When we began to expand our family and have babies, Jason and I promised ourselves that we wouldn’t stop traveling and having adventures together. I had heard too many stories from people who had young children and were so wrapped up in their routines they complained of not being able to see a movie or go out to dinner for years at a time. That situation works fine for many people, but sounds like a nightmare to those with a gypsy spirit. What we’ve found over the years since is that taking our children traveling and exposing them to a lot of new experiences and situations when they were young shaped them to be incredibly adaptable and able to handle crazy schedule changes, jet lag, new foods, and countless other inconveniences surprisingly well.
When the girls were very little (2 and 6 months), we lived in Japan and Jason frequently had to leave for work to different parts of Asia, Alaska, and the South Pacific. When he was assigned to an exercise in Darwin Australia, we jumped at the chance to turn it into a family adventure. He took a few weeks off on the back end, and we began researching a caravan trip. That road trip ended up being one of the most wonderful adventures of our lives. I highly recommend the drive from Darwin to Alice Springs for addition to anyone’s bucket list!
Starting in Darwin, we enjoyed the night market, museums, and seaside walks. We spent a day at Aquascene, feeding fish and baby gators. We were there in July (the Australian winter) so temperatures were mild.
We then rented a Britz camper van and hit the road, stopping first for a few days at Litchfield Park. Litchfield National Park in the Northern Territory of Australia is lush and full of so many beautiful places to explore. It’s rich with plant life and roaring waterfalls. The absolute highlight of our time there was a visit to the Buley Rock Holes. Several areas of clear deep holes filled with cool clean water and surrounded by twisty trees and smooth rocks made for a tiny paradise in the middle of the forest. We spent half a day there and left feeling refreshed and peaceful.
Next we ventured east to the much bigger Kakadu national park. Here we encountered fields of enormous termite mounds, and so many crocodile warnings we were almost afraid to get out of the van at all in the swampy areas. Our main reason for taking a detour through Kakadu was to visit Ubirr and see the aboriginal rock art that is amazingly still visible after thousands of years. A bonus is the sunset view from the rocky outlook at the top of the hiking path. Locals told us it was the “best sunset in the universe”. It was lovely, but I wouldn’t quite say the best in the entire universe…
After those side trips, it was time for the real Outback portion of our journey. We took a few days to drive down Hwy 87 towards Alice Springs, staying in various campgrounds along the way. If I had any preconceived notions that driving through the desert would be boring, they were quickly blasted away by my awe at the stark, magnificent, ever-changing landscape. Fawn colored termite mounds gave way to deep red ones. Eucalyptus and ghost gums and countless other trees and shrubs I can’t name scattered across the terrain that seemed to be a different hue and texture each day of our drive. Kangaroos and Wallabies darted across the road.
We saw many sites and met lots of interesting people, most notably some of the permanent RV-ers that stayed at the campgrounds we parked at each night. It introduced us to a fascinating alternate lifestyle of road warriors, with their own lingo and traditions and humor.
The final stop before we hit Alice Springs was a place called the Devil’s Marbles. I had seen a picture of these huge boulders in a travel book and had to see them in person! We got there just before dusk and luckily had the place to ourselves as they glowed orange in the light of the sunset.
Alice Springs was a charming town (one I had dreamed of visiting since I was a child and read “A Town Like Alice”). We stayed at a lodge just outside of town, where every evening the black-footed rock wallabies would venture down from the rocky hillside where they were perfectly camouflaged to let the folks at the lodge feed them by hand.
Our last stop before flying out of Alice Springs to Perth was a two day trip to Uluru, Ayer’s Rock, iconic and spectacular.
In 2012 Jason and I were staying in the Plaka area in Athens with some friends and decided to take a bus out of town and explore the countryside. The Temple of Poseidon in Sounion seemed like the perfect place to go. After our obligatory trip to the insanely crowded Parthenon the previous day, the Poseidon temple looked comparatively peaceful and more isolated. Plus, there is so much history and mythology associated with the temple and the cliff on which it perches.
As the story goes, the famed ancient king of Athens, Aegeus, waited on the cliff for his son Theseus to return from battling the Minotaur. Before Theseus had left his father told him that if he should somehow slay the Minotaur and return safely, to raise a white sail on the incoming ship. Theseus did defeat the monster and return in one piece, but somehow forgot to hoist the white sail. Seeing the dark sailed ship, Aegeus threw himself off the cliff and into the ocean in grief. Now, the Aegean sea is named after him.
We recruited our friends Ken and Jen, had a street side lunch, and grabbed a bus schedule. It seemed simple to get there…just go to a bus stop about a mile from our hotel and wait for the bus with the right sign on the front. Our schedule indicated they would be by every 30 minutes or so. About 2 hours later and much back and forth over whether to just give up, the bus finally came around the bend and we loaded our sweaty, mentally exhausted selves on to the comfy seats. The drive out took about an hour and a half, and was lovely.
The temple itself was majestic and beautiful, with its tall, widely spaced stone columns and the backdrop of the sparkling sea below added to the grandeur. The lack of masses of sweaty tourists was a huge plus as well:)
We had some time before the return trip back, so we hiked down to a rocky beach with a few beers and had a swim in the inky blue Mediteranean waters. Definitely worth the 2 hour wait for the bus!
The main goal for our 2013 trip to Costa Rica was relaxation. We rented a VRBO house in the middle of the jungle in Dominical and spent most of the week sipping mojitos by the infinity pool while the kids ran around and played. A resident toucan perched over the pool and capuchin monkeys swarmed through twice a day, shrieking and gobbling up fruit. We sat on the deck with our bird-identifying book and spotted 20-30 species without leaving the house. It was a wonderful trip and one of the most relaxing we’ve ever taken.
We ended up taking two small excursions during that week, and they were both lovely. The first one was a horseback ride up to Nauyaca Waterfall near Dominical. If you had asked me the week before whether I would ever let my 4 year old ride a horse on her own I would have looked at you like you were crazy, but when we got there the horses were so calm and the guide so confident she could handle it that I agreed to let her at least try it out. Claire did great and ended up having the time of her life, so I’m glad I gave in:)
It was an extremely hot and humid August day, but we rode in the shade for most of the leisurely climb up towards the waterfall. A quick stop for lunch at a little lodge introduced us to a resident scarlet macaw and aggressive peacock.
Finally, Jason and I and the exhausted kids reached Nauyaca falls. On the walking path, we narrowly escaped the diving wasps that hung out above the restroom area, and witnessed a tiny snake attempt to swallow a frog. The struggle for life ended with the snake giving up and slithering away from the stunned frog.
The waterfall was beautiful and the cool spray enjoyable after the hot ride up. Jason joined our guide in jumping off of the rocks into the roiling water below the falls.
At the end of the day we were all worn out, sweaty, exhausted, and happy:)
Jason and I had an opportunity to travel to Greece in 2012 to be there for the wedding of our good friends and we spent some extra time before and after the festivities exploring as much of Greece as we could. Two weeks is just barely scratching the surface and we were left with long mental lists of places we’d like to see on our next trip back. Next time we’ll explore more islands, venture out to Meteora, and take the kids with us!
We stayed at the popular Plaka area of Athens, where our hotel had a rooftop bar with a view of the Acropolis.
It was surreal to arrive after a long flight and view this amazing piece of history towering over the spreading city below. First priority was braving the summer heat the next day and hiking up to the Parthenon and the Theater of Dionysus at the top. It was a long windy walk through cobblestone streets and up dirt pathways when we finally came to the Theater of Dionysus.
I love being in a place where so many generations of people have walked. This open air theater dates back to the 4th century BC and was home to countless festivals, plays and dramas through the centuries. Sophocles once stepped here.
A circular path from there led to the Parthenon. Again, it was wonderful standing next to an extraordinary piece of history. However, the masses of people with their loud chatter and sweaty bodies and ubiquitous cell phones definitely took away from the moment and if you add the scaffolding and cranes and construction workers and it’s difficult to be reflective. Here are my “photographer” images of the Parthenon…
And here’s what it was really like!
The next day we decided to hike up Mt. Lycabettus for an expansive view of the vast and ancient city. The sun was setting as we walked down and aside from some kind of cactus-like plant with painful prickly hairs that attacked our legs, it was a peaceful and lovely walk.
The next day was a relax and walk around the city day, with a stop at the Doctor fish. Jason and I had done this already in Japan and Thailand, but it was new to some of our friends. And even having done it before, the sensation of tiny carp nibbling at your feet is still squeal-worthy!
Three other major sights we ventured to in Athens were the Acropolis Museum, Hadrian’s Arch and the Temple of Zeus.
So much history in one city…I can’t wait to take the kids there when they are old enough to really appreciate the sights and I can load them up with Greek mythology ahead of time!
Only 2 more weeks until we head out to Guatemala, and I’m getting excited! The plan is to fly in to Flores and take a shuttle to our hotel in Tikal. Explore the jungle ruins for a few days and hop on the overnight bus to Antigua. Then a week in a villa on Lake Atitlan before heading home.
I’ve been trying to prepare the kids for our trip by introducing learning materials on the Mayan culture. They have Mayan history, folk tale and art books and we have watched the 3 Nova specials on the Mayan civilization including one really cool one on deciphering the lost written language of the ancient cities. Nova also had a wonderful show on volcanoes (Guatemala has 37!). We’ve downloaded some Spanish apps on the iPads to supplement the girls’ school Spanish. They are required by their school to write in a journal since they will be missing 2 weeks, so I’ve packed travel journals as well. Here are their backpacks, ready to go!
We spent 3+ weeks in Thailand and Cambodia when the girls were 1.5 and 3.5 years old and I was pregnant with Flynn. I doubt either of them will have meaningful long lasting memories of our trip, but I still think there is so much value in traveling with children even when they’re very young. The exposure to new sights, sounds, smells, language and culture sets the stage for a lifetime of exploration and adaptability.
And with that, here are some things my kids learned on our trip:
–Making new friends doesn’t require that you speak the same language. I am in awe of how children are drawn to each other and can communicate and play comfortably upon first meeting.
–How to be respectful in a Buddhist temple. From taking off shoes to quiet voices to sitting still while receiving the lotus flower blessing, the girls caught on quickly and learned to follow the local rules.
–Not everyone speaks English, and not all money is green. I think it’s great for young minds to be exposed to many different ways of life, cultures and languages at a young age. Skye was eager to learn phrases in Thai, and delighted in practicing “hello” (sah-was-dee) and “thank you” (kap-kun-kah) to strangers we encountered.
–What tiger fur and elephant trunks feel like. We stopped at Tiger Kingdom in Chiang Mai and met some elephants with a tour group as well. Definitely a highlight for the kids!
–New and exotic foods can be delicious. The kids were already budding foodies since we were living in Japan, but it never hurts to broaden their developing palettes. Mango smoothies and chicken satay were the favorites.
This time around I didn’t do a very good job modeling adventurous eating habits; I unfortunately had morning sickness, so tom ka gai (a stomach soothing coconut milk and lemongrass soup) was my default order at every restaurant. Jason made up for it, though he stopped short of sampling the bug buffet!
-And countless more valuable life lessons, like: politely tolerating the affections of old ladies in public places, how children in Siem Reap get around (2-3 per bike!), staying away from nightmarishly scary monkeys with enormous testicles, and that even Ronald McDonald takes the time to be respectful of other cultures.
And finally, patience. Long plane, boat and tuk-tuk rides, entire days of temple exploring, getting lost, and delayed meals stretch the tolerance ability of any age, but they are part of life so best get started young!
We’re still working on that one…
Post number one! This blog will be a record of our travels as a family, world school resources, thoughts on travel, and hopefully our preparations for a year long round the world trip in a few years.
A little about us…my name is Alexis and I’m a photographer (mostly weddings and portraits, here’s my site: Red Stone Photography) currently living in Raleigh, North Carolina. My husband Jason is a pilot and we’ve been together for for 13 years. Both of us had childhoods filled with relocations with our families, and consequently we each inherited that restless gene that keeps us looking for new adventures. When we were married and ready to talk about having children, we promised ourselves that we would keep exploring the world and our interests and include the future kids. Shortly after our first daughter Skye turned one, we had the opportunity to move to Japan for a few years for Jason’s job. Okinawa is one of the most amazing secret gems of an island and we had a wonderful time living there. We continued to travel even as our other two children, Claire and Flynn were born.
Now we are back in the U.S. and I’ve become intrigued with the idea of “world school”. By world school, I mean hands on learning about the world, cultures, language, and history through travel. Skye and Claire are in elementary school, and we have been working hard to supplement their education with outside projects involving science, the arts, geography, and history…all subjects they are interested in but have been crowded out of the curriculum in public schools to make room for extra math, reading comprehension, and endless test preparation. Each trip we take and project we work on helps to broaden their horizons and keep that spark and joy of learning alive. With the continued rise of globalization, we want to prepare our children for a world that will seem much smaller as they grow into adulthood. Ideally (in a few years), we are hoping to take them out of school for a full year and take an extended family trip around the world, combining travel with education and sharing a once in a lifetime adventure while they are still with us.
Thanks for stopping by!