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May 2012

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I didn’t get to travel much as a child.

My father was a dentist and lost revenue every time he closed his office, and we spent our few holidays at my grandparents’ cottage. (If that sounds affluent, picture a one-bedroom cabin with no running water that my great-grandfather built with reclaimed lumber after WWII.)

My parents didn’t seem to share my yen for new and interesting places, so I satisfied my wanderlust at the library instead. I knew Holland from Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates and the Channel Islands of California from Island of the Blue Dolphins and the Canadian north from Lost in the Barrens. I had to wait until I was in my early twenties before I could travel under my own steam. In fact, the first big adventure was a two-week honeymoon in Newfoundland with my husband, Shawn. I loved every minute (okay, not the minute we discovered that our camera had ruined a whole roll of film!) and from then on we took as many trips as we could.

My daughter and son, aged six and four, have had a much different childhood when it comes to travel. Lia and Nico were both born in China, so our life together began on these adoption trips, in buses and airplanes, with sightseeing visits to ancient villages, restaurant meals, hotel beds, and climbs on the Great Wall.

We continued the expeditions with family visits and summer vacations, and a three-month stint in Beijing when Shawn was on parental leave with Nico. And through it all, we conspired to make the travel lifestyle a more permanent thing. We loved what it did for our relationships, our learning, and our creativity, and we knew the kids would get untold benefits from the opportunities that travel presents.

Almost a year ago now, we sold our house in Ottawa and began a more mobile life that has taken us around the world. I was really curious to see how this adventure that we call Operation Hejira would affect our children, and I have two stories that illustrate the kinds of changes that have come about because we jumped into a life of travel with both feet.

Lia Learns Mandarin

We chose Malaysia as our home base for much of the year, partly because there is a sizeable Chinese population there and Mandarin is taught in many schools. We want Lia and Nico to be able to read and speak the language of their first country, and we found a private preschool that had lessons in three languages (English, Mandarin, and Bahasa Malaysian) as well as math, science, and morals. (Yes, we have Colin and Tracy to thank for extolling the virtues of Penang!)

We were a little slow off the draw in getting Lia up to speed with Mandarin. For the first two months of school, she mainly sat and listened during Chinese lessons, since her five-year-old classmates were already ahead of her in speaking and writing characters. In December, we met with her teachers and arranged for her to begin tutoring twice a week.

We were astonished and delighted with what unfolded as Lia began picking up the language. It didn’t hurt that she adored her kind and pretty Chinese teacher, who gave her presents and called her clever. We saw Lia’s progress through little windows – the characters she practiced in her notebooks, the textbooks she brought home to read, the phrases she started to work into conversation.

The first time I heard her rattle through an entire story in Mandarin, I got tears in my eyes. Her face beamed with excitement when she brought home her own copies of her school books to keep, and she insisted on bringing them to the playground and out for dinner. I watched her pen fly across her notebook, hardly hesitating over the many strokes in dozens of characters.

We took a short trip to China at the end of March, which seemed to make clear to Lia how important the Mandarin language is if she wants to spend time in China. We had to rely completely on our guide and translator to help us navigate and have conversations with the people we visited. The director of the social welfare institute where Lia was cared for before her adoption was very pleased with her abilities, and when we visited a village school, the students shouted out the characters that Lia wrote on the board. I believe that all of these experiences have only increased her motivation to learn.

Could we have found this kind of Mandarin education for Lia in Ottawa? Probably not – there are no Mandarin immersion schools there, so she would have had to make do with private tutoring and Saturday morning language classes. She wouldn’t have been able to attend a school with a majority of Chinese teachers and students. And she wouldn’t see Mandarin characters everywhere on shop signs, packaging, and menus.

Nico Learns to Swim

Another big attraction in Malaysia was year-round summer weather and a swimming pool! After enduring too many biting Canadian winters (Ottawa is the third-coldest capital in the world, after capitals in Mongolia and Kazakhstan), we were ready for sunshine and heat.

Nico has never been a fan of water – as a toddler he let out an ear-splitting shriek whenever his toes touched the bath. Swimming lessons at age two were okay, but he spent most of the time clinging to my body like a monkey. By age three, he was willing to wade and putter around, but heaven forbid if any drop of water touched his face.

When we were looking at apartments in Penang, the attractiveness of the pool ranked high on our list of criteria. We chose a complex that had a lovely recreation area, with a water slide, several smaller shallow areas for kids, and a large deep pool for laps and horseplay.

We soon fell into a routine: the children went to school every morning and came home after lunch. They had quiet time in their rooms, and then we suited up for swimming. Whereas a trip to the pool in Ottawa was a tiring hours-long excursion, this was a quick refreshing dip, as easy as going downstairs in the elevator.

The beauty of this routine was that we didn’t have to push either kid to progress. We had an abundance of time for Nico to get acclimatized at his own pace. Swimming with his sister and other older children gave him the incentive to try new things when he was ready, but there was always something fun to occupy him: a flutterboard, a floating ring, a ball. We found a comfy swimming vest for him and he could pool-hop wherever he pleased. He slowly got more brave about putting his face in the water.

The transformative moment happened in January when we bought Nico goggles and ear plugs. Suddenly, going under the surface felt safe and exciting for him. During that first session, I held his hips and swooshed him through the water like a dolphin, and each time he would come up and demand, “Again! Again!” Returning to the baby pool, he plunged in with abandon and came up with a grin of joy and accomplishment. For the first time, he would beg to go swimming as soon as he got home from school.

Just before we left Penang in April, another breakthrough: Nico went down the water slide for the first time. He’d been watching from the sidelines for months, and every so often we would ask if he wanted to go, but he always shook his head and went back to his games. On the momentous day, Shawn encouraged him to slide halfway down and he realized, hey, this is fun, I can do it! He quickly made his way to top and barrelled down, radiant with pride that he was finally one of the big kids.

By the time we left, Nico was swimming on his own underwater, sans goggles and ear plugs, at age four. What a transformation from the boy who screamed in the shower!

Of course, Nico could have learned to swim in Ottawa at the community pool. But it would have been a much more miserable process, given the difficulties of getting to the pool and the slow progress of once-a-week lessons instead of everyday playtime.

What these two stories have in common for me is that they involve easy immersion: taking away the barriers to an activity and making it a significant and natural part of daily life. Sometimes travel is the best way to get easy immersion, particularly in languages, sports, and culture. And travel automatically includes easy immersion in the practice of flexibility, adventure, and making new friends.

Did I miss out by not travelling as a kid? Perhaps, although I found other things to immerse myself in – reading, music lessons, needlepoint. But I love that my children get to cultivate their wanderlust in the real world and not just on the page.

 

Alison Gresik is the author of Pilgrimage of Desire: An Explorer’s Intimate Journal of Art and Flow as a Way of Life. You can read an excerpt of this travel memoir and back the project’s fundraising campaign on Indiegogo before June 6. She also coaches writers and artists who are prone to depression and want to make their art more of a priority. She and her husband blog about their journey as a famiy and their travels at Many Lives.

Guest blogger and mum of two boys aged three and 18 months, Tamsin McCahill recently went on a family holiday to Dubai.

With its luxury hotels, designer shopping and expensive bars, Dubai has become synonymous with all things glitzy and glamorous. Sadly, none of this impresses the kids all that much. Luckily there are plenty of things in Dubai for all the family to enjoy, and you don’t need a millionaire’s budget to do them, either. Here’s a round-up of some free (or at least very, very cheap!) things to do in Dubai with the kids.

  • Beach

    Children like nothing more than a sandy stretch of beach and some water to paddle in. Thankfully, Dubai has both in abundance with some fine white sand for the most perfect of sandcastles and some beautifully warm turquoise waters. Many hotels have their own section of beach complete with loungers and umbrellas, but the public beaches, such as Russian Beach or Kite Beach are all equally lovely, although they do have fewer facilities (and virtually no shade).

    Far better, particularly if you were thinking of spending the whole day there, is to go to a beach park. These have sunloungers, shades and even lifeguards for extra peace of mind. At Jumeirah Beach Park, a measly 5AED (about 80p) gets you access to a great stretch of beach backed by shady, landscaped gardens complete with a large children’s playground, barbecue areas and cafes. Just remember that Mondays are ladies day, when only women and children are welcome.

  • Strolling

    Visit the country in the cooler months and a walk outside is perfectly possible – and can be very pleasant, providing you avoid the fume-filled seven lane super highways. The Dubai Marina Walk is a completely car-free stretch which is mostly shaded by all the humongous buildings that surround it. The promenade takes you past lots of al fresco coffee shops where you can enjoy a drink while you covet all the luxury yachts moored there.

    Then there’s The Walk at the Jumeirah Beach Residence, a 1.7km promenade which runs parallel to the sand, known for its boutique shops and outdoor restaurants. Whether in their large SUVs or just on foot, the locals come here to see and be seen, making it the perfect place for a spot of people-watching as you stroll, preferably while clutching a large ice cream. Souks – For a walk that’s a feast for all your senses, take a trip to the souks – there’s a gold, textile, spice souk and more. Here the whole family can shop for souvenirs to take home – and hopefully the presence of your cute kids will help increase your bargaining power.

  • Dancing fountains

    Located outside the Dubai Mall, this is a must-see attraction, and it’s free. One of the kitschest things you’ll probably experience in your life, these jets shoot water 150 metres into the air and it’s all carefully choreographed with coloured lights and a great soundtrack which changes every day (when we went, it began with Michael Jackson’s Thriller). Here’s a tip – don’t even mention it to the kids. Just go for a meal at one of the outdoor restaurants that surround it and watch their faces as the display starts. Priceless! Aquarium – Also located at the Dubai Mall is the Aquarium and Underwater Zoo, which really is worth going to with its giant crabs and penguins. It costs just AED 50 to enter (which is only £8), but there are also some spectacular tanks at the entrance which you can gawp at (and take photos of) for free.

  • Ski Dubai Snow Park

    A snow-filled ski park? Complete with ski runs and toboggan slides? In the middle of a Dubai Emirates Mall? This really is something you have to see with your own eyes. And as it’s completely glass covered, you can look all you like without it costing a penny. For the price of a hot chocolate at the Costa that overlooks it you can even watch the giant penguins being fed. However it would take some very strong parents not to let your kids have a go. Go on, you only live once! Entrance fee is AED 110 for children, 120 for adults (about £20).

Getting there: Virgin Atlantic offers frequent flights to Dubai from London.

Contrary to popular belief, a Disney cruise isn’t just for kids. There are plenty of adults that love Disney and will enjoy a Disney cruise, but even if you aren’t a Disney fanatic it can still be an amazing family holiday. Disney knows how to take care of the adults on board, and has certain areas or events that are just for them. If you’re going to be cruising with kids, here are some of the top places and things to check out on your Disney cruise ship:

  1. The Spa

    If relaxing is what you look forward to most while on holiday, then be sure to check out the on board spa. A variety of treatments are available, including massages, facials, manicures, and more. There is also a fitness centre on most ships, where you can make use of treadmills, weights, and other equipment. Sometimes there are even classes held for aerobics, golf, and other activities.

  2. Palo

    On board some Disney ships there are adult-only dining rooms, such as Palo on the Disney Magic. You must be 18 or older to eat here, and reservations are required as well as an additional fee. However, the atmosphere and the food make it all worth it. If you’re looking for a romantic evening with a significant other or just a true fine dining experience, you’ll find it here.

  3. Adults-only Pools

    Many of the Disney ships have an adults-only pool, such as the Quiet Cove Pool on the Disney Magic. It is a quieter, more calm environment if you’re looking for a quick swim or to simply sit in a chair and relax poolside. There are usually whirlpool and hot tubs to be found in the area as well.

  4. Nightclubs and Lounges

    Though many of these venues are open to everyone during the day for a variety of different activities, at night they become more exclusive to just adults. There are a variety of different places to check out, whether you’re looking for a sports bar to catch the game, a classy bar for a good drink, or a happening night club with a great dance floor.

  5. Art Gallery

    The art gallery is not strictly limited to adults, but you won’t find many children around here most of the time. You can go to just take a look and check out the art that’s available, or you can go to place a bid or make a purchase.

  6. Trivia, Classes, and More

    During the day a variety of activities are offered, including many that are for adults only or appeal mostly to adults. You might be able to do a wine tasting, play beer trivia, or learn some cooking techniques from the Disney chefs.

My name is Colin Burns and I am a reluctant home schooler. 

Our son, Noah is turning 7 next month. In Australia his peers would be right in the middle of year 2. For the past 12-18 months we have been homeschooling him and our 5 year of daughter and although they are both very capable children and learn quickly I would never have considered homeschooling if it wasn’t for our lifestyle. I am a reluctant homeschooler.

Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not writing this to say that homeschooling is wrong or detrimental to your children. Having done homeschooling for the past year and a half we’ve certainly discovered the benefits of it for each of our children. 

I’m here to say that if our lifestyle allowed we would 100% send our children to school. 

Before we started travelling we had never considered homeschooling. If we were still living our old lifestyle we would have sent our children to a traditional school and we probably wouldn’t have even thought about homeschooling as an option even if things weren’t working until other avenues had been explored.

It simply wasn’t on our radar. We started homeschooling as a consequence of our lifestyle choices.

Observation drawing time

We loved our time at School

Tracy and I both had wonderful schooling experiences. Apart from the occasional suspension and more than a few detentions (I’ll let you guess who), Tracy and I both enjoyed all facets of traditional schooling. I was heavily involved in any (and almost every) sport the school offered. I loved the daily interactions I had with my school mates and even some of the interactions with the teachers. Classes were often boring, but the time before school each day, lunch-times and weekends were fantastic. 

I am sure that Tracy would write something relatively similar, but hers might just emphasise how much she loved the classroom time and not so much the lunch-times. You see Tracy was a NERD. She loved Art, Math, Physics and detested Physical Education. She loved school and the teachers loved her. If the makers of “Revenge of the NERDS” had been looking for a female lead in 1994 then I think Tracy would have fit the bill nicely.

Over the past few months our children have been attending an after school gardening program at an international school in Penang. Every time we enter the school and see all the children running around socialising, the content rich classrooms and great sports programs we flash back to our school years and feel a little guilty that our children haven’t had the chance to experience this. Yes we realise school wasn’t all lunchtimes and sport. There were teachers you didn’t like, subjects that bored you and kids that you didn’t get along with. Maybe they’d hate it and we’d end up homeschooling, but my educated guess is that they would love it too.

Time away

We love our children. Spending more time with our children was one of the key reasons we chose to travel at this stage in our lives. And we do that. Everyday we both spend so much more time than we ever did at home. Having that time to spend with them has been priceless.

But when your having a bad week (or month), whether it’s an overload of work, you’re tired or it’s one of those week’s where Tracy seems to have migraines 7 days in a row (aka every second week!), the idea of having some time apart from your children for a few hours each day seems pretty appealing. Happier refreshed parents equals happier kids. I’m not saying we want to send the kids off to boarding school but having 4-5 hours a day without the constant need for our attention would good.

The kids also need time apart from each other. No matter how cool your brother or sister is, everyone needs the occasional break from their sibling(s)!

woah how big was that bird?

Inequal division of labour

To continue travelling we need to work to fund our travels and homeschool the children. And while both Tracy and I would love to give equal attention to both areas it just isn’t possible for us to divide our attentions that way. It all ends up getting done half-arsed. When it comes down to it, for us at least, to do both jobs properly, I need to focus on work and Tracy needs to focus on education. Those are our strengths.

But that also creates other problems. Tracy ends up feeling like she isn’t contributing enough to the relationship in terms of bringing in money, and at times it’s hard not to resent being the only one that’s really focused on work. And I see Tracy getting tired and frustrated with homeschooling and feel guilty for not being able to contribute to the education side of things more, and she ends up getting frustrated at not having more support.

Our Travel Lifestyle dictates that we homeschool

Given our lifestyle where we travel so regularly traditional schooling is impossible to manage even if you have a home base somewhere. We have our home base in Penang and when we returned from Eastern Europe in February we decided that this year would be a year where we spent most of our time this year in Penang. 

We already had a few small trips booked. Five days in Kuching, over on Borneo, then a 3 week trip to Sri Lanka in May (I am writing this on the flight to Sri Lanka). Then all of a sudden we were struct down in a moment of weakness (an AirAsia sale) and all of a sudden we had flights booked to Vietnam for 3 weeks in July/August and the another trip to Laos for 2 weeks in the second half of September. Not to mention the flights back to Australia for 3 weeks before heading over to North America at the end of the year. 

The total costs for all of these flight were less than a $900 for all 4 of us. I am sure you can now see why we were so easily seduced by the AirAsia sales. 

Our quiet year in Penang all of a sudden now looks pretty busy. The longest period of time that we will be in Penang for one stretch is 2 months. That’s the end of this Sri Lankan trip to the time we fly out to Vietnam. Even this 2 month stretch has the possibility of a trip back to Australia to visit Grandparents who aren’t doing all that well health wise. 

All these trips don’t allow for regular school.

Schooling options in Penang

We have investigated traditional schooling options in Penang. Local schools are not an option given we don’t have residency in Malaysia. But there are a number of great international schools. The costs are expensive, but they are something I can live with to provide my children with the same opportunities I had. 

The problem is though, that even if I was willing to pay for schooling, not many schools would accept our children being out for so much of the year. Perhaps if it was in a single block, i.e. we’ll be away for the first semester and back for the whole of the second semester then this might be a possibility, but we are back for a month and then off again.

Even if we were to cancel our trips and stop for a year, the up front costs of enrolling in an international school are scary. We could justify it if we were there for several years, but for just one it’s harder to justify.

Penang butterfly farm

What are our options?

It’s pretty obvious what the logical progression of this is. If we want our children to attend a traditional school then we need to stop travelling so much and find a place that we want to stay in for a minimum of 1 year at a time.

Even then I think this might be unfair to the children to put them in school and then pull them out and make them do it all over again every year. So realistically if we are going to put the kids into a traditional school then we really need to be willing to stay in the one place for a couple of years at least.

Unfortunately stopping for a prolonged period somewhere won’t happen for at least another 12 months if not longer as we already have plans to travel to North America at the end of this year before spending the first quarter of 2013 in a ski resort either in Colorado, or in Eastern Europe depending on what we decide to do for the rest of the year. One of the options is to buy or rent an RV and explore Canada and the United States for the rest of 2013.

Noah, Hayley and daddy

And if we want to keep travelling then we need to embrace homeschooling. Accept that it’s the best option for us and find a way to enjoy educating our children and work out a way that we can all have time apart from each other to pursue our own interests, Mum, Dad and each children all separately. When we’re stopped somewhere the kids can play with different friends or attend different music classes but when you’re travelling it’s a challenge. 

How we achieve that I have no clue. How do you change your mindset to embrace something you never really thought you would be doing and aren’t really sure if it’s the best option for your children. And if we think stopping is the right option, well how do we find the right place?…. 

Full-time homeschooling, full-time travelling and full-time work is a difficult combination to juggle. I just hope I’m not the clown who drops all three.

Let us know if you are in this same situation. How do you feel about it? How do you make the decision to stay or go… We’d love to hear your advice.

A Coastal Road Trip on California’s HWY 1Highway 1 is one of the most beautiful drives in the United States, and if you’re planning a trip to the Pacific Northwest. Start your trip in San Francisco, and spend a few days exploring the city with your family. Look into the Travelers Haven furnished apartments, and eat until bursting from one of the many food trucks in the city.

When you’ve had your fill of San Francisco, drive south on highway 101, until you see the junction for highway 1. I’ve driven this highway from the South, up to San Francisco, but driving from the North, down, will give you more turnout options, and trust me, with this coastal highway, you’ll want to stop and soak in the scenery from time to time.

Highway 1 hugs the California coast. The road winds around cliffs on one side, and ocean waves crash against the shore on the other. Although you can make the drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 8-9 hours, consider taking two days. This will give you a chance to slow down, and enjoy.

  • Monetrey has a fabulous Aquarium, and if you time things, you may arrive in time for the Penguin feeding at 10:30 a.m.!
  • Carmel (Carmel-by-the-sea) is a quaint town, and a good place to pickup some snacks, and items for a picnic lunch.

The drive from Carmel to Plaskett is gorgeous. The road is small and it winds around the cliffs. As you drive there will be several opportunities to pull over, and enjoy the ocean views. Take your time, and enjoy. In summer this road can be quite busy, so sit back, relax, and look for a spot to stop. A picnic lunch on the beach is a great way to relax for an hour or so.

Big Sur is only 17 miles from Plaskett, and a good place to pull over, and find a hotel, or campsite. If it’s still light out, take a small family hike, or look for a local diner, and have some dinner.

The drive from Big Sur to San Simeon will be similar to your first day, but just outside San Simeon is a seal colony, and definitely worth some time. There are quite a few seals in the area, and your kids will love watching them lay on the beach, making fart-like noises, and grunting.

The drive from San Simeon to Los Angeles leaves the coast from time to time, and this is where you’ll drive through bigger towns and cities like Santa Maria and Santa Barbara. Although Los Angeles can be a fascinating city, consider finding a place to stay in Santa Monica. There are some great properties near the beach, and your kids will go crazy for Santa Monica Pier, and the craziness of Venice Beach.

The California coast is beautiful just about any time of year. The key to enjoying this drive is to relax, take time to get out, and explore, and to make it fun for everyone.

England is scandalous, lurid, delicious, and ancient. England is a country steeped in history, from bloody Kings, to holy wars. England is one of those countries where you could spend weeks, or months exploring. In many ways, England was one of the first superpower countries-but don’t tell the English, it may go their head!

A visit to England is full of variety, not just in sites, but in accommodation as well. Spending a week in the Lake District is ideal, and there are some cute, quaint cottages available for rent with Sykes Cottages.

If you want to mix things up a bit, then I suggest splurging on a night (or two) at Thornbury Castle. Yes, you can sleep in a castle! I’ve slept in a couple of castles in Scotland, and although some nights felt eerie, it was a very cool experience. I can almost guarantee your kids will love it (this would be a good time to brandish plastic swords, and have a war in the castle garden).

If your family enjoys the outdoors, consider a camping trip to Northern England. There are quite a few options, and all of them are family friendly. Haddon Grove, in Bakewell is one of those places where you’ll be able to completely unplug, and spend your days outside in the fresh air.

While I dream of visiting Italy, and viewing art first hand, I dream of spending time in England, and delving into its history. I want to visit small cobblestone towns, and wander through the British Museum (I think I would need at least 3 days for this museum). I want to visit Kent, where my family came from, and Liverpool, where they set sail for America, and a new life. I want to see Stonehenge, and look for pieces of Hadrian’s Wall.

But wait, there’s more! These are some of the cool, different, and interesting things to do and see in England.

  • Sutton Hoo – once the home of a Saxon King. It’s said that his gold treasures were hidden from the Nazi’s. You’ll need to go to this town in Suffolk to learn more.
  • Pluckley – this village in Kent is supposedly the most haunted village in England. Depending on the age of your kids, and whether you enjoy a good ghost story, you may want to either visit, or avoid this place.
  • Stonehenge – I don’t think this one needs an explanation.
  • Bramburgh Castle – this castle is in Northumberland may or may not have been the home of King Arthur, and the Knights of the Round Table. Let your kids decide.
  • York Castle – the place where the famous Dick Turpin (Englands most infamous highwayman) was caught, and executed.
  • Jorvik Viking Centre – visit this museum in York, and learn all about the Vikings.
  • Steamboat Ride – take a steamboat boat ride at Coniston Water in the Lake District. It’s not like any steamboat I’ve ever seen!
  • Roald Dahl Museum – if your children enjoy his books, then you really should consider visiting the Roald Dahl Mueseum in Buckinghamshire.

Travel insurance is tricky. Do you buy it before leaving home? Who do you buy from? What kind of international travel insurance is available? You will probably spend days, if not weeks, researching and considering your options-at least you should be. Travel insurance is no laughing matter. You need to know what kind of coverage you want, what the terms and conditions are, and how these things will impact your family as you travel.

Let’s consider some of the pros to buying international travel insurance.

  • If someone in your family gets sick, you’ll be covered.
  • If there is a natural disaster, and you need to get the f-out of the country, you’ll be reimbursed.
  • If a laptop, camera, or other personal item is stolen, you can file a claim, receive some or all of the cost back, and buy new ones. Peace of mind

Naturally, as with all things in life, there are cons to consider as well (this is where hours of research come in).

  • Most insurance companies will deny your claim, if you don’t call them before, you receive medical, or dental care.
  • Most (AMEX is an exception here) require you to pay the costs up front, and they will reimburse you. Note that if you don’t call them first for approval, your claim is void, and you will not be reimbursed.
  • Some insurance companies can be a pain-in-the-arse to deal with, and have immensely annoying customer service agents.

Travel insurance can be tricky. When you’re doing research, make time to read the fine print. You don’t want to jump in with both feet, without reading the details, then find out that you’re hooped, when you really need help.

When you’re buying travel insurance, it’s important to have coverage for the following:

  • Medical – This should cover doctor visits, hospital stays, ambulance services, and drugs.
  • Dental – This should cover emergency dental needs. Read this clause carefully so you know what is classified as an emergency.
  • Trip Cancellation – This should cover the cost of your airline tickets, and any other costs you’ve paid of front, or penalties you may incur, should your trip be cancelled.
  • Lost/Damaged/Stolen Baggage & Personal Effects – Airlines loose baggage from time to time, but they rarely pay for it. This kind of coverage also covers things like stolen cameras, laptops etc.
  • Evacuation – some policies will cover your travel costs, if you need to be evacuated. This may seem like something you’ll never need, until you find yourself in the middle of a political upheaval, or natural disaster, then you’ll be glad you have evacuation coverage.

Read the fine print, shop around, and compare coverage and prices. If you feel lucky, and don’t want to deal with the B.S. that can sometimes happen with insurance companies, make sure you have a slush fund account for emergencies only. Do some research into the costs for the above items, for the countries you’ll be visiting. Bare in mind, if you’re traveling in the U.S.A, I highly recommend buying the insurance. You don’t want a $200,000 medical bill!

Is Finland a little too north for your liking? How about taking your family to the French Alps? Majestic snowcapped mountains. Tall evergreen trees. Snow that sparkles in the sunshine. A crackling fire. Mugs of hot cocoa. Spending time in the French Alps is not only romantic, but it can be a relaxing vacation for the whole family.

When planning a trip to the French Alps, consider bloating your budget for a week or so, and look for luxury ski chalets in France. Consider spending some time exploring places like Fort de la Bastille in Saint-Laurent. While you’re there ride in one of the famous ‘bubbles’ (spherical gondola cabin) to the top of La Bastille and soak in the sweeping winter views.

If you’re looking for a unique dining experience (and a romantic night away from the kids), then visit L’Impossible in Chamonix. This restaurant was originally a barn (circa 1754), and the food is absolutely superb! While you’re in Chamonix, take the kids to Aiguille du Midi, and ride the cable car to the top, where you’ll pass glaciers, and on a clear day you’ll be able to see the Swiss, French, and Italian Alps. After you’re finished soaking in the scenery, why not ski back down!

A small winter road trip through the French Alps is a great away for your family to experience this beautiful part of France. Make stops at museums, and small villages. Stuff yourselves with fresh baguettes, cheese, and wine (for you, not the kids). Take in spectacular mountain views. Stay in chalets, and live life like you’ve never lived it before, and when you need a break, and want to settle down for a few days, check out Meribel luxury ski chalets (purpleski.com), and hit the slopes!

Spend a few days mastering the art of skiing or snowboarding in Meribel, France. Swish down the slopes, and enjoy the fresh air during the day, then have some family fun time in your chalet in the evening. Hopefully all the activity, and fresh air, will wear the kids out, and you and your partner will be able to enjoy some quiet time alone.

Give your kids (and yourself) a chance to catch your breath, and recharge your batteries. Take time to connect with your inner-child, and make a point of playing in the snow. Build snow people, make snow angels, attempt to make your own igloo (remember to use water if the snow is too fluffy). For a special treat, buy some maple syrup and brown sugar, cook it down to a boil, pour it into fresh snow, roll it with clean popsicle sticks, and eat! Homemade maple taffy is to die for.

The French Alps are stunning any time of year, but they seem to sparkle, and seduce more in the winter. It’s a great time to slow down, and absorb your surroundings. If you’re going to blow your travel budget this winter, then blow it in France. The memories are worth the extra money.

Arctic air. Snow. Dense Forest. Igloos. The Northern Lights. Reindeer. These are just a few things that await you, and your family in Finland-one of the most fascinating countries in Europe.

Finding fun, and educational travel options for your family can be a challenge. After all, you want your children to learn something-this is generally why families choose long-term travel vs a standard 2-week family vacation. The trick is finding family activity holidays that everyone will enjoy, and learn from.

Snow Trees Winter Nature Cold
zanna-76 / Pixabay

Scandinavia still has an untouched quality to it, and a visit to Finland should be on every family’s travel itinerary.

  1. The Northern Lights – Finland is probably the best place to see the Northern Lights. Pack a camera, and tripod, make some hot chocolate, grab a blanket for sitting, and plan to spend at least an hour of more staring (and photographing) this natural wonder. Watching the Northern Lights dance, and shimmer across the night sky is a unique experience that your family will never forget.
  2. Stay in an Igloo – If you’ve made the trip to Saariselkä in Northern Finland (in the Arctic Circle) to see the Northern Lights, then you should definitely consider a night in either a glass igloo, or a snow igloo. Not to worry, the igloos are warm, and I don’t know many children who would not be over-the-moon-happy to sleep in one for a night or two.
  3. Reindeer Sleigh Rides – Anyone can go on a horse-drawn sleigh ride, but not many will go on a reindeer sleigh ride. Bundle up, and snuggle together inside a sleigh in Lapland. Listen to the bells around the reindeer’s neck, the crunch of the snow as hooves, and sleigh make a trail through the Finish countryside. Besides, your kids are sure to go gaga if they come across Santa!
  4. Turku – I know, you can’t really do a city, but you should definitely try! Turku is the oldest city in Finland, and home to Turku Castle, the Biological Museum, the Turku Museum of History and Contemporary Art, and more. Plan to spend a few days in Turku, and explore as much of this fascinating city as you can. There are tons of educational opportunities here, and the city is absolutely beautiful.
  5. Craft Museum of Finland – This particular museum is a great place to learn more about the history and culture of Finland. It’s also a great time to pick-up some beautifully hand-stitched souvenirs. When you’re done at the museum, take some time to explore the rest of Jyväskylä, and quiz your kids on what they liked most during their time in Finland.
Hiking Forest Path Nature Trees
zanna-76 / Pixabay

Finland (along with most of Europe) is steeped in culture, art, and history. It’s a cold country in winter, but one of the most beautiful. If you’re thinking of taking a trip to Finland, definitely go in winter (unless you’re allergic to snow), and soak in as much culture, history, art, and scenic landscape as you can.