Category Archives: Lifehack

Traveling with kids: How to survive and keep your sanity

My husband and I have always been traveling quite extensively and once our kids were born we decided not to stop the habit. Thus we do some city trips now and then (like we went to the National Sea Center Nausicaa in Boulogne-sur-Mer to celebrate our first son’s birthday), we go to visit interesting places (also not just interesting for kids, but interesting first and foremost for ourselves – e.g. recently we went to see the Moses bridge in the Netherlands). Additionally, my family still lives in Latvia and my granny is already relatively old which makes regular air travel a necessity. We traveled with our daughter by plane for the first time when she was couple of month old, with our son – when he was just one month old. Since then we accumulated quite some air miles. Also by car during the last 3 years we traveled both short and very long distances (like 2000 kms one way). Although I am in no way guru of traveling with kids, throughout our experiences we have accumulated a list of useful and tried tips and tricks on how to survive and keep your sanity while traveling with your precious little monsters angels. Some of the tips are more about air travel but most of them are applicable with adaptations to other means of transportation as well.

So, let’s begin:

1. First and foremost, attitude is everything. Things tend to go wrong at the moments least expected. Try to go with a flow and try to keep your cool. Kids are little radars that very easily pick up their parents mood. So if you become irritated and cranky prepare to have your little ones go even more berserk.

2. Factor in some spare time. This is a difficult one because, for example, with air travel you don’t want to be at an airport too early as you would simply go nuts waiting. On the other hand, you don’t want to rush in at the last moment and then discover that you have a so-to-say toilet accident that you need to urgently solve. You need to reasonably add something like in between 15 minutes and half an hour to your usual timing – that would normally do. Same for traveling by car – factor in additional stops on top of what you would normally do yourself.

3. Have antibacterial wipes, wet tissues and just normal paper tissues easily accessible. And by easily accessible I mean not just in your handbag or diaper bag, have a small version in your pocket that you can take out in no time. And speaking about pockets…

4. Wear clothes with pockets! It is not the idea to look like Anatoly Wasserman but he has some point. It is very handy when you can have the above mentioned tissues, or a small toy to immediately act upon a possible emergency. Also for passports and boarding passes – you need to show those things way too many times so better have them by hand (in case of documents opt for an inside pocket or the one which you can close securely).

5. A toddler can have his or her own bag. That saves space in your hand luggage and gives a toddler a feeling of involvement (allow him to pack, but by all means check and adjust afterwards!). Just don’t choose these cute pull-ones with wheels, as they twist and turn all ways and you will end up carrying that uncomfortable thingy yourself in addition to everything else you already have. A small backpack is the best choice.

6. Have some plastic bags (preferably zip lock but usual ones would also do) in an easy-to-reach spot.

7. For everyone kids included opt for the shoes that are easy to put on and get off. In an airport that will save you some time at the security check; and on the long-distance car ride you would want to take your shoes off in the car to relax your feet but be ready to run out fast if your toddler suddenly (and urgently) needs to pee.

8. Where there are kids, things tend to get messy and clothes might get dirty so make sure you have some spare clothes nearby. Here I prefer to pick the ones that are more or less suitable for both of my kids – a little bit too small for my daughter, a little bit too big for my son, yet overall fitting both of them; and from fabrics that are easy to roll. And in general…

9. … roll your clothes. There are numerous ways of how to efficiently pack your luggage but I personally choose rolling. When done properly you can stash a lot of things in less space. Also stuffing socks and underwear inside shoes allows to use the otherwise unused space to its full capacity. To optimally use the luggage weight allowance when traveling by air try to wear your heaviest clothes instead of putting them in your luggage.

10. Have that additional moment of going to the bathroom and change even seemingly clean diapers closer to departure (for air travel). It is feasible to do it while on board but so much easier when don’t have to.

11. Of course you don’t expect to lose your little one in a crowd yet better safe than sorry so either get an ID-bracelet or write your mobile phone number on the inside of kids clothes, or even just write it on their arms.

12. Explain to your kids what will happen, what they should do in case they are lost… It is not going to work with small kids of course, but repetition does wonders. And in general I am very much pro explaining everything even to an infant.

13. Have some entertainment for kids ready but give it out in small doses (by no means all at once!) You know your kid better than anyone so you know if a coloring book works better than a toy car, so pick. There is no need to have a lot of stuff (2-3 different activities would do). If you have an iPad, pre-load some offline games. If you have a small tablet-PC put some cartoons on. If you opt for electronic devices make sure they are fully charged, otherwise a cartoon stopped in the middle will cause more drama than it was supposed to avoid.

14. A good idea for a bit older kid would also be a child-friendly photo-camera. That is a great stimulation of creativity for them but can also produce unexpectedly nice artistic results to add to your family photo-album.

15. There was a good advice on one of the websites – ignore the idiots and don’t be one yourself. Some people don’t like kids in general, irrespective of how well-behaving they might be, so imagine if they are not? Don’t ignore other people or intentionally annoy them but also don’t stress too much about what somebody thinks about you or your off-springs.

16. Wear kids out! Let them run when it is possible to run. Let them explore when it is possible to explore. Let them shout when it is possible to shout. Traveling is a great experience for your little ones, so let them experience everything to its fullest. And also in the airport, let them run around (reasonably!) before they will be confined to sitting still in an airplane for hours.

17. Finally, also for the air travel, make sure to make them drink or chew on something at take-off and landing otherwise those little ears will hurt. Nurse if you are nursing, give a bottle, or if a kid totally refuses to drink – give them a gummy bear! Long live Harribo’s! What also helps if a kid is already screaming from ear-pain – gently massage the area around their ears, that normally helps to relieve the pain a bit.

18. Couple of words about car seats and buggy’s during air travel. When our kids were infants we took car seat (Maxi Cosi) with us on the plane as it was used also on the buggy. Rules depend airline per airline but usually you are allowed to take Maxi Cosi and sometimes even keep it during the flight on the chair next to you. Otherwise the flight attendant will take it away while already in the cabin and give it back to you after you land. As for the buggy usually you have two options: either to check it in together with your check-in luggage or keep it until the plane. So far we went for the latter, as even if a kid doesn’t want to sit in a buggy anymore, you can use it to put all your hand luggage. As an additional bonus, with a buggy you usually get through a fast security check.

 

Some additional comments on traveling with an infant

The great thing about infants that are breastfed and can be carried in a sling is that they can be breastfed and be carried in a sling! Both points make traveling with them much easier than with an overly active toddler. When my kids were infants I had a set of breastfeeding clothes and a light blanket to cover-up and I always found a place where I can breastfeed as discreetly as possible. In the airport sometimes you can get into the lounge, or almost always go to a chapel. On the city trip you can find a quiet place in the park or in some cafe’s. I have breastfed even in a church once while on our city-trip to Paris… To note that I was always sufficiently discreet and covered-up so no one could actually tell that I am breastfeeding anyway. Breastfeeding while traveling by car is even less of a trouble – you can just pull over, make a kid happy and move on – to explore the world together.

 

And finally – some general tips which make sense even traveling without your precious little ones:

1. Take pictures or make scans of your passports and other documents and e-mail them to yourself. In that way if you ever lose your documents you will spare yourself lots of time while you’ll be replacing them.

2. Have a last-moment to-do list with things you need to still do right before you leave, for example: plug-out coffee maker, switch off water (in case applicable), take out garbage, finish that pack of juice that’s been open for 2 days,… whatever there is. If you actually have it all written down and you scratch items off as you take care of them that would improve your “pre-departure” efficiency and remove at least some stress.

3. I like spontaneity but it helps when you have at least a draft of your plan for the day. You need to stay flexible (and especially with kids) but you need to know at least in general lines where would you like to go and what would you like to do or see.

 

And I’ll wrap up with what I have started – most importantly enjoy your travel experience and stay positive! Attitude is everything!

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Eliminating ironing

That’s controversial of course and a lot of people will disagree that it’s a good decision, but it saves me a lot of time and spares me back pain. I always hated ironing! However, when you are either tight on budget or just don’t want to spend extra money on laundry and ironing service for your husband’s shirts that’s what you have to do – you iron them! My speed was about 10 to 12 shirts an hour. An hour of standing and doing a repetitive, annoying and tiresome action with my arm which frequently resulted in the pain in between my shoulder blades. Not fun.

I have researched the matter, tried different speedy ironing techniques, but finally found a solution which avoids the iron all together. There are non-iron shirts! Whomever invented this thing is a genius. There are several manufacturers who offer good quality non-iron shirts yet for ourselves we found one in England – Charles Tyrwhitt. I should probably already ask them to pay me for advertising because I have referred all my friends to them. They are really worth every penny. One caveat – when you wash the shirts (and if your washing machine allows that) switch on the “easy ironing” button or just pick lower centrifuge speed and (!) this is very important – immediately take the shirts out and hang them on hangers, closing all buttons. Yes, it takes a bit of your time, but it totally eliminates the need to use an iron afterwards. Shirts look as if they have actually been ironed!

Ironing is still required for pants and t-shirts, unless you also opted for a non-iron version, and that’s it. I know that some people, like my mom, like to have their linens ironed. I don’t. Moreover, if you fold your linens neatly and stack them on top of each other most of the times they look good as such. Maybe this is due to my choice of fabrics, I don’t know. My linens are 100% cotton satin and they don’t get crooked.

The bottom-line is that you don’t have to iron everything unless you really want to, there are options out there that allow you to have the same result, while sparing you time and not costing more (and if you take into account that an iron consumes hell of a lot electricity –  even saving you money).

 

 

Is it possible to apply geo-arbitrage in your everyday life?

You might have heard this term coined by Tim Ferris in his The 4-Hour Workweek. In the essence geo-arbitrage is about outsourcing your professional and personal life, making use of the fact that the world is turning into a global village. In his book Tim was mostly talking about it in the context of hiring a virtual assistant that would do both your professional and personal errands at a fraction of your calculated or assumed hourly-rate. In that way, while your virtual assistant from, say India, is searching for a present for your mother-in-law, you can do yoga, or spend time eating-out with your customer, or do whatever you wish to do.

Yet, in my perception geo-arbitrage extends beyond pure making use of a cheap labor in a faraway land. Stretching it a bit, it is also about looking around within your own country. So, how do I apply geo-arbitrage at this point in time? I am saying “in this point in time” because I am constantly in search for ways to optimize our life.

  1. The choice of location for a house. We have a lovely house (still partly only partially finished though) with a big garden in one of the Belgian villages. Having the same size of a house (and I am not even talking about a garden!) in Antwerp or in Gent would not be affordable. Yet, Antwerp is 20 minutes drive north-east and Gent is 25 minutes drive south-west.
  2. We buy groceries and occasionally alcohol in the Netherlands (Hulst is 15 minutes drive), where the VAT is lower and overall prices are cheaper than in Belgium.
  3. For diapers it is frequently cheaper to order them from Germany.
  4. We regularly travel to my home country – Latvia. If we would travel from Belgium that would cost us a fortune every time, but low-coasters don’t fly to Riga airport from Belgium. So we travel from Eindhoven (NL).
  5. I go to the hairdresser’s in Latvia, not only because I like my hairdresser and I don’t want to change her, but also because every time it saves me something around 80 EUR (less than a return airplane ticket with a low-coaster if you’re lucky). Even if I would not be travelling to Latvia to visit my family, I would seriously consider keeping this habit!
  6. Also in Latvia my husband and I did the green card course in golf
  7. …and regularly go to opera.

These are just some examples that first came to my mind. The point is – the world is indeed becoming a global village and there are more and more possibilities out there. Of course you have to take into account e.g. time and additional effort and all the other things, and yes – if you don’t live next to the border with a cheaper country or regularly travel to one – it might turn out to be not worth a hassle. Yet, possibilities do exist.

 

Managing your food stock – saving time, gaining choice

For myself I have identified several core principles towards managing our food stock:

  • there should be a variety – I like to experiment, I like trying new things and new food combinations, so there should be diverse ingredients;
  • my freezer should always be as full as possible! And freezer is my best friend in general – I’ll talk about it in a bit more detail further.
  • as less waste as possible – if there are leftovers they have to be if possible integrated in a new dish. For example, when one of these days I had a bit of boiled rice, unfinished steak, a bit of broccoli left from our dinner the day before, and some old but not yet bad cheese – all that was “recycled” or better “up-cycled” into a nice lunch: just put everything together, add eggs, some spices, a bit of cream and put in the oven for about 10 minutes. Serve with some toasts. Done.

In this post I would like to talk about frozen food. For me this is a perfect way how to increase my efficiency in the kitchen without sacrificing the important aspect of having a variety in food. I must admit that I switched to using my freezer to the full capacity not that long ago. Before that I only had some pizza’s, ice-cream and ice cubes lying there. Nowadays, there is everything from steaks to chicken breasts, at least five if not more different vegetable varieties at all times and slices of bread in small sealed packs. And it is so convenient!

I will start with bread. When I am not baking bread myself (and I do that occassionally) we buy bread at a local bakery. It is very tasty once fresh and stays being so for another day after the purchase. The problem is that the loaf of bread in our household is usually not finished completely in these two days, and I am too lazy to take out a toaster on the third day. So what I do nowadays is buy two loafs of bread, divide them in three or four “sets” and immediately after purchase put everything but one “set” in sealed plastic bags in the freezer. Defrosted at a room temperature in about 3 hours this bread has all the properties of the freshly bought including a soft inside and a crusty crust.

For vegetables I have it all – I grow my own vegetables (zucchini’s, tomatoes, broccoli, etc); I buy fresh vegetables at the farmer’s market and I have a selection of frozen vegetables in my freezer. To note, that frozen vegetables usually contain more vitamins than supposedly fresh products from the supermarket. How come? Well, they are harvested at optimum ripeness; there is usually a short path and fast processing after harvest; they are stored at about -25C and at such temperature e.g. green beans lose only 20% of its original Vitamin C content within a year. In comparison, since Vitamin C is heat and oxygen sensitive already within the first 4 days in the chilled environment the same green beans would lose more than 60% of their original Vitamin C content. That gets even more dramatic if the green beans are stored at room temperature, as the lost Vitamin C value spikes to 80%. So the bottom line is that actually deep-frozen vegetables are far better than their “fresh” counterparts. Of course, that does not apply to home-grown vegetables, but I want to have broccoli also in February!

With respect to frozen meats, fish and poultry there are almost no vitamin and mineral loses because protein, vitamins A and D and minerals are not affected by freezing. Some claim that the taste for instance in a steak, is lost, but I disagree. Actually, chemically speaking, deep-freezing and subsequent defrosting should make meat more tender. Yet, as mentioned I do not really see the difference in the end result. Maybe I am just good at cooking? (LOL) I must admit, that also here I do buy fresh meats and fresh fish, but most of the times my main course comes from my freezer.

Additionally, my freezer has some fresh herbs frozen in olive oil, the leftovers of wine for subsequent cooking, a couple of ready-made deep-frozen dishes like moussaka and lasagna for those rare times when I get too lazy to cook.

What do I gain by this approach? In addition to variety and freshness, also – a choice. I like the freedom to open my freezer and decide right there on the spot if I want to have a duck breast or a beef steak or a pork tenderloin or a salmon fillet, instead of going to the shop everyday or other and buying them fresh.

I save time and gain choice.