xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' World Toddler: 2016



Saturday, July 30, 2016

World Toddler Returns Home

After 131 incredible days, this traveling family has finally returned home. Since I last posted, from Jerusalem, we visited Vienna, Budapest, Bologna, Florence, Lucca, Rome, and Paris. After an outdoor operatic concert in Vienna, a schvitz in a Budapest bath, and a wheel of 30-month parmesan in Italy, we arrived in Paris. (I promise to fill you in on these European adventures over the next few weeks, so please keep following the blog!).

We had planned to stay in Paris for 6 days and then take the Chunnel to London for the last week of our trip. In the wake of Brexit, we thought we should take advantage of the rare “sale” going on in England and visit while we could comfortably afford it.

Our first three days in Paris were rocky: we were bounced from the Eiffel Tower, yelled at in the Louvre, and occasionally embarrassed when we brought our child to restaurants. Classic French icons, we learned, are better enjoyed on romantic honeymoons than family vacations.

Giddy on Croissants
Alas, by day four, we figured out how to feel more comfortable in Paris: we ate meals at home or in parks so as to avoid the glares of other diners; we avoided prime tourist areas to avoid the frighteningly heavy military presence; and we visited more patisseries to keep our blood-sugar levels sky-high.
Overwhelming military presence in Paris

On day five, after a lovely park-bench lunch of smoked-salmon sandwiches, we collected our rubbish before heading to the nearby playground. By this point, we had been traveling around the world for  almost 5 months with 35-pound packs, climbed a volcano in Bali, scaled Mount Masada and hiked to the top of steep shrines in Kyoto. But this innocuous Parisian bench is what did us in.

Nolan stood up as normal. And then his face contorted in twenty different pain-induced directions. Sydney giggled at Daddy’s funny-faces and stuck her tongue out at him in reply. I, slightly more in tune with other people’s emotions than my two-year-old, reached out to give Nolan my hand just as he collapsed back onto the bench, in a bout of severe back pain.

Nolan's Last Parisian Day Out

Nolan limped home, using Sydney’s stroller as a crutch, hobbled up the two flights of stairs to our rental apartment, and laid down in bed. The ceiling above this bed ended up being Nolan’s best view of Paris for the remainder of our trip. He had tweaked his lower back—most likely from carrying our 33-pound child on his shoulders—and was immobilized. 

We called Allianz, our travel insurance carrier, who directed us to call a local doctor (more on getting the most out of your travel insurance to come). Since Nolan couldn’t move, we looked for a doctor who would come to us, which apparently is a thing in other countries.

Within an hour, a handsome young man, who spoke perfect English with a perfect French-accent, showed up at our door. With a big bag on his back, he looked more like a delivery boy than a certified doctor. Assuming he was the latter, we let him examine Nolan, shoot a pain killer into his derrière  and prescribe an addict’s dreamboat of prescription pain killers. The total cost for the medical exam and medicine? $106.60.
Once we overcame our shock at our affordable and prompt medical treatment, we discussed the rest of our trip. The doctor had suggested we return home—continued world-schlepping probably wouldn’t help Nolan’s back.  

Centre Pompidou
And so we rebooked our tickets to return to the United States from Paris, instead of London, sooner than planned, but permitting Nolan's back enough time to recover. In the interim, Nolan rested in bed while Syd and I “did” Paris. At the end of each day, we swiped through our photos for Nolan to get a taste of the city: the amazing playground at the Luxembourg Gardens, the view of the Eiffel Tower from the Touilleri's Ferris Wheel, and our favorite modern art at the Centre Pompidou.

Paris Ferris Wheel

After five “girls’ days” in Paris, Nolan and I packed our bags for the final time, popped a bottle of champagne and headed to the airport. 

We are now back in the U.S., where Sydney is adjusting surprisingly well to a magical new world filled with more than five toys. While I wouldn't trade anything for the last five incredible months, I will admit to enjoying our return home, and the familiarity of our native country: sitting down with a pot of coffee, eavesdropping on conversations in English, and being able to catch up with family and friends (and, yes, letting them babysit!).

World travel is great...but so is celebrating your birthday with your cousins.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Cockfights and Waterfalls

On one of our first mornings in Bali, we hired a private tour guide, Wayan, to show us around. Over the course of an enthralling day, we waved hello to farmers slashing rice in the paddies; danced under a cool waterfall; and meditated at serene temples where plumes of incense circled around us.

But the best part of the day ended up being our new friendship with our tour guide. With two small children of his own, Wayan spent as much energy entertaining Sydney on the long drives between sites as introducing us to Hindu history.

Wayan escorted us around the island for the next five days of our stay. He seemed interested only in ensuring we fully enjoyed, understood, and appreciated Balinese culture and tradition. One of these days, we visited the Ubud Monkey Forest (www.monkeyforestubud.com), where cheeky monkeys nibbled bananas out of our hands.

Another afternoon, Wayan invited us to his house for lunch with his family. He invited our American friends, Wendy and Rob, who had just arrived for vacation, along as well. Although of only modest means, his wife put out an amazing spread of all the classic Balinese dishes.
We sat around a table outside where their 10 chickens clucked all around us. Why were only two of the chickens caged, while the others got to roam freely? "They're for cockfighting,” we were informed nonchalantly. I took another bite of mie goring, spicy chicken and rice, to keep my jaw draw from dropping.

After lunch, Wayan's wife took us on a tour of their home, a compound where all three generations of the family, including extended family, live together. In the front was a small temple where a rooster was pecking away at the daily offering. The family's bedrooms were in the middle of the complex: undecorated rooms where Wayan's kids lay on mattresses on the floor watching TV.
From here we entered the kitchen.
A mama hen and her 4-day old chicks waddled on the dirt ground under the kitchen sink. Dragonflies swarmed around the empty pans. We maneuvered past the children's bicycles leaning against the tin cabinets to the pig pen, where 4 piglets suckled on an enormous mama.

After lunch, we gave Wayan's boys bags brimming with classic American candies, which they ran off to hide in their room. We then all grouped together for a picture and, before leaving, promised to host Wayan and his family just as generously should their dream of seeing America come true.
If you ever make it to Bali, look up our friend Wayan at www.amansukatour.com for an incredible window into the local culture.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

A Ski-Lift through the Rainforest

On our last Australian day, we took the Cairns Skyrail over the rainforest. An enclosed cabin lifted us by ski-lift technology over the tops of the dense rainforest.

A couple of miles deep into the forest, our car stopped for us to get off and walk through the ancient forest. From the comfort of a wooden promenade, we marveled at the nearby density and danger of the rainforest lining the path.

As we walked along, I stopped to take a picture of Nolan and Sydney. As I tried to move on I felt a tug on my shirt. I looked behind me. There was no one and nothing there. I tried to walk on. Again, my shirt tugged and I didn’t move. Now I investigated more closely. Latched onto the shoulder of my shirt was a thin, green branch, barely noticeable even upon close investigation. How could this tiny vine latch on so strongly?

A nearby tour guide, noticed me struggling to detangle myself and warned me to "stop moving!" until he could come over and unlatch me. He then introduced us to this unfriendly plant, called “Wait a Whiles” because, once they latch onto your clothes, the best course of action is to stop moving and slowly disentangle yourself. Another name for this snake of a plant? "Lawyer Vine." (no, I am not joking. go ahead and google it!)

In the fierce competition for sunlight in this dense rainforest, some trees grow extra tall and wide.

Others grow slender and light, and grow like a parasite on the stronger trees. The tree I was recently freed of had evolved to have sharp spindles to latch onto and grow on stronger trees. This evolutionary trick had worked wonders. Now aware of them, we spotted the spiky vines everywhere.

Now having had a first hand experience with the inhospitality of the Australian rainforest, we wondered about how Aboriginal people had survived here for over 40,000 years. Aborigines cut paths, built small clearings, and constantly moved between areas depending on the seasons’ weather and rainfall. The vast majority of these people died when Europeans arrived on the continent, either from massacre by the new arrivals or from introduction of new diseases like the common cold.

As the Aboriginal people did not have a written language, the death of their people meant the loss of a great deal of their cultural history. As such, little is known about how they survived in this dangerous habitat. How did they maintain clear paths in a forest that regrows every year? How did they differentiate edible plants from poisonous ones? The secrets of the Aboriginal history are, for the most part, lost within the dense trees of this ancient rainforest.

Plaque in Cairns, Australia

Sunday, May 29, 2016

5 Tips for Long-Haul Flights with Kids

1. Respect Routine

Resist the urge to manipulate your baby’s schedule to get her to sleep more on the plane. This strategy backfires, as you end up with an overly-tired grumpy-pants who refuses to sleep at all. Keep to normal nap schedules throughout the day leading up to the flight so baby stays calm so you can entertain her just as you would off the plane until she starts scratching her eyes.

The same goes for mealtime: feed your child at her regular mealtimes according to the time zone you just left. Note that the airlines will try to make this difficult for you: they will feed you dinner at 4PM; breakfast at 2AM; and turn the “morning” lights on at 1AM. Resist the urge to eat whenever food is served and to wake whenever the lights are on. If it’s not a normal meal time, decline the meal or ask that it be brought later. If it’s not time to wake up, “shh, shh” baby and keep sleeping.

2. Rotate Responsibility

It is not easy to keep a toddler quiet and still for 5+ hours at a time, especially when you yourself are exhausted. So take advantage of your partner if you are traveling with one: when he is running the childcare facility, you should be resting. In such tight quarters it is difficult to unplug from the baby wiggling next to you, but it is the best thing you can do for yourself and your family. Recharge while the going is good. Then take over for your partner so he can shut his own eyes.

Denpasar, Indonesia Airport Playground

3. Make Meal Time Last

When the meal tray comes out, make every bite into an event. We introduce each bite with a lengthy prelude: “Do you want a piece of chicken? Are you sure? Chew…Chew…Chew…” Done correctly—that is, irritatingly slowly-- meal time can last an hour. Most long-haul flights have at least two meal services- so that’s two hours down and 3 – 14 hours to go.

View of the Andes on flight from Puerto Montt to Santiago, Chile

4. Don't Put Baby in a Corner

If you can afford and are willing to shell out for a seat just for your baby, your airplane life will be grand. You’ll have a row to yourself where your family can spread out without worry of bothering the poor stranger seated next to you.

If, like us, you refuse to buy your child a seat until you are forced to (the day she turns two), you can still create private space for her in one of two ways. First, pray that the seat next to you is vacant. Airlines save extra seats for traveling families; indeed, we have been provided a free extra seat on two of our last three long-haul flights.

If you lose the free-seat-lottery, however, you can still create private space for your child in the bulkhead area in front of your seat. To make sure you get the bulkhead, request the “baby bassinet” when you book your ticket (if you book online, call the airline after to have the request added to your ticket). Keep in mind that even if your child is too big to sleep in the bassinet, you can still request the seat and take advantage of the precious extra leg room. 

Arrive at the airport early on departure day to make sure your request went through. If you have one of the first babies to check in for the flight you are almost guaranteed to get the bulkhead.

5. Sleep Whenever Possible

Before having a baby, I spent entire long-haul flights drinking free wine and watching movies. Even now, duty-free Toblerone and Shakespeare in Love beckon me. But I now resist the urge to stay awake the whole flight because I have learned that the only thing worse than an over-tired baby is an over-tired parent.

You never know when your child will wake up and need your full attention. And you don’t know what challenges await you upon landing in a new country. Will your bags have arrived at the destination? Will you be able to find a taxi? Will your hotel room be ready? Dealing with these issues and a baby is almost impossible on little or no sleep. So take advantage of every moment your child is sleeping or watching Mickey Mouse to shut your eyes. Your entire adventure post-flight will go more smoothly if you can sneak in at least a few hours of sleep before landing.

Arriving in Sydney from Santiago to find our bags went to Peru

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Why we are Traveling the World with our Toddler

As we pass the half-way point of our five month trip, I thought it time to reflect on why we started out on this adventure in the first place...

From the day I was born— at 12:01AM on my due date— I have always done what was expected of me, exactly when it was expected. After high school, I embarked on a four-year liberal arts degree. 
Celebrating College Graduation with Friends

Freshly-minted bachelor’s diploma in hand, I immediately began law school, on the first day of which I met Nolan, the man  I would marry. After passing the bar exam, we  began our careers as attorneys. We got married over a weekend and returned to work on Monday. 
Just Married at Housing Works Bookstore, NYC

One year later we had our daughter, Sydney, and started house hunting for a home in a good school district.

A Newborn Sydney

We were truly on our way to realizing the American dream. But something did not feel right.

And then it hit me: the “American dream” was not necessarily my dream. After tucking our baby in one evening, I raised my concerns with Nolan.  Is a house in the suburbs what we really want? Are we ready to commit to monthly mortgage payments? 

Over a large pot of coffee, we talked for hours about what we wanted for our lives together. Our shared priority was to enjoy our new family, which our current jobs’ demands had made nearly impossible to do.  Second, we hoped to travel while still young and healthy enough to easily do so. As we sipped the dregs of our coffee, we came up with a crazy idea: quitting our jobs to travel around the world with our baby.

But could we travel around the world with a toddler? And could we afford it? We spent months finding our answers, visiting travel bookstores around the state and reading every blog about international family travel. I pitched my adventure to Carolina Woman Magazine, for whom I am a contributing editor, and was invited to share five feature articles about our travels. 

We ultimately decided that, although not easy, it would indeed be possible— and incredibly rewarding— to travel with a young one.

As far as cost was concerned, we could fit a world tour into our available budget if we were willing to live with less and returned to the United States before Sydney turned two, since such little children fly free. And so we spent the next year intensively planning our voyage, and aggressively skimping and saving to pay for it.

On March 5, 2016, as loyal blog-followers know, we left from JFK Airport for a 5 month journey around the world: Argentina, Chile, Australia, Indonesia, Japan, Israel, Hungary, Croatia, and, finally, Italy. We are now finishing our stay in Japan, more than half-way through our trip, and feel as confident in our choice to travel as ever before.

We have spent almost three months learning about different religions, meeting interesting people, tasting wild foods and, most importantly, enjoying our family. Just over the past week, we have meditated in a Buddhist temples; eaten eel sashimi; and posed for pictures with Japanese school kids.
Kyoto, Japan

As Nolan often comments, when we lay upon our death beds, we may wish we had worked less or worried less, but we will never regret that time we traveled around the world with our baby girl.

Friday, May 6, 2016

How to be a 5-Star Cheapskate at a 5-Star Hotel

Even budget travelers sometimes splurge on lodging to have a unique experience. We recently enjoyed such a splurge at Tugu Resort in Lombok, Indonesia. To get there, we took a 30 minute flight from Denpasar, Bali, and then drove 1.5 hours north through rice paddies, past mosques, and over a monkey-forested mountain.

We savored much of what Lombok has to offer tourists right from the hotel beach: incredible sunrises, kayaking from shore, and vibrant coral for snorkeling.

We also visited the nearby Gili Islands, a paradise for honeymooners and backpackers alike, where automobiles and motorbikes are prohibited.

Day Trip to the Gilis

In addition to its incredible setting, the hotel itself was designed and decorated by the owner of the largest Indonesian antiques collection in the world with artifacts from his own collection, giving the hotel the feel of an interactive museum.

Private Villa at Tugu

And did I mention we had a private pool?

Reaching into your travel budget is, in my opinion, worth it for a unique experience that can’t be had more cheaply. The challenge when staying at a high-end hotel, however, especially one as isolated as Tugu, is that the hotel’s other services-- restaurant, laundry, activities-- are usually priced to match the room rates. But just because you splurge on lodging doesn’t mean you want to splurge on everything else. 

What if you want the luxurious, hide-a-way resort experience but don’t want to waste your entire travel budget? Here are 5 tips for  being a 5-star cheapskate at a 5-star hotel:

Breakfast is the most financially important meal of the day. Many resorts offer free breakfast, including coffee, fruit, bread baskets, and a protein-based main course. Few people actually eat such a big spread in the morning. So sip your coffee or tea and fill up on the main course. But ask to bring the bread and fruit (or anything else left over) back to your room. Nibble on your bread and fruit all day, pairing it with a fresh pot of free coffee you can make in your room. Voila! You just ate both breakfast and lunch for free!

Chances are you are not the only cheapskate on the island. Look to your left, look to your right, at least one of the people sitting next to you also hates being charged an arm and a leg to go snorkeling. So make friends with other guests so you can share costs. 
Sydney's New Buddies: Reagan and Riley Ann

At Tugu we made fast friends with a family from North Carolina who are living for four years in Singapore. The family has two sweet little girls who took Sydney under their wings, pushing her on the swing and covering her in sand on the beach, while Nolan and I reveled in the company of other English-speaking adults. One day we split the cost of renting a boat to visit the outer reefs to snorkel and to visit the nearby Gili islands. While cost-cutting wasn’t the reason we made our new friends, it was certainly an added bonus.

Oh the money we have wasted on hotel laundry services! Those clean, white bags folded under your bathroom sink are just so tempting. Put your dirties in and they’ll be returned to you the next day stink-free. In a tropical climate, such as Lombok, where you can sweat through four shirts in an hour, this is a valuable service. But an expensive one, too. So do your own laundry. 

My technique: put the clothes in your bathtub. Fill the tub with hot water and laundry detergent, and then put the clothes through a manual “spin cycle." Be creative here with the tools you use-- umbrellas, wooden spoons-- anything that won’t conduct heat from your wash to you. Now let it sit for a while. Drain the tub and then do a “rinse cycle” with cold water. Now your clothes smells like fresh lilies. 

But how do you dry them? In cold, dry southern Chile, this was easy: just hang everything by the fireplace. In hot, humid Lombok, we ran into some problems. Indeed, at 70% humidity, two day “drying” left our clothes as wet as when I started. I ended up blow drying every article of clothing immediately before wearing it.

Some (such as my husband) might say this is an extreme cost-saving measure; laundry is not a good corner to cut.  But I think there are other extreme cheapskates out there who will understand why it is worth spending hours swishing your clothes around a bathtub with an umbrella and then days trying to dry them for the chance to save a few bucks.

4.  BYOBB (Bring Your Own Boxed Booze)

The biggest up charge at a resort is on alcohol. In a Muslim region like Lombok, it is particularly difficult to find booze, which hotel prices reflect. At the same time, when stranded in a remote Indonesian village, there’s not much to do after you tuck in your toddler other than have a couple glasses of wine. So bring your own. We prefer the boxed varietal, because it is less likely to open up in your suitcase, is cheap, and lasts the longest.

In Asia, Cup ‘O Noodles are not just limited to soups. There is everything from shrimp-flavored noodle cups to chicken-flavored rice cups. A Cup O’ Noodles-rich diet may lead to high blood pressure and heart disease, but is surprisingly delicious and easy to make. To cook, just add hot water, which you can make in your handy hotel-provided hot pot. For less than $1 USD, you can feed the whole family. 
Luxurious Bed. Cheap Dinner.

Follow these simple tips and you, too, can be a 5-star cheapskate at a 5-star hotel.