Kids Go Global On Sabbatical

We’re still traveling – most recently to Eleuthera in The Bahamas; Chattanooga, Tennessee; and Olympic National Park. However you may have noticed our blog has taken a bit of an extended vacation of its own. We will return to blogging about our travels soon, we hope, although possibly not until after our family grows by +1 sometime after June of this year. Thanks for your patience and happy traveling!

True Turkish Delight of Turgutreis

IMG_0621We’ve written about most of our spring trip to Turkey but have barely mentioned the fabulous week we spent at the beach on Turkey’s Bodrum Peninsula. Perhaps that part of our brains has still been on vacation, fully relaxed in the heat of the Turkish sun.  Ah, if only….

British, German or Dutch tourists know full well what Americans are ignorant of – Turkey has fabulous beaches!  We didn’t run into a single other American tourist (fine with us!) the whole week we stayed in the town of Turgutreis. Locals were surprised to hear us speak English with American accents, something they don’t hear much of there. In fact, we didn’t run into very many other tourists at all as we were there in early May, a few weeks before European schools got out, meaning just before the high tourist season hit. We often had the beach, restaurants and shops to ourselves. Delightful!

We chose the town of Turgutries for its proximity to the Bodrum airport (about an hour’s drive) but still far enough IMG_0512from the party town of Bodrum to enjoy peace and quiet. Per our usual mode of accomodation, we rented a comfortable three story home, Swan Villa, owned by a lovely British couple. The villa shares a pool with another villa next door, owned by the same British couple and also for rent. No one else was staying in the second home while we were there but it would be a lovely spot for two families or an extended family to rent both homes for a shared vacation.  For our small family of 3, one villa was more than enough space with its 4-bedrooms, large living area, fully stocked kitchen and three lovely balconies.  While not beachside (nothing really is in Turgutreis except a few very small, expensive hotels), we were about a 12 minute walk to the beach and the main shopping/ eating area of town.  One quick plug for our friend Akin who owns the Corner Pub and runs a reliable transportation service, as well as manages the Swan Villa with great attention.

What to do in Turgutreis? Not much really, which was exactly what we were looking for. The beach is a thin strip of gravely sand lined with beach lounge chairs and umbrellas. I imagine it gets very crowded during high season and the chairs are premium real estate, but for us we had our pick of spots to relax. The lounge chairs are owned by the restaurants that line the beach but the beach itself is public. By law  (and the restaurant waiters will confirm) you are free to sit in their chairs with no obligation to buy anything, although we generally at least ordered drinks. Sadly for us it was a bit too chilly to swim in the crystal clear waters. A few weeks later it was probably just perfect. Still it was warm enough to read thick novels while Grace IMG_0602played happily in the sand.

There’s a small shopping area with the typical tourist trinkets. We came home with bars of luxurious handmade olive oil soap and several cotton tablecloths, all reasonably priced.  There are dozens of restaurants, all of which will invite you in anytime you walk by. The restaurants right on the beach are the more expensive but also have the best food. We enjoyed dishes like clay pot kebabs, grilled meats cooked in sauce inside a clay pot. The pot is smashed open at your table and the delectable bits poured out for you. Yum! Locally caught seafood abounds as well as beautiful fresh salads. Be sure to ask about pricing on seafood though, as we found it could range from $10 to well over $75.

The rest of the peninsula is worth exploring too. The dolmus mini-busses leave from the a small parking area a few blocks from the main beach and they go everywhere for just a $1 or 2 per person.  We spent a day in Bodrum town. It’s incredibly touristy and the town itself was not for us, but the Underwater Archeological Museum in the old castle is one of the best museums we’ve ever been to. The medieval castle itself is incredible but the museum it houses showcases the science of underwater archeology and the many ancient shipwrecks off the Turkish coast that have been dug up excavated. Most fascinating to us was the reconstruction of a shipwreck from 1500 BC. Archeologists found claypots, coins, and even parts of the ship still intact 3500 years later!  We also took a day trip from Bodrum to the Greek island of Kos, a short 1 hour hop by ferry to the home of Hippocrates.  Be aware, though, most of the interesting historical sites are closed on Mondays.

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Another evening trip we took from Turgutreis was to Gumusluk, a small fishing village a short 20 minute dolmus ride from Turgutreis. There we dined at Yakamoz restaurant on freshly caught monkfish cooked in a lovely sauce of garlic, olive oil, sundried tomatoes and delicious Turkish chilis. We savored every bite of that meal, our last before returning to Istanbul.

If your time in Turkey allows, we do recommend a side trip to Bodrum if you want some time to relax. We had played tourist full force in Istanbul for a week and wanted some time to decompress before returning home. We found the peace and tranquility we were looking for in Turgutreis.

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Easy Safety Tip That Could Keep Your Child Safe

I lost Grace once in a Columbia Outlet store. She was lost all of 1 minute at most but still I panicked as I looked for her little legs under the rows and rows of crowded clothing racks.  I found her when she turned off the store’s lights. Some childless genius had installed the store’s lights right at toddler level and Grace had proudly switched them off. Bad for other shoppers, good for frantic mama.

That’s the only time she’s really, truly been lost but it happens to the best of us all the time. I know it will happen to us again, that’s for certain.  I came across a brilliant but easy tip today on the Tea Collection’s travel blog and I plan to start using it immediately. Ready? Here it is:

Take pictures of your kids on your cell phone. Every time you’re in a crowded place, at home or abroad, take pictures. That way if you lose your child you can immediately show people what she looks like that day – hairstyle, clothes, the candy smudges on her cheeks.  I had never thought of this but it’s a great idea that takes just a second and doubles as a fun memory of wherever you go together, even if it’s just Target.

What do you to keep track of your little ones in public places?

Sometimes You Just Gotta Let Loose

Check out this toddler dance party!  Ever full of energy, Grace and her little buddy Kenna got down while four exhausted parents packed up the cars after 5 days of family camp.

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?

Beat the system and save some money

I love to find a good deal when traveling.  There’s something really satisfying about getting to somewhere for less than what the airline would like to charge, or staying at a hotel for a ridiculously low price.  Fortunately, priceline.com makes it possible to stay at a nice hotel for much less than you’d normally pay.  I used to avoid priceline because the whole bidding thing just didn’t make sense.  How are you supposed to know what to bid?  What do you do if they refuse your price?

Fortunately, the world of online travelers has made it much easier to know how much to bid, and what hotel you are probably going to get.  The two sites I’ve found to help make this possible are betterbidding.com and biddingfortravel.com.  Here you can find instructions on how to bid, lists of hotels in each city that are available on priceline or hotwire, and many posts from travelers who have won bids.  For example, we stayed at a 5 star hotel in Bangkok for $100 after reading the posts from other travelers, and we knew exactly which hotel we were going to get.

Some tips to keep in mind when using this method of booking:

1.  You can’t be guaranteed of a certain type of room.  You might get put in a room with 2 doubles, or an upper floor room with a king bed.
2.  Call ahead to make requests.  You can’t make requests during the booking on priceline, so after the reservation is accepted, call the hotel to ask for a non-smoking room or for a crib.
3.  Join the hotel’s frequent guest program, if available.  Usually these are free to join and they give you perks like free upgrades or room requests.  Recently, we stayed at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place in Chicago through priceline for $67, so I joined the Hyatt Gold Passport program which allowed us to check in 2 hours earlier than normal and put us in a high floor room.

On another travel-saving note, rental cars can be a big sink of money or save you a ton.  My favorite combination for saving about 50% on rental costs: join the National Car Emerald Club (sometimes available for free) so you can get any car in the Emerald Aisle no matter what you paid.  Then find a contract ID and coupon ID from fatwallet or flyertalk, book a midsize or lower online and save a bunch when you pick up your full size car.  We’ve even been given an SUV for a compact price a couple of times.  Now if they would only give us a break on the ridiculous charges for a car seat.

Do you have some tips for saving big on hotels or other travel?

Istanbul Apartment Renting: Not Quite the Pits

We always try to find apartments to rent when we travel, for the value, space, and convenience compared to a hotel. Istanbul has a unfortunate dearth of apartments for rent for tourists, so our choices were limited.  We found an agency called Manzara Holiday Aparments, and despite our early legwork we only found one reasonably priced apartment open for the week we were there.

Kitchen sans microwave or toaster

Kitchen sans microwave or toaster

The St George apartment is downhill about 2 blocks from the Galata Tower, and is across the street from a hospital.  The building is very old with a lot of character including well worn and slick marble stairs and a faintly sewerish smell in the stairwell. The apartment is on the second floor (a treacherous proposition with luggage) and is simply furnished in a very small space. There are no bedside tables and only one wardrobe in one of the bedrooms. The curtains do not block out the streetlight just outside the window. There was no toaster or iron but the staff kindly brought these to us. The bathroom is nicely redecorated but the shower leaks and does not drain like anything resembling normal, there is no soap shelf in the shower, no countertop for bathroom items, and no hooks or towel racks.

To top it off, the apartment directly above us was being remodeled. No, that’s too kind. They were using jackhammers to rip out the drywall and concrete to the posts, for 10 hours a day. With a 2 year old child who needed naps, the construction workers were kind enough to stop for a mid day break, but would you rent this apartment at all in these circumstances?

Upstairs apartment gutting

Upstairs apartment gutting

The rental fee was reasonable relative to hotels, but other associated costs were quite high. The transport from the airport was twice the cost of a taxi. The staff kindly had arranged for a meal to be prepared for our arrival, but 3 little eggplants for 50 euros? The staff was generally helpful and attentive, but overall this experience was not ideal or a relaxing place of respite. With some more specific questions upfront, a different apartment and different plans for food and transportation, Manzara might be able to redeem itself in another experience. In retrospect, the advantages of having an apartment while traveling with a toddler far outweighs the risks of getting a dud like this.  There’s probably nothing we could have done to prevent the downsides, but we did our best to make the most of it and would still recommend renting rather than paying more and getting less in a hotel.