Travel

Toddler Travel Tips

My husband and I decided we’d like to take one last big trip before Nono started costing us a plane ticket. We chose Hawaii (we live in New Orleans) because it was a big trip, but seemed very baby friendly given the ability to have a laid back beach vacation instead of a trip requiring a lot of plans and activities.

Hana Waterfall

The most daunting part of the trip was the flight. About 10 hours in the air with a 17 month old who could walk and wouldn’t have his own seat. How was this going to go?

We hadn’t flown with Nono since he’d started walking so I really had no idea what to expect and visions of meltdowns while we were stuck on the runway were starting to flash in my head.

One of the tactics we took was to split up the flights. We flew to San Francisco and spent the night and flew to Maui the next morning. We stayed with friends so we didn’t have to add any hotel cost and it meant a 4.5 hour flight one day and then a 5.5 hour flight the next day instead of doing it all at once. On the way back we chose to take a redeye with a long break at SFO before heading home to break things up again.

A good friend of mine who flies regularly with her son shared some great tips with me. Her son is a little younger so I had some challenges that she does not yet with the walking and him being too big to wear in a carrier, but many of the tips were really helpful. Here’s how I took her tips and applied them with our trip and toddler:

  1. Get on the plane as late as possible to cut down on time that Nono will have to be sitting in our seat.
    • We normally fly Southwest so this isn’t really possible, but when we flew to Hawaii we were flying Hawaiian air from San Francisco and Alaska on the way back so we had reserved seats.
    • Overhead space can still be a concern so what we did is one of us would board during the ‘traveling with small kids’ time to gate check the stroller and car seat and also stick our two overhead bags up above our seats. The other one of us would hang out with Noah in the waiting area until almost everyone had boarded so he was able to walk around and be a crazy baby up until the last moment. I talked to boarding staff ahead of time and all of them were understanding and supportive of this and we didn’t have any trouble boarding without Nono during the small kids boarding time.
  2.  Think of the flight in 15 minute increments
    • i.e. Don’t give them everything you brought at once. I gave him one thing at a time and tried to maximize the time with whatever that item was, food, toy, or book. It required a lot of attention from me or A. to keep him engaged, but welcome to traveling with a toddler…
  3. Go for slow to eat foods
    • This was a great way to keep Nono focused on something and happy. Rather than mostly doing pouches, which he goes through very quickly, we did crackers and puffs that he would pick up individually and take his time with.
  4. Get some new toys
    • Nono has some favorite items that I made sure to bring, a couple of books that he can’t get enough of and some toys, but I also got some new items with that 15min increments in mind:
      • Little animal figurines: Definitely the most bang for my buck. I used leftover easter eggs and put 3-4 animals in them and had a small bag of them. I brought these out one at a time through the flight and Nono had a great time playing with the animals as well as packing and unpacking the eggs with them. They also take up very little room so they were perfect for the flight and cheap enough that if we’d lost some it didn’t matter (miraculously we didn’t).
      • Magnetic Sketchpad: This was the longest lasting entertainment. The stamps are hard to keep track of, but Nono didn’t seem to mind when those would disappear. He spent hours drawing on this. It’s great because it’s compact, no mess, and easy to keep reusing.
  5. Books that hold attention
    • This one was a little too advanced for him, but a few months later (now) it would be perfect. It didn’t hold his interest for long a few months ago, but now it’s great for the “where is the…” or “what does a ….. say?” that he’s really into. There’s ton of animals on each page so if your kid is ready for it, it is definitely a book that can eat up a lot of time.
    • Open up book. This one was good because it is super tiny so it hardly take up any space and Nono had fun opening the doors on the page and finding the animals in them. He needed a little help to open the doors because they stick a bit, but definitely a good plane option based on size and enjoyment.
  6. Fuzzy Headphones. These were a waste of money. First I thought they were adjustable and they’re not so my toddler’s giant head wasn’t a good fit. Second, he didn’t want to wear them AND he didn’t care about sound. I had downloaded some videos to watch and he ended up watching free videos on the plane entertainment center without sound and being perfectly happy.

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When we got to Hawaii I put away all of the new plane items so that we could use them on the flights back and they’d still have novelty. We got very lucky and he slept the whole redeye back to San Francisco (so we did too) and we really had no issues with all four flights. I now appreciate the flights where I am by myself and can read a book these days, but I think with the right preparation and a cooperative kid, flights don’t have to be something you dread.

Any tips or tricks to share that worked for you?

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The Distance From Here to There

I’ve tried not to dwell on the anniversaries that are popping up around me. They’re not on my calendar, and although the scars are always there, they don’t have dates engraved in them, just a general sense of time they appeared. But then there’s social media. Facebook has a nifty feature to look back and see the things that happened on a date all through the years you belonged to the site. You can see where I’m going with this.

Usually it’s fun and interesting because I think I joined in 2004, so there’s a lot of years on there and a lot of different life stages captured that are fun to look back on. But August is a tough month for this, the last week in particular. I don’t re-read my posts because it’s still too fresh, but I have re-read the last couple that were a year ago and it’s a sort of out of body experience.

The person writing them is me of course, but it’s me at my worst/best. It’s me in an impossible situation that is so far from my normal day to day that I can recognize it’s me but it’s a very different me. I imagine that it’s sort of like if you had a baby, you’d look back at yourself in the delivery room and what you did to get through giving birth and you’d know that was you, but the way that you dealt with it and reacted to it is so outside your normal thought and emotional realm that it’s like looking a different person.

I read a couple of those posts and I remember people telling me how strong I was for writing them, but I marvel at how angry I was. I’m still angry about certain things, I’ll let you know if that ever goes away. But there’s a difference between a simmering anger that normally takes the back seat with other life things going on, and a raging fire of anger that was consuming me that I see in those posts. Albeit watered down by pain meds. I have a temper that burns hot and burns out quickly, but in those posts I see someone on fire with no dampening in sight.

Having never lived alone because I stayed with and ended up marrying my college boyfriend, there are few things that make me feel more self sufficient than traveling for work. I have to go to somewhere I’ve never been or am unfamiliar with, figure out how to get where I need to be. Be completely self-reliant while also convincing those that I’m going to see that I’m someone they should rely on and trust with whatever we’re discussing/working on. There’s no one to bail me out or to hide behind. It’s deeply satisfying to succeed.

That’s what I was doing a few days ago when these unpleasant anniversaries reared their heads. I was away from my friends and family, but working 13 hours day and being a BOSS. A year ago I felt helpless and choice-less and so so angry. A few days ago I felt in absolute control and so very capable, and it couldn’t have been a better contrast.

I ❤ Ko Tao

I could write a love letter to Ko Tao. Definitely my favorite spot on the trip. We arrived in Ko Tao via our ferry speedboat around sunset. image

 We found our hotel pretty easily. We were staying in town which was a nice change from our previous stops because we could walk to food, massages, bars, etc. We rented two scooters the first day for around $7 a day each, hard to pass up a deal like that. Most of the “taxis” were guys on scooters, so also made a lot of sense for two people getting around a small island.
Ko Tao is known as a diving island, people come from all over to go to the many dive spots off the island. It also turns out that most of the beaches have great snorkeling right off of them. They also aren’t crowded because most people are diving. We rented snorkeling masks for about 75 cents a day and traveled to the local beaches. The roads were pretty bad and also really steep which was interesting at times with our sub par scooters. However, this also meant there were absolutely stunning views.

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I traded my scooter in after one day because the back breaks were shot. The guy tried to tighten them and I had to explain that the break pad was obviously gone, so that wasn’t going to work. Little did he know I am well versed in scooter break issues. Our first night we went to a japanese restaurant on a hill that over looked the bay and it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. We were on a porch overlooking it and it was lit up by the town and boat lights and just gorgeous. Food was great too.
One of the first places we snorkeled was a bit of a disaster for me. A big reason we came to Ko Tao is we were told there were reef sharks you could swim with (from a french dude on our elephant trip). We went to a place called “shark bay” and went to the wrong entry point which required a long walk down and getting in via some rocks. It also turned out to be really shallow which was pretty stressful for me. Try snorkeling in water that’s only a few feet deep and not being able to touch the bottom anywhere. Lots of sucking in and thinking floaty type thoughts. Also great with a somewhat gangsta snorkel set that leaks. I tried to take a break and stand on a harmless looking rock after we’d been there for a while and ended up slicing up all of my toes and some of my fingers. Pretty lame. A. saw some sharks, but I unfortunately did not after all that.

Next beach we went to was more my speed. White sand, easy entry, and deep water to snorkel in with no fear of accidentally touching anything. Lot of parrot fish and the second time we went there we saw about 12 baby reef sharks which was really cool. We also ran into these super creepy little fish with black and silver stripes that were only as long as a finger, but there were hundreds of them. We discovered they will bite you if you stay still, so it gets pretty creepy when you’re being followed by hundreds of them. When you’re treading water to clean your snorkel out, it puts a lot of pressure on you to keep everything moving. Other than that, the snorkeling was amazing. We saw lots of beautiful fish, you could hear coral being chomped on under the water, lots of urchins, sea cucumbers, corals of different types, and about 12 or so baby sharks.

This was one of our last stops and the beginning of the low season so we decided to splurge for a couple of nights. We originally tried to stay at a place on a hill (lots of these) but they didn’t have anything available in our price range. So instead we went there and snuck into their infinity pool which overlooked the water on a cliff and watched the sunset. Pretty sweet and free.

Another fun place we went to was a tiny restaurant on top of a hill that some people we met told us about (never would have found it otherwise). We were the only ones there and it was an amazing view.

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Which you can’t see at all in this photo, but oh well. Look how happy I am, must have been an awesome view right?

After this place we headed down into town and sat on the beach at a hookah bar and watched the sunset.

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It was pretty much the best hookah bar setup ever. Big comfy beanbag cushions, white sand, perfect weather.

imageTerrible sunset right?

We then walked around the town which had closed the street to vehicles. Great place to walk around and look at stuff. Lots of restaurants with fresh seafood you could select and have grilled. We were wondering where everyone was though. Then we walked up to this bar that had a pool and discovered everyone and their Mom was on a giant organized bar crawl that included t-shirts (super cool), and some chick was in the pool topless and everyone was cheering. It was pretty weird. Not that people were cheering about the topless chick, because I mean that’s what you do in that sort of situation I guess, but that the whole island had signed up for an organized bar crawl.

Here’s what the non-pub crawl part of the street looked like:

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While we did not attend the pub crawl, we did finally stay up past 9:30 and actually go out while on Ko Tao. The second night we were here we went to party at a bar/hostel/restaurant that seemed to have been built by burning man aficionados. There was a tree house, an igloo thing that had a religious style stained glass window and other things inside, bean bags (of course), and other random seating arrangements. They also had a band upstairs that probably has a price on their head based how bad they murdered everything they played.

A couple of nights later we went to the Castle which was another sort of art bar, but this one was made for parties. It had an upstairs and downstairs (three floors in all), a triceratops, at least 4 different spots that were selling nitrous (apparently a ko tao favorite), and multiple bars. We shared a tai whiskey with coke in a bucket and hung out for a while. The DJs weren’t exactly something to write home about, but one of them mixed No Diggity which made me very happy. I think we managed to stay out until midnight, crazy!

The second place we stayed at was this small resort setup which didn’t have a sign on their road to stay exclusive (so fancy). It was pretty great though because we basically had a little house to ourselves, bedroom, kitchen, and living room. It was nice after traveling so long to be able to spread out. There was also a pool that was nice to come back to lay around at.

The only disappointing thing that happened at Ko Tao was our night snorkeling. Two people we had met on our scooter trip up north had told us about night snorkeling, specifically glow in the dark algae that was supposed to be pretty awesome. Ko Tao was the place I found it available on our journey and was pretty pumped on the description (see below).

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Worse nightclub ever. The two of us went out with our snorkel guy who promised all sorts of amazing fish and coral. Well the UV Flashlights were pretty weak so you couldn’t see that well and mostly all you saw was some coral (definitely no anemones) that glowed green that was cool for the first 5 minutes and then was like, well, I’ve seen that. We did see a couple of fish, but we were out there for over an hour, so two fish and the same coral over and over again was pretty uninspiring. However, I did get to play with the algae which was cool. if you turned your light out so it was pitch black and moved your hands, the water would sparkle where you touched. A. unfortunately did not hear the guy explain this and I didn’t realize that, so he missed what I thought was the coolest part. Overall though, skip the UV snorkel.

I think A.’s favorite part (besides the snorkeling) was this huge rock that you could climb using a rope and jump off into the ocean. I unfortunately can’t do that because I can’t survive in the wild (more specifically I have some ear thing that causes me a lot of pain if I try to even jump off a diving board). A. does not have this problem so he had a great time. I saw on the beach and counted the slices on my toes and fingers.

Next up was Ko Samui and here are some view photos from the ferry.

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Real time update: We’re in Toronto, headed to Niagra Falls and Vermont on Thursday.

Won’t You Take Me To Keanu Town

So Krabi is autocorrected to Keanu, which I find really funny. Keanu was the last planned stop we had for our trip other than our flight home from Bangkok on May 7. A. found us a bungalow outside of Keanu on the beach, I think it was PAN beach.
We ended up staying 3 nights. Low tide you could walk out to this island, which we did the first day. It had rocky/cliff sides so you could only walk around it. True to the name, there were tons of crabs around of all sorts of sizes. We also saw and picked up some starfish. On the rocky exterior we were about a third of the way around one side when we saw what looked like an enormous snake, but upon further examination turns to be a monitor lizard over 5 ft long that was fortunately very skittish. I saw one more while we were walking over there. Two mornings later we saw a smaller one right by our place, apparently they existed off the island too.
We met a German kid and some Dutch girls while staying there and sort of taught them how to play rummy. The water was clear and warm with lovely white sand. The only negative was if the tide was out you couldn’t swim because it was shallow a long way out, but not to bad of a problem.
The bungalow had electricity from 6pm to 6am so I woke up at 6am every morning when the fan shut off and the outside temperature made itself known. The toilet was flushed by dumping water into it.
We went on a four island snorkel trip that was totally misrepresented. The first island was actually two islands connected by a shallow sand bar the everyone was in. Totally shouldn’t have counted as 2 islands. Then the last island was not an island at all, but a peninsula. Total fraud. Other than the misrepresentation it was ok. It was beautiful and the water was warm and clear, but every stop had a million tourists so it was a little of a mixed bag. Then when we got back they forgot about me and Anton and let our ride leave us, so we had to wait over 2 hours for the next one. The wait did give me time to have my first beer in Thailand (finally over my problems) and I got a little drunk off a large Chang. It was like being 18 again.
There were three at the dogs at our place (not an unusual amount). One was a young easily excited dog that barked early and late and took up residence on the porch next to our place (that and the 6am fan stop were the two reasons we set up for Ko Lanta after 3 nights.) The best dog was the older, bigger dog with shaggy tan dog. We named him Poppa dog due to his respectability compared to the other two and droopy balls.
I also had to tell A. That if he didn’t want a fuzzy death to bother him that running away is not the answer.

Made it to Thailand

After months of planning A. And I quit our jobs and are in Thailand. We landed late last night after a very long trip from San Francisco that started Tuesday afternoon. Unfortunately I’m probably not going to be able to post photos on these blogs, but hopefully the stories will be entertaining enough.

We landed in Bangkok last night and flew to Chiang Mai today. We’re staying at the Ramming Lodge for these next two days before we go for an overnight at an elephant sanctuary and then return to Chiang Mai for another couple of days. We’ll be here for a month total.

So far it’s a very friendly country. We’ve had one meal and it was about $7 total and absolutely delicious. We walked around the city a bit and checked out some temples. Apparently the monks are really into cats and dogs, however Thailand isn’t into rabies shots so A. tells me every time I see them that I’m not allowed to pet any (animals, not monks).

On the way back to the hotel we did the feet/fish thing where you sit with your feet in a fish tank and they nibble all the dry skin off. It feels like your foot has fallen asleep, very tingly. Then we got foot massages which were great. All together it cost about $4.50 each. Bananas. Also the girl giving me a foot massage totally made fun of the girl giving A. a foot massage because of his feet. She did it in Thai, but it was clear what was going on. Especially since she grabbed his toe to demonstrate her point.

We also ran into some individuals celebrating Thai New Year early and got soaked. It officially starts tomorrow and there are people selling water guns on ever corner. Should be crazy. Going to have to keep our lips pursed because you can’t drink the water!

Aussie count is currently 1. I expect to reach double digits be for we’re halfway through.