How much?

27 Mar

with a view like this, does it matter that the accommodation is a bit grotty?

I remember a conversation with a friend, many months ago, before we went on our trip, sitting on a park bench in the sunshine as our children climbed and swung and balanced on stuff.  If it’s not rude, she said, can I ask how you can afford all this, how much is it costing, must be at least a hundred thousand pounds.  I laughed.  She was imagining nine months of her type of holiday strung together, proper hotels next to the beach, taxis, meals in restaurants.  I won’t pretend a nine month holiday was cheap, but it wasn’t anything like as expensive as she was imagining.

We never stayed near the beach, except for when we camped.  We usually stayed four blocks back, in the highrise without a decent view, five to a slightly too small room with the youngest child on a lilo.  Or we stayed in the guesthouse at the far end of town, too quiet for most tourists, not close enough to the restaurants.  Or in the condo that was next to the beach, but the beach you couldn’t swim in because of the crocodiles.  Often our accommodation was slightly depressing, damp, cramped, with a whiff of the ageing surfer who chats up young blondes in the lift.  But we got to visit the same beaches as the people who’d spent a small fortune.  Got to see the same turtles.

We mostly didn’t eat in restaurants, except in Asia where they’re really cheap, instead we shopped in budget supermarkets and ate a lot of sandwiches.  I love food, and sometimes it was a bit sad that we weren’t eating as well as we could have, especially in Hawaii, Australia and New Zealand.  But it was worth sacrificing a few decent meals for months of wonderful experiences. And we didn’t have the wardrobe for smart anyway.

We shared.  Shared meals, shared beds, shared train seats.  Nothing was wasted, or at least we tried.  We asked for deals, particularly for the children, and people often obliged.  We went in a helicopter, they went free. We rode elephants and camels, they rode half price. We didn’t do stuff that was too expensive, our bank managers thanked us.

Budget travel isn’t rocket science.  Spend your time on the internet comparing prices, book everything yourself rather than through a travel agent, ask for discounts, share your chips.  It’s often deeply unglamorous, but it’s always worth it.

 

I’m not here

2 Feb

Today I will mostly be hanging out at Tesco Magazine, who have very kindly published an article I wrote about our trip.  Do please go and have a look, leave a comment, tell your friends. You know, if you want to.

We just made it look easy

28 Jan

I saw a tweet this week saying something about what hard work it had been taking a trip abroad with a baby.  Er, yes.  Any kind of foreign travel is unpleasant.  It involves queueing, lugging awkward heavy things, eating nasty food at odd hours, walking long distances down interminable windowless corridors, queueing again, and then a long uncertain taxi ride to a hotel that you hope has received your booking. If you choose to take children with you, multiply all of that by a large number and add in a bout of travel sickness and a quantity of whining.  It’s never pleasant and it never gets easier.

Even after nine months, the big journeys were something to be endured not enjoyed.  We became more efficient, possibly, and we learnt to always take snacks, but it never got any better.  Airports at midnight are horrible, no matter how many times you do it.

But you do it, so you can get there.  And in our case, the there was often magnificent.

The best long-haul destinations for 2012

27 Jan

As someone who has dragged children to many exotic destinations on the far side of the globe, I’m all for long-haul travel.  So when Joe Bond asked if he could write a guest post for my blog, I said yes.  I’m not sure that I’d attempt to get to NZ for half term, the twenty six hour flight and punishing jet lag are a little off-putting, but if we had a month to spare it would be a different story.  We never did make to to those glaciers…

The best long-haul destinations for 2012

Where can you find the best long-distance holiday? Well, that’s a pretty tough question, given the size of the earth compared to the likely ground you’ll manage to cover in a two-week trip. But we do live on an amazing planet, and taking a long-haul flight to a far-away destination is wonderfully disorientating and magical, because you can be instantly transported out of the dull British winter weather to a completely different reality. It would be hard to surpass the images that a real ‘holiday of a lifetime’ will etch in your memory.

And if it seems feasible to fit it into a February half-term then why wait? Here are some ideas for some great experiences you can have this time of year:

Northern India is benefiting from improved infrastructure and is a perfect place to visit in February. If you’re looking for a different land, then India’s contrasts and colours will hit you as soon as you step off the plane. Try a tiger safari, negotiate the bustling streets of Delhi, and explore the blooming valleys of Sikkim.

Or you could choose South East Asia, which has lost none of its appeal.  The pound still remains relatively strong compared to some far flung currencies, with pretty favourable currency exchange rates in Thailand and Vietnam, so you can be sure of good value while you’re there – especially if you steer clear of large tourist areas. Head to the national parks in Northern Thailand and simply relax on its southern beaches.

Plus, as Burma opens up to tourism it’s promising to be a travel trend for 2012, if you prefer somewhere further off the beaten track. Its impressive temples, fishing villages and famous rivers allow your navigation of the country to be a unique experience in itself.

Air fares to the other side of the world tend to cool down a little after Christmas, but the weather holds out a little longer, so Australia and New Zealand are definitely worth checking out. Don’t miss the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers on the New Zealand’s South Island, or the opportunity to spot sperm whales off the coast from the small town of Kaikoura.

In Australia, the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, with its glittering night parades and dancing, runs throughout the whole month. And of course, the beaches, the Great Barrier Reef and trips to Kangaroo Island offer unforgettable experiences and plenty of photo opportunities.

Many memorable moments are on offer in Latin America as 2012 gets started. Disregard the nonsense over Mayan predictions about the end of the world in December, speak to the locals and climb Machu Picchu in Peru. You’ll never forget being in an Incan urban wonder – and breathless in tropical mountain forest 2,430m above sea level.

Further south on the continent, you can spot stars from the Atacama Desert, learn the tango in Buenos Aires, see the best views in the world at Bariloche, or head further south to see penguins, and eventually the great white continent of Antarctica.

Always make sure that whatever far flung destination you choose, you’re fully covered by your travel insurance and shop around in advance for your travel money to get the best rates. If you’re taking holidays more often, you may like to think about multi trip annual travel insurance.

Tradition

16 Dec
Our Christmas last year was a relatively minimal affair.  We didn’t do much beyond eat a supermarket mince pie before the 23rd.  Instead, this time last year we were meeting penguins and flying in helicopters.  Both amazing, but not especially festive.  Christmas Day itself, was spent with kind and lovely friends; we ate turkey and pavlova, played in our new paddling pool and watched the Queen’s speech.  The children didn’t get many presents, but they seemed pretty pleased all the same.  There was no frantic shopping, no overwhelming number of commitments or piles of new stuff to find a home for.  One might almost say it was relaxing.
This year is different.  We’re knee deep in piano recitals, nativity plays, carol concerts and parties.  We’ve food to buy, awkward parcels to wrap, rooms to decorate with greenery and sausage rolls to make.  Definitely not relaxing.
As I sit here, damply typing after a sleety dog walk, the sunny days spent on Opunake beach seem very appealing.  But.  There’s nothing quite like listening to a small child singing carols in a candle lit church.  Or a trip to the panto in a real theatre in a festively bedecked West End.  Or walking home carrying a ginormous tree along with similarly burdened neighbours.
I’m not sure what we’ve brought back from our Kiwi Christmas other than happy memories, some jandal* tree decorations and a recipe for pavlova.  It doesn’t currently feel as if we’ve held onto the simplicity that I so valued last year.  But it’s good to be home.
*if you can’t remember what a jandal is, then I’ve failed in my attempts to educate you in the multifarious ways of referring to flip flops in faraway places.

Not for parents

4 Dec

Something we struggled with before we went away was finding child friendly information about the places we were planning to visit.  We have atlases, but they don’t really tell you much about what a place is like and we have a book about travelling with children, but it covers a very small number of countries.  Oh how I wish Lonely Planet had been a bit speedier about bringing out their new series of books, which are aimed squarely at children.

Although we are planted firmly in Southwest London for the foreseeable, the nice people at Lonely Planet have sent us some review copies.  There are two kinds of book, city guides – we have London and Rome, and a bumper book of facts about every country on the planet (possibly).

The Not for Parents Travel Book covers a country per page and includes the usual currency and population type facts and figures alongside more child friendly information.  This includes, but is no way limited to, what the Queen ate when she visited Belize (rat), the world’s loudest animal (Tiger Pistol Shrimp) and where in the world it’s illegal to leave the house without wearing pants (Thailand).  It covers pretty much anywhere you are likely to go and plenty of places you aren’t, and has been pored over for many an hour.

The city guides are not at all like adult travel guides, and are much the better for it.  Each page looks at either an attraction, an aspect of the city’s culture or its history, tells you all sorts of things that are interesting to children and suggests activities relating to the topic.  In the London guide for instance, you can find out how to look like a punk, make jellied eels and avoid catching the plague.  All useful information, I’m sure you’ll agree.  The guides not at all dumbed down and are actually rather fascinating for adults too.  And instead of wasting space on opening times and prices, there’s simply a link to the relevant website.  There aren’t many cities included yet, but I’m assuming if they’re a success they’ll publish more.

We like.

What is the point?

17 Nov

When we were speeding our way around the globe, I wrote as often as I could manage, usually in glowing terms, about the places we were visiting.  The reality was often quite different to my fulsome descriptions.  If you want to reach the beautiful waterfall in the heart of a stunning national park, or the magical beach where dolphins play around your legs while you paddle, then you have to put some work in.  The best places seem to be hundreds of kilometres from the nearest shop, or along a slippery jungle track with giant spiders webs to scare off the fainthearted.  Add a limited budget into the mix, meaning tents, pick up trucks and wooden huts with nice big gaps for mosquitos, and you’ll see that while we had some incredible experiences, it wasn’t always easy.

Not that I’d have wanted it to be.  I will never regret staying with a family in a Borneo village with access only by boat.  Or driving for a whole day through the desert, to camp for a single night on the beach in an Australian national park.  And I’d far rather squeeze five to a small room in a tower block in Waikiki than not visit Waikiki at all.

Now that we’re home, the mossie bites have stopped itching, and we’ve got a bed each and an embarrassment of bathrooms and bookshelves, it’s much easier to laugh about the hard bits. To realise their importance in the grand scheme of things.  And we’re left with a plethora of happy memories, jostling for space in our heads.  I think that maybe that’s the point.

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