hotels, which I prefer out of all hotel types. There just seems to be more personality and savoir faire, you know?
  • wombat’s CITY Hostels: award-winning hostels with great amenities; Berlin, Budapest, London, Munich, Vienna

The following are loyalty programs with major hotel chains you may already know:

 

Other transportation…

Car rental agencies and their loyalty programs:

  • My favorite agency, when available, is the Emerald Program for National Car Rental, but it’s not always the cheaper option. Other popular agencies that are usually colocated with major airports in the US and globally.
  • Comparison sites: Skyscanner, Kayak.
  • Don’t ignore agencies that are not airport locations; sometimes the vehicle type you want is available there but not at the airport. Also, online prices may be significantly lower than in person reservations.
  • If you need booster seats for little ones, reserve them early or bring your own. We are huge fans of the Bubble Bum inflatable, foldable booster seat. (US readers can order here)

Taxis:

  • myTaxi app: I like that you can track your driver as well as drivers that are within your area. We use this app often and we’ve also collected cards from the drivers we get, preferring to call them first to see if they are available.

    MyTaxi Berlin

    MyTaxi live map of Berlin even shows which taxis are available in your area

    • One thing I noticed in Berlin that probably applies to busy urban areas: if it’s rush hour, the taxi that’s closest on the map may have a hard time getting to you if you’re in an area that’s congested and has a lot of one way streets.
  • Uber: Even with all the negative press and legal challenges Uber has faced on the global front, it’s an excellent concept that widens the competition. I’ve only used it in a couple of European cities (Berlin, Copenhagen), and haven’t had any problems.
    • I first heard of them from a MailChimp account manager I met at a European blog conference. Her Uber driver arrived faster than my myTaxi driver, so I downloaded the app ASAP. It’s in most European cities, too, but not all areas are covered.
  • SuperShuttle: Though technically not a taxi, but usually a minivan, this is my mother’s favorite mode to get to her nearest international airport. Personally, I think it takes too long, but it’s super economical if you’re not in a rush. It’s all over the US and in some international sites (Amsterdam, London, Paris, Cancun and Los Cabos).

Hired cars:

  • We’ve used them in the states (Washington DC, San Antonio) and in larger cities in Europe. If the cost is equivalent to a taxi, why not? The drivers meet you at the gate and can provide a couple of extra hands if you have a lot of luggage to move along.
    • When in London a couple of years ago, I used the same hired car driver for my team that I used later when I was on holiday. He proved his worth when he recommended day trips and local restaurants too. I have this same driver on my WhatsApp and have recommended him often to friends traveling to London.
  • How to find reputable hired car drivers?
    • If I’m traveling for business, I’ll ask my contact at my destination for references.
    • If for personal travel, I’ll check in with a number of sources including the local travel bureau or city website.

Trains:

  • If you’re traveling in Europe, regional and long distance trains are sometimes the cheaper way to travel compared with airfare. Here are a few sites I’ve used or noted are popular in the different travel forums I follow:
    • Eurostar: London to mainland Europe
    • TGV: France’s high speed train
    • Eurail: European Travel
    • Bahn: Germany’s rail company
  • If you’re traveling throughout Japan, the famous Bullet train or Shinkansen is a popular way to travel around the countryside.
  • The key is to plan ahead of time and keep in mind these variables:
    • Travel time from point A to B to C etc. If you’re going to spend more than a few hours in transit, you may want to consider an overnight train with a sleeping car or couchette.
    • Also consider transfer times and additional costs for local travel from the station to your lodging, etc. If you’re on a high speed train and you have a lot of moving parts and luggage (i.e. little kids and multiple pieces of luggage), keep an eye on the train schedule as you move along. You will want to be positioned near the exit with your luggage when the train reaches your destination. Take your cues from fellow passengers; they may even be able to give you a hand if you have little ones and a lot of gear.
    • Additional overall costs may include rental and/or public transportation such as…

Buses, street cars:

  • Great options in modern cities and small towns.
  • If you’ve got time before you get to your destination, download travel apps if they are available. Or ask your hotel or hostel’s front desk for maps and bus schedules.

Cycles, rickshaws, carriage rides:

Cruiseships and Ferries:

  • Cruiselines in Europe are a popular way to travel up and down major rivers like the Danube and the Rhine as well as around the Mediterranean.
    • MSC Cruises

      MSC Musica Marseilles

      Returning from day trip to Marseilles port

    • Costa Cruises
    • Check out popular website Cruise Critic for the lastest information on cruiselines and popular ports that travel through Europe.
  • It’s a great option to use in Northern Europe for travel between major ports i.e. Copenhagen – Oslo. We like DFDS Seaways–for about 200 euro, we got a clean, 4 bunk stateroom for an overnight trip and access to a wonderful dining room, shopping, wi-fi, and a kids’ club.

Budget friendly travel sites and podcasts:

  • Travefy*: I’ve really enjoyed using this site.  You can build itineraries, with or without travel dates, and search for things to do within the app or add links and ideas as you go along. It’s relatively young in the travel app game, but the site’s robust, the customer service is prompt, and the fact that I can share the itinerary with others, like friends, family and clients, is fantastic.
  • Betty in the Sky with a Suitcase: a family fave podcast by a flight attendant
  • Rick Steves’ Europe: a fab guide for first time travelers to Europe
  • Travel Fashion Girl: One of my favorite sites for travel packing lists
  • Million mile secrets: traveling around the world on airline miles and hotel points
  • Travel is Free: founded by a couple who travels around the world for free
  • Cruise Critic deals: great site about cruise lines and cruise traveling tips and hints
  • Travelettes: you don’t need to be a gal to appreciate the fab hints sprinkled all over this site
  • Yonderbound: a new player in the online travel lodging business.  Tag line is “Inspire people to travel, while making money along the way”
  • Travelin10: travel podcast
  • Virtual Tourist, wombat’s CITY Hostels and Airbnb also has fantastic city profiles
  • Trip Advisor: great for checking out reviews of lodging, tourist sites, even restaurants

 

*Affiliate link: I’m an affiliate with this site which means that by listing it here, (1) I’ve personally used it and (2) I believe it’s worthy of my personal list. 

I’d love to hear about your favorite travel planning sites, tips and hints. Add to the comments below or send me an email!




Shhhh… Listen! Do You Hear The Sounds Of Postmodern Jukebox?

Postmodern JukeboxI was recently introduced to the sounds of Postmodern Jukebox, late one night while trolling through my Facebook feed.

I love a good ensemble (I still have a huge schoolgirl crush on Harry Connick Jr that’s going on close to 20 years) and simply can’t pass up great feel-good music. I also want my child to listen to music that crosses generations, mixes and mashes it up. I want her to love the music that we love. We’re an eclectic family in so many ways. Her daddy loves everything from Rush to worldbeat, French lounge music. I can listen to just about anything too. The best songs are the ones with which she can sing out her little heart (the girl can’t sing a wrong note, unlike her perpetually sharp mama). Postmodern Jukebox fits the bill…so, I immediately checked out (and subscribed to) their YouTube channel, ScottBradleeLovesYa.

Who’s going to love PMJ?

It’s not music for headbangers or fans of metal and that’s okay. This is music for those who appreciate the musical styles of their parents’ and maybe even their grandparents’ generations but still love popular music. You appreciate creative musical twists, impromptu arrangements and a damn good floor show. Have you ever heard Guns ‘n Roses with a jazz diva belting out the top notes? Then you haven’t lived. Seriously.

What makes this band special?

Scott Bradlee, the handsome guy on the piano/keyboards in the videos, creatively rearranges modern music from 80s pop/rock to today’s top 40 hits and gives them a truly vintage twist…complex, utterly gorgeous layers. He calls it “An Alternative History of Pop Music”… all on YouTube. It’s like being treated to a fabulous floor show in the craziest, coolest jazz lounge. Except in my case, I’m in my jammies in front of my computer with a cup of coffee instead of a glass of wine and a plate of tapas.

I downloaded their music via iTunes and sat here with music running in the background while working on a couple of personal projects. I think my workload efficiency may have actually picked up with the swingy, jazzy, vintage music.

Best decision ever.

P.S. PMJ Tour dates can be found here. I’m looking at my calendar to see if I can catch them somewhere here in Europe. Time for some adult fun!