In the spirit of all our travel themed posts this week, we’ve found a great new dress up doll to get your little one thinking about the great big world. Mudpuppy’s World Traveler Dress Up Doll features background scenes from Mexico, India, Japan, Germany, Hawaii, and Kenya with matching monuments, hellos and traditional clothing. Check it out!
Around this time last year I learned to never underestimate the brainpower and clarity of a 4 year old. Regressing in this story 2 years prior, my daughter Olivia (2 years old) was crawling around on the floor while my husband and I were going through the CPR recertification process. We didn’t realize that she was watching all the training until we went to take the written portion of the exam and we heard an odd grunting from her. We turned around to see her performing CPR on Resusci-Anne with an accuracy that nearly warranted a card of her own. If only they would have allowed her use of a pink crayon in place of the No. 2 pencil. That was her only downfall.
In the many months to follow Olivia and I played CPR on her dollies, on each other and on the Jack Russel Terriers. Poor dogs. For my own entertainment, which is the root of nearly all of her aberrant doings, I also taught her the international sign for choking. If you are unaware there was an international sign for choking, it is placing one hand on top of the other at your collar bone/neck level much like you are choking yourself yet not actually grabbing your throat. We then added the international sign for choking to our CPR routine on Barbie and the dogs.
Now I bring us back to Olivia at 4 years old. Half her life has passed since she first learned CPR and the international sign for choking. The novelty of it all has worn off for me and we had forgotten about it. I had moved on to other modes of pediatric entertainment for myself
Last year at this time, we found ourselves sitting around the teppanyaki bar at a Sushi Bar in Cairo, Egypt. Earlier in the day we gave Olivia the choice between riding camels to the pyramids, taking horse and carriage or riding horseback. She opted for camels. We walked to the Great Sphinx from the pyramids because my husband was claiming some sort of camel-groin injury by then and refused to get back on the camel. In the evening we gave Olivia the choice of food for dinner. Of course, wouldn’t every 4 year old would pick sushi in Egypt. As we sat on the high bar stools around the rectangular cooking surface, Olivia states, “Mom. I’d like to have Taco.” I replied to her, “Oh no honey, Tako is Octopus…not a taco.” My cute little 4 year old daughter leans over to me and says, “I know…I really want to eat the suckers” and then made her hands shaped into suckers while making a slurping noise that still turns my stomach just thinking about it. So she ordered Tako nigiri.
Our food arrived and we all dove into our plates. I felt Olivia tapping me on my arm and when I looked at her she was doing the international sign for choking. I told her, “Please don’t ever do that when you are not choking because I won’t believe you when you really are.” Her eyes got very large and she shook her head yes and did the sign again. She really was choking on the Octopus. I do not order Tako and had forgotten how rubbery Octopus is. She couldn’t chew it and it became stuck in her throat. I patted her a few times on the back. Nothing. So I did the Heimlich maneuver on her and it popped right out. She started crying and we, along with everyone sitting around the teppanyaki bar, were very relieved. The waitress who had rushed over said, “I’ll just take this away.” Olivia screamed, “NO! I’m not done.” This time I cut it up for her and she enjoyed every last bite.
Later that night I gave her a big hug and told her how smart she was for properly using the international sign for choking and also for remaining calm. She looked so proud of herself. That dissipated when I then explained now that I saved her life she was to remain my indentured servant forever or until she saves my life at which point she would be free. She looked blank for a moment, a bit shocked and stunned. Then she laughed hysterically and said, “Ok Mom, I’ll stay with you forever.” Pediatric entertainment.
A well-kept secret of the Caribbean is the Honduran island of Roatan. Located just off the northern shore of Honduras, Roatan is part of this affordable Central American country but with the laidback feel of its more expensive Caribbean neighbors. Spanish is the national language of Honduras and English-speakers are hard to find on the mainland. Not so on Roatan, where English is widely used. In fact we used our Spanish so little we often forgot we were in a Latin American country.
Roatan is accesible by direct flights from several US gateways including Houston and Atlanta. At present direct flights run only on the weekends, so be sure to look closely at flight itineraries before booking your hotel stay. You can get to Roatan any day of the week via the Honduran mainland or other Central American countries but those flights are notoriously late (think hours and hours) so a “short stop” could add significantly to your travel time. We opted for a Saturday to Saturday trip to minimize travel time. We (Steve, Beth and 22-month old Grace) traveled from Portland, Oregon direct to Houston, where we met up with my husband’s parents (traveled from Ohio) and my husband’s brother and his wife (from Chicago). From Houston we flew together directly to Roatan, less than 3 hours from Houston on Continental. It was a much easier flight with a toddler than the all-day trek last year from Portland to Turks and Caicos (stops in Dallas and Miami made it a 12+ hour day).
First the pros of Roatan. Roatan is stunning. It’s water is turquoise blue and crystal clear. The fish and coral are brilliant in color and diversity. It’s famed for its scuba diving and snorkeling, in part because both are so good and also because it’s very, very cheap to dive in Roatan compared to just about anywhere else in the world. It’s actually cheaper to become a certified diver in Roatan than in the U.S., although if you’re traveling with little ones keep in mind that someone will have to watch the kids if they’re too young to dive themselves. Travel with non-divers like we did if scuba is on your agenda.
Scubadiving is not the only inexpensive pasttime on the island. Just about everything is affordable including food, hotels and transportation, a real plus for traveling families. The seafood on Roatan is fresh and delicious. There are lots of things for families with little ones to do such as swimming with dolphins, bio-parks with ziplines, interesting animals and flora, glasswater boat trips and of course playing on the beaches with their shallow warm waters and little waves.
It’s easy for families to get around the island as well. Taxis are readily available and affordable, although agree on a price before you get in. Your hotel should be able to recommend reliable taxi drivers and tell you what it should cost to get to a destination. Our taxi drivers were always friendly and most spoke at least a little English, although one spoke only Spanish. Their taxis were well-used and worn, and don’t expect seat belts. We rented a van for part of our stay. It was cheaper than taxis for the days we were doing a lot of driving, since we were such a large group (7 people) plus we could use our portable Eddie Bauer car seat for our daughter. There are several rental agencies on the island and none of them seem to have well-maintained vehicles. One van broke down on us in the middle of nowhere but three different cars stopped to help us, including a taxi driver who took us back to the rental agency for a new, equally decrepit van. Don’t expect luxury in any kind of island transportation, but since it’s a small place you can’t get lost and there’s always someone driving by to help you out.
Thinking about our broken down van brings me to the downsides of Roatan. First, the beaches. There are some beautiful beaches on the island but they are all plagued by sandflies. Our visit to Roatan in November fell at the end of the rainy season, when the flies (and their friends the mosquitoes) are at their peak. They were horrible. So long as we had insect repellent slathered everywhere we were fine, but the instant we went in the water and washed it off the insects were vicious. As I write this post a few weeks after our return I still am suffering from a few itchy bites. We’ve heard they are not nearly so much of a problem during the dry season (earlier in the year) but don’t go in the rainy season expecting to lounge peacefully in the sand.
Another downside of the rainy season was floating garbage in the crystal blue water. As part of Honduras, Roatan is a developing nation and the garbage was a visible sign of the poverty that exists beyond the luxury resorts. Garbage is thrown in streams and rivers and, when heavy rains come, that garbage is washed out to sea and into your resort. Some days there was none, other days the water was full of slicks of plastic bottles and plastic bags. Our resort did a great job cleaning up the beaches on a daily basis but they can’t control what’s floating in the water and it did spoil some attempts at swimming. Again, we heard this problem is almost non-existent during the drier part of the year.
Overall our family loved Roatan. It was the right choice for our small family reunion, with the perfect balance of things to do and nothing-to-do. The people both at our resort and throughout the island were laidback and genuinely friendly. It’s a beautiful place but we recommend it for seasoned developing nation travelers, not for those accustomed only to luxury resorts. Even the nicest accomodation on Roatan can’t shelter you from the realities of it being part of a very poor country. For us this was a plus. It meant an authentic experience and the knowledge that our travel was supporting communities that rely on the income from tourism. But it also meant some inconveniences along the way and a few adventures (such as a broken-down rental van).
Watch for subsequent posts reviewing our excellent accomodations at Barefoot Cay as well as our list of things to do and eat on Roatan with kids.
We flew across the Red Sea leaving Saudi Arabia and landing in Egypt. After having worn my abaya for nearly a month, I must admit I didn’t want to take it off. It becomes comfortable … oddly enough. There is something comforting in being able to keep to yourself and be private. There is something nice about losing the button off your pants prior to a fancy dinner and it not mattering in the least because you are wearing an abaya anyhow. I was told that women often leave the house in their pajamas because no one can tell. I did not remove my abaya and headscarf until we landed in Luxor which included one prior stop. I figured I would be ripping it off first chance I got but it didn’t turn out that way.
The tombs and temple complex Karnak at Luxor were amazing and we preferred it to Ciaro and the pyramids. If it is even possible for one super amazing city can be topped by another even more super amazing city. We were repeatedly informed that our 4 year old would not remember any of our trip. One male friend who had traveled there recently informed me that “Egypt would be a little dry for her, no pun intended.” None taken. We hoped that she would remember this once-in-a-lifetime experience that she was having at 4 years age. We did not have a plan to help us force the experience into her long-term memory but a serendipitous plan slowly unfolded.
As a side note I must explain I have spent the last 20 years working with people with Acquired Brain Injuries (ABI). One man I worked with was an alcoholic and a roofer which is a really bad combination. Odds are you’ll slip off the roof eventually. People with ABI have very little or no short-term memory but can happily discuss anything in that happened years ago because it is in their long-term memory. Every day I would tell my client the roofer the same joke which goes like this, “My dog can talk. I asked him what was on top of the house and do you know what he said?” And every day my client would shake his head no. I would tell him the punch line and he would laugh like he had never heard it before. One day, as usual, I told him the joke and when I said, “do you know what the dog said?” my client then blurted out with a hearty laugh and replied “Roof!” I had made it into the long-term memory somehow. This is the principle I am using to help my young child remember a fabulous travel experience. Although I am not repeating it every day, I am sure she is thankful, I incorporate information from time to time and ask her open ended questions that makes her pull up information from her experiences to answer the questions. Hopefully I am slowly placing it into her long-term memory.
Olivia stuck out like a sore thumb in Egypt just as she did in Saudi Arabia. Although there were plenty of Americans and Europeans in Egypt, they were all Grey-Hairs as Egypt is a vacation destination reserved for AARP-ers. Olivia learned to yell “No Touching!” in Saudi Arabia as the men ran to her ready to pinch her cheeks. In Egypt it was different because they ran to her giving her presents. This was especially odd in that every person we came across in Egypt had their hand out wanting to be paid. Luckily for us, the man who rented us camels to ride to the pyramids fell in love with her immediately. He instructed us to “wait right here” and ran off returning with a statue of the pyramids and sphinx. He gave it to Olivia and told us that he was also going to give us his son to marry her and that he, himself, was a Texan. Texas was a big theme in Arab countries. Many people asked if we were from Texas because we had a Texas accent. My husband is from San Francisco and I am from Northern California.
This little statue was the building block for us to create a long-term memory for her. We created a shelf in her room with one souvenir from each country she has traveled so that she sees it often but subtly. This is where the pyramid and sphinx sit. She began reading a book series from the library called The Magic Tree House so we purchased the one in the series called Mummies in the Morning for her personal collection. It is amazing how much Egypt stuff (for lack of a better word) is available. So we integrated a little here and a little there…Egypt playing cards, Egypt action figures, Little Einstein’s Egypt play set. Just enough to intermittently jog her memory. It lends many opportunities for discussion and open-ended questions such as “remember when you woke up in Dad’s arms and you were in front of King Tut’s Mask in the Egyptian Museum?” Or “I remember that mommy mummy that had her baby mummified with her” to which Olivia quickly corrects me and says “No Mommy, that wasn’t a baby it was her pet baboon!”
My husband and I honeymooned in Paris, France and even then- before we’d even started our family- we knew we’d love to take our children there someday. The sights, the history, the fashion, the art… all of it is incredible to take in and is something that will never leave my heart and mind. Of course I can’t wait to share that with my family.
I had the opportunity to visit France a year before I got married and will never forget my first view from the Eiffel Tower. The first time I stepped into the Louvre. The taste of a crepes sucre! I met my husband soon after that European vacation and we quickly fell in love and were planning our wedding. Naturally I dreamed of honeymooning in Paris. What a dream come true to actually be able to do it!
I might have left my heart there… possibly in the gardens of Versailles. Maybe it was among the street markets. Or on the Champs-Élysées. Oh how I’d love to share that with our four children!
I recently discovered Adventures By Disney, a family friendly guided vacation program that spans the globe. Each vacation includes VIP experiences, exclusive moments and unique itineraries specifically designed for families. I’m wishing for the London & Paris trip which includes Buckingham Palace, taking in a show (The Lion King!), and then crossing the English Channel to Paris where the kids will go on an exciting scavenger hunt in the Louvre while Mom & Dad have a tour of their own. A family bike ride through Versailles and dinner at the Eiffel Tower are just a couple other great treats included in the package.
The Disney-trained Adventure Guides engage the whole family in fun activities and allow the family to relax and enjoy their trip- whether you’re just visiting throughout the United States or abroad. It could be a Wild West fantasy, or Hollywood glamour, or even ancient Irish castles– whatever adventure fits your family. Just imagine the stories you’ll hear… and the memories you’ll create.
Stephanie Precourt blogs daily at Adventures In Babywearing.
A dedicated, long-term Army National Guard soldier, my husband loves the adventure and the challenges he’s found in the experience of serving his country. As his wife and the mother of two young children, I have been relegated to our home for much of this time as a single parent, accepting the vicarious window to the world he provides… but sometimes toting a baby and a backpack for a distant rendezvous with our soldier!
National Guard families do not live on military bases and, as a result, we don’t necessarily live in an environment where there is support or understanding of a lifestyle that regularly pulls families apart and throws them back together.
My main task in raising our little citizens of the world is to create this sense of community for them in the Midwestern college town in which we reside. At the same time, I try to extend this sense of community to the world and explain how, while their dad is not always able to be with us, he is representing us as Americans wherever he goes. His role as a soldier requires that he work closely with soldiers and civilians of other nations, that he is good at both teaching them what he knows and listening to their needs, in order to build a more peaceful world for all of us.
Our kids’ first impressions of the world come from us, their parents. And even when their own feet aren’t touching far-away soil, the impressions their dad shares with them help them understand both the similarities and the differences between people everywhere. Every time we find ourselves “left behind,” we are simultaneously given the opportunity to learn about another corner of the world to which our soldier is flung. Germany, England, Poland, Afghanistan… the list continues to grow.
The trinkets Daddy brings home, the photos, the stories of unique experiences (marching 100 miles with Polish soldiers on an annual pilgrimage, sharing a field breakfast with British soldiers, shopping at a bazaar, and even throwing sandbags along the banks of the Mississippi River in the USA) keeps our children’s eyes wide open. We are reminded constantly that while we all need food, shelter, and clothing, those things come in a huge variety of forms. And being reminded that so many of our counterparts around the world live with far less than we do begets gratitude for our home and simple, but comfortable, life.
At home, I find that there is nothing quite like being a single parent to force one’s wings to stretch. Leisure time may take a backseat for a while, but the qualities of independence, strength, and resourcefulness only grow. Staying close as a separated family takes extraordinary effort, but that pays off in resilience. I have a basket, manila envelope, or box on hand nearly all the time, in which artwork from the kids, mementos of their accomplishments, newspaper clippings, cards, and letters are deposited for Papa; in return, we receive email, phone calls, and occasional packages from him, through which we remember who he is, how much he loves us, and learn about what he’s encountering. We visit the library and attend diverse cultural events on our local university’s campus to learn more about the people and customs of places where Daddy is working. When we have the opportunity to meet somewhere as a family in the middle of a lengthy training or deployment, we are willing and ready to pack a few bags and snacks and print the driving directions or make the plane reservations to make memories for all involved.
When our daughter was nine months old, she and I met her dad in Frankfurt, Germany for a week spent traveling the Romantic Road. The first breads she nibbled were hearty European rolls, given to her at every restaurant (along with the German proclamation “Sie ist laut!”—“She is loud!”—in response to her happy squeals) and she woke with us under eider-downs to the tolling of church bells in small villages. We held her on our shoulders to walk cobbled streets, stopping to let her dip her hands in centuries-old fountains, and I nursed her on a hidden bench in a leafy public garden. The time changes were difficult, but reviving myself with strong, smooth German coffee was a pleasure. Best of all, I found my previous assumptions of Germany as a cold, industrial nation to be unfounded in the warm reception we received as a family vacationing in a place of Old World beauty and impressive efficiency and service.
That spirit of curiosity, openness, acceptance, and grace wherever it may be found provides a foundation for my husband, and for me with our children, to continue our travels, whether independently or together. Perhaps whatever place we find ourselves in will look especially bright when our company is found in its midst.
Prior to leaving on a long travel adventure, I came across a great photography tip that I applied to nearly every picture. It is the Law of Thirds. When taking a picture divide the view finder into thirds, both horizontally and vertically so that you now have 9 imaginary boxes. Where the lines intersect are the four natural focus points when looking at a picture. Pick one of these points and this is where you want to put your subject. The bottom horizontal line is where you want to put the horizon. Or you can put it on the top horizontal line if you want more foreground, so that you have 1/3 sky and 2/3 landscape. If you want the focus to be on the sky, 2/3 sky and 1/3 landscape. The beautiful part of digital photography is that you can do both and decide later which you prefer. The picture to the left demonstrates the Law of Thirds pretty accurately with Olivia’s face placed at a focal point where the horizontal and vertical imaginary lines intersect.
Bottom line: do not put your subject in the middle. It will be a far more interesting picture with your pride and joy off-center. You are setting composition and telling a story when you apply the Law of Thirds and it becomes a natural response the more you take pictures.
Another travel photography tip I can offer, I came across by accident. My 5 year old daughter has a fabulous pink Noor dress from a prior season of Tea Collection. I am now kicking myself for not getting it in every bigger size possible because it is the perfect dress for posing in pictures. The Stav Dress in the current fall collection is a great alternative. We call her pink dress “the traveling dress” because it has been to 5 different countries in its short life. It shows up great from a distance enhancing the picture and close-ups are not distracted because it is without any pattern. Specifically the pictures we have from Egypt, where everything is a nice camel color (except the camels which were white), really popped with the solid bright pink dress.
After our travel adventure we shared our pictures with our friends. The oft-dreaded travel pictures your friends are obligated to view politely. We were shocked at the responses. Our friends were “amazed at how great the pictures were” and most asked what type of camera we used. It was not the camera so much as it was the composition telling the story.