I am Some Packing Hacking Mum

Packing for holidays is something I’ve always been good at; enjoyed even.  I am the Queen of packing light, usually packing for both of us in one case.  I’ve been known to arrive in my brother’s in London with just a handbag. Essentials only.  I’m low maintenance when it comes to packing.  As long as I have my lenses, bank card and passport, I’m a “good to go” kind of gal.

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But that in the days BC; Before Children.  If we’re going away even for a night, more effort goes into packing for the girls to have a sleepover in Granny’s than into our own packing. Going on Staycations over the past few years, even minimal packing has filled the car to the brim.

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So going abroad for the first time with the two minions and limited luggage posed its own problems.  And yet, with some great tips from the Mammies on my blog, I managed to make our 4 x suitcase, 80Kg allowance into two suitcases of 39Kg. so rather than 4 big cases and carry-on bags, we had only 2 bags to lug around airports and a small handbag or backpack each.

So here are my top tips for packing for a family holibop.

  1. Plan and List: Yes I am a Listy McListerson. I made a list of everything we’d need; clothes, nappies, chargers, suncream etc.  I planned the outfits to bring for each of us for each day.  I then added 2 extra outfits for the girls because let’s face it, at some point there will be a spillage or a poonami or something.   I set the cases out and as I set things into the room where I was packing, I ticked them off the list. Anything that wasn’t on the list, didn’t go in the bags.

2. Ziplock bags: BEST IDEA EVER from a fellow JimMum. She told me to put everything in clear bags; swimwear, pjs, vests, undrewear etc.  I put each outfit for the girls into wee bags and wrote their initial on the front. I popped underwear/nappy into each bag too, so in the evening  when they were being showered, I simply reached for the bags and their full outfits were ready to go. No searching for things in cases. Easy.

3.Spread the love:  Pack a change of clothes and swimwear for everyone in one of the carryone bags. This way, if your room isn’t ready, you can still go to the pool without having to start rummaging through cases. Another tip I got, which made perfect sense was to spread everyone’s clothes between the cases so that if a case got lost or delayed, everyone still had clothes with them.

4. Snack packs: I don’t know about your Minions, but my two eat every 5 minutes. My sister advised me to do up little snack bags for the flights and also for the pool bag and while I initially laughed it off, I am so glad that I did.  For  less than €6, I filled 9 bags with their favourites; popcorn, haribo, raisins, breadsticks etc. And each day, they munched through these and we saved a fortune, only having to buy ice-creams and drinks.

5. Puzzlebooks and mermaid poo:  For a few euro in a Euro shop, I stocked up on colouring books and puzzlebooks, crayons and “Mermaid poo”  These went into my bag every evening and were produced after dinner, proving a great distraction when needed.

6. Downloads: Now, we don’t usually resort to screens outside of home unless we’re desperate for just 10 more minutes to finish a meal. But downloading episodes from Netflix is a must.  Firstly, for the last hour of the flight, where the colouring books are exhausted and secondly, after their shower in the evening to give Mammy and Daddy 20 minutes to get ready. A few episodes of Ben & Holly came in handy.

7. One big carry-on bag: While I had my handbag, and the girls had their backpacks, Him carried a small case.  On the way over, it was pretty empty apart from swimwear, but on the way home, we used it for all of the towels and checked it into the hold. It also meant that we had room for bits and pieces the girls had gathered up while away.

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8. Microfibre towels: This was my greatest hack ever. I picked these up half price in Mountain Warehouse and I’ll be going in to buy some more soon. I brought 2 big ones and one handsized one, and they dried us all for the full week. These things dry instantly and are light and fold up tiny.  So handy and so much lighter than packing loads of beach-towels.

9. Pillow cases: Pack two or three and use them for dirty washing throughout the holiday. Easy packing the night before you return home and easy unpacking when you get back. One of lights, one for colours etc.

10. Swim nappies: While you can get pretty much EVERYTHING you need where ever you are going, swim nappies cost a fortune abroad. I bought packs of 12 at £3 each in Strabane.  They were almost €8 for 3 nappies in the supermarket there.

11. An “incase” bag:  I took a wee bag with Calpol and Nurofen sachets, sachets of diaralyte and a blister of motilium and Imodium etc.  Apart from the plasters and one or two calpol, thankfully we didn’t need these, but if we had, they were in the apartment and we’d have been glad of not having to go searching for a pharmacy.

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12. A sound Splitter:  Probably not the correct name, but this wee thing was a Godsend on the flight. It allows 2 sets of headphones to be  used at once so the girls were able to watch a show together. It was €3 in Penneys.

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If you are packing or yet to pack for your holidays, I hope this helps and I’m not at all jealous…

It goes so quickly. Enjoy every second!  If you have any other hints or hacks, share them below.

And don’t forget to follow me on Bookface .

I am Solo Traveller Mum

Don’t you just love hairyports?

Places of excitement, of anticipation, of promise. A place where, if you are sans Minions, even the THOUGHT of the airport instills notions of SATC-esque soloness and general peace..
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Mammy shall find a quiet corner, order a large sauvignon and people-watch until it’s time to board. Mammy shall look altogether calm and fablis, just as if she does this “All the time Darling”. Mammy shall be soooooooo relaxed…

But no matter how much you like the hairyports and are excited by them, travelling solo is always the same.

And right now, as the snap suggests, Mammy is indeed sitting in a corner, Sipping sauvignon and looking quite appropriately bored and nonchalant…

Reality however?

Mammy queued in the impossibly long queue, cursing herself for not having paid for fast track and listening to Greg from Newry giving out STINK about having to queue. Ridiculous apparently. Perhaps, Mammy wonders, the Newrywegians have been keeping a new and improved system as a secret, all to themselves…

Mammy obviously, as feckin always, Beeped in security and was given onesided foreplay by the woman who seemed confused by the concept of an underwired over-the-shoulder-pepple-holder. She should try one but Mammy was certain that suggestion of such might end with Mammy being arrested.

Mammy then did what EVERY solo traveller does on arrival into the shiny brightness of the Dutyfulfree. She avoided eye contact with the shiny bright sales staff, found the Chanel section and spryed herself liberally with Coco Mademoiselle before scampering before anyone could challenge her liberal spraying or make her give it back…

Then Mammy wandered through the various bars and food venues, trying to look like she knew where she was going, whilst simultaneously trying to gauge which would be best suited to Mammy’s trying to fit in but wanting Poole to leave her the feck alone mood. Add to this Mammy trying to figure which of said watering establishments might serve wine of the non-pish variety without charging 16quid a glass… and suddenly Mammy’s head becomes quite fuzzy.

Mammy eventually chose a fairly classy looking joint, approaches the bar and awaits the teenager to notice that I am awaiting.
“A large glass of sauvignon please” Mammy says and is secretly pleased when said teenager opens a new bottle to pour. “What part of Donegal are you from Lovely?” Asks a 154 year old beside me. “Erm…” (Don’t talk to strangers!) “Let me guess. Letterkenny?” (Fuck.) “Yes that’s right. Well done you! K gebye!!” (Wtf is my wine?)

Mammy gets wine and calmly and cooly tries to find a seat AWAY from 154 year old stalker type. Sees 134 year old man Sipping red grapes and reading a battered copy of “The DaVinci Vode”. Figures he’s been here since 2005 so is safe enough to perch beside. Mammy is correct. 134 year old barely flinches.

Mammy is now safe to sip and watch and DESPITE promising to never be THAT woman who sits tappety-tapping her phone in the airport, Mammy also realises that this is a good chance to write my Lovelies a wee chuckle. 😂😗

And now Mammy has precisely 14 minutes to board her flight and approximately 6 minutes to eat something to ensure that the large glass of sauvignon does not render Mammy incapable of actually getting into London.

Mammy may now also berate herself for choosing THIS particular trip to London to fly into the one fecking airport she has NEVER used before!

Tit.

#smartmammy
#notAsCalmAsILook

I am Sliabh Liag Mum

Happy Easter Ladybelles.

Hope the sugar highs weren’t too manic and that the sugar crashes were tolerable!

We headed off to the beautiful Sliabh Liag today. Unbelievably, neither of us have EVER been and us living in Donegal our whole lives!? How? No idea but we’re so glad we have finally ticked it off our list.

It’s absolutely stunning. So beautiful. Our girls are a bit young yet to be walking it so we’re planning a trip back this summer with our #Rushefitness family to attempt the trek up to the top. 😎

Then we went to Walton Mountain for a wee egg hunt. Great fun! And Granny fed us which was great as Dumbass here forgot to put the roast in the Slowcooker this morning. 😜

Girls are in bed at last. Bond is on the TellyBox and there’s s bottle of bubbles almost chilled in the fridge. 🥂

Hope we all had a fablis day.

Xxx

I am Salou, Here we Come Mum

So anyone who has been reading my ramblings for a while now, knows that I have not yet been brave enough to venture into the great unknown and unpredictable world of holidaying abroad…with the girls.

In fact, I last year wrote a few posts on how and why staycation-ing was the only option for myself and my wee squad.

And yet, this year, I have decided to go for it. Why?

Maybe it’s an unqualified confidence in the fact that Princess is no longer technically a Baby and so we’ll be graaaaaaaaaaand.  Maybe it’s that I looked at my sister’s family holiday snaps and some hidden longing for family-fun in the sun took over.  Maybe I’m just getting brave in my old age.  Maybe I’m off my head.

But regardless of why I’ve finally decided to jump head first into the blue azure of sunkissed and suncreamed frolicking, I have.  And I have ACTUALLY convinced The Him that it’s a good idea.

Now.  I am one of those Book-it-all-by-myself-online gals usually.  However, because taking the two girls away is such new territory to us, we decided to do the safe and sensible thing and went through a travel agent.

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So off I popped to Atlantic Travel here in Letterkenny.  I arrived in with NOT flexible dates, a strict budget and 324 specific requirements and 127 questions.

“Hi.  I am your WORST nightmare Lovely Travel Agent…I want to go somewhere hot but not too busy, with a flight that isn’t too long, with as short as possible a transfer on the other end, to a 2 roomed apartment in a family suitable resort, with indoor options for soft play, a children’s pool area, a kids’ club that is safe and reputable, in an area which isn’t too loud but still with some atmosphere… And the quiet and safe area must have some nice restaurants, a supermarket nearby AND be near public transport. ON THIS EXACT DATE.  Out of Belfast if possible… Please.”

Yeah, so they could have laughed and scoffed at me and my demands, but they didn’t. Within 20 minutes, the amazing Donna had 5 options printed off for me for all types of holiday in a few different places, within my date, budget and ridiculous specifications. No bother at all.

She was able to offer her own opinion on 3 of the resorts and had customer testimonies on the others. She was very open and honest with her advice about the options.  There was no pressure or obligation to book.  Just polite service with educated opinion.

I took some brochures, the printouts and her email address and off I went to peruse my options.

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Salou it is so.

Being me, I had to research some more and in doing so, found another hotel on the TUI website that ticked all of my boxes. A few emails to Evelyn with more “Ria” questions and prompt answers were exchanged over the course of the next three days and when I finally made up my mind, one phonecall booked the holiday.

Within a few days, all of our details had been posted to us.

I really feel more comfortable going away for the first time with the kids as we have booked a package and so everything is thought of for us; Flights, Transfers, Insurance, Accommodation and Board. The fact that there will be a Holiday Rep there is also putting my mind at ease.

Now all I have to do is look forward to it. And pack for everyone. And plan.  And save. And worry and get there…

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They say that the first step is always the hardest, but for this family holiday newbie, the first step was probably the easiest thanks to the ladies in Atlantic Travel.

Check out Atlantic Travel on  Facebook for more updates before the big event:

Call (074) 912 6193 or visit Atlantic Travel’s offices at Oliver Plunkett Road, Letterkenny to enquire about your holiday.

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Mammy has collaborated with Atlantic Travel but as always, my review and opinions are my own and honest.

I am Stunned by NYC Mum

NYC – The City of Dreams?

The Him and I have had one massive ambition for a long time… to get to NYC.

We tried and failed twice to book it. We’ve spent the last few years saying things like “We’ll go for your 40th” or “We’ll go for whatever…” In May this year a few things happened in the space of a week that made us realise that life was way too short to be putting things off over and over again.

He came home one night and said “See if your Mum will keep the girls. We’re going.” I swear to God Ladies, I had it booked within 24 hours. He was NOT getting a chance to change his mind!

And so off I trotted to a local Travel agent. (They quoted me an extortionate amount of money for basic flights and a very basic hotel. The price didn’t include any extras in flight, any taxes or charges in the hotel or any tickets to sights.)

Eh… no thanks!

A few hours at the laptop and I had the whole trip, with upgraded seats, a gorgeous hotel, AND tickets to ALL the main attractions in the city booked and paid for, for €250 LESS than the agent had been looking for for basic flights and hotel.

We had the time of our lives. It was honestly everything we’d ever expected it to be and more. Do you know when you’ve thought about something for so long, imagining every detail? And then it doesn’t turn out to be what you’d hoped? Yeah, that didn’t happen. From the second we landed in NYC, we were awestruck.

Our trip:

We flew with Air France carried by Delta. We paid extra for Comfort seats, which included extra leg room, priority boarding and free everything on board. It was €103 extra each, but even after adding this, the flights were STILL hundreds of euro cheaper than our “national” airline.

The flight was great. Good movies, decent food and very comfortable. We’ll definitely fly Delta again.

We arrived in JFK. What a cattle mart! We got the train into Penn Station. Landing into the middle of the Pride festival meant that we had quite the welcome to the city! What an AMAZING atmosphere! Because taxis, sorry cabs, weren’t running, we took off walking to our hotel. It was about 15 blocks and despite the heat and trying to drag cases through the festival filled streets, it was a brilliant way to start the visit.

Our hotel was gorgeous. The Time Hotel NY is just off Times Square, right next door to “The Book of Mormon” and “Chicago”.

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We were shown to our room and it was very cool; chic and well appointed, with a TV in the Mirror! (Seriously!?) The bottle of chilled bubbles awaiting us was much appreciated and enjoyed!

The hotel was so clean and the staff were incredibly attentive. We were told they could upgrade our room the next day, but we were quite happy with the room we’d been given and didn’t really intend to be in it too much anyway! It was at the back of the hotel and even amidst the noise of NYC, it was quiet, so we stayed put.

A quick change, a pop of the bubbles and off we went to begin our adventure. Our first stop was Times Square

We went straight to the top of the famous red steps and we must have stood there, breathing it all in and just watching and listening for at least an hour. The colours, the sounds, the smells, the sounds… What an experience. I can see why locals hate it, but as a tourist who wants to drink in the magic of the big city, it’s fricken awesome.

One of the best tips we received was to buy the 4 day “hop-on hop-off” Tour Bus Ticket. We did the Brooklyn tour at 7pm. It was brilliant. The tour guides know their city so well and the few we met were funny and engaging.

We saw so much of the city and Brooklyn, and then were treated to the sight of the city lights coming on as we crossed the Brooklyn Bridge at nightfall. This really is a brilliant way to do the tour. It was beautiful.

Next morning, we hit Ellen’s Stardust Diner. for breakfast. We were first in and the waffles are to die for. Our only regret was that it was very early and so quite quiet, so we didn’t get to enjoy the atmosphere that we’d anticipated, but the food was great and wow, the servers can sing!

We hopped on the bus downtown and took the cruise (which was included in our City Pass) out to meet Lady Liberty.

The cruise was amazing and The Statue of Liberty was gorgeous. We hadn’t intended getting off the boat, but are both so glad we did. It’s well worth taking an hour to wander around her. She’s spectacular.

We also visited the 9/11 Memorial

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9/11 caught me by surprise. I knew there was a museum, but I had no idea that the water memorial fountains where the two towers had stood, even existed. I got such a gunk when we walked around the corner to this. It’s a special place; sombre, emotional and appropriately solemn. It’s an eerie experience to suddenly experience such quiet amidst the noise of the city. I was so taken aback. The museum itself is incredible. After a while, I couldn’t take any more sadness. We left, full of sympathy for the people who will always be affected by it. It’s a wonderful tribute to the people and heroes who died.

We hadn’t intended to visit the new One World Observatory, but Himself decided that we should go up as we were there. Guys, THIS was possibly my favourite experience of the trip. The elevator up is shockingly fast and the experience at the top is breathtaking. It really is worth going up this building. We had lunch in the restaurant on floor 102, and while it is expensive, it was excellent. And it’s not everyday you can have lunch on top of the world is it? We even had binoculars on the table!

With the glass of wine costing $17, one was enough! Yes, the restaurant is expensive, but it really was worth every penny. Having lunch with The Him overlooking the city we’ve always wanted to visit, was a moment I’ll never forget.

After lunch, we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, found Wall Street and Trump Tower and Tiffany and Co. before heading back to drink in some more of Time Square.

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We went back to the hotel to change for dinner at 7.30pm…and woke up at 6am next morning! The jet lag had hit, but it was actually great as we were full of energy and raring to go for Day 3.

We started off at the Top of the Rock. The The Rockefeller Centre is just class. It’s so beautiful and elegant and the views from the top ARE, without doubt, the best in the city.

We then headed towards Central Park, where we listened to a live string quartet, ate hotdogs and walked and walked! The weather was perfect for the whole trip.

Central Park is beautiful in summer, but I can’t wait to see it at Christmas some time very soon.

I fulfilled my ambition to run like Phoebe from Friends through the park. I did and it was wonderful!

We visited the The Met where we spent a few hours wandering around looking at loads of cool and funky things, before sipping bubbles on the lovely rooftop bar.

Then, we walked across the Park to the Natural History Museum to see the dinosaurs and the whale. Once we’d seen these, and been suitably gobsmacked by their size, we headed back to the hotel.

We got ourselves dressed up and had a cocktail in the very cool hotel bar at The Time, before hitting the famous Buddakan for dinner.

Now, this place had been highly recommended to us. It is so chic and dark and loud and exciting, from the minute you arrive. It’s like the movies. The staff are supergroomed and supermodelly and the atmosphere is electric. Service was excellent to begin and we were impressed. The food was beautiful. (Try the sharing platter to start!) Described as Asian Fusion, the menu was comprehensive and interesting.

We had a hiccup when our sides didn’t arrive along with the main dishes, but after a while, a very apologetic manager tried his very best to make things up to us. He sent champagne and complimentary desserts to the table and really was very kind and pleasant, but the experience had been tainted a little. Having looked forward to this meal so much, and being such lovers of food and fine dining, we left a little disappointed. For the price of the restaurant, and the reviews we had been given, we didn’t expect the service to be so disappointing. But the food was superb and the place is very cool. It’s definitely worth a visit.

Day 4 was our last full day. We started with The Empire State Building. It was everything we expected. Incredible views. Again, hitting it early is advised.

Then we wandered around the streets for a bit. We found the Bluebell Cafe, which is owned by my friend’s sister Shiela. We had a lovely brunch with her. It’s a gorgeous establishment. Find itThen we found Macy’s (I walked in, looked around and left. It’s an inflated department store on a whole new level of chaos; the same as we have at home, but sooooooo loud and soooo busy. Great if you love to shop. Not so excited if you’re like me and have little interest in shopping when on holidays! Still, I’d love to see it at Christmas!)

There was a street food festival just off Times Square. We had lunch there (2 days in a row, that’s how good it was!) and headed towards NY Public Library We had a coffee on the steps before heading to 5th Avenue to meet my cousin for drinks. (I have one in every city!)

We had a few ($5 a glass was much more palatable!) at John Doe’s Bar before heading to the VERY cool 230 5th Avenue. Now, we had no idea where we were going. At 4.10pm, we toddled in and made ourselves comfortable to enjoy Happy hour. We had a few drinks and a bite to eat, enjoying the incredible views of the Empire State beside us.

There was a music video being recorded on the other side of the bar, and as the evening went on, we were surrounded by all the “beautiful ones”. You know those bars you see in the movies where everyone is tanned and fablis and quaffing and perfect? Yeah, that’s where we were; the three of us, sans makeup and in our shorts and teeshirts! But hey! We fitted in just as well hah! As we left at 6.30pm, there was a queue around the block, with at least 250 impeccibly dressed and very glam folks waiting to get in.

We headed once again for the red steps to the TKTS Ticket Booth . At 7.15pm we got two brilliant tickets for Phantom of the Opera. The queues here earlier in the day were savage. We really weren’t fussy about what to see. The new shows are booked up months in advance and tickets are either like gold-dust or ridiculously priced.

Do go see a show. You’re on Broadway for crying out loud! But unless you are determined to see something in particular, just go see what they have available before the theatres open and go with it! Phantom is one of our favourites, so we were delighted to see it again.

We finished off our final full day back at the Empire State Building. When you buy the City Pass Booklet, your ticket for the Empire State admits you back in at night time on the day of your visit. It is stunning at night and was the perfect way to end a perfect day.

Our last day, we headed back down town. The Him took a helicopter ride over the city. I took a wander through the streets, then sat by the river freaking out at the sky bugs taking off and landing, people watching and eating cakes. Heaven!

We wandered back up through the city, before finishing the holiday where we had started; in the hustle and bustle of Times Square.

Our hearts bursting and our heads filled with memories, we headed back to the airport to go home to our little Princesses. The flight home was delayed as there had been a fire at the airport. If we can manage to avoid EVER flying into JFK again, we will. It’s a nightmare. But we got home and all was right with the world.

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How did we leave the girls for 5 days? With great guilt and huge trepidation. But was it worth it? To spend 5 whole days with your partner, remembering that you actually do enjoy each other’s company and genuinely like each other, is something that should not be underestimated. We live busy lives, and our worlds revolve around our babies. But in the midst of school and work and routines and dance classes and temperatures and worries and bills and the general chaos that is life with kids, we are still us, and this holiday was a great reminder of that.

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NYC was so good to us.

It was exciting and romantic and pretty amazing. The height of the buildings can’t be fathomed until you see them. The skylines. The sounds. The sirens! The smells. The buzz. The excitement. It is electric and exciting and yet, a calm and refreshing place. Around every corner is something new, something exciting and something wonderful.
My tips?

  • Book it yourself. You get so much more bang for your buck.
  • Book the hotel directly. Make sure the price includes taxes and charged and resort fees. Had we booked with the travel agent, we’d have been hit with a bill of over $150 on check out.
  • Buy the City Pass. It includes all of the big sites and attractions.
  • Plan your trip and do the big touristy things first thing in the morning. You don’t have time to be queueing in NYC!
  • Buy the 4 day ticket for the bus. Cabs aren’t expensive if you need to use them, but the buses go everywhere and are a great way to see the city.
  • Fit as much as possible in. Early starts are the way to go. We were up and out and had eaten breakfast by 8.30am each day. You can sleep on the flight home!
  • Plan. My friend had given me a map with the main attractions circled. We simply went to different areas each day and ticked off the things we wanted to do in that area.
  • The city is beautiful. Wander. Have a morning or afternoon where you have no plans and just see where you end up.
  • Finally, DO IT. Stop putting it off. If we’d put it off until next year, or the following year, we’d have found something else that needed done or paid for and made excuses. Go for it. NYC is a must see. And we only saw a fraction of it. I think a thousand trips wouldn’t cover it!

NYC has stolen our hearts. I’m almost afraid that if we were to return, it wouldn’t be as good, but I won’t let that stop me from booking to go back first chance we get… but I have a feeling it might need to be a Christmas trip next time.

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FYI All views and comments are my own. No gratuity or collaborations apply.