We’ve had many conversations surrounding other cultures these last few weeks. We are pulling out maps, talking about language, sharing history and stories. The World Cup is making the world super real for my boys.
I fell in love with my husband in Australia. Since then, we have traveled together through Bali, Thailand, New Zealand, Peru, Italy, England, Germany, Mexico and Costa Rica… And we’re just getting started! As soon as our boys turned 5 and 7, we knew it was time to hit the road again, this time with the boys in tow. We packed our bags and traveled (as a family of 4!) to China and Thailand for an incredible journey. Traveling internationally with children for the first time comes with a bit of anxiety. How will they handle the 13 hour flight? The jet lag? The food? Rest assured, it will all work out one way or another! Here are a few things I learned after 15 days abroad with my family of four.
“mypootle helps travelers discover destinations with soul” and because of this, we thought they would be the perfect partner for our Let’s Go To Morocco Sweepstakes! You read right… we’re giving away a Moroccan adventure to one lucky family. We went there. Now you can, too! This sweepstakes will kick off on Monday June, 2nd and we can’t wait to share all of the details, but until then, mypootle is sharing their top hotel picks for family travel. From African safari’s to Normandy Chateau’s, mypootle has you covered!
Toddlers, tweens or teens, travelling as a family poses some quite interesting challenges. Ever since the mypootle HQ increased its headcount with a pint-sized pootler, trips away have become really rather complicated; once dreamed of havens of stylish tranquility we realize are actually adult only retreats with their doors and swimming pools firmly shut to anyone under the age of 14, although the suite may be roomy with a claw-foot bath, we now seek inter-connecting rooms so that we don’t tiptoe around our slumbering mini-explorer in the dark. Whilst the restaurant may come with all sorts of stars, it’s important that we have a kiddy meal available at 6pm. From baby-sitting to self-catering apartments, playrooms to early dinners, here are our pick of the best places for families; places that will ensure that you’ll all have an enjoyable holiday.
Long haul flights can look a little daunting if you have an active, energetic toddler in tow, but if you are coming from England’s winter then we suggest South Africa. With its sunny climate, dramatic scenery and unbeatable wildlife is top of our list. More Quarters, Cape Town is the perfect city-escape for families with kids of all ages. Super stylish and spacious apartments, the 1-bedroom spaces can sleep 3, the 2-bedrooms sleep 4-5 and there’s even a house for 8! Apartments come with a fully fitted kitchenette, so head to Neighbourhoods Market in the Old Biscuit Mill to stock up on artisanal goodies including organic veggies, cheese, wine, olive oil, pesto and chocolate. Kid plus: See penguins at Boulder’s Beach.
No trip to South Africa would be complete without a safari and Madikwe Safari Lodge is a fantastically kid friendly lodge in the malaria free Madikwe Game Reserve. There are two family suites and a mind-boggling number of activities to keep the little ones busy, from family safari drives and Bug CSI to making molds of tracks, painting and drawing. If your little one wants to squelch around, then they can help the ranger wash the safari vehicle whilst there are also chances to try out their culinary prowess with pizza making in the boma. Kid plus: The Ecohouse will keep them out of mischief in case of bad weather.
Pack the bags and family and retreat to Monte da Vilarinhain Portugal, a hilltop refuge in the southwestern corner of the Algarve, just a stone’s throw from the unforgettable beaches of Costa Vincentia. With a mix of apartments and studios, most with their own kitchen (a few share kitchens) or kitchenette, there is a family friendly spirit at Vilarinha and children (from babes to teens) are welcome. There is no shortage of things to do! Little adventurers can swing, slide and climb in the adventure playground, there are mountain bikes to ride, a lovely pool, over 30 hectares of valley to explore and beautiful beaches close by. Kid plus: For toddlers, there is a playroom with many toys! If you fancy European city hopping, then let us suggest a few seriously stylish children friendly boltholes. In Florence, stay at Casa Howard, an eclectic B&B just moments from the city’s beating Renaissance heart and book the Play Room with its connected sitting room and free-climbing wall. Kid plus: There is a Walt Disney library to pick and choose from, perfect for tired little pootlers at the end of the day. In hip Berlin, Ackselhaus & Blue Room offers a great way to experience the city as a family. Some rooms and apartments sleep 4 and many come with their own kitchenette. It’s leafy and secluded, located close to cafes, parks and sights and breakfast is served until midday, so no need to rush in the morning. Kid plus: iPads to rent – pre-loaded with films, music and books!
Safari in Kenya’s Northern Frontier at Sabuk Lodge. Set slightly apart from the main lodge, the Eagle Cottages come with 2 en-suite bungalows (one king and one triple), a sitting room, plunge pool and a dedicated team to look after you. The lodge itself is still a family home and inside is comfortably, elegant and rustically stylish, there are sofas with colourful cushions to throw yourself onto, woven rugs and through it all runs gnarled wood, stone boulders and makuti thatch. There is no minimum age, a baby listening service and early meals for those with early bed times are available. Kid plus: Camel trekking! Live like an aristocrat and take the family to a French chateau in green gastronomic Normandy. Chateau de Saint Paterne is brilliantly child friendly; some rooms come with a little side room with both single and bunk beds while baby monitors can be provided. The gardens are home to a gorgeous pool, trampoline, badminton, croquet, Ping-Pong and plenty of run-around let-off-steam space. With the delights of Normandy to explore, its idyllic villages, beaches and rolling hills, a short stay here may not be long enough… Parent plus: A little port decanter sits in the bedroom.Dar Les Cigognes is a supremely stylish boutique hotel in Marrakech. The riad, which takes its name (“house of storks”) from the long legged birds that circle their nests on the palace ramparts just across the street, is a former wealthy spice merchant’s house which has been extensively redesigned by the architect Charles Boccara transforming it into a luxurious and stylish Moorish retreat. This hotel has large central courtyards complete with fountains, citrus and palm trees, numerous little salons and staircases and is one of the few riads to offer inter-connecting rooms. Irresistibly calming, Dar Les Cigognes is the perfect place to retreat to after a day spent haggling in the souks or sipping mint tea and taking breakfast on the terrace is breathtakingly lovely. Kid plus: Helping to make the yummy pastries… or maybe the best bit is actually eating them!
“Can you find Iceland on the map? I’ll give you a hint, it’s in the North and it’s in the Atlantic Ocean.”
We’ve been traveling since our kids were very small and now that my twin boys are nearly six, we’re finding it’s getting a lot easier and a lot more fun… and they’re really curious about where we’re going to go next! Our last trip was a European trip which included Iceland and Denmark that were new to both my husband and me, we weren’t sure what to expect. But, that is the adventure in traveling with our family and all of us learn a lot along the way. For me, the toughest part of packing is realizing I can’t bring 5 pairs of shoes or outfits that I “might” wear… that space goes to an extra pair of shoes for the kids or a just-in-case outfit for them if they spill or have an accident. We like to travel lightly so that we can take public transportation and walk with our luggage if we have to. But every family travels differently! For us, here are a few of our favorite tips and maybe they might be helpful to you too:
The first thing we do when we book a trip is find it with our kids on a map we have in our office. We talk about how many hours it will take to get there by plane or train and discuss where it is in comparison to other places we’ve been. We wonder together if it will be hot or cold and if there will be swimming pools or animals to see. We think about the food that is grown there and what we might like to eat.
Then we buy books. Sometimes I buy them online so they show up when we first start talking about a trip, or the kids and I go to the library or bookstore to pick them up together. We like picture books that are set in the place we’re visiting or travel books about the place. If we can find a family-friendly DVD we do that too. For our recent Iceland trip, my guys enjoyed the travel clips on the Tourism Bureau’s website. We also like the Dodsworth books by Tim Egan -we’ve read them for Paris and Tokyo and we’re curious where Dodsworth will travel next.
If the country speaks a different language we make sure we know at least “hello” and “thank you”. Dover Publications makes coloring books that are in French, Spanish and English and Usborne Books have great 1000 words books in many languages too. We’ve found that if the kids can say “hello” and “thank you”, many people are much more receptive to us bringing our kids almost anywhere.
A couple days before the airport we buy a small toy that’s under $10. This saves the panic of having to find souvenirs or treats for the kids when we get somewhere to entertain them, and it gives them something to look forward to after they nap on the plane, or get to the airport or whatever the agreed pact is for opening the toy.
And when the travel day arrives, we think of some kind of walking/running/energy-burning activity before the flight – especially if it’s a long one! We wake up extra early if we want don’t want a late night in our destination or we nap if we want to keep them up to get our family on a new time schedule if we cross a couple time zones. We’ve found that walking and taking public transit to the airport from our home in Seattle gets a lot of pre-trip energy out and saves us a few extra dollars for coffee at the airport. Which is definitely another travel must for my husband and I!
I have been a fan of Zid Zid Kids for a long time, admiring the work of Julie and Moulay. They create beautiful items for play and home, all made in Morocco by hand. I find the pieces and overall aesthetic to be so charming.
Moulay and Julie live in Morocco and speak French, Arabic and Spanish to their children daily – so it was only natural that their next endeavor would be a creative hands-on language program for children! Petit Zarafa is a play-based multi-language learning subscription website for little citizens ages 2 and up.
My children have Chinese flashcards that they play with when their grandmother visits from Taiwan, but we haven’t picked them up in a while.
The combination of the activities with learning lessons, grasping different sounds with familiar tasks, is inspiring to me. My kids love playing with games and are currently learning letters & numbers at their own schools – it will be interesting to see what they gravitate to most with this program. In general, my kids love listening to stories… I’m sure my mom, a former French language teacher, would love to teach them French stories. It would be magical if they could speak a little bit of French when we visit my sister in Europe this summer.
Are you teaching your children a second language? What do you find works best? I’d love to know!
When we were getting started with Tea, we met Braden & DeNai Jones, the founders of Petunia Pickle Bottom, at a New York trade show. We connected instantly – fellow entrepreneurs building great products for mamas. Emily and I returned to our office in San Francisco to find a (surprise) floral arrangement from our new friends at Petunia! The crush was mutual.
Our paths continued to parallel not only through building our businesses, but also in building our families. Braden & DeNai also have two boys: Sutton (8) and Miller (6); just a year ahead of my two boys! I have enjoyed keeping up with their families these past few years – especially when they packed up their kids and took them to visit their vendor partners in Asia.
Now, it is my turn! Once each year, I travel with a few members of our production team to visit our partners abroad. It just so happened that my husband’s calendar opened up around the time of this year’s trip, so we thought this would be the perfect opportunity for a family vacation! Our boys are very excited about an extra long spring break.
As soon as we started planning the trip, the first call I made was to Braden & DeNai for advice, which was beyond helpful. I felt selfish keeping their suggestions to myself, so read on for the full details of my conversation with the Jones’ and get tips for your own kid-friendly trip abroad.
Leigh: David & I are concerned about jetlag for the kids. It’s one thing for adults because we can just push through as long as we have an extra coffee. But that doesn’t work for kids!
Braden: I try and put the family on a sleep schedule during takeoff to give us a jump on the time zone we are traveling to, before we arrive. That tactic seems to help the boys with jetlag.
Fun things to do in Hong Kong when you aren’t working?
Braden: There are some great activities we do to get the boy’s legs moving; we like the Tian Tan Buddha, we visit the HK Zoo or ride The Peak Tram up the hillside. Ocean Park was a big hit with the boys too. Most of the time we just enjoy walking the streets, exploring temples, and browsing markets and other nook and crannies of the city.
How about the food? My kids like some Asian food, but they tend to rely on their go-to favorites like Pad See Ew and avocado sushi – does that even count as Asian food or sushi for that matter?
DeNai: Our boys usually enjoy trying new foods, but for those times when they aren’t feeling as adventurous, Cup Noodles is always an option. You can get these just about anywhere or bring them with you. I also like to bring granola bars wherever we go as back-up. When I can find western grocery stores, I’ll stock up there on things I know the kids will like.
I’m excited to take our 7-year-old to our factory outside of Bangkok. I can’t wait to show him how clothes are made! Plus, we have known our partners and their families there since Adam was born. I think it will feel like a family reunion! Our partners in Hong Kong have invited my family to join for dinners too. It will be a pretty amazing “take-your-kids-to-work-day”! Any tips?
Braden: Honestly, it’s an amazing experience for everyone. We first brought our boys along so that we could work for several solid weeks without having to be away from them for too long. It’s a very family centric culture, so bringing our kids really enhanced our relationships with our colleagues, friends, factories and staff. The boys join us for work, dinner and entertainment, and our partners love to see Miller and Sutton grow over the years. As hard as it is for them sometimes, I will tip my hat to my boys for being along for the ride and being great sports about it.
The Bangkok, Hong Kong, and Shanghai airports are a lot bigger than San Francisco… Not to mention the number of people and languages! Do you have any practical tips?
Braden: A time saver I suggest, is to grab a stack of Customs Cards (Arrival or Departure forms) and fill them out before you are in the customs line. It’s much easier to focus on keeping the family together when you’re not fumbling with the papers and passports. I also memorized all of the passport numbers, saves time for border access and if you lose a passport.
How about hotel recommendations? Any specific kid-friendly, designer-y hotels? You two always seem to find the perfect stylish hotels!
Braden: Finding a room with multiple beds in HK is hard, but it can be done. Most websites only allow you to add one child (not two) when you make your reservations. I suggest making the reservation with one child and then explaining (with a smile) that you need a hide-a-bed for your second or third child once you arrive. On the Kowloon side we tend to stay at the ICON Hotel. It’s new, modern, has every amenity for a great price. On the Hong Kong side we have stayed at the Hotel LKF right above LAN Kwai Fong. At this hotel you are right on top of the party street, restaurants and activities. Other child-friendly hotels we have visited in Asia are: The Racha Hotel in Phuket, Thailand, the Osaka Hilton in Japan, the Lotte World Hotel in Seoul, South Korea, and the Hotel Majestic in Vietnam.
Tips for packing? We’re gone for more than two weeks and I can’t bear the thought of packing enough clothes for such a long stretch! I’m not worried about clothes for the kids because Tea has that covered! Always easy to mix & match, comfortable and great looking. Next time you go, promise me you will call so I can send some Tea for your boys – I would love to see your Instagram pics with your beautiful sons in some Tea!
DeNai: We always pack a lot of black and gray clothes for the kids because they hide the messes and can easily dress up or down. We tend to bring about four to five days of clothes and use the laundry service at hotels to refresh the selection. We’d love to dress Miller and Sutton in Tea next time!
How about emergency kits? And I mean all types of emergency: medical, long layovers, sleepless nights….
DeNai: I usually pack my Petunia Pickle Bottom Wistful Weekender for traveling. It has plenty of storage space and I have a handful of emergency-type items stored inside for the boys: everything from a thermometer and Dermabond (liquid stitches), to small toys and a travel art set to fight boredom. Oh and Cleanwell hand spray is the best germ spray out there!
I fell in love with Thailand nearly 15 years ago. My husband and I had a six week trip bopping around Southeast Asia & the South Pacific the summer before we started business school. We visited Buddhist temples and rode elephants and ate our way through the country.
And now we return… with our kids! Maybe it won’t be as romantic, but I have a feeling there will be a ton of falling in love. This time we’ll get to see the Buddhist temples, elephants, and delicious food through the eyes of our 5 & 7 year old boys.
After a week in Bangkok and Hua Hin, we’re heading to China! We’ll visit Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Yangshuo — and we want advice! We have our flights and hotels booked, plus lots of time planned with our beloved Tea vendors. But there is a lot of open time for sight-seeing and digging deeper into the culture.
So please share any must-see sights or must-do activities! I have loved reading through advice on Oh Happy Day and Design Sponge — what other blogs are out there with insider tips, especially with perspective on family travel?
Preparing The Kids For The Experience
I think a lot about preparing my kids for life. Education, manners, planning ahead, keeping an attitude of gratitude, etc, etc. Of course I like to think that I have a huge impact on their lives through all of the thoughtful preparation, but sometimes I admit to myself that I am just here for the ride. Every day is a new world and new discovery for a kid.
I remember my first trip to Manhattan. I arrived via the train, then transferred to the subway with a friend from Long Island. We came up the subway escalator and I just kept looking up and up and up. I was in college and I had seen a thousand pictures of New York, but when I came out of that subway station, I FELT it. I felt the height, the energy, and the life of New York. I was in love to the bone.
So, no matter how many maps and documentaries we show our boys, I have a feeling that I can never fully prepare them for the size, energy, and life of Bangkok, Hong Kong, and Shanghai.
Of course I still have to try. So here is the plan (and I welcome your feedback)…
We have a huge world map on the wall in the boys’ room. That helps a little with the context. At least I think so!
David found a great documentary from 2008 about China. It is certainly dated and the population numbers are probably 20% higher now, but it is well done and riveting for all four of us. I keep wondering if it is stealing the power of the first impression…. and then I remember my escalator ride up from the subway in NY for the first time.
Adam takes Mandarin at school four days/week. We are trying to use common phrases for familiarity: thank you, hello, and my name is…
We order in Thai food regularly. Does that count?
I’m researching ways the kids can take pictures & blog on their own. Maybe Kidblog.org? I would love to see what pictures and captions they would post. Plus, their friends could write questions and comments, which could create a fun conversation.
Of course we have to expedite passport renewals. You can see from these pictures that not only are the passports expiring, but the photos are a little out of date!
Traveling with Kids Overseas
I have been asking globetrotting families for advice about the travel itself. Here are the tips I have received so far:
iPads. How did parents travel before Apple? The trick is that the kids really like to stream videos on Netflix, which won’t be possible for much of our trip. So I need tips on apps–both educational and entertainment. I am just not sure Star Wars Angry Birds will get us from SFO to BKK!
Adjust clocks when you board the first flight. Easier said than done of course. We depart at 1:45pm which is 4:45am in Bangkok. So do we get on the plane and I try to convince the kids to sleep?? When I fly to Asia each year for work, I usually try to sleep as little as possible so that when I arrive at midnight at the hotel in Bangkok, I can crash — even though my body will think it is 4pm the next day. I’m hoping those iPads are REALLY entertaining.
Snacks. Snacks are actually the cure to many problems wherever we are! I’ve heard Clif Bars, Tic Tacs, and soy sauce packets have gotten many families through China. Rice is available almost anywhere and with soy sauce, we should be okay.
What else should I keep in mind? Leave a comment below — I welcome all feedback & suggestions and can’t wait to hear from you!
There is no denying that packing up a household and a family and transporting them across the world is a hardship… but when the destination is Morocco, and you have the good fortune to not just visit but live in this vibrant country there are many more delights than difficulties.
Many people asked us how we would manage with a young toddler in Morocco. It’s true that the usual protections you become used to in the United States (rubber playground floors, clean organic vegetables, etc.) are conspicuously absent in Morocco. But the warmth of the people, towards children in particular, and the wide array of experiences you can expose your child to more than make up for it.
There is so much to choose from… ancient buildings, bustling markets, tanneries, cafes, beaches and more. Here are some of our favorites for kids from our year in Morocco.
The Majorelle Gardens: Marrakech
Marrakech isn’t hot year round, however, the summer is particularly brutal. But even when the thermostat hits 105 in the busy media, the Majorelle Gardens beckon with a promise of cool shade and lots of running space!
When you visit Morocco with a child, particularly a toddler, keeping them off the ground is key given the number of mopeds, donkeys and carts that are competing for the limited alleyway real estate. But in the Majorelle Gardens, it is strictly pedestrians only.
The Gardens were designed by a french expatriate and were loved and owned by famous designer Yves Saint Laurent. It houses various species of plants and birds as well as a museum of Berber Culture. It is a beautiful introduction to Morocco for all ages and a welcome oasis of calm.
The Old Kasbah: Aït Benhaddou
If you want to get up close to the Morocco of legend, then you have to head to Aït Benhaddou. There is something for children of all ages. The little ones will love the (mostly) empty, winding alleys up to the fortress and older ones will be thrilled to know they are standing where the stars have stood since films and series from Gladiator and Game of Thrones have come here for the ancient backdrop. You can even stay in an 11th century mud brick Kasbah (watch out though… no electricity!). The best part of our little one? Your baggage porter is your local obliging donkey. We named him Hercules.
The Clock Cafe: Fes
There is of course no better way to get to know a country than through its cuisine. If you have an opportunity to visit a Moroccan restaurant near you, be sure to indulge in a fragrant Tagine (pressure-cooked, spiced meat dish) and any of the sweets on offer. In Morocco, the best food is to be found in a family home. But one restaurant that came close for us, was the Clock Cafe, deep in the Fes Medina. The Clock has reinvented many traditional dishes and offers menu choices like a camel burger, which is sure to thrill your adventurous eater.
For the more squeamish, there is delicious almond milk, Moroccan salads and other delicacies! Don’t miss out.
Natalia Rankine-Galloway is the founder of CultureBaby; seeking out new global products and hearing from mothers worldwide about how they celebrate culture with their kids. You can read more about her personal adventures at The Culture Mum Chronicles.