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.

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.

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.

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

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.

Paris With Kids

Essentials

Top 10 Things To Do with Kids in Paris

The Author: Anne from the blog Just Another American in Paris.

Most of us think of Paris as the city of romance, wine, fashion, and all things sophisticated. That’s all true — but it’s also a great city for kids. Naturally, the trip you take to Paris en famille will be different than the one you take with the love of your life but it can still be a trip for the memory books.

So what to do in Paris with the kids? As the French are famous for saying, that depends. What appeals to your kids will depend on their ages, the season, and their special interests. But after polling several of my expatriate friends who’ve had the time to enjoy Paris at a slow pace and to share their new home base with many visitors, these were the top attractions and destinations.

1. Climb the Eiffel Tower

Climbing the eiffel tower.

Paris is a low-rise city and the Eiffel Tower seems ever present. Eiffel Tower tickets can be purchased online as late as the day before your visit. If you can, take advantage of this system because the lines for those without reservations are truly horrendous.  (There’s also a downloadable bilingual activity book for kids if you have the time and access to a printer.) You can buy the cheaper ticket and walk up as far as the second level, or splurge for the elevator that takes you all the way to the tippy top.

At night, the tower twinkles on the hour but the light show doesn’t begin until it’s dark; in the summer that can be as late as 10 pm. The restaurant on the first level (58 Tour Eiffel) has a wonderful reasonably priced children’s menu (lunch and dinner) and the food is actually pretty good. The best place to snap pictures is not from the tower’s base but from across the river at the Palais de Chaillot (Metro: Trocadero.)

2. Pick just one among the three big art museums (unless your kids are wild about art)

Family visiting the Louvre Museum.

Best bets in the Louvre: the remains of the medieval Louvre, mummies, the Galerie d’Appollon (which contains what’s left of France’s crown jewels), and the Napoleon III apartments. You may feel compelled to look at the Mona Lisa. Fair warning: the painting itself is tiny and the gallery always packed. At the d’Orsay, home of the crowd pleasing Impressionists, ask at the welcome desk for the kids’ guide which focuses on the transformation of the former train station into a museum. The Pompidou offers wonderful rooftop views plus a plaza full of street performers in addition to its collection of 20th and 21st century masterpieces.

3. Take a ride on a bateau mouche.

Boat tour of the River Seine.
A boat ride along the Seine is a great way to get oriented to the city, especially for that first day of touring when you are jet lagged. Several different companies operate tour boats along the river. The Bateaux Mouches near the Pont de l’Alma is the least expensive. Batobus costs more but allows you to hop on and off on a one-day or two-day ticket.

4. Enjoy the city’s parks and gardens.

Luxembourg Gardens with kids.
Paris is dotted with pocket parks, many with small play areas suitable for toddlers. The Jardin du Luxembourg, in particular, is humming with activity for kids and offers plenty of benches and chairs for their tired parents. They can run around for free or you can pay a little bit to sail a toy boat in the basin, ride the carousel, take in a marionette show, or have hours of fun on the huge playground. Skip Disney and instead spend the day at the Jardin d’Acclimitation in the Bois de Boulogne. With its old style carnival rides and hall of mirrors, this park may remind you of your own childhood. Plus there’s a small zoo, a marionette show, playgrounds, and a water park for hot summer days. (Metro: Les Sablons)

5. Wander and explore.

Exploring Paris and finding a market.
Paris is a great place to walk and you can do so for hours on end, through winding streets, down grand boulevards, along the banks of the Seine. The trick with kids is to have a few ideas for stops and treats in your back pocket. Window shop in the Marais or Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Mosey down the Champs-Élysées. Stick your head into churches you pass by; there may be an organ concert in progress. Check out the offerings at an open air market, stop for a crepe from a street vendor or a pain au chocolat from a neighborhood boulangerie. In the summer, make a pit stop for an ice cream by Berthillon on Ile St. Louis.

6. Visit the Arc de Triomphe

Visiting the Arc de Triomphe with children.

Don’t worry. Despite the crazy traffic around this monument, access is super safe via underground passageway. You only have to pay if you choose to take the 300 something steps to the top. Admiring the grandeur of Napoleon’s vision and paying homage to France’s unknown soldier is free of charge.

7. Experience the cheesiness that is Montmartre.

Kid-friendly street music in Montmartre.
It’s super touristy but kids love it all the same. Sacre Coeur is hard to resist with its sparkling white dome, glistening like a cone from Dairy Queen. And even though there’s little great art being made in the Place de Tetre, most kids enjoy watching the painters at work. Take a detour into the side streets and you’ll find quiet byways little changed from the days when this was a village unto itself.

8. Pick one smaller museum that feeds your kids’ passions.

Kid-friendly Musee de l'Armee (a war and army museum) in Paris.
Fun options include armor and weapons at Musée de l’Armée, miles of skulls and bones in the Catacombs, and following the history of music with fabulous audioguides at Cité de la Musique. Admission to the sculpture garden at the Musée Rodin is just one euro and there’s plenty of room to run.

9. Take in the grandeur that is Notre Dame.

View from the tour of the Notre Dame Cathedral.

Most kids aren’t wild about churches but this one, with its incredible Rose window, gargoyles, and soaring ceilings, is sure to impress. Entrance is free but remember that this is a functioning church; a mass may be in progress during your visit. Entrance to the towers requires an admission fee and usually a wait in line.

10. If you’re planning to be in Paris for more than three days, take one day to go a bit further afield.

Touring the gardens of Versailles.

Versailles is just 35 minutes from the center of town by commuter train and makes a great day trip. If the weather’s nice, take a picnic and make a day of it with a tour of the chateau with its famous Hall of Mirrors, Marie Antoinette’s farm, and acres of gardens. On weekend evenings in the summer, the fountains come alive with light and music shows. Another option is Claude Monet’s house and garden in Giverny which can be reached in 45 minutes from Gare St. Lazare. The water lilies and the Japanese bridge look just like you imagined.

About the Author: Anne spent four years living in Paris with her husband and two children. She blogs at Just Another American in Paris.

Further Reading:

Photo credits.

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.

Southeast Asia With Kids – Where To Go

Updated: October 20, 2016

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Family Travel in SE Asia

Waterfront and restaurants in Hoi An, Vietnam.

Southeast Asia is an incredible destination for kids and families. I’ve been all over the region and have a good feel for the places to go and the over-rated destinations to avoid. There’s lots to see so let’s take a look at some of my favorites.

One Essential Tip

I could give lots of tips for traveling to Southeast Asia with kids but I’m going to mention just one here because I think it could make a huge difference in planning your trip.

Try to arrive and depart from different cities. Of course, this advice doesn’t apply if you’re doing a short one-week vacation, but if you’re there for a longer stretch of time it’s close to essential.

Southeast Asia lends itself to this open-jaw method of traveling. The typical must-see cities, attractions, and resort islands stretch along single routes of roads and rail. The most visited places – from Bali to Singapore up to Bangkok and over to Vietnam and onto Hong Kong – form a sort of crescent shaped route for travelers.

Where To Go in Southeast Asia – The Highlights

Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

Rice fields in Ubud, Bali.
Bali is great for families. And to be honest the kids would probably enjoy one of the beaches (Jimbaran, Sanur, Nusa Dua) more than Ubud. But travel should be about compromise (primarily for my kids, then my wife, rarely me) and if there’s one cultural destination in Southeast Asia that works really well with children then it’s Ubud.

Most of the Balinese shows (dancing, singing, theatre) are bright, loud, energetic – and outdoors – making them perfect for children. The climate is cooler than the rest of Bali and the high number of expats ensures there is lots of good food – and great bakeries – that kids will enjoy. Most mid-range and luxury hotels have a swimming pool and a range of walks and hikes – from easy to more challenging – weave in and out of the local rice paddies.

Further Reading:

Singapore

Chinatown temple in Singapore.

Singapore is loaded with fun activities for families. It’s easy to get around, has colorful neighborhoods, and a mind-boggling array of food, shopping, and entertainment options.

Kids will be most interested in the Night Safari, Sentosa Island, and the Science Centre but you could spend a week here and not be bored.

Further Reading:

Penang, Malaysia

Chinese New Year Celebrations in Penang, Malaysia.

Somewhat like Singapore but smaller and friendlier, with a more Old Asia feel. This is a place you could easily spend several weeks or a month relax – settling in and getting to the know the local people, customs, and slow pace of life.

Food is important in Penang so this is a place to explore different cuisines with a open-minded and fun curiosity.

Further Reading:

Railay, Thailand

Railay Phra Ngan beach near Krabi in Thailand.

This is my favorite beach in Southeast Asia and it’s a perfect destination for kids. (Actually, there are 2 beaches here – both are fantastic and very kid-friendly.) Railay is only accessible by boat from Krabi or Ao Nang which ads some drama and sense of adventure to your arrival. (Luggage often has to be carried overhead as you hop from the boat into the shallow waters of the beach.)

There are no cars within the town and it’s crisscrossed not by roads but sandy paths leading from one beach to another. Kids love it here.

Further Reading:

Koh Pha Ngan, Thailand

Beach in Koh Phangan near Koh Samui and Koh Tao in Thailand.

The perfect Thai island that offers a bit of everything at a slower pace than nearby Koh Samui. Haad Rin is party central – renown for Southeast Asia’s biggest Full Moon Party – but get away from there and things change dramatically.

The nicest beaches can be found along the north coast of the island. It requires a bit of trek by car or pick up truck to get there but if you’re looking for what Thailand was like 20 years ago this is as close as you can get.

Further Reading:

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Outdoors hiking activities near Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Bangkok meets mountain village. Chiang Mai is a hip urban destination – with many expats wandering the streets – but with great outdoor excursions just a short drive away. Do a collection of day trips or take a longer tour through one of the many trek operators found here.

Riding an elephant is usually at the top of most kids to-do list (it was for mine) and that’s easily accomplished in the Chiang Mai region. The overnight train ride from Bangkok is another sure bet to be popular with the whole family.

Further Reading:

Bangkok, Thailand

Market in Bangkok Thailand

Southeast Asia’s most exciting and dynamic city. From fantastic street food to gritty canal trips, from stunning palaces to the ultra modern sky train, Bangkok flat out wowes you.

You could spend a week here doing fun family-friendly attractions and day trips so don’t dismiss the nation’s capital as just another dirty busy transit hub.

Further Reading:

The Mekong Delta, Vietnam

Mekong Delta in Vietnam and Cambodia.

A great region for getting off the beaten track, traveling like the locals do, and seeing true Vietnamese life. You can criss-cross the delta by bus, boat, or even bike (it’s so flat that this is a popular destination for touring on 2 wheels).

The stunningly beautiful Phu Quoc islands rests just off the Mekong’s west side and makes a great detour for some family beach time.

Further Reading:

Hanoi, Vietnam

Ninh Binh near Hanoi, Vietnam.

The tangle of lanes and narrow streets that makes up Hanoi’s old quarter is the stuff of asian legend and will likely make for a day of adventurous exploration for older children. A (very popular) water puppet show, kid friendly parks, exotic markets, numerous ice cream shops, and a waterslide park that looks out over rice paddies are some of the many highlights.

The overnight train ride to Hoi An or a night or two touring Halong Bay by boat are enticing sidetrips from the city.

Further Reading:

Hong Kong, China

Causeway Bay in Hong Kong, China.

Not truly in SE Asia but on it’s a popular stop and gateway city for people heading farther south so I’ve included it here. The city has an amazing array of attractions that are kid-friendly, uniquely Asian, and easy to get from the city center.

Further Reading:

Map of best places to go with kids in South East Asia.

Further reading on planning a trip to SE Asia:

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:

Vacation in Vietnam

This is an account of our trip to Vietnam in August and September of 2009. 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.

Royal1 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 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.

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:

10 Parenting Books That Will Make You a Better (happier) Parent

Maybe we can’t call all of these parenting books — but if they make for better informed parents, I’ve included them here.

1. Organized Simplicity: The Clutter-Free Approach to Intentional Living by Tsh Oxenreider — As Tsh says, “Simple living is a state of mind. It’s a choice to not let the consumer driven culture dictate how you live, what you invest in, and how you spend your valuable resources.” A great primer to de-cluttering your life.

2. NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman — The science of childhood development made simple and easy to understand.

3. The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science by Natalie Angier — Need a review of  highschool science? (Or maybe an introduction?) This magisterial review of scientific basics makes a surprisingly great read.

4. Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell  — An oddball collection of great ideas regarding the common characteristics of ultra-successful people. Gladwell painstakingly develops his belief that these superstars are “the beneficiaries of hidden advantages, extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies that allow them to learn and work hard and make sense of the world in ways others cannot.” This is a fantastically interesting book.

5. My Life in France by Julia Child and Alex Prud’Homme — How is the story of a childless cookbook writer relevant to parents? Julia Child found herself, her passion, and her eventual riches well after the age of 40. This book reminds us that it’s never too late to find new pleasures, passions, and profits.  You don’t need to feel like your life is drawing to a close just because you’ve had kids and crossed into middle age.

6. Born On A Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant by Daniel Tammet — This incredible story of an autistic savant boy — with Asperger’s Syndrome —  offers something rare: a self told account of life out on the fringes.

7. Heading Home with Your Newborn: From Birth to Reality by Laura A. Jana MD and Jennifer Shu  MD — The best book I’ve read on early childhood. Great practical advice for the modern parent.

8. Don’t Swallow Your Gum!: Myths, Half-Truths, and Outright Lies About Your Body and Health by Aaron Carroll MD and Rachel Vreeman MD — Much of what society believes has no basis in science and fact. Here the authors go through some of the most popular myths that surround health, society, and humans — and there’s lots in here for parents.

9. Ah-Choo!: The Uncommon Life of Your Common Cold by Jennifer Ackerman — You — and your child — will spend the better part of 5 entire years of your life with a cold. Knowing how cold viruses spread (they’re harder to pass that you think), what treatments work, and how best to avoid them is time well spent.

10. Free-Range Kids, How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry) by Lenore Skenazy — I put this one at the end for good reason. In some ways Free Range parenting is about ignoring all the other parenting books out there. Lenore believes that parents — and kids — do just fine on their own, without the advice of pseudo experts and the warnings of fear-mongers. So lose the helicopter parenting and stay focused on having fun and enjoying the whole crazy process.

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.

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.

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?”

Bangkok to Samui – Planes, Buses and Boats

On our trip to Thailand we flew from Seattle through Taipei before arriving in Bangkok. We intended to head first to Koh Samui and debated whether to take the train or fly. Since we only had 15 days and the flights on Air Asia were so cheap we decided to fly. A minor wrinkle was the cheap discount carriers don’t fly directly to Samui but to a nearby town on the mainland – Surat Thani. But there’s just a small strip of water between that city and the island so it would surely be a quick hop over. In fact I’d done a similar transfer before, albeit after an overnight train, and remembered the short jaunt being fairly painless. Arriving at our hotel in Bangkok after a 20 hour flight at about 2pm we had an afternoon of swimming, eating and exploring the market and then to sleep early. We slept very well, woke early, and prepared for our quick trip down to Koh Samui. Maybe we’d be having lunch on the beach!

Up early and waiting for our flight in the Bangkok airport.The children waiting for our flight in the Bangkok Airport.

A bus ride from the airport in Surat Thani to the ferry terminal that – for a variety of reasons – took a couple of hours more than expected.Bus ride to ferry terminal for Ko Samui.

A friendly police officer while waiting for our ferry.In the waiting room getting a hat from a man in uniform.

After a few hours wait a short walk out to the ferry.The walkway out to the ferry.

It was a great to be on the ferry and finally getting close to our destination. Here’s Kipling reading Curious George just before he started throwing up.Reading a book on the ferry ride to Samui, Thailand.

Exhausted! The boys fell asleep on the hour long taxi ride to our hotel. In the semi-mad rush to get out of the taxi we just started piling bags, backpacks and boys on the steps of the hotel.Falling asleep on the luggage.

Ahhh, but it’s all worth it. It being so late when we arrived the previous night we didn’t get a chance to explore. So the next morning, as we wandered down the paths and through the palm leaves toward the beach, we got that feeling that you only get from drinking strong coffee, playing drinking games or traveling in foreign countries. That incredible sense that anything is possible.At the World Resort hotel in Bophut, Koh Samui, Thailand.

Travel With Kids: Surprise In Samui

Our youngest boy, Kipling, had long golden hair that hadn’t been cut since birth. Here is he (in blue) and his brother having a crepe as our trip begins.Getting a crepe in Chaweng, Ko Samui

So as a surpise to my wife I decided one morning to get him a haircut while she was out shopping. I’m not sure, is that a happy look?
A new look for one of our Children.

Switch to a new hairdresser who’d had some experience with this crazy farang hair.
The very friendly person in Chaweng, Samui.

I wish I had a picture of him coming around the corner to our hotel room with my wife sitting on the porch. It took her a good 5 seconds to recognize him.
Playing on the beach in Koh Samui, Thailand

Travel With Kids: Trips to the Hospital in Asia

An account of our two trips to the hospital while traveling in Asia

We’ve been very lucky on our trips to Asia and Europe with our kids. But eventually luck runs out for every traveler and on two of our trips we made hasty visits to the Emergency room.

The first time, while traveling in Bali, was due to a dog bite. We had been browsing through an open air art gallery in Ubud when Samuel approached a sleeping dog a little too quickly. It snapped and minutes later we were headed south to the hospital in Kuta.

Even though rabies isn’t endemic to Bali, if you don’t know the dog or can’t verify that its had its shots you need to get the vaccine. It’s nice too, because it’s not just one shot but a series of shots stretched out over 3 weeks. (Day 1, 3, 7, 14 and 21 following the initial visit.)

The first visit – directly after the bite – involved 7 shots in total. Six in the area immediately around the bite and then a general shot in the arm. We then had to return to the hospital periodically over the remainder of our trip.

Hospital Policy: one medical-glove balloon for every half dozen shots. At the BIMC Hospital in Kuta, Bali


The next time we had to make an emergency room diversion was on our way home from Vietnam. We had a 10 hour layover in the Seoul airport. We had checked into the airport hotel and were just about to bed down for a planned 6 hour nap when Samuel (him again) lost his balance on the bed and did a face plant into a mahogony table. A large gash opened in his forehead producing plenty of blood. Fortunately there was an emergency room clinic in the airport. Unfortunately it’s through immigration, so my wife took him through the customs and immigrations lines. I can only assume they must have gotten some weird looks – blood soaked towel, no bags, no coats or sweaters – making their way through the lineup. Welcome to South Korea. Yay! and then off to Emerg.

It all went pretty well from there. The doctors were really nice. They used medical glue as a temporary measure, said he did great, the wound looked fine and he should see a plastic surgeon within 12 hours of gettting home.

Sushi time after a little emergency medical care in Seoul.
Eating sushi in Seoul airport after the hospital


For a different take on our trip to Bali read One BIG Reason To Travel With Kids.

Travel With Kids: Travel Day to Tokyo

Our flight and first few hours in Tokyo

The boys and I have left mom at home (too busy to get off work) and set out on an extended Spring Break in Japan.

Starting our trip to Tokyo from Seattle

Saying goodbye to Mom at the Seattle airport.

Activities on the plane.

The flight was fairly uneventful (until the end). The boys did lego, watched snippets from the only kid movie available (The Fantastic Mr Fox), ate a lot of food and slept. It did get bumpy as we neared Tokyo and Samuel threw up from the turbulence but he bounced right back.

Taking the NEX train from Narita to Ikebukuro in Tokyo.

Off the plane and onto a train. The NEX train got us into Tokyo in 90 minutes.

Vending machines on the way to the hotel.

Checking out the vending machines on our walk to the hotel.

The hotel room at Kimi Ryokan.

Traditional Japanese rooms at Kimi Ryokan.

Kimi Ryokan in Tokyo

A little lounge time.

The kids eating at a restaurant in Tokyo.

Our first meal before returning to the hotel for bedtime.

In Kimi Ryokan

4:30 in the morning … time to try on some kimonos.

Travel With Kids: Sand Sledding In Vietnam

During our trip to Vietnam, we made a visit to the Sand Dunes near Mui Ne. The Sand Dunes are much like what they sound – a large expanse of sand hills and drifts carved by the wind into a range of shapes, grooves and lines. As you walk into the dunes young kids approach to offer their plastic sleds and demonstrate – for a price of course – how to ride the hills of sand.

Kipling getting ready for his first ride down the dunes.
Sledding the sand dunes in Vietnam.

Is it a chance to sled without being cold, or a trip to the beach without the opportunity to swim?Playing in the sand, Vietnam

Samuel getting some help up the hills.
Children at the sand dunes, Vietnam

Travel With Kids: At Home At Hoa’s Place

A Week long stay at Hoa’s Place on China Beach in Vietnam

While in Vietnam we were fortunate enough to discover the very friendly Hoa (pronounced H-wa) and his family run hotel. It’s located a few hundred metres from China Beach (near Danang). What makes Hoa’s so special is a great community feel that envelops you and seemingly everyone that stays there. Certainly part of this, is that it attracts travelers looking for a community feel, but Hoa and his merry band take that spirit and run with it. The fridge is help yourself and every night there’s a family dinner where the tables are brought together,  plates and plates and plates of food are spread around, and everyone serves themselves. We had one of the more expensive A/C rooms which came in at a whopping $11 a night.

Fellow travelers hanging out and swapping stories about their journeys. And the boys got to learn a few new versions of poker too.
In the restaurant, eating and drinking.

If we couldn’t find the boys they were probably watching TV with the owners of the hotel.
The children sitting with the family.

The Gang! Hoa and his family and friends. Note the Teamwork principles espoused by his staff. (T-shirt)The best hotel in Vietnam.

Breakfast and pajamas at Hoa’s Place.Breakfast at the hotel.

The daily routine: hit the beach.
The kids swimming at the beach.

One BIG Reason To Travel With Kids

Boys in a traditional fishing boat in Vietnam

Back in 2001 my wife bought me a new camera. It was just after we were married and shortly before we were about to depart on a RTW trip. It was a good camera — a far better camera than I’d had before. It wasn’t high end but it looked and functioned like a serious camera.

I was really stoked to take lots of pictures, find great shots, and come home with a library of great photos to show friends and family. To brag, to boast, and just generally leave people in a sense of awe for my photographic vision.

And I did all that. And that was fine. But what really surprised me was how much having the camera, and looking for shots, and peering around this corner, and that corner, and taking a 2nd look, and a 3rd look, and just always making a little more effort to discover things – how much more that allowed me to see. How much more it demanded I see.

Always hunting for a shot, stuff would pop out at me — street signs and stray dogs; men eating lunch and maids doing laundry; boats, bicycles, and bar signs. Stuff that I never would have taken note of — was suddenly right there in front of my eyes. Flashing. And pulsing. And insisting that I look, that I take note, and ultimately, that I remember.

And now — jumping ahead 9 years — it’s a similar feeling traveling with my kids. Perhaps daily life with children, regardless of where you are, brings out a new or different level of detail. But especially on the road. They make you look, really look.

On our first trip with both children we went to Bali, a popular island in Indonesia. I wanted a destination a little more off the beaten track. My wife wanted a place where we could still buy diapers and visit a functioning emergency room if we needed. So Bali was a bit of a compromise. I was excited for the trip, without a doubt, but there was still a little voice in the back of my head saying, “Bali? No serious traveler goes to BALI!”

But what really blew me away, was how being there with a three and a half year old, completely opened my eyes to things that would have sailed right by on my own. To him, there was so much that was different, so much that my jaded eyes scanned over, barely acknowledged, then dismissed.

The clothes. The cars. The gas stations. The way the women held their babies and the men held their cigarettes. He just picked up on everything. My mind wanted to recognize and catalog all that was similar. To take information and form a pattern. And his was alive to every little detail that didn’t agree with what he’d seen in his 42 months on earth.

And that’s why traveling with children is so special for the parents. They — the young, the naive, the unworldly — look at something that adults have encountered time and again, and they strip away everything we take for granted. They see what’s new, what’s unusual, what’s unique, what has some feature worthy of a story.

And I think that’s their contribution. We pay for the tickets, book the hotels, and carry the bags. And they stand on the side of the road and say, “Hey Papa! — They’re playing soccer with a coconut.”

Travel With Kids: Waterfall Visits

While visiting Vietnam we got to see a couple waterfalls while journeying through the Central Highlands of the country. They were well off the beaten track so we didn’t see any other foreigners along the way.

This one was very difficult to access – here our guide is helping the boys down a slope – and we never did get to a good viewing area. It was certainly lush and beautiful though.Waterfall in Central HIghlands of Vietnam

Here’s Samuel taking off across one of them. (You’ve got to look closely. He’s almost in the dead center of the photo.) My wife was yelling at him to STOP! but couldn’t get his attention – it’s quite loud, of course – so chased after him cutting her foot open and perhaps breaking a toe. (Thank God I had the presence of mind to keep shooting photos.)Waterfall in Central Highlands of Vietnam

When he returned I had to hastily prepare the father-son waterfall safety talk I had been meaning to give him for some time.Trip to waterfall near Dalat, Vietnam

For more about our family’s journey through Vietnam, read my Vietnam Trip Review.

Thrilling and Amazing Travel Tips!

15 golden rules to live by while traveling the world

Family Travel: Tips and advice for a great vacation.

1. Don’t eat at corner restaurants — they don’t have to be good to get a lot of traffic so they probably aren’t.

2. Eat different cuisines than the country you’re in. And I’m not referring to the lasagna from your hotel restaurant. Thai food in India is different than in Thailand – obviously. But it’s also different than Thai food in Seattle. I’ve had great Mexican food in Athens, great Greek food in Bangkok, and some stuff I didn’t recognize on a Biman Airlines flight while over Pakistan. But more than good, these meals were interesting — and that’s what travel should be.

3. Steal soap from your hotel and give it to kids in developing countries as a present. Studies have shown that distributing soap to kids in poor countries saves lives. Travelers are always thinking up things to give to kids that ask for handouts (pencils, erasers, candies) but nothing beats the gift of clean hands. And don’t just collect 1 or 2 from your hotel bathroom. Hit the hallways while the cleaning staff are having a smoke and grab a couple handfuls from the service carts. When you’re saving lives, Go Big.

4. Arrive and depart from different cities. Time and money are to the traveler what cigarettes and phone calls are to the political prisoner, and you’ll be spending both of these as you return to your departure city for the flight home. Tailor your trip around two big cities, say Paris and Rome, and work your way from one to the other — and then fly home directly.

5. Read a local newspaper. Most countries and big cities have at least one english language newspaper. You’ll be amazed how involved you’ll become in local affairs in just a week or two of following the current scandal, or election, or controversy about school prayer (that’s not just an American thing).

6. Don’t take any one person’s advice for important decisions. This is called anecdotal evidence. “I went to Kenya and didn’t take malaria medicine and man, I was fine.” All this means is that it’s possible to visit Kenya, without anti-malarials, and not die. It doesn’t mean it’s smart, advisable, or even likely. Just possible.

7. Err on the side of inexpensive hotels. This goes against most travelers’ natural inclinations. We talk a good game above traveling frugally, but once we get on the road we tend to spend up a bit, and treat ourselves. And that’s fine. This rule isn’t about saving money. It’s about having an interesting trip and the more expensive a place is, the more likely it will have package tourists and people traveling on 7 or 14 day tickets. Nothing against these people but if you want to swap stories about taking a boat through the backwaters of Kerala, go with the cheap place. If you want to talk about who’s going to win the Superbowl this year then go with the package tourists.

8. Don’t shy away from big events. It’s tough to fit this into a rule as there are so many variables. If the Olympics are on and you show up looking for a room, yeah, you’re screwed. But many events scare away more people than they attract. Especially if the locations bounce around a bit (e.g. the World Cup of Soccer).

9. Only travel with people you live with. If you want to hook up with your old buddy’s family, don’t do a trip through Tuscany. There’s just too much to negotiate. This is hard enough between two adults who share, uhm, a marriage. Throw in two more adults, a couple more kids and it becomes impossible and not much fun. If you really want to do something special with friends, book a place for a week or two, roast a pig, eat leftovers. No trouble.

10. Don’t be afraid of admitting what you don’t know. I was traveling once through the Sinai to Israel and I caught myself thinking “Is English the main language in Israel?” Nah, it couldn’t be, but, what is it then? When the bus stopped and I hopped out, I heard the border guards talking and no, dear reader, it wasn’t English. I could be embarrassed about this, but I’m not. Everyone is ignorant of something but some people sit at home watching Fox News and have their opinions confirmed and some people go out into the world and look stupid and look naive and learn and grow and become better people. (And Gosh darn it I’m gonna be one of them!)

11. Do what you want to do. Don’t let someone else — or a guide book — decide. If you don’t want to see the Louvre then don’t see it. Do Paris or London or Rome the way you want to do it. I went through Cairo and didn’t see the pyramids. And while this isn’t a great example, seeing as I’ve regretted that egg-headed decision every day since it occurred — I can live with it. It makes it my trip and my memories and my damn stupid decision.

12. I’m going to have to be the one to break this to you. If you’re taking a trip — especially an extended trip — you’re going to have hard days, challenging days, lifeless, languid, listless days. (Thank you Webster’s New World Thesaurus!) That’s fine. Just don’t blame your bad days on traveling. You have bad days at home. You wake up and feel groggy and grumpy and lazy and lethargic. (Those were mine.) It’s not necessarily the trip that is making you feel this way. It’s the fact that you’re human. Process it. Deal with it. Accept it. — Now go get yourself a banana pancake.

13. Buy your own fruit. It sounds simple. It is simple. Just do it. You’ll love it. And I don’t mean, if there happens to be a fruit stand outside your hotel door you should buy some, because you need to have 9 servings a day.  What I mean is, find fruit and buy it. Make it a daily task that you’re going to track down a fruit stand, a farmers’ market (they’re not just in San Francisco) and get some good fresh fruit. The entire process will expose you to elements of daily life you would have otherwise ignored. Trust me: You’ll have memories from your trips to buy fresh fruit.

14. Use a small pocket camera. Leave your 10 pound camera that’s the size of a football at home and take a point and shoot model that isn’t much bigger than a deck of cards. Yes, you’ll miss some shots — not enough light, too much light, won’t focus quickly enough — but you’ll have it with you all the time, you won’t be as reluctant to take it out in an intimate or awkward setting, and people will act much more naturally even when they do notice it.

15. Send postcards. They’re fun. People like getting them. If you must send an email put all the contents in the subject line: “Mom — I’m alive, in Italy, not going back to school next semester. XO”

See Also

Traveling Bali With Kids

Here is a video of our trip to Bali when the kids were aged 9 months and 3.5 years.  The video shows our travels through Jimbaran, Kuta, Ubud and Padangbai.

Travel Thailand With Kids (Video)

Here is a video of our family’s trip to Thailand when the kids were aged 4 (almost) and 15 months. The video tracks our progress in chronological order from Bangkok to Bophut, Chaweng and Mae Nam, all on Koh Samui, then on to Railay (near Krabi), and back to Bangkok.

Travel Vietnam With Kids (Video)

Here’s a video of our trip through Vietnam. The video, for the most part, follows a chronological order, beginning in Hanoi and heading south through Hue, Danang and China Beach, Hoi An, Nha Trang, Dalat and parts of the Central Highlands, Mui Ne, Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and the Mekong Delta.

For a full account of our trip read my Trip Review: Vietnam post.