Archive

February 2011

Browsing

iPhone play

A lot of families when they set out on the road consider buying some type of gaming console to keep their children occupied on long travel days. There are plenty of options on the market. The most popular of course are the DSi and PSPs. These day’s there are also fake Chinese versions of both of these and mini toy educational laptops designed for children. And then there’s the iPhone, iPod and the latest addition – the iPad.

Before you purchase one, work out exactly what features you’d like it to have. When recommend a console that can:

  • Play movies from a variety of different formats
  • Has a battery life long enough to last a 4 hour flight at a minimum
  • Has educational games available
  • Has games on the market that are appropriate for the age of your child and are simple enough that they can play them without a great deal of help
  • Additional games are reasonably priced
  • Portable and don’t take up 3/4 of a pack!

I have to admit, in our year on the road we’ve tried them all at various stages. We set out with an iPhone and iPod but lost an iPod along the way so decided to purchase cheap chinese consoles each for Christmas. After more research we changed our minds into getting a PSP, then a DSi. Along the way we gave each one a good test run.

Imitation Chinese PSPs ?

Pros – The fake Chinese versions are fantastic – they’re cheap, play a lot of games (although usually older Gameboy style games), movies and music. Most have a camera and can be hacked.

Cons – They break easily and you can’t buy replacement parts. It’s also easy to accidentally set them back into Mandarin. It’s easy enough to change the language, but it can be annoying if your 3 year old constantly keeps doing it!

Sony PSP

Pros – Big screens with fabulous graphics, play movies in a wide variety of formats.

Cons – The battery life on them is terrible. Generally your lucky to get 2 hours out of them. The newer model also can’t be hacked. Games for the PSP are generally aimed at older children, so it might not be suitable for younger users. 

Nintendo DSi

Pros – great battery life (8hrs+), have a lot of educational games available and games suited for younger users.

Cons – the graphics card isn’t that good and you can’t play movies on them (unless you purchase a ??? card). While the games are more geared towards younger children, most are still too hard for the under 3’s. 

And the winner is – the Apple iPhone/iPod

The iPhone and iPod honestly beat the other options hands down. Below is our list of 8 reasons why the iphone/ipod makes a perfect travel accessory for kids.

  1. There are thousands of free and inexpensive (less than US$2) games designed for children of all ages. We love this because we can buy new games for the kids every week without costing us a fortune. It makes a long flight or bus ride a lot easier if you can buy a couple of new games before every trip to occupy the children.
  2. From letter tracing and phonics to sight-words to fun books to information series on Dinosaurs – there are hundreds of fun educational games to help make homeschooling on the road fun and easy.
  3. Unlike with DSi’s and PSP’s, the under 3 age group is very well catered for in the App Store, with a huge range of fun and educational games available.
  4. iPod’s and iPhone’s are small. They fit into backpacks and pockets easily.
  5. They play movies and music. OK so the downside is they only play iTunes format but if your travelling with a laptop iTunes makes it very easy to buy new movies or even copy bought DVD’s onto the iPod/iPhone. With a program like HandBrake you can even copy the DVD’s that you buy very cheaply at the markets all through Asia (for example).
  6. The battery lasts for hours and hours.
  7. iPods/iPhones have the ability to charge through a USB port, which is perfect now that a lot of international flights and long-haul trains have USB ports built into their chairs. You can also buy USB battery packs that extend the life of your iPod/iPhones battery by another two hours. We no longer have to worry about the batteries running out halfway into a 10hr flight.
  8. Games can be loaded onto multiple iPhones/iPods. If you purchase a game through the AppStore you can load it onto all your iPod/iPhone’s. This saves a lot of fights if both kids can play the same game at the same time!
  9. iPods/iPhones have built in WIFI so if you can manage to steal them from the kids for long enough, you can check your emails if you’re in a cafe that has wifi.

So there is 9 great reasons why the iPod Touch and the iPhone are great travel companions when you are travelling with children. Of course the new iPad is even better still but it’s a lot more expensive than a second hand iPod!

iPhone 4 Bumper + Universal Dock w/ DIY Adapter

burning man suitcase: 99% packed!

When we first started planning our round the world trip in 2009, I spent hours scanning the internet for lists of ‘essential things to pack’ developed by experienced travellers. I ended up completely overwhelmed by the list after list of supposedly essential items that we needed to bring. Our medical kit alone would take up half a pack if we packed everything the lists were recommending. We’d made a commitment to travel light – just one 55L pack on wheels and two 40L packs, as well as a laptop/camera bag (that admittedly is heavier than our other packs combined). How on earth were we going to fit in everything the lists were telling us we should be packing?

Over a year of travel we still don’t have all the answers. Each time we pack and move location we find something else in our packs that we haven’t used in months or acquire some new seemingly ‘necessary’ item that we usually find in the bottom of the pack three months later forgotten after the first week. Everyone travels differently and obviously our IT requirements are different to other travellers as we are working while we travel, but those things aside … after a year on the road on the road we can share what we found to be useless space fillers that collected dust and weighed down our packs. 

1. Travel towels for everyone

For 6 months we carted 4 travel towels similar to these and never used them. Not once! 

OK I lie – we used the kids travel towels twice when they went swimming and the hotel towels were all wet. We’ve never used the adult towels. The kid sized towels have also been handy for stuffing around delicate camera equipment if we have the camera in our daypack rather than lugging around a camera bag. But we could just as easily have used clothes for padding. 

Most places that you stay supply you with enough towels that you will never need travel towels. Even most cheap hostels supply towels these days. We’ve now sent our two larger travel towels home and just kept the kids ones as they take up almost no room and are occasionally handy. If and when these need replacing we’ll most likely buy a sarong.

2. Mosquito nets

Before leaving Australia we splurged on two travel mosquito nets from specialty travel stores that hang from a hook on the roof. We thought these were a must have for travelling in tropical countries, especially given that our son is allergic to mosquitoes. 

We used them once. And this time I do mean once.

Ninety percent of the time we have stayed in rooms with air conditioning that were mosquito proof. Frankly AC just makes life easier when you’re travelling with young kids and in most places that we travelled it was only $3 extra a night to have air-con. When we did stay in a non-AC room or one that had holes in the screens and walls big enough to let even birds in, there was never any hook, nail, light or fixture to hang the mosquito net off anyway.

Unless you’re really roughing it and staying in $6 a night huts on the beach, often the non-AC rooms have mosquito nets anyway.

We’re not saying a mosquito net isn’t useful. In some areas they’re a must. Its just the ones that you have to hang from a hook that are often more effort than they are worth.

You can buy pop up mosquito nets but good luck fitting one of these in a pack. If someone could invent a compact pop up mosquito net that isn’t the size of a tractor tyre I’d buy one in an instant. We ended up ditching the expensive travel mosquito nets we’d bought from a specialty travel store back home and bought peapod tents as even with the mattress they’re smaller than a pop up mosquito net.

Our advice is even if you think you’re going to rough it more than we did, wait until you’re on the road and see how you’re going to travel before buying mosquito nets. You’ll probably find that almost every place you need a mosquito net has one available for you to use. And as I said, we had every intention of sleeping in the cheapest bungalows we could find but with little kids and the heat in Asia it just never seemed worth it to have a sleepless night to save a few dollars.

Mosquito bite

3. Backpacks on Wheels

Packs with wheels are the best invention ever for travel with small kids. But backpacks on wheels are a complete waste of money.

Honestly, I have no idea what we were thinking when we got those. “Oh they’ll be handy if we’re need to put them on our back rather than wheel them”. Yeah right. if you have the option of wheeling a heavy pack or putting it on your back, what are you going to choose? And aren’t you going to have a daypack on anyway. So where is that backpack with wheels going to go?

The backpack straps and frame add extra weight that you’ll need when you’re trying to cram everyone’s gear in and keep it under budget airline weight limits.

Our advice – go for a backpack or a wheeled bag but not a wheeled backpack.

It’s worth noting that many families travelling with older children swear by having one small backpack per person (even the children). But for travel with kids under 6 who are too young to reliably carry their own packs, we think packs with wheels are fantastic. When you’re in the middle of peak hour in a busy Asian city trying to cross three main roads to get to a train station with all you’re gear, its only a matter of time before one of the kids trips over, their backpack gets too heavy for them or little legs get tired and you have to carry a child. Not an easy task if you’re already carrying a pack in your arms or on your back, and suddenly have to juggle a child and their pack. Wheeled packs that just the adults carry are fantastic.

armenian street

4. An extensive medical kit that covers every ‘just in case’ sitation.

Unless your heading into rural Laos or hiking in Tibet, pharmacies in almost every country that you will visit will be easy to find and amazingly well stocked. We left Australia with a medical kit designed to cover every just if situation we could think of in case we couldn’t find it the supplies we needed overseas. But the truth is it’s often easier to get medications overseas than it is at home. For instance in Asia we found there are more pharmacies, they’re open longer hours, products are cheaper and most things are available over the counter rather than on scripts provided you have a valid reason for needing the medication.

Medical kits are very important. Just don’t go overboard with ‘just in case’ items like triangle bandages and metres of gauze that you will cart around for months just in the off chance that someone injures themselves. Because more than likely in the rare event that an injury that is too serious for bandaids does occur, you’ll be near a pharmacy anyway or some amazingly kind local person will offer to jump on his bike and get what you need from the nearest pharmacy three towns away.

Bring the essentials you know you’ll need for minor first aid like bandaids and antiseptics, plus any medications you’ll need for yourself and the kids in the events of colds, allergies, migraines or travel sickness, but the rest you should be able to buy when you need it. You can always stock up before heading on that hike in South America or Tibet!

If you find yourself thinking ‘I might need this’… chances are you will but it won’t be for another five months and you’ll just be carrying it around for all that time for nothing. And of course if you’re heading into more remote areas stock up over here right before you go, rather than lugging those ‘just in case’ items around for months.

5. Makeup

I rarely wear makeup back home in Australia so I have no idea why I packed a makeup bag. I just couldn’t leave home without it just in case we found a baby sitter one night and wanted a special night out. We’ve had quite a few nights out while the kids were left with friends or babysitter. Guess how many times I’ve worn makeup? Once.

Let’s face it – when you’ve only got travel clothes to wear out and sensible shoes, makeup just seems out of place. A moisturiser with foundation, mascara and lip gloss are worth packing, but leave the rest at home with all your other junk and embrace not being a slave to one of societies ridiculous customs!

Seeing Is Believing

When preparing for our first overseas family holiday in 2009 (when the children were 3 years and 1 year old) one of our biggest packing dilemmas was what toys to take for our two children. In 2010 we faced an even bigger dilemma – what toys to take on the road for the next twelve months as we backpacked around Asia. It was really hard to decide what toys that would keep them occupied, that they wouldn’t get tired of too easily, didn’t have too many pieces that would get lost and didn’t take up too much room in the packs. Looking at the mountain of toys in our house we were certain the kids were going to go insane with only a couple of toys each to play with.

A few months into the trip we realised the kids didn’t really want or need that many toys while we were travelling. We’re always exploring or visiting new places, staying somewhere new. Provided there’s a laptop for movies and a few toys to play with during rest time, you really don’t need that many toys on the road. 

TIPS FOR CHOOSING TOYS

The best travel toys are quiet, compact, inexpensive, can be used for a variety of games, and do not have a lot of parts that can get lost. The last thing you want is a vital piece of a toy to go missing one day into a trip or to spend the entire flight retrieving toys from under seats. Dinosaurs, small plastic farm animals, little babies or dolls with a few accessories and matchbox cars are perfect. 

If your children aren’t seasoned travellers or your embarking on a long haul trip it’s well worth buying some new toys especially for the flight. You don’t need to spend a lot of money – some brand new pencils and a toy car will do the trick. For extra milage wrap any new toys or make little present bags that children can choose one thing out of every hour.

DON’T GO OVERBOARD

Kids need surprisingly few toys on the road.

Although, make sure you leave enough space in your packs to bring home any toys you might buy during your holiday. Travelling with your children is a wonderful chance to introduce them to different toys from around the world. And often more simple hand made toys that will last longer and promote imaginative play.

Based on our own experiences and speaking with other travelling families, here’s our list of toys to consider packing.

COLOURING SUPPLIES

Crayons, pencils, notebooks, colouring books, stickers, sticky tape, water paints, glue and safety scissors are the ultimate travel toy. They’re easy to pack, cheap to replace if lost, can be played with anywhere and have a 101 uses. These items have become our children’s favourite toy on the road. They spend more time colouring, sticking and cutting than playing with any other toy. Paint with water books are great to travel with as they’re almost mess free… apart from the occasional spilt pot of water. Aquadoodle and WOW have a great range of small travel accessories, including books with pages that are colourless until water is applied. As the page dries, the colours disappear ready to be painted again and again. Craft and colouring supplies are usually quite cheap, particularly in Asia, so it’s easy to buy a new notebook and special pen before every bus or plane trip. If your child enjoys drawing, a new colourful pen and a notebook will be the highlight of their flight or bus ride.

COLLAPSABLE BUCKETS

Camping stores often stock foldable buckets that perfect for collapsing into packs and bringing out when the children are bored. If you’re at the beach, bucket are of course the perfect toy. Even without a beach, so long as you have access to a balcony, garden or bathtub, a bucket and water can keep young children occupied for hours. Paint footpaths or garden beds with water and a paintbrush, use empty cups or water bottles for pouring games, see what toys can float or create a garden soup from the plants around your room. Buckets can also become houses for toys, a bed for dolls, helmets or princess crowns during dress-ups, a home for caterpillars or snails … the options are endless.

A COMFORTER OR FAVOURITE TOY

For younger children especially its often a good idea to bring any attachment toys (cuddlies) with you. Of course this raises the issue of what to do if it gets lost? Honestly if you’re on the road for more than a few weeks and your child insists on bringing that toy with them everywhere they go, it’s going to get lost. As much as possible, insist that favourite toys stay in your hotel or hostel room. If they have to come with you, try to keep them in your backpack whenever you are somewhere your child might put it down and forget about them. Taxis or public buses are the worst. We’ve lost more toys in taxis and public buses than anywhere else as we’re usually in a rush to get out. If you loose a toy in a taxi or bus you really have no chance of ever finding it again.

If your child is especially attached, buy a duplicate and leave it at home. That way if the original gets lost, then you can always fake a call from Grandma saying the toy has found its way home somehow. Our daughter has a favourite baby doll that she’s very attached too, particularly when we first started travelling. We’re onto the fourth doll now. Two permanently lost in taxis and one somewhere in the streets of Vientiane in Laos. Luckly for us our daughter is happy to replace her baby but its turned out to be an expensive exercise to replace them. It can also be really hard to find a suitable replacement. In some countries, like Laos, doll’s aren’t commonly sold. She now stays in the room or in a pack on travel days.

CARDS

A pack of cards is a very useful thing to have when your out to dinner with tired kids and the meals that you’ve ordered are taking a long time to come. With practice and some initial help, our daughter quickly mastered Uno, snap, go fish and memory before she turned three. At 5 years of age our son is a pretty good poker player and uses the cards to practice his addition! Even if your child is too young to learn games, a set of card can be used to practice their sorting or numbers. Our children will happily spend twenty minutes sorting all the cards into their suits, then arranging them from 1-10 (for our youngest we tend to take out the Jack, Queen and King to make things simpler when sorting).

A DOCTORS SET

A toy doctor’s set is the perfect toy for when Mum or Dad is tired and just wants to lay down in the hotel room but the kids have other ideas. Volunteer to be the patient and you can have your rest while the kids pod, proke and wrap you up. Include some bandaids and an old bandage – then you have the perfect excuse to snooze as obviously mummy is too sick to get up if her leg is wrapped up and she has bandaids on her tummy. And of course if someone actually gets sick on your holiday the children can pretend to look after them.

LEGO, MECCANO etc

For older children lego or construction toys like MagNext or Meccano are wonderful. Who know’s, they might even get creative and start reproducing famous landmarks they encounter on their travels! It’s usually best to stick with general sets or have multiples of pieces in case pieces get lost. There’s nothing worse than having a specific set of lego that makes a great race car only to find you’ve lost that one special wheel that the whole design relies on. 

Lego Taj Mahal

IPHONES/IPODS/IPAD

OK they’re not really a toy but if you are travelling with young kids, an iPhone, iPad or iPod is definitely something we’d recommend. They have been a lifesaver on this trip. They are perfect for entertaining children on planes or long car/bus journeys. Not to mention the number of times we’ve been stuck in a ticketing office trying to book or amend bus/plane tickets and we need the kids to just entertain themselves quietly while we sort out tickets. There are a wide range of free and paid applications out there that even our 2 year old has no problems playing by herself. Even the paid games are usually under $5 each. Much cheaper than buying games for a Nintendo DS or other kids gaming console. There are some wonderful educational applications that you can include in your child’s schooling while you travel. Our children regularly play colouring games, learn their alphabet, do dot-to-dot puzzles, solve simple maths problems, read books, learn about dinosaurs and other animals and practice their sight words on the IPOD/IPHONE. Apple has recently added a KIDS GAMES section to their app store so finding the games is easy. Gaming consoles like the DS are great for older children, but for younger kids the simple games that are available for the iPod/iPhone/iPad are perfect. Its also a bonus that the iPod/iPhone/iPad can be used by adults to check emails whenever you have a wifi connection and can be loaded with movies for once the kids have gone to bed.

Syringe

‘Do I vacinate my children?’ is a common question that parents ask before going on a family holiday, especially to less developed countries. If you’re heading to a tropical country with your children you’ve probably considered the issue of taking anti-malarials as well. On short term holidays with young children, its unlikely that they’re going to be exposed to too many nasty illnesses but its always worth consulting your family GP to get the best advice. But if you’re travelling long term through multiple countries and regions, with varying levels of development and sanitation, possibly trekking through mosquito filled jungles and eating and drinking what the locals do, your family GP might not have the experience to answer your questions accurately.

See a Travel Doctor

If you are planning on taking an extended family vacation through multiple countries, it’s worth spending the money on visiting a specialist travel doctor for at least a consultation to get the most accurate advice.

Most large cities have a Travel Clinic that specialises with providing advice for travellers. Comparing the advice our GP had given us for our big trip against the travel doctors advice, I have no hesitation in recommending visiting a travel doctor to anyone travelling long term. Visiting a travel doctor is obviously more expensive than your regular GP so if money is an issue, it may be worth investigating if travel clinics in your first overseas destination are cheaper and reputable.

Vaccinations take time

Leave yourself at least a month for vaccinations, preferably two months. If anyone in your family requires hepatitis shots, you may need to start the vaccination process 6 months out form your trip, although don’t worry if you don’t think of it in time – you can always get the last needle on the road.

What we were vaccinated against

Given that most of our time was going to be spent in less developed tropical countries, our travel doctor advised us to be vaccinated against typhoid, rabies, polio and hepatitis. Colin and I also had MMR, tetnus boosters, diptheria, whooping cough, a flu shot and cholera/e coli. The kids didn’t need a lot of these as they had had them in their routine vaccinations, and others we were advised against giving to the kids because of lack of research on the effects of these vaccines in children. 

Obviously every ones trip is different and medicines are constantly changing so don’t go by our list of vaccinations. Seek your own advice. We’ve recently been informed that many people are now being advised to get the Japanese Encephalitis shot for South East Asia. When we got ours this wasn’t recommended so things are constantly changing. 

We had around 8 needles each over a month. OUCH! The kids were troopers though. I think it helped getting the needles at a travel doctors as all the nurse do all day is give injections. With such experience the needles didn’t even hurt… well apart from the typhoid! Leave that one till last!

It’s going to cost how much???

Getting vaccinated wasn’t cheap. We actually spent more in vaccinations than on our flights to Asia. All up we spent around $2000AUD for a family of four. That’s a big dint in your holiday budget!

If you have health insurance or extras its worth checking if they cover any of it. Also check your level of cover – its worth upgrading just for a few months just to get a higher percentage of your vaccinations covered. Our extra’s cover and the Australian Medicare system covered roughly half the cost of our vaccinations.

One thing to consider is many popular tourist countries, like Thailand, have international travel clinics that offer vaccinations at a fraction of the cost you’ll pay back home. It may be worth getting at least some of your needles whilst on the road to save money. 

Why did we vaccinate against rabies?

The three rabies needles were the most expensive, almost $1000AUD in total. We almost didn’t get this vaccination simply because of the cost but ended up deciding to for the following reasons:

  • Most animals think they are above young children in the pecking order, so a child’s chances of getting bitten by a rabid animal though slim is greater than an adults. If we were just on a two week holiday, the chances of the children getting bitten are so infinitely small we wouldn’t have bothered. But travelling for several years through Bali, Cambodia and Southern America… well the chances are a lot higher. Having spent some time in rural Cambodia and Bali where dogs outnumber people and roam free in packs at night, we’re really glad we did.
  • There’s no evidence of side effects in children
  • Do you have any idea what happens if you get bitten while unvaccinated? We were shocked to find out you actually require 5-7 needles. At the time that we were vaccinated this also included getting a needle into the wound site. Can you imagine holding down a 3 year old and explaining that the doctor now has to stick a needle into the big bleeding doggy bite on her arm? Seriously, its hard enough to convince a sobbing toddler to put a bandaid on their knee, let alone sell the idea of a needle into a wound. Thankfully that doesn’t seem to be the case any more.
  • The right vaccine can be hard to find overseas if you do get bitten. Several years ago we had a non-vaccinated friend get bitten in a small country town in South America and he had to spend three days on buses and a short flight on a tiny plane to get to the nearest hospital that had the right vaccines. Three days on local buses with children in tow while you are worried that they might have caught rabies … no thanks. I think that would be enough to see us give up travel, cash in any remaining frequent flyer points and airport parking coupons we can find to get someone deliver a car to us so we don’t have to catch a bus for at least 12 months and hightail it home.

Malaria tables on an extended trip

Malaria tablets are one thing that seems to divide travellers down the middle. Some people refuse to leave home without them, others won’t touch them due to the common side effect of feeling like utter crap for your entire trip and risk malaria or simply avoid countries where it is prevalent.

After some debate we decided not to take daily anti-malaria tablets. This was for a number of reasons:

  • Firstly, we’re not planning on going into any remote areas where malaria is real a problem. Most of the time we’ll be in cities and tourist beach areas. Getting into more remote places is harder with little kids. If we do go into areas where malaria is a big problem then we’ll just start taking the tablets to just cover ourselves for that period. But most of the time we sensibly avoid areas that have a high malaria alert.
  • Secondly, if we wanted to completely cover ourselves against malaria on a 12+month trip around Asia in countries that all have some level of risk, we would have to be taking anti-malaria tablets for pretty much the entire time. We just didn’t have enough information on what the side effects would be on the kids of taking the tablets for that long.
  • Thirdly, malaria tablets are really, really expensive!

Our travel doctor advised us that she felt it would be better to just carry anti-malaria tablets with us at all times and try not to get bitten. Which we do anyway since Noah is allergic to mosquitoes. So we have three days supply of tablets for each of us and have researched which countries in Asia its possible to buy more in if needed. A lot of countries in Asia don’t routinely sell anti-malaria tablets, but it is possible to buy them if you are a foreigner and show you have tickets to an area that is affected. If we go into a risky area we have the tablets with us and can decide to start taking them. And if anyone starts showing symptoms we’re to start taking the tablets immediately and head to the nearest hospital.

And a quick tip to others – if you are planning on purchasing malaria tablets for your holiday, make sure you don’t leave it until the last minute. Most chemists need to order them in specifically and it can take a couple of days. We learnt that the hard way, but luckily Colin had to go back to Australia on business and he purchased ours then.