Top 10 Travel Tips

In the past year, we have traveled like it's our job.  In a way, it is my job.  I love the title of professional traveler.  (Just a minute, while I update my LinkedIn.)

I have taken on full responsibility of travel plans for our family and I get us out on the road as often as Steve’s schedule, school and our bank account allows. I pick the destinations, book the flights and even have become the driver of rental cars.  Yes, on the other side of the road and on the other side of the car - and I own it like the boss I am.

When we first started this expat life, it was hard to be my family’s new tour guide.  I put pressure on myself to plan the most perfect trips.  I would lead them around new places looking for words of affirmation and appreciation for all I had done.  I waited with bated breath for them to LOVE it, so I could feel like I had done my job well or feel defeated when we arrived somewhere and it just didn’t live up to expectations.  I also felt like I was working for Steve, instead of us being equals which is a hot button for me.  I missed the days of having shared responsibility of whether a trip was life changing or totally sucky, like we used to.  But like all jobs, I had a ramping up period and have now become a self-proclaimed master.  

So if you are curious, here are the Bertling Family’s Top 10 Travel Tips:


1. Don’t Overplan

Don’t Overplan - This is my #1 rule. Life can be so routine and part of the beauty of travel is breaking up that rhythm and letting an incredible day unfold before you. Opening yourself up to being spontaneous and flexible is such a different mentality than we have in our everyday life. I purposefully don’t want to over engineer away all the surprises - those are the best part of a trip.


2. Make choices together

Make Choices Together - When we arrive at a destination, I will often Google, “X with kids.” Mommy blogs are my best friend, as there is no need to reinvent the wheel as far as traveling with kids go. I like doing this once we are there and I can feel the adrenaline of the trip alive in my blood. Next, I combine that knowledge with any friend recos I received prior and piece together a few choices for the day. We then decide as a family what we want to do. Somehow, not planning everything out earlier takes pressure off of me having to have everything polished and makes me feel like we are all in it together.


3. Book 1-2 activities in advance

Book 1-2 Activities In Advance, But That’s It - Now of course, I don’t get to a destination with zero idea of what we want to do. In fact, I like to book 1-2 activates prior. To me, it provides a touchstone in a field of uncertainty. These few activities give me a foundation to lean on. Plus, the excitement leading up to a moment is sometimes just as or more powerful than the moment itself, so I love having something to all get pumped about. But be careful on "promming it up” too much. Inflated expectations quite often lead to my own disappointment.



Do Stuff - You didn’t travel to Thailand to spend four days at a resort. You are in Thailand to experience Thailand. (Take it from a women who spent four days not leaving the grounds of her hotel in Phuket and then returned wondering, WTF did we just do?) Plus, I am such a better mom when we are out having experiences together - not hearing “Mom watch this” for the 100x at the pool. So, enjoy the resort, but at 4:00pm when you spent the day out and about. Oh and don’t let bad weather slow you down. Some of my favorite memories have been activities that have happened while it was pouring.



Try New Things - Whenever we travel we like to push ourselves out of our comfort zone. We purposefully hunt out new experiences for all of us. To us, vacation is about the thrill of trying new things for the first time. Elenor Roosevelt was onto something when she said, “Do one thing every day that scares you.”



Ask Locals For Advice - One of the many reasons I don’t overplan is I love asking locals for advice. The restaurant or hidden hike you would never find online is just waiting for you, if you simply inquire. On our recent trip, our white water rafting instructor recommended a lunch spot that was a favorite meal of the trip and a town to visit that wasn’t even on our radar. They both rocked.

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7. Don’t book the chain hotels

Don’t Book The Chain Hotels - In Bali, we walked into the most beautiful Conrad Hotel and Anders said, “Mom have we been here before?” That’s a fail. While using hotel points is great, I have learned I like booking spaces that are unique and feel like the place we are in. That being said, I do have an inner struggle between my beloved Airbnbs (I only book with superhosts) and a hotel with a great Kids Club, so Steve and I can enjoy some precious time together too.


8. Travel with your belly

Travel With Your Belly - When we travel it’s not about finding a place that serves the food we know, it is about finding a place that serves the food we don’t know. The local stuff. The good stuff. One of my favorite things Steve does when we stay at a hotel with a breakfast buffet, is he brings back a plate with foods we have never had before and cuts them in four, so we can all try them and deliver our own personal review. The rule is, you can’t say you don’t like it, until you have tried it. He is also great about encouraging the kids to pick out something new to try at a convenience store before we hop on a train. Even if it is candy, it is engraining a mentality that is so important to us. And now pickled octopus on a stick is a favorite of my boys, so there is that.


9. Break the rules, yet keep things familiar

Break The Rules, Yet Keep Things Familiar - Of course when you travel naps happen in the car and bedtimes often come later. We allow more treats and say yes more often to things we would normally say no to. That’s why travel is FUN! But we also keep some things the same, cause we are traveling with kids. The boys always travel with their backpack/scootercase filled with their blanket, a stuffed animal, a few toys they packed from home and one new surprise from me. They are then responsible for their things on the trip. We also keep the bedtime routine the same. Somehow that nugget of familiarity can make a strange place feel like home in a blink.


10. Have FUN!

Have Fun! - This is oh so important. In hindsight, the best trips we have had have been the trips where Steve and I were the most happy. Our kids feed off of our energy and sometimes it’s not what you do, but the energy you bring to it. An activity can be the best ever or totally miserable. I choose the best ever and if we go into it with a sense of fun, we all have so. much. fun.

Of course, each travel destination is different and a trip to Bali requires a bit more planning than a trip to Hokkaido, but all in all, if I try my best to follow the tips above, we always seem to have a wonderful time.  It takes pressure off of me and all of a sudden we are a family of four equals exploring a new world together.  Cause, here is the thing: when we travel, we are our best.  It has become our superpower that unites us.  The rest of 2019 we will be traveling to Bejing, Singapore, Mt Fuji, Naoshima, Ishigaki and Cambodia.  And that’s just what we have locked.  Now off to book our next trip…

Melissa BertlingComment