House Swap London

This week we are swapping apartments with a couple in London that we’ve never met. We have a mutual friend and I’ve spoken with them over the phone but other than that I don’t know them. We got some cheap train tickets (its only two hours on the train!) so this whole trip will be very low budget. I’m a little nervous about letting someone stay in our apartment but excited that we are able to travel so cheaply, in fact we’re not even taking work off. Plus sometimes I prefer staying in apartments to hotels because they feel more neighborhood-y. Do you think its crazy to swap with someone we’ve never met? Have you ever done it or would you ever do it? Also if you had four quick days in London with small kids what are your top three things to do?

I know I want to go on the London Eye, Ride a Double Decker Bus, visit Liberty, and eat some Fish and Chips. What am I missing?

photo credit: The London Eye by Mathew Field.

6 Travel Tips

We love to travel. I’m no expert but over the years I’ve learned a few tricks for getting the most out of my vacations and how not to end up in tourist traps. I know not everyone has the same priorities, but here are some lessons I’ve learned:

1. Always involve bikes, boats, or even scooters.
You see things in a different way when you use different modes of transportation, especially renting bikes for the day. I’ve never regretted it. Also boats! Once we were on a trip to Mexico and it was going so-so until we rented a catamaran and skipper for the day. They took us everywhere and showed us the best snorkeling spots–it was fantastic.

2. Look for “awesome” touristy and avoid “bad” touristy.
For example riding the Cable Car in San Francisco is touristy but its awesome touristy, it feels authentic. An example of “bad touristy” is Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. There are three “authentic” things to do there and everything else is contrived and a tourist trap. I always recommend that people get their crab/clam chowder from a street vendor, see the sea lions, play the penny arcade then get out.

3. Be strategic when planning your visit to popular sites.
I really enjoy doing some touristy things but I try to do them when crowds are low. Getting sucked into waiting in line all day can really ruin your trip (or at least that day.) One solution is to limit your time. For example I always tell people to go to the Louvre first thing in the morning (buy tickets in advance). See the biggies: Mona Lisa, Winged Victory etc. spend a little time strolling so you see just how big it is then get out–2 hours tops.

4. At museums ALWAYS get the headphones.
It’s easy to start feeling like a thrifty person if you just paid the entrance fee and now they are trying to gouge you with a headphone fee. Just pay it. The commentary gives you context for the art and for me, changes my museum experience 100%.

5. Err on the side of small
Travel is an industry. People are trying to make money off you, which isn’t a bad thing. But they are going to want to offer things to you on a large scale in order to make a profit. Most of the time the quality of things go down significantly when you get included with the masses. My friend Michelle recently compared a Royal Caribbean cruise she went on where she felt like “cattle” to a small cruise with 200 people around Tahiti. She felt connected to the people and the food was great. When traveling smaller usually means better quality.

6. Consider your Hobbies
If you aren’t a “museum person” don’t spend all day at museums just because thats what you feel you should do. A trip to a good ribbon store or party supply store leaves me so inspired. I always try to seek out stores that feed my interests. Its a great way to discover neighborhoods you wouldn’t normally go to and sometimes becomes my favorite part of the trip.

I’d love to hear if you have any tips on traveling. Any secret tips when you travel? Do you plan out every detail or do you like to be more flexible with your travel plans?

A Holga picture from our 2008 trip to Brazil.

Tulip Fields in Holland

After Normandy we decided to take a spur of the moment trip to Belgium and The Netherlands so that we could see the Tulip fields. Amsterdam is only a five hour drive from Paris, so it was an easy and quick trip. When we decided to move to Paris I made a list of “bucket list” of things I wanted to do while we were here. And seeing the tulip fields in Holland was near the top of the list. Our schedules have been busy during the small window that the tulips are in bloom so we thought we were going to have to miss them. I’m so happy we made it happen. The colors were so vibrant and it was one of my favorite days of this whole trip.

Have you ever seen the tulip fields in real life? It is crazy how colors that bright come from nature, they almost seem fake.

Sorry there are so many photos. It was hard to edit them down.

Sailing Greece

For about as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to charter a sailboat and sail the Greek Isles. Since we were already over here we decided this would be the year. We just sent in our contract and deposit and I’m so excited. My friends and I got together and chartered a boat and a skipper for 7 days in July. With that you get your own cabin, breakfast, and lunch (dinners are eaten on land) and then you sail around from island to island. In a lot of ways its all the conveniences of a cruise ship: you don’t have to move your luggage around, you always have a place to sleep, meals are provided. But it is on a much smaller scale. There will only be 8 or 10 people on the boat, there isn’t bad food and we can stop at anytime to swim. My friend sailed around Italy and Greece a few summers ago and said it was so great because you would sightsee and explore all day and then the next morning you would sail to a different town so there was built in down time. You could relax and read on the deck of the boat. Sounds perfect to me! While I think it might be interesting to do with kids Paul’s parent’s will be staying with us and agreed to babysit so we’ll be leaving the kids home this time.

One thing that surprised me is how affordable it was. It is about $230/night total per couple and when you consider that includes two meals, some tour guiding, lodging and transportation its probably cheaper than if you took a train, ate in restaurants, and stayed in hotels.

Have you ever gone on a long sailing trip? Should we worry about sea sickness?

photo from Michiel_


When I go to a new country one of the things I like to do is go to a party supply store and fill a bag with party supplies to take home (proof here). Usually (like everywhere) it is cheap stuff made in China but every country has different versions that you can only get in that country. On our trip to Germany I stocked up on the offerings at the local version of Target.

What kind of souvenirs do you bring home when you travel?