During the last years we have almost always traveled with our kids. We can easily say that they are well traveled toddlers by now. And of course, the fact of having two nationalities is undoubtedly contributing to their increasing count of flying mileage. While for us traveling with our daughters is the natural way of being, for many others it is highly supernatural phenomenon.
Most people seem not to understand why would we want to go for a holiday “without any peace”. Or how on earth two toddlers (not long ago babies) are able to survive 12 hour flight. (?) Or why do we bother, since the kids will not remember the trip anyway.(!) I find this confusion quite entertaining but I do acknowledge that parenting is a highly complex and delicate matter and each one knows what is the best for their family. As long as we have happy kids I know we are doing the right thing.
I know that my daughters will not have sharp detailed memories of our travels, but I also do know that each trip will make part of their subconscious memory, enabling them to develop a curious and courageous nature celebrating and respecting (cultural) differences. I believe the same way we consider our couple of yearly trips as vitamins for our soul, they too get some boost out of it. And if nothing else, it is always a longer time span of days spent in family, which is not so possible in our hectic daily life. Also a great time for my daughters to develop further their mother tongue, since less of the dominant (father’s) language is around. (It is so rewarding to see the fast progress in these circumstances.)
When choosing the destination of this year’s big trip, we already knew that it will be four of us. However, despite Bali not being a common destination choice for European families, we decided to go for it. As always, I supported the decision with an intense internet search based on what I concluded that a lot of Australians go to Bali with kids and all works out fine and we too can go with our family (despite the much longer flight itinerary).
After knowing the destination I obviously had to search for everything that could go wrong. Unfortunately I have a natural (involuntary? cultural?) tendency towards glass-half-empty first approach, so I just needed to go through this phase before letting go and relaxing. The possible pre-travel anxieties included this time terrorism, disappearing flights, earthquake and tsunami, rabies from dogs and monkeys, and last but not least ending up in prison due to possible narcotic ingredient of medicines we planned to take with us. I will write later in more detail how I managed to stay sober about these huge risks and what % of these aforementioned catastrophes actually happened.
Going for a trip abroad with kids can surely be a horrible experience if one is not prepared for it. When I say prepared, I do not mean necessarily the existence of clothes for all seasons, but instead one’s mental preparation. You have to get your expectations right from the beginning. The experience will be nothing like the good old (pre-kids) days of traveling with your partner. There will be no fancy restaurants, no drinking of bottles of wine or long walks under the starry sky in an unknown direction.. Instead there will be quite a lot of carrying kids or pushing strollers, changes in plans (or less planning) and frequent compromises in your travel itinerary. You might have to give up a visit to another temple and go to water park instead or skip the walk to the city center and stay resting in a hotel. However, all of this is manageable and equally enjoyable if you slow down your pace and go with the flow.
Our 3+3 flights either way (the middle one about 13 hours) went quite smoothly. The kids slept a lot and watched some movies during the long London-Singapore flight. However, we had also a little fun moment, when boarding the first long flight. After sitting down in our seats, a young couple (25+) arrived in front of us. While kids were settling in and trying out their TV remotes, I left for the restroom. Few minutes later when returning I learned that the young lady had stood up, turned to my husband and said she is not going to fly 13 hours with a kid pulling her chair. We were quite surprised since the boarding of the plain was ongoing and the couple had been only about 5 minutes sitting. Not sure if only because of us or the fact that they were surrounded by families, the couple did end up changing their seats. I felt quite happy when they left, but also quite sad for her. I hope she will grow up by the day she will have children. Little did she know that my little girl watched a bit of a movie and slept silently during most of the trip. I thoroughly understand how others´ kids can be a bit annoying in some circumstances (and therefore I try to educate and discipline mine as much as possible) but I also believe that certain tolerance is a sign of maturity and good character..
After initial choice of the destination we spent good time on finding our hotels to stay. Picking hotels has always had a great importance for us since we like to stay in unique places that often end up forming an important part of our travel memories collection. It has become even more important when traveling with our daughters since we know that one tends to spend more time in hotel grounds with kids and therefore we always want to maximize this experience. Besides, since hospitality is my industry, I take pleasure in staying in places that can inspire me and teach me something new.
This time we decided to divide our trip between three locations and three different hotels. We were looking for something mid-range and unique. We work hard in our daily lives, and feel a bit like splurging when traveling. We pre-booked the first two hotels from home, but decided to choose the third one on the way after getting to know a bit more about the different areas of Bali. Luckily our daughters are small, so it was still possible to get by with one room and an extra bed or cot. [This time we did not have courage to book a regular double room and show up unexpectedly with two babies ;)]When choosing a hotel one has to make sure that kids are welcome and that hotel can accommodate your little ones too. The best option is to contact directly your chosen hotel as they might not have your desired option available in Booking.com or other website. When searching room for us (2 adults & 2 toddlers), most hotels showed in booking engine an option of two rooms, which of course was not an acceptable option with small children. Each time when contacting the hotel we suggested we only needed one extra bed or a cot as the other child could sleep with us. All hotels accepted it for a small extra fee. While there are many hotels that offer special facilities for kids (pool, baby-sitting etc), this was not the main basis for our search criteria. We wanted something special for us and we sure found it!
The first five days we stayed in Nusa Dua area in a mid-sized beachfront family resort dominated by Asian guests. I truly loved this experience of sharing space and smiles with Asian families. Chinese, Korean, Malaysian, Singaporean and Japanese families. I left with warm feelings regarding (despite the obvious differences) how similar we actually all are when it comes to relaxing, resting and playing with our kids. We chose the all-inclusive resort as a relaxing start to our holiday, to get calmly used to the holiday mood and the very hot sun. Our daughters truly loved all the facilities (pools and entertainment) and of course especially the open ice-cream bar, a well-known formula for having happy kids around
Secondly, we moved to the center of Bali, near Ubud. We stayed four nights between some rice fields. This time we chose to stay in a small resort (around 12 mini-villas) called Blue Karma Resort. We quickly fell in love with our little room and their charming common areas. It was full of little charming details. Our kids were treated with care and patience despite the many glasses pulled over from the dining tables. Luckily the resort was not fully booked so we could be more relaxed about not bothering other guests (always my serious concern). For sure there were moments when the laughter got too loud or the little feet speeded up around the common areas, but it all worked out well.
Our third spot, chosen by my husband, was an exquisite new hotel Suarga Padang Padang near the famous Padang Padang surf beach. The reviews in Tripadvisor.com were amazing and we knew we needed to end well our trip. I was a bit worried about their attitude towards kids, but this got quickly settled. The staff was very smiley and tried to communicate with our daughters all the time. I am specially grateful for their patience to clean up our restaurant mess (after every meal) and accept special requests like “one plain fried egg” or “pasta without any cheese or weird green leaves”. Although you could feel still the newness of the place and see that some things needed to be worked out, the location and its common area are unbeatable. Any worry you have you forget when staring at the sea or the ceiling of their lounge – both equally enchanting.
Our holiday in Bali did not happen only on the grounds of these wonderful hotels. We did spend about half of the days at the beach or poolside, but the other half of the days we went for day trips or for a walk in the villages. We passed through the famous Kuta, Seminyak and Sanur areas that felt too busy for us. We visited some famous temples, including Uluwatu and Pura Tanah Lot. We also went to see how people bathe in the Holy Springs. We walked and drove through rice fields, which provides you with a quite an impressive image. We wondered around the streets of Ubud and visited the famous Monkey Forest. We also went to the Bali Zoo and one of the butterfly parks. And a great hit was our visit to see (from the distance) the Mt Batur volcano. My older daughter had just studied in kindergarten (yes with 4 years!) quite thoroughly about volcanoes, so she was prepared and excited. Despite all the knowledge she had about volcano and burning lava, she was quite calm when we tried to count till three to see if the volcano erupts (yep, very adult of us!).
How was all this possible with a 2 and 4 year-olds? First of all, we had with us our backup – two cheap lightweight umbrella strollers. Knowing that it is easier to push a stroller than carry +/- 15 kilos, there were no doubts about it. Since our 4 year old gets tired and normally acts like the 2 year old (the only difference are the few extra kilos) we always have to guarantee equal conditions.
Secondly, we used a common service of renting a car with a driver. While many tourists rent scooters, it was out of question with kids. We were also not brave enough to rent a car ourselves. Not only the traffic is the opposite way but there seems to be no rules (except for “the braver goes first”). The roads are full of cars and scooters in disorganized manner and the fact of having limited number of traffic lights around seems not to help also. But somehow mysteriously they all manage.
However, having strollers is only part of the solution since pushing them around (up the hills, on unstable patched sidewalks, on the road or across the road etc) requires itself quite a strong willpower and pure force. When going around horrible sidewalks of Ubud (with 30 degrees) I thought to myself that I know very few people who would be up to this challenge willingly. And yet there we were, quite enjoying it actually.
Another thing to remember (and god knows I did try my best) that it feels like cancer hour since early morning until the sun goes down, about 7pm. The sun is hitting hard, the water temperature at the sea and in swimming pools is like taking a good warm shower. We tried to apply 50 SPF cream to all of us, we were wearing hats and girls were swimming with sun protection shirts. The result (or the visible part of it) is that we got a moderate portion of tan with just a bit of occasional redness. I guess my motherly mission got completed successfully. Fortunately on some of the days we got some short rainfalls too, which we actually quite enjoyed. What a treat it is to swim in a warm pool and get freshen up by a bit of rainfall!
When it comes to food, luckily most places served also something like pizza, fries, pasta bolognesa, white rice, club sandwich, milk, and ice cream. This gives like a great variety of food combinations that keeps all children out of risk of starving. My girls are picky eaters, especially the older one, so all strange items (including all Balinese and Asian cuisine) are out of question. However I am pretty sure we have the rest of the year left to balance these two weeks of crazy-eating.
Surely my daughter´s favourite things to do, besides hours of floating in the pool (which we did all the time), were the visits to the Butterfly Park, Zoo and the Monkey Forest. The butterfly park we happened to visit was lovely. We entered in a garden filled with some greenery and many flying butterflies. Thereafter we were shown butterflies in different stages (from egg till cocoon). The highlight for me was to be able to throw into the air a butterfly to carry out its first flight. It was good to be reminded again about the shortness of the life of a butterfly.. two weeks.. I had already forgotten that (or just happened not to need to re-visit this memory the last years). We also enjoyed the zoo, which had unproportionally high ticket price compared to the poor variety of animals. However, it was compensated by access to their little water park, which as you can imagine was a hit. When it comes to the animals, I would highlight some impressive tigers and funny monkeys. I was especially moved by a monkey family dad-mom-baby. The mom was hanging on the cage, while the baby was hanging on her belly, breastfeeding and staring us. They were so furry, immediately I thought it must feel so good for them to cuddle each other. But more than that when our eyes locked I felt some connection with the mother monkey. I thought to myself that I am no different than she is, we both would do anything to protect our babies, however.. her hair looked way better than mine.. So this was my positive monkey experience.
Monkey Forest was a big hit already when we were at home doing plans for the trip. We made fun and said there will be a monkey party in Bali. The girls were so excited. However, when the real moment got closer, I got nervous about it. I had read about the rabies danger through monkey and dog bites. This fear was fueled during the first day trip when we went to Uluwatu. There were some monkeys around (like in many places in Bali). The local guide told us to hide all accessories and food to avoid that monkeys come to steal it. Okay this visit went well, with only few monkeys around. That night I happened to read some Bali news about an Australian man who got bitten during his late visit and was undergoing series of anti-rabies shots. (As a kid I got some rabies vaccine shots myself because of playing with a puppy of a dog with rabies, which fair enough possibly increased my awareness of a disease that most people do not know much about.) Well knowing all that you can only imagine on what mood I was for the Monkey Forest. This forest is crazy. Full full of monkeys, tourists and ladies selling bananas. So obviously feeding a monkey can create disorder since there is many around. We entered carefully, with two strollers, hiding behind some other tourists. We had walked about 20 meters, when we heard a fight, and of course a man got bitten!! If I was afraid till then, now I was in panic (the levels of risk and adrenaline are very different when you think about protecting your children). We passed the confusion and almost ran through the forest towards the exit. “Run out” is an overstatement since we had to pass carefully hordes of other visitors, monkeys and banana ladies on the way. We also saw the man who got bitten, he was being guided to the first aid, and despite saying “everything is okay”, he seemed to be crying.. Woahh how happy I was to be out of there! However, I could have been the only one worried (maybe because of being with kids) since I saw people literally putting bananas on their shoulders for the monkeys to jump there. All because of a good (Facebook) shot. Luckily my daughters did not understand much of what was going on and probably enjoyed still their fast rally through the forest. Fortunately, we also managed to get away with vague answer to their question “And the monkey party?” To sum up, when you come to Bali you have to be in good terms with mosquitoes (at night), ants (everywhere), monkeys (around some temples and in monkey forest) and stray dogs (also everywhere).
We can say that these days were full of mindful moments even if not thinking about mindfulness at all. What we saw, what we felt (even if at times only the tiredness of stroller pushing) and what we spoke about were all pretty much focused on the present moment. And of course looking after two active toddlers forces you to be in presence. Occasionally when getting carried away you could find them (one or the other or both) under table, with feet on the table, staring at the food spilled on the floor, talking too loud to the ears of your neighbors, trying to jump into pool, grabbing things at the market etc. I believe such partly forced presence helps to give some rest to your mind as the alternative would be getting lost in your past and future happenings, often with a tone of concern. And a bit of pause can help to see old things (thoughts) in new ways.
Despite all the hard work of stroller pushing, we all had an enjoyable holiday. A balanced mix of warm water, temples and monkeys. The Balinese people are very friendly with kids and make you feel comfortable immediately. Don´t get me wrong, our kids are not some sort of well behaved angels. They are totally average 2 and 4 year old girls who carry out temper tantrums, get tired, refuse to eat, make too much noise, require few changes of clean clothes per day etc. And all this happens also during traveling. Even though I believe it is easier to distract them and direct them towards good behavior in new environments. Like in every day lives, there were many moments when they drove us close to crazy, and we also started throwing tantrums ourselves, but somehow we managed to overcome this, probably by taking turns being the adult of the group. At the end of our trip I started reading a book about conscious parenting, which I do hope will show some more light for the future. All in all our energy “income statement” resulted at the end of the trip in high “profit” of positive energy, which I hope we can spend and reinvest wisely over the coming months.
Soon more about how I felt about my dream destination and what I learnt about Bali’s culture. Also some personal insights about how to deal with travel anxieties.