One of my favorite things about social media is meeting other families that love to travel. I like to dig in and find out what works for them, because every family travels differently and for unique reasons. This series spotlights families that love to travel like we do. We hope you’ll enjoy the latest installment of our “Travel Family Spotlight” series.

We came across the Richards family via instagram when we were planning a trip to Spain and Emily gave us a lot of great tips for things to enjoy in Barcelona. The Richards are a family of five currently living in Madrid who love to travel and explore. The youngest member of the Richards family, Ben, has Down syndrome and one of their family’s goals with traveling and sharing their story on social media is to show the world that a disability like Down syndrome is something to be celebrated and enjoyed. We are so excited to introduce you to this awesome family. You can follow them on Instagram at @eminthemoment or on their blog Life at the Moment.

1. Tell us about your family. 

We have three boys, Parker (10), Emmett (8) and Ben (5).  My husband, Todd, and I met in college and after finishing school we moved to the East coast.  Both of us grew up on the West coast and wanted to try somewhere new.  We bought our first home in Raleigh, North Carolina, and spent eight years there.  We loved every minute of it, but always knew we wanted to live abroad at some point and kept our ears open for the right opportunity.

2. Where do you live when you are not traveling? Has your family moved around at all?  

We moved to Madrid, Spain after living in Raleigh for eight years.  We sold our first home, our cars, and put some things in storage.  Right now, Madrid is home and we spend every chance we get traveling around Spain and other countries in Europe.

3. How often do you travel with your family? Is it local travel or international? Where has been your favorite place your family has traveled so far? 

In Spain, the expectation is that you will use all of your vacation time in August.  That being said, Spain has a lot of its own holidays that fall in the middle of the week so companies will often give employees an extra day so you take a “Puente” which is “Bridge” in Spanish and basically means you turn your random day off on a Wednesday into a five-day weekend.  We travel whenever there is one of these holidays, sometimes we stay in Spain and sometimes we fly to another country, just depends on the time of year and flight prices.  We save our big trips for August though as you have five weeks with little to no work distractions to get in some incredible traveling (hard to explain exactly how amazing that is).  It’s so hard to choose but I think Switzerland and Croatia are tied for our favorite places, too different to compare but each incredible in its own right.

4. Why do you like to travel with your kid(s)?  

Traveling with our kids was a new concept for us when we moved abroad.  We had visited family back west when we lived in the states, but had never really taken them anywhere else other than a couple of road trips.  We wanted to change that when we moved abroad.  We have fallen in love with traveling with our kids, but I should probably be honest here - it’s not easy.  It’s actually really hard sometimes but we’re getting better at it and feel much more confident in our abilities to keep our kids alive and mostly happy when we travel.  I love seeing our boys experience new places, try the local foods and we especially love finding kid-friendly things to do like visiting parks and hiking. They don’t always appreciate exactly what they are experiencing in the moment but we are confident these experiences are not going to be easily forgotten. The fact that they are too busy searching for crabs on a private bay in Croatia or riding an alpine slide down a mountain in Switzerland to even worry about playing video games is about as much success as you can hope for.

5. What are some unexpected things that you've encountered as you have been traveling with your family?  

How easy it is to get around.  We almost always rent a car and love exploring a new country by car as we move from one destination to another.  Technology makes this possible (Google Maps is by far our most used app while traveling) but once you learn the nuances of driving in Europe it is surprisingly easy to rent a car and hit the road without much preparation.  We have certainly had our fair share of interesting experiences like driving down what looked like a road but is actually a historic city center where cars are not allowed and everyone is staring at you as you try to inch your way out.

Our youngest son, Ben, has Down syndrome.  He is the light of our family and makes us smile almost 100 percent of the time and can put an end to any family bickering.  This has been a life saver to have on trips to ease the stressful moments.  In Spain they are incredibly accepting of people with special needs.  They celebrate them and love them.  It is not uncommon for complete strangers to come rub his head and say “Vamos Campeon” which is basically, “go get’em champ!”  Leaving Spain, the reaction is not the same and generally is skewed a bit more to the negative, but it has been interesting to see how the different cultures react to him.  One of our goals with traveling and sharing our story on social media is to show the world, that a disability like Down syndrome is something to be celebrated and enjoyed.  We are lucky that Ben’s small enough (not for long) that we can throw him in a hiking backpack and take him anywhere.  It has made it possible to expose our family to so many different types of people and cultures, while at the same time show those same people what a joy it is to have a child as special and unique as Ben.

Our children’s relationship strengthening has been another hoped for, but unexpectedly successful thing about traveling.For us this also extends to the time we have spent living in Spain, but essentially, you take kids out of their element, and what makes them comfortable and where they have easy distractions (like TV or friends) and they are forced to bond. They really have no one else. While that might sound sad, it isn’t. It is wonderful and so much of the fighting that we get used to at home turns into wonderful moments of boys bonding and coming together in a way that the normal distractions of life make really hard. Obviously, they are still terrible sometimes and traveling can make some situations even harder, but it affords certain opportunities that our boys would never have without the traveling.

6. What's the most memorable travel experience you've had with your family? 

After weeks of perfect weather, we paid a good sum of money to take a boat to some of the more remote beaches and caves off the island of Hvar in Croatia.  It was a stormy day, but they didn’t think it would be a problem.  Pretty soon into the trip, it was very clearly going to be a problem. The day was a disaster and we weren’t able to see any of the places they had promised and spent a good hour huddled together with strangers, getting pelted by sideways rain, trying to keep kids from absolutely losing it, and just wondering, what if this never stops?  It seemed like an eternity but eventually the rain stopped.  After waiting out the storm for a while it was clear we would see none of the places we had paid for.  Feeling defeated, our captain set course back to the island.  Then someone in the group, asked if we could try visiting one of the caves on the way back since the storm had passed.  The captain was thrilled with the idea, I mean if he could just take us to one of the five promised locations surely a refund would be out of the question, so he sped over to the cave and after about two minutes of swimming around the dark cave someone started screaming and my oldest came running up to me and yelled, “someone’s dying!”  As it turned out one of the passengers had somehow gotten his fingers caught while he was trying to climb onto the side of the boat and in a totally freak accident, his hand got stuck and caused him to cut off the top section of two of his fingers! His poor wife was hysterical and in total shock.  Everyone was.  I don’t think we’ll ever be able to erase seeing those two fingers being put into a ziploc bag and on ice for the frantic ride back to the island to meet an ambulance.   Our boys couldn’t wait to tell all their friends when they went back to school. We don’t know how it turned out, and it was a very sad thing to see, but we can’t help but look back on that day and just shake our heads, it was impressive how many things went wrong, and is something we will never forget.

7. What are the easiest and hardest parts about traveling with kid(s) (for your family)?   

The hardest part for us is being together all day.  It’s fine for the first couple of days but eventually we all start to get a little sick of each other.  To help make it easier, we try to get an Airbnb with a yard where they can escape to in the mornings before we head out for the day.  This means that we usually stay out of the cities and have a rental car.  But even inside cities we have been able to find places with small courtyards.  Our Airbnb in Amsterdam had a tiny yard, and to our surprise and relief, it was filled with frogs.  My boys had a blast catching frogs every morning and evening and my husband and I got some relief too.  Staying in a bigger place is really important for us so that everyone is getting good sleep and can have some alone time when they need it.  And if possible, we almost always work in a hike or some physical activity to wear the kids out. We also love getting away from crowds and finding beautiful beaches and lakes, these are by far the easiest and stress-free travel days.

To make things easier we just set low expectations. We have gotten pretty lazy about planning and often wait until the night before to think about what we will go do and see the next day, but not having a big agenda where we feel like we have to see every attraction or else the day is a failure goes a long way in being able to just enjoy our time together. It always makes for a good reason to go back some day and see what you missed. We also give our kids time in the morning and night to just be normal kids and usually this means watching TV. We bring our Apple TV with us everywhere we go. It goes a long way to keeping kids occupied as we get ready to leave for the day or before they go to bed and makes them feel like they get a “break” from what they often consider the manual labor of having to walk around amazing European cities all day.

8. What are some of your favorite travel resources?  

We love Airbnb and always try to find places with a yard where our kids can play and have some time on their own. 

When it comes to picking a beach or a hike, we try to find something unique and special.  Photos on Google Maps and Trip Advisor help a lot, and so do reading the reviews (we always make sure to look at recent reviews to see if it’s closed or something like that).  Instagram is incredibly deceiving and often times the real-life reality of a google maps review and accompanying photo will save you from a lot of disappointment.  Reviews, as well as street and satellite views have been so helpful for more remote places that don’t have a lot of information online.  It is often a far different story than the polished pictures that show up on the 10 best beaches in (insert city) articles on the internet, and has helped us make really informed decisions about what will be best for our family.

Our most important resource is obviously our phones.  We live and die (literally) by external battery chargers for our phones, and give praise to the EU every day for a regulation they have in Europe that requires cell phone providers to provide free roaming across the continent.  This means that when we are in Slovenia, we can use our phones as if we were in Spain, with access to our full data allowances with no extra fees or limitations.  It may seem nerdy and technical but it is an absolute game changer.  This is made easier by living in Europe but even visitors can take advantage of this.  It is very easy to buy a prepaid SIM card at the start of your trip for 20 to 30 euros with a generous data allotment and use it from country to country without worrying about paying $15 a day to use Verizon with tight limits on your data.

9. What advice would you give to other families who want to start traveling as a family and aren’t sure how?

Go for it! I think most families will be surprised just how doable it all is especially considering how easy it is now to find affordable flights, accommodations and experiences that kids will enjoy. Be honest with yourselves and prioritize. Don’t underestimate the importance of technology and come prepared, but having access to Google maps is the difference between being able to travel with flexibility and adapt to your kids needs or being lost and frustrated (in our opinion). We’ve become very comfortable with what we like and don’t like and don’t feel the pressure to see everything. I want our kids to remember how much fun they had and the time they spent with their family, not what painting they saw. For example, we are very selective about which museums and churches to visit because our boys really don’t like them. They would much prefer to go on a hike or play at a park so we try to find the right balance and when there is a place we think they need to see then we usually get gelato, crepes, or waffles afterwards as a reward for good behavior.

10. Have you had any barriers to traveling as a family, and how have you dealt with those? (i.e. work schedules, finances, school, children’s behaviors, etc.)   

My husband’s work schedule is definitely a barrier.  Since it’s expected that we won’t use his time off until August it’s very hard to take a day off any other time of the year and have to rely on local holidays for shorter trips.  It kills me to see flights deals sometimes but have to remember we get all of August off, and I know how ridiculous it sounds to not be satisfied with a five-week summer vacation, but that’s the travel bug for you, it is a hard thing to get enough of.

11. What are your family’s travel goals for 2019? 

We are moving back to the states this summer and have a long list of places we still want to see before we do.  At the moment, we have a road trip planned during the Easter break to go through Spain and France, a trip to Ireland in May, and a cruise to Italy, Greece, and Montenegro (with my husband’s family) in June before finishing up here in Spain.  Then hopefully we’ll be able to spend a month in Scandinavia before going home.  

12. What are three items you never leave home without? 

  • Food!  We usually pack about half a small suitcase with a small tub of peanut butter, granola bars, protein bars for Todd and I, and a couple of kitchen tools that Airbnb’s don’t always have like a whisk and a spatula. In fact, I am convinced that we are the only people in the whole of Europe that require a spatula.  We only pack things we can’t get in the country we are going to, and that are vital to making quick breakfasts and lunches for the kids.

  • Water packs.  Our kids have small Osprey water packs and we have a larger water pack to go in our hiking bag.  Water fountains can be hard to find at times and it only takes a couple of five Euro water bottles to make you vow that you will never again not have your own water.  It also keeps us from having to tell our child “I know you are dehydrated, but I’m sorry, I just can’t bring myself to spend five euros for a water bottle J”

  • Apple TV. It is embarrassing, but true. I think it stems from my husband watching Home Alone as a kid and feeling really bad about Kevin’s family having to watch TV in French while they were in Paris and he must have vowed then that his children would have the comfort of American programing on Netflix in any country.  It really is a lifesaver for the first and last hour of the day and keeps them off of tablets and other devices and at least we maintain some semblance of being together as a family.

13. Where are you headed next? 

We have a couple of weekend trips planned in March to San Sebastian, Spain with my in-laws, a weekend away to the Azores (without kids) and hopefully a girl’s weekend to Prague.  The big trips start in April when the local holidays start here.