Articles Tagged with trilingual family RTW

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.

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.