Thursday, February 24, 2011

Are we there yet? Travel Tips for Big Families Part 1

We were just pulling into the second station with many more stops to come when one of my five year old twins asked that familiar question? 'Are we there yet'. I secretly groaned and said 'Sweetie - we have a long way to go, we are on the way to the airport and then we have to get on the plane and then we have to drive to nana's house. She seemed satisfied with my response and settled back into her seat but just two stops later and still in our local region out popped the same question. It was going to be a long trip!

Traveling with young children and a big family can be quite stressful which is why I want to share some practical tips and advice, much of it gleaned from our recent holiday to New Zealand but I have also traveled long haul by myself with a toddler and enjoyed the experience. Is that possible - even with a 14 hour stopover in transit at a foreign airport - absolutely! But let's start at the beginning. Let's assume you have booked your tickets, organized travel insurance and made your accommodation arrangements.

Before you leave

1. If you are going overseas - check those passports and allow sufficient time to apply for renewals and/or new applications. We not only needed new passports for some family members but also had to apply for NZ citizenship for our children born in Australia. We gave ourselves more than enough time, I had downloaded and printed off all the forms and filled them all in (a marathon in itself!) then discovered that just one week later that new passport application forms had been released superseding the previous forms. Rather than reprint and rewrite all those applications I rang the embassy and asked if they would accept the old forms. They had made allowances for this and said the older forms would be fine if I was posting them soon. Phew! In the end the hardest part was trying to get the children not to smile for their passport photo! Oh and do go to a reputable photo shop - don't use the automatic photo booths, we have had passport photos taken in booths sent back in the past. There are much more stringent requirements for photos now - we also had fringes trimmed before photos were taken.

2. Plan your travel route. How to get to the airport? We were flying out of Sydney - getting to Sydney would be the longest part of the trip for us. We considered all the options and compared the costs. Driving was an option - costs would be in fuel and long term car parking - fairly expensive. Then there was the possibility of breakdowns and traffic hold-ups. The lingering memory of a previous trip when we hit a kangaroo which left us stranded on the Pacific Highway miles from the nearest town, next to mosquito infested swampland. (Just don't ask!) We would be driving through the night again - no this would not be our first choice. We couldn't afford to fly us all and the cost of going by coach was more than double that of the train. This was our choice - more on traveling by train soon. It was err.. interesting.

Don't forget to check all those times and allow yourself enough time to be at the airport for check-in. After disembarking the regional train we would have to catch another train to the airport. A short one way trip of just over 10 minutes - cost for us all $75. Yikes!

3. At home - ask yourself what you want to return to. The joy of returning to home sweet home will be short-lived if everything is a shambles and you have mountains of laundry. So in the week before we left we thoroughly cleaned the house and aimed for empty laundry hampers. Clothes that were going to be packed were set aside. Perishable food was used up or given to the neighbour.

4. Make arrangements for pets, chickens, gardens and mail pick up. We had hoped to find house sitters but this didn't work out so asked our closest neighbour if she would check on the house, feed our dogs, cat and the budgies and ensure our chickens had fresh water and feed. We begged her to take away the eggs and give them to her friends and to help herself to the cucumbers which keep on coming - talk about a glut! She kindly agreed to do this for us - she is an animal lover and we have cultivated a friendship with her over the years. We left contact numbers and ensured everything she would need was handy such as the hose to refill water bowls. We also asked what type of wine she would like us to bring back for her. We were going to New Zealand after all and knew that this would be the gift she would appreciate most.

5. Packing - how much to take? To save money on the cost of airline tickets we deliberately bought some seat only tickets. We chose the seat plus bag option for four people which meant that the younger children would be only taking on hand luggage. We were going to be traveling light! We had no intention of hauling heavy suitcases so purchased lightweight canvas travel bags with wheels and pull-out handles. As it was summertime we would be packing lightweight clothing but because we knew that there could be some cooler evenings ensured the children had one jacket or cardigan each. The children taking on hand luggage which could not be over 7 kilos carried backpacks holding their clothes. No toys or heavy books. I took into consideration that we might buy some new clothes over there. They do sell shampoo and conditioner in New Zealand I reminded the girls and I also knew we would have access to a washing machine so no need for an outfit for each day. We didn't take towels - I knew there would be plenty of towels for us to use where we were staying. We also weighed all our bags - we were well under the baggage allowance. I supervised all bag packing to check for stowaways - no podgy winnie the poohs were allowed to travel! Reminded the older girls about liquids in hand luggage and confiscated aerosols - it was like an episode of Border Security!

Traveling with a baby or toddler - how much stuff to take?

This is something I gave much thought to. What would we need for the trip and what was essential for our stay? I've seen mothers hauling nappy bags the size of suitcases prepared for every eventuality - for a trip to the mall! We did not intend to carry car seats and bulky prams through airports - just the folding and unfolding of a stroller can be stressful enough so we made the decision to see if we could hire or borrow any baby equipment we needed.

Check out the legal requirements for car seats in the country you are visiting - we found out that unlike Australia, in New Zealand our 5 years olds would not legally be required to be in approved booster seats. This would have made our car travel almost impossible as they take up so much room. It would have necessitated the use of a third vehicle to pick us up at the airport. My mother-in -law had asked around her neighbourhood and with many well organized grandparents in her community she soon found offers of everything we needed including an approved baby car seat, a portacot, a high chair, a pram even boxes of toys. We had been prepared to hire car seats and a stroller at the airport but didn't need to thanks to the kindness of strangers! It was outside of school holidays I must add, so the people we were loaning from did not have their grandchildren visiting at the time.

He just loved the big box of toys that a kind neighbour had loaned to his nana for our stay. 'New' toys to him kept him amused for hours and he didn't need to go and explore nana's cupboards!

The only baby equipment we took with us was our trusty Phil nTed's backpack. To tell you the truth I don't use it much at home but for traveling through train stations and airports it was invaluable. Our one year old son loves being carried on his daddy's back and having a bird's eye view of everything around him. It was easy to use, just pop him in and do up the straps - no time lost in collapsing of strollers and it was classed as carry-on luggage for the plane. On the way due to a hold-up on the train we had to make a mad dash through the crowded airport to make our plane. Thank goodness we had decided to take the back pack!

The other children had no need for toys or electronic devices to entertain them during their stay. Nature provided a wonderful playground. Trees, rocks, sticks - their imaginations ran riot!

I was also very grateful to be still breastfeeding. This gift from God of' traveling nutrition' is my absolute lifesaver as a mother, particularly on a long journey. So calming and comforting for a fretful baby in unfamiliar surrounds. How I felt for the mother on the train who had a baby who would not settle but we did not have to cope with that situation. If you breastfeed and are planning a long trip with a young baby I would say postpone weaning until after your trip.

I didn't take a nappy bag! I do own one but didn't want to carry a handbag and a separate bulky nappy bag. This was my solution - a roomy handbag to carry all the essentials for the journey. Would you like a peek inside?

It has a short wide strap that doesn't dig into your shoulder or knock husbands in the side when you are walking around - a common complaint from my husband with some of my previous handbags! It also means your bag is close to your body a much more secure option than a backpack or 'hobo' style bag dangling at your waist. This bag is by Olga Berg and I bought it on sale. I just love it - it is stylish and practical.

I managed to cram in everything I needed for the trip including the 'vroom vroom' boy's favourite toy!

Also to be found in my travel bag were:

* several changes of clothes for the baby , disposable nappies, wipes and scented nappy bags.
* my purse and a very small make-up pouch for holding jewellry and any other loose items.
* A stick deodorant and small hand sanitizer - in a ziplock bag ready for the bag checks.
* Passports and tickets in a strong plastic pouch
* The fold up change mat from my nappy bag (invaluable!)

I packed lightweight comfortable clothing made from natural fibres for us all including the baby. Darker colours for outer clothing are a sensible choice!

I managed to squeeze in a new book to read on the way and I absolutely chose a gem - probably one of the most touching and enlightening books I have ever read about family life. I will review it sometime but don't wait for that - go out and buy 'Somewhere more Holy' by Tony Woodlief. You will not regret it. You will laugh and cry and will need tissues - so glad I had popped a travel pack into my bag!

And my new bag has a side zip pocket on the outside - perfect for popping in my mobile phone. No more rummaging through the contents of my bag when my husband calls me and he did need to ring me on the way when we were separated in the train station after I had gone ahead to purchase the tickets for the airport train. So there's my final tip of the day - carry a mobile and have it put onto international roaming before you leave - you can do this online which saves time. We had three phones between us - being able to stay in contact and having the means of ringing the airline if you need to is very handy.

You are now prepared, the bags are packed and you are ready to leave for your trip. This is where the fun really starts. In my next post I will cover the journey for the bigger family by train, plane and automobile and share a few of the adventures we had along the way!

With Love and Joy,

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Please pray for Christchurch, New Zealand

The country that we have just returned from, New Zealand has today suffered another catastrophe. The city of Christchurch in the South Island was hit by another major earthquake of 6.3 magnitude and sadly, the reports are coming out this time, of multiple fatalities and major devastation in the city and its surrounding areas. We were just finishing up our studies for the morning when my son told me to turn on the television news. The live unedited pictures were showing collapsed office buildings and people being pulled out in shock, many are still trapped in the rubble.
We used to live in the Canterbury region and have visited Christchurch on many occasions. Its streets and Cathedral square are such familiar places. It is a beautiful city with many ornate buildings. How sad to see the city cathedral which survived the last quake, collapsed, its spire gone.
We have friends who live in Christchurch, so just praying that they are safe and well. Please pray for all those who are affected by this disaster and that those who are still alive and trapped will be found soon by the rescuers.

God defend New Zealand.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Our Family Holiday in New Zealand

This is my absolute favourite holiday photograph of my daughter running across the sands of a beach that is considered to be one of the world's most beautiful and unspoilt beaches. It is called New Chum beach and is located on the Coromandel peninsula on the east coast of New Zealand. The Coromandel was where we vacationed for twelve days staying with my husband's family and enjoying the delights of the natural wonderland that is New Zealand.

It was quite an effort to reach our destination involving trains, planes and automobiles. An 8 hour train journey, a 31/2 hour plane trip followed by a 3 hour car ride - we had to take the long way round as roads were closed due to numerous slips caused by heavy rain the region experienced due to catching the tail end of one of the cyclones. It was worth it - more on traveling with a big family in a future post but all I want to do for now is share with you some of the highlights of our holiday in the country they call 'God's own land.'

My husband's parents live in a small coastal town called Matarangi. They are permanent residents but many of the homes are holiday homes used only on weekends and during school holidays. It is just a walk across the road to the beach which the twins took great delight in.

Nana bought them buckets and spades - a must for any holiday at the beach.

There were lots of shells and even starfish washed up on the beach. Glad to say I only found shells in the pockets of their shorts but had to inform them that they were not allowed to bring them back to Australia.

My little man was fascinated by the shells and spent quite some time picking up each shell and turning it over - so curious. Do you think he might be a marine biologist one day? I wanted him to smile for the camera .... a little perseverance and....... success!

I love this photograph of my littlest kiwi!

Living at the beach has other advantages. This is what granddad brought home for dinner almost every day, accompanied by his ever willing helper and loyal companion - my 11 year old son who now doesn't want to wait until retirement age to take up fishing and golf.

We didn't venture too far from the beach but did take some time to visit some local attractions. The Driving Creek narrow gauge railway at Coromandel town is very popular - there were people from Canada, Scotland and various other European countries among the passengers on the trip we took. We chose to take the four youngest children as we thought they would enjoy it the most - something you must take into consideration when most 'family tickets' at tourist attractions only allow 2 children entry. The kind lady didn't charge me for the extra twin and if you want to see New Zealand native bush close up without trekking in by foot this is the way to go!

The narrow train carriages zig zag and wind up the hillside which are covered in native vegetation. There is an abundance of silver fern - the symbol of New Zealand and the leaf you see on the jerseys worn by the All Blacks New Zealand's national rugby union team - the national netball team are called 'The Silver Ferns'. If you have ever wondered what a silver fern was - here's a whole stand of them.

The view at the top was quite spectacular. You can see all the way to Waiheke island.

Other places we had hoped to visit included Hot Water beach where at low tide you can dig yourself a hole in the sand and enjoy your own personal thermal spa pool - totally natural. I have been there before, so wasn't too disappointed when time didn't allow us to make this excursion. Cathedral Cove where scenes from the Prince Caspian movie were filmed, was closed to the public due to the slips but on our final day our trek to New Chum Beach more than made up for missing out on these other places.

You can only reach New Chum at low tide and it is quite a trek clambering over rocks and negotiating tree roots along the narrow path on the embankment. I have somehow managed to raise a family of mountain goats - the half hour walk was 'a walk in the park' for them. Not so for this mother who had blisters from a new pair of sandals and had no idea that this was no stroll to the beach - believe me the picture you see above is deceptive - it gives you no indication of what lies ahead! I sorely regretted wearing my little narrow ballet pumps which gave little grip on the slopes but I made it and boy it was worth it!

No houses, no hotels or resorts, such a pristine coastline and only footprints in the sand so it is hard to believe that this beach is threatened with development. There has been much publicity in the New Zealand media about this beach and the campaign to save it from development. I will tell you more about this in another post. It is not undiscovered - it is listed in Lonely Planet but what a privilege it was to go there with my family. My daughter was delighted to have so many photo opportunities in just one location. These are just a few of the shots she captured.

I have christened this shot 'Flightplan at New Chum' - do you see the bird?

The daughter responsible for capturing the beauty and splendour of the land

What a backdrop for some very special shots of some very special girls!

Special places, special people. The perfect ingredients for a family holiday. The opportunity for grandparents and aunts and uncles to be reacquainted with their grandchildren and nieces and nephews and to meet the 'little man' for the first time. During our stay, family from Auckland and other places came over to the beach to spend time with our family.

Reunions with family....

And reunions with friends

We were thrilled to recently be back in touch with friends from New Zealand we have not seen for over 13 years thanks to Facebook. We were not sure if we would be able to visit them during our stay but it just so happened that they were going to be in the Coromandel when we were there as the husband was taking part in a running race. We drove over and met them at the end of the race - they had several hours to wait for the prize giving ceremony - the perfect opportunity to catch up on what all our respective families have been doing. When we knew each other I only had two little children - they had five including one set of twin girls. They used to tell us all about life with twins - little did I know I would experience it for myself one day!

On day twelve our bags were packed, our children tired - one especially from his early morning rounds of golf with granddad followed by late night fishing excursions and we had a day of traveling ahead. A few dramas ensued on the way home which mainly involved waiting in Sydney for a passport left behind in Auckland - not our fault, I guarded those passports with my life but on boarding the plane the airline staffer handed us back 8 passports instead of 9. We did not find out about their error until we were in the air. On landing we were looked after, escorted, given meal vouchers and just had to wait until the passport arrived on the next plane 4 hours later. Australian immigration staff were so helpful - they tracked down the passport when it arrived, found our bags and let us all back into the country!

It is good to be home. My heart skipped a beat when we drove up our driveway and saw our home among the trees. The dogs were there and happy to see us at 1am. The cat had gone walkabout but turned up 24 hours later - I was the mum of little faith who thought she had used up too many of her nine lives and taken on one too many snakes!

Looking forward to catching up with all your news and relating more of our kiwi adventures perhaps from a more practical angle sharing from what I learned about traveling with a family.

Until next time,

With Love and Joy,


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