What’s in our luggage?

This is a question I thought a lot about before we left. Reducing our ‘stuff’ was part of why we were leaving. We wanted to live with less and travel light, but still have everything we needed. Anyone with kids knows how much stuff suddenly appears the moment they enter the world. How were we going live comfortably without ending up with way more than we could carry?

Recently I read an article by Robert Moor, about MJ Eberhart, known as Nimblewell Nomad, who had been walking for 15 years. Moor said of Eberhart:

Shaving down one’s pack weight, he said, was a process of sloughing off one’s fears. Each object a person carries represents a particular fear: of injury, of discomfort, of boredom, of attack.

 

This is definitely true of what we have in our luggage. We’ve got clothes to prevent the cold, toys to prevent the boredom and gadgets to prevent losing touch with our loved ones. We don’t have a lot, but what we have is important to us.

To prevent ourselves from bringing anything unnecessary, we committed to limiting our main bag size to 45L each, and the kids to 30L. In addition we would each have a backpack for smaller items and as day bags.

In our pre-travel thrift, we made a decision not to purchase too many new items. We bought new luggage, good quality drink bottles and some packing cubes.

Well, I had good intentions with the drink bottles, but it wasn’t our best purchase. Within our first month of travel, we had lost all three of our new drink bottles. One got left behind before we left Australia, one got left in a taxi and we think the other one might be hiding in our friends’ house but hasn’t turned up yet.

On the other hand, our bags have proved a success. Cass and I bought a 45L Osprey Sojourn each, as they can be wheeled or used as a backpack. (Osprey no longer sell this size of Sojourn, but their Ozone is similar – see previous link). Three months in, we have not yet used them as a backpack, but we are still glad we have the option in case we ever need to.

For the kids we bought smaller 30L Kathmandu hybrid cases. All our suitcases have proved to be a good size for lifting onto high luggage racks on trains, or for wheeling down the cobbled streets of Spain. But for many people, the bags might seem small. So, what have we got in them?

Clothing

Underwear

  • 7 pairs of underwear for each of us – this reduces laundry pressure a little. (I only have 3 bras.)
  • 3 pairs of socks
  • 1 set of full length pyjamas

Tops

  • 1 long sleeve collared shirt – the kids have an extra t-shirt instead of this one.
  • 1 long sleeve top – mine is a marino thermal because I feel the cold.
  • 1 x short sleeve top
  • 1 x t-shirt
  • 1 x sleeveless top
  • 1 x jumper
  • 1 x cardigan/hoodie

Dress – for La Chica and I

  • 1 x dress

Bottoms

  • 1 pair of jeans
  • 1 pair of shorts
  • 1 skirt and a pair of black leggings (for La Chica and I)
  • 1 pair of tracksuit pants

Outerwear

  • 1 raincoat – for Cass and I this doubles as a coat when we go out, but the kids have an extra coat.

Shoes

  • Thongs (Flip flops for non-Australians) – I can’t live without these
  • Sandals
  • Closed in shoes
  • Running shoes (for me only).

Other bits & bobs

  • Pashmina/scarf
  • Light scarf
  • Sarong – we use this as a picnic blanket, a bag, an item of clothing, a sheet. So handy.
  • Hat
  • Bathers
  • Goggles
  • Travel towel

Running Clothes (for me)

For me the biggest struggle is fitting in all my running clothes and accessories, without them, my bag could be much smaller, but I love running while we travel so they are here to stay. They also need laundering more often (because I get pretty smelly on a run), so I have to bring more items than I would like.

  • 2 x running bras
  • 1 x pair shorts
  • 1 x pair 3/4 length bottoms
  • 1 x cotton sleeveless top
  • 1 x technical shirt
  • 1 x hydration vest + bladder
  • 1 x pair of trail running shoes

Surf Items (for Cass)

Cass travels with a wetsuit and a rashie and a couple of spare fins so he’s always prepared when there’s surf. He decided not to travel with a board as it was too cumbersome when trying to get up escalators and the like with the kids in tow. It’s been a good decision, but he has to be extra resourceful when we arrive at a surf-side location.

Toiletries

I only have a small bag of toiletries. The biggest items are first aid (band-aids, sting cream, etc). Every time I pack, this is the item that annoys me the most because it’s the last to go in and everything looks like it fits so nicely until it goes in.

Other items

  • A journal
  • Small pencil case
  • Phone – we have a Spanish SIM for continental Europe and and UK SIM at this stage.
  • 1 x book (when we buy one we donate, swap, or exchange the old one)
  • Portable hard drive – Cass & I have one each with our work, photos and music on it. They add weight to our luggage but they are worth it.
  • Passports (!)
  • Wallet

Toys

The kids each have one of those insulated lunch box containers that they are allowed to fill up with toys or activities. When they buy something new, it has to fit in there, or if not, they have to remove something else. I actually think we haven’t had to get rid of much because we lose more toys than they buy (read fidget spinners).
La Chica has a kindle because she can easily read a book a day if she has the time, and El Chico has an iPod for listening to music when he needs a break from the rest of us.
Each of them have a camera that they received as Birthday presents.

Shared items

  • Computer
  • iPad – we brought this in case we wanted to both work at the same time. So far we haven’t really needed to, and I think we could easily live without it. It becomes useful on a 9 hour train journey to entertain the kids, but if it breaks, we’re not going to replace it.
  • 2 maps – We mark where we have been on each of these maps. It’s really fun to sit down together and see how far we’ve gone. The kids always have some really great questions too, and we learn a lot about Geography.
  • A small travel set of container of watercolour paints – We’ve only used this twice, but I like the idea that I will use it more… maybe….someday.
  • Frisbee – we’ve used this a lot.
  • Hackey sack – haven’t used it much (the kids find it difficult and lose interest).
  • Travel monopoly
  • Deck of cards
  • Travel washing line
  • Travel adapter & plenty of charging cords
  • Knife – for cutting up delicious Spanish cheese at our picnics, and also because Airbnb hosts often have terrible knives.
  • Tea towel  – We bought this while travelling because surprisingly most of our accommodation has not had a tea towel, and it is frustrating.
  • Travel sewing kit
  • 2 x lunch boxes for travel snacks

So far this has got us through three months from the 10˚C mountain cave districts in spring to the searing 45˚C in Andalucía to the summer rain of London. We’ll have to stock up on woolies and boots as we head into colder climes, particularly when we head to the snow, but for now this is everything we need.

Having a small amount of clothes means we need to launder more often (4 times a week to be precise). But that is a small price to pay, and is evident when we watch travelling families with suitcases much larger than ours struggling to lift them onto the luggage racks on a train. We always offer to help them, but are secretly glad we don’t travel that way.

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Eurail Passes – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Fifteen years ago I travelled Europe for two months on a Eurail pass and it was one of the best ways to get around. I found it so easy to hop on and off, and didn’t need to book ahead. For this trip with the family, we were very unsure about whether it was going to be a good option for us. We wanted some flexibility, but also wanted to be able to get around as easily and as cheaply as possible. A quick Google search brought up a lot of articles bemoaning the cons of the Eurail pass, and TripAdvisor is brimming with reports of negative experiences. We read Nomadic Matt’s article, which weighed up the pros and cons, but mostly looked at it from a single person’s point of view. Given my previous experience with Eurail, I was pushing for it all the way. Cass was a little more wary.

We had promised La Chica that we would take her to Paris for her Birthday, so we knew we would have some expensive travel coming up – we had to explore all our options. The cost of train travel is not necessarily cheap, but it’s a fantastic way to travel. You get to see the countryside, there’s no pressure of negotiating traffic and you can get up and move about when it’s  a long journey.

The Good

fullsizeoutput_1cd0The best feature of a Eurail pass for family travel is that kids under 11 years of age travel free.  That makes family travel cheaper than all other transport options by far.

We also waited for a Eurail sale where they were offering 30% off the usual price. We ended up buying a Three Country Family Pass with 6 days of travel in 2 months. Here’s how the costs worked out (all prices in Australian Dollars):

Usual cost of pass for two adults & two children (under 11) $1182.00
Minus 15% discount for travelling together at all times -$177.30
Minus sale discount of 30% -$301.41
Total cost of Eurail Pass $703.29
Price per trip (6 trips) $117.22

Barcelona to Paris without pass for two adults & two children one way is $724.95 (as at 15 June 2017). So we knew the Eurail pass was going to pay for itself just on this one trip.

The Bad and the Ugly

Hurdle number 1

Our first experience trying to book a Eurail seat reservation (required in Spain) was a challenging one. We were in Guadix wanting to book a trip to Sevilla, and we were staying 4kms from the train station without a car. Cass and Los Chicos walked all the way there, only to be told that they couldn’t make Eurail reservations at that station as it was only a small one: we would need to call or go to a bigger station. We tried calling Renfe (the Spanish train network). We called 10 times. Each time, we were on hold for half an hour. When we finally got through and started asking in broken Spanish for our reservation, the operator would cut us short and put us through to an English-speaking operator. While being transferred, it would hang up. Every time.fullsizeoutput_1cd3

On the eleventh call, after the usual hold time, the first thing I said (in carefully rehearsed Spanish) was ‘Please don’t transfer me, I’ve called 10 times and it hangs up every time. Please help me in Spanish’. He tried to transfer me but I managed to convince him not to. We finally muddled our way through the Eurail reservation in my limited Spanish and his limited patience, and got to the point of payment. My travel debit card wouldn’t work. I tried my credit card. No luck. It turns out that foreign credit cards and debit cards don’t work with Renfe.

So. We ended up paying full fare for a ticket to Sevilla (where we were going anyway) and then booked our next trip at the station there.

Hurdle number 2

After our previous experience, we thought we would get more clever about booking our trip from Spain to France. We did some more research on reserving Eurail tickets on the Eurail website. We even downloaded the app.

It turns out that you have to book more than 7 days in advance if you want to book using the Eurail website or app, and then they will post it to you. Wait…what? We don’t have a fixed address, how will they post it to us? We’re travelling on our Eurail pass!

Ok, so then you can book an e-ticket up to 2 days before your departure. Good. But only for travel within Spain or Italy. France not included. That rules that out.

So. We ended up going back to Sevilla and booked our next two trips in person there. We waited in line for over half an hour but it all got sorted and the Renfe staff were very helpful. It did cost an extra €90 to book all our seats, but financially we were still coming out ahead by a long shot.

Hurdle number 3

So now we realised that the only way to book tickets was going to be to go in person to a big train station. In Paris we went to Montparnasse station to book our departure from Paris and the queue was ENORMOUS! It was a ticket system and they had 5 tables operating, but it took a long time. There were a few chairs but nowhere near enough for the number of people waiting. We waited for over an hour and a half with tired, hungry children. I think that our children have relatively long attention spans, and we entertained them as best we could, but it wasn’t easy as there wasn’t much room to move or muck around. When we finally got our turn, it was all very easy to book. But by then our patience had waned and we weren’t feeling very positive.

Hurdle number 4

We hired a car for a few days in the north of Spain and made a special stop in Burgos to book our next Eurail trip, as it was a big station. The Renfe staff told us that there were no seats left. I couldn’t believe it as we had allowed plenty of days before departure. It turns out our Eurail pass is a first class pass, so automatically pulls up only first class seats. This is the only type of Eurail pass available to people over 28 years. I asked if we could book second class seats with our first class pass? Turns out you can. Thankfully. And there were second class seats available. Good. This was an easy hurdle to jump. Good to remember to ask for second class seats (the difference between first and second is pretty much negligible on Spanish trains anyway).

The Finish Line

Eurail passes are definitely not easy to use. Fifteen years ago they were simple, but that was before online bookings were the easiest option. If you could book online with foreign credit cards, it would be the perfect pass.

We’ve only got 2 more travel days left on our passes now, and we feel like we’ve finally got the system sorted out. There’s been a lot of stress and annoyance at how difficult our Eurail passes have been to use, but they’ve already saved us somewhere around $1000, so ultimately it’s worth the hassle. Hopefully some of you can benefit from our mistakes.

We’d love to hear about other experiences with the Eurail pass. Leave us a comment below.

DISCLAIMER: We were not given this product nor were paid to review this product. We paid for it with our own money and these are our own opinions.


Budget, National, Avis, Hertz, & Alamo!

Maps

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always had a thing about maps. They fascinate me. I’ve been hooked from the first time I ever opened an atlas as a youngster and saw all those lines and dots and names of exotic faraway places. It was an almost overwhelming introduction to a world of possibilities that fired my imagination and lit my desire to find out what was in those places with the strange, evocative names.

My new favourite cafe, the Owl and the Elephant in Uraidla, South Australia, has earned this title because it is filled with tables upon which maps from across the world have been affixed. I call in there more than I should (we are saving money for an overseas adventure, after all) and paw over the tables, imagining myself on a ferry between Denmark and Norway, or once again standing atop the gorge bisecting Ronda in the midddle of the night, while a lone borracho wails plaintive flamenco tunes into the abyss.

Perhaps it’s the unknown quantity that I find so compelling; the mysterious pull of the unfamiliar and a curiosity to find out what lies around the next corner, over the next ridge or beyond The Horizon. But there’s also a strong compulsion to use maps to gain greater insight into the familiar. I have spent hours plotting my movements across a high resolution map that charts the landscape of my childhood, topography that I know almost as well as the features of my own children’s faces.

When I was younger, maps were objects of paper, the best of which expanded in a complex puzzle of folds to reveal their secrets. Early on I learned the value of deciphering this puzzle – the maps lasted longer and I avoided both the wrath of my parents and the scorn of my older brother, who was always a couple of steps ahead, cognitively. The legacy of these days can still be found at my house, where book shelves and car glove boxes are stuffed to capacity with dog-eared charts from past adventures and times from my youth spent dreaming of distant lands.

These days, with the advent of the Internet, smart phones, apps and platforms like Google Earth, Open Street Map and Galileo, access to maps has never been easier, and you don’t need a Masters in Origami to get your geographic fix.

For our upcoming adventure we will be relying in part on these digital options. We have our iPhones, for which we’ll purchase European SIM cards with data allowances to enable access to whichever online resource best suits our needs. To date, Google Maps has proven far more reliable than the proprietary Apple Maps app, other than that one journey I took, back when the Google Maps app was still in beta testing, when I ended up on a remote back-woods road in rural South Australia, banjos ringing in my ears as I passed rundown farmhouses with fox carcasses hanging from the fence. But that’s another story for another time…

Back in 2000 I spent three days walking one of the northern routes of the Camino de Santiago, el Camino Primitivo. I’m really keen to retrace at least part of that adventure, and to show my loved ones some of the places and sights that I remember with such clarity and fondness. Because el Camino goes well off-piste in some places, mobile reception will inevitably get a bit sketchy along the way, so to ensure we don’t get lost (well, not too lost, anyway), I’ve downloaded the Galileo app and a number of camino-specific maps. Galileo is “a map browsing app you can use offline. It makes life easier, when traveling (sic) without any Internet connection, because you can use previously saved offline maps on your mobile iOS device”.

I’m no expert when it comes to technical details and anything I tell you would most likely be at best innacurate, and at worst completely misleading, you’re much better off visiting their site and getting the good oil straight from the source. But suffice to say, with the .gpx maps I’ve downloaded, I’ll be able to keep us on the path when we venture beyond the reach of modern mobile communications. And the sooner we do that, the better, as far as Mem and I are concerned. Because, really, this whole journey is in part about freeing ourselves from the routines and habits that bind us to our current conventional lives. And a big part of that will include disconnecting our online IV tubes.

But when it comes to charting our adventures, we’re not going to be completely reliant on technology. In a burst of nostalgic inspiration, last week Mem and I visited our local map shop and bought the kids an old-school paper map each for Christmas. One was a world map, the other a chart of Spain. The idea is that this will both hone their origami skills, and also provide them with a fun way to keep track of our unfolding journey.

In reality, they’ll probably either completely dismiss the idea, or embrace it for a couple of days then leave the maps folded shut in the bottom of their packs for the rest of the trip. But hey, it excited us and made us feel like we were doing something fun and “out of the box” to prepare them for the massive change that this adventure represents.

Useful travel resources

Knowing where to find the right information is key. Here are some of the sites we’ve found useful so far. We’ll keep updating this list as we go.

Accommodation:

Airbnb – (if you click this link you receive credit on your booking, as do we) this is our first port of call when booking. Most of our stays have been with Airbnb because staying in people’s homes is excellent with kids, as it feels more homely, and prices are much better than hotels. We’ve also found some of the best out of the way places, like Porrua where we stayed for €22 per night for all four of us.

HomeAway – (affiliate link) book some incredible homes for a very reasonable price. We’ve found some very good deals on this website.

Hostel World – great for finding hostels. Can be filtered to only include hostels with family rooms. So far I’ve found the cheapest Paris accommodation here.

Nomador – For housesitting

Sabbatical Homes – house sitting, exchange or rental for travelling academics, but non-academic users can subscribe too for an increased price.

Transport:

<a href="http://Avis ES Home” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>Avis – (affiliate link) car hire, good discounts for cars in Spain and Portugal.

Go Euro – compares flights, trains and buses in Europe all in the one search. This one struggles a bit with trains but is good for flights and buses, and opens accommodation options in a separate tab.

Logi Travel – compares flights, trains, buses, skiing holidays, packages and offers all in the one search. This one gave us the best search results for trains in Spain.

Kayak – compares flights. We also booked a car through them and it was by far the cheapest option we found and the car was nicer and bigger than we expected.

Trainline – the best one we’ve found so far for train travel. It is the easiest one to search and purchase tickets within Spain as the Renfe website can be particularly difficult, especially with foreign debit or credit cards.

Information:

Lonely Planet – (affiliate link) these guides are so useful, and you can now buy them in e-chapters. We like that you can buy just the Asturias chapter, or just the Catalunya chapter if you are travelling in a specific area of Spain.

Money Changing:

Travelex – (affiliate link) buy currency, travel credit cards, order currency online.

Please note: we only have affiliations where stated. The others are all companies we have found and used ourselves.