My Dreamy (And Not So Dreamy) Vacation With Children

090I’ve travelled a lot, to many countries on different continents, often alone, sometimes for weeks at a time, sometimes for many months.  I’ve also  been on several trips for extended periods in and around Malaysia, where I was born.

I went for the usual reasons:  I was curious; I wanted to expand my understanding of the world and my place in it; I wanted to test my abilities and limits.  It worked, I think, as well as it could.  One key discovery while away:  a full schedule with lots of sites and stops brings me down.  I travel better with depth, not breadth; as with so many other things in my life, less became more.  I began to take trips to fewer places for longer periods of time.  Slowly I discovered that, as fascinating as a locale may be, getting to know people living in those places was more interesting to me.  What I most want, wherever I am, is to find a friend and be invited over to tea.

I know there is still so much to see and learn, but lately my taste for travel has tapered off.  I find myself staying where I am more, and as my adventures in sustainability focus on local living, I am increasingly interested and invested in being at home.

Which is complicated because I am an immigrant, and home for me will always be found in Malaysia which is almost precisely halfway around the world.  Most of my relatives are still there, and they welcome us so completely when we return that it feels as if we haven’t left.  They remain the biggest imperfection of our otherwise perfectly acceptable transition to Canada.

My perfect dream travel with my children has a direct and easy answer:  I would take them to Malaysia and we would live there, with or close by my relatives.   We would visit family, close and extended, and smile and nod politely to the ones we can’t speak to (I have tried unsuccessfully with my mother to teach my children the Chinese dialect we speak, and for which there are no schools).  We’d go to the hawker stalls for fried snacks, spicy dinners, and icy desserts.

We’d follow my cousin on her jungle treks and go swimming off the islands that the locals and visitors alike visit during their holidays.  We’d visit the steaming cities, crowded with stores and people and slithering highways.  We’d travel to the rural areas, where people live in houses on stilts to stay dry during the rainy season and cool during the rest of the year.  We’d notice how much less they use and need to live their lives, doing the things we do but differently, and why that is.  We’d shadow my aunt in her kitchen, observe while she goes marketing, in hopes of unraveling and perhaps recording the secrets of her catering success and superb culinary reputation.  We’d be held in her arms while we stayed for tea.

The thing about this dream vacation – and there is no other one I want nearly as much for my children – the thing that makes it not so dreamy is that it’s a vacation.  No matter how long it is, it will end.  This doesn’t matter so much when a vacation is for fun, but when it’s for family, it’s really not very good.  I think my kids would be fine and of course the hope is that they’d finish a trip like this with an expanded sense of who they are, and it would all be worth it.  But for me coming home also means leaving home, and I’ve never quite gotten used to it.



Vacation of our Dreams, Times Three

Eldest wants to go to Tanzania to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.  Middlest wants to go on an African safari.  Youngest wants to go to Disney.

Me?  Any and all of the above, with just one child at a time.

If time is a parent’s most precious resource, quality time alone with each child is even more hard to come by.  In the vacations of my dreams, I get to take one child on his own on a life-changing adventure.  And since I’d be more than happy to do all of the above, I’ll let the kids decide.

I am a traveller who is pretty well wed to her itinerary.  I like to plan carefully, cover as much ground as humanly possible, and leave with no regrets of opportunities missed or sights unseen.  One of my favourite passages from Jennifer Coburn’s We’ll Always Have Paris comes after she and her daughter have decided on a whim to do things out of order, swapping the days for museum visits.  After going through the Museum of Modern Art in Rome, she says to her daughter,

 “There isn’t a piece in here that I am not one hundred percent in love with….”

“Aren’t you glad we changed the days?” Katie asked.

“We didn’t change the days; we let the days change us.”

Days that change us is what I’m after.  I’m willing to step outside of my safety zone to do that.

I’d also love to step out of my usual roles.  I am the voice of Chores and Homework and The Almighty Clock.  I am the Referee.  I’d really like not to be The Referee.  Yes, a dream vacation would free me up from the roles that pin me down.

Aside from the benefit of not having to be on sibling rivalry duty, time alone with each boy would make the vacation our own special thing.  I love having our own special thing.  My boys all know that I love them, but there’s no substitute for a private joke, a special treat or an amazing memory for cementing that love.

Oh, I’m loving this dreaming so much I just want to go off and plan it!  Not Kilimanjaro, maybe, but local hike.  Not a safari, but a trip to the zoo.  Not Disney, but Canada’s Wonderland is on our doorstep.  Some in-our-own-back-yard special things.

Top Tips for Travelling With Kids

From Beth-Anne:

imgres-1For car trips, listening to music can grow tiresome.  Car BINGO is a great distraction and helps to make the time pass by.  This travel card is from, it’s also available here.

I absolutely loathe feeling like an in-flight air host when we are taking a road trip with the kids.  Our boys are growing up (faster than I thought!) so this tip comes to me a bit late, but it’s perfect for young families.  Repurposing a shoe bag organizer hung on the back of the front car seats serves as a simple organizer for everything your kids need on a road trip.

Air travel or car travel, it doesn’t matter – always, always have Ziploc baggies on hand.  imgres-2They are multi-purpose.  From housing small toys, art supplies and a change of clothing to the mother of vomit bags.  Trust me.

From Nathalie:

My mother-in-law is an old hand at long drives.  My husband and his four brothers drove 18 hours each summer out to the family cottage on the east coast.  That’s a lot of time in a car with five boys.  My mother-in-law made the trip special for them by delivering a treat every hour, on the hour.  Something small, like a comic book, a candy, a puzzle or a toy.  I’ve added that tip to our travel tool kit now that we do the annual drive out east.  Here are some of the things I’ve included: window markers, to draw on the car windows; harmonicas, because sometimes you just have to embrace the crazy; action figures, which then become part of the toy collection at the cottage; and invisible ink books, a relic from my husband’s childhood.

Really, though, I have to say that there is no substitute for Devices on long trips.  I limit screen time at home, but on long drives, the kids can watch as many movies as they want.  Here is our haul of devices from our trip to England last summer.  Tools of the modern traveling family…


From Carol:

My goodness, Nathalie, that’s quite the photo.

Oh, am I on?  Ah yes.  Onto my tips.  My tips for travelling.  Yes, travelling tips… which I should have all lined up because I’m just about to leave on a 10 day trip with my family.

Except that I don’t, at least not anything practical that you haven’t thought of yourself.  My tips are a bit more philosophical…

1.  Keep your kids’ expectations low.  I almost never remember to bring along activity books, gadgets or toys for the boys to play with while travelling or even to a restaurant.  It can be a good idea, and I may try to execute this for our upcoming trip now that Beth-Anne and Nathalie have reminded me of the merits.  But my kids are used to being without entertainment (except for music and parental merriment) in the car for a few hours.  It’s usually fine.  (I’d try harder for a longer car trip, but then again, I’d try to avoid a longer car trip.)

2.  Keep your eyes trained on fellow travellers who are kind towards child travellers and their parents, especially on planes.  Berate and then forgive yourself for being the other sort in your pre-parent days.  Help your children to behave well and be respectful of others, but take little notice of the people who seem peeved just to have a little person in their midst.  I’ve met so many lovely and understanding people on my travels with children, that this isn’t hard to do.

Bon Voyage!

Disney Daze

We’ve just come back from several enjoyable and unforgettable days in Florida. Each time I travel with my family, I learn something new about them. Traveling, even somewhere as relatively mundane as Florida, pushes out the walls of your comfort zone — and as Oprah-ish as that might sound, I think it’s a good thing for all of us to have our boundaries pushed at a little. My own boys seem each to be a year older and six inches taller today, and I swear that’s a by-product of being somewhere other than home for eight days.

Travel also reminds you of things you already knew, but probably have forgotten. To wit:

1. No matter how obedient your children might be, there will be moments when corrective action need be taken to keep their behaviour in check:

2. Not only are my boys friends, they are also best friends. Sometimes, they even act as if they are:

3. Theme parks are loud, crowded, and boisterous. They can be incredibly fun places if one is in the right frame of mind to be jostled, well prepared for the crowds, armed with a touring plan (we really liked this website, for that) and armed with a sense of humour and a large packet of patience.

Wine helps, too. Especially when you can sip that glass of wine anywhere in the park:

4.  I’m convinced that there exists over Disney’s Magic Kingdom theme park an invisible bubble, which keeps in all the fairy dust, happy, scented air and whatever else it is they spread around there that makes it virtually impossible to be angry or grumpy at anyone for the entire duration of your stay. About ten minutes after you leave, you will find yourself doubly confused, both by the sudden return of your cynicism about all things Disney, as well as by the gaping hole in your wallet where your money once was.

5.    Every now and again, it’s okay to get a little Goofy: