Category Archives: travel

Are All-Inclusive Resorts a Sellout?

We like to think of ourselves, perhaps somewhat haughtily, as travelers rather than tourists. Travelers immerse themselves in the local culture, living, eating, speaking and getting around as much as possible as locals do. Tourism is isolating, making a trip as comfortable as possible at the expense of authentic interactions with local people and their ways of everyday life. So we say with our noses in the air.

We love all-inclusives when we need hassle-free travel

All-inclusive resorts seem to fit easily into my cynical definition of tourism. You can stay at one without ever speaking a word of the local language, or eating regional food, or bumping shoulders on a crowded bus with someone who actually lives in that locale. You and your children can be entertained all day long by activities staff without ever knowing what people in that country do for fun.  You can eat bacon and eggs for breakfast, hamburgers for lunch and pizza for dinner.  You never have to make decisions about where to stay, how to get to a destination, or where to eat. The decision-making thrill (or burden, depending on your perspective) of travel is removed for you as you’re plunked down in a microcosm full of staff who cater to your every desire.

So what was this traveling family doing spending our last two family vacations at an all inclusive resort in the Riviera Maya, Mexico? We were having wonderfully relaxing, culturally-rich vacations, that’s what. Oh yeah, and revising our misconceptions of all-inclusives as well.

The original motivating factor for an all-inclusive vacation was our desire to travel soon after the birth of our second child, Anna. We knew roughing it was out with a 3-month old but we still wanted some sun and a bit of an escape so we booked ourselves and the grandparents into Marina El Cid in Puerto Morelos, Mexico, just south of Cancun. We thought it would be a one-time thing we could justify because hey, we had a small baby and hey, weren’t we brave to go ANYWHERE with a baby?

Upon arrival at Marina El Cid we found ourselves in a little piece of heaven. Powdery soft sand beach, warm turquoise blue ocean water, a gigantic swimming pool complex, spacious suites, attentive pool-side waiters, 3 delicious meals every day, it was all around amazing. Our first trip was September 2010 which is the start of the low-season so the resort was also fairly empty, meaning we had plenty of attention from staff for our every need and never ran into lines or crowds. Never. We all relaxed, slept, swam, dozed, ate, rested  and had a marvelous time. We enjoyed a meal in the sleepy town center of Puerto Morelos and visited a small local zoo, but other than that reveled in the quiet isolation of this beautiful resort. For that phase of life with a newborn and an energetic 3 1/2 year old it was exactly what our family needed.

Fast forward to March 2011, 6 months after our first trip, when we returned to Marina El Cid, this time

Enjoying homemade paletas (popsicles) in the local little town near the resort

with grandparents from the other side plus Steve’s brother and his family.  Yet again we found ourselves in paradise. With Anna now 9 months old we had more freedom to leave the resort so we enjoyed a fabulous combination of relaxing beach and pooltime with excursions out of the complex (more on recommendations in an upcoming post).

As for tourism vs. traveling, while much of our vacation was spent in “cultural isolation,” our particular resort served authentic regional Mexican food which we enjoyed at every meal.  The resort staff appreciated our attempts to converse with them in Spanish. Plus we left the resort multiple times, exploring the region as well as the local small town. Another plus for us was we chose a resort off the beaten tourism path so we did not encounter large touristy crowds, which can dilute any sort of authentic experience.

Playing on the playground in town with local kids

We won’t always stay at all-inclusive resorts. We thrive on eating local, talking local, staying local and love the thrill (and yes, the stress!) of travel logistics. But for our family we’ve discovered there are (at least) two specific times in life that make all-inclusives perfect. The first is when we want to travel with very little children. The predictability and comfort of an all-inclusive makes travel a possibility at a time when we otherwise would probably stay close to home. The other is traveling with extended family. Our extended family enjoys each other the most when there are minimum decisions to be made or schedules to keep.

To those of you who already knew how great all-inclusive resorts are, we apologize for our past snobbery.  We’ve been won over and we are already planning next year’s stress-free getaway!

Can Kids (and Parents!) Sleep Well While Camping?

Well-rested little camper, Grace

Well-rested little camper, Grace

I grew up camping for every family vacation. I’ve talked my husband into venturing out a few times each summer, including last week over the 4th of July. One of the biggest reasons I hear from others with little ones to not camp is the sleep issue. How do you get a baby or toddler (or even older kids for that matter!) to nap and get enough night time sleep with only a thin tent to block out noise and light?

We just returned from a five day campout with our church. Thanks to a few tricks Grace napped longer than at home (2 1/2 hours some days) and slept well at night too.  That made for a more restful trip for me and Steve and Grace had more energy to give to the rest of each day.

Our tricks are really very simple, similar to what we do in hotel rooms.

  1. We keep the same bedtimes and naptimes as at home. It’s tempting to let her stay up later to play with all her friends but it comes back to bite us in the long run. She was in the tent headed to bed at 7pm. The downside of this is we had to stick close by once she was in bed. Since we were camping with friends that wasn’t a big deal. We enjoyed games, snacks, campfires and reading by flashlight after she was in bed.
  2. We keep the same bedtime and naptime routine as at home. We read a few stories, sang songs, said our prayers and put her to bed. The first day she yelled for a while when we put her down for her nap. We tried to be as consistent as we are at home (hard in a public campsite). We went to her a few times told her gently but firmly to lay down and go to sleep. After about 45 minutes of fussing on and off she did, and every day after that we had no problems.
  3. Bring the pack n play. For as long as we possibly can we’ll be using the pack n play for Grace, maybe even after she’s transitioned to a big girl bed.  That way she’s contained and not tempted to play around in the exciting new tent or in the very fun suitcases.  When she does fuss she eventually gets bored with it and falls asleep whereas if she were out of it I could imagine her unzipping her way out of the tent dozens of times.
  4. Bring a white noise machine. It may seem silly while camping but IT WORKS. We were camping with lots of other families so besides the usual sounds of campsites (birds, cars, people walking by) we had the sounds of lots of noisy kids having a great time after she was in bed.  We use the Marsona white noise machine which we love because its internationally adaptable plus has an optional (sold separately) battery pack, which was perfect for camping. I loved seeing the looks on people’s faces as they’d walk by our tent while Grace napped. What is that noise? I’m sure they were thinking. Is someone vacuuming in there?
  5. Use black sheets strategically. This solved the light issue for us and I wish we’d thought of this sooner in our parenting life.  We used binder clips to clip the sheet to seams in the tent and put them around the pack n play, sort of like a tent within a tent.  We draped a second sheet directly onto the pack n play after she was asleep at night. These two combined helped her sleep until 6:30am or even close to 7 a few days, much later than she would have had the sun blazed in when it rose at 5am.

We use these same tricks when we’re staying other places too, like hotels or with friends or relatives. Our sleep is pretty important to us and these tips keep us all happy travelers.

Do you have a trick you use when camping or traveling to help your child sleep better?  Share it with us. Any ideas how to get your child to sleep in until 8 or 9am, even when she doesn’t do that at home?

Children Are Everybody’s Business With The Turks

IMG_0855Turkey has the “it takes a village” mentality when it comes to children, even in the metropolis of Istanbul. Turks trust each other with their children and they expect us, as visitors to their country, to trust them with our children as well. Everybody notices children and jumps to help with them, cuddle them or soothe them during a tough moment.

Turks simply love children and have created a culture where it’s fine to express that.  The most common form of attention is the cheek-pinching. I’m surprised Grace doesn’t have bruised cheeks from the number of pinches but she has endured it with surprising, well, grace. A maitre’d standing outside his restaurant as we passed noticed her face was dirty and summoned a waiter to bring him a cloth to scrub it clean. As we boarded a public bus heavy-laden with bags and a stroller a kind young woman scooped up Grace, held her on her lap and sang songs to her as if she were her own. On a scenic boat trip up the Bosphorus where Grace quickly became bored, a young man who spoke no English picked her up and read her one of her picture books. She’s been given many pieces of candy from strangers, led awayIMG_0254 by a security guard museum to show her off to his friends, had shopkeepers adjust her clothing and received all kinds of free food in restaurants from thoughtful waitstaff.

Such lavish attention from strangers is disarming for us Americans, so accustomed to adults in keeping their distance from children unless they are 1) related to them 2) know them well or 3) have some kind of malintent.   At first we (Grace included) were a bit taken aback by the attention total strangers would shower on our tiny two-year old. Once we realized the approach was universal and well-meaning though, we relaxed and, as long as Grace still felt comfortable, we tried to be as well.   As we head home after two weeks in Turkey we’ll have to readjust to strangers remaining just that, while trying to maintain that caring attitude towards other children ourselves.

Making Ourselves At Home In Istanbul

After 20+hours of traveling we arrived at our “home” for the week in Istanbul. We’ve rented a little flat from Manzara Holiday Apartments, a company that owns a number of apartments for rent to tourists in the residential neighborhoods surrounding the Galata Tower.  We sought out this company both for the comfort of an apartment as well as the authenticity of living in a local neighborhood, close to the tourist attractions but not set squarely in the middle of them.

istanbul-flat-kitchenGrace and Beth in the apartment’s tiny kitchen

We’ve rented their 2-bedroom St. George apartment. It’s small, tiny in fact, but so much more space than we’d have in even the best hotel. It’s simply decorated, mainly with Ikea furniture but also a few interesting old pieces like a trunk for a TV stand and a huge rickety cupboard for a closet in Grace’s room. It’s eclectic and suits our needs.

istanbul-grace-roomGrace checks out her new digs

We’re on the first floor, which in Turkey (and most of Europe) means actually the second floor (what we call the first floor, they call the ground floor). To get up to our apartment we have to ascend a steep, narrow, curved staircase. The paint is peeling in the stairwell and it smells musty, like very old building. I like that smell. Our neighbors seem to be several conservative families. Although Turkey is a secular country, it’s more than 90% Muslim. Most women we’ve seen around do not cover their heads but the women in our building do. One is even fully shrouded in black although her face is uncovered. The neighbors are kind but aloof. I’m sure they know we’re just another tourist family passing through their building, but they don’t seem to mind we’re here.

istanbul-flat-livingroomThat’s not part of the living room, that is the living room

istanbul-dinnerStuffed eggplant and salad prepared for us by Manzara.  It was nice to have dinner ready when we arrived but at 25 Euro each, I think we’d find a local fast food joint next time.

We arrived here exhausted Sunday afternoon. Manzara had prepared a light meal for us and stocked a few groceries in the fridge, both at our request. We settled in, helped Grace get comfortable in her new room (including hanging a black sheet over the window to block out the very bright streetlight outside her window), and tried to keep ourselves awake until a decent bedtime. With the 10 hour time difference and almost no sleep on the plane, we were all exhausted but knew if we went to bed too early we’d be up in the middle of the night. We kept Grace up until 5pm, I konked out shortly after 6, and I think Steve managed to stay awake until 9pm.  It was a tough night for Grace but every time she woke up she’d go back to sleep quickly with her favorite lullabies. In the end none of us woke up until 7am so we truly made up for the lost sleep. We awoke to a cool morning and cloudy skies but that didn’t stop us from heading straight out after breakfast to discover this ancient city. More about Monday’s explorations tomorrow.

istanbul-flat-frontGrace and Beth outside the St. George apartment Monday morning, ready to take on the day.

Baby Lounge Envy In Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport

Every traveling parent faces the challenge of helping little ones sleep in strange, loud, bright places, including airports. What if there were a peaceful, serene place for you to take your baby during an airport layover? If your next international trip takes you through Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, you won’t believe the luxury that awaits you.

Unfortunately for us, our layover in Amsterdam earlier this week was less than two hours, so not enough time to take advantage of the incredible Schiphol Babycare Lounge.  I had to check it out though, so I hoofed it for about 15 minutes with Grace on my back in the Ergo just to change her diaper and have a quick peek. I discovered a tranquil dimly lit room filled with 7 individual pods, each containing a crib and two comfy seats for parents with individual lighting.  Each pod is enclosed in sheer drapery for privacy. The room is open free of charge to parents and children ages 0-3.  Besides the seven sleeping pods, the room also houses a microwave, large changing area and a bath large enough to bathe a baby in.

The Baby Lounge is in a central location in the airport and near a number of interesting attractions, making it a great spot for traveling families. One parent can stay behind with the sleeping baby and the other parent can go grab some food, pop into the free Rijksmuseum next door, or take older kids to the nearby play area or to see the Lego model of the airport.

When Grace and I popped in the Baby Lounge a few days ago, most of the pods were in use and I was so envious of those parents whose little ones were peacefully sleeping, in a real bed, during a layover. One pod was free and I so wanted to zip in and put Grace down for a rest before we boarded our plane to Istanbul. Time didn’t allow that but on our return trip I hope to make use of the lounge. Even if we don’t get to, just knowing it’s there somehow makes the flight through Amsterdam a little more peaceful.  Thanks Holland for caring so much about little ones and their tired parents.

Update: May 12, 2009 We had a two-hour morning layover in Amsterdam on our way home from Istanbul.  I had high hopes for the baby lounge since we’d woken Grace up at 4am but alas, the rambunctious toddlers in the pod next to ours made sure that no sleep happened for us. Still Grace was excited to lay for a few (very few) minutes in a crib with her blankie and Gerald the giraffe.

Even more exciting than the crib was our discovery of the kids’ playground next door to the nursery.  That room houses four climbing jungle gyms, playhouse types if you will.  Two are equipped with slides and so Grace was in heaven. I can’t think of a better way for a toddler to pass an hour just before boarding a 10-hour flight. To the mom sleeping soundly on the floor of the playground while her 5-year old boy played unsupervised, I would like to offer my sympathy (I understand utter travel exhaustion) but also my frustration. Her little boy was the one downside to the playground as he raced up and down on everything with no regard for the smaller kids (like mine!) underfoot. And really, what exactly is safe about letting a preschooler play unwatched in one of the world’s largest airports?

Relax in Roatan, Honduras

A well-kept secret of the Caribbean is the Honduran island of Roatan. Located just off the northern shore of Honduras,westbaybeach Roatan is part of this affordable Central American country but with the laidback feel of its more expensive Caribbean neighbors.  Spanish is the national language of Honduras and English-speakers are hard to find on the mainland. Not so on Roatan, where English is widely used. In fact we used our Spanish so little  we often forgot we were in a Latin American country.

Roatan is accesible by direct flights from several US gateways including Houston and Atlanta. At present direct flights run only on the weekends, so be sure to look closely at flight itineraries before booking your hotel stay. You can get to Roatan any day of the week via the Honduran mainland or other Central American countries but those flights are notoriously late (think hours and hours) so a “short stop” could add significantly to your travel time. We opted for a Saturday to Saturday trip to minimize travel time. We (Steve, Beth and 22-month old Grace) traveled from Portland, Oregon direct to Houston, where we met up with my husband’s parents (traveled from Ohio) and my husband’s brother and his wife (from Chicago). From Houston we flew together directly to Roatan, less than 3 hours from Houston on Continental. It was a much easier flight with a toddler than the all-day trek last year from Portland to Turks and Caicos (stops in Dallas and Miami made it a 12+ hour day).

fishFirst the pros of Roatan. Roatan is stunning. It’s water is turquoise blue and crystal clear. The fish and coral are brilliant in color and diversity. It’s famed for its scuba diving and snorkeling, in part because both are so good and also because it’s very, very cheap to dive in Roatan compared to just about anywhere else in the world. It’s actually cheaper to become a certified diver in Roatan than in the U.S., although if you’re traveling with little ones keep in mind that someone will have to watch the kids if they’re too young to dive themselves. Travel with non-divers like we did if scuba is on your agenda.

Scubadiving is not the only inexpensive pasttime on the island. Just about everything is affordable including food, hotels and transportation, a real plus for traveling families. The seafood on Roatan is fresh and delicious. There are lots of things for families with little ones to do such as swimming with dolphins, bio-parks with ziplines, interesting animals and flora, glasswater boat trips and of course playing on the beaches with their shallow warm waters and little waves.

It’s easy for families to get around the island as well. Taxis are readily available and affordable, although agree on a hammockprice before you get in. Your hotel should be able to recommend reliable taxi drivers and tell you what it should cost to get to a destination.  Our taxi drivers were always friendly and most spoke at least a little English, although one spoke only Spanish. Their taxis were well-used and worn, and don’t expect seat belts. We rented a van for part of our stay. It was cheaper than taxis for the days we were doing a lot of driving, since we were such a large group (7 people) plus we could use our portable Eddie Bauer car seat for our daughter.  There are several rental agencies on the island and none of them seem to have well-maintained vehicles. One van broke down on us in the middle of nowhere but three different cars stopped to help us, including a taxi driver who took us back to the rental agency for a new, equally decrepit van.  Don’t expect luxury in any kind of island transportation, but since it’s a small place you can’t get lost and there’s always someone driving by to help you out.

Thinking about our broken down van brings me to the downsides of Roatan. First, the beaches. There are some beautiful beaches on the island but they are all plagued by sandflies. Our visit to Roatan in November fell at the end of the rainy season, when the flies (and their friends the mosquitoes) are at their peak. They were horrible. So long as we had insect repellent slathered everywhere we were fine, but the instant we went in the water and washed it off the insects were vicious. As I write this post a few weeks after our return I still am suffering from a few itchy bites. We’ve heard they are not nearly so much of a problem during the dry season (earlier in the year) but don’t go in the rainy season expecting to lounge peacefully in the sand.

Another downside of the rainy season was floating garbage in the crystal blue water. As part of Honduras, Roatan is a developing nation and the garbage was a visible sign of the poverty that exists beyond the luxury resorts.  Garbage is thrown in streams and rivers and, when heavy rains come, that garbage is washed out to sea and into your resort. Some days there was none, other days the water was full of slicks of plastic bottles and plastic bags. Our resort did a great job cleaning up the beaches on a daily basis but they can’t control what’s floating in the water and it did spoil some attempts at swimming. Again, we heard this problem is almost non-existent during the drier part of the year.

Overall our family loved Roatan. It was the right choice for our small family reunion, with the perfect balance of things to do and nothing-to-do. The people both at our resort and throughout the island were laidback and genuinely friendly. It’s a beautiful place but we recommend it for seasoned developing nation travelers, not for those accustomed only to luxury resorts. Even the nicest accomodation on Roatan can’t shelter you from the realities of it being part of a very poor country. For us this was a plus. It meant an authentic experience and the knowledge that our travel was supporting communities that rely on the income from tourism. But it also meant some inconveniences along the way and a few adventures (such as a broken-down rental van).

Watch for subsequent posts reviewing our excellent accomodations at Barefoot Cay as well as our list of things to do and eat on Roatan with kids.

grace

All Aboard With Milk in Hand – You CAN Take Milk On The Plane

When you travel with a toddler or small child, the idea of not having milk in hand is, well, frightening. When Grace holds up her little hand and rapidly opens and shuts her palm making the sign for milk, I had better have it ready fast or else. I’m thrilled that, to break it down with a few milk-toting tips, my blogging buddy Melissa Moog of Itsabelly shared the following post with us here at Kids Go Global:

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We just returned from our vacation in Cabo San Lucas and had a wonderful time but when traveling with baby I’m always going through a long list of things I need to make sure to pack. One very important thing I make sure to have handy is the precious white liquid called milk. Our 19 month old LOVES her milk! I was also chatting with a friend about traveling with our babies and sharing different tips on how to make our travels easier. She mentioned that Trader Joe’s carries small milk cartons that don’t need refrigeration so she takes these on the plane with her. I thought that was a great idea as long as security decides to let you keep the cartons. Personally, I haven’t had a problem at all with carrying milk through but I’ve only traveled within the US and MX so far with our toddler. I wanted to offer some tips for parents wondering how they can have that precious white liquid on hand.

Here’s what I do when traveling with milk:

  • I take the Foogo sippy cup and fill it with milk. The Foogo is insulated and keeps milk cold for several hours. It’s also a non-toxic container which is plus! It also fits nicely in the side pocket of our backpack.
  • I take a Sigg bottle and fill it with extra milk. The Sigg is a non-toxic container as well!
  • Here’s some Info on how long you can keep milk at room temp – It depends on the temperature that the milk is stored at. To be safe here are some general guidelines for time and temperature for milk:
    – At room temperature of 60 degrees F milk will stay safe for 24 hours.
    – At room temperature of 66-72 degrees F milk will stay safe for 10 hours.
    – At room temperature of 79 degrees F milk will stay safe for 4-6 hours.
  • If for some reason security asks me to dump the milk I don’t worry because I can also purchase milk from the coffee shops or cafes after passing through security.
  • If for some reason you don’t find a coffee shop or cafe to purchase milk you can always asks your flight attendant while she’s serving your drink to give you a glass of milk. Voila, you can fill your child’s sippy cup with the precious white liquid!

These options should help you avoid bursting your ear drums from a screaming toddler who knows milk does her body good! At least until her sippy cup is sucked dry again :)

Overall, from Itsabelly’s review based on form, functionality and frugal-ness (is it worth the money I spent) we give Foogo and Sigg 4 out of 5 bellies (5 being excellent).

Thanks Melissa!

A couple of caveats from my own milk-slinging. Trader Joe’s no longer carries the single-serve boxes of milk, at least according to the salesclerk my husband spoke with last week. Their inventory is constantly changing so hopefully they’ll have it again soon. I have consistently found single-serve boxed milk at Whole Foods in the baby food aisle. For lactose-intolerant babies the search seems to be harder. My exercising buddy Rebekah is embarking tomorrow on a 19+ hour plane trip to Singapore, then on to India a few days later with her 14-month old daughter who is lactose-intolerant. She searched for single-serve boxed soy milk at Whole Foods, Fred Meyers, Trader Joe’s, Costco and even Target with no luck. Apparently Whole Foods usually carries vanilla soy milk (she was looking for plain) but were sold out even of that. She bought rice milk in single-serve boxes instead and borrowed a thermos from me to fill with her daughter’s favorite soy milk. Fingers crossed that, between the two, Ela will be satisfied.

My other caveat is in regards to the Foogo sippy cup Melissa likes. I took this cup to Buenos Aires in May for Grace and from the beginning it leaked like a drippy faucet. Even worse, it developed a sour smell very quickly, despite frantic soakings in hot soapy water and, in desperation, vinegar. It’s hanging in a bag in my garage to be returned to the shop where I bought it next time I’m in their area. The concept of an insulated sippy cup is great but not if it smells. Perhaps mine was defective as I’ve had other friends who, like Melissa, loved the Foogo. I think I’ll try Sigg‘s child-size water bottles next as I love my full-sized bottle made by them.

For more on carrying liquids on the plane see our recent post on the TSA rules and how much you can stretch them with kids!

One Reason We Travel: The Kindness of Strangers

Without exception, in our travel experience locals are generally kind and helpful to us travelers. Having a child along seems to only augment locals’ desire to help disoriented foreigners as well as their desire to provide you with helpful child-rearing information.

Take a recent foray into an Argentine supermercado as an example. I was looking for plain, unsweetened, yogurt for Grace. It seemed like a very basic staple, especially in the large Western-style grocery store where I was shopping. To my dismay I faced a refrigerator case full of countless packaged yogurts, all of which boasted interesting fruity (and highly sugared) flavors. No supermarket staff was in sight so I turned to the other lone shopper in that aisle, a smartly dressed woman in her mid-40s, and in my most helpless tone struck up the following conversation. Bear in mind the entire conversation took place in two levels of Spanish – poorly (me) and fluently rapid-fire (smartly dressed woman). I have taken the liberty of translating my Spanish as if it were perfect and her Spanish as I understood it, not necessarily as she actually said it.

Me: Excuse me, I am looking for plain yogurt for my baby. Do you know where I can find that?

Woman: Oh of course, let’s see it must be here somewhere. (Proceeds to wander up and down refrigerated case peering carefully at each variety. She finally pulls one down and hands it to me). This one is good for babies.

Me: (After reading container) Oh I see, but this one contains sugar. Do you know if I can find one without sugar or without flavoring? Plain yogurt?

Woman: Oh but your baby needs sugar. She will like this flavor. (some kind of mixed fruit) Babies love this flavor.

Me: (Placing tutti-frutti, high-fructose corn syrup-laden yogurt in cart) Thank you, I will try it. But do you know if there is also any yogurt that is plain?

Woman: (Not at all flustered by my persistence) Yes, I think so. (Wanders again up and down the entire refrigerated case, finally pulling down a small carton which she hands to me). This one is plain. But I don’t think your baby will like it. Babies like sweet yogurt.

Me: (Trying to be as diplomatic as possible in bad Spanish) Thank you. We’ll try both of them.

The kind but insistent woman and I parted ways and I left the grocery store with a carton each of tutti-frutti yogurt and plain yogurt. To my delight Grace preferred the plain yogurt. It’s nice to be right but it’s even nicer to have a warm encounter with a kind stranger.

Have you had a positive encounter with strangers while traveling with your children? Share it with us here!