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Keeping the Travel Mindset at Home

30 Mar

Oh hang on, we have parks and playgrounds too in Sydney. Doh. I could be doing this at home!?

It happens to me every time I travel. There will be a moment, normally a warm fuzzy moment with my son, something as simple as his laughing and splashing in a foreign bath, or giggling in a grocery store, and I think, “Really, there is no reason we couldn’t have this much fun at home.”

I always rush back to the tent/hotel/condo/house we’re staying in and madly write up aims and goals and to-do lists to try and carry the in-the-moment-mindset home.

Fast forward to now – ten days post travel, and I’m already failing. The tiny details of my guesthouse business are swallowing me, my dogs need walking, my house is a mess, I’m wasting away hours on line again and my kid is screaming for his TV shows and I’m stressed. What happened?

At first I thought it was just the fact that when I travel I don’t have has many possessions with me, thus less cleaning, no clutter…but it’s not true. Still gotta cook and eat, and in fact, keeping someone else’s house clean is much more important than my own place because I don’t want bad reviews on AirBnB or to lose my deposit for accidents of the toddler kind. So that’s the same.

Then I thought it was the fact that many of the places we stayed had rubbish wifi reception, no TVs and nothing except old fashioned puzzles and wood toys for the kid, and books for me. But that’s not it. I’m just as capable as sitting in a chair wasting hours and hours of a day reading a book and ignoring my child, while he spends hours and hours with a train set. So my time suck hobbies just change. Last month in Hawaii I read 15-20 books I think.

I thought maybe it’s my business – but then I spend the same amount of time online (possibly more on holidays with the horrid wifi) to do admin. I will admit I am finding myself sucked in more physically lately. I live ten minutes from the guesthouse  so I think its somehow “easier” to drive over than just let the onsite manager deal with whatever is going on. That’s a mistake, cause the more time I spend there the more likely people are to catch me and reel off a dozen tiny annoyances they have, none of which really need dealing with, but I try and then BANG a whole day has gone by looking for a spare key that was lost, or chasing feral cats out of the garage, or cleaning out a communal fridge trying to find the one smelly item.

I mostly think it’s just habit. In Sydney especially you have your “village” or your area that you know and love and you don’t venture out. So when I do have spare hours it’s easier to think, well, there is nothing to do out there so I should just waste time reading forums on line, or napping, or watching the 746 episodes of Without a Trace that were recorded by my TV in my absence.

Bondi Beach

This beach costs $2.50 and an hour on the bus to get to, 40 mins if I drive and pay $10 for parking.

It is totally not the done thing for an inner west girl (like me) to go to the beach too often, even if it is world-famous Bondi. It takes over an hour to get there at times, all that traffic, and sheesh, if I was a beach girl, I’d live in Bondi right?! STUPID mindset. Did I mention I just flew ten hours, then took an interisland flight, then rented a car, then drove four hours with a vomiting-motion-sick kid to see a cool little black sand beach on the Road to HanaI’d read about because I LOVE the beach?! But ah…I went to Bondi ONCE last year.

To get this photo cost me over $1200 in airfares, $500 in accommodation, $600 in rental car, plus passports, jetlag..the list goes on.

Also, my get-out-of-the-house hobbies are so much more exciting when travelling. I found five geocaches on the Big Island, driving out of our way, climbing cliffs and amusing the locals who had no clue what I was up to, but I still haven’t found the geocache in the dog park DIRECTLY OPPOSITE MY HOUSE. And my dogs haven’t been walked this week…despite the fact I lost two kilos in the US from all the walking I did. Ahem.

In some ways it’s easier just to book the next cheap airfare out of here, knowing that once I’m on the road I’m outdoors, laughing, having fun, enjoying the grocery shopping and driving  and loving parenting and all of a sudden the small things don’t matter and I’m totally living in the moment…

Ack. Help me people, what can I do to find the excitement in everyday life, in living in my own city, in not wasting the spare hours I have? And how can I drag myself out of the house often enough to walk those poor pups?

Honestly, we are *so* cute, and we love local adventures too. What is *wrong* with you dear owner?




Even Solo Mamas on Government Handouts Can Travel

28 Mar

This is part of the March writing project for a Facebook group I belong to called Families on the Move. Our theme is that anyone can travel and this is my story…

Not a day goes by when someone doesn’t say to me with a sigh, “I wish I could do what you do!”

That being of course to travel lots!

So far our two big trips have been Vietnam for five weeks, and Hawaii for four. Next month is Bali for three weeks. We’ve also done three day farm stays locally, week long trips to see family and four days in the snow, complete with travelling nanny and bus driver! All in the last two years.

Heck, I was even in Hawaii for a month when I was six months pregnant, swanning around solo and bloated, eating pineapple by the tonne and shocking people by having no partner along with me.

Right, enough of a recap. I guess it sounds like a boast when I list it all like that. But it’s not. This is how I’ve managed it and what I’ve learned.

1) One month in Hawaii – this was simply a case of taking annual leave from a job in Australia (where four weeks is standard per year), finding a cheap Craigslist sublet that gave me an entire apartment to myself next to the Honolulu Zoo for $500 a week.I then turned around and listed my own place on Gumtree (Aussie site similar to CL) for $500. I read the local newspapers in Hawaii, found the local library having a book sale, caught the bus ($2) and bought twenty books ($20) and holed up in my apartment with trips to Safeway for food. It was ultra cheap and pregnant I didn’t want to move much except to float in the water.

Lesson from this trip – if you have annual leave, USE IT for a holiday no matter how broke you are and what your condition is. Don’t waste it on a “staycation” thinking you can’t manage something else. And CL isn’t all serial killers and scams.

2) Five weeks in Vietnam – Airfares only cost us $600 return on an ultra special deal. I picked the country purely because it was known as child friendly, the flights weren’t too long, and it was cheap. I didn’t know anything about the culture or people and was scared outta my mind about this trip with a 23 month old. I bought a guidebook, then decided not to read it cause I stressed more, and just got on the plane.

Lesson from this trip – travel before your kid is two cause they are free. It’s not the nightmare people make it out to be. We managed seven flights on that trip – stopovers in Malyasia to break the trip, plus internal flights where I thought the trains might take too long. It was FINE.

If you’re worried, just get on the plane anyway. We survived. It was hard work, there were some tears but mostly huge grins as I learned about an entire new part of the world. I just took it one day at a time and fell back on TripAdvisor or Lonely Planet when I was out of my depth. And picking a country knowing that they loved kids was wonderful. In some ways easier than my US trips.

3) Hawaii for a month –This time I felt a bit more adult and responsible and traded Craigslist for a site called – I rented out my own house again and then used that money to guide my accomodation budget. It was tight. We spent a few nights in a tent on a hippie commune on the Big Island to bring down the costs! And also got a good condo deal from a group buy website like Groupon.

We were broke again so our trip was all about self-catering and off the beaten tourist path some of the time. Didn’t drink a single cocktail or stay in a single hotel. We shopped for toys in thrift stores. We got a two for one airfare for Hawaii too.

Lesson from this trip – ditch the hotels. Get out of the tourist ghettos. Think like a local and suddenly everything is much more affordable. Consider non peak season travel since the flights will be cheaper. Sure, Waikiki happened to flood the week we were there. But when we were off season in Vietnam we had stunning weather. You make not get lucky all the time but you can still have a bunch of fun. Rain didn’t matter when we were in the spa at our condo! And besides – a toddler throwing a tantrum is so much nicer with a whale in the background to watch, than stuck at home, where it was also flooding!

4) Bali – this started as a joke. Another single mother and I figured if we pooled our government pensions together in a third world country we could afford nannies, housekeepers and a villa with a pool. In Australia it doesn’t even cover rent. And then suddenly she was gone – and had rented a villa for six months in Bali. So we’re off to join her.

Lesson – pool your resources with friends. That’s also how we managed our snow trip and the farm trip too. Small local trips, or cheap countries with others. Start small if you need to – our farm stay was less than one hour drive from home.

The hardest thing about all of this is that yes, I did have to quit my day job. After my pregnant Hawaii jaunt I had no annual leave left, and when it came time to return to “the grind” after my baby was born I fell into an anxious heap. I couldn’t fathom it when there were sooo many things I wanted to show my baby.

I used a small amount of savings to start a business, and yes I am lucky in that Australia we do get help from our government with kids too. But even so I traded in a great job for uncertainty. I eBayed everything I could. I have no assets and my car is worth nothing. And I decided to share my house, which isn’t always easy, but gives us the breathing space to travel. And I do work hard with my own business – even when travelling I have to spend time every day on my computer. So in some ways I never get a day off now. I just work less, and from interesting parts of the world!

I really didn’t want to come across as preachy in this article but honestly, Nike spend thousands to come up with that great slogan. Take some of my ideas and JUST. DO. IT.

Check out other posts by travelling familes with the same theme:

Only the Very Special, Lucky, Rich, and Perfect (Like Me) Can Travel by Gabi at

Anyone can travel by Mary at Bohemian Travelers

Diet shouldn’t stop you from travelling by Amy at livin’ on the road

If Anyone Can Travel Why Don’t You? – Keryn at Walkingon Travels (twitter: @walkingontravel)

Not Everyone Can Travel – by Living Outside of the Box (heeeheee…! Yes–it IS on topic!)

You Have to Be Special Like Us if You Want an Awesome Life – Discover Share Inspire

True Story: Single mother from Bushwick, Brooklyn, funds long-term trip without having to sell a kidney – Melissa at Break Out of Bushwick

Anyone Can Travel, Just Let Go by Diya at a minor diversion

Don’t Be Jealous of Our Travels! Be Happy for Us and Know That You Can Make it Happen Too ! – Susan V. and family

Anyone Can Travel…Just Find Your Way by Kate at Experiential Family @experientialfam

Pity, Envy, and why anyone can travel — Clark Vandeventer of @FamTrek

Travel – Possible?

A Family Travel Lifestyle….. Loreena at Little Aussie Travellers

New Life on the Road –

A King’s Life. Our Path to becoming Lucky enough to Travel:

Ooops..another trip with no blogs.

23 Mar

I am useless at this blogging business. Not only did we do five weeks in Vietnam with just one blog, I’ve not just got back from a month in Hawaii with no blogs!! And it’s only five weeks until we leave for Bali.

I think that’s the down side of travelling solo with a kid. No time at all to blog! Okay, that’s just an excuse since I did have time to ready about twenty books last month. Ack, now I feel extra guilty.

Right I’ll just have to catch you all up on our adventures ….

Cops and Robbers – Vietnamese Style

23 Oct

I haven’t really felt like blogging cause to be honest I feel like I am traipsing a pretty well trod tourist trail here in Vietnam and don’t have anything new to add. Until yesterday, which was such a surreal delight of day I thought I was living some sort of Monty Python skit, or maybe just playing cops and robbers, Vietnamese style.

I was feeling pretty low with a cold so thought I’d just have breakfast and nick into town to pick up my laundry on my motorbike and spend the entire day in bed. By the time I got home I noticed my iPhone was missing – lost or stolen along the way somewhere. Feeling too sick to bother I set an alert on Find My iPhone via my son’s iPad and fell asleep.

I was woken an hour later with the beeping of an email to say it was in the town Phan Thiet, about 10km from me. I sent messages to it in English and Vietnamese offering a reward if it was returned to me at my hotel. An hour later and I was pissed as it still hadn’t moved. I thought I would get security here at my deluxe five star resort to help me at least file a report so I could claim it on insurance.

I showed him the iPad with the location of my phone on it. He was all like, “Let’s go get it. I will come with you.” Not what I had expected but I was game. I told him I had a bike and before I knew it we were roaring into town. A block from the signal location he yells at me while still riding that he wants to get police help. I can’t really argue so we ride into the nearest police station and we go in to a decaying building that seemed pretty deserted, except for the rats running up and down the stairs and some sweaty bloke sitting on a bench with bare feet and a grey shirt pulled up over his belly as he scratched.

Rapid fire Vietnamese is exchanged and Belly Scratcher yells and a bunch of green uniformed young men come running. They look like teenagers with fresh faces and big teeth.

We are motioned into a room and head of security dude from my hotel tells me to show them the iPad. They all gather round and one of the young guys goes to touch the iPad and is slapped away by Belly Scratcher, who it turns out is boss. He turns the iPad around to try and read the map better but of course that makes the orientation change and everyone is confused. After much discussion he yells out with excitement. The security guy tells me they know where it is and we can all go get it. I could feel a real “round up the posse” vibe happening as everyone scrambled for bikes. We were told to ride with them. I was hoping there were going to be no guns involved by this point! Security guy and I jump on the bikes, speeding down the road and up onto the pavement outside a cell phone shop.

All of the police race in screaming. I meekly try to point out that I think they misread the map and the shop is diagonally opposite us about fifty metres away when the initial furore dies down. Again they demand my iPad but I try to explain we need wifi to see the map in real time. This gets translated and the cell phone shop are interrogated about their wifi. They don’t have any. No problem. Belly Scratcher stomps out of the little shop and into a tiny hardware store next to it. Makes all the staff clear their office area and shoves me in front of a computer. I am intensely embarrassed for myself and these poor shopkeepers kicked out of their own business while about four police stare at them and I try to work their ancient computer under pressure.

I went to log onto the MobileMe web site but their browser was too old. I had to download Firefox! Vietnamese shouts from behind me. Hotel security turned translator tells me they want to know what I am doing. I tell them and it gets translated. “She is updating the computer to make it work!” Belly Scratcher thrusts his iPhone at me and I also use his Internet but his rinkydink telcom data speed is too slow. Finally I get onto MobileMe on the shop computer only to find it insists I upgrade to iCloud before I can see the map. Sweet Jesus, really Mr Jobs, at this exact moment? I am sweating when we get the map up. Much jumping around by everyone and running out onto the street and back before they decide I was right.

We must go. Subtle as a herd of elephants we all rush back onto the bikes leaving the shopkeepers with no explanation for what has just happened and one bemused cell phone shop owner. They all watch as we take off for a few seconds and then pull up right across the entrance of the cell shop I pointed out. I was told to stay behind them all and say nothing as they all run in screeching again. Lots of shaking heads from staff and innocent looks. Everyone crowds around the iPad after getting it hooked to the shop wifi.

Using satellite view they are counting trees from the corner to prove to the shop keeper they know they are in the right spot. I tell them the phone has now stopped updating but as of one hour before it was here. An assistant reluctantly admits someone dropped in an iPhone to be “fixed” at that time. Police grab the phone and shove it in my face. The cover is gone, sim card changed, it’s reformatted and all in Vietnamese. Could be mine but how to tell?

Lots more carry on and it is decided I need to get an IMEI number for them. Everyone looks at me as I start googling how to do that from a computer. I need the computer at home or my paperwork details from my files. So ring Australia I am urged. I point out the obvious. No phone! Straight faced the shop owner offers to sell me a sim card so I can use the hotel security guy’s phone to call. Either that or we all have to go to the post office to call internationally. I had over the money and we set up the sim. Try to call flatmates and get only voicemail. Everyone around me is a little more stressed.

I decide to try and call my phone company. Of course I get voice recognition and over the motorbikes on the street and the constant arguments in the shop about my phone I can’t get though. I start madly punching 0 to try and get a human so we can end this whole debacle. Wouldn’t you know it I get transferred to a call centre in India! I start trying to explain, ” I am in Vietnam, with police, I urgently need my IMEI number” and then I have to go through the whole ID process. Birthdate, phone number, address, the works. By now I am finding it hard not to giggle. This is slapstick at its best. I mime for pen and paper and as I start to write down the number a hush falls. Someone reads over my shoulder each digit and at the end there is a silence. Oh, I think, it’s not the right phone.

Head security dude quietly tells me it is my phone, the numbers match.

The mood changes in the shop slightly and I feel I am being questioned. Who am I traveling with? Why was I not more careful? Tea is bought out and the Belly Scratcher slips off his shoes and is having a good old laugh with the shop owner while a junior in uniform diligently writes down stuff. I am given a glass of tea and offered use of the toilet. Now I know nothing about Asian cultures but I am guessing this was all a bit of a save face demonstration. It is translated for me that I must understand that this shop keeper never,ever,ever deals with thieves or buys stolen phones. Do I understand? I snort. Never mind that he must have seen the messages about rewards pop up before he disabled it all. I am again asked, do I get that this shop keeper is honest. Okay I say, now what?

Well the work had already been done on the phone and the guy who dropped it off can’t come back to pick it up since it is your phone, so you must pay the bill. I almost lost it at that moment! 350000 dong. $17 bucks. Almost a weeks wage for some in Vietnam. Shop keeper says I must pay so they can release the phone to the police. I can see the translator dude is a bit ashamed by it all and I can’t think of any option so I hand over the money. Paying for the privilege of getting my phone back minus my sim card, all my contacts, apps and all my photos.

Not quite stripped of enough dignity I ask about my case. Nope, it is gone. To be more careful I must buy a big case to attach to a belt Belly Scratcher says. I pick an ugly white one and had over another 135 000 dong on top of the repair bill and the sim card purchase for my phone call home.

Tea is wrapped up and we all go back to the station. I am asked to write a report which the security guy translates to Vietnamese. We all get to watch the rats while we wait for juniors to type some more. Nearly an hour goes by sitting in the hot small room with no air con.

Security asks me what I think of the police when they are out of earshot. Silly, I say, can’t read maps, they are a bit funny to watch in action like cartoon crazy cops. He laughs and translates something to the police when they come back. I am mortified. Then he says to me, “I was just telling them how you pay a compliment and say police are very good in Vietnam. Fast and smart.” We both grin at each other and Belly Scratcher’s chest puffs out a little. He says he is very pleased I am happy.

After an eternity I get my phone back, sign yet another form that has no English translation. I am wary thinking I am probably signing something allow the lines of “Stupid Western girl lost her phone and very good police action saved the day” but I don’t care.

We jump on our bike one last time and head for home, just in time to pick up my son before Kids Club closes. Security guy gives me a huge grin and we shake hands and clap each other on the back, high on adrenaline and adventure. I tell him many thanks, he says “It was my mission to help you” and I tell him I am going to drink many beers and we part still laughing.

The End.

P.s Of course the new case I was sold was for the wrong model. Determined to at least get a bit of self respect back I marched in this morning and asked to swap it. They ask me to hand over my my phone to check if it fits the new case. I gesture that I didn’t bring it. ” Why you no bring phone here today?” Gee, I bloody wonder why!?


Leaving Tuesday

8 Oct

I can’t believe I leave with E on Tuesday. I haven’t blogged in ages because I’ve been so busy trying to hit a novel deadline I had and now it’s all over and I’ve only got a few days to get my life together in Sydney, and pack it up into a backpack too!

Day 3 Dummy Spit

3 Aug
Spit the Dummy
Australian Term: To indulge in a sudden display of anger or frustration; to lose one’s temper. The phrase is usually used of an adult, and the implication is that the outburst is childish, like a baby spitting out its dummy in a tantrum and refusing to be pacified. (Dummy is a pacifier)

Lets start with the GOOD about Day 3. And that was – kids in the snow! E fell asleep on the bus, only to wake in the snow. The look on his face was worth all of the effort to organise. He pointed, surprised at the white, and said “WOW”. The bus driver ran out to grab him a chunk and he played with a bit in the bus first. Then it was off to toboggan. His screams of “NO, NO, NOOOOOO” as I flew down the hill with him quickly changed to “More, MORE, More”.

At first he struggled to walk, and wanted to be carried, but by the end he was laying in the snow, eating snow, feeding me snow, stomping around it in, and of course fascinated with the ski lifts (He seems to be mechanically minded my kiddo!). He screamed  “OH NO” everytime someone threw themselves down the mountain in a ski tube, and I thought that was a fair enough assessment of how stupid it looked!

We managed half a day in the snow before the kids needed naps and actually the plan was for all the adults to nap too so we could have a kid free night on the town (Adaminaby, population 230).

I fell asleep while one of the mums went into town for some lunch. When I woke I found she’d gone ahead and booked without checking with me – picked the hotel she preferred and the time she preferred for dinner. I did crack it slightly, telling her she’d wanted control the whole weekend to have things her way so go for it, I could care less. Ooops. Not very nice of me. I was just so frustrated at trying to please everyone. She’d picked 8pm for dinner.

Next one of the mums came to see me, demanding dinner be 7pm. I didn’t care so sent her off to see the mum who’d booked. Didn’t hear anything else until rumour got to me they’d had a falling out with 7pm mum refusing to come and 8pm mum refusing to change the time.

I had to step in with the exact words of “I’m here to negotiate a treaty”. GAWD. For love or money I am not destined to be a full time tour guide.

Eventually with all the babysitting arrangments changed, we were off! Except I was struck with a migraine on the way to town and had to be driven home in agony an hour later. I had two glasses of wine, and about 45 mg of codiene the pain was so bad and I was out of it for the night! The others though…partied on until the wee hours of the morning and it was hell to get everyone on the bus for the trip home by 8am.

With almost everyone hungover it was first stop McDonalds before we made it home. It was a pretty quiet bus trip home – everyone I think exhausted by such a full few days.  I however was bright and perky having had a great night sleep!

Snow Trip Day 2

30 Jul

Oh, I left you on a cliffhanger. I was lying though – just to get you to come back and read. On Day 2 things didn’t all fall apart. There wasn’t a true dummy spit by some of the group until Day 3. On Day 2 it was just a few cracks showing. The main crack being, um, I guess single mamas don’t actually like having someone plan for them. We’re all too used to organising our own worlds.

The plan was we would get up early, hand our lovely children across to our babysitter and then head up to the snow for a kid free day. It may have seemed a little cruel to get the kids all that way, only to deny them a snow day, but none of the adults had been to Selwyn. We didn’t have a clue how long the trip was, what the facilities were like, what you could hire and what you could bring and whether or not we thought the kids old enough for toboggans and tubes. Some of us had barely even seen snow ourselves!

I wanted an entire day of fun and relaxing ourselves, scouting out the place and trying not to break limbs on the first day, before introducing kids into the chaos. But then two mothers decided to bring their little ones. Fair enough, I couldn’t actually BAN mothers from getting over excited and wanting the kids in the snow. Predictably they ended up in the coffee shop with hot chocolates for a large proportion of the day as it took a while for the kids to adjust to the weather and it was all a huge new experience (ie..lots of screams and tantrums).

I most definitely was OFF DUTY…although I did end up with a 10 year old shadow – the nephew of one of the mothers. He helped me find my inner child and before long we were throwing ourselves down the mountain on sleds, spinning wildly on ski tubes and I was being hit by snowballs every time I turned around. Honestly, it was the most carefree I’d been in a long time. And it was a sweet thing to think that in eight years E and I would be a mum and son duo hopefully just like this 1o year and I.

One of the highlights of the the trip was with this kid when he thanked me for giving him the opportunity to see snow! If only I could raise my child with such manners!

Most people wanted to head home at lunch – the young kids needed naps. But being I was still NO I AM KID FREE in my attitude I decided to stay on the mountain with the 10 year old some more.  We had lots of breaks for burgers, fries, chocolate and all the junk food he probably shouldn’t have been allowed but we still managed to be on the slopes all up for almost five hours. I was quite windburnt! Eventually we headed for the bus and collapsed. I was so happy. Such a simple pleasure to soak up the sun, play in the snow and not think any serious adult stuff.

I got home to find the toddlers having a grand old time with the sitter. She was fantastic and the kids had run around in the fresh air, had a huge lunch of shared finger foods, all had naps and were clean and dry.

That night was another shared meal. I was so tired and needed some down time too without having to organise anything, so as soon as E was down to sleep at 7pm I had a quiet beer with the busdriver in our cabin and let the others get on with being silly and drinking. Their kids had much later bedtimes too, but I knew I’d be up at dawn with E!