Thursday, April 30, 2015

Packing List for Europe

Hi Travelers!
Today I thought I would share with you my packing list for a summer trip to Europe. I suggest you copy this list into Word and save it on your desktop. You will find that you can adapt it for different trips. A camping, cruise or winter packing list would be very different from this one. Each time you make a new list by altering this basic list - save it with a name that identifies it, such as "Cruise Packing List." This method will make your life a LOT easier each time you travel, as you will use these lists over and over.

When it is time to pack, print this list for EVERY person that is going on the trip - and hand each person a copy. It is their responsibility to pack everything on the list, and to fit it all into one suitcase (or you can highlight just the items they are to pack if certain things don't apply to them). Ask each person to check off each item as they pack it. That way, your kids can pack for themselves, and you can just check the list, instead of the suitcase.

Ok, here we go. Items highlighted on the list will be explained further below.

Carry On Bag:

American dollars
Accordion folder with all reservations
Medical insurance cards
ATM & credit cards (notify both of your whereabouts ahead of time)
Chewing gum
Airplane pillow
Extra pair of contacts
iPhone charger
iPad (pre-loaded with movies to watch)
iPad charger
Laptop charger
DSLR Camera + bag
Prescription medications
Any jewelry that has value


Light rain jacket
Panties – one for each day + 2
Bras – 2-3 per week
One light cardigan
Day dresses
Pajamas – wear each 3 times


Tennis shoes
Walking sandals
One pair of ballet flats

Money belt
Light scarf
Extra sunglasses
Cross body purse
Ponytail holders


Extra memory cards
DSLR camera charger
Car charger for iPhone (only if you are renting a car)
Cable to listen to iPhone in car  (only if you are renting a car)


Tissue packets
Mini curling iron
Band aids
Hanging toiletry bag
Hair brush
Nail clippers
Face soap
Face moisturizer
Body moisturizer
Feminine hygiene products
Lip balm

Collapsible water bottles
Plug adaptor
Turkish towels

Ziploc bags – various sizes

Easy, right? Now, A bit more detail on the highlighted items:

Folder with all reservations: The easiest way to stay organized is to print EVERYTHING -- all flight, car, hotel, dinner reservations, directions, maps, etc. and put it into an accordion folder, with each day being assigned its own pocket. Label each pocket: Day one/Paris, Day Two/Normandy, etc. Tear out each section of a guidebook and put it in the right folder. So if you have a guidebook about France -- you aren't going to need the entire book. Just tear out the 15 pages on Paris and the 5 pages on Normandy -- staple them, and put them in their folder in your accordion binder. Then pop this folder into your carry on suitcase and everything will be at your finger tips for the entire trip. 

Highlighters:  I like to re-read my travel guidebook each night before I visit a new place, and highlight things I hadn't noticed before, and want to see the next day. Highlighters also come in handy for maps.

Day dresses:  In Europe, women must have shoulders and knees covered to enter a church. To make life much easier on us, I pre-select dresses that have short sleeves (instead of no-sleeves) and hit below the knee.  I also find it is easier to pack casual dresses instead of shorts outfits -- one item instead of 2!  They take up more space, are more comfortable, and look better!

Light scarf:  Picture those big square pashminas they sell for $10 in the mall. This scarf will be your savior in Europe. If you don't have covered knees, you can wrap it around your waist to enter a church. You can lay it down for an impromptu picnic. You can use it as a blanket on the plane. The uses are endless!

Hanging toiletry bag:  Bathrooms are TINY in Europe. Without counter space, you will want a bag with a hanger that you can easily hang on a hook or towel rack. 

Turkish towels:  You can buy these on eBay for about $20. They are very light and thin, but super absorbent and dry quickly. So if you want to hit the beach and don't have hotel towels, these are a life saver, and hardly take up any valuable suitcase space. 

Ziploc bags: Again -- endless uses! Use them to store all the treasures your kids pick up along the way (sea glass, if you are like us!), hold your receipts, transport wet bathing suits, wrap up unfinished snacks, etc. You will wish you had brought more!

I hope that helped!  Enjoy!
J & M

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Local Edition: Medieval Times

Every once in a while, we thought it would be fun to seek out a new experience right in our backyard and report on it.  First up, Medieval Times in Buena Park.

Here's Madelyn's take:
Medieval Times was definitely something fun and different! I had fun watching knights be tested for bravery by fighting in epic battles against each other. After buying a flag that matches the crown you have been given, you enter the arena and sit in seats surrounding the battle ring. Then you cheer on your knight while you enjoy a four-course meal. The meal contain chicken, potatoes, tomato soup, garlic bread, corn on the cob, and a drink of your choice. The best part is -- you eat it totally with your hands. No silverware!  The live jousting tournament, the choreography with horses and all the show elements were outstanding. The horses and falcon were so enjoyable to watch! Yes, it can get a little corny at times, but I actually found it very fun and entertaining!

Mom's take:
We arrived an hour early, as instructed, and were assigned green crowns. This meant we would be cheering for the green knight.  Then we were turned loose in a big waiting area full of bars and shopping kiosks. Picture how Disneyland lets you out of a ride into a gift shop - but in reverse. We bought virgin pina coladas ($6 each) and green flags ($5 each), as these aren't provided.  We walked around and looked at the horses in their pens, and all the other paraphernalia for sale. Finally we were let in, and sat in the green section of the arena. As our drink orders were taken (iced tea), we watched a beautiful horse show. I have no horse vocabulary at all, but it was a gorgeous white horse who did tricks and danced on its hind legs. Then, as the knights were introduced dinner arrived:

It was actually pretty decent - better than I expected. Tomato soup and garlic bread, followed by baked chicken, potatoes and corn and an apple fritter for desert. Keep in mind that this cost about $60 each. So it wasn't THAT good, but we figured we paid for the entertainment. 

The knights did a series of competitions, then there was an intermission with a really cool falcon show. It flew right above our heads! There was a cheesy storyline about a princess and a king, but I didn't really pay attention because I kept thinking about our knight. He was a good looking guy, and I got entirely distracted picturing him trying to go on dates. "What do you do for a living?" "Me? Oh, I'm a knight at Medieval Times." I still wonder how that plays out.

Then the knights closed the show by jousting. Again, I got lost in thought wondering why they were wearing motorcycle helmets instead of knight helmets. It was like a weird combination of medieval knights and Daft Punk.

Alas, our knight did not win. (Does this need a spoiler alert? Is the show always the same?) But he came close. And Madelyn had a lot of fun cheering him on. In the end, that's all that really matters. 


Jennifer and Madelyn

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The One Souvenir We Always Buy

Ornament purchased in Palm Springs a few weeks ago.

Madelyn and I always look for the exact same souvenir, no matter where we are in the world, and no matter what time of year. We are perpetually on the hunt for unique, place-specific Christmas ornaments. 

Christmas ornaments make the perfect souvenirs, because every year when we pull them out of storage and lovingly unwrap them, we are reminded of the place and time when we purchased each one. It's like unwrapping lots of little time capsules that transport us back to each trip. The ornaments trigger memories and we talk about the things we did on our travels while we decorate the tree.

A hand-painted coconut shell showing the Bio-Luminescent Mosquito Bay in Vieques, Puerto Rico; a teepee from the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona; a hand-carved gourd from Roatan, Honduras; a blown glass tree from Venice, Italy; a wood carving from Sanibel Island, Florida; a painted glass orb from Paris, France

Christmas ornaments are surprisingly easy to find, even in the summer. Nearly every souvenir shop or museum store carries them.  However, since we like to support local artists, we always try to find hand-crafted pieces. Even in small towns, we usually succeed. The coconut shell and gourd above were both found at roadside stands, the others in hotel lobbies or museum shops.  Purchasing pieces made by locals makes them even more special to us, as we can then also reminisce about the people from whom we bought them.

A tin heart from Santa Fe, New Mexico; a hula girl from Kauai, Hawaii; an angel carved from conch shell from the Bahamas

Sometimes we find beautiful, locally made ornaments without the location included. In those cases, such as the pink tin heart above, we simply write the place on the back with Sharpie. If it's possible to do so without damaging an ornament, I also try to write the year someplace inconspicuous. 

Other times, it seems appropriate to just go with a mass-produced, souvenir shop item such as the kitschy hula girl above. We just knew she had to hang on our tree, even if she was made in China.

A terra-cotta bulb from Ensenada, Mexico; a ceramic bell from Sorrento, Italy; a terra-cotta bulb from Costa Maya, Mexico

Madelyn finds the hunt for the perfect ornament a fun part of traveling to each new place. And seeing them all again once each year really helps us remember and appreciate our trips.  One of her favorites is the orange bell above from a store called La Campanella (the bell store!) in Sorrento, Italy, which we just stumbled upon accidentally. Our name means "bell" in Italian, so she thought it was really cool to have a store "named after us," chock full of bells. She spent a long time picking out the perfect little bell (which actually wasn't an ornament, until I affixed some yarn).

I like collecting ornaments because they actually have a purpose, unlike so many other souvenirs. They  can also be displayed and enjoyed for a few weeks, without cluttering up the house the rest of the year. So when Madelyn wants that little Eiffel Tower statue or cable car keychain, I can say, "no - let's find an ornament instead," and she happily agrees.

We are already excited about what treasures for our tree we might uncover this summer in France!  

Happy hunting!
Jennifer and Madelyn

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Our Tour De France

We’ve been to France before – a weekend in Paris before our Mediterranean Cruise in 2012, and Marseilles as a stop on that same cruise.  I loved it so much, that I wanted to see more.  When I was there, I actually FELT French.  I have French heritage – my mother’s side of the family is French.  But I never knew how French I really was at heart until I spent that weekend in Paris.

It wasn’t just the fresh croissants. Madelyn and I talked to our tour guides and a lot of locals. We learned that the French have 5 weeks of paid vacation and 35-hour workweeks – which they consider a non-negotiable right.  (What other nation has a cabinet member called the "Minister of Free Time"?)  The French believe that the economy should support social good, and they have built an enviable social security program to help the elderly, sick and poor. Those views often makes me feel like an outcast in the US. But in France, I fit right in!  And as proof that they just might be right -- their poverty rate is half of that in the US.  Which also means that their violent crime rate is way, way lower than ours.

(Political side note: I have loved the French since France had the balls to point out to one its closest friends, the United States of America, that President Bush and his administration were acting like a group of thugs. France refused to help the USA steal Iraq's oil. That doesn't make them anti-American. A true BFF will tell you, to your face, when you're acting like an ass and screwing things up for the rest of the world. And that's what France did. I had wanted to visit ever since then.)

But politics aside, there is a lot more to love.  French women have helped to teach the women of the world how to be sexier at 45 than at 25 for hundreds of years. The French serve water without ice, as I prefer it. They make more than 400 kinds of cheese. And the bread – aaahhh the smell of fresh bread wafts down just about every street. Crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside, and easy to grab just about anywhere for an impromptu picnic. Enter Pinterest with tons of images that look just like the village in Beauty and the Beast…and…. we NEEDED more France.

So we are going back.

Our Tour de France starts June 19, and runs through July 4. We will post as often as we can during the trip.

Stops will include: Amiens, Rouen, Etretat, Honfleur, Mont St. Michel, Dinard, Dinan, the chateaux of the Loire Valley, St. Cirq Lapopie, Albi, Conques, Carcassonne, Aix en Provence, Monte Carlo, Nice, Cannes, Saint Tropez, Annecy, Colmar, Strasbourg, Versailles and Paris. It looks a litte something like this:

We would LOVE for you to follow along!

In the coming weeks, I will get a post up about how we plan a trip like this and share a good packing list for any type of trip.  M will tell everyone how she saves money and which souvenirs she is most looking forward to buying.

Until then, au revoir!