Already 3 months on the road. 3 months since we packed up our house, kissed our friends, family and pets goodbye and left the safety of our little community and country for the big wide world. Its gone in the blink of an eye but we already have enough memories to last 10 lifetimes.
We have walked, jumped, skipped, climbed and splashed our way through Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and are currently mixing it up with the rich travelers in Singapore. We have ridden on everything with wheels, got wet on many boats, ferries and kayaks and even been transported on a few animals. There is a never ending list of transport options which need researching and organizing. Which way is the cheapest, the quickest and the most convenient are questions we ask ourselves on a daily basis. I watch skyscanner for days on end when I want the cheapest airfare and always try to negotiate free or half price tickets for the kids on buses and ferries, with varying degrees of success. Our 12 months of planning and research was hugely important but I have found out that a lot of things have since changed. My small notebook full of a years travel research makes me feel prepared and organised but to tell you the truth, it very rarely gets opened. Its tucked away at the bottom of my pack and most of our plans are sorted out with the help of my bff…. google!!! Dinner time usually involves a family discussion about what the next day has in store. We like the kids to be involved with choosing activities and they function better when they have a small plan for whats coming up. On a daily basis the kids mix with the locals, play with kids they can’t communicate with and get involved with the daily routine of travelling life.
Travel days are probably the worst. Although we try to keep things in order as much as possible, it can sometimes be quite hard work getting our gear sorted and the backpacks packed before we set off. Bus days are easier than plane days as we can make use of our day packs and don’t have to be quite so strict on the packing. Plane days means everything must once again fit into each of the packs, weighing no more than 7kg. Plane days mean we wear socks and shoes, we wear jackets and we cross our fingers at check in that they let our sometimes 8kg packs on as carry on!!! So far so good!!! After taking 6 flights in 3 months you would think that 4, kind of, intelligent kids could get through check in, security and board a flight with minimal fuss BUT apparently not!!! Wrangling our 4 kids and 6 backpacks from 1 side of an airport and onto a plane is challenging to say the least. It usually involves plenty of pushing and shoving while waiting in line, a fair bit of racing, running and screaming through airport corridors, a huge amount of whinging when we won’t buy the 20KG container of MMs at the airport shop and usually ends with at least 1 in tears, holding up the queue of people boarding the plane, when they don’t get to sit next to the window!!! Generally we threaten to leave 1 behind, put 1 on a plane back to NZ or throw 1 out the plane window but in the end we grab a coffee, sit down and just watch those crazy kids that are tearing around the airport!!!
Finding cheap, suitable and somewhat comfortable accommodation has been really easy so far. I generally use agoda to find a place within budget and in a good location and then book it for 1 night. Once we show up and see it then I just book another 3 or 4 nights. The one time I booked for more than 1 night, the place was a dump and we were stuck there for 3 nights. Lesson learnt!!! Only ever book 1 night until you see the place. Our littlest guy is always excited to see our new “house” and weather it be a 1 room shoebox with a moldy bathroom or a 2 bedroom apartment with a pool and great view, the kids always pick a spot to be their little area and settle in with minimal fuss. They never complain about our accommodation and as much as we all look at the big, fancy hotels and talk about how nice they would be, they totally understand that we need cheap, and big fancy hotels are not cheap!!! We are all so used to sharing beds now that even when we get a place with enough beds for all of us, at least one or two of the kids still ask to share with Mum, Dad or each other. Personal space is a distant memory and in fact we often ask ourselves what the hell we did with all that extra space back home???!!!
We had a big win recently with the boys schooling. We decided early on when planning our adventure that we wouldn’t bother with any formal correspondence schooling but would endeavour to adopt a “worldschooling” approach. They get to be out in the big wide world soaking up the colours, cultures, sights and sounds. This part of the idea is working brilliantly. They are consistently seeing different things and having different experiences. They ask loads of questions to which we quite often have to consult my google bff to find the answer. Its the boring “proper” stuff that was becoming a problem. The reading, maths and writing that we would like them to do is a constant struggle. If they were complete bookworms like their big sister then things would be great but they are far from fantastic readers and would rather be doing anything else than words and numbers. This was the case up until about 2 weeks ago when I finally found a maths app that engaged them both. Thanks to this rocket building app, the tiny amount of our day that we put aside for schoolwork is no longer a huge struggle and battle. Yes.. they may still have to repeat their schooling next year but hey, we are doing a little bit of maths, reading and writing together without tears, tantrums and drama so for us thats a big WIN!!!
Moving to the tourist hotspot of Singapore has been a refreshing change for all of us. South East Asia is totally gorgeous but contenting with rubbish, pollution and utter congestion for the past 3 months has taken its toll. Unfortunately most of the locals just add to the problem by dropping rubbish where ever and not taking any pride in their own countries. I guess this is a generational thing where people have grown up not knowing any different. We often laugh at how the kids have adapted to the south east Asia way of life. Walking down a cracked footpath covered in scooters just doesn’t bother them anymore. Locals preparing their meals, washing their dishes, having a shave and many more daily activities all happen out in the middle of the footpath. Chickens, rats, dogs, cats all roam freely although we know when we see a chicken tied to a tree that its destined for the dinner plate that night. The footpaths and lanes of Hanoi are overflowing with daily activity and this little blond family of 6 can negotiate these obstacles like pros. We gained near legendary status in Vietnam. Right from the start, we have always stood out and have attracted attention wherever we go but Vietnam was on a whole new level, but not for the reasons you may think. It wasn’t because we are blond and white, it wasn’t because we had 4 kids with us. The sad but simple fact that we had produced 3 sons put us on a pedestal. Thumbs up and big smiles while pointing at the 3 boys was a constant greeting we got. In a culture that places huge status on having sons, it made me sad and uncomfortable that little Vietnamese girls are second class to their brothers. Instead of reviling in the locals praise of my 3 boys, it made me value my precious Daughter even more.
Seeing the world on a tight budget with our 4 kids has so far been incredible. If someone told me 2 years ago that I would visit Angkor Wat, Ha Long Bay, see the elephants of Chiang Mai and kayak the rivers of Laos with all my kids in tow, I would have said they were crazy!!! “That sounds like a dream but it will never happen for us” is what I would have told them. We often take a quick second, look at our surroundings, look at each other and say….. “Is this really happening, is this really our life for now?” With broad smiles and a glint in our eyes, we know we have made the right choices, we know we have made the right sacrifices, we know that our kids are flourishing, we know we are together and we know we have never been happier.
3 months, 5 countries, well and truly over 10 million smiles. No… its not always easy, no… it’s not always fun, but no we wouldn’t change it for anything. X