Round-the-World Trip

So Where Are You Going?

ItineraryThe inevitable question when you announce that you are going to travel around the world: so where are you going?

Even I was impatient to know the answer!

Alas, we are a small small family in the big big world. After much agonizing over trimming down the destinations (I thought 9 months is plenty of time!), we locked down the following:

France (and perhaps a bit of side trips in neighboring countries) for 1.5 months. It’s the first stop (arrival Dec 18th) of our trip. This is a bit longer than our initial thoughts but it was due to a passport/visa issue that we have to stay put before we (I to be specific) can go any further. In any case, there is no lacking in things to do, places to go, and family/friends to catch up with in France.

South America for 3.5 months. It will include Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, and Peru for now, but we do have flexibility on how/where we want to go as long as we make our way from Buenos Aires (or bs. as. as the locals call it) to Lima/Peru in 3.5 mths time in mid May. It’s definitely shorter than I initially wanted, but then we have to give a bit of time away to France and Costa Rica.

Costa Rica for 1 month. Scuba diving is top on the list here. Anyone who has dived there is invited to leave comments here on where to go!

North America for almost 2 months. It includes NYC, Toronto, Quebec, Colorado etc.

Tahiti for 1 month: again, scuba diving!

– then home, sweet home in Sydney.

Now a bit of background information on why we chose to go where we are going.

France is a given because we already planned many months ago to spend Christmas in France with Nicolas’ family. So in order not to further disappoint (and shock) the family than we already do, we bite our lips to stick to this plan even if it means some significant fare difference (we bought round-the-world tickets and got our original France return tickets refunded). So this is our first RTW stop (with a 5-hour layover in Tokyo – who can enlighten me what to do in the early morning of 7am in that airport with a toddler?).

Latin America is a no brainer for me. I have always wanted to spend more time in Spanish-speaking countries. Ever since we went to Ecuador 9 years ago in 2004 I felt in love with this continent. We returned the following year to Cuba and Dominican Republic and once again my desire to be able to speak Spanish picked up more momentum. If you ask me, in my wildest dream I would love to live there for a few years. But for now, I can settle for travelling for a few months. Time to refresh my Spanish.

Then why these specific four countries (Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Peru)? Argentina is high on my list of Latin America. Do you have such places that you don’t know exactly why but you feel like you are meant to be? Well, Argentina is one of these places for me. Uruguay made its way into our itinerary because 2 friends highly recommended it, and also the short distance from Buenos Aires – a quick ferry ride indeed – makes it an easy choice to make. Chile is next door neighbor again and a logical sort of pathway if we travel northward (well, from Argentina it’s quite difficult to travel southward really without going to the Antarctic) to Peru. And don’t be shocked that I have absolutely no idea what to do/where to go in Chile apart from their wine, but that could be a nice start … We’ll figure it out I’m sure. Peru? Is Macchu Piccu a good enough reason in itself? And the rumor has it that the site might be closed down in a few years’ time due to the concern over the well-being of this magnificent wonder, so one just has to go while it lasts.

Then Costa Rica. It’s a result of a 2-hour lunch with 2 friends. We were looking for somewhere warm in America to scuba dive but couldn’t decide where (had to let go of Galapagos unfortunately due to RTW flight constraints), then Costa Rica came into the picture, and sounds like a great choice.

U.S. … now I have to confess that I never thought of travelling extensively in US, except the Big Apple! But one thing that made US very special for me is that we have lots of friends living there. But, damn, they all live far apart and US is damn big! So we had to choose, again. We settled on Colorado, besides NYC, where a dear friend lives (and would accommodate us, hooray, and finally I get to meet her son!) – the great outdoors there is a big draw card. I’m sure we’ll do a bit of side trips here and there between NY and Colorado. It might be the sort of country where we rent a car and do a bit of road trip … like what they do in the movies, maybe? Or I forgot Miami … well it’s not the typical type of place we would have gone, but do you know that if you fly from Peru to Miami (or anywhere in US for that matter) and stay there for over 6 days, and then you can enter Costa Rica without having to get a Yellow Fever vaccination? Welcome to the travel vaccine wonder land.

Canada – Nicolas mentioned Quebec early on because, of course, they speak French there! But we put a question mark next to it on our initial planning map … well, we cannot go to all French-speaking places on the planet, right… ah, then timing sometimes means everything. Just as we were planning the trip, some friends (a lovely family we met through mothers’ group in Sydney) were planning to move back to Canada (to Toronto to be precise) and we got an open invite to their (future) place!  The idea of meeting up someone from Sydney in Toronto in a year’s time sounds really quite appealing. So here we come, Canada (well, eastern Canada only perhaps).

Tahiti is a long story … we tossed back and forth between Tahiti, Hawaii, Tokyo, Shanghai, and many combination in the between to make our last stop before coming back to Sydney. Finally we settled on Tahiti – scuba diving, again. And this is the type of place where you probably would go just once in a life time, and as it’s sitting beautifully on the way back from US to Sydney, we thought it’s perhaps worthwhile pay a little extra to get this ‘one-in-a-life-time’ destination off the list.

Then other obvious questions would arise such as why not Africa (confidence issue I guess), why not Brazil (visa issue foremost, but also time issue. BUT never say never …), why  not Europe (don’t want to be there in winter longer than necessary), why not Asia (well it’s ‘close’ to Australia and both of us have done quite a bit), etc etc. Let’s just say, 9 months is not as long as you thought. It’s a pity that my home country (China) didn’t end up being part of the itinerary, but we shall make it up post-RTW.

Oh, let’s not forget New Zealand!! It deserves a special mention although it’s not marked on the map. It’s our pre-RTW warm-up trip, aka test trip. We are lucky to be able to spend 8 days at friends’ parents place (M, T, D, thank you!!) and we intend to simulate all that we are going to do for a RTW trip – we are bringing the exact luggage/gear with us, planning our days as if we already started the big wild trip, taking the public transportation to the airport, living like locals (we will most likely), spending day and night with Nina in a new environment. We shall see how this trip will turn out to be against our expectation. And perhaps then come back home to adjust some of our plans for the big trip. And of course, we do intend to enjoy New Zealand as well – finally! After 5 years in Sydney it’s almost a shame to say that it’s going to be my first trip there.

It’s amazing how ‘simple’ our flight itinerary looks like on the map – just a few lines and that’s it. Maybe it’s because there is no detail to it yet. It’s like many things, once you see it from distance, everything looks much simpler. Even if I love the colors, texture, smell and the memories that go with all the details, sometimes it helps to make things look simpler.

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

Trilingual Family Going Wild

YIN_6143It’s nerve-wracking enough even just to say it loudly: our trilingual family is going on a round-the-world trip for 9 months!

I am positive that we’ve shocked our families, especially mothers, and many friends successfully in the last month or so after we made the decision.

In a way, I have shocked myself as well. Ever since Nina was born I thought the travel-far-and-further days are behind me, for good. No one in my immediate entourage has ever travelled with a young child for that long. Once you have a child, you are supposed to settle, aren’t you? And with 20 days of annual leave per year and 2 families to visit in China and France, and a mortgage to pay in the insanely priced Sydney, how on earth would we be able to find time and money to travel longer than a few weeks, ever again?

Then the door opened itself.

The company I had been working for 7 years announced some job cuts in September, and that included mine. Suddenly I found myself no longer needing to attend to work. In return a cheque was being sent my way.

I could of course choose to find another job, and let the cheque disappear in the mortgage. That would have been a logical choice.

Or I could choose otherwise.

After all, I have chosen to leave the comfort of home country behind and moved three continents already. I have chosen to change career path completely a few times  because my heart told me to try out new things even at the expense of climbing the corporate ladder faster. I have chosen to spend my resources and energy from young age on travelling to almost 30 countries and learning new cultures/languages and meeting new people. I have chosen the bumpy yet colorful road of marrying someone from a different culture for the last 7+ years. I have chosen to bring up a trilingual child.

So why cannot we choose to take 9 months out, and travel with our 22-month-old daughter around the world?

I have my fair share of worries, to be sure. Are we putting Nina at risk by taking her to the unknown territories at such a young age? Is she going to be overwhelmed/traumatized by the constant changes? Are we able to financially support travelling for 9 months with no income and no promise of immediate income upon return? Are we physically up to looking after a toddler at her terrible two while on the road? Is it a career suicide? Are we going to disappoint our families (while they thought that we finally ‘settled’)?

After almost a month of tossing all these questions around, we made the decision.

Instead of allowing all these worries – all valid ones by the way – talk us out of the idea, we decided that we would never know the real answers for sure. Unless we try it.

Nina could be totally immersed in all these fascinating places we are going to (I will reveal our itinerary plan in another post :)). She might learn to be more flexible and adaptable. She may even pick up some Spanish along the way (hopefully I will, too) – a Quadra-lingual family?! We could travel on budget (such as renting an apartment for a month which typically costs much less than hotels and allows us to cook most of time to save on restaurant bills) so that our money stretches a bit longer. We would rent out our home to support the mortgage. We would slow down the pace and do less ‘touristy’ things – so that we have plenty of time to wind down from running after Nina, and also get to experience how locals live. We cross our fingers that one of us will find a job fairly quickly upon return even if it means that we need to alter our expectation slightly. I might even test out an idea or two of generating some income while on the road, no matter how small amount that is. And last but certainly not the least, we count on our families to come to terms with our decision.

Above all, shouldn’t we celebrate life, when we still can, by living to its full on our own terms?

Once a decision is made, the rest is just logistics.

Another major decision was made (I will come to it in a separate post – yes it is THAT important). The dates are set. The round-the-world tickets were booked. Travel doctor was visited. Nina stopped going to daycare. Friends living anywhere near our planned destinations are contacted (some generously offered to accommodate us which I am so grateful and looking forward to seeing some of them after so many years). A 8-day test trip to New Zealand starts next Monday.

The Trilingual Family RTW is becoming a reality.

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

Trilingual Family’s First Trip to China – Re/Discovering China

fu quan shan We were in China (Shanghai + Ningbo my hometown) for 10 days together end of April/beginning of May. It was Nina’s first trip to China, and Nicolas’ & my first trip back since more than two years ago. I don’t know what Nina thinks about the trip, but I felt that I rediscovered the cities that I thought I knew.

To start with, there are in fact quite a few nice and well maintained parks in both cities, some of which were well equipped with playground and facilities for kids. I never paid attention to those kind of things when I lived there, thus took the easy (and obviously wrong) assumption that they didn’t exist.

Pram is useful but only in limited areas. There are simply too many stairs and steps and not enough ramps, most of time. One ramp that I delightly encountered led us to … a wall. No wonder there aren’t many prams out there on the street.

Most metro stations are underground in Shanghai with multiple entries/exits (some big stations would have up to 16 entries) but rarely are there lifts or elevators. Good luck with a pram and a 12kg child (plus shopping bags)! Once you do manage to get down the looooong flight of stairs (by carrying the pram AND the child), it’s almost guaranteed that the pram would be stuck in the gate (the type with three rotating bars, is this the way to describe the thing?) so it involves calling a security person and negotiating. So I learnt to carry the pram over my should when exiting.

I didn’t expect parents’ rooms, but I didn’t expect either it’s nearly impossible to find a place to change nappy, decently. One morning Nicolas was with Nina alone (as I was working) in a 6-floor ultra modern high-end shopping mall, and time came to get the nappy changed. Nicolas managed to find ONE place to change nappies in the entire building, and that place was … inside a female toilet! Nicolas, being Nicolas, called a security person to clear the toilet and guard the door while he went inside to change the nappy. That was his first (perhaps last) trip to a female toilet. So is it a sign that men are not expected to change nappies in China (I already have a male friend who claims that he’s moving to China for no other reason but this)?

Other than that, Shanghai and Ningbo were both really lovely. We were lucky with weather – sunny, warm but not hot, with blue sky most of the time (touchwood!!). Food was incredible, as always, and too much, as always. Family were delighted to see Nina for the first time (everyone except my mother of course) and sad that we couldn’t stay longer. Friends gathered together – I saw quite a few university and high school classmates whom I haven’t seen for more than 10 years. Where did time go?? Everyone, including strangers we met on the strett, was friendly with Nina with waving hands and smiles. We even managed to do two day-trips, one to my maternal grandparents’ native village (high up on a mountain with an amazing view down to the valley), and the other to an incredible tea terrace plantation (where I took the photo of this post).

And – what a surprise -I also noticed some differences in child-raising.

Nina generally has more clothes on her than her daycare mates here in Sydney (her dad Nicolas doesn’t like being cold, so just you know), but she was definitely much less dressed comparing to babies/kids we met on the street in China. It was  a day for t-shirt, and many (in fact most) babies were in their sweaters. No wonder why my mum always told me to put on one more layer for Nina.

Family were amazed that Nina rarely cries when she falls. She usually stands up on her own. In China child is expected to cry and get parents’ help to get back up. I’m glad Nina is not too Chinese, for once.

I’m amazed by the fact that children as little as just over a year do not wear nappies anymore. I knew in the theory, of course, that Chinese toilet train kids very early, but it’s still incredible to see that Nina was the only toddler with nappy in a playground with other 20+ kids, many around her age. I need to hire a Chinese to help Nina with toilet training!

Nina is a real Chinese when it comes to food. She loves noodles, dumplings, 大饼 (one staple street breakfast, sort of pancake cooked by sticking to a hot steel stove), 油条 (another staple breakfast, deep fried dough stick), soy milk, beans (and more beans pls!), seafood, and … really everything that came her way.

She also adapted fairly quickly with time difference and change of sleeping environment. After a few days, it was easy to put her down to sleep, much like back at home.

Dare I say it, my mother was fairly impressed with our parenting skills (!!!!!!! it deserves as many exclamation points as I care to type!!!!!) as she used to say that I would be hopeless … As a matter of fact, as Nicolas and I are so used to caring for Nina all by our own, we had to remind ourselves that my family would love the opportunity to feeding her, cuddling her, playing with her for a few hours or so.

Alas, when it comes to language, it’s still too early to say (hey, Nina doesn’t speak a word still). But I am quite confident that she understands as much Chinese as the other two languages. Evidence? I asked her to go fetch her shoes and come sit down in front of me to help put her shoes on, all in Chinese. And she did. I was quite impressed.

As it was time to leave China, I could only say 回头见,中国。See you next time, China.