Family travel 8: the expat family

We talk to an expert expat, these are the kind of trips we will be doing too. Those that mean moving to a different country and learn a lot about it, mostly about its culture as you are growing in it. Megan and her family have lived in 4 different countries. She’s getting her latest blog ready to share with the world where she not only will tell you about her experience of the past few years, but also what you need for this type of life.

These are her answers:

How  was the first trip as a travel family? 

Our first trip as a family was from Chicago, Illinois, to Melbourne, Australia.  My eldest was roughly 18 months old at the time and it was actually the beginning of a two year stay in Australia. We were without a plan B, we relocated with just one suitcase each, fully embracing minimalist living.  Of those few items we travelled with, my daughter’s comforter and blankets  were most critical – honestly I can’t emphasise the value in having a consistent comforter enough, if you’re fortunate to have a child that takes to one. It’s that little bit of added security and consistent bit of “home” they need.  And we always, each of us, carry a Cuski Swandoodle when we travel – they’re super large but super thin bamboo blankets that fit into a handy pouch and double as a scarf.  It is by far my biggest travel luxury “must have”.

What did you think that was going to be the worst of the trip and turned out not to be that bad? How about the other way around?

I truly expected my daughter to be a non-stop tantrum on the plane.  As a parent, you can feel the judgement of others as you board a plane carrying a small child, everyone is braced for the worst, the anxiety is palpable.  And given it was a 20 hour flight, the potential for disaster was high.  However, once she settled in, with books, stickers, snacks, and a portable dvd player (this was 2006, ancient technology by today’s standards, ha!), she was content.  Landing, was of course, a bit difficult, but after three children and countless trips I’ve learned that is to be expected as their little ears simply are not built for the pressure. I always pack treats for that moment, but in the end only cuddles suffice (and reminding myself it will pass as soon as the plane’s wheels touch the ground). 

What is always on your luggage? What don’t you take any more in your luggage but once thought you wouldn’t survive without it?

 My carry on varies depending on how long the trip may be.  But the biggest priorities are snacks, entertainment (I always pack an assortment new small toys, stickers, books, and yes, iPads have become an essential part of our travel routine, complete with new apps for the journey), baby wipes, large empty plastic bags (to contain any disasters), a change of clothes for all, and as mentioned above, comforters and travel blankets.  Most any toiletries one may think they require can be purchased at the airport or at a grocery store at your destination, no need to pack those.  And honestly, I pack clothing lightly, as well, for short holidays, as there is always shopping to enjoy if your budget allows.

What tricks do you use to survive on your commute to your final destination?

My children have all three been armed with the means to take photos as we travel.  One favors a camera while the others favor their iPads.  It helps that their mother has toyed with photography for the last several years, but they are now seeing the value in collecting memories rather than things and the added bonus is this hobby keeps them occupied while travelling, as well.  They also enjoy collecting magazines and treats as we travel and these come in handy while in transit, as well.

What area your saving trips for these family trips? 

We are now in the habit of always utilising AirBnb.  I cannot recommend it enough.  By using an AirBnb, you have the added benefit of a kitchen, in most cases.  Not only are the AirBnbs often cheaper than hotels, the kitchen also allows for cheaper meal planning.  My children now love nothing more than visiting the grocery store when we land in a new country.  It’s has allowed them to expand their palate while also engaging them with the local culture… and yes, groceries are almost always significantly cheaper than restaurants. 

As for transportation, always explore your options for public transportation online prior to your arrival.  Often there are online discounts if you purchase your transit cards in advance.  And sometimes there are family packages available online but not necessarily at the ticket kiosk.  The same is true when booking activities.  We have also had the experience of learning that while an attraction/event is sold out at the kiosk, simply visiting their website may prove tickets are still available online.  Research, research, research prior to your arrival and do consider booking all in advance.  In addition to visiting websites, follow any attractions you hope to visit on social media sites, as well.  Occasionally you’ll find tips you’d have otherwise missed and frequently these sites feature giveaways, as well. 

How do you plan your family trips?

Our family trips are largely decided by my husband’s career (we’ve managed our expat stays both with postgraduate education and his career in international sales).  While we travel domestically a great deal once in our destination country, our journey typically begins as relocating expats.  As a family, we’ve spent two years in Australia, two in Ireland, a summer in Holland, and now we are soon to embark on a four year stay in South Africa.  Once we are aware of a relocation approaching, we provide the children with guide books detailing our destination.  We’ve grown very fond of the “off the beaten path” and “secret” guides.  The kids love feeling as though they’re locals as opposed to tourists.  While living in Dublin we found so many gems that many of the standard guide books tend to over look and the children loved having these more unique experiences.  The only priority we really have when sorting holiday destinations is safety.  One becomes much more mindful of this when travelling with children… there are a great many trips that I’d not flinch at while travelling solo that I would choose to skip out of cautiousness with children along. 

As for their luggage – now that my daughters are 10 and 13, they are largely responsible for packing their own luggage.  I help them organise their process a bit by giving them “luggage cubes” (individual zipped bags that fit inside the suitcase)… this allows them to sort their luggage accordingly and visualise what items take priority (obviously the day time clothing “cube” is larger than their toy/entertainment “cube”).  I still pack my five year old’s suitcase.  We tend to pack very lightly for holidays, usually with the hope that we only require one carry-on each It is important to be sure there is room remaining for any treasures returning home, as well.

Share with us an anecdote of one of those family trips

One of my favorite family trips was to Utrecht, Holland.  We were sent there for a short course my husband was required to attend and I was exploring solo with the three children.  There was a bit of a language barrier, we arrived knowing absolutely nothing of the location, but the city itself turned out to be delightful and so easy to manage on foot.  My children were enchanted with the heaps of bicycles everywhere and it led to a lengthy conversation on environmental protection and climate change, an unexpected educational opportunity.  We also discovered a lovely instagram account (@GreetingsFromUtrecht) that served as an instant guide to the city.  We had an amazing time seeking out some of the tucked away sites mentioned in this instagrammer’s account.  I find that it is very often the impromptu adventures that are the most memorable.

And did I mention Utrecht is home to Miffy?! (Those with toddlers will almost certainly be familiar with Miffy the bunny.)

 

What destination do you think is a family must? Which would you suggest to avoid at all cost?

I’m a bit partial, because I have just spent the last two years calling it “home”… but Dublin is by far my favourite city in all the world.  Their museums are amazing and free, their public transportation is easy to manage, and you will not find a kinder culture (fighting words, I know, but Dubliners are a charming bunch!).  I’d happily visit Dublin as often as possible and never grow tired of it and I’m certain my children would agree.

 As for destinations to avoid?  I’d have to say, hands down, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, was our most challenging family holiday to date We were there to attend a family wedding and we truly struggled with finding family friendly activities.  Several hotels had a “no prams allowed” policy in their lobbies/casinos.  Mind you, we had zero intentions of gambling, we were just passing through to access another location.  We were treated very rudely at The Wynn, in particular.  I’d not ever repeat the experience and would caution anyone travelling with children to avoid visiting Las Vegas.  Your child will find themselves bored and by extension, you will, too.

What is your next trip as a family? 

Our next trip is actually the start of another relocation.  We depart in less than two weeks for a four year stay in South Africa.  We’ve arranged our flights in such a way that we have a nine hour layover in Istanbul.  We are hoping to squeeze in a bit of adventure prior to arriving at our final destination in Pretoria.  I have zero expectations.  The children might be exhausted and fussy, or they may be thrilled to explore.  We must all be adaptable, including my response as a parent to their needs Adaptability is always key when travelling. I’m presently in the planning stages but I always find it most useful to ask those who have been before and/or locals.  Social media has been my greatest aid in researching these journeys.

What would be your advice to (us) any family who wants to start travelling?

Again, adaptability.  Always begin a journey hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst.  Research, research, research.  Be sure to have travel insurance, a well-packed carry-on, and, if you can manage, the advice of a local. And know that there is no greater education for a child than that gained with travel.  My children are already preparing for the next journey by researching currency conversions, time zones, and using technology to FaceTime their friends as they travel.  They’ve skills I didn’t gain until I was in my 20s!  And watching them explore and embrace another culture absolutely fills my heart with joy.  There is so much value in raising a global citizen, don’t allow the temporary hassles of air travel stand in your way.

The pros far outweigh the cons and the memories will last a lifetime.

So if you want to get more information her blog will be up and running soon, and you can also follow them in their social media (Twitter and Instagram).

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