Home From A Trip

Updated: September 6, 2017

Families need traditions. And we’ve been developing one over the past few years. When we arrive at our home airport, after a long trip, after immigration and customs and we grab our bags. I take the camera from the sack for one final picture. I gather us together and reach out and do that self portrait, is everyone in the frame?, reach and shoot. And that’s it. The trip is over. We go back to our American lives with everything in the past but the photos and the memories and the credit card bills. And it’s anyone’s guess which of those three lasts longest.

Back From Europe

2017: Sam and I did a bike trip through the Netherlands and short trip down to Santorini.

Back From Asia

2017: Trip to Japan, South Korea, and Hong Kong.

Back From Europe

2017: Athens, Santorini, and London.

Back From New York City

2017: A trip over New Years to NYC

Back From Hawaii

2016: A pre-Xmas trip to Hawaii.

Back From Europe

2016: England, Spain, France, Greece, Italy, and the Netherlands.

Back From Mexico

2016: Cabo San Lucas

Back From Japan

2016: Kip and I went to Tokyo for a week.

Back From Mexico

2015: Tulum and Cancun.

Back From Europe

2015: Kip and I went to Iceland and the Netherlands.

Back From Europe

2015: France, Greece, and Italy.

Back From Thailand

2015: Bangkok and Koh Samui.

Back From Mexico

2015: Tulum and Playa del Carmen.

Back From Greece

2014: Sam and I went to Athens, Mykonos, and Santorini.

Back From New York City

2014: Summer trip to NYC

Back From Japan

2014: Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Hakone, Kamakura, and Nagoya.

Back From Mexico

2014: Puerta Vallarta, Yelapa, Mismaloya, Bucerias, and Sayulita.

Back From Thailand

2013: Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Phuket.

Back From Mexico

2012: Cancun, Vallodolid, Merida, Tulum, and Isla Mujeres.

Back From Europe

2012: London and Paris.

Back From Mexico

2011: Puerto Vallarta, Sayulita, Tepic, and Mazatlan.

Back From Japan

2010: The boys and I went to Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto.

Back From Vietnam

At the airport, after flying home from Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam

2010: One of us is sporting a new headband from the emergency room in Seoul – but that’s for another post.

Back From Thailand

At the airport, after flying home from Bangkok, Thailand

2008: A little older, a little wiser, and a few more shirts from Asia

Back From Bali

At the airport after flying home from Bali, Indonesia

2006: Everyone looks pretty happy after a 23 hour trip.

Summer 2017 Travels

Samuel on a jet ski tour to the Santorini caldera. Epic.

Food tour in Hong Kong.

Traveling with friends in Japan.

Detour over a canal during our bike trip around the Netherlands.

Beth and Kipling made a quick trip to Los Angeles and the area theme parks.

Our private plunge pool and deck in Santorini.

Too much food in Seoul, South Korea.

Big sumo tournament in Nagoya, Japan.

During a bike ride around Kyoto we were stopped by adults trying to practice their english. The boys were good sports.

Selfie in a Ryokan.

A food tour in Tokyo.

And this has become a common scene for us. Beautiful surroundings and the boys looking at their devices. Would I prefer they were enjoying the view? Sure. But ultimately, I want them to do what they’re most interested in – and that’s often going to be something I don’t find that interesting.

Travel Books Teens & Tweens

Updated: June 5, 2017

The 22 Best Travel Books for Teens and Tweens

  1. Harry Potter Series

    by J.K.Rowling
    Everyone’s favorite young wizard wrestles with dark magic and adolescence.
    Recommended age: 9-15

  2. The Invention of Hugo Cabret

    by Brian Selznick
    Magical and beautifully-illustrated tale of an orphan living in a 1930’s Paris train station.
    Recommended age: 9-12

  3. The Terrible Thing that Happened to Barnaby Brocket

    by John Boyne
    A floating boy journeys across the globe and back home again to his native Australia.
    Recommended age: 8-12

  4. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

    by E.L. Konigsburg
    Claudia and her brother run away to live in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.
    Recommended age: 8-12

  5. Percy Jackson and the Olympians Series

    by Rick Riordan
    Young Percy’s adventures with Greek gods and monsters.
    Recommended age: 10-14

  6. The Family Under the Bridge

    by Natalie Savage Carson
    Heartwarming tale of a Parisian vagrant and the young family he befriends.
    Recommended age: 8-12

  7. The Samurai’s Tale

    by Erik C. Haugaard
    An orphaned samurai’s son comes of age in 16th century feudal Japan.
    Recommended age: 10-14

  8. His Dark Materials Trilogy

    by Philip Pullman
    An orphan girl and her companion on a perilous quest through parallel worlds.
    Recommended age: 12 and up

  9. The Roman Mysteries Series

    by Caroline Lawrence
    A group of young friends solve mysteries in ancient Rome.
    Recommended age: 12-14

  10. Hatchet

    by Gary Paulsen
    13 year old Brian must survive alone in the Canadian Wilderness.
    Recommended age: 12 and up

  11. The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

    by Catherynne M. Valente
    The first in a series of books about young September’s adventures in a magical world.
    Recommended age: 10 and up

  12. The Corfu Trilogy

    by Gerald Durrell
    Charming and funny tales about the British author’s childhood on a Greek island.
    Recommended age: 12 and up

  13. Daughter of Smoke and Bone Series

    by Laini Taylor
    A seventeen-year old girl’s father sends her on sinister and mysterious errands across the globe.
    Recommended age: 15 and up

  14. Chronicles of Narnia

    by C.S. Lewis
    Four British children become kings and queens in a magical kingdom.
    Recommended age: 8 and up

  15. Anna and the French Kiss

    by Stephanie Perkins
    A high-schooler finds love and a fresh perspective after being transferred to a Parisian boarding school.
    Recommended age: 13-18

  16. Marina

    by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
    15 year old Oscar explores the magical and menacing world of 1980’s Barcelona.
    Recommended age: 13 and up

  17. 100 Cupboards

    by N.D. Wilson
    A young boy discovers portals to different and mysterious worlds.
    Recommended age: 8-12 years

  18. The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings

    by J.R.R. Tolkein
    Classic series of epic tales involving hobbits, elves, goblins, dark lords, and quests through Middle Earth.
    Recommended age: 11 and up

  19. The War that Saved My Life

    by Kimberley Brubaker Bradley
    A 9-year old girl runs away to the British countryside during World War II.
    Recommended age: 9-12

  20. The Lunar Chronicles

    by Marissa Meyer
    Fairy tales mix with science fiction in this acclaimed futuristic YA series.
    Recommended age: 12 and up

  21. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

    by Grace Lin
    A young girl’s journey to save her family, set in provincial China.
    Recommended age: 8-12

  22. The Girl from Everywhere

    by Heidi Heilig
    16-year old Nix and her father journey across the world as time-traveling pirates.
    Recommended age: 13 and up

The Best Travel Books for Kids

Updated: October 21, 2017

  1. Katie in London

    by James Mayhew
    A fun introduction to London’s history, culture, and landmarks.
    Best book about London and Europe for kids.

  2. Oh, The Places You’ll Go

    by Dr. Seuss
    Classic Dr. Seuss revels in the magic of imagination and adventure.
    Best book about exploration for kids.

  3. Where the Wild Things Are

    by Maurice Sendak
    A young boy has adventures a magical land without leaving his bedroom.
    Best imagination book for kids.

  4. Sayonara, Mrs. Kackleman

    by Maira Kalman
    Wonderfully-illustrated tale of two siblings on a trip to Japan.
    Best book about Japan for kids.

  5. Next Stop Grand Central

    by Maira Kalman
    A quirky tribute to New York’s famous travel hub and the people who use it.
    Best book about NYC for kids.

  6. Madeline

    by Ludwig Bemelmans
    The first in a classic series of picture books about a small girl and her Parisian adventures.
    Best book about France for kids.

  7. Magic Tree House

    by Mary Pope Osborne
    Jack and Annie learn about history and science by traveling through time and space.
    Best book about knights and castles for kids.

  8. Cars and Trucks and Things That Go

    by Richard Scarry
    Classic picture book crammed with illustrations of all types of real and imagined vehicles.
    Best machine, car, plane book for kids.

  9. Fish is Fish

    by Leo Lionni
    A tadpole sprouts legs, explores beyond the pond, and recounts his adventures to his fish friend.
    Best intellectual book for kids.

  10. Journey

    by Aaron Becker
    A lonely girl has wild adventures in a magical land of her own making.
    Best journey book for kids.

  11. Katie and the Mona Lisa

    by James Mayhew
    A small girl steps into the worlds of five classic Renaissance paintings.
    Best art book for kids.

  12. Once Upon an Ordinary School Day

    by Colin McNaughton
    The transformative power of music turns a normal school day into an adventure.
    Best adventure book for kids.

  13. Paddington

    by Michael Bond
    A small bear travels to London and is adopted by a British family at a railway station.
    Best english book for kids.

  14. This is Paris

    by Miroslav Sasek
    A charmingly-illustrated introduction to the museums, monuments, and magic of Paris.
    Best Paris book for kids.

  15. Time of Wonder

    by Robert McCloskey
    An evocative portrait of one family’s summer vacation in Maine.
    Best sailing book for kids.

  16. Kids Beginner’s World Atlas

    by National Geographic
    Best world atlas for kids.

  17. Kids Almanac 2017

    by National Geographic
    Best travel almanac for kids.

  18. Wild Animal Atlas: Earth’s Astonishing Animals and Where They Live

    by National Geographic
    Best animal atlas encyclopedia for kids.

  19. Atlas of Adventures: A collection of natural wonders, exciting experiences and fun festivities from the four corners of the globe

    by Rachel Williams (author), Lucy Letherland (illustrator)
    Best travel atlas for kids.

See Also

The Four Seasons Hotel in Vancouver with Kids

Updated: March 2, 2017

We shared a one bedroom suite with our 2 boys and really enjoyed our stay. Here’s a review of the hotel and a few thoughts on the what makes the Four Seasons so perfect for families.

What I Liked

  • Great service and friendly staff.
  • Large rooms with an uncluttered layout.
  • The swimming pool (which is half indoors, half outdoors) and hot tub.
  • Location: smack in the heart of downtown with great restaurants, cafes, shopping, SkyTrain and the Vancouver Art Gallery all right outside your door.
  • Check Prices on Booking.com

Living room in Four Seasons Hotel Room, Vancouver.

The living room in our one bedroom suite. The sofa is a pull out bed that comfortably slept our 2 boys.

Looking the other way. TV, stereo and playstation.

Another view: the TV, stereo and Playstation in the living room.

Stereo in room.

A closer look at the stereo and Sony Playstation. Easy to attach your iPod or iPhone to play your own tunes.

Main bedroom in suite

The main bedroom of the 1 bedroom suite

Main bedroom.

Another view: the main bedroom and big screen TV.

View from the windows.

A great view of downtown Vancouver. If you'd rather see the mountains and ocean then ask for a room on the north side.

Main bathroom.

The suite had 2 bathrooms. This was the main one.

Bathtub in main bathroom.

And another view of the tub.

Bathroom attached to bedroom.

The 2nd bathroom off the bedroom.

Stand up shower in 2nd bathroom.

The 2nd bathroom didn't have a tub but a very nice stand up shower.

Robes in the Four Seasons Hotel.

Isn't the Four Seasons known for their great robes? These were very nice.

Robes for the kids at the Four Seasons hotel.

And even robes for the kids, which they loved. (If your room doesn't have them be sure to ask.)

Alarm clock at the Four Seasons.

A good quality and easy to use alarm clock.

Espresso maker in the room.

With so many cafes so close we never got the chance to use the in-room espresso maker. But it looked nice.

Ironing board.

An ironing board, two full closets, and a chest of drawers are in the room.

Safe in the room.

The in-room safe and shoe trees.

Locks on bedroom doors.

I can't imagine why parents would want to lock their bedroom door. But it's there if you were so inclined.

Laundry bags.

Laundry bags in the dresser. It's simple but I never tire of those little things that make a hotel great.

The Prime Minister's suite at the Four Seasons Vancouver.

The hotel features a variety of different room sizes and layouts. This is the Prime Minister's suite.

Another view of the Prime Minister's suite.

Another view of the Prime Minister's suite.

The swimming pool and hot tub were wonderful. The jogging machines just beyond the pool were a nice touch and I saw several parents using them while their kids played in the pool.

Swimming pool and hot tub with exercise equipment in the background.

Inside swimming pool at the Four Seasons Vancouver.

Another view of the pool. It's a really neat inside/outside arrangement that connects under the larger windows you see over the pool.

Outside swimming pool at Vancouver Four Seasons Hotel.

And this is the outside portion of the pool.

The outdoor swimming pool at the Four Seasons Hotel in Vancouver.

Another view: the outdoor swimming pool and patio from above.

Gym and exercise equipment by the hotel's pool.

The gym and exercise equipment are great and spread out in a very roomy area just behind the pool.

Drinks at the pool area.

This was really simple but I just loved it. Ice-cold fruit-flavored water in the pool area (and complimentary fruit and newspapers). A very nice touch. In the morning there was coffee and you can eat breakfast at the tables bordering the pool.

Kids playroom at Four Seasons in Vancouver.

The boys loved the kids' playroom. There were books, TV, Wii, and a collection of games and activities. We had an afternoon planned at the Vancouver Science Museum but the kids were having so much fun here we played for a few hours then went for a walk around the city instead.

Yew restaurant at the Vancouver Four Seasons.

One of Vancouver's most acclaimed restaurants Yew, is where you eat at the hotel. We only had breakfast here but it was very good.

The breakfast menu at the Four Seasons Vancouver.

The breakfast menu.

Breakfast at Yew's restaurant at the Four Seasons Vancouver.

The boys went for French Toast. I did the hash and eggs.

Breakfast at the Four Seasons.

My wife had fruit and english muffin.

The lobby at the Four Seasons in downtown Vancouver.

The lobby.

Lower lobby.

And the lower lobby as you enter the hotel by foot or from the valet parking area.

Parking at the Four Seasons Hotel.

Valet parking and taxis are available immediately outside the hotel's front doors.

The Four Seasons Hotel in downtown Vancouver.

The hotel from the corner of Howe and Georgia streets.

The Four Seasons Hotel.

Another view: The Four Seasons from the entrance of Pacific Centre on Georgia Street. You can also access Pacific Centre through the hotel's lobby. The mall has a SkyTrain stop so you're able to board the train without walking outside on rainy days.

Further Reading:

Additional photos by: Andrew Hyde

New York City Trip – December/January, 2017

A week in NYC over New Year’s. Our first time in New York during winter and surprised how busy it was.

John's Pizzeria with Kids.

My boys and a few of their friends at John’s Pizzeria in the West Village.

Ellis Island with Kids

A visit to Ellis Island.

NYC subway with kids.

New York City can get tiring.

NYC treats for kids.

If you want treats, New York’s got em. This is Schmackary’s near Times Square.

Hamilton NYC with Kids.

The Hamilton Musical. The boys had smiles throughout (except when they were crying).

Central Park fireworks with Kids.

New Year’s fireworks at Central Park.

Hawaii Family Trip – December, 2016

We spent 8 days touring Oahu. Surprised at how much traffic there was in and around Honolulu but otherwise had a great trip.

Oahu with Kids.

We stayed on Waikiki Beach for 3 nights and then moved north to the Turtle Bay Resort for 5 nights.

Waikiki with Kids.

We stayed at the Ilikai just back from the beach and lagoon in Waikiki.

Kid surf lessons in Hawaii.

The boys took surf lessons while we stayed at the Turtle Bay Resort on the north shore. The area has huge surf during the winter but there are still small coves that provided protection for beginners.

Hawaii Zipline with Kids

Ziplining through the Oahu green at Kualoa Ranch.

Turtle Bay Resort with Kids.

Turtle Bay Resort. Loved it.

We walked in to Waimea Falls for a quick swim in the cold water.

We walked in to Waimea Falls for a quick swim in the cold water.

Europe 2016

Family trip to Greece.

A morning walk (from Fira to Oia) in Santorini, Greece.

Summer family trip to Europe.

We took an overnight bike ride trip to a few towns north of Amsterdam. Highly recommended.

Summer family trip to Europe.

Gladiator school in Rome.

Summer family trip to Europe.

Cooking course in Florence.

Summer family trip to Europe.

A first for us: staying on a farm (agriturismo) in Italy. (But I wouldn’t call this roughing it.)

Summer family trip to Europe.

Learning to make pizza in Italy.

Summer family trip to Europe.

Getting a drink in Florence.

Summer family trip to Europe.

Food market tour in Barcelona.

Summer family trip to Europe.

Beautiful Nice, France. Love this place.

Summer family trip to Europe.

Churros and Chocolate in Madrid.

Summer family trip to Europe.

Taking in Edinburgh from the castle.

Summer family trip to Europe.

Having tea on a bus tour of London. Touristy but lots of fun.

Los Cabos – April 2016

Los Cabo family trip.

Nothing like your first plate of tacos after you arrive.

Los Cabo family trip.

A cooking course near San Jose del Cabo.

Los Cabo family trip.

A swimming and snorkeling boat trip from Cabo San Lucas.

Tokyo – February 2016

Trip to Tokyo, Japan with my son.

Food tour #1.

Trip to Tokyo, Japan with my son.

Food tour #2 (with some rain).

Trip to Tokyo, Japan with my son.

Food tour #3.

Trip to Tokyo, Japan with my son.

Shopping in Tokyo.

Trip to Tokyo, Japan with my son.

Tuna in Tsukiji Market.

Trip to Tokyo, Japan with my son.

Sleeping off all that food in the Shangri-La hotel (with a view of Tokyo station).

Tulum and Cancun – December January 2016

Playa Mambo hotel in Tulum

One of our favorite places in Tulum: the beach front hotel Playa Mambo.

Taking a cooking lesson in Tulum, Mexico.

A cooking course in Tulum.

Biking with kids in Tulum.

Biking around Tulum is always a highlight.

And down to the Sian Kaan Biosphere – just outside of Tulum.

And down to the Sian Ka’an Biosphere – just outside of Tulum.

Swimming and snorkeling in a cenote.

Snorkeling in a Cenote.

The beaches of Cancun.

We finished it off with 3 days in Cancun.

Amsterdam and Iceland – November 2015

10 days in Iceland and the Netherlands. (Iceland Air has free stopovers in Reykjavik for any North America to Europe flights.)

The Blue Lagoon in Iceland

Kipling at the wonderful Blue Lagoon about an hour’s drive from Reykjavik.

Amsterdam with children.

Finding our way in Amsterdam.

California Disneyland.

While we were in Europe my wife and other son took a quick trip to Los Angeles.

New York City – No Kids

We sent the kids to family in Canada and took our first trip on our own. Lots of fun.

Food tour in Greenwich Village.

Food tour of Greenwich Village.

Food tour in NYC.

Lots of great food.

Great bar in NYC.

Good old McSorley’s.

Brooklyn Food Tour

A food tour of Brooklyn.

9/11 Memorial Museum in NYC.

The 9/11 Memorial Museum in Lower Manhattan. Exceptionally well done.

Greece, Italy, Paris – June/July 2015

Ferry ride on Greek islands.

Another day, another ferry. The boys know the drill.

Knossos on Crete with Kids

The archaeological site of Knossos just outside of Heraklion on Crete. We got a tour guide which made it extra interesting.

Mykonos with kids.

The boys in Mykonos.

Life on the back of a ferry between the Greek islands.

Life on the back of a ferry between the Greek islands.

The views from Pyrgos in Santorini.

The boys looking out on Santorini from the castle at the top of Pyrgos Village.

Pool for kids in Imerovigli.

Kipling swimming with views of the caldera behind him in Santorini.

Boat tour and hot springs on Santorini.

Jumping into the hot springs off Santorini.

Family staying in Windmill on Santorini.

The windmill suite in Oia. The kids loved it. That’s Samuel brushing his teeth while leaning out the bathroom window.

Rome walking tour for families.

We took a walking tour of Rome – fun and highly recommended.

Water taxi with kids in Venice.

Taking the water taxi from Venice to the International airport.

Versailles family bike tour.

Bike tours are a great way to see Paris and surroundings. We did one in Paris and one (pictured here) of Versailles. Both were great.

Kids at the eiffel tower.

The boys under the Eiffel Tower before the long (but fun) walk up.

Food tour with kids in Paris

The boys loved the food tours we took in Paris. Great introduction to French food and Paris local life.

The boys watching the Tour de France riders pass on the final day of the race.

The boys watching the Tour de France as it enters Paris for the finale.

Koh Samui and Bangkok – April 2015

Playing pool on Khao San Road.

Playing pool with an old friend in Bangkok. Fun times.

Tuk tuk in Bangkok with kids.

Taking a tuk tuk through Bangkok. Kipling said he loved it but still fell asleep on every ride.

Pad thai on Koh Samui beach.

Pad Thai on the beach in Koh Samui.

Water park on Chaweng Beach.

This is a water park on Chaweng Beach with floating “things” that you climb upon and jump and fall off of. It looks fun (and it is) but surprisingly intense and absolutely exhausting.

Songkran on Koh Samui with kids.

This has been the highlight of a few trips to Thailand: Songkran – the thai holiday that is really just a huge water fight.

Ice cream in Bangkok.

Coconut ice cream in Bangkok. A good way to end the trip.

Tulum and Playa del Carmen – January 2015

Playa del Carmen with kids

Cleaning off at a beach restaurant on Playa del Carmen.

Tulum on Bikes with Kids.

Riding bikes was how we got back and forth from Tulum Town to Tulum Beach. Fun!

Cenotes near Tulum with Kids.

Cenotes are a highlight to any visit to the Yucatan. This was at the Gran Cenote near Tulum.

Tacos in Tulum

Tulum has a couple places with great tacos. My son tends to go crazy with the tomatillo sauce.

Day Trip in Los Angeles

Our flight had a stopover in Los Angeles so we had 7 hours to eat at In N Out Burger (not as good as Shake Shack), walk around Venice Beach, and play in the water.

Greece Trip – October 2014

Jumping into Mykonos Town.

Jumping into Mykonos Town.

The beautiful alleys of Mykonos Town.

The beautiful alleys of Mykonos Town.

Samuel in Santorini.

Samuel in Santorini.

Peering down on the Theatre of Dionysus and the Acropolis Museum in Athens.

Peering down on the Theatre of Dionysus and the Acropolis Museum in Athens.

Examining a portable oven at the Museum of Ancient Thira.

Examining a portable oven at the Museum of Ancient Thira.

Looking for our hotel along the caldera in Santorini.

Looking for our hotel along the caldera in Santorini.

Taking a look at Oia on Santorini.

Taking a look at Oia on Santorini.

We ate a lot of gyros.

We ate a lot of gyros.

Wandering the streets of Naxos with a swim suit tied to his backpack.

Wandering the streets of Naxos with a swim suit tied to his backpack.

Reading up on Ancient Greece on the ferry leaving Athens.

Reading up on Ancient Greece on the ferry leaving Athens.

New York City – August 2014

I lost my camera after a 4 day weekend in New York City (somewhere between the taxi and the airplane). These are a couple pics from Beth’s iPhone. Fantastic city, fantastic trip.

Having fun on the streets of New York City.

Having fun on the streets of New York City.

Very happy boys after a visit to the Lego Store.

Very happy boys after a visit to the Lego Store.

Japan Trip – June/July 2014

At the beach in Kamakura.

At the beach in Kamakura.

DisneySea in Tokyo.

DisneySea in Tokyo.

Exploring a temple in Kyoto.

Exploring a temple in Kyoto.

A Japanese Bath in Hakone.

A Japanese Bath in Hakone.


Going to sleep on a tatami mat (after a visit to the Pokemon center in Osaka).

Going to sleep on a tatami mat (after a visit to the Pokemon center in Osaka).

The wondeful Osaka aquarium.

The wondeful Osaka aquarium.

A virtual reality exhibit at a science museum in Tokyo.

A virtual reality exhibit at a science museum in Tokyo.

Superfun: A baseball game near Tokyo.

Superfun: A baseball game near Tokyo.

Mexico Trip – March 2014

Surfing lessons in Sayulita.

Surfing lessons in Sayulita.

Boarding the boat to Yelapa – accessible only by water.

Boarding the boat to Yelapa – accessible only by water.

Looking for our hotel on Yelapa beach.

Looking for our hotel on Yelapa beach.

Parasailing in Yelapa.

Parasailing in Yelapa.

Delicious tacos in the tiny village of Boca de Tomatian.

Delicious tacos in the tiny village of Boca de Tomatian.

A water park near Puerto Vallarta.

A water park near Puerto Vallarta.

Exploring Bucerias.

Exploring Bucerias.

Walking back from the beach in Bucerias.

Walking back from the beach in Bucerias.

The beach at Mismaloya.

The beach at Mismaloya.

Crossing a bridge in the small fishing town of Mismaloya.

Crossing a bridge in the small fishing town of Mismaloya.

Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket – August/September 2013

First day in Bangkok. The boys start to explore.

First day in Bangkok. The boys start to explore.

The food court in a Bangkok mall. He's cooking our pad thai.

The food court in a Bangkok mall. He’s cooking our pad thai.

In a tuk-tuk.

In a tuk-tuk.

Playing pool on Khao San Road.

Playing pool on Khao San Road.

The Bangkok Zoo.

The Bangkok Zoo.

Hopping on the boat to ride the river in Bangkok.

Hopping on the boat to ride the river in Bangkok.

During a rain storm we stopped at this sidewalk restaurant for some lunch.

During a rain storm we stopped at this sidewalk restaurant for some lunch.

At a historical museum in Bangkok.

At a historical museum in Bangkok.

The barge created some big waves as it passed and almost tossed Kipling into the river. The guide grabbed him by the shirt.

The barge created some big waves as it passed and almost tossed Kipling into the river. The guide grabbed him by the shirt.

The boys taking a break from swimming to eat dinner. At one point Kipling was eating pad thai for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

The boys taking a break from swimming to eat dinner. At one point Kipling was eating pad thai for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

The boys exploring the ancient temples around Ayuthaya.

The boys exploring the ancient temples around Ayuthaya.

On a river tour of Ayuthaya.

On a river tour of Ayuthaya.

Elephant ride around the ancient capital of Ayuthaya.

Elephant ride around the ancient capital of Ayuthaya.

Waiting for our very-late train in Ayuthaya.

Waiting for our very-late train in Ayuthaya.

Getting ready for bed on the train.

Getting ready for bed on the train.

The boys eating their rice soup with a straw – which the hostess found very funny.

The boys eating their rice soup with a straw – which the hostess found very funny.

On the train through northern Thailand.

On the train through northern Thailand.

We took a cooking course in Chiang Mai and the boys loved it.

We took a cooking course in Chiang Mai and the boys loved it.

Before the class we went to a local market to grab the food we would cook with.

Before the class we went to a local market to grab the food we would cook with.

The boys in front of our swim-up room in Chiang Mai.

The boys in front of our swim-up room in Chiang Mai.

Fish eating the (dead) skin off the boys feet. Very soft feet afterwards.

Fish eating the (dead) skin off the boys feet. Very soft feet afterwards.

Beth and Sam doing some go-cart racing.

Beth and Sam doing some go-cart racing.

A japanese restaurant in Chiang Mai where you grab your food off the conveyor belt and cook it yourself in the broth. Fun – though we were terrible at the cooking part.

A japanese restaurant in Chiang Mai where you grab your food off the conveyor belt and cook it yourself in the broth. Fun – though we were terrible at the cooking part.

Playing in the waterfalls north of Chiang Mai.

Playing in the waterfalls north of Chiang Mai.

The boys keeping cool.

The boys keeping cool.

Mai Khao beach.

Mai Khao beach.

Samuel had tire of Thai food and was very happy for some Indian.

Samuel had tired of Thai food and was very happy for some Indian.

At the beach in Phuket.

At the beach in Phuket.

One of several days at a water park in Phuket.

One of several days at a water park in Phuket.

Kipling getting a banana crepe while Samuel holds on the our clean laundry.

Kipling getting a banana crepe while Samuel holds onto our clean laundry.

Mango sticky rice with coconut cream.

Mango sticky rice with coconut cream.

At SE Asia's largest aquarium – in the basement of a mall.

At SE Asia’s largest aquarium – in the basement of a mall.

Riding the Skytrain.

Riding the Skytrain.

Kipling buying some fresh mango.

Kipling buying some fresh mango.

Purchases from the huge Chatuchak Market in Bangkok.

Purchases from the huge Chatuchak Market in Bangkok.

The Bangkok Four Seasons with Kids

The Four Seasons Bangkok is one of the most kid-friendly hotels in Bangkok. It has a great location close to the city’s biggest and most popular malls. It has large rooms, a super-friendly staff, great breakfasts, and a large outdoor pool. It’s also a very short walk from the Skytrain and 10 minutes from Bangkok’s best park, Lumphini, which has a very nice playground.

Suites are large, beautifully decorated, and comfortable.

Suites are large, beautifully decorated, and comfortable.

Bathrooms are roomy and luxurious.

Bathrooms are roomy and luxurious.

A large tub and separate shower.

A large tub and separate shower.

This is probably the nicest swimming pool in Bangkok. Large enough to do laps.

This is probably the nicest swimming pool in Bangkok. Large enough to do laps.

A nice surprise. Cookies for the kids.

A nice surprise. Cookies for the kids.

The exterior of the Four Seasons.

The exterior of the Four Seasons.

The Skytrain goes right by the hotel and a station is a few minutes in either direction.

The Skytrain goes right by the hotel and a station is a few minutes in either direction.

A small play structure is near the swimming pool.

A small play structure is near the swimming pool.

Lumphini Park is about a 10 minute walk from the Four Seasons.

Lumphini Park is about a 10 minute walk from the Four Seasons.

See Also

Trip to Paris with Kids

Our Family Trip To Paris

We took the Eurostar train from London to Paris.

Kids at Eiffel Tower.

The boys looking at the Eiffel Tower from across the Seine. Unfortunately the tower was closed for the afternoon that we visited but we still had lots of fun wandering around the area and inspecting the structure.

Ordering a nutella crepe.

We had lots of crepes while in Paris and this one (near the Eiffel Tower) was the best.

The Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

The kids loved the walk up and down the narrow stairs of the Arc de Triomphe. The views were pretty cool too.

Street dance performers in Paris.

We saw several street performances and the kids really liked them.

Music performance in the Paris Metro.

We also saw a few bands and singers performing in the Paris Metro.

The Natural History Museum in Paris.

The Natural History Museum was probably the highlight of Paris for the kids.

The Natural History Museum in Paris.

The kids inspecting the beetles, bugs, and butterflies at the Natural History Museum.

Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris.

Shakespeare and Company is my favorite bookstore anywhere and the kids browsed around and picked out some books to buy.

A park in Paris near the Notre Dame

We didn’t find any playgrounds in Paris but there were many open areas and parks for the kids to run around in.

The Notre Dame in Paris.

The boys enjoyed inspecting the art work and sculptures of the Notre Dame. We spent 10 or 15 minutes at this entrance picking out and discussing different scenes.

The Modern Art Museum at the Pompidou Center.

We spent a half hour touring the modern art at the Pompidou Center.

Kids play area at the Pompidou Center.

Though the kids probably had more fun at the play area.

Paris metro exit.

Unlike in London, in the Paris Metro there are few entrances and exits ways devoted to families. So though the kids were free on the subway getting them in and out often involved going through “Do Not Enter” gates and doors.

Four Seasons Hotel in Seattle with Kids

The Four Seasons Hotel is one of the best hotels in Seattle for families. A great location, beautiful swimming pool, and plenty of nearby restaurants make it a near perfect fit for parents and kids.

Here are some pictures from a recent stay.

Four Seasons Seattle (12)

The layout of one of the suites.

Four Seasons Seattle (2)

View from the bathroom of a corner suite.

Four Seasons Seattle (3)

The TV and writing desk of a Bay View room.

Four Seasons Seattle (5)

A city view room.

Four Seasons Seattle (15)

The bedside table with alarm clock.

Four Seasons Seattle (16)

The entrance and valet parking area of the Four Seasons.

Four Seasons Seattle (1)

The view of the Puget Sound from a room on the south side of building. The Seattle Steam Company is off to the left and provides heat (and steam) to the hotel and a number of other downtown customers (e.g. the public library and several hospitals).

Four Seasons Seattle (17)

A city view room.

Four Seasons Seattle (18)

Complimentary NY Times or Wall Street Journal are delivered every morning.

Four Seasons Seattle (22)

A Corner Bay View Suite.

Four Seasons Seattle (38)

The 3-bed setup of a Bay View Room.

Four Seasons Seattle (39)

Which, of course, has great views of the Puget Sound.

Four Seasons Seattle (40)

The bathroom of a Bay View Room.

Four Seasons Seattle (10)

Bathrooms have both large tubs and wonderful showers.

Four Seasons Seattle (41)

Bathroom mirrors have built in TV’s.

Four Seasons Seattle (42)

And all bathrooms have windows and views (whether it be the city view or bay view).

Four Seasons Seattle (23)

The staff of the hotel are very friendly – particularly with kids.

Four Seasons Seattle (24)

A friendly greeting on the boys’ beds.

Four Seasons Seattle (25)

All rooms have an iron, ironing board, and umbrella.

Four Seasons Seattle (11)

There’s a safe in every room.

Four Seasons Seattle (29)

An espresso maker in one of the suites.

Four Seasons Seattle (20)

The lobby.

Four Seasons Seattle (21)

Lobby, fireplace, and check-in counter.

Four Seasons Seattle (31)

Breakfast: pancakes.

Four Seasons Seattle (32)

Breakfast: french toast.

Four Seasons Seattle (33)

The extras for kid-friendly breakfast.

Four Seasons Seattle (34)

Breakfast: sausage and eggs.

Four Seasons Seattle (19)

Breakfast: tasty meatballs.

Four Seasons Seattle (35)

The breakfast buffet.

Four Seasons Seattle (36)

Tasty salmon too.

Four Seasons Seattle (26)

Breakfast: more friendly staff.

Four Seasons Seattle (13)

The beautiful pool has great views of the Sound.

Four Seasons Seattle (27)

The fitness center.

Four Seasons Seattle (28)

The fire pit and jacuzzi by the hot tub.

 

Four Seasons Seattle (7)

The spa. Specially designed for couples.

Four Seasons Seattle (8)

Another view of the couple’s spa room

Four Seasons Seattle (37)

Cardio equipment at the fitness center with the pool just out the door.

Four Seasons Seattle (9)

The slippers for the trip down to pool are a nice touch.

Four Seasons Seattle (4)

A dryer for your bathing suit in the change rooms.

Four Seasons Seattle (6)

The salon for manicures and pedicures.

Four Seasons Seattle (30)

The business center with ATM.

Four Seasons Seattle (43)

Check-in for your flight from the computer in the lobby.

Pike Place Brew Pub

Pike Place Market (including The Pike Brewing Company) are just steps away from the hotel’s front door.

My Trip to the Yucatan by Samuel (age 9)

Piknik is a great place to eat. It is in Cancun city. We ate there twice and it is great. We ordered chicken tacos, pork tacos, and shrimp tacos.

This cenote in Valladolid is called Zaci Cenote. A cenote is an underground cave with water in it. We swam and jumped off the ledges of the cenote.

A taco stand in Valladolid on a sidewalk. These might have been the best tacos on our trip. We ordered taco after taco because they were so good.

Our tour guide telling us about the carvings on the wall of the ball court at Chichen Itza.

A bus tour of Merida. It was extremly fun to learn stuff about Merida but Kip fell asleep.

A crepe stand we found in Merida and it was very tasty. He put extra nutella on it. It cost 20 pesos for one crepe.

These nachos are from a place called Margaritas Time in Merida. Their nachos are very good and have pastor, chicken, chips, Guacamole and cheese.

This is pastor. We ate a lot of it.

These are bikes we rented at Coba to look at the pyramid.

This is my brother and I climbing Coba. It was fun.

This is a person named Javier (pronounced Habier) cutting open a coconut for Kipling and me in Tulum. Inside a coconut there is watery stuff that you can drink. If it is ripe it tastes very sweet,if it is not ripe it tastes sour.

Lots of places give you a full chicken and a pile of tortillas and you make your own tacos.

A bridge kip and me liked to jump off. There was a lot of tropical fish under the bridge.

This is Kipling and I riding in the luggage cart from the docks to our hotel on Isla Mujeres.

This is a picture taken by me of these super duper cute little baby turtles on Isla Mujeres at the turtle farm.

Our Family Trip To London

See Also

We just got back from London. Here are some pictures and suggestions for enjoying your family trip to London.

Double decker buses at the Transport Museum in London

This was probably our kids’ favorite attraction. The London Transport Museum has an incredible display of exhibits about subways, buses, posters, and future plans. A must see in London.

The Docklands Museum on Canary Wharf in London

The Museum of the London Docklands covered the commercial history of the Thames and the growth of London around the river. It was one of my favorites.

A model of the London Tower.

The Tower of London was very popular with the kids. Here’s a model of the Tower on display inside the museum.

Tower Bridge as seen from the Tower.

A view of Tower Bridge from The Tower.

Tanks inside the Imperial War Museum

The boys took the audio tour at the Imperial War Museum.

A hands-on submarine exhibit at the Imperial War Museum

The Imperial War Museum had some hands-on fun. In this case the Submarine exhibit.

The Imperial War Museum in South London

The Imperial War Museum was also one of the boys’ favorites.

The kids looking at the Egyptian mummies at the British Museum.

The family tours and audio guides were great at the British Museum. Here the adventure guide took us through the Egyptian mummies.

The Borough Market in London

Not far from Tower Bridge is the Borough Market. It was highly recommended to us by a few local friends and was a great place for a weekend visit.

Curry at the Borough Market.

Kipling ordering curry for lunch at the Borough Market.

Treats, pies, and brownies at the Borough Market.

There were lots of tasty treats too.

A tank at the National Army Museum

The National Army Museum. An interesting place but if you only have 2 or 3 days then you can safely give it a miss. The museum does have a Kids’ Zone that is popular for ages 1 to 5, but you need to reserve time slots in advance to have any hope of getting in.

The Natural History Museum in London.

The Natural History Museum was a highlight for the whole family.

A demonstration at the London Science Museum.

A demonstration at the London Science Museum. This is the Launchpad exhibit for hands-on fun on the 3rd floor. There is also the Pattern Pod area on the ground floor.

An airplane at the Science Museum.

The kids enjoyed the Science Museum but if you can only do one of the Kensington museums then make it the Natural History Museum

Tea time with kids in London.

Tea time was very popular with the boys too.

Where We Went

The Four Seasons Hotel in San Francisco with Kids

The Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco in SoMa is one of the best places for families to stay in San Francisco. It has a great location on Market street and close to Union Square, Chinatown, and the Ferry Terminal.

The Four Seasons is located at 765 Market Street between 3rd and 4th streets.
The front doors of the hotel on Market Street.

Valet parking entrance for Four Seasons.
Parking is located on the back side of the hotel (accessible from 3rd Street). It’s literally steps from your car to the elevator up to the lobby.

Street cars pass in front of Four Seasons.
Street cars – heading up and down Market Street and out to Fisherman’s Wharf – stop in front of the hotel.

Patio at Four Seasons.
The Patio on the 5th floor of the hotel.

Looking towards SF MOMA.
A view from the back patio of the Four Seasons looks out on the Moscone Center and SF MOMA.

Muni entrance near the Four Seasons.
MUNI and BART stations are within a very short walk of the hotel’s front door.

O'farrell street across from Four Seasons.
Union Square is a short walk up O’Farrell street – opposite the hotel.

Cafe on Market Street near the Four Seasons.
Several cafes and breakfast restaurants are within a short walk.

A taxi in front of Four Seasons.
Taxis wait directly in front of the hotel’s doors on Market Street.

Elevators to lobby.
The lobby is located on the 5th floor and elevators take you up from the Market Street entrance.

Free coffee in lobby.
Complimentary coffee is served in the lobby.

Fireplace in lobby.
A fireplace in the lobby.

Restaurant at Four Seasons.
The restaurant at the Four Seasons gets raves – especially the breakfast.

Bar at Four Seasons San Francisco.
Seasons Bar on the hotel’s 5th floor.

Master bedroom in suite.
The master bedroom in a suite.

Bed in a deluxe room.
The bed in a deluxe room. Many of the deluxe rooms can be combined with a suite to form a large connected layout perfect for a family.

TV, dvd player, and game boy in room.
Large screen TVs, game boys, and DVD players are in all rooms.

Sitting room in suite.
A sitting room in one of the Four Season’s suites.

Room in safe.
A safe is in every room.

Bathroom tub and shower.
Here are a few shots of different bathrooms. Most suites have 2 bathrooms.

Bathroom and tub.

Bathroom at Four Seasons.

Bathroom shower and tub.

Bathroom.

Free greeting gift for kids.
At check-in a wagon is pulled out and kids can pick a complimentary toy.

Seattle Ride The Duck with Kids

See Also

A great and very fun way to see Seattle is by taking the Ride The Duck tour of the city.

It’s an amphibious bus/boat that tours the city streets then pops into Lake Union to take in some of the sites (like the Sleepless in Seattle houseboat) that you can only see from the water.

Prices are as follows:

ADULTS $28 / KIDS 12 and younger $17
BABIES 2 and younger $1
ADULT & Quacker $30 / CHILD & Quacker $19

GROUP ADULT $25 / GROUP CHILD $15

The tours depart daily from just east of Seattle Center (across the street from the EMP) from 10am to 4pm. There is also a downtown location near Westlake Center.

Reservations are recommended for the summer months. Drinks and snacks are allowed on board but you need to buy these in advance.

Tours take about 90 minutes. Be prepared to sing. A lot.

Ride the ducks tour of Seattle

Your Duck is waiting.

A family friendly tour of the lake, neighborhoods, and downtown area of Seattle.

It's especially fun on a warm summer day. Bring a sweater as it can get chilly on the lake.

Going across the lake with the Ride the Duck tour.

Good views of different parts of the city and the water is right there below you.

Downtown Seattle from the tour duck.

A view of downtown Seattle from Lake Union.

Additional photos by: Ariane Middel

Travel With Kids: Bali Fish Market

See also: Bali with Kids – The Guide

An early morning visit to the fish market in Bali.

Our journey to Bali a few years back was our first real trip as a family vacation and as such contained many memorable events. But perhaps the most memorable was one of the simplest. We had been told by the workers of our hotel that the biggest event in the rather sleepy town of Jimbaran was the fish market that took place every morning very very early. What time? Very very very very early. So one morning my oldest son Samuel (about 3 1/2 at the time) and I woke up at 4am, tiptoed through the hotel and walked a few blocks through deserted streets to the beach and attempted to find the market.

We were told the fishermen bring in their haul every morning as the sun rises. As we walked out onto the beach not a soul was in sight. I mean no one! In one direction, about 500 metres to our left was the sight where 2 terrorists had blown themselves up in a crowd of tourists about 10 months before. The market was supposedly in the other direction so we turned right and started to walk.  The only thing I could make out was a long line of lights leading out into the ocean. (As the sun slowly came up this was revealed to be a string of small boats each with a small light, stretched all the way from the beach to the larger boats moored about a mile out in the water.)

But at this point there was no sun, no light and we were still all alone. But then, the town seemed to do a little shake. Seemed to shift and turn and let out a little sigh. And then one and then two and then 3 people arrived, then 4 and 5 and 6. And without us taking note there was a whole community of fish buyers and sellers. There was a bustle of people moving and humming and barking. There were boats filled with men and buckets filled with fish. There were women selling prawns and a old man selling balloons. Hey, there really is a market here I guess.

The fish coming in from the boats and the market gets going as the sun slowly rises.
Early morning on the beach in Jimbaran, Bali.

Taking a closer look.
Having fun on the beach.

I got the feeling they didn’t see a whole lot of tourists down at the market.
On the beach in Bali.

The fish just kept coming.
The boats in Jimbaran bay.

Taking a turn behind the counter.
Travels in Bali

We walked slowly back along the beach, the town was slowly waking up. It was almost 8 o’clock and all we had taken with us was a bottle of water. We were hungry and happy and ready to dive into the swimming pool.
Back to the hotel.

Eating In Japan With Kids

See Also

The food and restaurants of Tokyo and Japan.

Japan is one of those countries that the cuisine itself is a big appeal. Like France, Italy or Thailand people often travel to Japan with the main intent of their trip being to eat. We expected great food – and found it – what surprised me was how reasonably priced, often downright cheap, the food was. We often got two big rice bowls or noodle soup for dinner for less than $15. Obviously we weren’t hitting the high ends spots or the very best restaurants and I don’t doubt that you can spend some serious money (and be rewarded with some fantastically great food) but for what we were looking for – inexpensive authentic Japanese food that would please both kids and an adult – we found easily and cheaply.

The search for food. Walking the neighborhood where we were staying and looking for an appealing restaurant was a nightly ritual on our trip to Japan.Searching for restaurant in Tokyo.

We made the mistake of ending up outside Tokyo station on a Sunday looking for a place to eat. Finding nothing open we wandered for a good hour and several miles before stumbling on a sushi bar and going to town.Finding food and sushi near Tokyo Station.

We ate a ridiculous number of treats during the trip…Eatin some treats in the Tokyo subway.

Who knew there were bakeries and donut shops at just about every subway station.Donuts near our hotel in Tokyo.

Many places had vending machines inside where you’d select your food then take it to the counter. It was nice because there were either small pictures above each button so you could at least guess at the contents of a meal or you could stand in front of the machine looking like a dumb tourist until someone came to your aid to show you which button corresponded with which meal.Buying food from a vending machine in Tokyo.

We ate primarily Japanese food (for lunch and dinner) – except one night when the kids talked me into Indian food …Great Indian food - Naan and Chicken Tikka Masala - in Tokyo.

and another when an Italian restaurant was just too close and easy to dismiss. (This didn’t stop Kipling from taking a break for a little nap.)Just back from Kyoto: A good Italian restaurant in Tokyo.

Sitting at the counter was fun. The kids got to watch the meals being prepared and I was able to point at dishes and say “Uhm,  one of those please.”Great food in Japan.

Add the soy sauce …Ramen noodles in Osaka.

… and then dig in.Food in Osaka station.

Samuel tried his best with the chop sticks.Eating at a department store in a mall in Tokyo.

But would ditch them if he had to.Eating in Japan.

Kipling couldn’t get the chop sticks down, but shoveled well with his spoon.Spaghetti with a spoon.

My kids refer to all cereal as “Raisin Bran” which would confuse any server but doubly so for the unfortunate Japanese hosts that had to take our breakfast order. Here’s Samuel adapting the Japanese style of eating to a western breakfast.Western style breakfast at the hotel in Tokyo.

Just the favorites during our last meal in Tokyo.We stayed in some great neighborhoods in Tokyo, like Ikebukuro, but Iidibashi had some great restaurants.

Songkran in Thailand (With Kids)

See Also

Pictures from Bangkok during one of the world’s craziest celebrations.

When we were in Thailand with the boys we – completely by chance – happened to spend our final two days in Bangkok while their huge Songkran festival was occurring.  The city – the country! – pretty much shuts down and streets turn into a big carnival of water fights, face smeering, food, drink and more water fights.

We bought Samuel a water gun and here he is getting comfortable with it.
Songkran in Bangkok, Thailand

Some kids looking for someone to GET!
Songkran in Bangkok, Thailand

There are water-sellers that set up station at just about every street corner. They charge about a dollar for ice cold water – and I mean cold – for the guns and balloons and buckets, but they were often so pleased with Samuel’s spirit that we rarely paid anything.
Songkran in Bangkok, Thailand

Samuel getting some lessons.
Songkran in Bangkok, Thailand

Kipling had a pretty good time but by the end he’d gotten soaked one too many times with that frigid water.
Songkran in Bangkok, Thailand

End on a high note: banana crepes!
Songkran in Bangkok, Thailand

Puri Bambu Hotel in Jimbaran – A Review

This is a great budget hotel in the otherwise expensive and luxury-oriented Jimbaran. It has a great pool, super-friendly staff, decent food, and is just a short walk from the beach.

Highly recommended.

The pool and swim-up bar at Puri Bambu in Jimbaran, Bali

The swimming pool and swim-up bar.

Friendly staff at Puri Bambu

The staff is great and very friendly.

Jimbaran beach in Bali.

The beach is a 3 minute walk away and lined with great places to eat.

Early morning fish market in Jimbaran.

The beach also hosts an early morning fish market which is a lot of fun to see.

Science Museums In Tokyo

Tokyo is loaded with great things to do. Below are pictures from 3 different (and great) science museums in Tokyo.

Helpful Links:

Miraikan Science Museum in Tokyo

A robot demonstration at Miraikan Science Museum

Globe exhibit in Miraikan

A huge globe in the main hall of Miraikan.

Fun interactive exhibit in Tokyo's National Science Museum

Lots of fun interactive exhibits at the National Science Museum in Ueno.

Airplane exhibit in the National Science Museum

And lots of great stuff to see.

Hands on fun at the Science Museum near Tokyo Station.

More hands-on fun at the Science Museum in Kitanomaru-Koen

Exhibit at the Tokyo Science Museum

An exhibit on weights and pulleys at the Science Museum.

Travel With Kids: Train Travel In Vietnam

Traveling through a foreign country by train is almost always an interesting experience. Make that country as unique and magical as Vietnam and it’s exhilarating. Do it with your 2 young children and the trip quickly becomes unforgettable.

We started our trip in Hanoi and finished in Ho Chi Minh City and generally followed the coast down the length of the country. Here are a handful of memories I captured on 4 different train trips around Vietnam.

Getting snacks at the Hanoi train station

Buying some snacks before boarding the train in Hanoi.


Train station in Vietnam

You know the train has arrived when everyone else stands up.


Boarding the train to Hanoi

A semi-chaotic scramble to get on board.


Checking train tickets.

Tickets please. In our sleeper cabin, from Hanoi to Hue.


Sleeper car to Hue

A good morning to sleep late. The train is 4 hours behind schedule.


Coastline from Hue to Danang

The coastline between Hue and Danang.


Breakfast on the train

Breakfast on the train. Two choices: pho with beef and pho without beef.


Killing time in dining car

A seasoned traveler killing some time in the dining car.


Kids on the train in Vietnam.

I'm pretty sure our train was just heading in for its yearly cleaning.


Food on the train in Vietnam

This lady had one pair of scissors she used to cut through the chicken. And to cut the tape. And to separate the plastics bags. They were wonderfully multipurpose.


View from the train heading south from Hanoi.

When we weren't eating chicken we were watching the stunning scenery pass.


The train from Hue to Danang.

Leaving the train in Danang.


Train Museums in Japan – Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka

Train museums were a big hit with the kids during our recent trip to Japan. We visited 3 different railway museums during our travels – the Umekoji Steam Locomotive Museum in Kyoto, the Modern Transportation Museum in Osaka, and the Railway Museum in Saitama, outside of Tokyo.

All 3 train museums were fantastic and the kids could have easily spent a full day at any of them.

We typically spent a morning at each museum which was more than enough to see every train and exhibit once. But after we had walked through the entire museum the boys would want to return to their favorite trains, games and presentations that we’d already seen.

Even though we were in Japan during the spring school vacation (of April and March) none of the museums were busy to the point of being unenjoyable. All three museums were spacious and easy to get around.

Here are the kids checking a model train display at the Osaka Modern Transportation Museum. This one was eyes-only but all of the museums had exhibits that kids could interact with.
Model trains at the Osaka train museum

The boys got to “drive” a train through the cities and countryside of Japan. The image in front is moving video and the kids get to control the speed fo the train. It’s actually fairly life like and my kids really liked it.
Test driving the train at the museum

This is a roundabout at the Umekoji Locomotive Museum in Kyoto. It’s surrounded by a collection of really interesting trains. The black steam engine in the distance takes passengers on a short ride a few times per day.The roundabout at the Kyoto train museum

Samuel test driving one of the steam engines in the Kyoto museum.
Playing inside an old steam engine at the train museum in Osaka

Where’s the train? A very cool display of the wheels of a train – minus the body.Entrance to the Saitama railway museum near Tokyo.

A miniature train that kids can ride on at the Railway Museum an hours train ride outside of Tokyo.Miniature train at the railway museum outside of Tokyo.

All of the museums had signs and explanations in English but the Railway Museums documentation and descriptions were really outstanding. This computer terminal shows the different trains on the main floor – all of which are clickable for more information and details.
Guide and map to railway museum in Tokyo

Rydges Kensington Plaza in London with Kids

We stayed at the Rydges Kensington for 2 nights in the Executive One Bedroom Suite with our 2 children and everyone loved it. The hotel has a great location, just a half-block from the Gloucester Road tube stop and about 5 minutes from the Victoria & Albert, Science, and Natural History Museums (all of which are great – and free!)

Near the Rydges there are several good restaurants on Gloucester Road (including 3 very good Indian eateries). There are 2 Starbucks nearby as well as a grocery store, a drug store, and a money changer.

Rydges Kensington Plaza with Kids – Pros:

  • Great location near a bus stop, tube stop, 3 top notch museums, and Hyde Park
  • One bedroom suites have separate rooms for kids and adults
  • Very good continental breakfast is included for most online bookings
  • All the best in-room amenities: safe box, big screen TVs in all rooms, iron and ironing board, hair dryer, espresso maker, and nice shampoos and lotions.

Rydges Kensington Plaza with Kids – Cons:

  • £20 charge for in-room wi-fi is disappointing (but 2 nearby Starbucks offer free online access)

Here are some pictures of the Rydges Kensington rooms, lobby, and neighborhood.

The main bedroom of the Executive 1-bedroom suite.

The main bedroom of the Executive 1 bedroom suite.

King size bed in executive suite

The main bed from a different angle.

Safe in hotel room of Rydges Kensington

The safe box in the closet.

Second bedroom in Rydges Kensington

The second bedroom in the the Executive Suite.

Couch in second bedroom of Executive Suite

Here's how it looks with the bed folded away.

Bathroom of King Deluxe Suite

The suite has a very nice bathroom with a very long tub.

Bedside table in King Suite

Some fun reading on the bedside table.

Breakfast at the Rydges Kensington Hotel

Breakfast was great and is included with most hotel packages. The coffee is freshly brewed for each table in a french press.

Espresso maker in room.

Some rooms come with an espresso maker (though there are 2 Starbucks within a 3 minute walk).

An iron and ironing board can come in handy.

An iron and ironing board can come in handy.

In the lobby of the Rydges Kensington

One view of the lobby.

The lobby of the Rydges Kensington

And another view of the lobby looking towards the restaurant.

Weather display in the lobby.

A helpful weather display in the lobby.

Bar in Rydges Kensington

The Polo bar next to the lobby.

Bus stop directly in front of Rydges Kensington Hotel.

The hotel sits right on a bus route and a 1 minute walk from Gloucester Road tube station which has the Circle, District, and Piccadilly lines.

Bike share program on Gloucester Road near the hotel in Kensington

The London Bike Share program just a half-block from the hotel

Further Reading

How To Save Money and Eat Better Food In London

There are many resources on the best places to eat in London. (Like this one, or this one, or this one.)

But I think the single best advice I could give to someone visiting London and looking for good traditional English food would be to avoid this menu.

To save money and eat better food avoid pubs with this menu.

To save money and eat better food avoid pubs with this menu.

It’s a generic menu you’ll find at many pubs throughout the city and it means that the place has put little thought or effort into the food they serve.

So just walk out the door.

It sort of gives a whole new meaning to, “May I see the menu please?”

Travel Tips for Tokyo

See Also

General Tips for Visiting Tokyo

Best time to visit:

  • April – If you’re going for the Cherry blossoms.
  • October and November – For the foliage season.
  • May and September – To get the best weather.

Electricity:

100 volts. 2 non-polarized pins similar to North American plugs. Most North American equipment will work in Japanese power outlets without an adapter – though they might be  a little underpowered. 3-pronged appliances will not work at all.

Maps:

  • There are street maps of the surrounding area posted around every subway station. These maps indicate the different exits from the station and each exit is represented by a number. Find your number and follow the signs out of the station to your desired exit. This move will save you time and hassle as taking the nearest or easiest exit usually means sorting out where you are once you get to street level and “then” finding out where you want to be.
  • Have a subway map with you all the time. Hotels have them by the bucketful so grab one or two and keep them with you. Even the best guidebooks supply maps that don’t have all the subway lines on them – there are too many – and pulling out a folded map from your pocket is a lot easier than flipping through your guide book. You might think you’ll just walk to the nearest subway, look at a map, and then plan your route. But the subway enters into all matters of planning so it’s good to have the map with you. As well, you’ll sometimes have a choice of 2 or 3 or even 4 subways stops within walking distance and determining which one is best for you requires a map.
  • The convention of putting north at the top of a map is not something strictly followed in Japan. There are maps all over the place – in the subway, on street billboards, the one in your hands – and they might all be rotated differently. Many times I’ve looked at a map I’ve encountered on a walk and all of sudden seemed horribly lost, only to figure out the map is rotated to have north at the bottom or off to left or up in the right hand corner.

Money, Phones & Etiquette:

  • Credit cards aren’t as widely used in Tokyo, have cash with you at all times.
  • Japanese people generally don’t walk and eat – certainly not to the extent of Americans – if you need to eat on foot do so as subtly and politely as possible.
  • Tipping is not expected and might even be considered a little offensive.
  • Many phones from western countries don’t work. Most 3G do. If you have an iPhone be sure to phone AT&T before leaving home to enable roaming. Generally texting is the cheapest way to communicate with home from your phone. You can also rent a phone while in Japan for pretty reasonable rates.

Best blogs about Tokyo:

Narita Airport


Narita International Airport – located 65KM (40 miles) east of Tokyo – is one of the largest airport in Japan and has direct flights to most large airport hubs in Europe, North America, Australia and Asia.

The airport has wi-fi but you need to set up an account with a local provider making it impractical for the average traveler. Free wi-fi is reportedly coming soon to some airport cafes – stay tuned.

Dayrooms are available and paid for by the hour. Rooms contain a bed, sink and shower. The first hour is Y1000 (Y1600 for the twin room) and every hour after Y500 (Y800).

A shower cubicle is also available for 30 minutes at Y500 for  a bathroom and shower.

Getting to and from Narita Airport:

There are 2 railway companies that serve the Narita to Tokyo route – Keisei and JR East.

JR runs the Narita Express (NEX) trains to and from Narita. The trains run go to Tokyo station (1 hour), Shinjuku station (1 hour 30 minutes), Ikebukuro station (1 hour 40 minutes) and Yokohama station (1 hour 30 minutes).

The NEX trains are the quickest way to get to Ikebukuro station if you get one that stops there – not all trains do – so check before you buy a ticket. If you purchased a JR Japan rail pass before leaving home, you can validate it at the airport and use the NEX train for free.

JR has began offering a very convenient “combo” ticket for NEX trains. The ticket comes with a pre-loaded Y1500 Suica card (see below for an explanation of the Suica card). If you’re considering taking the NEX train and planning to spend some time in Tokyo this is a very convenient option with a very good discount. The ticket can only be purchased at Narita Airport – terminals 1 or 2.

The Keisei Skyliner goes to Ueno and Nippori in just under an hour. The Keisei tokkyu (Limited Express) are more frequent than the Skyliner but take 15 minutes longer. The Limited Express is the cheapest way into the city and costs just Y1000. It stops at Ueno station (67 minutes) and Nippori station (71 minutes). If money and budget are important the Limited Express wins hands down.

Keisei is starting a new superfast Narita to Tokyo Station service on July 17, 2010. The New Skyliner will run between Narita and Tokyo Station in 36 minutes for Y2400. The old Skyliner will maintain the same route from Nippori Station to Narita but be called the Cityliner.

Taxis to or from Narita coast about ¥25,000.

If you have many bags, or  don’t feel like lugging them on and off trains and buses, then the Takuhaibin luggage delivery service is something to consider. The service takes your bags between the airport and your hotel. Enquire or look for signs as you exit immigration. Your hotel should be able to arrange the service for you on your return to the airport. For a rough estimate of costs a 80 cm x 40 cm x 30cm suitcase, weighing less than 25 kg (55 pounds) would be about Y1800.

Final tip and piece of advice: The most important element in deciding which train or bus to take from the airport is destination. If a certain route gets you directly to your station without but takes 15 minutes longer then this is the one to take as it will save you a change of trains, the purchase of another ticket and the hassle of hauling your luggage about.

As I said above, if an inexpensive route is your priority then the Keisei tokkyu Limited Express is your train. Haneda Airport is located south of the city and serves mostly domestic flights.

Allow lots of time between flights if you arrive at one but depart from the other.

If you’re near to a bus stop the Airport Limousine to Haneda is the best way to get from central Tokyo to Haneda. And yes, there are Starbucks in both terminals at both airports (Haneda and Narita).

Subway and Commuter Trains within Tokyo


The subway system in Tokyo is phenomenal and can usually get you within a few 100 metres of your destination in central Tokyo.

There are 2 subway systems (Tokyo Metro and Toei) and 1 train route (JR East) that run within Tokyo and to the surrounding region. It’s best to think of them as 3 separate systems each requiring a different ticket.

Tokyo Metro has 9 different lines: Ginza, Marunouchi, Hibiya, Tozai, Chiyoda, Yurakucho, Hanzomon, Namboku, Fukutoshin. The Toei has 4: Asakusa, Mita, Shinjuku and Oedo.

The JR system has many different lines but the three of interest to travelers are the Yamanote line, the Chuo line and the Sobu line.

The Yamanote line does a loop of the city, with trains running in both directions around the circle. It makes a great way to get between the major subway stops of Shinjuku, Shibuya, Ikebukuro, Ueno, Shinagawa and Tokyo stations.

How The Subway Works:

In a nutshell the subway system works like this: Tickets are scanned through the turnstiles at the beginning – as you enter the subway system – and end of your trip – as you exit.

Before you enter a station you look at a map by the electronic ticket dispensers and find your destination station. It will have a price listed beside the stop. You then purchase a ticket for that amount – not for any specific station.

If you buy the wrong ticket – or change your mind and get off at a different more distant station – then you’ll need to add money to the ticket before you exit the station. You insert your ticket in a special “Fare Supplement” machine. It will show the supplement needed.

If you really can’t figure out what priced ticket to purchase, a simple trick is to buy the minimum price ticket (Y160), ride to your destination, and then let the Fare Supplement machine figure out how much more you have to add.

There are day tickets available, which can save you a bit if you take more than 4 or 5 rides in a day. The Tokyo Metro One-day Open Ticket for Y710 (children Y360) is good on just the TRTA lines. The Common One-day Ticket for Tokyo Metro & Toei Subway for Y1000 (children Y500) is good on both the TRTA and Toei lines – but not the JR Lines. There is also the Tokyo Metro 1-Day for Tourists Ticket for Y600 (children Y300) that can be purchased at Narita Airport.

If you’ll be in Tokyo for more than a few days you might want to buy either a Suica or Pasmo prepaid card that enables you to enter and move between the different lines. The cards are simply scanned as you enter and exit a station and the correct fare is deducted from your account.

The Pasmo card works only on the 2 Tokyo subways systems. The Suica card works on the subways and the JR lines.

Both cards require a Y500 deposit – most of which is returned when you stop using the card and return it for your deposit. Additionally the cards can be used on some buses, but few tourists take the bus at all, so unless you know you’ll be taking one this shouldn’t be a big selling point.

Check out the Tokyo Transfer Guide for station to station routes on the Tokyo subway system and take a look at the map of the Tokyo subway lines.

Tokyo Tours


If you’re pressed for time a one day or half day sightseeing tour is a good option to take in the city’s sites and attractions. There’s no need to book a package through a travel agent – good quality bus and walking tours are easy to arrange on your own or through your hotel’s concierge.

Hato Bus Tours and JTB’s Sunrise Tours both get raves from travelers.

Free – yes, free! – walking tours of the city are available from  Tokyo Free Guide. You tell them what you’re interested in, your schedule, your preferred neighborhood(s), and you get a tour of Tokyo by a local. They get to practice their English. Win-win. You are expected to pay for any tickets or drinks or food along the tour but that’s pretty minor.

Packing Tips

  • It’s a mantra of the packing tips experts: pack light. But in Japan and definitely Tokyo it will you serve you well. Japanese people don’t carry a lot of baggage. The trains, buses and even lockers are not designed for a large about of luggage.
  • Additionally at some point on your trip you’ll probably have to take your bags on board a couple subways or commuter trains which are often a tight squeeze if you have anything more than a toothbrush with you.
  • If you are traveling with a lot of luggage then The Narita Airport Limousine Bus might be a good option as you won’t have to deal with turnstiles and gates and if you’re staying at a major hotel might stop right at your door. If not take the short taxi ride from the dropoff hotel to your accommodations.
  • Anything you think you might need – converter, umbrella, toothpaste – buy it at home. Time can evaporate trying to purchase everyday items in Tokyo. If you’re on a tight schedule you don’t want to burn through time searching a department store for shampoo.

What To Take:

  • Electrical converter so your devices will work like they do at home.
  • A small umbrella for rainy season.
  • Laptop or Netbook. Many people leave these at home thinking they won’t want to spend time on their computer while traveling. A good sentiment, but having a means of looking things up on the internet while in Japan is invaluable. Many companies, hotels and institutions you’ll want to contact don’t have many employees that speak English. By emailing them you ensure you’ll gain contact with someone who does. And many Japanese write English better than they speak it. Most Japanese related web sites – be it a museum, hotel, or amusement park – have the most important pages (or the entire site) translated into English, so having access to this information can be really helpful while on the road. I had no troubles accessing the internet or using local Wi-Fi while traveling around Japan with my highly recommended Macbook.
  • Wear and pack nice socks so you’re not embarrassed if you need to slip your shoes off – a common occurrence in Japanese culture.
  • Not a walker? You will be in Tokyo. Have a good pair of comfortable shoes with you.
  • If you’re traveling with kids be sure to read what to take when traveling with kids.

Tokyo Hotels and Accomodations


Here’s a short list of the most popular hotels in Tokyo for tourists.

More hotel info: Family-Friendly Hotels In Tokyo

Park Hyatt – The definitive 5 Star luxury hotel in Tokyo. Located in Nishi -Shinjuku.

Hilton Hotel Tokyo – Amenities include a swimming pool, health spa, sauna and fitness center. Locate in Nishi Shinjuku.

Prince Hotel Shinagawa – A popular budget choice close to the Shinkansen Shinagawa station. The Prince Hotel chain has a handful of hotels spread around the Tokyo area.

Park Hotel Tokyo – Reception is on the 25th floor in this hotel with amazing views. Located close to the Tsukiji Fish Market.

Imperial Hotel Tokyo – Elegant hotel in the heart of Ginza. Good online discounts available.

New Otani Hotel Tokyo – Well regarded hotel with a collection of 5 star restaurants. Fantastic online discounts available at certain times of the year.

Grand Palace Hotel Tokyo – A good budget choice if you can find an online deal. Located in Iidabashi.

Hotel Okura Tokyo – Luxury hotel at moderate prices. Located in the government district and convenient to many embassies – if you’re applying for any travel visas.

Keio Plaza Hotel – Free shuttle bus to Disneyland and a location in the center of Shinjuku make this hotel very popular.

Four Seasons Hotel at Marunouchi – Steps from Tokyo Station – staff will meet incoming trains from Narita and guide you back to the hotel – this is a luxury hotel standout. A short walk from Ginza and the Imperial Palace. Highly recommend for first time visitors to Tokyo.

Hotel Nikko Tokyo – A little removed from central Tokyo this is a good choice for those looking for a reprieve from the Tokyo buzz and busyness. The five star facilities make it a little oasis of luxury on the island of Odaiba.

Disneyland

  • The Disney Resort is really 2 different theme parks: Disneyland Park and DisneySea Park. Disneyland is what you’d expect: very similar to the American Disneyland with similar rides, themes and attractions. DisneySea is different – almost all the rides are unique with no American equivalents. Very generally Disneyland is targeted towards kids – DisneySea towards adults. For some great tips on visiting Disney go to Chris’s Tokyo Disney Resort Fan Site.
  • Many people feel they have to stay in Maihama (where Disneyland is located) to really enjoy the amusement park. But staying in Tokyo is a very doable option. Almost all subway stations are less than 40 minutes from Disneyland. Asakusa and Ginza are both great neighborhoods that are each less than 25 minutes from Disneyland.
  • Avoid Disneyland on weekends – it’s absurdly busy. Sunday being worse than Saturday.
  • Arrive early – about a half-hour before opening – to get your tickets and fastpasses for the most popular rides.
  • Food is very expensive and often involves a lot of waiting – even the line for popcorn can be over 20 minutes – take snacks and a lunch if you want to save some time and money.

France With Kids – A Guide

Essentials

The highlight of a trip to France with kids: The Eiffel Tower in Paris

France is a highlight of many family trips to Europe. It has great beaches, fantastic countryside, unique river and canal boat tours, and some truly remarkable cities.

I get many questions about planning a trip to France. Where to go, how much time to spend in Paris, what are the best beaches.

Here are some of my thoughts on traveling through France with kids.

  • France works really well with a trip to neighboring countries. London, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Rome, and most major European cities have great train connections with Paris. For maximum flexibility, and to save yourself the time and expense of retracing your steps, consider buying an open-jaw ticket. These allow you to fly into, say, Amsterdam, and fly out of Barcelona. You can take the train for the distance in between stopping where ever you want.
  • Paris is a fantastic city and has more than enough attractions to keep a family busy for 3 or 4 very busy days (not including Disneyland Paris). Don’t dismiss it as a big city that isn’t suitable for a family holiday  – kids will love Paris.
  • Don’t be afraid of the Paris Metro or feel that it’s too much to negotiate with kids. The subway and buses are a wonderful way to get around the city – even if it can be difficult to get a stroller up and down the stairs.
  • The beaches of South France are busier, warmer in the Spring and Fall, and have a more Mediterranean feel (of course). The beaches of the Atlantic coast are generally more family friendly and are less expensive than those in the south.
  • France gets a lot of tourists and can feel very touristy sometimes. Make an effort to get away from the crowds and eat and shop where locals do. Choosing a hotel outside of the most popular tourist areas can make this an easier addition to your daily routine. You’ll save money on your accommodations and food, and get a better idea and feel for what France – and the French – are really like.
  • When entering a shop remember that – for the French – this is almost like entering their home. It’s not just what they do, it’s who they are. Say “Bon jour”, make eye contact, and look around their store as if you were touring someone’s house.

Highlights – The 5 Best Things To Do in France with Kids

1. Paris

One of the best cities in the world to travel with kids. Fantastic parks, wonderful museums, and great kid-friendly attractions.

2. Western France and the Atlantic Coast

Great beaches, quaint towns and villages, and fantastic outdoor activities.

3. Central France

Castles, canals, and history galore.

4. South France

Warm, inviting, colorful, and fun. Though often very busy in July and August the South of France has charms and attractions that will impress almost any visitor.

5. Camping

France is a fantastic country for camping. Kids love it. There are campsites all over the country. And it’s often cheap and great for the travel budget.

The Lord Elgin Hotel in Ottawa with Kids

Posted by Gone With The Family

My 8 year old daughter and I stayed at The Lord Elgin Hotel while in Ottawa to attend the Canadian Tulip Festival 2012. The hotel is an excellent choice for families as it is located in the heart of downtown Ottawa across from the National Arts Centre and just a short walk from Parliament Hill.

lord-elgin-ottawa

LOCATION

The hotel’s central location on Elgin Street in the heart of downtown Ottawa makes it ideal for families. Parliament Hill, the Rideau Canal, Byward Market and the National Gallery of Canada are all within walking distance of the hotel. The hotel is also directly across from Confederation Park which is one of the city’s most popular green spaces. This park is the perfect place to take kids walking, cycling or just to run around and burn off steam and it is also where many events are held during festivals such as the Ottawa International Jazz Festival, Winterlude and Canada Day celebrations.

parliament-buildings-ottawa

confederation-park-ottawa

SERVICES/AMENITIES

Grill 41 is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and there is also a Starbucks on site which is great for a quick breakfast and latté to go. The hotel has a health club which is open 24 hours a day as well as a lap pool, whirlpool and sauna. High speed wireless internet is available in all rooms and public spaces although there is a fee for Traditional and Parkview rooms while it is free of charge in Elgin Class rooms. There is only valet parking available at the hotel.

startbucks-at-lord-elgin-hotel

View from our room at the Lord Elgin

view-from-lord-elgin-hotel

ROOMS/SUITES

The 11 story hotel has 355 rooms and two suites which feature elegant Biedermeier style furnishings and tulip inspired artwork. The Lord Elgin is an entirely smoke-free hotel so all guest rooms are non-smoking. Depending on the room category, guests will have a choice of one queen, two queens or one king bed in their room. We had a corner room with a lovely view over Confederation Park from one window and the First Baptist Church next door from the other.

king-sized-bed

Our spacious Elgin Class Room was furnished with a comfortable King-sized bed that my daughter loved.

King sized bed in room.

A seating area as well as a writing desk add to the functionality of the room. I chose the Elgin Class Room because the rate also included free WIFI – a simple, but greatly appreciated, amenity. Rooms also have 42″ flat screen televisions.

'sitting-area"

writing-desk

Guest Bathrooms aren’t luxurious but they are a decent size and nicely decorated with dark granite countertops and polished nickel accents. The rooms have a bath/shower combination and plenty of counter space.

bathroom-at-lord-elgin-hotel

tub-lord-elgin-hotel

Our room also featured a mini refrigerator which was great for storing cold drinks and a Keurig coffee maker.

coffee-maker-and-fridge

Lisa Goodmurphy writes about family travel adventures at Gone With The Family.

The Westin Grand Hotel in Vancouver with Kids

During our last trip to Vancouver we stayed at the Westin Grand Hotel on Robson Street in downtown Vancouver. The kids loved being close to downtown’s attractions (and the great swimming pool) – and the nearby SkyTrain made getting almost anywhere very easy.

For the best rates hotelscombined.com will likely beat the hotel’s official rate by 20% to 40%.

Location: 433 Robson St., Vancouver, BC, V6B 6L9
Website: www.westingrandvancouver.com
Phone: 604-602-1999
Fax: 604-647-2502
Toll-Free: 1-800-937-8461

Helpful Info:

The swimming pool at the Vancouver Westin Grand Hotel

The kids spent a lot of time in the heated pool (and hot tub) even though it was October

The incredible views of downtown Vancouver kept the kids entertained.

The incredible views of downtown Vancouver kept the kids entertained.

The kitchenette in the hotel room was very handy.

A kitchenette in the hotel room is a great way to save on breakfast and snacks.

A couch and bed in the Superior Suite.

Rooms are spacious and very comfortable

What we liked:

  • The swimming pool – A fantastic outside heated pool with accompanying hot tub. The deck has sun chairs and great views of the surrounding skyline.
  • The location – Situated just a few blocks from the intersection of Robson and Granville streets the hotel is located near many of the adult and kid-friendly highlights of Vancouver.
  • The breakfast – We didn’t eat lunch or dinner at the hotel’s restaurants but the breakfast was among the best I’ve ever had. Fantastic.
  • Very spacious rooms – Separate sleeping areas for the parents and the kids made for a pleasant stay. The rooms also had a good sized bathroom which made getting ready in the morning easy and quick.
  • The kitchenette – A great way to save money. The fridge, dishwasher, sink, bowls, plates, and cutlery allow for eating snacks and small meals without visiting another restaurant.

What we didn’t like:

  • Not much. There were times we might have wished to be closer to Stanley Park but, as I said above, being right in the thick of Robson and Granville was great. You do have to pay for parking, as it’s quite scarce on the surrounding streets, but that goes with being in downtown Vancouver and is hardly the fault of any hotel.

Summary:

The Grand Westin is a great hotel. The kids loved it but I’d recommend it for anyone – with or without children.

The Albergo Santa Chiara in Rome with Kids

Posted by Gone With The Family

Albergo Santa Chiara is a 3 star family-run hotel in Rome’s historic district which was originally built as a small tavern and has now expanded to encompass three adjoining buildings. The hotel has 96 rooms spread across the three buildings ranging from singles and doubles to quadruples and suites that are ideal as family accommodations.

Albergo Santa Chiara

Entrance to Albergo Santa Chiara

LOCATION

The hotel is located at 21 Via Santa Chiara behind the Pantheon, near Michelangelo’s obelisk in Piazza della Minerva, and just a short walk to Piazza Navona. The location of the hotel was ideal for our family as we were able to walk everywhere. We had only 2.5 days in the city and wanted to see as much as possible so it was worth it to us to spend more to stay right in the heart of Rome rather than using valuable time commuting from a less expensive neighbourhood farther afield.

Piazza Navona - just a short walk from the hotel

Piazza Navona – just a short walk from the hotel

SERVICES/AMENITIES

Albergo Santa Chiara has all the amenities of a modern hotel including air-conditioning, in-room safes, flat screen cable televisions and daily housekeeping. WIFI is available for a fee in both the rooms and in the public areas of the hotel.

The front desk staff were professional, friendly, spoke English very well and were very helpful providing us with both directions and dinner recommendations.

Room rates include a buffet continental breakfast in the breakfast room off the main lobby. We enjoyed a light meal of fruit and pastries each morning of our stay before heading out for a day of sightseeing. There is no restaurant on site, however, there are a number of restaurants, cafés and gelaterias within easy walking distance of the hotel.

Breakfast room at Santa Chiara.

Breakfast room at Santa Chiara.

ROOMS/SUITES

Our reservation at Albergo Santa Chiara was for a suite, however, when we checked in we were assigned to a 2 bedroom apartment on the 5th floor. The master bedroom was furnished with a king sized bed, the second bedroom had a single and there was a pull-out sofa bed in the living area of the apartment. The apartment had 2 television sets – one in the master bedroom and one in the living area. The living room also had a dining table with 4 chairs and a small chest/sideboard.

One of the unique characteristics of the Albergo Santa Chiara is that it is spread across three adjoining buildings. The result is a bit of a maze of corridors and stairways which can be confusing for anyone who is as directionally-challenged as I am. My husband and kids didn’t have any trouble remembering how to find our room but I would have been hopelessly lost if I had ever ventured out alone.

Our apartment was located on the 5th floor of one of the buildings and had a sloped roof. The small bathroom in the apartment was equipped with a shower that was located under this sloped roof making attempts to have a shower quite interesting. I’m 5’2″ and I had to be careful not to hit my head on the wooden beams overhead. My much taller husband had even more difficulty but we laughed over our quirky shower and the apartment was all the more memorable for it.

As we were on the top floor of the building, our apartment included a lovely terrace off of the living area which provided a view over the rooftops of Rome. The terrace was a peaceful place to sit and soak up the sun while imagining that we were residents of Rome and not mere visitors to the city.

The room at the Albergo Santa Chiara.

The room at the Albergo Santa Chiara.

5th floor terrace at Albergo Santa Chiara

5th floor terrace at Albergo Santa Chiara

The view from the terrace.

The view from the terrace.

Albergo Santa Chiara is an excellent choice for families looking for accommodation in central Rome. It is often difficult in Europe to find accommodations for a family of 4 and this hotel has options that will allow families to stay together rather than booking separate rooms. The hotel’s location is ideal for exploring central Rome on foot. The larger rooms are not inexpensive but they are spacious and provide good value for the location. Central, clean, spacious and family-friendly are the key criteria that I use when searching for accommodations and this hotel surpassed my expectations on all four.

Lisa Goodmurphy writes about family travel adventures at Gone With The Family.

10 Awesome Cities for Kids and Families

The attractions of London are popular with vacation families.

We’ve had a number of features on visiting cities with kids, so I thought I’d offer some tips and advice for vacationing in a big city with kids.

These 10 cities are among the best urban destinations for a family vacation. I’ve listed my favorites below and added some suggestions on making your visit to them as fun, easy, and enthralling as possible.

Visiting a big city with kids

Cities have an undeserved reputation as being an unattractive option for families and kids. It needn’t be so. Getting around is often easier – subways are fun and easy once you get the hang of buying tickets and reading the maps. There’s lots of great food – great bakeries and treat shops and a wide variety of restaurants. And all these cities have an incredible number of great attractions for kids.

Paris has playgrounds and parks and boat rides and carousels. Tokyo has 3 great science museums. Three! Barcelona has an aquarium, Dr Seuss like architecture, beaches and a cable car. Rome has ancient fountains on just about every corner. Real usable drinking fountains! How cool.

There certainly are challenges to visiting cities with young children. Cities are, of course, very busy. But with some good planning, smart researching and lots of patience the busyness doesn’t have to translate to hectic.

Certainly, this will depend a lot on your child, your family, the ages of your kids and their temperament. I’m sure there are parents who believe their child would not do well in a busy noisy and sometimes chaotic environment. But I feel, as a general rule, that young kids like a bit of chaos. They like interaction. They like movement and bigness and bright lights.

At the very least I would say this to a parent: don’t assume your child won’t like a city unless you’ve spent a little bit of time visiting and exploring one.

If you need tips on packing read What To Pack: Essentials for Traveling with Kids.

Tips and Tricks for a fun vacation in a big city

  • You won’t have fun if you’re feeling rushed. Time, Time, Time. It’s a huge variable and something I really emphasize. It’s hard to have fun when you’re in a hurry. So don’t do it.
  • Weather doesn’t matter so much when you’re visiting a city. Many urban attractions are indoors and even when it’s time to run, jump and play most cities have a good supply of indoor entertainment and play areas. Good deals and big discounts can also be found outside of high season – typically the months with the best weather.
  • Know this about elevators in Europe: they generally don’t work. So don’t climb into one when you have a child that has to use the bathroom.
  • Have a plan. Cities can burn time. Unplanned mornings can disappear in a flash and leave you looking for a lunch time restaurant with little to show for your morning besides a few subway rides. You want to remain flexible, but at the same time you shouldn’t be wandering down the subway steps thinking well, let’s maybe head over to this neighborhood and wander around. Have a specific destination in mind and at least a layout of how you’ll spend your time for the morning and afternoon.
  • Organise your visit by neighborhoods and districts. Write down the 8 or 10 or 12 attractions you really want to visit on your trip and sort them by their location. Put 2 or 3 in each group and try to make each neighborhood a one day affair. You’ll save time, money and effort in not having to go from one side of the city to the other to get to your next venue.
  • If you live in a small town or city without a subway you might be shocked at how much pleasure and amusement your kids will get from riding subways and commuter trains. It’s a destination in itself.
  • When you take the subway for the first time (especially in a country where you don’t speak the language) have your first trip be an outing in itself. It will probably take you a while to figure it out. Where do you buy the tickets? Does the child need a ticket? Does the machine take credit cards? Expect it to take a while and make it fun and interesting for the kids. Once again, this won’t be fun if you’re in a hurry.
  • Most cities that have subways have this basic rule: don’t eat on the trains. And double that for kids. (And triple it for Tokyo.) This tends not to be one of those rules that’s posted on every wall, but ignored by everyone. People live it and with good reason. It’s why these cities have nice metros.
  • Don’t obsess about hotel location. Yes, it’s nice to be in a central location. It’s great to walk out your door grab a croissant and be at the Louvre in a few blocks. But if booking a cheap hotel is a priority find a good discount on a hotel a little distance from the center – but near a subway or metro line. It’s often win/win/win: you save some money, the kids get another train ride, and the few minutes between your hotel and your destination act as a calm-down and focus interlude that gives everyone a breather.
  • Plan and consider how you’ll get around the city. The BABYBJÖRN Carrier is just a fantastic way to get around a city with an infant or small baby. Most cities have pretty good sidewalks so strollers can be a definite plus. (My all-time favorite is the Maclaren Techno XT.)
  • Swimming pools are often not very common at city hotels unless you are in the high end or luxury category of accommodation. Ask about public swimming pools at your hotel.
  • If you’re in the city for more than 4 days, switch hotels, and switch neighborhoods – you’ll be amazed at how much of a different feel you’ll get for a city depending on your location. As well, it’s probably a pretty good idea not put all your eggs in one basket, so to speak.

See Also

The Prince Regent Hotel in Paris with Kids

Posted by Gone With The Family

Le Prince Régent Résidence & Spa in Paris’s 6th arrondissement is located in an 18th century building that has been restored as an apartment hotel. The recently-renovated suites are decorated in a contemporary style and range in size from studios with a kitchenette that will sleep two guests up to 3 bedroom apartments that will sleep six or seven. These spacious accommodations make it an ideal choice for a family vacation in Paris.

Location

The Prince Régent is located in the Latin Quarter/St. Germain-des-Près neighbourhood near Luxembourg Gardens, the Sorbonne and the Pantheon. This neighbourhood is ideally situated for sightseeing in Paris. Our family (mom, dad, a 15 year old and an 8 year old) were able to walk to nearly all the attractions that we wanted to see, métro and RER train stops were nearby, and there were numerous cafés and restaurants in close proximity to the hotel.

Service and Amenities

There is a small office/Reception Desk inside the front door which is staffed daily from 7am til midnight. All of the staff members that we encountered were friendly, helpful and switched from French to English if we were having any difficulty communicating.

There is a continental breakfast served in the Breakfast Room daily from 7am – 10am. We didn’t try the breakfast during our stay as it was easier to have breakfast in our suite while getting ready in the morning.

There is a pool and spa in the hotel but it is restricted to guests who are 16 years of age and older. This would have led to a great deal of disappointment if my younger daughter had ever realized that there was a pool on the lower level of the building but since we didn’t use the breakfast room she had no idea that it was there.

Daily housekeeping service is provided. Free WIFI is available to guests.

Suites

We stayed in the 2 Bedroom L’Élegant suite which was perfect for our family’s needs. We loved the set up of our spacious suite which was decorated in a contemporary style with gorgeous dark hardwood floors and simple yet stylish furnishings. The suite consisted of a master bedroom overlooking the hotel’s courtyard, a second bedroom with two twin beds which had a street view, a kitchen, a large living/dining area, a full bath and a 1/2 bath which was located off the living area. The lounge is furnished with a double sofa bed so that the apartment could accommodate up to 6 guests easily.

Entrance of Prince Regent Hotel

Courtyard of Prince Regent Hotel in Paris

Neighborhood of Prince Regent Hotel

The kitchen in our suite was large and well-equipped with everything that one could have possibly need to prepare meals including a refrigerator/freezer; a dishwasher; a microwave; a small combination washer & dryer; and a small bistro-style table with two chairs. We didn’t make extensive use of the kitchen but we did have our breakfast in the apartment each day, brought home takeaway dinners on two occasions and prepared evening snacks. During the day we ate on the go and, generally, we ate dinner out at neighbourhood restaurants.

Kitchen of Prince Regent Hotel

There were two bathrooms in our apartment – a full bath outside the bedrooms (with the toilet in a separate room from the sink and shower) as well as a powder room (with a sink and toilet) inside the front entrance. As is the case with most European accommodations, the shower consisted of a tub with a hand-held shower head. This one was about 4 feet off the bottom of the tub which meant that my 8 year old was the only one who could shower easily – part of the charm of traveling in Europe.

Bathroom of Prince Regent Hotel

The living room was a very comfortable place to relax after a hectic day of sightseeing. There was satellite television service, however, the only English language channels were news stations. This didn’t bother Emma, however, as she watched French cartoons while we were there.

Dining room of Prince Regent Hotel

Living room at Prince Regent Hotel

The Master Bedroom was furnished with a bed equivalent in size to a North American Queen or King as well as a dresser and two bedside tables and had plenty of cupboard and closet space. Each bedroom in the suite had a LCD flat screen TV in addition to the one that was located in the living area.

Bedroom at Prince Regent

The second bedroom, which our daughters shared, had two twin beds, two bedside tables and a desk and a dresser. The windows had sheer coverings as well as heavy drapes which kept out the light in the morning.

2 beds in a room

The only issue that we had with our suite was that there was quite a bit of noise from a bar located directly across the street from our apartment. We were on the second floor so bar patrons were standing almost directly under the window of the second bedroom in our apartment and the sound from the street made it difficult for the kids to sleep at times. We spoke to hotel staff about this and were advised that the windows are to be replaced to make them more soundproof.

I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this property to others and would probably stay here on a future trip to Paris. The location is ideal – I can’t imagine wanting to stay in any other neighbourhood in Paris- and the hotel itself has the charm and character that one doesn’t find in chain hotels.

We loved having the convenience of staying in a spacious apartment while still having the luxury of hotel services such as daily housekeeping and a front desk that was willing to help with any issues or arrangements. Free WIFI is a very important amenity for us as well. My husband and I both appreciate the service, however, our teenage daughter finds it impossible to live without checking in on-line from time to time. Any hotel that provides free WIFI and thus manages to keep the family peace gets a very big plus in my rating system.

Lisa Goodmurphy writes about family travel adventures at Gone With The Family.

Catching The Boat In Railay, Thailand

Getting to Railay, Krabi is half the fun. The town and beaches are only accessible by long tail boat from either Ao Nang (to the north) or a pier near Krabi (to the south). Boats don’t follow a set schedule but depart when the boat operators have enough passengers to make it worthwhile. When it’s low tide a trek through the mud is sometimes necessary to reach the boat and luggage is carried either on a tractor or upon heads and shoulders. It’s not unheard for boats to tip in rough seas (especially during the rainy season when the monsoon hits) so be sure your boat has life jackets.

A group of Thai workers (and a few tourists) walking through the water to catch the boat to the mainland.

29 Tips and Tricks for Traveling the World with Kids

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Pulling off a great family vacation requires a lot of planning, patience and effort. You get better at all this the more you do it. You stay more focused on what’s important — and less on what’s not. I’ve traveled a lot with my kids — and learned a lot of lessons — these are my top tips for having a great time while traveling with children.

Planning Your Trip

1. Check the validity of your passports. Be sure they’re good for 3 months after the day of your arrival home. Many people make the mistake of thinking that as long as they’re back home before their passports expire they’ll be fine. (It seems like common sense doesn’t it?) But not so. Authorities will often demand that your passport be good for several weeks — even several months for some countries — past the day of your arrival home. Some airlines will not let you board the plane if there is not enough extra time on your passport.

2. Scan your passports and email them to yourself, along with any other important documents — e.g. green card, birth certificate, the visa pages of your passport. If you ever lose your passports abroad, this will save you a ton of time and hassle when you have to replace them.

3. Notify your credit card companies before you leave. Banks are very careful about fraud nowadays — and run algorithms on your billing history to spot any irregularities. A charge from a country or city that you’ve never previously had a charge from could easily get your credit card frozen. And unfreezing your account from a foreign city in a different time zone, will be a lot harder than just calling your bank before departure.

4. Take more than one credit or debit card. Cards work differently in foreign countries, some will work at bank ATM but not at a corner store ATM, others will work in restaurants but not at an ATM. There are a number of complex rules and reasons but if you don’t work in the banking industry you’ll never know all of them. The best remedy is to take multiple cards.

5. Make an Out-The-Door list. Leaving for the airport — as your holiday starts — is one of the most stressful times of any trip. Have a list of things you need to grab as you’re leaving your home. I don’t mean a list of things you need to take (i.e. 2 pairs of pants, 3 t-shirts ). I mean a list of things you’ll need to physically grab. It should be a last minute checklist of all the little (and big) things you’ll need as you are going out the door. There will be the bags of course, the money belt, some water in the fridge for the airport, some snacks on the counter and sweaters for the plane. Plus all the indispensables you’ll want to double-check one last time before heading to the airport: passports, credit cards, cash. There’s a lot to remember — so have a list for it!

6. Put enough in your carry-on bags for the first day or 2 of your trip. This is good advice for anyone but especially when traveling with kids. If your bags are lost you don’t want to be hunting for diapers or a pair of shorts immediately after your arrival in a new city or country.

7. Count your suitcases, backpacks, handbags and keep the number in your head. This is simple and maybe painfully obvious, but it sure helps. You hop in a taxi, “bag count — 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6  — yep they’re all here”. Easy. (Bigger families may want to conduct a kid count as well.)

8.Use a small digital camera. The fantastic shots you think you’ll get of the Grand Canyon, or Taj Mahal or Great Wall of China will be left and forgotten. The really great photos that you’ll love and savor for years to come will be the up-close and intimate shots of your kids and your family. And the key to getting great family photos is to take a lot of them. A ton of them! And the way you do that is to take a small camera, have it with you all the time and take pictures as quickly and discreetly as possible. You might insist, I’ll do all that, but with a bigger better camera. But you probably won’t.

9. Book a hotel for your first nights of your trip — but then stay flexible. My advice for traveling singles (or couples) is always to book a hotel for their first night after arrival, then get your bearings, figure out where you want to go and just find hotels as you need them. I’ve upgraded this for traveling families — reserve the first 2 or 3 nights. I realize this advice won’t work for everyone. Some people need certainty and plans and dates. And having all your hotels reserved for the duration of your trip can make things easier. But you’ll also lose some flexibility. If something’s working — if you’ve found a great little beach resort or a really fun hotel with a friendly staff — you’ll have to say goodbye because you’ve already booked a room in the next town. On the other hand having the freedom to leave a place that isn’t living up to expectations is a great bonus and can make the difference between an average vacation and an unforgettable one.

Practicalities of Travel

10. Welcome — don’t fear — airport security. Security checkpoints force parents to be lean and efficient with their packing. Take what you need but don’t take what is unnecessary. Security can also be a good reason not to take stuff on the plane that you don’t want your kid to have (i.e. your kid’s new water gun). And insisting that you keep all your little bottles and creams in a Ziploc bag — what a great idea!

11. Don’t line up early for trains and airplanes or anything where you have a reserved seat. If you’re one of those people who like to maximize their time on the airplane, by all means, board early, get that seat warm, burn through all your snacks before anyone else has even boarded. How great!  You’ll have enough time on the plane without artificially extending it. As my son said on our return trip from Tokyo, “We have to go when they say final call right Papa?” Right!

12. One parent in charge. Don’t share the burden of any one duty while traveling. Packing for example. One person packs and knows where everything is. Two people pack and no one really knows where anything is. Same with hotels. One person plans them, arranges them, and books them. Do you have that confirmation email or do I? Na-Uh!

13. Get online storage for photos. Besides losing the kids, my photos are what I’m most concerned with losing. Forget your bag on the train platform and there goes your camera — and your photos. You can get free online storage at Adrive (50GB) or SkyDrive (25GB). (You will need a laptop, of course, to upload your photos.) Upload your pictures every night or two and then when you take your camera out on that fishing trip you’re not worried about dropping your camera and losing the last 2 weeks of photos.

14. Hire a car and driver. If you’re traveling in an inexpensive or developing country consider getting a driver instead of driving yourself. Prices are usually reasonable and they’ll know the ways and customs of the road better than you will. (Tip: have the address of your destination for longer distance trips. When you start your trip the driver will inevitably say, “Oh yes, I know where that is”, which translates to “I’ll ask for directions when we get there”. An address, instead of just a name, will help speed the process.)

Being There

15. Beat jet lag: stay up late the first night. Get outside and do something active. Long walks are good. Parks and playgrounds are great. Kids are usually so excited by their new environment you can get away with doing a lot that at home might not work. One caveat: most people forget — or don’t realize — that meal times can be way off as well in a new time zone. If your child usually eats a big breakfast and lunch but a small dinner at home. This can translate into no appetite at breakfast or lunch and then ravenous hunger at 7pm and midnight. Have a good array of healthful snacks in your hotel room on the first night.

16. Have a plan for the day. It doesn’t need to be cast in stone – stay flexible and easy going — but you should walk out the hotel door in the morning with a plan of where you’re going, what subway or bus you’re taking, what attractions do you have planned for the day? Perhaps obvious and natural to some but for me it wasn’t and once I took the time to plan the day on the night before, everything became a lot easier.

16. Check the website of the attraction just before your visit. It’s amazing how often museums will have closed for renovations, changed their schedule, or have a visiting show in place of its usual exhibits. Sometimes these changes can be nothing more than a nuisance. Other times they can ruin your plans for the day. Checking the website in the days before your visit eliminates most of this uncertainty.

17. Ask your hotel concierge for suggestions. Another obvious one that you nonetheless might skip because it sounds so touristy and lame. But they often know little tips and tricks for getting around the city and visiting attractions that can make your life a lot easier. Depending on the style of hotel asking at the front desk will often get you the owner or management who might have a monetary interest in directing you towards a certain establishment or tour group. A concierge usually has no connections at all and just give good advice.

18. Don’t do too much BUT don’t do too little either. I think the biggest mistake parents traveling with kids make is doing too little not too much. Get out there. Enjoy. Experience. Wear the kids out and get them tired.

Things to Pack

This could be a long list. I’ve picked 6 essentials.

19. A swim shirt. These make applying sun lotion so much easier. The back, shoulders and face burn the easiest and this takes 2 of those 3 out of play. But they’re not useful just on hot sunny days. If you’re swimming slightly out of the summer season — or even at a temperate swimming pool — they help keep some heat in and delay those chattering teeth for a little longer.

20. A great baby carrier or backpack. These are life savers in airports, train stations, cobblestone streets and hotels without elevators. Strollers are something to consider but if you have a little baby with you, a good carrier is close to a necessity.

21. A fabric high chair. These wrap around pretty much any type or size of chair and hold the baby in place so they can sit at the table. (There are many on the market but Totseat is a good one if you’re looking for names.)

22. A flashlight and a nightlight. Street lighting might not be as consistent as in your hometown and you’ll probably have a few nights returning to your hotel down a quiet road or path. A torch or flashlight can come in very handy. And a nightlight for the bathroom: Hotel rooms are unfamiliar and finding a bathroom in the middle of the night can be tricky. If your child — or even you — have to turn on a light it makes it much more likely they’ll have trouble getting back to sleep. A stumble over an unfamiliar ledge in a dark bathroom could make for a midnight visit to the hospital — or at least a lot of tears. A nightlight (with plug adapter if necessary) can solve these problems.

23. First Aid Tape— aka surgical tape. This stuff is great. Adhesive tape that is so much easier to apply than a band aid and actually sticks to fingers, toes, and the places kids really get cuts.

Staying Safe

Most things you do won’t make any difference. The top 5 that might:

24. Know the fire escapes. A good practice at any time but especially in foreign countries where the exits and escape routes might not be as well marked.

25. Drill your kids on swimming pool safety. When staying in a hotel with a swimming pool remind your young kids that they don’t go in the pool without telling mom or dad. Make it the first thing you do after you put down your bags in the room.

26. Get the necessary vaccines and get them early. Check with the CDC or NHS and get the relevant vaccines and anti-malarial medicines well before departure — some vaccines can require multiple visits and can take a few months to get the entire series of shots. Many adults haven’t had their booster shots, so get those as well. There’s nothing worse than getting a deep cut in place far from a hospital and then having to worry about whether your Tetanus booster is up to date.

27. Fly longer distances and avoid the highways. Flying is the safest mode of transport. There can be many reasons to drive instead of fly but don’t ever not fly and choose car or bus for safety reasons alone. The attacks on 9/11 killed almost 3000 people. Unknown to many, it also resulted in the death of another 2100 in the months that followed because people stopped flying and chose the road instead — a much more dangerous mode of transport. And that’s in the U.S. — if you’re traveling in a developing country the disparity in road and flight safety rates will be even higher.

28. Play act out unusual or worrisome scenarios. If you’re concerned about your child being lost in a busy market, then act out the scene and what they should do. If you tell a kid what to do when they’re lost, they’ll probably forget it. If you act out what they should do they’re much more likely to remember it. (There’s a reason employers do fire evacuation drills — they work!)

Last Word

29. Stay Positive! Be Happy! This can mean many things. For starters, you need a keen eye for what’s important and what’s not. With the typical boundaries and rules turned up side down, it’s very easy to become a “No, No, No, No” parent. Focus on the important stuff. Things that make your day easier and keep everyone safe. Try to hear yourself talking — you should be saying far more positive things than negative things.

Like at home, praise effort not results. Praise the process not the outcome. Comment on how hard they worked or how patient they were, not how well they did a task or how good they are at something.

And finally it means, living in the moment and taking everything in that you can. Live it! Experience it! Try new things and get out of your comfort zone. Become a kid again — explore, investigate, ask questions — and your children will come right along with you.

Trip Review: Puerto Vallarta to Mazatlan with Kids

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Puerto Vallarta

The beach in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

We started our trip in Puerto Vallarta and were there for 5 nights. We stayed in 3 different hotels sprinkled around different sections of the city.

The town is certainly popular with tourists but it never felt overrun and it was always easy to escape the touristy areas and get some great Mexican food or wander the city’s quieter streets.

Our time in Puerto Vallarta was largely spent at the beautiful beach along the south end of town. We visited the Naval Museum, walked the boardwalk along the coast every morning and night, and just spent a lot of time hanging out at the beach, eating and playing. We also visited the waterpark 20km north of town a couple of times as the kids love water slides .

Puerto Vallarta had some truly great food — the best on our trip — and was a great start to our vacation.

Sayulita

Buying some treats on a street in Sayulita.

After Puerto Vallarta we took a short taxi ride up the coast to Sayulita. The town has many long term vacationers and a very cool beach town vibe. Our hotel had a couple of bogey boards that we were free to borrow and that’s how we spent most of our 4 days there along with swimming, eating, and visiting the circus at night.

The hotels were much cheaper than Puerto Vallarta and we got a great place with a kitchen, dishes, toaster, and 3 beds for around $80 a night. The longer you stay the better the price and long term house rentals are easily found with a roaming walk around the hills surrounding the town.

Tepic

The main square and Cathedral in Tepic, Mexico.

Tepic was our stopover on the bus ride from Sayulita up to Mazatlan. We caught the bus to Tepic on the highway outside of town and arrived in Tepic 3 hours later.

Tepic is a inland city that sees few tourists and has a much different feel that the beach towns along the coast. Even the hotel workers spoke very little English, so it was a refreshing change from the very touristy towns where we started our trip.

We stayed at the Hotel Fray Junipero Serra that sits right on the main square and ate a delicious dinner at a friendly and homey restaurant just a few blocks away. The next morning we were up early to walk around the nearby market, get breakfast, and grab an early bus to Mazatlan.

Mazatlan

Playing on the beach in Mazatlan.

The bus ride from Tepic to Mazatlan took about 5 hours and involved a number of security checkpoints — one of which we had to leave the bus while authorities searched the interior. We arrived in Mazatlan in the late afternoon, walked to our hotel, and headed straight for the swimming pool.

The highlight of Mazatlan was walking around the old town and then taking the seaside path around the cape and back along the beach into town. There’s lot to do outside of town — mountain biking, horseback riding, and sports fishing, etc — but we only had 2 days and kept fairly close to the pool and the beach.

We stayed at 2 places: The Hotel Sands Arena which had a great pool, looked out on the beach, and was directly between old town and new town. We then moved onto El Cid Mega Resort for our final night — an all inclusive resort that was sort of tacky but it kept the kids very happy for our 24 hours there.

If I had to go back I’d stay at a hotel in the old town — though there are not as many hotels in that section but it’s probably worth the effort to seek them out.

Interview with Lenore Skenazy of Free Range Kids

Free Range Kids by Lenore Skenazy

We live in one of the safest times in human history to raise kids — perhaps the safest. Yet parents are overcome with fear. Fear of crime, fear of child abductions, fear of  germs, toys, and swing sets.

Lenore Skenazy writes that many of these fears are misplaced and that when we give our kids some independence, when we allow them to live the childhood that was natural to children just a few generations ago, that everyone benefits — parents, kids, and society.

She blogs at Free Range Kids.

I talked to Lenore on the phone while she was at her home in New York City.

David: One of your chapters is subtitled, “Quit Trying to Control Everything. It Doesn’t Work.” I wonder where this desire to manage and direct everything comes from? Is it just a part of being a parent, or do you think something’s changed in our society where we feel the need to govern every little thing in our children’s lives?

Lenore: I do think that something has changed in society. Of course, parents are always concerned for their children’s welfare. It’s our job to keep them alive and propagate the species and, plus, we love them. But what I think has happened recently is the idea that we that can control things. We’ve almost gotten to the point where so many things that used to be beyond our control with everything from diphtheria to crashing through the windshield have become taken care of.

We have vaccines and we have airbags and we have car seats and we have cribs with the right spacing between the bars. Everything is so safe that we figure we can keep everything terrible at bay.

That’s what I was just reading today. Someone was recalling, I think, two million baby monitors because two children in the last ten years had gotten strangled, which is horrible, in the cords. The idea was if only there were no cords or if only there were signs on the monitors in big letters — “Don’t put a cord anywhere near the crib” — that nothing bad would ever happen.

Yesterday I had a piece on my blog about somebody had put up a tire swing in his town and the town was threatening to take it down. One woman wrote and said, “They should take it down. I was on a tire swing as a kid and it hit me in the eye and I am now blind in one eye. They should all be outlawed.” That’s sort of the way we look at life now. If anything bad ever happened once to anyone in the world having to do with anything, we get rid of it.

Truthfully after a kid in New York City was killed by a falling branch in Central Park, which is an unspeakable tragedy, people were seriously chatting about well, you know, maybe these trees are too dangerous. Maybe we have to get rid of them. Maybe we have to inspect them more. The idea that anything bad could ever happen is so horrendous to us and we always look for somebody to blame and the person to blame always ends up, generally, being the parent, that parents are being driven to the point where they have to think far into the future of the consequences of any decision and try to control it right at that instant.

“I think if our parents had thought this way as we were growing up, we couldn’t have walked to school. We couldn’t have ridden our bikes to the library. We couldn’t have spent any time at the public pool without them there. We really would have had a very indoors, quiescent, un-exploring life, which is what we’re giving our kids.”

David: Just to review for people that don’t know your back story, you allowed your nine year old son to ride the subway home on his own a few years back. In hindsight, this story has several key elements that pushed it into the tabloids and morning news programs – kid’s safety, New York City, the subway, a potential crime. You almost couldn’t have dreamed up a better promotional story, could you?

Lenore: It’s amazing to me, but having been a columnist for about six or seven years at that point and having written, probably, a thousand columns, 999 of which never gotten any public attention whatsoever, never landed me on the “Today Show,” of course I was shocked by the reaction to that particular column.

David: Living in New York City, in general, it has to be a very unique upbringing for a child. Could you talk a little bit about why you chose to raise your kids in the city? Some of the pros and cons of living in New York and what are some of the kid-friendly attractions in New York that you couldn’t imagine living without?

Lenore: For me, it’s very, it’s an easier place to raise a kid than where I was growing up. I grew up in the suburbs, and my mom had to drive me to ice skating lessons. She had to drive me to Sunday school. It required a lot of ferrying around. Whereas in New York, when your kid gets a little older, say nine, they can get themselves places because there’s a lot of public transportation, and moreover there’s a lot of people around all the time, which I believe makes it very safe. I think that there’s safety in numbers. I think most people are good. So, if you have a lot of people around, you can have your kid outside and there’s a lot of people looking after them or whom they could ask for help if they needed it.

As far as fun things for the kids, I think there’s sort of normal things that they like. They like the park except it happens to be Central Park. They like apples, but it happens to be at the Apple store, like Steve Job’s Apple Store. My one son loves going there. Actually, both sons like going there and just playing with gadgets. They get themselves around. They meet friends for a movie. It’s an easier place for a kid to be self- sufficient than the suburbs after a certain age.

David: In many ways it seems reasonable to warn your kids, to warn kids and parents about everything. What’s the harm in a warning? But there are costs to this way of living, to this way of thinking. Costs for our kids, costs for the family, costs for us parents, aren’t there?

Lenore: It’s sort of a new way of looking at life. Thinking of everything in terms of not only a risk at that minute but a risk 30, 40, 50 years down the line. If I give my kid a Cheeto now, is he going to hang on to that orange dye number seven for the next 30 years and then develop a lump in his pinkie? Who knows what’s going to happen. Really, was this something I should’ve done for the kid or not? Shouldn’t I have grown my own Cheetos?

It’s a very obsessive way of thinking, and it can drive you crazy because . . . I call it “worst first.” You sort of think of the worst possible consequences of every action first which leads to some paralysis. If you think that your kid is going to be abducted in the two blocks walk to school with his friend, you won’t let him walk to school. If you think that the bus driver is possibly a molester, then you won’t let him ride the school bus. What do you end up doing? You end up having to drive them, without thinking of those risks — for some reason driving always gets a pass. You never think about the possibility of him dying in a fiery car crash or choking to death in 30 years due to the emissions that have grown untenable because everybody’s driving their kids to school.

It is a constricting way to think. I think if our parents had thought this way as we were growing up, we couldn’t have walked to school. We couldn’t have ridden our bikes to the library. We couldn’t have spent any time at the public pool without them there. We really would have had a very indoors, quiescent, un-exploring life, which is what we’re giving our kids.

I agree that you should be thinking ahead in terms of the potential dangers that really do exist. I think you really owe it to your kids to teach them very young and very diligently how to cross the street safely. I think you have to teach them how to talk to strangers but don’t go off with strangers. I think you have to teach them how to swim. I think you have to teach them about good touch, bad touch. Most people are good, but if anybody wants to touch you where your bathing suit is, you tell them no. Even if they say, “Don’t tell anybody,” you tell me and I won’t be mad at you.

Basic things like that, sort of like you teach them to stop, drop, and roll just in case there’s ever a fire, you prime them because that’s your job as a parent. But then you have to gradually see if they are looking both ways before crossing the street. If they have learned the route to school and if they feel ready and maybe if they have a friend who wants to walk with them and crime is down since when we were kids in the ’70s and ’80s. Crime is lower today than it has been since 1974. Then why not give your kids the kind of freedom that you, not only relished, but helped you develop.

When your parents believe in you and when you believe in yourself and you believe in your neighborhood and you believe you can do things, that’s giving you the kind of self-esteem and self-confidence and self-reliance that we’ve noticed are missing from our kids and we try to give back to them artificial ways through gold stars and trophies for showing up and good jobs for when they draw a scribble on a piece of paper.

What I’m trying to say is if we don’t give our children any freedom and any sense that we do believe that they can make their way in the world, they won’t. It’s not fair.

David: It’s hard for me to believe, but some people live in this bubble — I call it the TV bubble — where the world is filled with risks and crime and violence. When in reality we live at the safest time in human history to raise kids. Could you talk a bit about the drop in crime and some of the other factors that should be making parents happy and confident instead of worried and fearful?

Lenore: Yeah, that’s all I keep reading about. We are living in, as you were saying, one of the safest times in history. Crime has been on a 16 year decline. Our food and drugs, even though we’re always worried about something, some trace element of this or that seeping in, are actually more regulated than any time in human history. Cars are safer now. Fewer children are getting cancer than they were when I was growing up when in the ’50s one out of every 30 children would die before the age of 5. That’s one kid out of every kindergarten class would not end up in the kindergarten class, and now it’s far, far less. It’s a healthy and lovely time for children to be alive and for parents to revel in that, and instead we’re more afraid than ever.

The thing about crime is that when you do watch TV, something happens called the mean world syndrome. It’s not me who made up that term — it was a guy at the University of Pennsylvania. Mean world syndrome was something that he measured. He looked at how much time people spent watching TV, and then he gave people surveys of how bad they thought the world was. The people who watched more TV felt the world was more dangerous, more filled with criminals, crime, tragedy because, of course, that’s what television thrives on. If it was all documentaries about song birds, you wouldn’t tune in, but Nancy Grace will get you to tune in.

When they’ve actually done surveys of people, like Gallup does a survey every year — Is crime going up or down? I haven’t seen this year’s survey, which would’ve been for 2010. But in 2009, 73% of the people surveyed said crime was going up, and according to FBI statistics, crime went down 10%, the murder rate went down 10% that year. If you have a double-digit drop in crime and 73% of people believe that crime is going up, there’s a great disparity between reality and perception. I think that the more we watch TV, the greater that gap is.

“Your child is 40 times more likely to die in a car crash than to be killed by a stranger.”

David: I’m sure you’ve seen these on TV or in the newspaper — the 10 or 20 or 30 year anniversary of some tragic murder or abduction. It definitely grabs you, obviously. What if that were my kid? But then I catch myself, and say, “Wait a second. How many thousands of kids have been killed in a car accident over those two or three decades?”

Lenore: Well, I have statistics for this — not that anybody cares. People go through these paroxysms of self-doubt when they let their child walk to the park or play out on the lawn even because they can all picture a child who was on a milk carton or on one of these specials like you are talking about who did disappear and it’s an unspeakable tragedy. But they don’t think about the same unspeakable tragedy, which is death, when they put a child in their car seat and drive to the dentist’s office, even though your child is 40 times more likely to die in a car crash than to be killed by a stranger. For some reason, cars get a pass because we think we’re in control.

You will never be faulted for driving your child to the dentist office and ending up in a fiery crash because you were there. You weren’t trying to do anything wrong. But if your child dies another way with you not there, you will have fingers pointed at your from Larry King on down to Anderson Cooper down to the local paper and the PTA. Why wasn’t she there? I would never let my child out of my sight. Why did you have him if you didn’t want to care for him? It serves you right.

David: You have a chapter on childhood experts. It would be one thing if these experts gave us good advice. If we read a book on safeguarding our home and our kids were instantly safer. But much of the common safety advice makes no difference at all, does it?

Lenore: Well, it depends. My chapter on experts is not just about safety, like how to secure your child in the house or how to keep them safe from kidnapping. A lot of it had to do with that fact that there are people telling us how to live every single aspect of our life with our children down to what to eat when we’re pregnant, what mobiles to hang over the crib when they’re born, how to have a conversation about a picture the child drew.

I read a chapter in one of the how-to books about how to discuss that really, really difficult subject. How to have the conversation about the tooth fairy, as if these are things that no parent could possibly navigate on their own or figure out that maybe they should eat some vegetables while they’re pregnant. Maybe they should sing a little bit to their kid when the baby’s born. Maybe they should not feed them beef jerky as their first meal. There’s stuff that is pretty common sensical to parents and nobody gives credence to.

You have to have been taught exactly how to do it precisely right by some expert. Then if you don’t, if there’s that one meal you trip up . . . like this morning, my kid was so un-hungry and I didn’t want him to go school without eating anything. I tempted him with toast. I tried to get him to look at the cereal cabinet. How about an egg? No, no. Okay, I had a Kit Kat in my purse. How about a Kit Kat? “Oh, I’ll eat a Kit Kat.” You know what? I was happy he ate a Kit Kat instead of going to school hungry and later realizing he was hungry.

If I had read a book, I’m sure it would’ve told me never have any candy before 8:00 in the morning. Don’t set a dangerous precedent feeding your child candy. Don’t you realize that most cavities occur if the child won’t be brushing his teeth until late that night. There’s absolutely no nutritional value to candy. This will only cause him to have a headache later and do poorly on his SATs. I mean there’s like so many things that every decision could be determined by according to the experts, but, frankly, seat of the pants works for me. Works for most kids. Our species has made it to this point, 300,000 years of human evolution before there was a section in Barnes and Noble called parenting.

David: You’ve, obviously, done a lot of thinking on child safety tips – the good ones, the bad ones. What safety precautions stand out for you as being really useful, as actually making a difference and keeping kids safe?

Lenore: The ones I was talking about before. Teach them how to cross the street. When I spoke to the head of the Crimes Against Children Research Center, David Finkelhor, about all these exhortations. Don’t write your child’s name on the backpack. Somebody’s going to see it through a telescope and then come up and say, “Hi, Barry. I’m your mother’s friend, Barry.” It turns out that that’s a stupid piece of advice. It never happens. Besides of which if they wanted to figure out that you were Barry, they would just stand near you and listen to your friends talking to you for a few minutes.

To keep your children safe from child molesting, really, which 90% occurs at the hands of somebody they know not a stranger, so don’t emphasis stranger danger, emphasize the idea that you can teach good touch/bad touch to children as young as age three. Bad touch is anything that has to do with anybody touching anywhere that’s normally covered by a bathing suit. That you can tell you parents that somebody . . . first of all, you can say no to an adult.

Secondly, even if an adult says, “Don’t say anything about this. This is our secret,” you don’t have to have a secret. Come tell me. I won’t be mad at you. That turns out to be far more protective than placing thousands of more people on the sex offender list or getting the sex offender app and looking for houses near you. The sex offender list is just riddled with people who pose no threat to children as well as a few who do, but you can’t distinguish them on a map.

David: You sort of stumbled into this role — Do you think you’re making a difference?

Lenore: I’m positive I’m making a difference because every day I get letters from people saying, “I was worried about letting my kids who are six and seven play on our front lawn, but then I read your book and I decided what am I worried about, they’re together. I’m right inside. They know to call. They know . . .” “Why did I get a house with a lawn if not to have the kids play on the lawn?” So I know that individually people are changing. It’s hard to change a whole society, and that’s the real challenge. Individuals will be able to absorb this message. But the society is still bucking the idea of children being safe or competent because there’s a lot more money to be made making us fearful.

First of all, you can show a “Law and Order” show about a kid being abducted or kidnapped or raped or murdered, and that’s going to be a show that grabs a lot of viewers. So they’re not going to change. Then the news is always about what’s the most scary — what’s the most horrifying. Stay tuned, the killer in your kitchen cabinet tonight at 9:00! That’s not going to change.

The toy stores and baby supply stores are filled with objects that supposedly provide safety for our children, but what they really do is provide us with a new fear of a very far fetched, unlikely danger that they then assuage with the product. So they’re not going to be in the business . . . the people who sell baby knee pads are not going to say, “Boy were we crazy. This was a silly thing. Obviously, children have been crawling since the beginning of time. They have soft knee pads at that point. They have got a soft big bottom not to mention a diaper. They’re going to fine without these things. Forget it. We’re taking them off the market.” So the marketplace is working. There are all the parenting magazines that have to put something scary on the cover. Is your child at risk for AIDs? How safe is your nanny? Is your child in the wrong school? Because if they said everything’s fine, don’t worry about it, and go about your lives as you were, nobody would buy that magazine and besides of which it couldn’t push any products.

While I feel like parents who read my book or look at the blog or just think about these things on their own and sort of take a step back and think, gee, we survived without all this stuff, those people are going to be changing and they are changing. But there’s a lot of money riding on people getting more afraid.

David: I don’t think any one issue or event quite captures the absurdity of our fear as succinctly as Halloween and the fear of poisoned candy and all the time, energy, and public warning that go into defending us against a risk that has never been shown to hurt anyone.

Lenore: Yeah. What I finally realized about Halloween is it’s our test market for parental fears. It started with the fear that our children were being poisoned by strangers’ candy. The idea behind that is, of course, the people who look normal and nice who live in our neighborhood are really all potential child killers and we should treat them as such. We should assume that anytime they give our children candy, unless it is sealed hermetically at a factory, it is taboo and possibly murderous. So that starts us thinking in a very strange way about our neighborhoods. Right? It’s not that it’s filled with neighbors, it’s filled with potential child killers. Once we started giving that any credence on Halloween, we started giving it credence on the other 364 days of the year and keeping our children inside and telling them not to say hello and walk fast past the neighbors. Never go knock on a door, and Girl Scouts aren’t allowed to sell cookies by themselves anymore. Now they have to have an adult with them. Everything became stranger danger. That was one fear that got sort of ramped up by Halloween.

The other thing is that now on Halloween in many states or different municipalities, if you are on the sex offender registry, you are not allowed to answer the door for fear that you will rape the children who come to the door. In some places, you’re not even allowed to have any lights on in the home lest that lure an unsuspecting child into your lair.

Then there was a big study done this year by three academics and I can’t remember their names. They studied 37,000 cases of sex crimes from 1996 to 2006, I think, ever since the escalation of the sex offender laws. They found absolutely no rise in sex crimes on Halloween even before these draconian laws were passed or after. In fact, the academic that I spoke to said they were thinking of calling their paper, “Halloween the Safest Day of the Year.”

Why is it safe? Because people are outside, because children are back outside, because some adults are outside, so that’s the ironic thing. We are safer the more we are outside, the more we are communing with our neighbors, the more we become a community again. Yet, all the fears, there are sex crimes out there and these guys are going to snatch you in and you shouldn’t answer the door, people are poisoning candy — which has actually never happened in the history of America as Joel Best, the academic who has studied child poisonings, found out.

The fact that we have taken all of these to heart as if they were real threats and absolutely changed the holiday as a result and taken it indoors, into the community centers, into the churches, parentally supervised, taken children off the streets, told them they’re not competent, they’re not safe, they need be hot-housed for them to be safe, that just became the template for all parenting. So I think if you look at Halloween and any of the trends that we see on that particular holiday, you’ll see exactly where childhood is going.

Further Reading:

Trip Review: Thailand With Kids

Updated: January, 2017

A Family Trip to Thailand

An account of our trip to Thailand in March and April of 2008.
Age of kids during trip: 2 and 5.

See Also

Update: This post is about our first trip to Thailand with kids. We have since been back twice. Now that we’ve seen pretty much everywhere I would rate my favorite family destination in Thailand as Railay. After that, Koh Samui. Bangkok is awesome for it’s food and energy. Chiang Mai (and the overnight train trip to there from Bangkok) is pretty close to a must as well.

BANGKOK

We flew with Eva Air from Seattle to Taipei, and then Taipei to Bangkok.  We had flown with Eva on a previous trip to Indonesia and had much the same experience as Eva is a competent but unremarkable airline — though this time they did lose our stroller en route. (We got a $300 refund a few weeks after we got home.)

After landing we passed through immigration without any problems, grabbed our bags, and a taxi got us to the Amari Watergate Hotel in the Pratunam district in downtown Bangkok.

We spent our 24 hours in Bangkok, touring the local street market, eating at the hotel’s very good Thai restaurant, and swimming in the pool overlooking the city.

Journey to Ko Samui

The kids playing on the beach in Ko Samui.

Bophut, Ko Samui

We had planned to take the train down the coast to Surat Thani – either on a overnight train or with a stop in Hua Hin – and then ferry across to Samui. But when we saw how cheap the flights were we booked a ticket to Surat Thani departing on the morning of our 2nd day. The combined flight, bus, ferry and taxi ride made for a long day getting from Bangkok to Samui.

In hindsight I would have stuck with our original plan to take the train or have spent a bit more and flown directly to Ko Samui. (Bangkok Airways owns the airport on Samui and thus is the only airline to fly into the island.)

I’ve taken the overnight train before and the connections to the morning ferry across to Samui and Ko Pha Ngan are fairly painless. Not so with the plane.

A bus departs the airport for the ferry terminal and the trip takes a good two hours. Then wait for the ferry and another 2 hours across to Samui. It is hardly arduous travel but by the time we finally reached our hotel on the island we were exhausted.

Bophut, Ko Samui

We stayed in Bophut, on the north side of the island and a short drive to both the airport and Chaweng.  There isn’t a lot to Bophut but the beach is outstanding — perhaps one of the nicest beaches in all of Thailand.  You can wander along the sand to find a number of places to eat and drink. As with much of our time in Thailand we would usually spend the morning at the beach and the afternoon at the pool, if our hotel had one.  Though they seem very similar to an adult, to our kids they seemed to be wholly different activities. And when they had grown tired of one, the other one still seemed intriguing.

Chaweng Beach, Ko Samui

Chaweng is the fun but very touristy epicenter of Ko Samui.  The main attraction for us, was the wide variety of good places to eat. We did some Italian, some Indian, and some Mexican.  The beach really comes alive at night and we had a lot of fun doing the evening stroll along the sand looking for some place to settle down and eat. We enjoyed our 3 nights here but were glad to move on to someplace quieter.

On the beach in Chaweng, Samui.

Dinner on the beach. Chaweng, Ko Samui.

Mae Nam, Ko Samui

A relaxing low key town popular with long term travelers. The beach isn’t as nice as Bophut but there are more restaurants and cafes. If you are in Mae Nam be sure to eat at La Trattoria up near the main ring road. One of the best meals we had in Thailand.

Railay Beach, Krabi

Railay (also spelled Rai Leh) is a great spot over on the east coast of the country. We flew from Samui to Krabi, a flight that lasted less than an hour. From the airport it’s about an hour by taxi or bus to Ao Nang and then from there a long tail boat gets you to Railay.  The boat operators have to have a full boat before leaving for Railay, so the wait can range between 5 minutes and an hour.  The boat ride itself takes about 20 or 30 minutes.

Railay is blessed with 2 beautiful beaches, easy access to sea kayaking and rock climbing, and a variety of longer day trips as well.  Railay is essentially a peninsula and it’s important to note that the west beach is great, while the east turns to mud flats at low tide. This doesn’t make the east beach an unattractive option however as these hotels are much cheaper and it’s just a short 5 minute walk from one side to the other.

At the beach in Railay, Krabi, Thailand

Railay Beach

From Railay we took an early morning boat back to the main land, this time heading south from Railay as opposed to from the North when we arrived. Then a short taxi ride to the Krabi airport and the flight back to Bangkok.

Back To Bangkok

On our 2nd pass through Bangkok we stayed in the backpacker district of Khao San Road. We were expecting some lively – maybe too lively – young backpacker activity that we could easily allude by ducking into a quiet restaurant or returning to the hotel swimming pool. What we got was complete unfettered chaos. It turned out it we had landed in Bangkok just before the Thai Songkran festival – a week long carnival of water fights, face painting, water fights, eating, drinking and more water fighting. Our oldest boy bought a water gun and joined the Songkran fun.

Where We Stayed

Amari Watergate, Bangkok
The Amari is a very nice hotel at pretty reasonable rates considering the quality of service and amenities.  We got a very good deal with Priceline, but almost any online web site has steep discounts so if you do stay here don’t book directly with the hotel. A very nice open air pool is on the 8th floor with views of the surrounding city. Several malls, the skytrain and Siam Ocean World are nearby if those things entice.

Viengtai Hotel, Bangkok
On our way home we stayed at the Viengtai Hotel in the Khao San Road district. It was a very clean respectable hotel in the frenetic backpacker district. The main selling point was the beautiful pool. Clean, long and deep it was wonderful after negotiating the Songkran crowds.

Restaurant at World Resort in Bophut, Samui

World Resort, Bophut, Ko Samui

World Resort Koh Samui, Bophut, Ko Samui
Despite the title this isn’t anything like a resort, but a very pleasant relaxing bungalow style hotel with great breakfasts, a nice pool and fantastic stretch beach. We stayed 3 nights and loved it.

Montien House, Chaweng, Ko Samui
A nice hotel with a decent pool and good stretch of beach out in front. Perhaps the Montien lacks a little character, but no one goes to Chaweng for ambience.

Maenamburi Resort, Mae Nam, Ko Samui
A very simple bungalow style hotel. Clean spare rooms go for about 1500 THB. A very friendly group of workers made for a nice stay.

Sunrise Tropical Resort, Railay Beach, Krabi
The rooms were fantastic. Beautifully decorated with an open air shower. The pool was equally great. The food was OK at best, and perhaps that’s being generous. Rooms go for 2000 THB and up.  The Sunrise is on Railay’s east beach and thus to do any swimming or beach lounging requires a short walk along dirt paths to the west beach.

Trip Particulars

Health

As always check the cdc web site for vaccination and malaria recommendations. But compared to other destinations in South and South-East Asia Thailand is about as safe and easy as it gets.

Getting There

Bangkok is the center of cheap flights for the region so you should have a lot of choices in how and when to get there. Enter some dates – preferably flexible dates — into Kayak then proceed to the web sites of the cheapest airlines to see if their web sites offer an even better deal. Bangkok is a great place to buy cheap tickets, so if this is part of a extended trip don’t feel you have to book all your flights before starting your trip.

Getting Around

Traveling around Thailand is easy, cheap and often painfully slow. It’s as if the country has made it half the way to a Westernised idea of efficiency on punctuality. Trains and buses tend to leave on time, but then enter some strange time warp where 50 miles on the map can take several hours. Be patient and have fun. You’re traveling right?

Air Asia can be the remedy for many of these road trials and tribulations. They seem to be adding routes every couple of months and prices only go down, not up. Their web site is great and easy to use.

Nokair, One Two Go and Bangkok Airways are other airlines that offer cheap flights to all corners of the country.

Weather

I’ve been to Thailand 4 times, in 4 different seasons and can say that when planning a trip don’t let climate determine where and when you’re going to travel. You can get great beach weather in the wet season and be doused with rain in the dry season. The weather patterns on each of the coasts vary a fair bit as well, so if you’re getting crummy weather on one coast it’s always an option to travel across the country and see if you get sunny skies.

Travel Tips

Really make an effort to get away from the more touristy spots. This advice applies everywhere of course, but I think it’s especially relevant in Thailand. After a few days of interacting with jaded hotel owners and tour operators on the tourist trail you’ll be shocked at just how friendly and inviting Thais can be when you see them in their local element. It really is the land of smiles. And if you have kids, forget about it. You’ll never want to go home.

Summary

Destinations don’t get much better than Thailand. Safe, beautiful and relatively easy to get around, the country offers seemingly all the amenities of the west while still retaining a lot of the old Thai culture and hospitality. Make an effort to get off the beaten track and you’ll be rewarded with some of the friendliest people, most beautiful scenery and fantastic food the world has to offer.

Vietnam With Kids

See Also

Family Vacation in Vietnam

This is an account of our trip to Vietnam in August and September. We traveled the country from north to south, visiting Hanoi, Ninh Binh, Hue, Danang, Hoi An, Nha Trang, Dalat, Mui Ne, Saigon and the Mekong Delta.

Age of kids during trip: 3 and 6.

HANOI

We flew with Delta Airlines from Seattle to Seoul and then Seoul to Hanoi arriving very late at night. We took a taxi into Hanoi, which took about 40 minutes and were dropped at the Hanoi Lake View Hotel, a place we had booked over the internet. As often happens with internet bookings the hotel assumed we were just 2 adults without children. And so they did what most hotels do in this situation: upgrade you to a family room at no extra charge. The room was great, with AC, 3 beds and a very large balcony overlooking the lake.

Hanoi was one of the highlights of our trip. Not so much for any one or collection of sights but more for the old asia of the Old Quarter. As you walk the city streets bouncing in and out of markets, up and down bustling alleys, you get that “This is why I travel” feel.

The shady playground at Lenin Park in Hanoi

Things We Did: Water Puppets. Daily performances are held at the Municipal Water Puppet Theatre near Hoan Kiem Lake. It’s so hyped up I was preparing myself for a big let down, but definitely worth it. Both our kids were right into it (until they fell asleep anyways). Hanoi Water Park. A little ways out of town but a must for the kids. There are many water parks sprinkled throughout the country but if you get to only one, make it this one. It’s a little surreal climbing to the top level for the slides, looking around and seeing a collection of rice paddies. A little closer to the city center and much more low key and relaxing is the Army Hotel swimming pool. It’s open to non-guests for about $5 a person. It’s a huge deep pool with a small shallow area for kids. I read some fairly negative reviews of this place before we went but it seemed great to me.

Where We Stayed: Hanoi Lake View Hotel ($45). Nice clean room. Very nice staff. A little out of the way, so you do spend a bit of time and money on taxis, but it puts you right beside a lake ringed with a sidewalk. There’s often a market on the western and northern sides of the lake that is fun to browse through. You’re also not far from Lenin Park.  It features what was probably the nicest playground we saw in all Vietnam. A couple of nice climbing structures and some simple but entertaining rides. Very shady and relaxing too.

Market in Hanoi, Vietnam

Browsing for fish in a Hanoi market.

Royal 1 Hotel ($30), in the heart of the old city, surrounded by bustle and excitement. Clean, functional, and unmemorable.

Places To Eat: Mediterraneo. The best Italian food we had in Vietnam. Authentic and delicious. It’s situated in a very cool, trendy neighborhood that we hadn’t seen or explored until stopping here on our way to the train station.
Green Tangerine. Full disclosure: We didn’t eat here. But we so consistently heard great things about this place I have to mention it. Probably worth checking out.

Getting Away: We had two departures from Hanoi. The original plan was to first go to Ninh Binh, about 60 miles south of Hanoi, stay a day or two then keep heading south on an overnight train. It turns out the sleeper train doesn’t stop in Ninh Binh which meant we had to retrace our steps north – hence the two different hotels in Hanoi – then catch the overnight train going to Hue.

The train from Hanoi to Ninh Binh, Vietnam

Arriving in Ninh Binh.

The kids were very excited to sleep on the train. It was something we had all talked about endlessly since first planning the trip, and for the most part, it didn’t fail to deliver. We had a private room with 4 sleepers in the typical arrangement – the bottom benches turning into beds and two bunks above. The kids roamed around the car for the first hour or two and then it was time for bed. The night was uneventful and we all had a fairly good sleep. The “dining car” was basically just a few tables with a big pot of pho cooking on the stove. That’s all they had – which was fine by us – so that’s what everyone had for breakfast. We were due to arrive in Hue at about 8am but didn’t get there until about 11:00. The last few hours did start to get a little long, but probably just because everyone was so hungry. Be sure to take plenty of snacks and fruit for any train ride.

NINH BINH (TAM COC and MUA CAVES)

This is a short 2 hour train ride from Hanoi. Saying the town is unremarkable is being generous. Dusty and busy with transport trucks it’s almost a little depressing. This isn’t why I travel. But it serves as the gateway to the incredible Tam Coc region. Dubbed an inland Halong Bay it was an incredible experience for both the kids and the adults. The owner of the hotel where we stayed arranged our visit to Tam Coc and surroundings. Probably the easiest and most efficient way to do a visit. We took a rowboat down the river and through the caves. I’ve heard horror stories about how busy the river can be at times, but when we were there it was peaceful and quiet with very few other western tourists around. We also did a visit to a couple of nearby sites, most memorably to Mua Cave and the karst that towers above it. Supposedly 500 steps to the top, the view is stunning and worth the hike. It was a long trek up for our youngest but he was determined to keep up with big brother and made it within a couple of steps of the peak. When you get to the top it’s rice paddies or the Ngo Dong River wherever you look and you can easily trace the path your boat took through Tam Coc.

Kids on boat at Tam Coc.

On a boat through Tam Coc.

Where we stayed: Thanhthuy’s Guest House. Clean and cheap with a nice little (very little) courtyard and restaurant. It was decent but not the character-ladened traveler hangout some of the guide books would imply.

HUE

We made a very quick 1 night stop in Hue and didn’t give it a fair opportunity to impress us. We did do a relaxing trip up and down the river and take a swim at the riverside pool of the Century Riverside Hotel.

Where We Stayed: Hue Sports 1 Hotel. Clean and cheap but almost totally lacking in character. If you do stay here, don’t eat here (besides the free breakfast). They get a lot of their menu delivered from neighboring restaurants, making the food a little more expensive and a lot colder than it would be otherwise.

Places To Eat: La Carambole. Good French food. Great coffee and espresso.

CHINA BEACH (DANANG)

Swimming at China Beach, Vietnam.

Our oldest boy swimming to meet the boats off China Beach.

We planned to stay a night or two at Hoa’s Place and like just about everyone else who stops here stayed longer. A great great great traveler hangout place. Family meals are had every night in the open air restaurant. It’s a really special place. The beach just down the road was the best one we saw in Vietnam. Clean and shallow, the kids loved it. And if you do get tired of the beach there is the Sandy Beach Resort a short walk south along the beach that has a pool open to non-guests for a $5 fee. Good pizza, beer and ice cream too. As well, there are a couple of beach shacks that do a pretty mean stir fry with fresh seafood, at much cheaper prices.

A short 1/2 mile walk from Hoa’s is Marble Mountain, which is definitely worth a visit if you can drag yourself away from the beach. It consists of 5 small mountains with cool pagodas and fascinating caves seemingly around every corner.

HOI AN

From China Beach it’s about a 45 minute drive to Hoi An. This is a fantastic place that you could easily spend a week in. We were there 5 nights and loved it all. Great food, great cafes and dessert shops. We – like many travelers – got clothes and shoes made here. Even the kids got in on the act as they had some shoes custom made for them. They had their feet measured, then got to pick the style, pattern and color of the shoes. We returned in a few days to pick them up. It was a lot of fun for them.

Custom made shoes in Hoi An.

Custom made shoes in Hoi An.

The market is fun to wander through and doing a boat ride on the river is easy to arrange and worth it.

Where We Stayed: Thanh Binh Hotel. Nice pool (as long as you don’t mind a little algae buildup along the pool walls, slime doesn’t kill you though does it?). A short walk from the center of town.

Places To Eat: Cargo Club – great food and desserts. The kids loved it. There’s an open air market style restuarant with long communal benches at the corner of Le Loi and Thai Hoc which is a lot fun. Each table has a different cook. We went with Ms An and were never disappointed. Streets – a restaurant the helps train local kids employable skills. Good food too. Casa Verde. Good Italian food and gelato.

Getting Away: It was either a 12 hour train ride to Nha Trang or 1 hour flight so we shed our hard core family traveler facade for the few moments it took to book the tickets on the Air Vietnam website.

In the Market in Hoi An, Vietnam.

My oldest boy took this in the Hoi An market.

NHA TRANG

This was probably our biggest (only?) disappointment of the trip. Nha Trang had a sleezy busy touristy feel. Like just about every place we go we still had fun but we were planning our departure from the minute we arrived. Vinpearl Land. I can’t really recommend this place. It’s a big American style amusement park. But if you are in Nha Trang and have some little ones with you, it would be hard to deny them some time at the water park. The aquarium is undeniably really cool, though it doesn’t take much more than 30 or 40 minutes to walk through at a leisurely pace. The tram ride over is fun too, especially if it’s a little windy as it was on the day we went. OK, now that I consider it a little more I guess Vinpearl was worth a visit but when you’re on the island you certainly aren’t in Vietnam which maybe for some families is the whole point.
Phu Dong Waterpark is right on the beach in Nha Trang and while nowhere near as elaborate as Vinpearl it’s one of the places you can’t help but have a lot of fun (maybe because there are very few rules enforced so it’s a bit of a free-for-all for the kids).

Where We Stayed: The Dream Hotel is no dream. But it is directly across from the beach and the Louisiane Brewhouse (see below) and very cheap ($25).

Places To Eat: Louisiane Brewhouse. A great place. Delicious beer. Good food, desserts, coffee. A nice deep swimming pool. And just a few steps from the beach. We spent a good deal of time hanging out here.

Getting Away: We then headed up into the hills to Dalat. This was a 5 or 6 hour drive in a hired car, much of it in hard driving rain. There was some pretty impressive scenery and fascinating little villages along the way even through the rain and the mist.

The kids exploring Crazy House (Hang Nga) in Dalat.

Exploring Crazy House in Dalat.

DALAT

I’m not sure which way to go on Dalat. It would be easy to dismiss it as overrun, busy, without much of interest. But there is some appeal mixed in there somewhere. It has an interesting layout as it’s spread out over a number of fairly steep hills. One highlight is the great value you get on accommodations. As for things to do right in town, the best is probably Crazy House. Designed by a local architect with some eccentricity to burn, the house is, well, crazy. Each room has a different theme, staircases, ladders, walkways and tunnels lead in, around and through many of the them. Tourists take over the place through the day but at night it transforms into a functioning hotel. Book well in advance if you want to stay here.

Where We Stayed: Dreams Hotel. Great rooms. Super friendly family. Incredible breakfasts. All for only $25.

Places To Eat: There are a couple of little Vietnamese places right across from Dreams that do some good pho and other good traditional dishes. Check ’em out.

The kids at a silk farm in Vietnam.

The boys learning how silk is made.

Getting Away: We booked a car with one of the Easy Riders taking us from Dalat to Mui Ne spread out over two days and a night. The Easy Riders are a loosely coalitioned group of guides who typically take people on motorbike through the Highlands of Vietnam – though they seem to be pretty much everywhere nowadays, even the Mekong. Having two kids we added a couple more wheels and did it with a car, but the idea is still the same. The guides take you to a collection of sites based on what you want to see, where you are heading and how long you have to do it. We saw: coffee, tea and silk farms, a couple waterfalls, a concrete factory, a pig and chicken farm that has seemingly branched off into wine making, and 2 or 3 minority villages along our route. The kids became best friends with both the guide and driver and we felt free to stop pretty much anywhere we saw something of interest. “What is that fruit growing there?” we’d ask as we saw something unique on the side of the road. And almost immediately the driver was hitting the brakes, we’d pile out of the car and the guide would give a quick talk about how and where it was grown. “Here have a taste.”

On an Easy Rider tour of the Central Highlands of Vietnam.

The boys and our driver taking a break.

It cost about $200 which got us from Dalat to Mui Ne, of course, and included the car, driver, guide and gas, but no food or entry fees to any sites you might visit (e.g. the tram ride we took just outside Dalat).

MUI NE

A beach town without much of a beach (in spots) but a very laid back feel. Accommodations tend to be a bit on the pricey end compared to what we saw elsewhere in Vietnam. The town boasts two interesting sites nearby: The sand dunes which are pretty much what they sound like, a seemingly endless expanse of desert-like sand. And the Fairy Spring, basically a shallow creek that runs through the sand dunes. It’s a lot of fun – especially for kids – to walk up it for a few miles, the whole time splashing, jumping, rolling and frollicking in the cool water and its deliciously goopy sand.

The Fairy Stream in Mui Ne, Vietnam.

The Fairy Stream near Mui Ne.

Where We Stayed: Suoi Tien Mui Ne Resort. A nice clean place with a pool looking out on the beach. We paid about $60 for a fairly roomy bungalow – cheaper rooms are available.

Getting Away: We took a hired car from Mui Ne to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) for about $60.

SAIGON (Ho Chi Minh City)

Our last stop on the trip – with a few side trips planned. If I had to do it again I would have spent this time exploring the Mekong more in depth. I was expecting a bigger version of Hanoi, but never really found the same ambience or sense of magic that so pervades Hanoi. We went bowling (fun), took in a water park (Dam Sen), went to a Vietnamese circus (fantastic) and toured through a couple of markets. It was enjoyable but lacked a little something when compared to the rest of our time in Vietnam.

Where We Stayed: Canadian Hotel 281. $40. Nice place, good location, decent clean rooms.

Places To Eat: Pho Quynh in the Pham Ngu Lao (Backpackers) area. Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Anytime is a good time when the pho is this good. Mumtaz. We searched for good Indian food from Hanoi to Saigon and finally found it here. The butter chicken and chicken tikka masala are fantastic.

MEKONG DELTA

Touring the Mekong Delta near My Tho and Ben Tre.

On a canoe in the Mekong near Ben Tre.

We did a long day trip from Saigon down to the Mekong town of My Tho and a boat trip through neighboring Ben Tre island and the Mekong River itself. Though this could hardly count as an extensive exploration of the Delta, it was enough to give us a taste and made me wish we had devoted more time to the area. Numerous places offer package trips from Saigon, they all seemed pretty touristy so we stayed clear of these and arranged it ourselves, grabbing a taxi from Saigon and heading down to the riverside in My Tho to hire a boat. The boat trip included stops at farms, small villages and more touristy places like a coconut candy company (delicious, by the way). The next time we go we’ll definitely be heading farther afield to places like Cai Be, Can Tho, and Chau Doc.

Health:

The single biggest health consideration that stood out for me, was the fact that if we stayed away from the highlands, hugging the coast from Hanoi down to Saigon the kids wouldn’t have to take anti-malarials. This map of Vietnam shows where malaria risks are highest.

Staying healthy in Vietnam involves luck as much as anything. There are a number of different things you can do to stack the odds in your favor  – wash hands thoroughly before eating, brush your teeth with bottled water, ensure meat dishes are hot when served – but anyone that tells you they know the secrets to avoid illness is misinformed or dishonest.

Getting There:

We flew with Delta Airlines. It was about $675/person for our Seattle to Hanoi, Saigon to Seattle tickets, which I found through a pretty extensive search on Kayak.com. I have no great complaints or raves concerning Delta. As long as they get me there I rarely even notice whom I’m flying with. Flying through Seoul was a nice change as I’m usually going through Taipei, Hong Kong or Tokyo.

If you’re considering making Vietnam part of a larger tour of SE Asia take a look at Air Asia as they have incredible prices and fly from Hanoi to Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur and from Ho Chi Minh to Bangkok, Phuket, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta.

Getting Around:

We used primarily train, plane and hired car as we made our way from Hanoi down to Saigon. The train was our favorite. Easy to book and use, low stress, relaxing for the kids as they had the luxury of walking about the train cars and meeting people.  Check out Seat61 for great tips on train travel throughout Asia.

Air Vietnam is cheap and easy to book. Jetstar is even cheaper. These airlines can be an appealing option when confronting a long stretch of travel.

Costs:

Our daily expenses varied between $50 and $150 depending on where we were and how many meals, desserts and beers we had a day. Obviously being a family of 4 drastically changes your expenses. A single person spending modestly could get by on $30 or $40 pretty easily.

Weather:

We traveled through most of August and early September and our weather was great. The sea was calm and inviting, and everyday featured at least a few hours of sun. The only rain we got was when we ventured away from the coast (Hanoi, Saigon, Mekong Delta) and up into the hills (Dalat and the Central Highlands).

Tips:

It’s very common for hotels with a pool to allow non-guests to swim for a small fee (usually less than $5). If you’re a family of 4 or 5 this can obviously add up, but it’s still usually much less than the difference in room price between comparable hotels with and without a pool.

See Also

Preventing Malaria When You Travel

The Author: Laurie Bouck is a medical writer and co-author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Vaccinations. She writes about health and medicine on her blog, MedFly (med-fly.blogspot.com).

Every adventurous traveler will probably pass through a malaria-prone area at some point. If you’re traveling to tropical areas, sub-tropical areas or even Eastern Europe, you might be exposed to this pernicious parasitic disease.

Best known for its flu-like symptoms such as a high fever and chills, if malaria is left untreated it can cause dangerous or even fatal complications. Pregnant women, young children, and people who live in areas where malaria is rare (such as the United States) are at special risk for becoming seriously ill if they catch malaria during their travels.

Malaria prevention program.

Because the malaria parasites are becoming resistant to some antimalarial medicines, researchers have been working on a malaria vaccine for decades. Although clinical trials of the current vaccine candidates are very promising, there is no malaria vaccine available to the public yet (as of 2010).

Instead, travelers to malaria-prone regions can protect themselves in two ways: by taking antimalarial medications that are most likely to provide protection in the regions they will visit, and/or by avoiding the mosquitoes that transmit malaria. Keep in mind that even if you’ve had malaria in the past, or lived in a malaria-prone area, you can still catch it again, and need to take steps to prevent it.

What Is Malaria?

Malaria is a parasite that is transmitted, in most cases, by certain species of mosquitoes. If an infected mosquito bites you, the parasite in its saliva enters your blood and travels to your liver to grow. Once it matures, the parasite leaves your liver, enters your blood, and causes symptoms.

It can take a week, several months, or even a year or longer for symptoms to appear after you are infected with malaria. The most common malaria symptoms are a high fever, body aches, chills and sweating. Malaria infection can also cause nausea and vomiting, headaches, diarrhea, and other problems. In serious cases, however, a malaria infection can cause complications such as brain damage, breathing trouble, or kidney failure.

Four different species of a parasite cause malaria. The most dangerous forms of malaria are caused by the Plasmodium falciparum species, which is widespread in sub-Saharan Africa.

Causes of malaria: mosquito bites.

Sub-Saharan Africa is the most common source of malaria infection among U.S. travelers. Almost sixty percent of the roughly 11,000 cases of malaria in the U.S. from 1997 to 2006 were acquired there, according to the CDC. Another 14% of U.S. infections during that time period were acquired in Asia, and 13% were acquired in the Caribbean, Central America, or South America.

Planning Ahead to Prevent Malaria

Your risk of catching malaria varies widely, depending on how long you will be traveling, which countries you visit, and where and how you travel within each country. In some regions, malaria risk changes seasonally as well. The CDC’s Malaria Map application can help you assess your risk for malaria based on your travel itinerary. It provides updated information on malaria risks and recommended antimalarial medications for every region of the world.

Making decisions about whether you need antimalarial medications, and which medications to take, can be a complicated process. That’s why it’s smart to seek out a travel health specialist to sort through all these details. Contact your local health department, or go to the CDC’s Travelers’ Health website, or the International Society of Travel Medicine to find a travel health specialist in your area.

Try to visit the doctor at least two months before you leave on your trip to discuss your travel plans and any antimalarial medications, or travel vaccinations, that you might need. Bring a detailed travel itinerary, and be prepared to discuss each family member’s health and medication history.

Antimalarial medicines (chemoprophylaxis)

If you take antimalarial medications, you will need to start taking them before you enter a malaria-prone region, and keep taking them for a week or longer after you leave the area.

Five antimalarial medications are currently available in the United States, according to the CDC’s 2010 Yellow Book, an international travel health guide written for health care providers. Your doctor can tell you more about your medication options, how to take the medicines, potential side effects, and what to do if you catch malaria. As an overview, (based on the 2010 Yellow Book), your antimalarial medication choices are:

Malaria medication for prevention

Atovaquone/Proguanil: Take this combination of two drugs daily. Side effects can include stomach pain, nausea and vomiting, or headache. It is not recommended for pregnant women, children who weigh less than 11 pounds, or people with certain kidney problems; discuss the medication with your doctor if you take the anticoagulant coumadin (warfarin).

Doxycycline: Take daily. Side effects can include sun sensitivity, nausea and vomiting, and vaginal yeast infections. Tell your doctor if you are taking certain drugs for acne treatment, if you are allergic to tetracyclines, or if you had an oral typhoid vaccine recently. It is not recommended for pregnant women or children under 8 years old.

Primaquine: Take daily. Can cause gastrointestinal problems. It is not safe for children or adults who have the hereditary disease G6PD (glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase) deficiency. Your doctor will test you or your child for G6PD before prescribing this medication.

Chloroquine or Hydroxychloroquine: Take weekly. Chloroquine can be given to infants or children. Side effects can include gastrointestinal problems, dizziness, headache, insomnia, blurred vision, and itching. This medication might not be recommended if you have psoriasis.

Mefloquine: Take weekly. Mefloquine can be given to infants or children. Side effects can include gastrointestinal problems, sleep problems, dizziness, or neurological problems, and it can trigger underlying mental problems. Not recommended if you are sensitive to mefloquine-related medicines, have a psychiatric disorder, have a history of seizures, or have certain heart problems.

If you don’t know how an antimalarial medicine will affect you, the CDC recommends starting the medication a few weeks before your trip. If the medication causes difficult side effects, you can then talk to your doctor about switching to a different medication.

The CDC also recommends that pregnant women avoid traveling in malaria-prone areas. If they do need to travel in these areas, they can take chloroquine or mefloquine. These medicines are also safe for nursing women to take.

For more guidance, visit the CDC’s web page, “Choosing a Drug to Prevent Malaria.”

Medication Precautions

As you can tell, antimalarials are powerful medicines. Follow these tips to keep your family healthy:

  • Buy your antimalarial medications in the United States; medicines bought abroad might be of poor quality
  • Write down (and bring with you) the brand name, generic name, and manufacturer for your antimalarial drugs
  • Do not take more than the prescribed dose of your antimalarial medication; overdoses can be fatal
  • Make sure you give children the correct dosage of antimalarial medication, based on their weight
  • Keep all antimalarial medications out of reach of children, in a childproof container
  • If an antimalarial medication is causing difficult side effects, talk to your doctor before stopping or changing medications

Non-medical malaria prevention

Whether or not you and your doctor decide that you need to take antimalarial medications, you still need to be careful to avoid contact with mosquitoes in malaria-prone areas.

When you are near mosquitoes, use effective insect repellent, such as products containing DEET, to avoid getting bitten. If you’re outside between dusk and dawn, when mosquitoes are most common, cover up your arms and legs as well with light-colored clothing to avoid mosquito bites.

At night, use a bed net to keep mosquitoes away if they might get into your sleeping quarters. The insecticide permethrin, applied to mosquito bed nets and clothing, can also keep mosquitoes away.

The CDC provides detailed tips on avoiding mosquitoes and other pests while traveling.

Mosquito net for bed is a recommended protection.

Treating Malaria

If you develop a high fever or have other symptoms of malaria during or within a year of your travels to a malaria-prone area, see a doctor right away. Pay special attention to potential malaria symptoms if you travel in an area with the P. falciparum parasite; infection with this species can progress rapidly into serious illness.

The doctor can run a blood test to find out whether you have malaria. Early treatment can help prevent serious complications and get you back on your feet again.

[Photos by: timbrauhn, John Tann, Fillmore Photography and Wonderlane]

About the author: Laurie Bouck is an award winning writer focused primarily on health and medicine. She has co-authored a book on vaccines and written for a variety of well respected journals and magazines. She blogs at MedFly.

Kerala with Kids

This is a guest post by Lorraine who believes that travelling with kids is a fabulously enriching experience.

“Are you crazy?”

“They are too young to go to India.”

“Everyone gets sick in India; it will be too difficult with them.”

“India is too dirty.”

A houseboat on the backwaters of Kerala.

These were just a few of the many comments we received from friends and family when we were planning our trip. Despite all of this, we embarked on an adventure with two boys under 5 (one still in nappies).

One of the highlights — Kerala is amazing, so everything was a headlight — was a night on a houseboat in the Backwaters of Kerala. This was the only part of the trip we were worried about. 24 hours on a boat with two active boys. In preparation, we packed as many books and toys we could fit in our rucksack. However, we had no reason to fear. Onboard there was a TV and DVD player, with cartoons. “Yes!!!” we thought, it would be Ok after all.

During our trip, the boys were not bored once. Mr C drove the boat, while Mr G ran himself ragged. The crew played with them. They looked from our houseboat as India flowed past us. They laughed and they smiled with the local children as they left their schools and ran to their homes. At the end on our night on the Keralite houseboat, as they waited in an old Ambassador taxi, their sadness was mixed with excitement at what other adventures India had in store for us.

The boys waiting in the Ambassador taxi Coco Bay Resort

Waiting in an Ambassador taxi — Coco Bay Resort

Next we moved on to Coco Bay Resort. It was a small and extremely friendly resort. It is quite isolated, requiring a boat on a canal to get there, so not for those who want to escape to the night-life of Kumarakom. This was another child friendly choice, with its inviting pool, the beautiful gardens, great food and the lack of escape routes for adventurous boys.

From Coco Bay we made our way to Periyar Wild Life Reserve in Thekkady. It’s a small town, not unpleasant, but very much centred on the reserve. With young children we were very limited in what we could do. We could do none of the jungle walks, but we could do the boat ride. It was certainly an experience; pushing and shoving to walk the plank to board the boat. Next was a painful two hours on board a hot boat. We did see some elephants and buffalo-like animals called guar, but alas no tigers.

The highlight of Thekkady was the gorgeous guest house where we stayed. It was actually about 10km out of the main town, up a mountain road which looked impassable, called Cardamom Club. We had delicious food every night for dinner, all from the plantation and delicious coffee, again from the plantation. There was a tree house, which the kids loved, as well as lots of space for the boys to wander. The owner took us on a wildlife walk up the hillside which led to the edge of the reserve, telling stories of the workers previously encountering large mammals.

Cardamom Club Elephants at Periyar Wild Life Reserve

Elephants at Periyar Wild Life Reserve

Next on the agenda was the hill-station town Munnar. Famous for its tea plantations, Munnar, at an altitude of 1600m, was a welcome relief from the heat. We stayed in the gorgeous Blackberry Hills. Set amongst the tea plantations, it was the perfect point to explore the area.

Munnar was quite a pleasant town, with an interesting market and great spice shops. Vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon and of course tea are good purchases here. I think this was probably my favourite spot in Kerala.

Perched at the top of the tea plantations is Blackberry hills

Finally, we made our way back to Cochin, where we stayed in the Fort House Hotel. Again, another gorgeous hotel and pretty child friendly; watch out for the jetty and young ones though.

Tea Plantation in near the hill station of Munar.

Tea plantation near Munar, Kerala.

Cochin is not an easy place with young kids. We found a rickshaw driver we liked who took us to the sights for a day. When we came to places that Mr C did not wish to venture, we left him in the rickshaw with the driver. Of course, we frequently looked out to ensure he was still there! The old part of Cochin is pretty interesting to wander around, stopping for frequent breaks of gorgeous fruit drinks or coke in not so trustworthy places.

Kerala was a great introduction to India. It is relatively hassle-free, clean and easy to get around. Most importantly, it is child-friendly. So began our love affair with India. Almost two years later, we embark on our third visit to this amazing country.

Brotherly Love

I knew Samuel (age 7) was writing on his hand in the backseat of the car. When he was done I heard him say to Kipling (age 5), “here’s a message for you Kip.” Kipling slowly reads it out, “I Love You.”

Handwriting

Happy Valentines Day!

Salmon Fishing in British Columbia with Kids

In Northern B.C. the Skeena River is known for its runs of Chinook, Coho, Sockeye and Pink Salmon as well as the mighty Steelhead.
The family going fishing in the boat.

The Skeena is the province’s second largest river and is a veritable salmon super highway during the summer months.
Fishing off the end of the boat

Chinook Salmon (also known as Spring or Tyee) can begin their annual migration as early as May and will typically peak in July; Coho runs begin in late July and can carry though to October and November; Sockeye and Pink typically run during the summer months; Steelhead, the sea-running Rainbow Trout, have mulitple annual runs the largest and most pursued by the sport fiisher being the summer run.
Fly fishing in BC

Saltwater fishing on BC’s northcoast is also second to none, where anglers pursue all of the above noted salmon as well as bottom dwellers like Halibut and Snapper, not to mention a healthy crab fishery.
A fish is caught.

And although the BC interior is better known for its Rainbow trout fishery, northern BC has many lakes with very healthy fisheries of Rainbow & Cutthroat trout as well as Char.
Fishing for salmon in BC

In all cases your best bet is always to find a local guide and have them take you out on the water.
Catching a fish.

River fishing in Northern BC

Vaccines: An Interview with Dr. Paul Offit

deadly-choices-vaccine-safety-question-answer

Vaccines have been one of the greatest public health achievements of the modern era. Yet, vaccination rates are dropping as parents fear the risks of vaccination more than the diseases that vaccines prevent.

Dr. Paul Offit is the Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and the Director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the Maurice R. Hilleman Professor of Vaccinology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

He is also the author of a new book on vaccines, the anti-vaccine movement, and the fear that governs many of the choices surrounding vaccinations.

I spoke to Dr. Offit on the phone from his home near Philadelphia.

David: At times when reading Deadly Choices, I felt there were two different stories being told. In the first, vaccination rates are dropping and society is at an increased risk of an epidemic. In the second, several new vaccines have been produced over the last 20 or 30 years, and we’ve seen another round of diseases drop away from everyday risk. How do you square these two contrasting narratives?

Dr. Offit: I think that we ask a lot of the American public, more so than any other country. When you’re asking the American public to vaccinate their children with vaccines to prevent 14 different diseases by the age of five, 16 different diseases by adolescence, which can mean as many as 26 shots in the first years of life and five shots at one time, that is a lot to ask especially when you don’t see most of these diseases. So vaccination is a matter of faith.

I think you can look on balance at the United States in general and you see very high immunization rates, meaning immunization rates in the high 80%, low 90% range and consequent to that a dramatic reduction in the instance of these diseases. What’s happened, however, is that in certain communities or areas, you are starting to see an erosion in vaccine rates. That has caused the outbreaks that you see. Measles in Southern California, mumps in New York and New Jersey, or mumps in the Midwest, whooping cough in California to a level we hadn’t seen since 1947. When you see that, you do see at least a fraying of the edges and worry that that fraying could become much worse.

When you hear Jenny McCarthy say, “I’ll take the freaking measles every time,” she has no idea what measles is — which tells you in some ways how remarkably successful the vaccine programs have been.

David: Do you see any silver lining to the anti-vaccine movement? The possibility that this has led to ultra-vigilant safety measures, that when considered in the long term may prove beneficial to public health and public confidence in vaccines?

Dr. Offit: I certainly think there is a role for consumerism in vaccines. The example that I would use would be someone like John Salamone. Here’s a man whose child suffered paralysis, permanent paralysis from the oral polio vaccine. He formed a group called Informed Parents against Vaccines. I’m sorry, he formed a group called Informed Parents Against Vaccine-Associated Paralytic Polio, IPAV. He would go to the CDC meetings. He would go to the American Academy of Pediatrics meetings and he would lobby for the fact that this vaccine had a very rare but very real side effect and that side effect affected his child.

He had everything to do, frankly, with our move in 1998 from a vaccine schedule that included the oral polio vaccine to one that didn’t. So now we use the inactivated polio vaccine because there was safer alternative. Do I think that there’s a role for consumerism in vaccines? Absolutely, but it always has to be science based. When you look at the current anti-vaccine movement – the claims are things like vaccines cause autism or diabetes or multiple sclerosis or autoimmune diseases or diseases that clearly aren’t caused by vaccines and have been shown to be not caused by vaccines and that movement continues to make the case that, yes, they do and we don’t believe you, I don’t think there is anything good that comes of that.

I think that, right now, the system in place to monitor, to test vaccines before licensure, and to monitor vaccines after licensure is excellent. I think that the sort of ranting by the anti-vaccine people that vaccines are causing autism when they are not has done no good.

David: It’s one of the hardest things to explain to people why anecdotal evidence doesn’t have much significance in matters of science and medicine. Yes, it can raise some interesting questions. Yes, it can be a starting point to inquiry and research, but it doesn’t determine – it can’t determine  – what works and what doesn’t, what is harmful and what isn’t. Do you have any good analogies for explaining why clinical studies trump anecdote and personal experience? How do you personally explain this to someone without any scientific background?

Dr. Offit: I only wish that it were true that scientific studies trump anecdote. It’s very hard for scientific studies, at least in the minds of many parents, to trump anecdote because anecdotes are so powerful, emotional, and personal. It’s very hard to trump that with statistics.

The example that I use is an example which happened to my wife. She came into the office on a weekend day. She was helping the nurse give vaccines. She walked into a room. A mother was sitting with her four month old child waiting alongside of the wall. While my wife was drawing the vaccine through the syringe, the child had a seizure and went on to have the permanent seizure disorder, epilepsy. If my wife had given that vaccine five minutes earlier, I think there are no amount of statistical data in the world that would’ve convinced that mother of anything other than the vaccine caused it. What else could it have been, right? I mean, the child was fine, they got this vaccine, and then they had epilepsy. What else could it have been? Even though, in that particular case, my wife hadn’t given the vaccine yet.

So it’s very hard to use statistics to trump that. But it’s all you have. If someone asks the question, it’s a reasonable question. My child was fine, they got the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine, now they have signs and symptoms of autism. Could the vaccine have done it? I think that’s a fair question. The good news is it’s an answerable question. Now we have about 14 studies that have been now looking at hundreds of thousands of people who did or didn’t get that vaccine. We know that risk is no greater in the vaccinated group. I think you just have to try and explain that to people. It’s not easy.

When I was a resident of a hospital in Pittsburgh, there was a five year old boy who had leukemia. The mother was convinced that in the previous month he had for the first time started to eat peanut butter sandwiches, and she wondered whether those peanut butter sandwiches could have caused his leukemia. I mean, it’s a fair question. You could imagine something. You could say the aflatoxin, which is a toxin contained in trace amounts of peanuts and therefore likely in peanut butter, we know can damage the liver. Maybe you could argue that it could also damage bone marrow and cause leukemia. I don’t think there has ever been a study looking at the relationship between peanut butter sandwiches and leukemia, but that’s doable. You can do that study. So I guess you just have to try and explain what the scientific method is, how it works, how it can answer questions parents have. And then hopefully, when the answers come, they’ll be believed.

David: I think one of the factors that makes the anti-vaccine movement so powerful is that it crosses several typical sociopolitical lines. You’ve got anti-government conservatives mixed with new age liberals. The crude and decidedly low-brow Jenny McCarthy sharing talking points with Bill Maher, who usually appeals to a fairly well-educated crowd. Does this make them more difficult to discredit?

Dr. Offit: It’s remarkable, isn’t it? You have, I remember seeing a Larry King episode and this sort of gets to the heart of the question. Larry King had on — not that anyone should look to Larry King for health care advice — but on this particular episode you had Jenny McCarthy, you had Holly Robinson-Peete, both mothers of children with autism. Then you had a non celebrity mother of a child with autism. His show is to examine autism and its causes, its treatments. He seriously looked at every one of those three parents and said, “What do you think causes autism?”

You’re watching this show and you’re thinking, why don’t you have an autism expert on the show? I mean, someone who has devoted their research and their life to understanding the disorder, who has generated papers that have been published in scientific journals, to answer those kinds of questions. Certainly, with autism, there are starting to be some answers that are interesting. Why is it that one believes that if a parent has a child with a particular disorder, that that makes them an expert on that disorder, when they haven’t studied it? They’re an expert only on their own child. So it’s illogical and it’s surprising.

You’re right. If you look at who it is that questions vaccines, it tends to be a well-educated, upper class group. I just would think if you listen to Jenny McCarthy and the way that she formulates her arguments and the way that she constructs her logic, you couldn’t fail to not be impressed by her. Yet, people are influenced. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because you see her on the big screen. I haven’t seen her much on the big screen, but I mean she was in “John Tucker Must Die” and maybe that’s just enough for you to believe that you think you know her better than the scientists who are going to be on the show. I don’t know. It’s painful, though.

David: Some of the numbers you offer in the book are really shocking: 7,000 deaths per year from whooping cough in the 1940s; hundreds of deaths from measles; 70 annual deaths from chicken pox. Many of these diseases are considered rites of passage for young kids, but in truth they used to cost many kids their lives. These aren’t trivial diseases to be dismissed, are they?

Dr. Offit: No, unless you’re talking about passages to heaven, there is no rite of passage with many vaccine preventable diseases. Measles actually would kill thousands of children a year, between 3,000 and 5,000. Mumps was a common cause of deafness. Certainly rubella, German measles caused 20,000 cases every year of permanent birth defects. I mean, I think for my parents who saw these diseases vaccines were an easy sell. I was a child of the ’50s. For me, vaccines were an easy sell. I think people don’t believe it. I think that when you hear Jenny McCarthy say, “I’ll take the freaking measles every time,” she has no idea what measles is, which tells you in some ways how remarkably successful the vaccine programs have been, but in other ways how little we appreciate it.

David: Where would you place vaccines in the pecking order of advancements that moved life expectancy ahead so far in the 20th century?

Dr. Offit: Certainly in 1900, if you compare the length of time that we lived in the 1900s compared to our longevity today, we have increased our longevity by about 30 years. What has contributed to that? I think probably the number one thing is purification of the drinking water, meaning to get an adequate separation of sewage from potable water. I would put vaccines second. I think if you look at when vaccines get introduced into certain developing world countries, the lifespan increases dramatically. The child mortality rate decreases dramatically. So vaccines I would put at number two.

David: For several years now, Dr. John Ioannidis has been making the case that medicine isn’t nearly as well founded on good science as we’re led to believe —as many doctors do believe. More recently, a study by two Johns Hopkins doctors found that previously conducted studies are rarely cited by later rounds of inquiry on the same subject, calling into question the entire framework on which biomedical science resides. What makes you think that vaccines lie outside of these issues, that we can and should have so much confidence in their safety and effectiveness?

Dr. Offit: I think vaccines, I would argue, in the world of evidence based medicine have the most consistent evidence base of arguably anything that we have evidence for. In order to get a vaccine licensed, you have to do prospective, placebo controlled studies on thousands and now tens of thousands of children. No other medical product, certainly not drugs, ever goes through that extensive level of testing. Also, once a vaccine is licensed, it is subject to post-licensure monitoring by things like the Vaccine Safety Datalink, which is unmatched in drugs. If there’s a problem, it’s very quickly picked up and the vaccine is taken from the market, which was the RotaShield story in 1998.

Vaccines sit on a very, very solid base and have stood the test of time since our first vaccine 200 years ago —the smallpox vaccine. You’ve probably never seen smallpox, I’ve never seen smallpox, but smallpox has probably killed more people in our world’s history than any other infectious disease. We will never see it again, probably, because of vaccines. I think in terms of an evidence base, you just can’t beat vaccines.

David: Perhaps the most disturbing thing about the anti-vaccine movement is that they ignore all of the real risks and deficiencies of vaccines. For example, the oral polio vaccine that was unnecessarily passing the disease onto approximately 15 kids every year in the early 1980’s – this didn’t seem to interest the anti-vaccine protesters did it?

Dr. Offit: No. So there are problems with vaccines — like any medical product — it has positive effects, it can have a negative effect. Vaccines are no different. By constantly focusing, however, on problems that aren’t associated with vaccines, like autism, diabetes, and Multiple Sclerosis — I just don’t think anything good is coming of that. I think vaccine advocacy has a role but nothing good comes from focusing on these things that are not science based. It’s too bad.

The thing that amazes me. Andrew Wakefield, for example, published an article in the Lancet. Now, to say that study is flawed is an understatement. It really wasn’t a study, it was a case series. And now we know there were a number of fraudulent activities and misrepresentations associated with that case series.

And yet, those who oppose vaccines still revere Andrew Wakefield. What does that say, it’s almost as if, he’s become a counter-cultural hero. Because he’s basically seen as speaking truth to power. Speaking truth to the man. When all he’s done is prevented people from getting a vaccine that could have save their lives. 3 people dying in Ireland. 1 person in England, because the parent was more frightened of the vaccine than the disease their child died from.

David: As a society we spend a lot of money on healthcare. And much of that on treatments, supplements and procedures that do very little to help people live longer or healthier lives. Can you think of any investment we’ve made as a society that has a better return on the dollar than vaccines?

Dr. Offit: No. No I can’t. It’s a great question. You put your finger right on it, — what do we spend our money on? Part of it is what used to be called unconventional or fringe medicine. It’s now called — much more euphemistically — alternative or complimentary medicine. So what have we gotten from that? It’s an $80 billion pharmaceutical industry that tells us that taking more vitamins, or minerals, or supplements and these quote unquote, natural herb products are a value to us. One — where’s the evidence? There is none. And two — what have we gotten for all that money? I think you’re right, for all the money we spend — in theory trying to improve our health — we could no doubt spend it better.

More information and further reading:

15 Fantastic Beaches for Families

See Also

1. China Beach, Vietnam

The boys playing in the ocean on China Beach, Vietnam.
The area just south of Danang – past the big resorts and near Magic Mountain – is our favorite in Vietnam and one of the best in Southeast Asia. (Both the sand and sea are cleaner here than at the more popular beach towns of Nha Trang and Mui Ne.) Seafood, cold drinks, and ice cream can be bought at the small beach shacks but water fun is the main attraction here. Stay at the super fun and relaxed – and very cheap – Hoa’s Place if you’re able to.

2. Elafonisi, Crete, Greece

Elafonisi beach in southwest Crete.
Elafonisi is the best beach in Greece and is the type of idyllic beach you conjure up in your dreams. Stunning shallow water that’s perfect for kids, fantastic sand, a small island you can wade out to and explore. There are some nice dropoffs that allow you to run along the sand and then jump into water that’s 4 or 5 feet deep.

3. Sayulita, Mexico

Sayulita Beach in Mexico.
This is one of the most kid-friendly beach towns in Mexico. The beach is great and the town has a fun and relaxed vibe. Hotels are much cheaper than in Puerto Vallarta. The water has some good surf that’s perfect for beginners or boogie boarding. There’s a kids camp right on the beach that can be signed up for by the day or week. Sayulita is an hour north of Puerta Vallarta.

4. Phra Nang Beach Railay, Thailand

Railay Beach in Krabi, Thailand.
This is an absolutely stunning stretch of sand – and my favorite beach in Thailand. It’s a 20 minute walk from the main “town” on Railay, but the path is fun and easy – a shaded mini-adventure, with caves to peek into along the way. More caves are found at the beach but these are accessed through the water and are fun for older kids to explore.

5. Coronado Island, San Diego

Coronado beach in San Diego, California.
More a vacation destination than just a beach, the stretch of sand near the Coronado Hotel is incredibly kid friendly. Unlike most San Diego beaches no alcohol is permitted here and bike paths extend 15 miles down the coast making it an ideal destination for families. Get here by ferry to make it a perfect day for most kids. Along with Santa Barbara this is one of California’s best city beaches.

6. Bophut Beach, Koh Samui, Thailand

Bophut Beach in Koh Samui, Thailand
Bophut, just 10 miles north of Koh Samui’s main town Chaweng, is perfect for families. The water is calm and shallow. The sand is beautiful with a touch of coarseness that makes cleaning-off super easy. Nearby Fisherman’s Village is filled with restaurants and small shops. Koh Samui has so many beautiful beaches it’s hard to pick the best and some will say that Choeng Mon or Chaweng are just as good for families – both are a short taxi ride away.

7. Naxos Island, Greece

Plaka beach in the Cycladic island of Naxos, Greece.
The beaches of Naxos are some of the most kid-friendly in all of Greece. Most of the beaches are shallow and calm. The best beaches on the island (including the one pictured, Plaka Beach) are found on the island’s southwest coast and thus protected from the often intense winds (called the meltemi) that blow from the north in July and August. St Georgios Beach is another favorite of ours and is an easy walk from the charismatic main town of Hora where you’ll find the bulk of the island’s hotels and restaurants.

8. Palolem, Goa, India

Palolem Beach in Goa, India.
Unlike some of Goa’s other popular beaches at Benaulim, Colva, Calangute and Anjuna this beach is protected inside a small bay and thus provides a calm and gentle lagoon that rivals any beach from Kerala up to Mumbai. The wonderful sand, rustic setting, and simple hotels and restaurants along the beach are very kid-friendly.

9. Playa Norte, Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Playa Norte on Isla Mujeres across from Cancun.
Facing northwest and away from the Caribbean winds, the shallow gentle water here is perfect for kids of all ages. Leave the big hotels of Cancun behind and check out the stunning white sand and walkable downtown of this relaxed island.

10. Cattolica, Rimini, Italy

Cattolica Beach in eastern Italy.
The Adriatic beaches of Italy have never been regarded as top beach vacation spots, but that attitude is slowly changing. Cattolica is a wonderful beach regardless. Clean water, a gentle sloping shelf, and lots to do for the kids along the shore and in the town. If the phrase Cheap Italian Beach Vacation isn’t something you say too often then check out Cattolica.

11. Villefranche-sur-Mer, The French Riviera

The beach at Villefranche-sur-Mer on the French Riviera.
So many beaches dot the Côte d’Azur it’s hard to choose but this one is a great choice for families. A kid friendly atmosphere pervades this stretch of sand – not a certainty for all beaches in the South of France – and calm shallow waters make it a great pick. The town itself is a magical little spot that is both family-friendly and plagued by large crowds. And Nice is just 10 minutes away by bus or train. Plages des Graniers near Antibes and Beaulieu-Sur-Mer are other good beaches for kids along the coast.

12. Kuta, Bali

Kuta Beach in Bali, Indonesia.
Kuta gets a bad rap from some travelers for not being the “real Bali”. But the beach here is one of the best on the island and its great place for older kids to take surfing lessons. There’s a waterpark in center of town and many hotels have good-quality kids clubs. Most of the rest of Bali is within a day trip of Kuta. Head a little north to the towns of Seminyak or Legian if you want a quieter stretch of beach.

13. Tulum, Mexico

Tulum Beach near the ruins of Tulum.
Looking for peace and solitude – but still want good restaurants and nice hotels? Then Tulum is it. The town is connected to the beach hotel zone with a bike path. The sea is calm, the sand is brilliant, and there are lots of kid-friendly attraction within a short drive (including cenotes and adventure parks). Lots of restaurants on the beach or rent a bike and ride into town for super-cheap Mexican food.

14. Oludeniz, Turkey

Oludeniz on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey.
Oludeniz’s blue lagoon is protected from the winds and surf of the ocean. Lots to do here and a perfect vibe for a family vacation.

15. Kitsilano Beach, Vancouver, BC

Kitsilano Beach in downtown Vancouver.
Kitsilano beach is in the center of the city with lots of great stuff nearby (including the Granville Island markets and several kid-friendly museums). The beach area has basketball and tennis courts, a large playground, an Olympic sized public swimming pool, and sits right on the Seawall bike and pedestrian path that connects with downtown Vancouver and Stanley Park.

16. And one more … Negril, Jamaica

The cliffs of Negril.
The sand along Negril’s famed 7 Mile Beach is wonderful but what makes the area truly unique are the cliffs that start just west of the town. Hotels like the Rockhouse Hotel (pictured) sit right along the cliffs. Most hotels offer free shuttles to the nearby beaches.

Beaches by Destination

Best Beaches for Kids in Thailand

  • Kata Beach, Phuket – One of the most beautiful beaches on Phuket. (The ocean along Phuket’s west coast can get rough – especially during the monsoon season from June to October – so care should be taken.)
  • Nai Thon, Phuket – Semi-protected and one of Phuket’s calmest beaches.
  • Bophut, Koh Samui – Bophut calm water in a family-friendly setting.
  • Choeng Mon, Koh Samui – A beautiful and laid-back setting.
  • Chaweng, Koh Samui – An active and beautiful setting. Lots of restaurants and shopping within steps of the beach.
  • Haad Salad, Koh Phangan – Maybe Koh Phangan’s nicest beach. Great for kids.
  • Bottle Beach, Koh Phangan – Secluded and family-friendly setting.
  • Jomtien (near Pattaya) – Not perfect, but much nicer and more kid-friendly than nearby Pattaya.
  • Khao Lak – Near to Phuket but quieter and very kid-friendly.
  • Koh Lanta – Very family-friendly island with great beaches.
  • Hua Hin – Lots of kid-friendly attractions just a few hours from Bangkok. Great beach.

Best Beaches for Kids in Bali

  • Kuta – Busy and a little frenetic but a great beach, near tons of shopping and great restaurants (and lousy ones too).
  • Sanur – The calmest beach on Bali. Great for young kids as it’s protected by a reef.
  • Nusa Dua – Where you’ll find the best resorts with kids clubs and a family-holiday vibe.
  • Padangbai – Away from the crowds with several great beaches nearby (though they can get some heavy surf).
  • Lovina – Black sand beaches protected by a reef in the far north of the island.

Best Beaches for Kids in Vietnam

  • China Beach (near Danang) – Awesome beach with very calm waters (most of the time).
  • Hoi An Beach – An extension of China Beach and very close to the awesome town of Hoi An.
  • Nha Trang – A touch on the seedy side but lots of kid-oriented attractions in the area (including a water park and amusement park).
  • Mae Nam – A quiet and secluded beach that you can have to yourself. The beach is very narrow in spots.
  • Phu Quoc Island – Some of Vietnam’s best beaches are here. The perfect place to spend several weeks or month unwinding.

Best Beaches for Kids in Malaysia

  • Perhentian Islands – The best beaches in Malaysia scattered across to gorgeous islands.
  • Pantai Cenang, Langkawi – Langkawi has many great beaches, and this is probably the nicest.
  • Redang Island – Great beaches and a family-friendly vibe.
  • Tanjung Bungah – The nicest beach near Penang but if you’re looking for crystal clear water head to Langkawi (3 hours from Penang).
  • Tioman Island – Great beaches and the best spot in Malaysia for diving and snorkeling.

Best Beaches for Kids in India

  • Palolem, Goa – There are many great beaches along India’s west coast but many can have strong currents. Palolem is in a protective bay and is one of the calmest.
  • Cavelossim, Goa – More protected than other Goan beaches but care should still be taken.
  • Kovalam, Kerala – Beautiful but can have strong currents. Great for strong swimmers who like surf and boogie boarding.

So what makes a great kids beach?

Shallow calm water. This is a big one. Kids love beaches with a gradual slope. It allows them to do more and feel more confident and in control. Water games are usually funner when you can touch and move around easily. It doesn’t take much water to put a toddler in over his head.

Warm water. Who doesn’t like warm water? It’s one surprise for many who visit the Mediterannean — the water never really gets warm. On the other hand, the water in the Gulf of Thailand strikes some as too warm and lacking the refreshing feel dipping into the water usually affords.

Nice sand. Most kids (and adults) prefer really fine grained “mushy” sand. It’s good for making sand castles too. One caveat, the coarser the sand the easier it is to clean off and head for a restaurant or hop in the car. But who’s at the beach to stay clean?

Not too busy – but not too quiet either. This might be where parents and kids differ the most. Parents gravitate to a deserted peaceful beach and often suspect that their kids prefer the same. But I don’t think so. If your first consideration is your kids, I’d err on the side of a busier more active setting than a quiet one.

Camping in Europe with Kids

Favorite Campgrounds in Europe – A Guide

This is a guest post by Carol Mickelsen, the author of Camping Europe.

Giving a little sip of travel to your children can open up immense vistas, stimulate curiosity, and provide an appreciation of life beyond oneself.  Travel changes people.  It broadens their perspective of the world and their understanding of their place in it.  Upon returning from travel, you’ll notice that thinking and problem-solving abilities are sharper and children will find schoolwork more interesting.

Camping is one of the easiest ways to appreciate Europe with kids.  Its relaxing pace makes it easy to take time out.  Use mornings for learning and afternoons for playing.  Open up the guidebook and make a list of possible activities for the day.  Take turns planning chunks of time, and abide by the choices.  Every two hours, interlace activities with some wind-down time.  Allow some independence within boundaries.  Come to an agreement on what happens when someone goes “out of bounds.”  Have a “meet back here in 20 minutes” agreement.  Synchronize watches.  Be silly.  Take funny photos and have them printed enroute so you can savor them along the way.  It’s easier to be organized but not rigid if you keep your plans simple.  Relish the unexpected and spontaneous.

Your kids will join European kids having fun at the swimming areas and playgrounds and you’ll enjoying chatting with European parents while you spend time watching the kids.  Make meal preparation easy.  European markets are filled with plenty of easy-to-fix foodstuffs, and deli-cases are loaded with mouth-watering choices that make meal preparation easy.

Camping for a family costs much less than staying in inexpensive hotels or hostels, eating at inexpensive cafes or fast-food places, and taking public transportation.  Sizably less!  The luxury of a vehicle enables you to go wherever whim takes you, whether it’s to a local festival, a breathtaking location, or better weather.  Instead of just looking at all the delectable food in open markets and grocery stores, you can purchase some and fix yourself a delicious meal for very little expense. Then enjoy it at a scenic campground.

Catering to demanding Dutch, German, French, and British campers, popular campgrounds must have well maintained warm showers, clean toilets, common kitchen and laundry facilities, a well-equipped children’s playground, grass, shade, and if close to a city, nearby public transportation.  Location is important to popularity, so many are close to the lakes, rivers, or the sea, or are on a hillside with a view.  They are generally large grassy lawns under shade trees.  Safety and theft are simply not issues.  You are camping alongside people who have their own camping equipment and are not interested in your gear.

Contemporary camping gear is very comfortable and easy to assemble and pack. Go to a sports store that sells camping equipment and lie down on the new self-inflating mattresses and see the new easy-to-put-up rainproof tents.  You’ll be surprised how comfortable, easy to pack, and set up the new equipment has become.

Buying the right camping gear for a trip to Europe.

Favorite Destinations and Affordable Campgrounds for Family Vacations

ROME, ITALY

Historically one of the most important places in the world, Rome’s history crowds in and over every corner of its twisting cobblestone streets, grand piazzas, cathedrals, and ancient ruins. It’s a city that is best savored when you’ve immersed yourself in its history before the trip so use your library a couple of months in advance.  Pick a few major sites that are important to you and savor them slowly.  A visit to the Vatican is a must.  But instead of waiting in line for the Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel and the Basilica, be one of the first to ascend to the dome in the morning.  Take the elevator to the Cupola.  Then start the strenuous but unforgettable climb up between the very narrow winding space between the inner and outer shells of the dome to the Lantern where the views are glorious.  Wait until 2 PM to see the richness, which is almost beyond belief, of the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel.  You’ll miss the morning crowds.  As you explore the Coliseum and climb Palatine Hill, take time to sit on a broken wall and talk about the sounds, smells, and life of 2000 years ago.  Follow the labyrinth of ancient pedestrian-only alleyways and bridges being mindful to enjoy the details of everyday life in Rome.  Public transportation is well organized and safe.  The campground office sells tickets and is happy to help with detailed information.

Camping Roma (066 623 018) is the closest campground to the historic area with a bus stop right outside the entrance.  So it’s a favorite.  Its newly upgraded facilities include a beautiful pool; restaurant, grocery store, bar with sports screen, separate Internet room and inexpensive bungalows. Driving directions:  Off A1 exit onto the GRA.  On the west side of the GRA take exit 1/Via Aurelia in the direction of San Pietro-Citta del Vaticano/Centro.  Drive east on Via Aurelia for just over one kilometer.  Watch for the pedestrian walkway over the Via Aurelia. Then look for the camping sign on the south side.  The campground is on the south side across from a large supermarket.

PYRENEES NATIONAL PARK, FRANCE

Picture-postcard-like and an icon for the park, Cirque de Garvarnie, an enormous mountain amphitheatre, is stunning.  The wide well-worn trail to it passes through a beech and pine forest before it opens up to a scenic open meadow with a creek running through.  The gorge deepens as you climb higher.  After four kilometers from the meadow you round a curve to face the curve of the cirque.  A full 180 degrees wide, it rises up in a series of gigantic steps to more then 3000 meters.  A great waterfall, the Grande Cascade, rushes down in one leap of 423 meters, the longest in Europe.  A narrow but not overly steep trail leads to the mouth of the cirque bowl where a snowmelt creek tumbles through an area stunning with lichen covered boulders, wild flowers, and grassy pockets that are perfect for a picnic.

My favorite campground is next to the trailhead just beyond the miniscule village of Gavarnie.  Camping La Bergerie (0562 92 4841) has a fabulous location on the river with full view of the Cirque de Garvarnie.  Located on a grassy slope there are some level areas for tents and a flat area for campers.  Toilets, showers and dishwashing areas are basic but tidy.  Its café with indoor and outdoor tables makes a good place make new friends with fellow travelers.  Driving Directions:  Gavarnie is 53 kilometers south of Lourdes.  From Lourdes drive 15 kilometers south on D821 to Argeles Gazost.  Continue south on D921 for 38 kilometers to Garvarnie.  Drive up the hill through the village and then continue towards the mountains on a smaller road to camping.

Kids swimming in a lake in Europe.

BAVARIAN ALPS, GERMANY

Towering mountains, a Ludwig’s castle and well-marked hiking trails make this a great family destination.  The Alpine hike to the Gorge of Hollental, close to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, is especially dramatic.  The trail hugs a tiny cleft in a narrow rock gorge carved by a powerful waterfall.  Members of the German Alpine Club constructed the Hollentalklamm in the early 1900s.  Sometimes it seems more like a mining tunnel than a trail as you traverse the slippery but safe path through tunnels lit only dimly with an electric light bulb or window carved out of the rock wall.  Throughout the narrow gorge, the cascade plunges with pounding force over immense mossy boulders. At one point the trail is a cantilevered bridge over the torrent.  Gradually the power subsides and what was once a great torrent becomes a gentle stream bordered with grass and colorful wild flowers leading into the beautiful glacial basin of Hollental.  Here, in Bavarian style, is a very pleasant terrace and cafe where you can sit and eat your own picnic lunch while sipping a well-earned cold beverage and chat with fellow hikers about the beauty of the scenery.

The only castle King Ludwig finished and lived in was Schloss Linderhof, so it is more intimate and fun with amusing quirky touches.  It’s picturesquely located in the sunlight dappled forest close to Garmisch-Partenkirchen.  Here King Ludwig dressed like a sultan and smoked a hookah in his Moorish pavilion.  Late at night, in the cavernous Venus Grotto decorated with “before-Disney” stalactites, he floated in a pretty conch shell in the middle of an illuminated lake accompanied by musicians playing the music of his favorite composer, Wagner.
Simple and affordable, Campingplatz Zugspitze (088-21-3180) is located in Graineau, three kilometers west of Garmisch-Parkirchen.  It is convenient for both the hike to Gorge of Hollental and a visit to Schloss Linderhof.  Driving Directions:  From Munich drive south on E533 for 92 kilometers.  Turn west onto 23 in the direction of Garmisch-Parkirchen.  Pass through town and following signposting to Graineau.  The campground is on the north side of the road by the river and bridge.

About the Author: Carol Mickelsen has enjoyed car camping through Europe for over 30 years. She is the author of the definitve guide to Camping in Europe.

[Photos by: N1NJ4, Ross, Rob124]

Visiting the Tailors in Hoi An, Vietnam

A popular thing to do while in the lively tourist town of Hoi An is to get clothes made by one — or many — of the town’s tailor shops. We had big plans for visiting the shops and taking advantage of the cheap cloth and good workmanship. My wife got a few coats made, some pants, skirts, dresses and blouses. I went for shorts and short-sleeved shirts.

Seeing us pick and choose among the patterns and catalogs, the kids decided they wanted in on the fun. We asked if they wanted shoes or clothes made and the decision was unanimous: shoes. So with their guidelines being “anything and everything” we went searching for a cobbler to make the boys some shoes.

Measuring feet at shoemaker and cothing tailor

Seeing the shoes made from start to finish was fun for the boys. First they had to have their feet measured, then traced on a piece of paper. They then had to thumb through books to select the style of their shoes. Finally they got to choose the fabric, the type of sole, and the colors. It was a fun process.

Custom made shoes from Hoi An in Vietnam

To be honest, the results were a little less than stellar. The soles came off the shoes within a few wears and despite returning to have them re-glued they were never perfect. But in this case, paying for the process instead of the result was well worth the money.

Southeast Asia with Kids – Travel Tips

I’ve traveled to Southeast Asia almost a dozen times and have had my kids with me on 3 of those trips (Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam). Even at its slowest and most predictable pace Southeast Asia is a fun, exciting and thrilling environment. Add some kids to the mix and it’s a mind-boggling maze of thrills and surprises.

It’s not all ease and wonder however. Some details do need to be addressed. Here are 17 tips for making a trip to Southeast Asia as fun and inspiring as it should be.

Boy and girl at beach in Southeast Asia

1. Take a travel crib. If you’re bouncing around between different towns and resorts you can be in a different room almost every other night. I’m not a real worry wart that stresses over every uncertainty but even I appreciate having a safe and secure place to put the baby. Whether it’s nap time, bed time or you’re just hopping into the shower, hotel rooms offer a lot of untested scenarios so a bassinet makes good sense. The consistency is nice as well instead of sorting out a different sleeping arrangement with every new room and bed. The Graco is inexpensive and a good choice if you’re looking for something cheap. The Bjorn costs a bit more — Ok, a lot more — but is very light and folds up very compactly.

2. Try to reserve the bassinet on the airplane. It’s hard to overstate just how great this can be for parents. Flights are long to SE Asia from pretty much every Western country and this is a fantastic way to make it seem a lot shorter. Most airplanes have bassinets that connect to the bulkhead — and it’s what I like to call “a free seat”.

It works for kids up to about 20-25lbs (9-11kgs). We’ve had 12 hours flights where our youngest slept nearly 8 of them. The trick — and challenge — is to get those bulkhead seats that are associated with the bassinet. Phone the airline directly after booking your tickets to find out which seats have the bassinets and how to reserve them.

3. Buy sunscreen before you leave home. This can be hard to find in Southeast Asia — expensive when you do — and will usually be SPF 5 when you want a 15 or 30. Buy a couple big tubes of it before you go and you won’t have to waste an afternoon hunting around for it.

4. Prepare for your vaccinations early. Health issues dominate concerns when traveling to developing countries. I’m often heard saying, “don’t worry about it, you’ll be fine”, but that said it’s good to be well informed. Visit the CDC and NHI websites and schedule a doctors appointment as soon as you know you’re going. Some immunizations require a series of shots that can take several weeks to administer. Start early so you’re not scrambling to fit in the last shots before you depart.

5. Pack light — you’ll buy lots. SE Asia has so many great clothing shops and markets it’s easy to grab almost anything once there (with the exception of underwear which just tends to be different). So if shopping is at all on your itinerary rest assured you’ll buy lots of stuff that the kids (and you) can wear immediately. In other words — if you think your son will need 6 t-shirts for the trip then pack 3 and that way you’ll only have 2 dozen in your luggage on the trip home

6. Leave the sweater, pants and coat at home. OK — you’ll need one long sleeve shirt or sweater for the plane — and perhaps one pair of pants — but that’s it. No more! You’ll get home and say to yourself “Why did I pack this stuff?” And please, don’t even think about taking long sleeved pajamas.

7. Take a good quality baby carrier. This is as close to a must as there is on this list. Traveling around the rutted streets, uneven sidewalks and cobbled walkways of South East Asia a great carrier will be a lifesaver. It allows you to have 2 hands free to grab bags, buy a subway ticket or change money. Awesome! There are several different brands that come highly recommended.

8. Check the fire exits in your hotel. If there ever is a fire — and that’s probably the biggest risk to your family outside of road accidents — exits might not be as clearly marked as in the West. Taking a half-minute to find the closest one to your room is time well spent.

9. Check windows in hotel rooms that are above the first floor. Once again, hotels — even good hotels — don’t have the same safety standards as those you’re accustomed to in London, Vancouver, or San Francisco. I’ve been blown away more than once by opening an easily accessible window and finding a clear 5 story fall to the sidewalk below.

10. Use backpacks. They’re great for stuffing lots of clothes into a small space. Suitcases are heavy and hard to carry any distance. It’s hard to push a stroller and carry suitcases — or even pull suitcases. Backpacks work well with just about any scenario. (Plus backpacks look cool. If you walk up to a travelers hangout with a couple of suitcases everyone will expect your first words to be, “Excuse me, but does anyone have any Grey Poupon?“)

11. Don’t run when crossing busy streets. There aren’t lights and crosswalks at every other intersection, so unless you want to get a taxi to ferry you across a busy road you’re going to have to cross with traffic buzzing by. But the American and European method for crossing a busy street — wait for an opening and then run like heck — won’t work in South East Asia. For starters, there often won’t be any appreciable gap in the traffic. So, the way you do it — and it sounds crazy —  is to slowly inch your way across the street lane by lane. If you’re moving at a slow predictable pace — or not moving at all as the case may be — drivers will see you and slip around either side of you. But if you’re moving rapidly across the path before them (as instinct says you should), they won’t know how to react and you’ll get in trouble, and maybe killed. So there you go: move slowly, patiently across the street.

12. Drink bottled water but … other than that forget about the water. It’s generally not as bad as we’re led to believe and in any case there’s something a little absurd about not eating tomatoes because they were washed with local water when ALL YOUR DISHES — plates, bowls, cups, forks, spoons are washed with the same water.

13. Be prepared for your kids garnering an unusual level of attention — especially away from the touristy towns and resorts. Cheek pinching, head rubbing, arm grabbing, pictures — and even grabbing your child and with barely even acknowledging the parent taking him or her back into the kitchen of the restaurant — are some of the things you and your child might be exposed to. Every child is different so it’s hard to know what to suggest (mine love the attention so that was never a problem for us). But be emotionally prepared for the adoration and interaction. Talk to your kids about it. And if necessary, be firm with overly aggressive locals. Yes, they’ll probably think you’re a grumpy rich Westerner but these are your kids and you have every right to dictate how people interact with them.

14. Take a car seat if you’re planning on traveling long distances in a car as you probably won’t be able to find one there. At least not easily or predictably. Finding cars with working seat belts will be hard enough.

15. Childcare probably won’t be available with english speaking caretakers. While babysitters can be found in all major cities and resort areas, unless you’re staying at the high end hotel or resort don’t expect the sitters to be able to speak English. If your child is shy and timid but you still need a break it might be best to time the babysitting with the child’s nap.

16. If you want your kids to sample, eat and get accustomed to local food then it’s all about choice: don’t give them any. If you think you’re going to eat at the tourist shack on the beach and they’ll order some Pad Thai, they probably won’t. This might not be a big deal for you, but for me exposing my kids to new food is a big part of why we travel. So set aside one meal — probably lunch or dinner —when you go to a local restaurant, order local dishes and that’s it. Eat it if you’re hungry. Don’t force it on them, but let them know — through consistency more than words — that you won’t be walking out the door and then getting a snack back at the hotel.

And if you go hardcore and eat local for all 3 meals, everyday, it works even better. That said, kid friendly Western food is easily available in all the big cities and tourist areas. French fries, banana pancakes, hamburgers, pasta are very common. So don’t fret if finding food for your kids is causing you anxiety.

17. Pack your favorite brand of diapers — and pack a lot of them. Diapers will be relatively easy to find in resort areas and bigger cities but even then the sizing will be different, the brands different, the quality generally inferior. Fill a light-weight bag with enough diapers for your trip. As you work through them you can use the extra space for the clothes and knick-knacks you’ll inevitably buy.

Feeding the Fish in Kyoto

While walking around Kyoto we stopped into a small restaurant (near Nijo Castle) for a bite to eat.
Restaurant in Kyoto

After some delicious curry spaghetti – who knew curry was so popular in Japan? – the cook walks over to our table, says a few things to the boys in Japanese (my oldest son speaks japanese pretty well) and takes them out the door without saying a word to me. Where could they be going?
Walking to the shrine in Kyoto.

With me trailing behind – they walk about a half block down to a small Japanese temple and she pulls out a bag of bread …
Bag of food fro the fish at the temple ponds.

… and tells them to feed the fish. They happily start throwing strips of bread to the fish in the pond.
Feeding the fish in Kyoto.

Trek MT 60 Kids Mountain Bike Review

The only thing we’ve bought that the kids got more use out of was the Razor A2 Scooter (which has the benefit of being easy to travel with).

My son has had this bike for over a year now and has really loved it. It makes a huge difference moving up to a bike that has 6 speeds and hand brakes like the MT 60. He learned the gears in about an hour — if that — and the bike allowed him to almost immediately tackle some hills that were impractical just the day before on his old 16″ Marin bike.

Boys MT-60 mountain bike for kids

Size

This is the 20″ model and a good fit for kids with a 22 to 26 inch inseam (or more roughly a height of 45 – 52″). The bike puts kids in a slightly more lean-forward position, whereas other bikes on the market have higher handlebars which makes kids sit more upright. (Test ride to see what your child prefers.) The MT 60 has an adjustable crank which allows you to adjust the placement of the pedals and thus extend the length of time one child could ride the bike.

Shifters & Gears

The MT 60 has 6-speed twist shifters. I think the twist (or grip) shifters are a good choice for kids trying to learn to change gears. They are fairly intuitive and require less dexterity than trigger shifters, so kids don’t need to glance down to the handlebars to figure out how and where to shift. Also, twist shifters are more rugged and can take more of the abuse kids will put their bikes through.

Frame

A common complaint about many kids bikes is that the front shocks are too tight for a child’s weight and they are essentially there just for show. Not so with the Trek MT 60, if anything they bottom out a little too easily – but this is better than them not working at all.

Brakes

The bike has front and back hand brakes. This can be a bit of an adjustment for kids accustomed to pedal brakes but once they are used to them it allows for a much more confident and in-control rider. The brakes on the Trek are adjustable so you can easily change the distance from the lever to the grip. Check their grip before their first ride and ensure your child can easily grasp the brake without stretching their hand.

Boys and Girls Mountain Bike Models

The bike comes in slightly different versions for girls and boys. The two bikes have different paint jobs with the girls model also having a lower topbar. Other than that there are no major differences.

Other Options for Kids’ Bikes

Most of the major bike companies make good quality youth bikes. Marin, Giant, Gary Fisher, and Specialized being some of the most popular and well reviewed.

I highly recommend avoiding the cheap bikes from Target or other department stores. Bikes purchased there are of much lower quality — but much higher markup — and can be poorly assembled to boot.

Your local bike shop will typically have well informed staff that can give you advice on what to look for and tips on how to ride effectively and safely. Yes, they want to sell you one of their bikes, but they’re usually staffed by eager and knowledgeable bike enthusiasts who really do want you to get a bike that is the appropriate size and style.

I think most kids 6 and older will benefit by having gears – making hills much easier and helping them keep up with older kids and adults on the flat – but if you really think multiple gears are an unnecessary expense then consider a 20″ bmx bike. BMX bikes are typically much lighter than mountain bikes like the MT 60. They come with hand brakes and wide knobby tires for good control on rougher road or trail, but without the gears or shocks of mountain bikes, thus making them much lighter than a comparably sized mtb.

Conclusion

The Trek MT 60 is a great bike for kids upgrading from a 16″ model. It’s not the lightest kids bike on the market but it’s much lighter than anything you’ll find at a department store. A good range of 6 speeds will help kids negotiate hills and off-road trails with much more confidence. The MT 60 is a good moderately priced choice for kids that love to ride. (To find out where Trek bikes are sold near you click here.)

Touring Vietnam with the Easy Riders

We did a two day tour with the Easy Riders during our trip to Vietnam. The Easy Riders are a small group of riders that typically take visitors by motorcycle around the Central Highlands of Vietnam and up to the border with Cambodia and Laos. We did the slightly less exciting family version: a hired car with driver and tour guide. Same idea, a lot more comfortable. We had two very full days of sights and attractions as we drove from Dalat high in the mountains down to Mui Ne on the coast. We stayed one night at a hotel along the way.

A worker at a coffee plantation. He showed us the many stages of the coffee beans, the differences between different types of coffee, led us around the farm – and though he didn’t speak much English – smiled and laughed a lot. Worker at a coffee plantation in Vietnam Central Highlands.

At a silk farm near Dalat. Those are the cocoons in the basket. This machine pulls the single thread of silk from the cocoons.
Taking a tour of a silk factory in Vietnam.

We visited a flower farm along the journey – flowers are a huge export for the highland region – and here’s a bike just before heading out to deliver roses to some buyers in the area.Flowers in Vietnam ready to be delivered to buyers.

When I saw this picture after we returned home, I wasn’t certain if we correctly answered that question on the immigration card, “Did you at any time visit a farm while on your trip?”The kids looking at pigs at a farm in Vietnam.

I know what you’re thinking. We took the kids to a brick factory on a Saturday? When it wasn’t even operating? How much fun could a brick factory be on a weekend?Tour of a cement factory in Vietnam - not your typical tourist attraction.

The kids loved this little baby chick. Oh, and the rice wine they make in the distiller off to the right is about as subtle as cheap Russian vodka.Kids seeing baby chicken on tour of Vietnam

Taking a break with our driver as we made our way down from the highlands and back to the coast.Boys and driver on the side of a mountain road in the Central Highlands of Vietnam.

Eating some pho at a roadside restaurant. One of the best things about the easy riders is all the great food and local restaurants they expose you to.Eating at a restaurant in Vietnam with the Easy Riders.

Walking into the “jungle”. This was fairly uneventful, but the kids were excited to slop around in the mud and it was a nice break from the truck.Walking into the jungle with the Easy Riders.

You’ve probably seen those very simple maps of a country – perhaps on the backcover of a book – where there are just a few cities labeled and a collection of black lines – maybe 4 or 5 – criss-crossing the land marking the country’s major roads. This was one of those roads.Cattle blocking traffic on a highway in Vietnam.

Fairy Stream – Travels in Vietnam

At the north end of Mui Ne, a beach town in Vietnam, is a little creek – the Fairy Stream – that winds its way through the sand dunes that surround the town. The stream’s bottom is super soft sand and mud that’s fun to walk through in bare feet. We walked about a mile up the creek, played in the mud, and then returned to end of the stream – where it flows into the ocean.

The Fairy Stream in Mui Ne, Vietnam
A view of the Fairy Stream – sand on one side, green on the other.

The kids playing and relaxing during our walk up the Fairy Stream.
Taking a break. The pictures don’t capture how hot it was. The day we did the walk was a scorcher.

The children climbing a wall of red sand.
Go up …

Sitting and getting dirty in a river of mud.
… and slide back down.

Riding the Rails: Subways and Trains in Japan

Samuel going through the turnstiles at a subway station in Tokyo.People exiting a subway station in Tokyo.

Kipling loved using his ticket and then storing it very carefully in one of the ticket sleeves – then getting it out when we got to our destination. He liked using his ticket so much I continued to buy them for him even after I learned that 4 year olds don’t require tickets for the subway.Inserting subway ticket to enter Tokyo subway station.

I told Samuel to memorize the Kanji for the subway station nearest our hotel – and sure enough, one day we found ourselves at a station with no english and he spotted it on the map and got us home.Figuring out the Tokyo subway system map.

The boys put a pretty high premium on finding a seat when we first boarded a subway car.Sitting and waiting on a subway ride in Tokyo, Japan.

But when there was only one seat they made do.The boys sitting on a train in Osaka, Japan.

On board the Shinkansen as we headed south to Kyoto and Osaka.Using the bathroom aboard the high speed shinkansen bullet train between Tokyo and Kyoto.

Samuel waiting for the train to depart in Kyoto.Waiting for the shinkansen bullet train in Tokyo station.

On our way home! Waiting for the train to take us to the airport.On our way to Narita airport by train in Tokyo.

Travel with Kids in Bali

See Also:

The motto at this restaurant: Your kids come first, Your food comes later.

Traveling in Bali with kids.

Kipling hanging out with his friend, Dalai Lama of Nike.Traveling in Bali with kids.

A very friendly staff member at Puri Bamboo in Jimbaran. He had picked us up from the airport when we arrived and the kids continued to see a lot of him (and play with him) over our 2 different stays at the hotel.Traveling in Bali with kids.

If your kids like attention they’ll be in heaven in Bali. Traveling in Bali with kids.

Shopping for toys at a market in Padangbai.Traveling in Bali with kids.

Having fun at our hotel in Jimbaran. (They would regularly pour sugar into his palm as a treat.)Traveling in Bali with kids.

Membership has its privileges. We became regulars at this cafe in Ubud – which entitled us to use their nap-time service.Traveling in Bali with kids.

These two became very close over just 10 or 20 minutes.
Traveling in Bali with kids.

Kipling was 8 months old when we went and to us he was undoubtedly big. But to them, he was like Lord Buddha. I think they might have interpreted it as a sign from the cosmos that a baby this large was visiting their island.Traveling in Bali with kids.

We were walking along the beach just before sunset and heard this screaming and hollering coming from just above the beach and looked up to see these 3 Indonesian girls running towards us. They were so excited to see two little blonde kids they could hardly contain themselves. They immediately grabbed the boys and started playing and laughing and running about with them. Traveling in Bali with kids.

Your skin is so soft. No, your skin is so soft.Traveling in Bali with kids.

Who has time for sunsets – when you’re busy digging for clams?
Traveling in Bali with kids.

Travel with Kids: Why You Should Do It – And Do It Now

“Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare.”
– Muhammad Ali

Can I have 3 minutes of your life?

3 minutes – that’s it.

Read this!

I’m going to convince you to travel with your kids. That it’s worth it. That it’s special. That you can do this. I’m going to try anyways.

It’s not going to be the trip you had before you had kids. It’s going to demand a lot of you. You’ve got to be ON all the time. You’ve got to plan. You’ve got to Go when you want to Stop and Stop when you want to Go. You’ve got to have stores of patience to rival a monk.

Travel with kids in Bali

But there’s the payoff. It’s great. Like parenthood itself, it’s something you can’t quite explain until you’re in it. You can’t get there by some other route. There’s something unique about traveling with kids. You can’t sleepwalk through it. Or fake it. You can’t sum it up in a postcard.

I loved traveling when I was single. I loved traveling with my wife just after we were married. But I love it more now that I have kids. It takes it to another level. A different level. It’s almost a whole different experience. You can drink a glass of water. You can dive into the ocean. They both involve water but are totally different.

There’s something else added that changes it. Alters it. You see another side of local life. You’re accepted in. You share something with the locals that other travelers don’t. Even the most jaded and shady taxi driver or tout will let his guard down when he sees your kids. He’ll talk about his own children and where he lives and how last year his whole family took the train up North, into the mountains, to a little village where his mom still lives.

Believe me. I’ve done it both ways. There’s nothing those young backpackers can do to experience what you’re experiencing. What your kids are experiencing.

Taking a boat in Krabi, Thailand.

Don’t believe the hype. You can do this. I know you can.

Don’t be one of those people that gets to the end of their life and wishes they had done this or done that or hiked this trail or spent a month on that island just down by the tip of Italy. Don’t get to the end of your life and wished you’d done something special and unique with your kids when you could have.

You’ve got a window … and it’s closing … from the moment they’re born it’s closing.

You’ve got a choice. There’s a lot in life you want to do. You dream about. But this isn’t like reading Shakespeare or learning Greek or taking a pottery course. Those things you can do when you’re 22 or 82 and it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference.

But traveling with your kids is something you have to do now. You have to start now. Start planning. Start thinking. Start thumbing through guide books, running your fingers over maps, staring at pictures of beaches and mountains and rope bridges and great teeming Asian markets and see yourself, with your kids, slowly weaving your way through the magic.

Taking a boat on the Mekong River in Vietnam.

This can be the start right here! The day you read this piece.

And 2 years from now or 20. One night while you’re sitting around the dinner table, someone will ask where was that photo of your daughter taken? And you’ll begin a tale about your kids buying a strange piece of fruit at the market. And they didn’t know how to open it. So they handed it back to the fruit seller. This lady who didn’t speak a word of english, who sat on this mat with fruit from God knows what tree ringed round her like gold around a king — and she took the fruit with her hand and banged it once. And then twice. And poof it split open. And she held it all in both hands and offered it back to us like she was paying a debt her grandfather had owed. Only she had this smile, I don’t know, this smile like — you gotta taste this. And my daughter slowly slides her hands out to grab it and the look on her face! Well, that’s when I took that picture. And those are the lady’s hands right there, you can just make them out.

“And what made you decide to go?”, they’ll ask.

Well, uhmm, this sounds sort of corny, but one day I was bouncing between different websites and I stumbled upon this one travel blog about this guy who traveled with his kids and he was saying how magical it was and how special and you’ve just got one chance and you’ve got to take it now or it’s going to slip away and it won’t come back. It’s not coming out on DVD. There are no night classes for the missed credits. And, I don’t know, I just said to myself we’re doing it. We’re going on a trip.

All You Need to Know is That it’s Possible!

“One of the under-reported stories of the internet is this: it constantly reports on what’s possible. Somewhere in the world, someone is doing something that you decided couldn’t be done.”
– Seth Godin

You can do this!

See Also

The Craziest, Riskiest, Stupidest Things We’ve Done While Traveling

A common concern about travel is how safe going abroad really is. The concern is often heightened when going to a developing part of the world – like Southeast Asia, India or Central America. And taken up yet another notch when the travel plans include children.

The good news is that by and large the concerns that we have about going to exotic destinations are rarely realized. Travelers to third world nations rarely die of malaria, yellow fever or hepatitis B. That shouldn’t sound dismissive. Part of that good luck is dependent on vaccines, preparation and planning, and excellent health care for tourists when they do fall ill. (Locals aren’t nearly as fortunate on their encounters with illness.)

The truth is travelers often takes risks while traveling that they otherwise would consider rash, irresponsible, or just plain stupid (see our family photos below). Risks and scenarios that are eschewed at home, are taken on eagerly and happily while on vacation. It’s not always easy to know where to draw the line. You are traveling in a foreign country where the idea is to adopt that country’s norms and standards.

There have been times I insisted on a different vehicle because the seat belts wouldn’t work, strapped my kids safely in only to feel a little ridiculous as we passed one motorbike after another with entire families laboring to stay aboard.

And other times when I’ve shrugged my shoulders and rationalized to myself that the chances of an accident on any individual journey are fairly small.

Let’s have a look now at some of the Hogg family’s worst moments in child safety.

I don’t know how many safety recommendations this setup breaks. Let’s see: rear facing in the front seat with air bags. Did I miss any?Baby in car seat while traveling in Southeast Asia.

Cars in Indonesia don’t have seat belts in the rear seats so it was either here or sitting on our laps in the back and I chose this. That’s one big difference between Bali and Vietnam. Cars in Bali just have working seat belts in the 2 front seats. Cars in Vietnam have no working seat belts at all.

Another photo from the “travel without seat belts” file.A car trip from the Railay ferry to the Krabi airport.

I had this idea that they were somehow protected from harm if they kept their bodies behind the seat and I would find myself inanely reminding the boys every few miles to “stay behind the seat! Would ya”. Like if the van did a flip I’d be telling people afterwards, “luckily the boys were standing safely behind those 2 big front seats.”

It says right on the little white tag: The Baby Bjorn has not been tested on elephant rides – but what could go wrong on an elephant ride?On an elephant ride in Bali.

Well, for one: the large beast could get hungry. Our Elephant went … how should I put this … a little crazy. On an elephant ride in Southeast Asia.

I found out later that he was very hungry and had somehow saw or sensed that it was feeding time. He was trying to fight his handler and go directly to the food. He trampled off the path, across a large field and away from the other elephant and the intended route. (Thinking we were dead my wife and her elephant continued on to the lodge where they were offered some lovely Balinese fruit.) It took only a few minutes for our guide to get our elephant under control. This will sound like either a short or long amount of time depending on if you are reading this online or were actually on top of the animal at the time.

At least the life jackets were within reach! And it only happened this once.Boat to Railay Beach in Krabi.

Ok, maybe twice.Getting from Railay Beach to Krabi airport.

Come on – What’s gonna happen on a river?On the Thu Bon river near Hoi An, Vietnam.

On a boat near Hoi An in Vietnam, our son got to take the steering wheel and was very happy with himself.Our boy driving a boat on the river in Hoi An, Vietnam.

While Samuel was driving, the boat would occasionally do a pretty dramatic 180 in the river and we’d turn around to see him turning the wheel as the boat pointed this way … and then that way … and the boatman would be down on the floor of the boat playing with our other son completely unconcerned.

It reminded me of a conversation I had with an American guy who married a Vietnamese woman and often took his kids back there to visit her parents and family. He was amazed at how different their sense of risk was. He’d hear them saying stuff like, “Oh look at the baby up on the roof playing with the knife – Isn’t he cute?”

Toronto with Kids

Essentials

The Best Things To Do in Toronto with Kids

This is a guest post by Kristi Heath. Her web site is at www.buskerfly.com.

Toronto is the largest city in Canada and nearly half of its population was born outside of Canada, so it is ethnically diverse to say the least! Most of Toronto’s major attractions are located in the core or are easily accessible by transit. The city has a ton of events centering around different cultures, so whatever time of year you plan on being in Toronto, it’s good to pick up a local paper and check out the festivities. There are two weekly free newspapers focussing on entertainment, Eye Magazine and the NOW newspaper.

I’ve been a performer for family audiences in Toronto for the past twenty-five years, so I’ve been to just about anywhere in the city that is capable of hosting an event. Here are some of my picks, and the picks of my kids (aged 9 and 12).

The first five attractions on the list are what I’d call the Big Gun attractions. Most people have heard of these places, but I’ll try and give you a little inside info on when it’s a good time to visit. The next five are less widely known, but have lots to offer for kids of all ages and can be done fairly inexpensively.

Hot Tip number one: if you intend to do at least 3 of the first five attractions, get yourself a Toronto City Pass. It allows you to visit all 5 of these attractions within a 9 day period for way less than if you were buying tickets individually. It’s $59 US for adults and $39 US for kids as of April 2010.

1. CN Tower (and Rogers Centre)

cn-tower-with-kids

O.K., this is the numero uno tourist attraction in Toronto and although it is no longer the world’s tallest tower (thank you Dubai!), it’s still pretty cool. If you’re buying tickets, the Look Out + Glass Floor is all you need. Skip the Sky Pod (takes you a little higher, but in my humble opinion it’s not worth it). All the other ticket packages are ways to wring a few more bucks out of you. If you have lots of disposable cash, go nuts. Anyhoo, you get to take a super fast glass elevator up to the observation level and the brave of heart can walk on the glass floor that allows you to see all the way to the ground. Special tips: going just before sunset is a great time to go up and enjoy the city changing over from day to night. Also, if you happen to be in town during the Canadian National Exhibition, the tower is a great place to watch the air show which happens on Labour day week-end (first week-end in September) in the afternoons. The CN tower is the next door neighbour of the Rogers Centre (formerly the Sky Dome), so if you have a sports fan with you, you can catch a baseball or football game and do the CN tower in the same day. If there’s a ball game on and the Rogers Centre roof is open, you can peek in from the top of the CN tower.

2. Casa Loma

Toronto with Kids: Casa Loma.

Toronto’s only castle. if you’re from Europe, I’m guessing this wouldn’t be such a big deal for you, but if you’re a north American, it’s kind of fun to explore a castle (albeit a relatively young one). Casa Loma has a couple of good times to visit – December when they host special performances all month and during their Renaissance Festival on the first week-end in July. Buyer beware – this attraction is for people who have the Toronto City Pass, otherwise you might want to give this a miss and head to the Art Gallery of Ontario instead (which has lots of great things for kids).

3. Ontario Science Centre

Toronto with Kids: Ontario Science Centre

O.K., I’m particularly biased towards this place, but it is fantastic! And huge! And interactive! The OSC has done a lot in the past few years to make itself appealing to all ages. There’s KidSpark for the younger set (if you have younger kids, trust me, you might just spend the whole day in this area) and for older kids (tweens and teens) there’s the Weston Innovation Centre, also very active and very fun. There’s a challenge zone where you’re given a problem to solve (e.g. how to rescue a cat from a cave without crossing the lava field in front of the cave). You then are set loose on a bunch of shelves containing all kinds of bits and pieces that you then try and build your solution with. Very fun! The OSC has plenty of special exhibits, a rain forest, an OMNIMAX theatre, a tiny planetarium and much more. Lots of additional activities and shows during March break (mid March). If you are attending during March break, avoid the 11 am – 2 pm entry – it’s nuts. Go later, they extend their hours during this nine day period anyway.

4. The Royal Ontario Museum

Toronto with Kids: Royal Ontario Museum.

This institution just underwent an overhaul. After adding a questionable piece of architecture to the front of the building (the ROM Crystal) they recently redid some of their exhibits. There’s a brand new bat cave (probably the favourite thing of most kids). They also have a great dinosaur exhibit and lots of hands on exhibits for kids. My personal favourite is the stuffed birds (I’m guessing that’s not the proper scientific name, and I know this isn’t about me, it’s about kids, so I’ll go on….)

5. The Toronto Zoo

Toronto with Kids: Toronto Zoo is a good day trip.

These birds aren’t stuffed! Get on your walking shoes!! There’s so much to see here that you probably won’t be able to conquer it in a day, so plan your route carefully. The great apes are always fun to watch, but lots of other creatures like naked mole rats and meerkats can keep you amused for a very long time. If you’re visiting in the summer make sure to bring your bathing suits – there’s a wonderful water park called Splash Island and an area called Kids Zoo geared to kids under 9. Lots of special events at the zoo – Boo at the Zoo for Halloween and special New Year’s eve shows.

6. Ashbridges Bay

Toronto with Kids: Ashbridges Bay and The Beaches.

Toronto is on a lake, a Great Lake – a fact that escapes many locals due to the fact that there’s been way too much development along the waterfront. There is a bit of beachfront on the east end of the city, so if your kids just want to dig in the sand, or watch beach volleyball, kite boarders or wind surfers, this is the place to go. Unfortunately the lake is quite polluted, so heed warnings about water safety. There’s a nice boardwalk to stroll, in line skate or bike on and the Beaches area is great for grabbing an ice cream cone or boutique shopping (window or otherwise).

7. Kensington Market

Toronto with Kids: Kensington Market.

If you’re travelling with kids who like retro shopping, this is the spot! Tons of second hand clothing stores and a real hippy vibe. The Blue Banana store is fun for everyone, so it’s worth a visit if you’re in the area. There is all kinds of food from around the world in the market (jumbo empanadas, anyone?), fish mongers, coffee purveyors, bakeries, health food shops – you name it. It’s also great for meat and cheese, so grab some stuff to take with you to number 8 on the list.

8. High Park

Toronto with Kids: High Park.

Step off the High Park subway, cross Bloor street and enter a fabulous park. There’s an amazing Adventure Playground filled with wooden castles, ramps and the usual assortment of playground equipment. There’s a tiny “zoo” that is free – a few mountain goats, yaks, peacocks and what not . You can check out the beautiful Grenadier Pond – and if you’re there at the end of April, see the cherry blossoms in bloom. There’s a restaurant in the park and all kinds of running races, soap box derbies and other special events year round. There’s even an little ride that will take you through the park (I’d call it a train, but it isn’t on tracks) The park is huge, so plan on a picnic and hanging out.

9. Toronto Islands

Toronto with Kids: Toronto Islands.

Another great place to picnic and bike ride or inline skate. Take the ferry over to Centre Island and stop in at CentreVille – a little theme park with all kinds of rides and things for kids to enjoy. The Islands are pedestrian traffic only and when you get off the ferry you’ll enjoy a great view of Toronto. You can rent canoes to go through the waterways between the three islands (Centre Island, Ward Island, and Olympic Island). There’s also Franklin’s Children’s Garden – a nice little area for the younger set to explore. There’s beach areas, a hedge maze, playgrounds and more – spend the day exploring.

10. Ethnic Neighbourhoods

Toronto with Kids: Chinatown (close to the University of Toronto).

This is a great big category that I will not be able to do justice to in the least. Toronto is pretty much divided into different ethnic areas, and it is a ton of fun just to pick a nationality and go wander through its’ neighbourhood. Large China towns (3!), India town, Greek Town, Little Italy etc. etc. Check out Pacific Mall if you want a blast of Asia or do a tour of the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir temple that cost $40 million to build. Both are fantastic in very different ways. Oh, my youngest son mentioned Tim Hortons – a Canadian donut and sandwich shop chain. Hardly avoidable….

About the Author: Kristi Heath has lived in Toronto for 25 years. She has been performing her own unique style of physical comedy around the world since she was 18, including engagements with Cirque du Soleil and performances in Japan, Korea, Europe, New Zealand, Singapore and coast to coast in Canada and the US.  She is the mother of two boys, aged 9 & 12.

Photo credits.