Ryan Air

Ryan Air may be one of the most well known budget European airlines out there. They have over 2,000 flights out of 33 countries per day throughout the UK and EU. They have different fare tiers to choose from and their prices are very reasonable. If you need something to get you from point A to point B without the bells and whistles, this is a good dependable airline.

As with any other airline, one needs to be diligent in knowing what each fare tier includes. The absolute cheapest fare will get you a seat (with an option to choose your seat starting at an extra £5) and two pieces of hand luggage (this would include a small bag such as a purse or laptop bag and a small suitcase measuring no bigger than 55cm x 40cm x 20cm that’s 21.5 x 7.8 x 15.7 in inches and weighing no more than 10 Kilograms). They are pretty strict on the small suitcase size, so make sure if you are not paying to check a bag that the size of your luggage is no bigger than their very specific measurements or you may have to pay to check your bag.

A few other things to keep in mind when flying RyanAir are:

  1. If you need your ticket printed at the ticket counter, they may charge you, and it’s not cheap, so be forewarned!
  2. Check in ahead of time. You will be charged at the ticket counter if you do not and it is expensive.
  3. If you do not hold an EU passport, even though you have checked in online and don’t have any bags to check, always go to the ticket counter before heading through security. We have found that when we fly RyanAir, some ticket counters for RyanAir like to check documents at the ticket counter, mark the tickets, and then let you through security. That being said, if you’re not sure, arrive early and head over to the ticket counter just in case.

Christmas Break 2017 – Reagan

The last 2 weeks my family and I were in Reno visiting our family. I’m going to tell you what I did the first then the second week.

So the first week we stayed at our Nana and Papa Steve’s house and my siblings and I built gingerbread houses, rode scooters, played with the toys in the kids room, and did plenty more. Then on Sunday we left to go to my Grammy and Papa Willy’s house and I got to have a personal sleepover with Maggie then another with Ashlynn.  

A few days later it was CHRISTMAS!!!! So we ate breakfast at Grammy’s house. Guess what we had? We had waffles, crispy bacon, eggs and orange juice. What a yummy breakfast it was. Then we opened presents at Nana’s house and guess what I got??? I got an art set with a mini easel, a Fitbit, and more. Then we ate lunch. We had steak, twice baked potatoes, jello salad, peas and angel biscuits. Then we talked for a while finally we went BACK over to Grammy’s house and opened MORE presents and I got… a stuffed pug, a water bottle that has a pug on it, a pillow that has elephants on it, a 30 dollar gift card to target from Maggie, and so much more. Next we had dinner.. we had ham, twice baked potatoes, salad and deviled eggs. And for dessert we had pumpkin pie and ice cream. Then Ashlynn and I did a play.

After Christmas, a few days later, we did a girls sleepover. We went to the movies and watched The Greatest Showman! And then we went to sleep at 4:30!! And woke up at 7:00. I got 3 hours of sleep but McKenna and Kaitlyn got NO sleep at all. Then a few days later we left to got to Barcelona, Spain.

Costa Brava, Spain

After traveling every week this fall, we got tired. It began to really wear on the kids and traveling was more a dread than excitement. We even had what we called “travel days”, where we would basically take one whole day to get to an airport, fly to our destination, move in, and crash. This would always be followed by a “home day” the next day so that everyone would be able to rest after that exhausting day.

Thus, this month of January, we are trying something new. I found a wonderful home to rent for the month in Costa Brava, Spain. It has 4 bedrooms, 2 1/2 bathrooms, a pool, yard, a climbing tree, it’s a 10 minute walk (or 2 minute drive) to a beautiful beach, and steps from restaurants and grocery stores. The kids and I will be hunkering down for the month while my husband travels the weeks he needs to travel in January.

IMG_7762

Monday we will start back up schooling for the kids after their holiday break, but this week we are discussing learning and academic goals for each one of them for the end of the school year. My desire is that they set their own goals, that way they can take responsibility and pride in the work that they end up doing. My hope is that they will be journaling more on their blog pages, and I think less travel will help with that.

It is nice to see the kids immediately relaxing in our home for the month. It is nice to have sunshine and warmer weather and space to spread out and relax. I’m looking forward to many outdoor school days! It is also nice to see the kids go back to doing things that they love. Peyton got a baseball precision trainer bat and the yard is big enough for him and his dad to practice with that bat and play catch. Reagan got some paints and a small easel, so she has taken up her love of art and painting again. Kaitlyn and Liam got a soccer ball, and between that and the pool, climbing tree, and bugs, they are in heaven playing with each other.

DSC06950.JPG

 

Norwegian

I found this gem of an airline last year when I was looking for cheap options for international flights between the US and Europe and the UK. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but this airline has been a real diamond in the rough.

With this airline, you have some options. For the absolute cheapest option, I have found direct flights from the US West Coast to Europe and the UK for as low as $139 each way. That is an incredible price if you are a light traveler and are ok feeding yourself. Their hand baggage policy is that you can have up to 2 hand bags, but your larger hand bag cannot weigh more than 10 Kilograms–and this is pretty strictly enforced. If it weighs more you will have to check your bag and it will cost you $50. You can, however, save $5 and purchase a checked bag allowance online up to 6 hours before your flight’s departure. If you are willing to spend a bit more, you can pay for Norwegian’s second ticket option, (which I have found seems to very consistently be $90 more than the cheapest option), this will give you one checked bag, at least 2 meals on the flight and you can choose your seat.

Norwegian also has a business class which looks very nice, but I have not flown it. I have, however tried “bidding” for a business class seat. Norwegian offers an interesting option of “bidding”, which is where you can offer to pay a maximum amount to try to get upgraded to business class. I attempted this once, the one time I traveled alone, and had my maximum bid be $175 to get upgraded. I did not get it, so, obviously I was out-bid–lucky person.

We have found the seats to be generally comfortable, the stewards and stewardesses to be kind, there is individualized movie and game entertainment for each seat, and you can order food and snacks from your seat if you do get hungry and didn’t order food with your ticket.

 

Easyjet

I think we have finally figured out the best way to fly as a family with Easyjet–and I will be honest, this airline has become our go-to airline for domestic flights throughout the UK and Europe.

They consistently have some of the best prices and they fly over 830 routs in over 30 countries, which makes them a very accessible budget airline. Their low prices do come with a catch, though. They only allow 1 piece of hand-baggage per customer, each checked bag costs anywhere between £25-35 and if you show up with more than one piece of hand baggage, they charge you £50 to check it. This was a definite obstacle for our family, when anytime we travel we each have 2 pieces of hand baggage because of our nomadic life-style.

Last year, we would pay the extra £25-35 baggage fee to check 3 of our bags. Most airline desks allowed us to combine our baggage weight and check 6 pieces of luggage so then we were only left with one hand bag per person. This fall I found that if you pay for what the airline calls “up-front” or “extra leg room” seat, you are allowed 2 pieces of hand luggage. This costs an extra £10-18 per person, which actually ended up saving us quite a bit of money. So, instead of paying upwards of an extra £75-105 in baggage fees, we cut it down to about £60 extra in baggage fees. It was still expensive, but still a cheaper option than other domestic airlines.

This continued for a few weeks until we found out that Easyjet has an extremely family friendly option. Just purchase your tickets and when it is time to go to the airport, head over to the check-in desk and ask them about their family travel option. You will be allowed to check in up to 6 bags (this is one bag per person up to 6 people) and get priority boarding for only £10-15 total. We have done this with our last 2 Easyjet flights and it is a wonderful option for families traveling on this very family friendly airline.

 

What You Won’t Find

Throughout our short 1 week stints in Airbnb’s throughout Europe, I have found that there are certain things you won’t find (or maybe very rarely find) that you would find in most 3 + star hotels

1. 5 star service: There are a certain minimal expectations that a host should follow–but just because they’re your host, it doesn’t mean they are also your servant. If you want 5 star service, you should probably book a 5 star hotel, not someone’s home.

2. Spotlessly: Again, there are certain cleanliness standards that should be met, but when renting through Airbnb you may find a few crumbs in the couch or dust under the bed and sometimes even mildew in the bathrooms. Although it can be super gross at times and sometimes worse than others, it does happen. I find that hosts who care about their reputation on Airbnb do the best that they can to make sure their place is as clean as they can make it.

3. Mattress pads: I have been surprised at how few places we’ve stayed in have mattress pads for their beds. I would think this should be a requirement, but alas, it is not. If you require a mattress pad, ask the host before booking or consider bringing your own.

4. Breakfast: Although it is a very nice perk to come home to find food in the fridge, most Airbnb’s will not have food in the fridge upon your arrival–that is unless they state specifically that they provide it for you. Also, keep in mind that “breakfast” in the UK has a very different definition than “breakfast” in Italy or Spain. So, don’t expect a full English breakfast when a host in Italy says they provide a full breakfast– as their full breakfast might be a pack of stale toast, butter and jelly.

5. Transportation: Although some hosts do offer transportation to their place, we have found very few do offer this perk–and if they do, it is not included in your stay, so have some cash on you and know what you’re paying for.

6. Neighbors: Yes, you have neighbors at a hotel, but it’s very rare that you see them and if you do, it’s even rarer to make eye contact or speak to them. The difference here, is that an Airbnb is usually in a neighborhood or a local’s apartment complex, so seeing neighbors is an everyday experience–one which can be quite fun!

7. Ample supply of toilet paper: Now, this has been about half and half. Half of our hosts have provided plenty of toilet paper for our stay, where the other half have given us a roll to start our week with. This hasn’t been a big deal to us, as we end up going to the store anyways and it’s no big deal to pick up toilet paper. I have read some reviews where the guests were incensed that the hosts didn’t provide enough TP for their stay–it is nice to have enough, but, seriously, it’s not worth loosing sleep or writing a bad review over.

8. Feeling like a local: It’s one thing to stay in a hotel and take a cab into the middle of a neighborhood, where when you are staying smack dab in the middle of the neighborhood you get to feel like you are a part of the community. You get to shop with the locals, eat with the locals, take public transportation with the locals. Staying at a hotel, you get to be a tourist and see the sites, while when you stay at an Airbnb, you not only get to be a tourist and see the sites, you get to experience the area those sites are in.

For the Hosts

I have never been an Airbnb host before, but as an avid user, there are some things I would recommend every host keep in mind before hosting a guest:

  1. If you have a shower with no curtain or glass, get something to prevent the shower water from spraying all over the floor. This will keep your floor from getting wet and your walls from growing mold.
  2. If you have something that doesn’t work like it is supposed to, fix it. This could range from a door handle to the toilet room that is known to fall off, thus locking the poor unfortunate soul into that room until they are able to figure out how to get out to a washing machine you advertise as being an amenity in your home that is broken. If you don’t have time to fix it before your guests arrive, be open and honest with them about the issue and apologize.
  3. If your guest has a question, respond.
  4. Mattresses…there are good ones and there are terrible ones and there are few that are just ok. If you have mattresses that are stained and gross, figure out a way to clean them or get new ones.
  5. Tea, coffee and spices. It is so nice to be able to arrive at a place and see that there is coffee, tea, spices, toilet paper, laundry soap, and dish soap and I don’t have to go out and purchase those. To be honest, my favorite Airbnb’s have gone far and above the staples and even go so far as to provide milk, fruit, bread, eggs and even some wine for us. Traveling can be draining, and to be able to walk into a place, drop our things and know that we don’t have to turn around and find a store to find something to eat right away is really helpful.
  6. Curtains, blinds, shades…something. I will be honest, it is nice to be able to get dressed in a room with a window where I don’t feel the whole world is watching me.
  7. Call ahead. If you need to come by or have a friend that picks up their mail from your house, tell your guest. Guests don’t want to look up to see you or especially some stranger walking into the house to get something you or they forgot. Email, text, phone, ring the doorbell, or as a last resort, knocking is a good way to get your guest’s attention. If they don’t answer, try to get ahold of them later.
  8. Cleaning supplies. As a guest, it is nice to have some cleaning supplies lying around. It doesn’t have to be a lot–but a broom and dust pan really are appreciated.
  9. Utensils, cups & plates. Honestly, unless you are priced and advertised as a luxurious accommodation, I don’t know too many people who really care if your utensils, cups, and plates match. That being said, if you only have 2 cups, yet you advertise that more than 2 people can be at your place, it might be a good idea to invest in some more cups. Same goes for utensils and plates.
  10. Towels. Usually an Airbnb host will supply 1 towel per guest in the booking unless they specify that you have to bring your own towels. As a guest with children, I have found it convenient to have access to a couple more towels than the standard one-per-guest rule.
  11. Kitchen towels. It is nice to have access to a kitchen towel–paper towels are a good second.
  12. Wifi. If you advertise that there is free access to wifi in your listing, make sure it has a good strong connection, otherwise provide a back-up plan for your guest.
  13. Dressers and/or closets. It really is nice to have a place to put clothes away. If you are thinking about becoming a host and using your own home, think about setting aside closet space and dresser space so that your guest can feel a bit more at home in your home.
  14. Coat hangers and shoe racks. If you would like to have your guests take their shoes off while they are in your house, provide a place for them to place their shoes. Also, a place for them to hang their jackets, bags, or purses is also a nice touch.

When Leaving

There are certain protocols for leaving an Airbnb that should be headed if you plan on using Airbnb again. Some hosts request certain specific things such as not leaving any opened perish-able foods in the fridge or specify where they would like you to leave the dirty towels. Other things aren’t so black and white, so here is a list of items I have found the hosts to especially appreciate coming home to after we have left:

  1. Clean up the kitchen. Wash any dirty dishes, dry them, and put them away. Wipe down the counters and if there is a broom lying around, sweep the floor. If there is a dishwasher, I will wait until just before we leave to turn it on unless the hosts specify that the dishwasher needs to be emptied.
  2. Tidy up the living areas. Put the pillows back on the couch, straiten the area rugs, if there is a broom, sweep the un-carpeted areas.
  3. Empty the garbages.
  4. Straiten up the beds. I used to strip the beds, but after seeing how gross some of the mattresses are under those sheets…I decided I would just straiten the beds up.
  5. Take all the dirty towels and bath rugs and put them in one place–usually the kitchen or a bathroom.

All in all–this usually takes us about 20 minutes. I find that the hosts genuinely appreciate us leaving their homes looking decent and not like a hurricane hit it.

Things I Wish I had Known

These are 12 things I wish I had known when we first started booking with Airbnb:

  1. Reading the reviews gives you a good idea of what you might expect. If a few people say it’s noisy and suggest you bring some earplugs and you are planning on sleeping…find a different place.
  2. If you see that the host has canceled last-minute on multiple people and there is no explanation from the host in those reviews and you don’t like surprises, you might want to re-think booking that place.
  3. The words “luxury” , “amazing” , “fantastic”, and “gorgeous” have many meanings and could mean anything from state-of-the-art to a mattress and sheets are provided. So, when you see those words in the description and especially if it seems like a really good deal, read between the lines and ask lots of questions.
  4. A hot tub could mean yes, there is an actual hot tub for you to use or the “hot tub” is actually a bathtub.
  5. As far as pools go; if you are specifically looking to book a place with a pool, and especially if it is between the months of October through April, be sure to ask if it is open. We have found that a lot of places close their pools for the winter, but will still advertise that they have a pool.
  6. If you do not like to stay in places that allow smoking, make sure you check to make sure that the description specifies in the rules that there is NO smoking allowed in the unit.
  7. Location: If you plan on only using public transportation, make sure the place you book is near public transportation
  8. Hosts review you as well, so if you plan on renting through Airbnb again, make sure you leave the home or flat in good shape and communicate well with your host.
  9. Some hosts charge more if there are more people in your group, which can add up pretty quickly. When this happens, I message the host and ask if they charge extra for children. Sometimes they don’t, which is nice, but when they do, depending on what the extra charge is, I will ask if they will allow me to book us for 1 or 2 less children than we have to cut down on the extra person charges. I have found that, at least with children, the hosts are generally very understanding with cutting back with these charges. I have only had one host that wouldn’t allow us to do this–they were wanting to charge us an extra $32 per night per person over 4 people. Multiply that by 7 nights and that adds another $448 for the week for just 2 more children…so we found a different place, which was smaller, but much cheaper and worked just fine.
  10. Different hosts have different cancelation policies. If you like flexibility, make sure you pay attention to what those are before you book.
  11. Bedrooms are sometimes relative. One host may advertise a place as a two bedroom flat, when it really is just a one bedroom with the living room being used as the second bedroom. Same thing for three and four bedroom places. If you are really needing the separate bedrooms, make sure you check the pictures, read the reviews, and if you are still unsure, ask the host. Also, keep in mind that when the listing says one of the beds is a couch or futon and there are no other beds in the room–they might be counting the living room as a bedroom.
  12. When Wifi is included in the listing, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will be any good. If you are dependent on a good Wifi signal and need to have it during your stay, always ask if it a good strong connection and what the download speed is.

Thanksgiving

So this year we had the pleasure of spending Thanksgiving in the beautiful city of Prague. I was feeling a little nostalgic and wanted to make sure we gave our kids a Thanksgiving to remember. I’m fairly certain they’ll remember this one.

On Monday, before Thanksgiving, Reagan and I made a menu and shopping list of things we needed to find at the store. We found a wonderful turkey recipe, along with an apple pie and pumpkin pie recipe. I already know how to make mashed potatoes by heart and jello salad is pretty self explanatory so we didn’t search up those recipes.

On Tuesday we went to a store and could not find a turkey. We found chicken and duck, but not one turkey. So, because the duck looked bigger, we decided that maybe this year we would substitute the turkey for a duck. As we were checking out, the lady at the cash register grabs the duck and says something to us in Czech–to which we smile and say we do not speak Czech. She gives us a big smile, slaps the duck and says, “YUM YUM!” Now, I’ve never seen anyone slap a duck before, and given the slap and the “YUM YUM” I will assume she said something along the lines of, “Now THAT is one fine duck!”

The next day we went to a different store in search of the last of the ingredients on our grocery list. We found everything but the brown sugar. Thanks to Google Translate, we were able to find the right flour and spices we needed for our feast as well.

Thanksgiving Eve I had the girls make the pie dough while I made the jello salad. Now, the place we are staying in has no measuring cups or spoons and I can wing most measurements, but jello is a whole other ball game. Jello is super fickle when it comes to exact measurements, so I wasn’t sure how this particular jello salad was going to work out for us. But, I made it anyways, stuck it in the fridge for the next day.

Thanksgiving morning we all get up and I go to check on the jello salad. It was not runny, but it also wasn’t wiggly–it was just kind of blubbery. So, as a last resort, I threw it in the freezer thinking that if it didn’t work, it wasn’t that big of a loss to our Thanksgiving feast. It didn’t work.

That morning I put the pie in the oven–now this oven is a microwave/oven. It would preheat and then be on for about 5-10 minutes then it would shut off. This meant that I was going to have to be in the kitchen all day babysitting this dang oven to make sure everything cooked like it needed to. So, the pie came out nicely and then I started on the stuffing–and seriously, I found an amazing recipe! Bread crumbs, fried up onions and celery, 1 cup of chicken stock, 1 egg and 1 teaspoon of poultry seasoning—bake for an hour and it’s done! It was incredibly easy and so good!

While I was busy doing all this my husband seasoned the duck, put it in the fridge, and then went off to go on a run. When it was time, I go to pull out the duck and I see something that doesn’t look right. There are feathers under the wings and in the neck. By feathers…I mean actual feathers coming out of this bird. By this time, my husband had gotten back from his run and I ask him if he had cleaned the duck before seasoning it. He asked what I meant and I said that I know that before you season a turkey in the States, I’ve always rinsed it really well, feeling for left-over wing particles and removing them as necessary. To this, he said that no, he had just seasoned and stuffed the duck. So, I’m looking at this bird and I show him the feathers–to which he says that maybe we should just wash the seasoning off, un-stuff the bird and then proceed to take the left-over feathers out it. I agree and it ends up taking me quite some time to really prepare that duck.

We didn’t end up eating until close to 6pm, but it was a fine American Czech feast. One to remember, that’s for sure!