We’re heading to Malaysia and Borneo later this year. Two adults. Two four-year-olds. Two backpacks. Three weeks. No plans. (Except meeting up with some mates somewhere for a beer by the beach somewhere on the Malaysian mainland). We are very possibly insane. I will keep you posted.
With our next adventure on the horizon, and winter almost upon us, I’ve had travel on my mind this week. I’ve been dreaming of warmer climes and past adventures.
Steve and I used to buy our plane tickets, throw a few clothes into our backpacks, and head off. We didn’t have to worry too much if we got stuck for a week in the Andes during a Bolivian transport strike, or had to race on the back of motorbikes, helmetless at high speed, to make it to the Thai-Cambodian border before it closed for the night. We coped if we had to stay in a less-than-desirable (read: windowless, cockroach-infested) hotel in a provincial city in Mexico because we’d arrived too late in the day and it was the only room left in town, or in a hammock in a bunkhouse with a concrete floor in the Pantanal, in Brazil.
We woke up in the wee hours of the morning just in time to catch one of our backpacks before it disappeared out the window in the hands of a sneaky thief on the train from Hanoi to Sapa in Vietnam. During an encounter with a “squall” (seemed more like a cyclone) whilst crossing the Caribbean from Belize to Honduras in an open boat, we huddled under the tarp and hoped we wouldn’t have to swim too far if the boat capsized (it didn’t). When our train derailed in Ecuador we just climbed down from the roof and walked back to town.
Travel, for us, was about discovery, adventure, new perspectives, and freedom. We travelled lightly, and cheaply. But then we had kids, and we wondered how we would ever ‘travel’ again. Riding about on the roofs of trains and on the back of motorcycles, and staying in crappy hotels, just wasn’t going to cut it.
Nevertheless, last year we decided to try and ‘travel’ again, twins and all. We thought we would try somewhere a bit tame for our first travelling holiday with kids, so opted for California, USA.
As much as we would have loved to get the kids their own backpacks and scoot about California on buses and trains, we didn’t think they were quite ready, so we hired a car and set out on our Californian road trip.
Believe it or not, our holiday was spectacular! We did things on a budget (as we usually do), and we found that travelling with our children just added another dimension to the excitement of travel. The best thing about travelling with kids for us was the wonder with which they greeted each new experience. Amazingly, we found that our travel was still about discovery, adventure, and new perspectives – still for us, but especially for the kids – and it was such a positive experience for us all.
We took almost four weeks and we didn’t try to travel too far or do too much. We varied our accommodation, staying in a few hotels, a hostel, two cabins, a tent, and an awesome beach house in San Diego. The kids absolutely LOVED it! Phoebe and Blake coped amazingly with being dragged in and out of the car, and sleeping in different beds in different places. Of course, there were meltdowns, and crazy nights when I thought we’d never get to sleep, but (and I’m being dead honest) they were much better behaved while travelling than they are at home! Not only did they have new things to see and do, but they had our undivided attention 24/7, and they revelled in it.
We travelled Sydney to San Francisco, hired a car, spent a few days around the Bay area, took a detour to Monterey, travelled north through Marin County, northeast to Calistoga in wine country, east to Yosemite National Park and onto the Eastern Sierra to Mono Lake and Twin Lakes, near the Nevada border, where we visited the coolest little abandoned wild west ghost town called Bodie. We headed south into Death Valley, then on to Palm Springs and Joshua Tree National Park, before making the trek to Anaheim and Disneyland, and finally heading south for a relax in a cool beach house that we rented in San Diego.
Our Top 5 Californian experiences:
1. Cycling the Golden Gate Bridge
There are a bunch of bike hire places in San Francisco, and a recommended round trip is to take a ride around the bay, across the Golden Gate Bridge, and down into the quaint little town of Sausalito on the other side. There you can grab some lunch (we gorged ourselves on delicious smoothies after the trek) and catch the ferry back across to San Francisco, right past Alcatraz. We hired bikes with toddler seats, but you can also get kids’ bikes if they’re a bit older (although you probably want to do a shorter ride). It took us six hours or so for the round trip, including our break in Sausalito and the ferry back. We took it pretty easy and stopped along the way a fair bit.
2. Monterey Bay Aquarium
The aquarium at Monterey is amazing. We took a day trip from San Francisco to see the aquarium (it’s 3-hours one-way), but it was worth it. Every possible marine ecosystem is covered, from coastal rock pools complete with crashing waves, to a three storey giant kelp forest (yep, the little Octonauts will love it) to touch pools where you can pat bat rays starfish and a decorator crab, and the main attractions – the gorgeous, playful sea otters, and a massive open sea tank that is home to hammerhead sharks, sea turtles and schools of deep sea fish. When you’re done at the aquarium, find the Dennis the Menace playground – the best playground ever (take it from us – Steve and I had to join in too!) There’s a labyrinth, a suspension bridge, tunnels, massive spiral slides, a rock wall and a roller slide. Awesomeness!!
3. Yosemite National Park
I find it difficult to find words to describe the natural beauty of Yosemite National Park. Majestic granite cliffs rise from the valley floor, towering over the Merced River, which runs through the valley, surrounded by forest. We camped in “Housekeeping Camp”, which has permanent tents set up and sits right next to the river. We were visited by squeaky ground squirrels and hungry raccoons, and deer wandered past regularly, and the kids were absolutely rapt. We got them out for their first real hike into Mariposa Grove, which is a forest of giant sequoia trees: some up to 2700 years old, and enormous! Phoebe and Blake had a ball balancing on fallen logs and getting dirty climbing over rocks and stumps. Just outside the park is the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad, where you can ride an old steam train down into the valley. We missed the steam train but hopped aboard a Model A Ford Rail car for the ride. Again, the kids were enthralled. It was brilliant.
4. The Eastern Sierra and Death Valley
East of Yosemite lies the high country of the eastern sierra. We visited the old gold rush town of Bodie, which stands as it did 100 years ago when it was abandoned. The town is frozen in time, scorched by the sun in summer, blasted by snow in winter, but once it was the wildest of wild west towns. Gun fights in the streets, robberies and killings were regular events in Bodie, sometimes almost daily. Walking the ghost town streets, it was eerie as I imagined the place in its heyday. It wasn’t a Disney set – it was real. And it was very, very cool. Death Valley was also an amazing place to visit. It was hot – reaching the mid-40s every day, but there were some great spots – the Badwater Basin is a salt flat that sits 85m below sea level. Zabriskie Point is a lookout over some beautiful desert landscapes, with multi-coloured rock and is the site of quite a few films set in alien landscapes. Furnace Creek Resort was a great place to stay. The mineral pool there is enormous and in certainly inviting after a few hours of adventure in the desert.
5. San Diego
San Diego is fantastic! We rented a house at Mission Beach, just 100m from the ocean and 50m from the bay, and Steve’s sister and brother-in-law, the much-loved Auntie Rach and Uncle Robert (also known as the giant snotball), came to stay from Phoenix too. Highlights of San Diego include Sea World, the absolutely amazing San Diego Zoo, and La Jolla’s beaches, where seals laze about on the beaches and rocks just offshore. On our last day, we played on a beach where there were seals not 10m away from us sunbaking on the rocks. The best!
Note: Yes, we did go to Disneyland, and no, it did not make my Top 5. The kids were probably a bit young (to put it simply, Blake’s favourite thing at Disneyland was the bus we rode on to get there), and I am just not very… well… Disney.
Travelling with kids? I say do it! There is no better classroom for children than the world around us. And if “travel” travel is not for you, go to a resort, plonk yourself down, and relax. You deserve a break!
As for us, stay tuned for South-East Asia Revisited… with kids!