Let’s be honest. Travel is hard.

“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.”
Gustave Flaubert

This quote is on my mind a lot these days, as we plan our next trip, backpacking around Eastern Europe. Traveling with our kids is one of our life’s greatest “whys.” Our three year old astounds me regularly with just how much he is learning every day. New words, new phrases, new ways of manipulating his parents into getting what he wants (or so he thinks), the way he grasps new concepts – he drags his roasted vegetables across the ketchup on his plate and said “look Amma, I’m Swiffer-ing!” Adorable as he is, he’s a lot to handle at times. Especially when the tantrums and whining hit. Who knew three-year olds were capable of such extremes? Our one year old on the other hand, at this stage, is actually the more challenging one. She has no filter, or any sense of self-preservation as she capitalizes on young toddlerhood, running around everywhere, testing her physical abilities while getting into things she shouldn’t.

I read somewhere recently that the ages between one and three years is the most difficult time to travel with kids. I shared this with my husband and we both laughed nervously as our minds drift to our fifteen hour plane journey looming ahead. Nothing like a good boost of confidence as we get ready to pay a small fortune and board the finest sardine cans on the planet and transport ourselves across the world.

I try to picture some of the places we’ll be staying on our upcoming trip. Self-catering apartments with beautiful yet very breakable objects scattered around, no doubt geared towards twenty-somethings looking to have a memorable holiday.  Nothing will be baby-proofed, of course. I brush off a brief moment of hesitation as I wonder if it wouldn’t just be easier to stay home. We’re comfortable at our house, after all. There’s not much baby-proofing needed, for the most part. We won’t have to pack. We can just as easily curl up on our comfy couch and have a family movie night with a movie set somewhere exotic.

Let’s just be totally honest here. Travel is hard. Even for those who are not parents of very little ones.

The juggling documents, the coming and going, the packing, the unpacking, the things getting lost, the sweat, heat and exhaustion, facing challenging situations in an unfamiliar environment. You have to love all that is involved, even though half of it is all of this. Stressful, unexciting logistics, and the unexpected. Standing in line at the airport holding squirming toddlers is no one’s first choice for a good time. So, why do it? Why bother with all of this?

I can’t answer that. But I can tell you why we do it, and why we love it.

As much as we love our couch, and the view our our backyard, we love exploring places. Old familiar places, and new places, but especially new places. Where new discoveries await us. Where we can experience new cultures. Eat new foods. Hear new music. Meet new people and see how they do life.

These places have the power to stay with us through memories. Those memories lift us up when we’re having tough days.

Traveling helps us better understand the world we live in, and its myriad issues, so that when we are in a position to do something to help, we can, because we will have seen and we will know. Traveling makes us care about something beyond the four walls of our home. Traveling gives me perspective, and allows me to see how good I really do have it. Traveling forces me to practice gratitude.

Soon, we’ll be on a plane heading to Prague. Our oldest, now nearly three-and-a-half, kinda gets it. He knows we’re going on an airplane soon, but doesn’t understand the concept of cities, countries or continents. He is slowly starting to understand time zones (thanks to cross-country and cross-globe Skype-sessions with family). He is starting to grasp the fact that people can live and work differently than we do, some people celebrate different holidays, and eat different foods and speak different languages.


Traveling together is one of the ways we lay the groundwork for global awareness, curiosity, tolerance and compassion.

If there are only a few things our kids learn from Ryan and me before they leave home, I hope these will be among them.

Iceland with Kids: Part III

OK – let’s be honest. If you ask my toddler what the best thing about travel is, he will say jumping on other people’s furniture. Truth. And, that is exactly what he did in Reykjavik.

We spent four days in Reykjavik, and stayed in a studio apartment right in the city center, with a private kitchen and bathroom. Every apartment in the building is decorated in a one-of-a-kind theme, and we got the one with the teddy bears crucified on the wall.


Initially a shock to the senses, believe it or not, I actually grew to love everything about that apartment. Despite the scary teddy bear theme, funhouse colors, retro furniture, Scotch plaid décor, and the silly, silly bed that took the skin right off your shin every time you (invariably) bumped into it rounding the corner.

It was fun and felt like home, but more specifically, I loved it because 1) the kids had a little more space to play, 2) it had a small but fully functional kitchen that we cooked all our meals in, 3) the sofa bed pulled-out right on the floor, giving our toddler a safe place to do his favorite thing of late: jump on the furniture. It was in a great walkable location in the city center, and much cheaper than Reykjavik hotels (which are upwards of $200 USD per night, yikes). The cherry on top was the fact that they provided cribs for our kids, which was one of the main reasons we chose it.

Iceland’s capital and home to two hundred thousand people, Reykjavik is more than “just a city.” It has cool nightlife (more for those traveling without babies and toddlers!), a killer art and music scene (everyone is a creative here), and its own old-town charm.


The “must-sees” include the Hallgrímskirkja, (the modern-looking Lutheran church with a beautiful tower), the recently built Harpa opera house (which was once a controversial building project, but now loved by locals), and the city hall which houses a 3D topographical map of Iceland the size of a large conference room. We enjoyed seeing all of these. But what we loved most about Reykjavik was just walking around and soaking in the city vibe.


The city does not feel touristy at all. The streets are lovely. Beautiful murals, street art, and sculpture in the space between shops, bars and restaurants are everywhere. (A lot of the street art is sponsored by shop or restaurant owners.) The locals we met were very friendly. And, its harbor location is beautiful. All great reasons to spend a couple of days here. There are also many day trips possible from here. These were some of our highlights.

Þingvellir, Geysir, & Gullfoss, a.k.a “The Golden Circle”
There are many organized excursions available, but we chose to drive it ourselves. The route, which includes three famous natural wonders: Þingvellir (anglicized as Thingvellir), Geysir, and Gullfoss, is under 300km and very easy to do in one day if you have a car.

Our first stop was Thingvellir, which holds geological and historical significance. It is on this spot that the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet, and are gradually drifting apart. How cool is that!? We actually hiked along the Almannagjá fault, to a beautiful little waterfall, Öxarárfoss. Our toddler walked most of this trail on his own.


Thingvellir is also the site of the oldest parliament in the world, where the first Icelandic settlers met and organized a government in 930 AD. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site, on this basis. Overall, Thingvellir National Park is magical, and is worth a visit.


Next, we visited Geysir, a geothermal area not far from Thingvellir. The second tallest geyser in the world, named Geysir, the world’s fourth tallest geyser, named Strokkur, as well as a bunch of smaller ones are located here. Geysir is not currently active, but we did see Strokkur shoot scalding water 30-meters into the air several times, as it erupts pretty regularly every 5-10 minutes.


I have never seen anything like this ever before. The sulfur made the air smell like rotten eggs. If you look closely at the deep blue water and wait and watch, you can actually see each phase of it…the blue color deepening, then whitening, the white bubble that suddenly forms, then gets bigger, until suddenly it erupts! I was absolutely mesmerized by this fascinating place.


We tore ourselves away eventually and rolled on to Gullfoss, our last stop on the Golden Circle.

Many say that Gullfoss is the best waterfall in Europe. The Hvítá river drops dramatically into a ravine, with two successive cascades forming a ninety degree angle.


We caught some rainbows from the top, followed the steep concrete pathway down and peered over the edge, marveling at the sheer force of these falls!


There were so many other beautiful places we saw in Iceland that I would love to share with you all, but I don’t want to go on and on. I do want to share our experience with the food and Icelandic swimming pools – simply because it was so unique.

A Note on Iceland’s Swimming Pools
Swimming pools are crazy popular in Iceland. We learned that the swimming pool is to Icelanders what “the coffeeshop” is to Americans, or “the pub” is to the British. It’s where you go to relax, mingle, and catch up with all your old friends (or meet new ones). It’s really hard not to unwind at an Icelandic swimming pool – they’re geothermally heated, and many are outdoors. The warm water feels especially wonderful against your skin when the cold winds blow! Didn’t pack a swimsuit? No problem. You can rent one at any pool, kid and adult sizes are available! On a drive around Northwestern Iceland one day, we spontaneously decided to stop and try the renowned outdoor swimming pool in Hofsós. It’s tucked into a hillside that drops into the sea, and you can see the mountains and Drangey Island across the fjord. The view alone makes this pool most Icelanders’ favorite, but they also have water toys for kids, and a large sauna. Johann and I got into the pool and had a blast! Ryan hung out with Arya on a lounge chair and chatted up a friendly Canadian couple who were also traveling around Iceland with a six-month baby. It’s always nice to see that we are not alone in our adventures.


In this spectacular setting, with the view, the infinity-pool-like atmosphere, and the geothermal water warming our skin against the bitterly cold winds, the whole experience was other-worldly.

A Note about Food
Food in Iceland is expensive. We took advantage of having our own vehicle, and bought groceries every few days – which was cheaper than eating out. We stocked up on milk and other groceries throughout our trip at two local supermarket chains, Bónus and Netto. (We also found diapers and wipes there when we needed them.) Our guesthouse in Akureyri had a shared kitchen and a refrigerator that we took advantage of, and we enjoyed cooking in our apartment in Reykjavik.


Skyr was a big hit – this is a wonderfully thick Icelandic-style yogurt, and we had some for breakfast or snack everyday. Strained and thick like Greek yogurt, but much milder in flavor.


We found one brand of Skyr available in our local grocery stores back home here in the US!

We still wanted to experience the local cuisine (one of the reasons we love to travel – we are foodies!) so we budgeted our trip money so that we could still eat a few meals out. And, we ate our fair share of well-prepared Icelandic fish!

Thanks for reading, and letting me re-live the experience by sharing our adventure with you all. I am so grateful we got the opportunity to go to such a beautiful country. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting, and it has made me fall in love with this place we call Earth in a whole new way. We would love to go back, someday. We had an amazing time, and so did our kids. Nowhere else have we seen so much vastness and variety in the landscape, in a relatively small geographical area. While we wanted to stop everywhere and see everything, it really helped that we didn’t try to cram in too much. There was lots we didn’t do. We didn’t go anywhere Southeast at all. And, we didn’t go to the Blue Lagoon, either. A stone’s throw from Keflavik International Airport, the Blue Lagoon is actually Iceland’s most famous attraction. Everyone told us it is pretty cool, but also that it is a shameless tourist trap. The water is a tad too hot for babies anyway. We decided to skip it. But maybe next time!

If you are interested in traveling to Iceland (with or without little ones), let me know and I’d be happy to try to answer any questions you have!

Iceland with Kids: Part II

Last month, Ryan and I traveled around Iceland for ten days, with our two-and-a-half year old son and our six-month old daughter. I’ve been enjoying talking about our trip, so thanks for following along!

What to do in Iceland with Babies and Toddlers?
We already knew that Iceland was a beautiful country, and we were eager to experience its wild and raw landscape. Between, fjords, geothermal springs, volcanoes, stark glaciers, desolate lava fields, small towns with ice-cream colored houses, and even bigger ones with artistic charm, there is something for everyone. Let’s not forget all of Iceland’s cool wildlife and domesticated animals. Did you know that in Iceland, sheep outnumber humans by more than 2:1?


Icelandic horses are all over the countryside, too. They are so beautiful and graceful to look at, and you won’t see them anywhere else in the world.



Faced with all these choices, we chose to spend our time exploring the North, Northeast, and West. We really wanted to go slow, take our time, and explore places well without trying to cram everything in or rush. It is just part of how we do things, and building in some down time is always beneficial in the unpredictable world of traveling with babies and toddlers.

It was our first overseas travel as a new family of four, and we were pleasantly surprised at Iceland’s child-friendliness. Nature reigns supreme in Iceland, and Icelanders sure do make it easy for everyone – even very young children – to enjoy natural wonders on some level. But, more practically, it is easy to find high-chairs if you eat out, and whatever baby stuff you need in local markets. The latter is key, for those of us who travel light!

Driving in Iceland
Driving in Iceland is easy, and great fun. Our plan was to rent a car, arm ourselves with good maps, take it slow and soak it all in. We did just that, and we were still surprised at how much we saw. Having your own vehicle is really the best way to go at your own pace and experience the Icelandic countryside, and tucked away wonders off the beaten path. There is no traffic outside the capital, and no one is in a rush to get anywhere. The weather was a slight concern, as it was still early Spring, and many roads were still buried under snow or closed. There is one maintained road, the “Ring road,” that goes around the whole country. It had a couple of hairy stretches going through the mountains, sometimes without even a guardrail standing between you and oblivion, and those got our hearts racing!


But, we used common sense, didn’t attempt to drive across any rivers, and had a pretty great driving experience. Just driving and exploring was one of our favorite things about Iceland.


We spent several low key days just driving around various peninsulas, exploring tiny fishing villages, finding lagoons, waterfalls, hikes or other hidden gems along the way.


The best thing about the roads in Iceland are all the places to pull off safely to eat, play, nurse, change a diaper or simply admire the views. Our kids are great at car travel; they napped during the longer stretches, and we stopped when needed to stretch our legs, play, eat, and change diapers.


Some rest areas are just an expanded shoulder, but many have maps of the local area with points of interest well-marked, picnic tables, and incredible views to admire. There are never “boring stretches of highway,” since the scenery all around is simply fantastic.


We also tried to maintain our routine, and alternated very active days (or long driving days) and slower days with shorter activities, so the kids could still get in plenty of play time, sleep and function.

We landed in Reykjavík and followed the Ring road north and east towards Akureyri. 

Akureyri is the second largest city in Iceland, boasting a population of about eighteen thousand people.


It has a friendly small town vibe with sweet mom and pop stores, brightly colored homes, and a beautiful shoreline. It’s so pretty it makes me want to paint or sing or write poetry.


We spent five nights here in a spare but charming, well-established guesthouse, and found plenty to do nearby. Here are a couple of our highlights.

Lake Mývatn
Lake Mývatn – formed by volcanic activity thousands of years ago – is lovely on it’s own, but it’s also a microcosm of birds and waterfowl.


It was an easy day trip from Akureyri. Duck enthusiasts note: this is the place to spot several duck species, including Barrow’s Goldeneye, which nests nowhere else in Europe.We saw some of those, and many others!


You can see these shallow placid pools in some areas of Lake Mývatn.


Of course, our toddler had a blast exploring the lakeshore, watching ducks and other birds. None of this was terribly interesting for the baby. But, she had her own plans…

On our drive back to Akureyri, we climbed up to see Krafla, a volcano that most recently erupted in the 1980s. As we all stood on the side of this volcano, shivering against a windchill of negative five degrees Celsius, taking in the vast expanse below us bathed in sunshine, Arya decided that there was no better time or place to blow out her diaper. It was the blowout to conquer all other blowouts, and I should mention that the crater Krafla left behind is conveniently named Víti (Icelandic for Hell). The irony is not lost on us. Ah, memories. Good thing we had spare clothes in the daypack.

Dettifoss is Europe’s most powerful waterfall. You really do feel the ground rumbling beneath your feet as you take in the power of these falls. We trudged over two kilometers across four or more feet of hard packed snow to see Dettifoss.


Truly worth it!


This was also the perfect opportunity to use the second Ergo carrier that we had borrowed from friends, to save our toddler from attempting to navigate this (and to save ourselves from the inevitable frustration, meltdowns and fussiness). Both kids were quite happy to ride with us, and enjoyed the roar of the falls but also playing in the snow afterwards.

There were some other things we wanted to see in the National Park near Dettifoss, but we had to turn around due to road and gate closures and big scary signs proclaiming that not even high-clearance 4×4 vehicles would be allowed through, and that anyone seen would be ticketed. Okay then, back we went!

Next, I’ll talk about Reykjavík, and some other cool things we saw around there, along with how we handled food, and other special situations we faced with our baby and toddler. Thanks for reading, and following our adventure!

A special note to young families thinking about traveling to Iceland with little ones: it really is worth it, and you and your kids will have a blast!

Iceland with Kids: Part I

Well, we did it. I don’t know how exactly, but somehow we managed to fit the basic needs of two adults, a six-month old, and a two-and-a-half year old, to travel around Iceland for ten days  into two backpacks. If you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time you know that we try hard to organize our time and budget around the things we value most. Traveling as a family is one of those things, and our goal is always to travel as lightly as possible. The more we travel, the more we see the value in being able to move freely, without dragging bulky suitcases behind us, and having our hands free. This held true for our recent trip to Iceland.

Our plan was to take only backpacks that Ryan and I could each carry on our back. Our packs are not huge. Ryan has a 45-liter pack, I have a 30-liter pack, and we packed everything into these.


A few people we ran into before boarding our plane stared hard at our two little ones and our backpacks, and mentioned that we must be checking in more baggage. No, we were not. And, you know what happened? Nothing. We had what we needed, nothing more. No big deal.

So, because we always get asked, here’s what we took (or didn’t take):

Baby Gear. I carried Arya in the Ergo carrier. Johann, our toddler, has good stamina and can walk really well, but he is easily distracted. We borrowed a second Ergo-carrier for the trip, worthwhile since we used it on a couple of our longer hikes. (No one is paying me to say this, but we love the Ergobaby brand; it’s the only soft-structured child carrier we’ve ever needed to use, it is arguably the most ergonomic for adult shoulders and backs, and we’re sold on it for life.)

We carried a small daypack that functioned as our all purpose diaper bag/snack bag/plane distraction bag. We did not take a stroller. We did not take travel cribs or pack n’ plays. We did not take carseats, but considered it since we were renting a car in Iceland. We were on a tight budget for this trip since we had saved up for it, and wanted our money to stretch as far as it would go. The flights were cheap but nothing else in Iceland was! In the end, we decided to rent carseats there. This worked for us, since the idea of toting two cumbersome carseats sounded entirely impractical and totally against the purpose of traveling light. (There are many strong opinions out there on renting carseats, and regardless of what you believe, do what works for your family.)

Clothes and shoes. Three sets of clothes for all and a fourth set for each kid – just because. (Always bring spare clothes on-board for yourself and your kids.) We knew that we would be outdoors most of the time, that there was still snow on the ground in lots of places, and that the average temperature would be around forty degrees Fahrenheit. So we packed layers, including fleece layers, an outer rain/wind shell, and hat and gloves for all. This took up a lot of space in our packs, even though we rolled everything tightly! We also had our handy Scrubba Wash Bag. I seriously love this thing. Ever since I found it before our backpacking trip to Spain while Johann was a baby, we’ve brought it everywhere, and it has made traveling light so much easier for us. We packed hiking boots for ourselves and Johann, and we wore street shoes on the plane. Arya didn’t need any shoes, but she did have this rad bunting and baby booties that kept her warm and dry!


Toiletries, health and grooming items. Not much here. Toothbrushes, a small spool of floss and travel size toothpaste, hairbrush, the concealer stick and eye pencil that forms my only makeup, one sunblock that we could all use, a small tube of diaper rash cream and tylenol for the kids in case they needed that, a disposable razor each, and a few Q-tips. Anything else we could hunt down locally.

Diapers. We opted for disposable diapers on the trip. We packed enough to last three or four days for each kid, we bought more locally when we ran out. A pack of wipes, and a couple of bags to hold dirty diapers on the go, clothes to be washed, or dirty shoes.

Snacks & Entertainment. Arya is still breastfeeding, so no special baby feeding supplies. She has started solid foods recently, but eats what we eat (we are huge fans of the Baby-Led Weaning method!) so no special baby feeding supplies there. The only toys we brought were a small teether and sensory doll that she loves. She was happy with these during the whole trip. Babies are generally pretty easy travelers! This was Arya’s first flight, and we were nervous about that, but it helped that it was a nonstop flight from Seattle to Reykjavik, and seven hours and fifteen minutes flew by. We did not buy her a separate seat, so she was on my lap for most of the flight and napped or played happily.

For ourselves and Johann, we packed dry snacks that would last a couple days so we wouldn’t have to hunt them down as soon as we got there. Nutritious, high-calorie things like apples, dried fruit, nuts, hard cheese, crackers, etc. This is the name of the game for high energy toddlers who just will not sit still for any amount of time. We also threw in Johann’s toddler headphones and found that he was more interested in the seat-back screen entertainment on the flight than he was the last time we traveled overseas. It’s cool to see his attention span get longer as he grows older! He watched bits of movies and played the games that were on offer, and was generally was very well-behaved in his window seat.


We chose not to bring anything special for him besides snacks and headphones. He created his own entertainment. Or maybe he was forced to, because we didn’t bring anything? Either way, we were very proud of how well he did away from all of his familiar stuff. We asked him once, towards the end of our trip if he remembered our house and his toys and all his books…and his eyes lit up! We were touched at how fondly he remembered home, and were surprised to see how his memory is developing. It was a highlight of our time away.

By the time we added our travel documents, handkerchiefs, small electronics, camera, empty water bottles, chapstick, etc. our packs were nearly full. We were ready to see Iceland!

If you are wondering about specific items that we brought or didn’t bring, I’d love to try and answer your questions about it! Please leave me a comment or send me an email!

Next, I’ll share some of the things we saw and did. Iceland is much more kid-friendly than you think! Stay tuned.

We’re Going to Iceland!

We’re heading to Iceland with our baby and toddler next month. We have heard about Iceland’s jaw-dropping scenery, rugged terrain, numerous wildlife viewing and hiking opportunities, and that it’s cold no matter when you go. We can’t wait to experience a new country, its culture, and unique environment. Well…when I say “we,” I really just mean Ryan and I. Johann, our 2-year old, knows that we’re going somewhere on an “airpeen” soon to “ike.” We mentioned that we will do some hiking when we get there, and he loves to hike. Arya, our 6-month old, doesn’t seem to care, but she’s generally up for anything.

We weren’t actually planning to go to Iceland this year. However, we had saved up for a trip somewhere. An acquaintance had shared pictures from their trip to Iceland, and when a recent search showed cheap flights from Seattle to Reykjavik we booked it. Everything else fell into place quickly. Now, we’re in the trip planning phase, which I personally find almost as exciting as the trip itself. I’m poring over maps, reading up on places to explore, things to see, do, eat and drink. I’m pretty excited.

We’ll spend ten days in Iceland and, rather than try to see it all, we want to explore just a couple of areas really well. We also want to make time and space for our little ones to nap, play, and to just be, well, little ones. We found a guesthouse at one destination and an apartment in the other that are more affordable, spacious, and a bit more homey than hotels. They both have either private or shared kitchens where we can cook our own meals – a huge bonus since food is expensive there. We booked a rental car for part of the trip and can’t wait to drive around seeing the countryside and tiny fishing villages at our own pace.

We’ll be there in May, when the average spring temperature will be the 40s and 50s (Fahrenheit). We’ve been told that the weather can change on a dime, which means being prepared. We normally travel light, and don’t want to have bulky bags so we’ll be layering up!

Our son has enough base layers and insulating layers. He recently started sporting this awesome waterproof coverall to get a little extra rewearing time on his clothes (we’re outside a lot, rain or shine). But we still need to scrounge up some layers for the baby. She won’t need much since she isn’t crawling yet (one reason we chose to go on this trip now). New parents – if you’re reading this, take note: there are many advantages to traveling with babies before they are mobile!

So how do we pack lightly for Iceland with a baby and a toddler?

In our travels over the past two years, Johann mainly rode around in the Ergo carrier. Now he walks, and the baby rides in the Ergo. We thought it wise to borrow a second Ergo from a friend for this trip. It packs down easily and we can use it if we need to hustle to catch a flight, or if we do a longer hike and Johann’s little legs get too tired. Other than the carriers, and a daypack that we use as our diaper bag, we’re playing around with what exactly we need to bring.

When we went to Spain, Johann was an eleven-month old baby, and Ryan and I got away with just taking backpacks! No stroller or suitcases or anything. Even when we went to Germany and India last summer, I thought we struck a great balance between what we brought, what we decided to leave home, and what we bought locally (diapers!). Now we’ve got two in diapers, and will need enough clothes to cover all of us for a seven-hour flight and at least three days. Cold/weatherproof clothing, accessories, and hiking boots are heavy and take up so much space. Yikes! That’s already a lot of stuff.

Is it even possible for two adults to backpack around Iceland with a baby and a toddler? I suppose anything is possible. But this sounds crazy even to me. Still…Ryan and I often reminisce fondly while looking at pictures of our backpacking trip through Spain. That was one of the best things we did as a (then) new family of three. It made the unknowns very real. We felt released from the fear and anxiety about international travel with a baby, and knew it was possible to travel light, too. Not easy, but certainly doable, rewarding, and memorable. It challenged us, convicted us, humbled us, and made us better parents. Now we’re deternities to do the same for our new family of four.

Stay with me over the next few weeks as we figure out how we’re going to do Iceland with a baby and toddler!

How do you decide what to bring and what to leave behind when packing for big trips?