It’s been a while since we’ve done this.  We travel a good bit as a family — in the past year we’ve taken the train to go skiing in the Alps and then the overnight train to Rome, flown to Paris and to the UK and Ireland, and driven to Salzburg and back.  The kids are seasoned travelers, and we’re experience travel-parents.  We’ve got a lot of miles under our collective belts.

But … we haven’t done this in a while.  We haven’t done the 9+ hours transatlantic flight in almost a year and a half, we’ve never done it with a 5 year old and a 3 year old, and we’ve never done it at Christmas.  Liam doesn’t even remember the last time we made this trip.  With all of my experience with this kind of thing, I’m surprised, but I feel a little unprepared.  I feel like I’ve forgotten how to do it.

What do I need in carry-on?  What do I need to be prepared for?  What do I need to tell the kids to prepare them?  How is it going to go?  Will they behave/sleep/scream/throw food/refuse to use the airplane toilet?  The wiser part of my mind tells me it will be what it will be and that this is one of the (many) experiences in parenting that I cannot truly control.  My experience tells me that this trip, like all of the others, will include good and bad elements, and that as long as we arrive safe & sound, all will be well and the less pleasant details of the journey will drift into the corners of my memory.  But still, I feel a little nervous.

But even with the nervousness, I also feel excited.  Not only are we flying home to see family and friends, but whatever happens, however it goes, I get to spend 9+ hours with my kids, with nothing else that we have to do.  Sure, it might end up being a grueling trip, but we get to be together.  With the boys in school now, a chance to be with them — to color and talk and read and watch videos, without having to think about running errands or keeping on our schedule — is pretty rare, and pretty exciting.

I’ve also discovered, in preparing for this trip, that packing for a Christmas trip is really a whole different undertaking than packing for a typical 2 week trip.  I set about doing most of the packing this morning — getting the clothes together, figuring out which luggage will work best, making piles of laundry still to be done.  After getting about 90% of our clothes packed into the suitcases (the rest is still to be washed), I felt quite accomplished.  For a normal trip, that’s the vast majority of the work.  I was feeling pretty proud about having most of the work done on Tuesday for a trip that doesn’t happen until Friday!  And then, I started adding in the Christmas stuff.  The stockings, the presents, the treats and sweets.  And, oh my, did that ever increase the complexity of the situation.  So many of the Christmas things need to be packed “just so” in order to arrive safely.  Each item I tried to add to the clothes and accessories already packed required nearly unpacking the suitcase to get everything back in.  And I”m not nearly done yet.  I’ve probably only packed half of the gifts.  Yikes.

The moral of the story is that instead of insisting on bringing truly Austrian things home for everyone for Christmas this year, I should have opted for mail-order.  And, for the first time in a while, I feel almost like a rookie traveller again . . . or at least list an uncertain one.  I know it will all work though, it always does.  That’s the miracle of the last-minute trip preparation, and the miracle of Christmas preparation.  With both of them on my side, everything is bound to come together.

Guest post: re: packing

And here is Dan’s perspective on the packing and general chaos of last Saturday.

Faithful readers of AMommyAbroad will already be aware that I was entrusted with packing for our latest trip. Emily, with great serenity, stepped aside and allowed me to do it my way with no interference.

For reference, Emily’s way somewhat resembles a military commander marshaling her forces for a campaign. Elements are gathered at staging locations at least a week in advance, deploy in-theater a day or two in advance, and culminate in an unstoppable onslaught of preparedness and organization.

Myself, well, I’ve always appreciated the benefits of that level of organization, but I’ve also felt it took too long, was too stressful, and we took too much stuff. At the same time, I never offered to do it because the sheer number of distinct items needed to make traveling with kids go smoothly boggled my mind and I couldn’t imagine thinking of it all. Emily was always the clear choice of packer.

However, it’s a lot more work than all other pre-trip tasks combined (except maybe planning the trip, which Emily also does), so when Emily suggested I pack for this trip – a short in-country trip to a place we’d been before – I thought it would be a good chance to pull my own weight.  Emily would make sure our dog, Bailey, was taken care of, and I would pack for the family.

This wasn’t a test, or punishment, so Emily was happy to be a resource. She answered questions about where to find things like the boys winter wear and provided her most recent packing list.

I knew I would pack in a fraction of the time that Emily took. I knew we’d bring less stuff. I hoped, that with a skillful application of Pareto’s Law, I’d do a good job and we’d have everything we needed.

I came home early from work the evening before we left and started packing. I initially worked without a list, simply trusting to intuition informed by all the trips we’d been on before. I gathered almost everything we needed pretty quickly – a few hours with breaks for dinner and whatnot. But then I had to stop for movie night and then putting the boys to bed. By the time I resumed packing, it was after midnight. And Emily soon wanted to go to bed. I piled everything I’d gathered into a suitcase and brought it and two vacuum storage bags of winter clothing out to the living room and proceeded to finish.

Oh, that sucked.

Of course I’d left the hardest stuff for last. And trying to be quiet so as not to disturb a sleeping house while searching through crinkly plastic bags and hallway chests was a huge pain. The whole process became painfully slow and frustrating, which, combined with that whole it’s-past-1-AM thing, sapped my motivation and I slowed down, which just made it all worse. Finally, satisfied I’d gathered (but not packed) everything, I spent too much time on FaceBook. And then went to bed. At 03:18.

In the morning, the remainder if what I had to do delayed us probably close to an hour, which I didn’t feel too terrible about. We were, for the first time, renting a car in Vienna and driving to out destination, so we weren’t on a strict schedule. And Emily was being very understanding.

So, about an hour late, I went to pick up the car, discovering, as I was walking out of our courtyard while looking up the address of the rental car place, that I had somehow rented the car for a weekend two months in the future.


I went back inside and made an embarrassed call to Sixt which rectified the situation. We’d get a slightly nicer car and have to pay ~100 € extra. I left again.

The Vienna City Sixt didn’t have a car in that class yet and I’d have to wait until one arrived from the airport.


Emily was still understanding, but keeping two boys who were very excited about vacation and the car Daddy was going to bring home from tearing the house apart like two lion cubs made of flubber was started to take its toll.

But, earlier than they’d said, the car arrived! And a child’s seat! And a piece of styrofoam! Wait, what? “That’s the booster seat.” “You don’t have one of those, you know, more substantial booster seats…with the back and arms?” Nope. Okay…

I installed the seat and tossed the styrofoam in the back and drove home. Thank God for built-in nav; Vienna is *not* friendly to cars and it took me as long to drive the convoluted route home as it would have taken without the car.

Emily was not happy about the styrofoam. I put B in it and it seamed to be safe enough, but, given Em’s discomfort, I decided to drive us back to Sixt to ask for a child’s seat. Good thing too…the booster seat only kept Benjamin safe as long as he sat up straight…not something a tired 5-year-old is going to realistically do for a 3-hour drive.

The Vienna City Sixt was, after calling around, able to locate a child’s seat at the Westbahnhof Sixt. So we drove there (again, thank God for nav) and picked it up and installed it and had a late lunch as we were all starving.

We finally left Vienna.

…5 hours later than planned.

We arrived at Grubsteighof at night, having had to scramble to find groceries and dinner before everything closed (which they do in Austria on Saturdays).


I forgot story books for the boys. I forgot my razor. One morning Liam wanted comfy shorts I elected not to pack. Liam slept in comfy pants on our last night because his diaper had leaked the night before and his only pair of pajamas got wet. We couldn’t offer the boys sunglasses because I didn’t pack them. There’s a good chance they wouldn’t have worn them, but still. The boys were congested and I didn’t bring their decongestant spray.
I didn’t bring a roll of paper towels for the car. I packed a dozen folded up in a suitcase instead, but, while that space-consciousness makes sense for air travel, it doesn’t for a car trip. A full roll would have made all the difference if we’d been hit with stomach viruses like we were on our first UK trip.

More disappointing, I didn’t include the boys in picking out what to bring. They like having a say in what they wear, and it gives them a sense of ownership to share in the preparations.

What else? Oh, I packed two right snow boots of different sizes for Liam. Em caught that before we left and fixed it.
I laid out a dirty onesie for Liam to wear the day we left. Em caught that too.

What have I learned? Well, leaving the packing to the last minute didn’t cause the problems with the rental car (I normally do a good job with that, by the way), but it meant we started the day off-balance to begin with. Not how you want to feel when there are problems to be dealt with. And it meant that I didn’t check everything, and so I didn’t catch my mistakes. Some of the things I forgot were actually on the packing list Em gave me.

I’ve also learned that packing in one shot is indeed more efficient than packing over the course of days when you have children. Emily always has a lot of work to do protecting her staging areas so they don’t get knocked over or have small items pilfered by curious boys, and she always has to make sure the bed is clear at the end of the day so we can sleep on it. A one-shot job avoids that.

But I probably won’t ever do it that way in the future. Again, it’s the kids. There’s too much to Daddy work to do in the evening, every evening, for me to just add a full packing job in there, even with Emily’s support. And if the hypothetical one-shot job is the night before we leave, then I run the risk of discovering I need something we don’t have. If it’s not the night before, then I’ll have all the same work of protecting my packing job for a couple of days.

I want another chance. Not the next trip, because that’s a big one and I plan to just be as supportive and helpful as possible given my new-found appreciation for the difficulties involved. But the next trip after that, I want to try again.

Wish me luck!

Role reversal

We travel pretty frequently.  As someone who has distinct memories of a week-long near panic of overwhelmedness the first time we flew to Florida as a family (and that was just with Benjamin), I can say we’ve gotten this pretty well down to a science.  It is something that gets better (and easier) with practice.  We’ve learned what and how to pack.   We’ve learned how to choose a great hotel and the most functional transportation for our purposes.  We’ve learned that almost anything that seems like a major crisis (head injury at Edinburgh Castle, ER trip in the States, vomiting across England, child who cries all night on the sleeper train, all of our luggage lost on the first day of a 17 day trip) can be overcome, and will even be funny in hindsight.

Honestly, I feel like we’ve got a relatively expert handle on traveling with the kids.  But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t take a TON of work to pull it off.  For a week-long trip (or longer), I start packing and organizing at least 2 weeks before we leave. I strategize which clothes will wear the best (and longest), how to be efficient without being spartan, and how to cover our bases for as many weather situations as possible.  (And, I’ve watched too many episodes of shows like “Survivorman” and “I Shouldn’t Be Alive”, so I secretly harbor an illogical belief that we could, on any trip, conceivably end up stranded on a snowy mountainside for days.)  I prepare.  I plan.  I’ve gotten really good at it.

We’re going away this weekend.  Dan has a day off next week, so we’re taking a long weekend and going to our favorite working farm outside of Salzburg, with plans to spend a day in Hallstatt, which we’ve always wanted to visit.  It’s a short trip, so we don’t need a ton of stuff.  We’ve stayed in this place before, so we know what they already have.  We’re renting a car, so we have lots of flexibility with schedule and space (we only have to carry the luggage downstairs, and it doesn’t matter how many trips it takes).  Also, the area where we’ll be has lots of shops, so nothing that we forget will be a major problem.  This is a much easier endeavor than our usual long trips that involve train or air travel.

So, this time, Dan is in charge of packing.  He’s been wanting to give it a try, and I’m enthusiastic to give him a chance (partly because I think he’d going to be a bit more impressed by how hard it is once he’s done it, and partly because he tends to create shortcuts I don’t think of).  I made the hotel reservation and he rented the car (our usual duties) but he’s packing for himself and the kids, and I’ve made arrangements for Bailey (which is our switcharoo for this time).

There is no question in my mind that I won out on this deal (although that’s only because I typically do the proverbial heavy lifting in this equation).  I started packing for myself yesterday morning and was shocked when I was mostly finished 10 minutes later.  All of my stuff (including the snow pants I’m bringing, just in case) would fit in my medium-sized backpack with a fair bit of room to spare.  I can pack the few things I have left (the things that have to wait until the last minute) in 10 minutes (or maybe less).  I’m ready to go.

We leave tomorrow.  The packing for the rest of the family . . . hasn’t started yet.  I’ve done mountains of laundry, so Dan has all of the supplies he needs, he just hasn’t packed anything yet.  There was a time in my life when I would have been stressed out completely at this point, and probably would have started doing it myself.  But, not today!  I know Dan, and I know that he will, in some way that seems miraculous, make this all work.  I know it’ll work out.  And I suspect we’re both going to learn something from this.  (For instance, I already know that I don’t have to start packing 2 weeks ahead of time.  It remains to be seen whether this turns out to be a superior plan, though!)

To Innsbruck

First off, I’m going to brag a little: I think I may be the world’s best packer. When we laid out all of the things we needed to bring with us on this trip, I thought there was no way we were going to get away with only packing two suitcases and a backpack . . . but we did. It’s impossible to really pack light with kids, and winter weather makes it harder (snow pants, wool socks, long underwear, hats, gloves, mittens, etc., times two) but we got away with only a little luggage.

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