Traveling (Abroad) with Three Kids: Ten Things I Learned

I think it was Soul II Soul that said it best in their Grammy award-winning hit single, “Back to Life (However Do You Want Me)” … back to life, back to reality.

For anyone that has ever traveled internationally (Canada and the Mexican hot spots like Cabo, Puerto Vallarta and Cancun excluded) you know that coming back to life and back to reality after a few weeks abroad is a little different from a week-long trip at Disneyland or at a beach resort.

Things are different in different parts of the world, believe it or not. And sometimes those things are even better.

Oh no! Better than the wonderful U.S. of friggin’ A?! Sometimes I said, sometimes.

It was just a few days into our trip that I realized, I likely wasn’t going to continue my Traveling (Abroad) with Three Kids series as I imagined. I’m sure you were all bummed.

Instead, throughout the two weeks we were away I jotted down three lists of 10 things that I thought I would share via my blog.

The first one is 10 Things I Learned About Traveling Abroad with Three Kids.

What are the other two? Fine I’ll share!

Ten Things You Might Find Interesting or Awkward About Brazil and Ten Memorable Moments from Our Trip to Brazil.

And instead of rambling on hoping to cliffhang you onto my post, I’ve decided to jump right in (since I’ve likely lost you all after my opening paragraph).

In order of how I learned them …

No. 1 – Trust Who You Leave Your House To … (And listen to your wife)
I had mentioned weeks prior that we should probably let one of our neighbors know that we’ll be out-of-town, this way if our sprinklers go wild, or our house burns down, we’re made aware of it.

Unfortunately the only neighbor we have a relationship with is the one that has asked (and we buckled under pressure) to borrow our car numerous times.

Lis didn’t want to let him know, but at the final hour (or minute) she decided that, “Fine, we should let someone know.”

So I let him know.

And after asking him to just simply watch over the house, his first response was, “Why don’t you leave the backdoor of your garage unlocked, this way if the sprinklers go off we can just go in and shut them off.”

Strike one.

I’m leaving not only the city, county, and state but the COUNTRY … the friggin’ hemisphere for 2-1/2 weeks. I don’t want any door on my house unlocked!

I started to get scared.

“Uh…no, we’re okay,” I told him. I don’t know maybe I’m being a little too cautious, but three months prior my wife’s bike was stolen and we kind of suspect it was this neighbor’s son in cahoots with the neighbor kids across the street.

What about your trash he asked? Can I take your trash out?

A nice gesture, but I assured him that our garbage was already taken care of, there was nothing in them and taking out our trash wouldn’t be necessary.

“Well I might use your cans anyway, as I’ve got some yard waste I need to get rid of.”

I was pretty certain he was messing with me, so with a nervous laugh I told him, “No that’s okay, you don’t need to use our trash cans. We only use trash service once a month.”

Strike two and I’m officially scared.

“Do you want me to have your mail key? Get your mail for you?”

Strike three.

Uh, no. We shut off our mail service with the Post Office.

“Sounds like you have things under control. Which is a good thing cause you never know about the suspicious people around here like those guys (the neighbors we suspected stole our bike) and this guy here (his 14-year-old son).”

Uh…sweating I exited the conversation, told Lis that I need the camera so I can snap photos of EVERYTHING inside and outside of our house, and let her know I was letting a coworker of mine have our keys.

My coworker’s response, “Why would I need your keys?”

Exactly! But I explained to him later why.

UPDATE: We returned and noticed our yard was mowed and our cans had been emptied and used (they were in reverse order from the photo). I confirmed with my coworker that he did the nice thing of mowing our lawn. We confirmed with Waste Management that our trash can and service was used twice, both weeks that we were gone, increasing our bill $20. Please tell me this is normal. That it’s normal for a neighbor to enter your backyard and use your trash cans and your service! I haven’t seen him since our return and do not look forward to the confrontation.

No. 2 – Plan Your Airport Attack Beforehand
Big thanks to the website Miles to Memories and their how-to (with pictures) on how to get from Terminal 6 at LAX to the Tom Bradley International Terminal. Seriously, without this site there would’ve been eight people struggling to get to their Los Angeles to Sao Paulo flight.

Knowing we had just an hour in between our Seattle to LAX and LAX to Sao Paulo flight, I sat down the weekend prior to check on what terminal we landed at and what terminal we would depart from.

Thankfully I did.

The LAX airport is insane and many websites mentioned having to get out of the terminal you were in (6), walking outside, snagging a shuttle, take it to the international terminal, and then pass through security again. We had little to no time for that.

The aforementioned site showed us how to navigate three underground tunnels that would take you from Terminal 6 to Terminal 5 to Terminal 4 and then to the new connector from 4 to Tom Bradley International Terminal.

Thanks to the how-to instructions I printed out, my family of five, a young man sitting behind Lis, and a mom and her young son in front of me, were all able to make our Sao Paulo flight minutes before we boarded.

Nailed it!

No. 3 – No Matter What the Country Kids Are Still Annoying
I love my kids but no matter what country, time zone, or where ever you are they will always nag you with questions, fight with their siblings and whatever else drives you nuts. They are kids and well … kids are kids. Darnit!

No. 4 – Don’t Be An Ignorant Travelers
One of my favorite lines from one of my favorite movies, Three Amigos, is when Chevy Chase’s character, Dusty Bottoms, has trouble with the food staying inside the corn tortilla, and asks, “Do you have anything besides Mexican food?”

This is so us!

From the minute we’re off the plane we want our Starbucks and drive-thru restaurants.

Well unless you’re in a large city, or in a made-for-America resort town, you’re likely not going to find what you want.

You’re in their country now. Stop thinking everything that is different is weird or wrong. Not everyone lives the way we do.

Respect it. Enjoy it.

No. 5 – But Remember … You’re Strange to Them Too!
And remember, they’re going to find your customs odd too. You want ice in your soda? Why? You use your hands to eat pizza? Weird! What? You want to make a right-hand turn on red?! Who does that?! Yes, we’re strange too!

No. 6 – Live the Simple Life
Brazilians live an extremely laid back and simple life. It’s the exact opposite of how we live.

Relax. Realize that doing nothing but eating, drinking and talking for hours is very, very normal. Realize that time isn’t important. You want to go out for ice cream, expect to leave at 8:30 or 9 p.m. Realize that life is extremely simple, but very fulfilling as free-time is spent with family and friends.

It’s weird at first, trust me I learned that my first time there. I had to down my drinks in a hurry because we went out at midnight, not realizing that the party doesn’t end until sunlight. I had to learn there’s a lot of sitting around and waiting, and sometimes just sitting around and doing nothing.

I think that’s what made this time (my sixth) the most enjoyable for me. I knew what I was getting into and I sat back, relaxed and enjoyed it – a lot!

No. 7 – Make Time for Each Other
This was important because we were in Brazil to visit her family. We knew that 95-percent of our time would be spent with her family. We also knew that this was our family vacation and that having a few minutes to ourselves is important.


Lis and I took nightly walks, usually at 11:30 p.m. at night (funny how I feel more safe there at night than I would here, mostly because nobody is armed!). It allowed us to recap the day, allowed me to word-vomit easily since I was speaking Portuguese throughout the day, and it just allowed us to have some time as husband and wife together.

No. 8 – But Still Have a Budget
As previously mentioned, Lis and I are on a plan to get debt-free. Which means we’re on an Every Dollar budget (thanks Dave Ramsey). Fortunately we planned this vacation before we decided to do this. Still, we made sure that we laid out a budget week-by-week. We knew that we had a maximum to spend at the beach, and then the two weeks we spent in her hometown.

And the plan worked, which made it easier when the end grew near, knowing we could spend extra money on better souvenirs for our entourage.

No. 9 – Be Involved
As mentioned, when you leave the country and enter a new one, you’ve entered their culture and customs.


That’s the wife and I (far left), our daughter and son at the Festa Junina party.

Whatever you do, get involved. Don’t be the ‘Merican that sits on the outside and thinks everything has to be how it is here.

They don’t speak English, so learn the language.

Dance, converse, try their foods and drinks. You’ll have a lot more fun.

One of the best compliments I received was my (possibly) future brother-in-law who said, “Kevin, voce nao e Americano…voce e Brasileiro”. Meaning, I’m not American, I’m Brazilian. Meaning, I’m accepted.

No. 10 – Be Prepared for a Culture Shock
If you couldn’t already guess, I love Brazil. I love the people (minha familia), I love the culture, I even love the food and drinks.

It’s always a huge culture shock after we transfer over from the Sao Paulo to LAX flight and enter the LAX to Seattle flight.

Everyone has their phone out. Usually people are complaining about something dumb. They usually have their coffee in their hands. They’re usually in a hurry.

If you had a good time in the country you visited, you likely feel this culture shock. And it will likely change your life.

Have fun and safe travels!

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