Have you ever put a tablecloth on a picnic table hoping to create a “restaurant” vibe? Have you used duct tape to lock the hotel door to keep it open on Shabbos? Carried large amounts of food into an amusement park since they don’t sell kosher options?
Traveling as Orthodox Jews gives us so many relatable experiences, however often the logistics get in the way of creating magical memories. I have been grateful to “experienced” moms who have shared tips with me over the years. I have benefited from so many since my children were young. I thought it would be interesting and helpful for us to learn from each other by sharing more lessons learned. Whether taking a staycation or vacation, there are suggestions and recommendations to make traveling more convenient and manageable. So to prepare, I asked my friends to share some insights …
For example, Miriam Motechin of New Milford shared: “I bring bread in a Tupperware so it doesn’t get smooshed on day trips. It’s a game-changer! I also pre-order groceries from the local grocery store to be delivered—including milk, vegetables and fruits to attempt to stay healthy and avoid wasting time in a grocery store.”
From a recent experience, Caren Graber of Teaneck learned the importance of securing cooked food that you are bringing to your destination. Caren suggested when packing frozen food, always individually package every tin/container in their own large Ziplock bag. You may think it isn’t necessary since all the food will be together in one bag. However, when you get to the airport and are surprised to learn that your food suitcase is overweight, you may need to re-shuffle the food into different bags. “Our food suitcase weighed 89 pounds—next time we will weigh the bag at home and not just assume there is no way our food weighs more than some of our kids! Securing the food in Ziplocks would have come in very handy so your brisket doesn’t get on your gear or ski boots! Yes, that was learned the hard way and we had a teenager complaining that her ski boots smelled like Shabbos food.”
Debbie Singfer shared that when traveling with kids to have the mindset that the experience is a “trip,” not a vacation. Debbie encourages families with young kids to set realistic expectations. For example, don’t expect too much time to relax. On her recent trip to Florida with three young children, Debbie and her husband, Dovi, decided to rent car seats at the car rental dealership to avoid having to carry car seats through the airport while schlepping three children and lots of baggage. Lesson learned: Debbie anticipates needing a vacation after winter break ends.
Pnina Safier shared that Groupons and coupon codes are your friend! If you Google where you’re going, the odds are, there might be a Groupon or online code for it. Even if you save just a few dollars, it means you can spend that money elsewhere or on souvenirs. Some of the Safiers’ off-the-beaten-path recent day trip recommendations include: The New York Aquarium in Coney Island, the Silverball Pinball Museum in Asbury Park, Arena STEM in Garden State Plaza and Rockin Jump in Wayne, New Jersey.
Ruth Hartstein, mother of three, shared that her luggage was lost when she landed. Ruth suggests that travelers pack a full set of clothing, medicine, contact lenses, tefillin and anything else needed in the first 24 hours of the trip. Ruth added two more tips: In order to show proof of vaccination quickly for the family, take photos of each one and store it in a separate album in your phone. Lastly, the Hartsteins all travel with reusable water bottles to avoid buying cases of bottled water.
Tova Gerson suggested ordering on Instacart for when you return back home so that your groceries are already at your door, and Nechama Saks suggested taking pictures of your insurance cards, IDs, passports and all important documents so that you have them accessible on your phone.
As a travel agent who helps clients travel everywhere around the world, Dalia Stelzer of Travel Journey shared something she always tells her clients: When traveling, try to save the best for last. “I have many clients who will stay at two great hotels over their vacation, say a five-star and a four-and-a-half star property. Even though both are amazing hotels, I encourage them—if they can help it—to stay at the ‘better’ property last. Often, guests will be disappointed by the second property if it doesn’t match up in some way to the first, yet had they visited in the reverse order they would have loved both! Modern science shows that you should always try to end an experience on a high note—that will stick in your memory most and be associated in your mind with the entire trip.”
Sarah Guttman, mother of three, shared that this past summer she thankfully noticed that her son’s passport was expiring and she was hoping to travel out of the country for Winter break. Sarah suggested that parents check the expiration dates on all the passports and update them accordingly.
Erika Rabin of Teaneck suggested that when planning to visit a new city, check if they have “Go City” passes which provide fun activities and save money.
Shira Forman advises Disney travelers that, due to COVID, the Disney characters’ schedules are limited and it is best not to rely on them to make a minyan in the parks. Also, when ordering from Orlando restaurants, add six to 12 hours to the expected wait time.
Sheva Adler shared that the Betty Crocker Pizza Maker allows you to make hot dinners on a day trip or vacation. The Adlers have used it to make pizza, eggs, pancakes and noodles so far … They are excited to continue exploring new recipes on this portable dinner cooking machine.
Rena Zelig shared: “Although it sounds fun to be spontaneous, with three kids I have learned the importance of planning. Whether a daytrip, overnight or vacation, itinerary planning in advance is a fun family activity and makes the actual vacation more enjoyable. On a recent trip we used Dalia Stelzer, which added an expert to the planning process and made everything seamless.” Rena also recommends doing your research in advance so you are aware of kosher options wherever you go, and if there are none, you can plan accordingly. Lessons learned. Plan and prepare in advance so you can enjoy more wherever you go!
My sister-in-law, Yonina Kaplan, who is a professional organizer, shared: “Always be prepared for the unexpected. When your child decides to get soaked in the sprinklers or drenched on a log flume, you’ll be very grateful if you have a change of clothes in your car trunk. Additionally, keeping a bin with extra food and drinks in the trunk is always a good idea. It will come in handy if you end up in traffic or have sudden car trouble. Hungry kids are cranky kids. In addition to clothing and food, other important items to bring on trips are extra masks, sunscreen, bug spray, pain medication, garbage bags, antibacterial wipes, hand sanitizer and a roll of paper towels.”
Other tips shared:
1. Label your baggage (physically and metaphorically).
2. Children who fight at home will fight when not at home. Prepare a positive reinforcement chart to reward good behavior.
3. Buy Disney souvenirs and wearable swag at the outlet before entering the parks.
4. Avoid Instacart during labor shortages; it was not reliable!
5. Bring skewers and kosher marshmallows to your destination.
6. Bring duct tape to tape fridge light and door lock.
7. Carry cash for tips to those who help you along the way.
8. Remind your family to all use the bathroom before any long car, train, bus or plane ride.
9. Check out Strayboots.com for scavenger hunts in lots of locations.
10. Bring games to your destination. They are allowed to be played on days other than Shabbos too.
11. Set aside time for “phone-free” bonding.
12. Bring a portable charger on all day trips. Make sure it is charged the night prior to the outing.
13. Wear socks to an airport so you are not barefoot when you take your shoes off.
14. Make sure your gas tank is full and the car is in good health when driving long distances.
15. Bring emergency antibiotics when traveling internationally.
16. When bringing food from home, it is helpful to start freezing dinners and soups a few months in advance of the trip—whenever making a meal that freezes well, you can double it and freeze one portion for your trip.
This past week while traveling, I forgot my contact lenses at home. My vacation was blurry for the first few days until I found a local optical store with my prescription. Lesson learned. Make sure you have a photo of your lenses so you know the prescription and details if they need to be unexpectedly replaced!
Thank you to my friends for sharing these helpful tips. I hope you find them as useful as I do! Did this article spark your tips for travelers? Send them to [email protected] and yours can be included in the addendum!
Amy Vogel, mother of four, lives in Teaneck and loves day trips, family experiences and vacations.