Round-the-World Trip

The Survival of A 36-Hour Trip

Our luggage, minus one pram and one toddler.
Our luggage, minus one pram and one toddler.

It’s a miracle that we made it to the home in France in one piece! By ‘we’, I meant Nicolas, Nina, myself, plus one suitcase, one backpack, three day bags, and a pram. By ‘one piece’, I meant all these pieces together.

The journey started way before the plane took off in Sydney, of course. It started when we planned what to pack and how to pack. You see, among three of us, we have two working human beings and one human being that needs help to work. So in total we have two working pairs of hands and two working upper bodies that can carry stuff. So our plan was: one working human being took the suitcase and carried one day bag, another working human being carried one backpack and pushed the pram with Nina in it with one day bag tugged under in the storage space and another small day bag hooked onto it.

It worked! Of course it means Nina wasn’t allowed to get off the pram whenever we had all luggage with us. Nina didn’t seem to understand this though, so we had a few occasion when one adult guarded all our worldly possessions and another adult ran after a super active toddler in public. Fun!

Anyway, come back to our 36-hour trip, composed of an 1-hour drive from home to Sydney airport (with a 3-hour most lovey afternoon tea stop at friends’ place with their new-born), 10-hour flight from Sydney to Tokyo, 5 hours layover in Tokyo airport, 12-hour flight from Tokyo to Paris, 2.5hr drive from Paris to Boulogne-sur-Mer (our very first stop, Nicolas’ home town), and a bit of airport chores as we all know that sometimes takes hours.

The first flight (10 hours from Sydney to Tokyo) was a breeze. A 10pm flight turned out to be the best kind of flight travelling with a toddler – Nina was so tired running around waiting in the airport that she promptly fell asleep when taking off before even seat belt sign was switched off! She remained in that status just one hour before arrival. She did invade both her parents’ seats during her sleep though, ruthlessly. At one point, I found myself being squeezed into the corner of my own seat by her beautiful sleeping head that I was only half sitting, so I had to drag her further back into her dad’s seat. Nicolas didn’t seem to be very impressed with that move but he was too sleepy to fight back at that point. After Nina woke up, with breakfast being served by her loving mother, she remained seated on her own with safety belt on. I thought this long plane ride thing was a piece of cake. Until I remembered that there was another long flight right after that. We were nowhere near our destination, yet.

We were in Tokyo airport. For 5 hours. When I had long connecting hours in the pre-child days, I sometimes left airport and did a bit of visiting. Or I watched a movie or paid myself a massage. This time, I was discovering the kids’ play room and parents’ room (very impressive facilities I have to say – a changing table that can convert into a small cot, kitchen for parents, hot water, a basin that is big enough to bath an infant). The most graceful was that Japan Airlines had a pram ready at the gate on arrival for us to use as our pram was checked in till Paris. We made the request at check-in in Sydney not expecting anything really, so it was such a pleasant surprise to see a smiling Japanese lady with the pram with our name on it. One had to love Japan.

The 2nd flight (Tokyo to Paris) was long. Nina slept 1.5 hrs for nap, then less than one hour just before arrival (which was 3:30pm local time and 1:30am Sydney time). She kept moving and walked down the aisle 50 times maybe. The only saving grace was that she didn’t cry or became grumpy. She was just excited about everything. The kid’s channel, the non-stop snacks (cute Japanese snacks), the magazines, the movies that her parents were watching (trying anyway, I settled on just-for-laugh episodes which were short enough and no regrets to be caused if I didn’t manage to watch till the end), the nice passengers that played game with her, the business class that she was not allowed to go to, the ‘attendant’ button in the toilet, the flush of the toilet, the ‘attendant only’ food preparation area of the plane, the lunch provided (oh, the BEST ever airplane lunch. And the sake on a plane!).

We let her play. Did we have choice not to anyway? 🙂 At some point I lost courage to look at the flight path map as it was always showing us too far away from the destination. So we decided on the new strategy: each parent would take turn to rest. It was with indescribable delight that I found 3 vacant seats at the back of the plane halfway through the flight, and I didn’t hesitate to occupy them for a 2-hour sleep (forget gracefulness and social ethic, I am a tired parent). I then reluctantly called Nicolas over for his turn and gathered enough energy to face the reality again.

By the time we finally saw my mother-in-law who was waiting for us at the arrival gate, Nina was officially exhausted. She fell sleep in the car. Me too. The only thing I realized was how early it became dark – it was already dark at 5pm. Coming from the summer in Sydney where sun sets at 8pm these days, what I had in mind was: soon, very soon, I will be sleeping in a bed… and soon, very soon, I will be refreshed enough to eat my croissant … bzzzzzzzz


P.S: to follow our RTW experience: Trilingual Family blog, or join Trilingual Family facebook group.

This Is What I Call ‘Have Fun As If Nobody Is Watching’

The first video ever of the Trilingual Family!

I told you in the previous post that Nina had lots of fun in the Auckland Art Gallery. In fact her dad too.

What I Have Learnt About Travelling With A Toddler, So Far

YIN_2006It is thanks to our warm-up trip in New Zealand in later November and equally importantly my experience of being a ‘full-time’ mother for the last three weeks since Nina stopped going to full-time day care that I have learnt a few things about what to expect when travelling with her during the next 9 months.

Learning #1: pack everything the night before your morning flight.

Even before the plane took off from Sydney, my biggest learning on how to pack has already took place. That is: pack everything the night before your morning flight.

I thought I did. It turned out I left a ton of things undone – all normally small things that needed 30 seconds to get done, without a toddle in bad mood. I wanted to wash three apples and bring with us as we just had time for a super light breakfast. Nina saw them and wanted to eat one immediately. I had to refuse because we were running out of time and, surprise surprise, she started to cry. Then try to put her shoes on when she was crying! Any parent who has attempted this will tell you that it might take a life time, and lots of muscles! So a simple 30-second action of ‘washing three apples and put into the bag’ turned into a 10 minutes battle. So my learning from that incident was to wash those bloody apples and put into the bag the night before. And never leave ‘just a few more things’ to the last minute.

Learning #2: Pack lunch

It was 11:15am. We visited a beautiful old cemetery in Auckland and were ready to march to the nearby city centre for lunch. Nina normally had lunch between 11:30 and 12 so we thought it would just be in time when we get to the city.

Then Nina started to be grumpy. She didn’t want to walk anymore, nor sit in her pram. She wanted to climb into our arms and started to suck her thumb. She was also pointing at my bag where I usually put a snack or two. But that day all that I had was some dry raisins (another mental notes: stock some snacks as soon as arriving in a new place). Obviously she needed to rest and to eat. Otherwise nobody got to rest and eat properly for the following 2 hours. So we just hurried into the closest restaurant that we spotted and ordered the quickest food possible. We were lucky that it was a Japanese restaurant, the food was okay, and the bill wasn’t too dear. But what if it was some food that we didn’t necessarily fancy at that moment? What if there were only fine-dining type of restaurants (anyone who had the pleasure of dining with Nina would agree with me that she’s not yet ready for fine dinging!)? What if there wasn’t any food place at all nearby?

So we quickly decided that, in the future, no matter what was planned for the day, we would always pack some lunch to take with us for the day, at least for Nina. Something simple. Something that can be supplied to Nina at any given time and given place as long as there is some sort of place to sit down (a park, a bench under the tree, a nice public square, and even better a beach!). A simple sandwich for example could do the trick. The fact that we would have the peace of mind that we always have plan B ready is priceless when travelling with an impatient toddler who wants it NOW!

Learning #3: Pack books. What about toys?

We decided to bring a few (light) books – her favourite tao zi series and tchoupi. It turned out to be an extremely wise decision, because she always asked for them! In the car, on the plane, before bed time, after breakfast, etc, etc. She never seemed getting tired of them. So far.

On the other hand, we decided not to bring any toys. They are bulky generally, and we found that she didn’t have one particular favourite toy (not like her books), and she grew out of any given toy at home very quickly. And I figured, for her, anything could be a toy when travelling. Cooking utensils were great fun. If we were out and about, it was everything in the new environment that attracted her attention. She would happily play with a fallen leave or tree branch for a while!

With this said, I am more than aware that her ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’ change all the time. Her favourite books might be forgotten soon. She might start to become attached to one particular thing that would become her special toy. As that comes, we will need to adjust what to bring, or to get rid of.

Learning #4 Go with the flow

As I wrote in the previous blog ‘Slow Travel’, we as a family found that travelling slow was a great way to travel with Nina. Planning no more than two ‘big’ things in a day seems to be working so far. Visit a museum and do grocery. Go to beach and have a nap under the tree (yes napping does count as a ‘big’ thing!). Chill out at home and write blog. Laundry. Just to list a few days’ planning.

But no matter how much planning was done, there would always be days when nothing goes as planned. A chill-out-at-home day may turn out to be a day when Nina just wanted to go outdoors- she would bring her shoes, and her parents’ shoes to us, and insisted everyone put them one. This was when I would know I had less than 2 minutes to get ready to go out.

So my strategy was to go with the flow. If it’s not what we have planned, instead of fighting to get our plan back, it’s better to just get a plan B and enjoy it. The luxury of being able to travel slowly usually made up for the missing of plan A.

Of course it’s easier said than done. I lost temper and patience a few times already in my 3-week full-time mother career. I am quite sure that I would do the same unspeakable again, and again. But hey, I am learning!

Gone are the days when we could just throw a backpack onto our, well, back, and off we went. Travelling with a toddler requires planning and patience. A lot of both. I am working on both front.

P.S: to follow our RTW experience: Trilingual Family blog, or join Trilingual Family facebook group.

Slow Travel

YIN_2254 (2)I have always been an enthusiastic traveller. Well, who isn’t?

But travelling in the recent years has started to become something different from that in my 20s. I no longer always want to see everything, although I am still curious about many things. I no longer regret not being able to make to a specific destination or see a particular thing, although I still long to seeing the world beyond my immediate surroundings. I no longer wish to just pass by, although I am conscious that I will always just be an observer no matter how much I try.

I guess I come to a stage when I appreciate slow travel.

It certainly comes handy when it comes to travelling with a toddler. Well, you don’t really have a choice not to travel slowly anyway. It got amplified during our warm-up trip in Auckland/New Zealand last week with Nina who just turned 22 months.

One day we spent more than 3 hours in the Auckland Art Gallery, a lovely gallery, but really one hour or so would have been plenty if Nina didn’t have so much fun.

The thing about a public space such as gallery and museum is that, when you visit these places with a toddler, you discover entirely different things. Instead of spending 10 minutes appreciating the details of some art works, you would end up learning where the fire alarm buttons are because Nina would go straight towards them and tried to press them to see what would happen. I saved the building from being evacuated for three times that day. Nina enjoyed the arrows and lines on the floor more than the paintings on the wall. She also liked the spaciousness of the exhibition hall, as she could run around and play ‘hide and seek’ game. Luckily we were there in a week day so there weren’t many people, so I didn’t feel too bad as the few other visitor seemed to enjoy watching her enjoying herself. When I mentioned this to a staff, she smiled and said ‘oh don’t worry about it. Look, she’s having fun’, and she started to play the game with Nina. Kiwis are some of the coolest people on the planet.

That afternoon at least four gallery staff entertained Nina – one went as far as to showing Nina how to swipe her staff card to open the fire equipment cabinet while we wandered around the room to appreciate the Maori portraits and history arts of New Zealand (which by the way is quite fascinating). She eventually had to tell the intercom that no action was needed. None of the gallery staff showed the slightest sign of being annoyed or disapproval. Next time when I am in Auckland and need a bit of time off, I would definitely go there again.

They say travelling with children opens the door to make connections with people more easily – this was certainly a testimonial of it in Auckland. If it wasn’t for Nina, I wouldn’t necessarily get to have the conversation with the gardener in the breath-taking Mulbrick winery of the Waiheki island (25 minutes ferry ride from Auckland city) to learn about the edible plants and tell her something about Shanghai where she wants to visit. Nina and I were invited to taste whatever growing in her garden. ‘There is no chemical whatsoever in my garden’ she proudly told me. I had never been invited like this before. So thank you Nina.

I happen to have just watched a TED talk on ‘working memories’ and it says that one can handle just about four things at a time, and beyond that we forget really fast. So I guess by slowing down to concentrate, the memories may last longer. Granted, we didn’t get to as many places as we would have gone to pre-Nina in that week. But we saw much more things in the places we did go to with Nina. Even with our hosts, we got to spend much more time wandering around their magnificent garden, enjoying the blossoming flowers, picking up flowers and arranging them in the vase. Or just spend time walking on the stones bare-footed to feel how it felt. Nina also got the honour of eating almost all of the home-grown strawberries that week!

Travelling with a toddler is a like a slow motion movie. Gone are the days when you could fit in 5 different things in a day, and finished it by taking a long distance bus. I loved those days, but I came to really appreciate to slow down, and enjoy the days going by living a bit of local life. Sometimes it’s the smallest things that make the biggest impact to the memory.

I certainly look forward to more slow travels in the next 9 months.

P.S: to follow our RTW experience: Trilingual Family blog, or join Trilingual Family facebook group.

Where Is Nina?

2013 11 19 Nina under bedI was woken up by a controlled scream from Nicolas ‘where is Nina!!??’

It was 6am in the first morning when we woke up in the cosy bedroom our host friends made us in an absolutely lovely spot north of Auckland overlooking the Pacific Ocean. They even prepared a child’s bed next to our double bed. It’s Nina’s first time sleeping in anything but a cot. We were pleasantly surprised that she fell asleep without any issue – a big relief knowing in the next 9 months we would have to encounter all kinds of bed configuration as they come. The last time I checked on her at 1am, she was sound asleep like a, well, baby, although in a somewhat awkward position – legs into our bed, head in the middle of her bed. Well I didn’t expect anything else but this. Whole night was uneventful, to my delight.

But she was nowhere to be found at 6am!!!! At that brief moment I thought she just woke up and walked out of the room. But the door was shut and she couldn’t reach the door handle yet. There wasn’t a lot of room left in the bedroom with our stuff lying around everywhere. Around her bed we deliberately put our suitcase so to avoid her falling but she wasn’t on any of these things. We even looked inside the suitcase – could she fall into the suitcase and manage to zip it up? No she didn’t.

Then we pushed aside the dangling bed sheet and looked under the bed. There she was!!! Suddenly I was in panic, hearing myself asking Nicolas ‘elle est toujours vivante ?? (is she still alive?)’? I tried to sound calm. Did we manage to kill our daughter on the first night of our test trip, already?

Then I heard her breathing. Ahhhhh the nicest sound on the planet at that moment.

But how on earth did she manage to get herself under the bed and make herself comfortable there? There was just about 20cm of a gap where she could possibly get through because all other sides were blocked by either our bed, the wall, our suitcase, or other stuff. She had to fall off the bed at the exact spot next to the 20cm opening, wiggle herself into that opening through the thick daggling bed sheet, pull the bed sheet back to its place, and continue her sleep. She managed all these without waking her parents up who slept just next to her. Marvellous manoeuvre skills if you ask me.

After confirming she was still breathing, I couldn’t stop laughing at the sight of her, totally in peace with the newly found spot to spend the night.

I decided tonight she is going to sleep on the mattress directly on the floor. I almost look forward to finding out how else she could possibly surprise her parents, again.

P.S: to follow our RTW experience: Trilingual Family blog, or join Trilingual Family facebook group.