Family travel VIII: the expat family

Hablamos con una expatriada experta, estos son los tipos de viajes que iremos haciendo nosotros también. Esos que implican una gran mudanza y conocer el país a fondo, sobre todo su idiosincrasia ya que estás obligatoriamente impregnado en ella. Megan y su familia han vivido en 4 países distintos y en su reciente estrenado blog (antes hubo otros) explican las experiencias de estos años y, como no, lo necesario para este tipo de situaciones con los más pequeños.

Estas son sus respuestas:

¿Cómo fue el primer viaje como familia viajera?

Nuestro primer viaje en familia fue desde Chicago, Illinois, a Melburne, Australia. Mi hija mayor tenía apenas 18 meses en aquel momento y fue el inicio de nuestra vida en Australia durante dos años. No teníamos plan B, nos mudamos con tan sólo una maleta cada uno, abrazando la vida minimalista por completo. Algunos de los objetos con los que viajamos más importantes fueron el edredón y las mantas de mi hija – honestamente no puedo hacer más hincapié en el valor de tenerlos si tines la suerte de que tu hijo/a se encariñe con ellos.  Es esa sensación de seguridad y consistencia del “hogar” lo que ellos necesitan. Y siempre llevamos, cada uno de nosotros, unas mantitas de muselina de Cuski Swandoodle cuando viajamos – son super largas hechas de de fino bambú que sirven para todo. Es, de lejos, el mayor lujo que “tienes que tener” cuando viajas.

¿Qué pensaste que sería lo peor y luego no fue para tanto? ¿Y al contrario?

Realmente esperaba que mi hija tuviera una rabieta interminable en el avión. Como padre, puedes sentir las miradas cuando embarcas con un bebé pequeño, todo el mundo espera lo peor, la tensión es palpable. Y teniendo en cuenta que nuestro vuelo era de 20 horas, la posibilidad de desastre era alta. Sin embargo, una vez nos acomodamos, con libros, pegatinas, algo de comer y un dvd portatil (esto fue en 2006, tecnología anticuada en comparación con la actual, jaja!), ella estaba feliz. El aterrizaje, por supuesto, fue difícil, pero después de tres hijos e incontables viajes he aprendido que esto es esperable ya que las orejas de los peques simplemente no están hechos para esa presión. Siempre llevo algunas chucherías para ese momento, pero al final con los abrazos es suficiente (y recordarme a mí misma que pasará tan pronto como las ruedas del avión toquen el suelo).

¿Qué es lo que nunca falta en la maleta familiar? ¿Qué es lo que ya no llevas pero que en su momento pensaste que no podrías sobrevivir sin ello?

Nuestro equipaje varía dependiendo de lo largo que vaya a ser el viaje. Pero las prioridades son algo de comer, entretenmiento (siempre llevo pequeños juguetes, pegatinas, libros, y sí, los iPads se han convertido en parte esencial en nuestra rutina de viaje lleno de aplicaciones para el trayecto), toallitas húmedas, bolsas grandes de plástico (para contener cualquier desastre), una muda de ropa para cada uno, y como mencioné anteriormente, las mantitas. La mayor parte de los artículos de aseo se pueden comprar en el aeropuerto o en un supermercado en tu destino, no es necesario llevarlos. Y honestamente, mis maletas son ligeras para las vacaciones cortas es una escusa perfecta si te gustan las compras y tu presupuesto lo permite.

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 traveling, 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 utilizing 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 traveling with children… there are a great many trips that I’d not flinch at while traveling 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 organize 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 visualize 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.)

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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 favorite 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 traveling 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 traveling. 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.

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 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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