Our recent holiday in Switzerland was the nearest we are going to get to a trial run before we embark on our round the world trip. It’s hard to replicate the experience of long term travel without actually doing it, but we tried to replicate other things, such as only using public transport and moving around every few days. And as trial runs go, it was pretty encouraging. Here is what I learnt:
- We packed about the right amount of stuff and used most of it. Steve had his old 65l Berghaus pack and I had a 40l North Face women’s pack. The boys had little packs (about 15l I think) and Eve had her school backpack which is 20l Berghaus day pack. The two bigger bags had some spare space. We also had an extra food bag for the daily picnic, which was one bag too many. However we had to take a travel potty this time, which filled up Dickon’s bag, so hopefully next year we can reduce our luggage down to one bag each, which would be a big help on travel days.
- The children were really good about carrying their backpacks and walking everywhere. We took the buggy with us for Dickon, which we won’t next year, and it did get used (by Ned too on occasion), but Eve and Ned walked some pretty long distances.
- On the clothes front, the adults had four tops and three bottoms each and the children five tops and four bottoms, which was surprisingly one outfit too many. Most of the washing was done by hand in the bathroom sink, or in the shower, so I washed anything dirty every evening. Dickon had about six outfits which he needed as he kept weeing in them, but I sincerely hope he will not need so many next year. We also lowered our standards on what constituted clean, unlike at home where things get chucked in the wash basket at the end of every day. I think three outfits each will be plenty, supplemented with new T-shirts every so often.
- Our clothes were all different colours, so when we had access to a washing machine, we could only wash a fraction on our wardrobe at once. I think it’s worth trying to colour coordinate our wardrobes, so if we come across a washing machine, we can bung the whole lot in. Perhaps we could go the whole hog and get outfits printed in Disneyland saying ‘King family world tour’. We wouldn’t look in the least bit silly.
- We took less electronics this time than we will next year, but hopefully a small notebook and possibly an ebook and DS won’t take up too much space. I took five reading books and a guidebook this time. If I got an ebook this could be reduced down to a couple of books.
- This time we had a whole pack of nappies (for nighttime) which took up a lot of space. Hopefully we won’t need those next year, although I’m not sure. Ned is a very heavy sleeper and we are struggling to get him to stay dry at night. We might have to use washable nappies or another option to reduce the bulk of a full pack of disposables.
- For warmth, I packed thermal underwear (tops and bottoms) for everyone. We also had a fleece each and a thin raincoat. This worked well, although we didn’t make much use of the thermals, only having one day that was cold and one trip above 2,000m. I would still take them next time as they don’t take up much space and I think they’ll be useful for camping in Australia and NZ, which can be cold at night and also useful for visiting glaciers in NZ. We’d probably post them home when we get to South East Asia as we’ll be there at the steamiest time of year.
- The travel washing line got used most days, as did the headlamps, travel clock, earplugs, teddies and toys. The only thing which didn’t get much use, apart from the thermals, was the first aid kit. Which is no bad thing.
- We lost three quite expensive things, which was really annoying. Both pairs of swimming goggles were a victim of Dickon’s Sportacus obsession. They were worn frequently, including to breakfast, but strangely enough, not when he was swimming. Both pairs got taken off and left somewhere near a swimming pool, never to be found again. We also lost a headlamp, which I think was a victim of its own attractiveness. The children loved playing with them and probably put one somewhere obscure, which I missed when packing. If we are away for nine months, we need to be more careful with our stuff, or our whole budget will be spent replacing things.
- We stayed in four hotels and one flat in Switzerland. The flat was great, and it was nice staying in a place for a week, having access to a big garden and cooking for ourselves. The children particularly enjoyed the chance to settle in somewhere. The downside was that they kept breaking the little nicknacks and we spent a lot of time tidying, cleaning, and moving breakable objects to high shelves.
- The hotels were all at the cheaper, guesthouse, end of the market, but clean, comfortable, and with less things to break. This suited us very well. Two of them had one room with five beds, the smartest had two connecting rooms with two beds each. In the latter, they were very happy to provide us with an extra mattress. They were all very friendly, with amazing breakfasts. One had a playroom stuffed full of toys, and another had a tiny garden with a slide and other play equipment.
- Our biggest issue with all sharing a room was getting everyone to go to sleep at night. Our children are normally pretty good at going to bed in their own rooms, but the novelty of us being together made them a bit more excitable. By about the third night, Eve and Ned were settling well, but Dickon was still leaping out of bed every 10 seconds for the best part of an hour. He was thrilled to find that hotels all have light switches right by the beds and made the most of this discovery. The very latest we got them all to bed was about 9.30 on our first night, which if you take the one hour time change into account isn’t bad. And they mostly slept through the night and woke up at a reasonable hour (after 6am, which those of you with small children will know could be a lot worse). Having suffered many sleep traumas when away from home over the years, I was reassured that things are improving. And again, Dickon will be a year older when we leave for our round the world trip, and hopefully a little calmer. Although writing this, I feel sad that I’m wishing his bonkers toddlerhood away.
- We used the ipod to keep Eve entertained when the boys were asleep. She loved listening to audio books or podcasts and it kept her quiet and in bed.
- One advantage of us all sharing was that Steve and I got lots of sleep. Once the children were settled, I’d read with my headlamp for an hour or two. Steve, who’s never good at staying up late at the best of times was usually asleep BEFORE the children, and had to be nudged frequently when his snoring gave them the giggles.
- When staying in hotels, we started our day with a huge breakfast of bread, cereal, boiled eggs, ham, cheese, yoghurt and fruit. We’d then wrap up a few rolls, some ham, cheese and the odd egg for our lunch. Eve insisted on carrying the rolls, imagining herself as Heidi saving rolls for the grandmother.
- The food we’d taken from breakfast in good budget traveller style, formed the basis of our daily picnic lunch. We supplemented this with fruit, cherry tomatoes, crisps and acres of chocolate.
- In the evenings, we’d head to one of the lovely, atmospheric, restaurants with cow bells in the window, for a rib sticking meal of rosti, sausage or schniztel and macaroni cheese. We’d usually order three main courses and a couple of extra plates, which meant that the children could try a little of everything and we didn’t waste food.
- When we stayed in the flat, we all enjoyed going to the supermarket to choose our food. After four days of eating only in hotels, we were happy to cook almost entirely for ourselves, eating only once in a restaurant and sometimes supplementing our picnic lunches at the swimming pool with sausages and chips bought from the kiosk. Chips aside, it was a lot easier to eat healthily when we were self catering, as the type of restaurants we were visiting didn’t seem to provide any vegetables that weren’t smothered in a creamy dressing.
- We all adapted surprisingly well to the actual travelling. I’ve always been nervous of journeys after surviving some shockers over the years, but despite using public transport almost every day, it all went really smoothly. A lot of that must be down to Switzerland’s fabulous transport systems, but the children were also very patient about the inevitable waiting for trains and buses and on the trains themselves. They would happily spent half an hour playing with the inevitable water fountain and their water pistols.
- They were also really good when it came to changing trains, or transferring onto buses. A lot of our journeys were really bitty, with the worst being three trains and a bus in the space of half an hour. They weren’t in the least bit fazed by the constant jumping on and off and running along platforms, with their parents yelling ‘COME ON’ like characters from the Fast Show.
- We kept up quite a pace on this holiday, and at the end of two weeks we were all pretty tired. One of the reasons we are doing a long trip is so that we can take things slowly. It’s always tempting to fit in as much as possible, especially if you think you may never go back to a place, but it’s important for everyone to take a breather now and then. So we’ll plan to have a week at a beach every so often, and the odd morning watching DVD’s at the hotel.
We had a great holiday and I now feel less nervous about our upcoming round the world trip. There was a little bit of me that was wondering whether we’d survive sharing rooms, carrying all our stuff and being together all the time. It wasn’t always perfect, but life isn’t, and I now know that we’ll be fine. We might even enjoy it!