A Whole New World-Thailand

 

Phi Phi Leh Island (the set’s location of the movie “The Beach”)

Thailand was never really at the top of my list of places I wanted to visit. I knew a little bit about the country from random pictures and movies, but it just never stood out to me until we moved to Japan. Being just a five-hour flight from our home, it quickly jumped the line of places I wanted to visit. Sorry Sydney, Australia…Thailand may have just taken the number one spot as my favorite destination!

We started the trip off with a huge mistake-flying during the day. As mentioned in my “Travel with Kids” blog, we try to take night flights-always. It was a bit exhausting to keep two littles focused, but fortunately it was a fairly quick flight and we were in Phuket (pronounced Poo-ket) in a relatively short time.

We headed to our resort, got settled in for the evening and were excited to start our adventure the next day.

Hilton Phuket

Our first full day, we signed up for the half-day Phuket City Tour. Around noon, we boarded a van full of other passengers who had been picked up by their given resorts, and made our way to the Kata View Point. This destination allowed us to look out and just take in the beauty of Phuket.

Kata Viewpoint

After the brief 10-minute stop, we got back in the car, and headed to the Phuket Safari, which would give us the opportunity to go elephant trekking. I know this can be a controversial topic to animal lovers, but if I’m being honest, it has always been a bucket list item for me. Jesse had ridden elephants before when deployed to Thailand many years ago, so we had agreed that if the kids couldn’t go (as expected), he would hang out with them and let me ride. Another controversial topic…allowing kids to ride elephants! The staff didn’t bat an eye allowing the children to ride. We just had to separate due to space on the seat, so I went on the first elephant with Maddox, and Jesse would follow with Asher.

And we’re off…

 

Caught in the selfie act.

Oh. My. Goodness.

Jesse & Asher trekking trough the jungle.

The things that other countries allow you to do…It happened so fast, that I don’t think either of us thought it through. Once we were seated on top of the elephant, a simple, rusty bar went across to “secure” us. No seatbelts. No additional bars. Nothing. I had a death grip on Maddox because he could have easily slipped through the bar. I would also like to mention in case you were wondering, riding an elephant is a bumpy ride, especially up a mountain through a jungle. Jesse had Asher secure in the Ergo Baby, yet he still had him gripped with both arms and admitted that he recited the Lord’s Prayer more than once. All this to say…we loved it! Maddox’s new favorite animal is an elephant, and it caused us to buy 1,254 different elephant souvenirs before leaving Thailand. All I could think was we were riding elephants through a jungle in Thailand on New Year’s Day. What an amazing way to start 2019.

Photo opp with Gabrielle.

After getting off the elephants, we had the opportunity to touch and feed Gabrielle, the elephant. The trainers didn’t hesitate to escort us right up to her. Maddox loved giving her bananas, and it was just an unbelievable experience from the beginning.

Feeding Gabriella

After, unwillingly, having to leave the safari, we were on to our next adventure…jewelry shop? Ok, this wasn’t an adventure, and our next two stops after this one reminded us so much of our experience in China. We walked through the jewelry store maze, only to finally get to a coffee shop and have a brief 15-minute break. Afterward, we loaded back up, and went to a Honey Factory. We were given an opportunity to sample some local honey. We passed. Finally, we drove to a cashew nut factory where there was an assortment of cashew flavors (wasabi was my favorite). Had I not been annoyed/drained from the jewelry and honey factories, I may have actually purchased a snack or two. I was just ready to get on with our actual sites for the rest of the tour.

After what felt like an eternity, we were all back in the van and headed to the Chalong Temple. This is Phuket’s largest temple and dates back to 1837. It is dedicated to two monks who helped lead the citizens of the district against the Chinese Rebellion. The most recent building on the grounds holds a splinter of bone from Buddha. Inside the temple, the walls and ceilings are decorated with stunning paintings illustrating the life of Buddha. Many locals and tourists come to pray and show their respect at the temple. Surrounding the temple is a large market area where we did a bit of shopping and ate street cart food before loading up and heading to our final destination: The Big Buddha.

Living in Japan, we have seen our fair share of Buddha, but this one was pretty impressive. It was so huge, we could see it from our hotel room several miles away. Standing at 50 yards (half the length of a football field!) the all white marble statue can be seen anywhere in the southern part of Phuket. The Buddha isn’t even the most impressive part; It’s the view! We just stood in awe for several minutes looking around all of Phuket. The country is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen, and this gave us the opportunity to just take it all in. After climbing to the top, and seeing a couple of monks along our way, it was time to descend and head back to the hotel.

It was an awesome start to our vacation, but a half a day tour is more than enough with children. Time to sleep and start again the next day.

 

Friends of ours had recently visited Thailand and had mentioned the beauty of the Phi Phi (pronounced Pee-Pee, noticing a trend?) Islands. There were day tours that visited, so we thought we would hop on one of those. TIP: If you want to visit Ko Phi Phi or the surrounding islands, book through your hotel in advance. The tours were completely sold out, so we did the next best thing…we went online and booked a ferry ride to the main island. Jesse got online and after 15 minutes gave a quick smirk and shouted, “Done!” We went to bed confident that our next adventure was in the bag. The first sign of difficulty happened when Jesse received an email basically stating that our ground transportation to the pier had fallen through. No problem, we will just procure our own transportation from the resort. Due to traffic delays and faulty math from my husband, we arrived at the pier with about 30 minutes to spare. At any other pier in the world, it would have been enough time, but the Rosada Pier in Phuket is packed like a Tokyo train station. There are countless ferry companies that all have stands set up and long lines of people trying to obtain their tickets. We spent 15 minutes trying to find the company we booked through and after waiting our turn, Jesse pulled out his phone and attempted to retrieve our confirmation email. After talking to an unusually rude Thai lady, we found out that we accidently booked a one-way ticket to the wrong pier in the more expensive “Premium” section of the ferry. To make matters worse, she said that technically, you are required to print out your confirmation attachment in order to obtain tickets. I looked at Jesse and all he could muster was “my bad..” through his gritted teeth. I took the kids for a stroll off to the side and let Jesse figure it out. After about 10 minutes of pleading with the Thai lady and some wi-fi help from a European stranger, all was right with the world again and we had tickets in hand and a promise of a ride back to our resort at the end of the day. We made our way to the ferry in standard Peppers fashion with minutes to spare.

Ferry Ride

The ferry ride is approximately two hours long. The premium tickets we purchased actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Premium is like economy plus on airlines – one step below first class. I highly recommend this option with children. It allows you access to the outside portion of the upper deck, which is less crowded, as well as the option to go inside on the lower deck where there are couches and TVs set up (perfect for our kids who needed a nap). The first class allowed access to an inside portion on the top deck with individual seating, but honestly the setup for kids was better in the premium cabin. If you don’t purchase premium tickets at the pier, don’t worry, you have the option to upgrade once on the boat for the same price ($10)!

Snuggles & Frozen

Once we began getting in view of the islands, we only wanted to be outside. The first island our ferry passed was Ko Phi Phi Lee. Tourists are no longer allowed on the island, so our ferry cruised by slowly allowing passengers to snap photos. The movie The Beach was filmed at this location and dozens of smaller boats hovered around closer to the inlet, taking in the site. After pulling away, we circled around the island and Jesse and I both agreed that this had to be one of the most beautiful places we had ever seen. We had recently visited gorgeous Fiji, and for us, Fiji didn’t hold a candle to the Phi Phi Islands.

Phi Phi Islands

Finally, we docked at Ko Phi Phi Don. Getting off the ferry was a bit hectic as the majority of the passengers were staying on the island, so they were searching for their personal luggage that was being corralled into one designated spot near the exit before departing. Once we were off, and unbeknownst to us, we had to pay a couple of bucks just to actually walk on the island. There was no time to question it as it felt a bit like a cattle call, and in the grand scheme of things, we didn’t mind the fee, but we were glad we had money on us because we had no idea of the charge.

The picture says it all.

Our original intention of visiting the Phi Phi Islands was to have a beach day, so we had brought beach towels, floats, swimsuits, etc. expecting to spend the entire time on the sand or in the ocean. We didn’t even walk on the beach! We grabbed lunch first, and of course, devoured some Pad Thai and margaritas. Then, we began to explore the area.

Walking through the Phi Phi Island markets.

There were tons of markets that we wanted to check out, and we only had about three hours total to do it. A couple of purchased shirts and a lizard bite later, it was time to get back on the ferry. No kidding, I got bit by a lizard while putting my hand into a back pack. Two hours later, we pulled back up to the marina, where a van was waiting for us to take us back to the resort. After a full day, exhaustion took over, and we couldn’t wait to get to sleep. I semi-jokingly wondered if the lizard that bit me was poisonous. I guess we’d know in the morning!

Welcome to Koh Samui

The next morning, we packed up our things and headed to the airport. We were going to jump a one-hour flight to Ko Samui. Similar to the last resort, this one was also about an hour van ride away. Once we arrived and got settled, we decided to grab a massage. All we had heard about was how cheap and good the Thailand massages were, and they did not disappoint. For about $10, we had a one-hour, full body massage directly on the beach. Although a little awkward getting massaged semi-nude on the beach in full view of everyone, it was amazing, and we made the goal to try to get at least one everyday we were there. Unfortunately, luck is bound to run out when one travels frequently…

Watching the waves roll in.

The following day, we awoke to an overcast sky and a relatively higher sea state. It wasn’t until the front desk called us about performing maintenance on our beachfront room and asked us if we wanted to switch that we began to have questions. One of the clerks mentioned the word “weather” and just as a curiosity Jesse googled “weather Ko Samui.” Wouldn’t you know that we were right in the path for the first tropical storm since 1989. Tropical Storm Paduk was predicted to have 22-foot waves and 40+ mph winds. Travel to and from the islands had been cut off. How was this the first we were hearing about it?! Our room was located directly on the beach, and we sat by the window watching the waves get closer and bigger through our giant GLASS PANED sliding doors.

Some of the destruction from Tropical Storm Paduk.

We decided to call back the front desk and take them up on the room swap. We traded our beach front view for a two story room complete with a beautiful spiral floating stair case, which was a nightmare for us as our 2 year old throws a fit if he can’t climb stairs solo, but it was the lesser of two evils.

We spent the entire day, and most of the next hanging out in our new room barricading our children in the living room and escorting our toddler up and down…and up and down the stairs. It wasn’t all bad. We rented movies, read, listened to the rain, and got room service, but the moment that rain let up, we were ready to go. At this point, we only had one night left, and we honestly hadn’t seen anything in Ko Samui, so we grabbed a cab and headed to Fisherman’s Village.

My latte & a side of cookies!

What a fun place! Our first stop was at a coffee shop, which hands down, is the neatest coffee shop I have ever been to (and I frequent coffee shops!). The lattes themselves were their own presentation. After leaving there, we headed out into the streets. Fisherman’s Village is just rows and rows of markets, spas, and restaurants.

Taking a little break in Fisherman’s Village.

We bought a few shirts for the boys, a dress for me, and while Jesse and the kids grabbed dinner at a pizza place, I got a doctor fish pedicure and a facial with the most amazing view. I know I could have spent more time in the area, but the boys were tired, and it was time to head back to our resort.

Doctor Fish Pedicure

Our first flight home didn’t even leave Ko Samui until 7:45pm, so we still had a full day to explore. It was a beautiful day, and we refused to waste it. We paid a little fee to have an evening checkout, and the hotel arranged a half-day tour for us to see the island. We had our own personal driver pick us up, and we were off to explore.

One of our temple stops. The image is NOT blurry. It’s how the temple was built (notice the elephants and myself are in focus).

 

One of our stops: Hin Ta & Hin Yai Rocks (Grandfather & Grandmother rocks). I will let you figure out why this is Grandfather.

 Our tour lasted about six hours in total, and we were able to see different lookout points, temples, and even the mummified monk, but my absolute favorite stop was the Namuang waterfalls 1 & 2. Waterfall 2 was the first stop and was attached to a safari park.

Headed up the mountain to the waterfall.

We loaded into an open truck and drove up a (very bumpy) mountain. We hopped out and began our exploring.

Maddox’s face should explain the bumpy ride.

 

Our start up the mountain to the waterfall.

It seemed pretty easy at first. We crossed a little wooden bridge and climbed some steps, but then it kept getting steeper and steeper…

Finally, it became too dangerous to climb safely with our kiddos, so Jesse continued on to the top to snap a few pictures. Upon returning, he talked about how beautiful it was at the top. He said he would hang out with the boys so I could go check it out, but even in the few minutes he was gone, the water had risen (an effect of the previous storm). He admitted it may be a little too treacherous as he had to walk through knee deep water to get back to us. Not wanting to end the day getting swept over a waterfall due to storm runoff, I decided I would pass and that we should just cut our losses. We steadily climbed back down the mountain, loaded up into the truck and headed back.

Jesse headed to the top.

Before departing for our next stop (Waterfall 1), we decided to walk around the safari for a bit. They had elephants like in Phuket and a cobra show, which we ultimately decided against. I know our parenting track record hasn’t been the best from a risk perspective up until now, but even Jesse and I figured we should skip this one. When you actually say, “I took my toddler and infant to a cobra show in Thailand” out loud, it doesn’t sound like most responsible phrase. Before I could dwell on my decision any longer something else grabbed my attention. There was a little area off to the side that advertised you could pet a tiger! Not a baby tiger, but a full grown Shere Khan! I couldn’t resist. Jesse had no real desire and decided he would continue the “responsible” trend we recently embraced and hung out with the kids as I waited in line, ticket in hand, caution to the wind, giggling like a little school girl. When it was finally my time, I walked into a fairly large room that only had two trainers and a massive tiger. From the moment I stepped in, I heard it purring, and my school girl giggles stopped. Fear took over, regret set in, and I realized that this was a real animal that could kill me or at the very least maul me in an instant.

Yes, it’s real!

 

Waterfall 2

One of the trainers took my camera, while the other stayed near the top of the tiger’s head and told me what to do. I was pretty stiff, and he had to keep moving my hands because I honestly don’t think I could lift them. The tiger even rolled back towards me at one point, and I jumped about 10 feet; however, even with the knots in my stomach and adrenaline pumping, I channeled some inner courage and posed my heart out as if it was no big deal. If given the opportunity, I would do it again in a heartbeat. It was one of the most exhilarating experiences I have ever had. Jesse and the kids were watching on a monitor from the outside and after about 10 minutes, I rejoined them. I was basically high as a kite on adrenaline for the next hour, but we still left and moved on to Waterfall 1.

If we had more time, we could have hung out here a bit. There was a small swimming area and no hiking was involved. It was a very quick, easy, and beautiful place. We were getting hungry and our driver called The Cliff restaurant to make us reservations. We had heard about the restaurant and seen it advertised pretty much everywhere throughout the island, so we wanted to try it out while we could. What a perfect way to end our day. The ambiance was incredible, but the food was amazing! Its not often we get both! The Cliff had won numerous awards, and it was famous for the breathtaking views – easy to see why. After a long, leisurely lunch, we headed back to grab our belongings and made our way to the airport.

The View from The Cliff

Thailand was an amazing country with so much to offer. It was so beautiful and even more affordable! (I mean $10 massages!) But the culture is so unique. The people we encountered were polite and willing to help, and yet, their “norm” is so far off what we would experience in the States. Mopeds are the preponderance of vehicles, and it wasn’t unusual to see 3-4 people on one. Even small children would have car seats attached to the front…or not. Routinely you would see mothers holding their infants in their arms riding on the back seat. Restaurants were mostly open air, decorated with picnic tables and plastic chairs and tropical wear was the style of clothing for the locals. Safari workers didn’t think twice about our infant and toddler riding an elephant through the jungle or hiking a steep, wet mountain. And petting a tiger….well, that speaks for itself. It’s one reason we love to travel to other countries because its easy to get caught up in our everyday normal, but when you step outside your comfort zone, and into someone else’s shoes, you truly realize just how small you are in this crazy world! Even after all the issues we faced, including a tropical storm that kept us inside for parts of our stay, Thailand is still my favorite place so far.

“ Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” – Gustav Flaubert

Top 10 Tips: Traveling with Toddlers (and Infants):

Observation Deck at the Haneda Airport Tokyo.

Those that know me know I have a strong love for travel. When asked where do I want to visit, my answer is always the same: Everywhere! But I seldom travel alone (or even just with the hubs). I almost always have my two under two with me, and although I would never say it’s easy, it’s definitely possible.

I understand that just the thought of traveling with young children is enough to cause anxiety even in the most tolerant parent; however, don’t let children be an excuse not to see the world.

My kids have flown seven international flights, countless domestic, over 32,000 miles and have spent over 82 hours on the plane in the last 12 months. Even though its tempting, leave the Xanax at home, and check out my Top 10 Tips for Traveling with Toddlers (and infants):

Day 1 on my flight back home from Florida to Japan-just the kiddos and me. Did I overpack?

1.  Car Seat Strap: This suggestion only applies if you’re bringing your own car seat. This tip I learned the hard way. Before discovering the Cares Harness (tip # 4) I brought Maddox’s carseat on the plane. He was comfortable in it, and it made things much easier for longer flights; however, waiting to board was incredibly difficult. I had to push a stroller, hold onto my carryons, and balance a car seat on top. Turtles could have passed me, but then I came across the Car Seat Strap. This strap wraps through the handle of a carry on and connects to a car seat. Since we were loading Maddox’s car seat directly on the plane, this seemed like a way I could strap Maddox in, and then just use my moby wrap for Asher. It took a couple of practice run throughs before I had mastered it, but it ended up being a huge help. Throughout the airport, we were stopped multiple times and asked where we got the strap. We even had our picture taken.

Rolling through the airport. The car seat strap made everything so much easier, especially if flying alone.

Maddox absolutely loved it since he could “ride” through the airport. . When it was time to board, we simply unstrapped it (approximately 10 seconds), threw the strap in the diaper bag and loaded on the plane. (This could also be beneficial if you’re taking your car seat on your trip, but don’t plan on having your child sit in it on the plane. Car seats can always be gate checked-just bring a protective bag.).

2. Night Flights: I cannot express this tip enough! If given the choice, book a night flight. Ten minutes before we board a flight, we change the kids and put them in their pajamas. Once on the flight, we settle in our toddler, give him some milk and read him a book. We try to keep all of our nightly rituals as close to home as possible, down to brushing his teeth. The flights provide pillows and blankets (and the attendants have always offered us more), so we make him as comfortable as possible. Most of the time, he is asleep before we even take off, which allows us to get some shut eye as well. The only issue we have with night flights is they are quiet, so if Maddox wakes up, he tends to start crying. Be prepared if your child suddenly wakes. We keep pacifiers near by, his singing bear, and adjust him as quickly as possible to get him back to sleep.

Asher getting some shuteye on our flight to Australia.

3. Bassinet: Every commercial plane has it’s own style of bassinet. Once an airline ticket is booked, customers should call the airline as soon as possible and request a bassinet for their infant (first come, first served). If available, the parent(s) seat assignment will change to accommodate the request. The bassinets are located in front of the bulkhead seats (the seats right behind the walls that separate the different classes), and once the seatbelt sign is turned off, the flight attendants will attach it on for use. Not only does the bassinet allow parents to lie their child down for periods at a time, but the extra leg room is a major bonus. Even though there isn’t any under seat storage, after take off bags can then be placed in front of you (still with plenty of leg room). Having anything you need at a hands reach, makes it much more convenient than having to constantly stand up to get more formula, diapers, or toys.

The bassinet on our Quantas flight.

4. Cares Harness: Children can remain in a parent’s lap until the age of 2; however, when Maddox was a year and a half old, we flew with him from Japan to Florida, and it was a miserable experience. He slept most of it across our laps, but we had to remain as still as possible because when he wakes up, he wakes up screaming! After that, I knew it was time to just get him his own ticket (even though we had to pay his seat, tickets are still discounted quite a bit for young children). Unless a child under two is in a car seat, they have to sit in your lap at take off and landing with one exception: they are using the Cares Harness. The Cares Harness is the ONLY FAA-approved child harness and takes less than a minute to strap to the seat. It’s incredibly safe and fits the child much like a car seat. Once the seat belt sign is turned off, the harness can be adjusted to make it more comfortable, or we even just put the normal seatbelt on him. Call and confirm with the airline that you are bringing a harness, but we have never had an issue. In fact, on our flight to Australia, the attendant even told us that the harness we had was the only one Qantas airlines approved!

5) Moby Wrap: If you’re traveling with an infant, obviously requesting the bassinet is the first step, but what if its unavailable? As much as you love your baby, holding him/her the entire time on a long flight will get old. Even with the bassinet, I would wrap my son up for at least some duration on the plane. It allowed me to be hands free, he liked it, and it was comfortable. Babies can’t be wrapped at take off or landing (or going through security for that matter), but the rest of the flight was a breeze. I personally love my Moby Wrap, but any kind of cloth wrap should work fine. I would just avoid bulky carriers like the Ergo. With multiple ways to wrap your child, there is bound to be something that works.

Flight from Texas to California. Just the three of us.

6) Quart-sized Zip lock bags (organization): In the past, my husband and I would shove a bunch of toys into our carry on. When Maddox needed something else to play with, we would have to take the entire carry on down from the above compartment to get just a couple of toys out. Heaven forbid Maddox see the carry on full of toys because regardless of what we pulled, he would make a fit to get something else. Anyone that has been on a plane knows that getting up, getting something out of your carry on, putting it back and getting readjusted is not the easiest task in the world (See tip #3). Try doing it several times throughout a single plane ride. We often have multiple connecting flights, so with several plane rides ahead, I had to come up with something easier, especially if I’m also holding a baby. Each zip lock bag is full of certain styles of toys. I have my book bag, my coloring/sticker bag, my noisemaker bag (they really aren’t that loud, promise), etc. Every bag is themed and can go together, so when I bring out a different one later, it is an entirely new set of activities. It’s very easy to just reach in and grab a bag. I don’t even look at what I’m taking out of the carry-on!  (Bonus tip: In the weeks leading up to the flight, pick up cheap toys, coloring books, activity pads, etc from the local dollar store. Hide them, or go ahead and start organizing them in your zip lock bags. That way, your child(ren) has lots of new and exciting toys on the plane).

7) Lots of snacks: For the love of all things good and holy, do not rely on airplane food to feed your kids. My son ate a roll on the 10 hour flight to Australia, even though he was given every meal that we received. A roll! Thankfully, we had two ziplock bags full of his favorite snacks. We filled one with multiple fruit and veggie packs, his favorite crackers, some fruit, etc. The other had the fun snacks that we used for the pill box (goldfish, teddy grahams, animal crackers, etc.). I wanted to bring snacks that I knew he loved (sorry, let’s save the kale chips for home), but that wouldn’t give him too much of a tummy ache. One mistake we made on one of our first international flights is we brought packaged toddler meals. Again, we brought the favorites (macaroni and cheese is a staple). The issue we ran into is airlines do not have microwaves. For some reason, that didn’t even cross our minds. A flight attendant was able to help us out by heating some water and letting the meal sit for awhile, but it honestly wasn’t worth it. Save the heated meals for home or your actual destination.

Getting my snacks prepared and organized in the ziplock bags.

8. Pill box: I happened to stumble upon this genius idea while researching snacks to bring on the plane and thought I would give it a try. Maddox has a lot of energy but not a long attention span. When I find activities for him, I am really hoping to get a solid 5, maybe 10 minutes of his focus, and then I need to be ready to move onto the next “game.” I purchased a pill box from our local Dollar Store. The pill box bought me a good 45 minutes three different times on our long plane ride stretches! We are talking over two hours of focused activity, people! In each section of the pill box, I loaded some of Maddox’s favorite snacks (goldfish, animal crackers, gummies-remember, I’m looking to keep his attention. I will save the healthy veggies for at home). He would open a container, eat the snacks, and close it before moving on to the next one. After all the snacks were eaten, he just enjoyed opening and closing the compartments for a bit. I didn’t hesitate to reload the sections to “play” again. I do know of some who use each part of the pill box for small toys such as miniature dinosaurs or race cars. For my son, those toys don’t hold his concentration more than a few seconds, but give him some goldfish=winner! My husband made sure to tell me, “Do not forget the pill box on our next trip.”

Pill box-don’t board a flight without it!

8) Electronics: I know some parents are against letting your child(ren) use electronics at a young age. I understand, and if this tip isn’t for you, just skip it; however, I will do close to anything to have a peaceful plane ride for not only me, but the passengers around me and that means occasionally breaking out the electronics. Our go-to is the Ipad. Before we travel, we load the Ipad up with lots of toddler friendly games. We NEVER give him the Ipad at the beginning of the trip. We often wait until he is starting to get really restless, and our ziplock toys just are cutting it at that moment. His whole face lights up, and he will usually play for a good hour. We often have to help him, but toddlers catch on quickly! In addition, on international flights, we have access to a plethora of movies, so we put on one of his favorite cartoons, give him some snacks, and he is good for quite awhile. He absolutely hates earbuds, so he wears his Cozyphones or occasionally wants my husband’s Bose headphones, which he gets. 😉

Maddox just relaxing and watching some cartoons before “bed.”

9) Diapers, Formula, & extra outfits: Pack what you think you would need and then double it. I tend to pack one diaper for every hour of the flight, plus a couple of extras for check in and luggage pickup. I also bring a brand new packet of wipes and am never surprised when I’ve practically gone through the entire container by the time we land. The bathroom has a changing table that simply folds down, and although its small, it is convenient to have a location where the kids can be changed. I also have a formula feeding baby, and throughout my day-to-day life, the three section formula dispensers are great, but for a flight, leave them in the checked suitcase. Bring the whole flipping formula container! I always have a fresh, never opened one to bring so that I know I have enough. Don’t think you need that much? I recently had a friend stuck on the tarmac for five hours. It was only a four-hour flight! That is nine hours on the plane. Make sure you have enough food for your baby, and plan for the unexpected. Finally, bring each child at least one change of clothes. As stated in Tip #2, I put my children in pajamas right before boarding the aircraft, but I still bring another set for my toddler and two extra sets for my infant. My toddler can sometimes make it through the entire flight without having to change clothes. My infant-never!

10) Take Off/Landing Ear Popping: At takeoff and landing, make sure your kids are sucking on a pacifier, eating snacks, or drinking. It will help with their ears and keep them from being in pain. The LAST thing you need is for a cry fest to begin because they can’t get their ears to pop. If he’s not already asleep, we tend to hide our toddler’s evening milk until take off because we know he will down it .(It also shows that it is bedtime, so GO TO SLEEP). We almost always have a bottle prepped and ready to give our baby as well.

After traveling on four flights (two completely solo) from Florida to Japan with my munchkins.

Every time we travel somewhere knew, we think of something that we want to add to our next trip to make it even easier to with our small children. What tips do you have that make traveling a breeze?

Touring the Land Down Under

Australia is a popular bucket list item for a lot of people, myself included, but it was always in the far off distance. “I want to go to Australia one day,” I had so often said, so when my husband, Jesse, started putting together a summer trip for us, I was beyond ecstatic.

Since Sydney is such a big, sought-after area, we decided to spend our full eight days there, and we were so glad we did. We were never at a lack of something to do, and Sydney surpassed any expectations we might have had. In fact, Sydney, Australia took our number 1 spot for favorite destinations (as of now). The best description I can give is it was a mix between Seattle and San Francisco with a sprinkle of New York City and the weather of Tampa Bay. For us, it was perfect.

Jesse was able to take leave in June, so we planned our outback adventure to coincide with our birthdays. What a birthday present! Australia’s seasons are the opposite of the States (and Japan for that matter) so even though we left in our summer, it was their winter. The temperature remained in the nice mid-60s, and we both agreed that if this was their “winter” we might never leave. The locals were obvious. They were the ones with huge down jackets, beanies, and gloves. The tourists had light cardigans and shorts.

TIP: EVERY person visiting Australia MUST apply (and pay) for an Electronic Travel Authority (ETA/Tourist Visa). We didn’t know this, and could not get our boarding tickets until this was completed. We had to find a free wifi spot, visit the site (below) and complete the form. It takes only about 5 minutes, but since we were traveling with four (yep, infants have to have one too), it took us about half an hour. Fortunately, we arrived three hours prior to boarding, so we had the time, but we were told by a Qantas employee that she has witnessed several tourists who arrived within an hour or so from their flight and were unaware they needed the VISA. Unfortunately, they didn’t make it. Be prepared. Complete the form BEFORE you get to the airport. It’s about $20 per person, and you need your passport!

https://www.eta.immi.gov.au/ETAS3/etas

If you decide to take advantage of the weather and visit Australia in their winter, I highly recommend going during Vivid. Vivid is a three-week festival where the city is lit up by massive light displays.

View of Darling Harbour from our room

We didn’t even know about Vivid and coincidentally booked an airbnb overlooking Darling Harbor. Every night, we got to witness a spectacular light show accompanied with fireworks and music over the harbour. The opera house was lit up with different scenes and colors every night. There were ferries that could be taken and allowed visitors to see all the different displays. It was absolutely amazing and beautiful, and this year happened to be the 10th anniversary. Talk about our luck with timing!

View of Darling Harbour from our room

As usual, it was a family trip, so we had our munchkins tagging along. Even with them, there was no shortage of fun things to do. Here are our Top 10 recommendations if exploring Sydney (with or without children):

1) Australian museum:

Australian Museum

Our flight landed around 7 in the morning, but we couldn’t check in until 2pm, so we had to find something to do to kill a few hours. By the time we got through customs, grabbed our luggage, and had breakfast, we still had about five hours to kill. Typically, this wouldn’t have been such a tough decision, but on this particular day, it was raining, so that eliminated all outdoor tourists spots. Jesse absolutely loves museums (my love is actually growing for them too, but don’t tell him ;)) so we decided to start our vacation visiting the Australian Museum. We weren’t going to lug around two suitcases, plus carryons, so we grabbed a bagbnb a block away, dropped off our things, and started the tour. (Side note, bagbnb is amazing! Do NOT pay to store your luggage at an airport. It is very expensive. If you can store it at your hotel for free until check-in, great. If that isn’t an option, save some money and utilize this service).

Australian Museum

When purchasing tickets, guests have the option to ad on the Mammoth tour. DO IT! It’s only a few dollars more, but feels like an entirely separate museum, and there is a real baby mammoth on display (sad, but completely fascinating). The Museum’s main focus is on Australian animals, past and present, but there is also an entire aboriginal section with the history of how Australia came to be and dinosaur area with actual fossils.

Max looking at the baby mammoth.

We killed several hours there, and actually went past the 2:00pm check-in, so we had no issues once we left. If you like museums, than it is a no brainer to visit this place. If you’re on the fence, I promise you, it’s worth it.

Actual dinosaur fossil

2) Sea Life Aquarium:

Penguin exhibit at the Sea Life Aquarium

I was so excited about visiting the aquarium that it was our first stop on our second day. Australia is known for having some of the deadliest sealife in the world and lots and lots of sharks, so I was curious to see what all exotic creatures were displayed.

Sea Life Aquarium

Although I didn’t see the deadliest jellyfish or a great white, it was still pretty impressive. My family loved viewing the manatees, whale sharks, colorful fish and dozens more creatures of the Ocean. Also, guests can take advantage of a financial savings when purchasing aquarium tickets. We were given the option to purchase the “Sydney Big Ticket.” This allowed us access to not only the Sea life aquarium, but also The Sydney Tower, Madame Tussauds, Wild Life Sydney Zoo, and the 24 hour Hop-on Hop-off tour bus for only $99 per person (kids under 4 were free). Since we were interested in visiting at least the tower and touring the city on the bus, it was an easy decision for us to grab those tickets! (Tip-Get to the acquarium early. We were there before the doors opened and still had to wait about an hour to get in. Those who came later in the day had a two hour plus wait.)

Sea Life Aquarium

3) Wild Life Sydney Zoo/Madame Tussauds:

Crocodile show at the Wild Life Sydney Zoo

We knew we wanted to visit the Tarango Zoo, and I had been to a Madame Tussauds before, so if we had not purchased the the package deal, we most likely would not have visited these places; however, we enjoyed ourselves nonetheless.

Butterfly exhibit at Wild Life Sydney Zoo

The Wild Life Zoo focused just on animals and reptiles from Australia. It was not a huge zoo, but much bigger on the inside than it appeared. We were able to walk around and discover the deadliest snakes, massive crocodiles, hungry kangaroos, and a crazy Tasmanian devil.

The kids ended up passing out in the stroller, so this was the perfect time for Jesse and I to explore Madame Tussauds. He had never been to one, so it was a unique experience for him. This museum focused more on Australia’s founders and celebrities, so we saw Captain Cook, the Hemsworth brothers, Rebel Wilson, Mel Gibson, Keith Urban, Nicole Kidman, etc. but there were still some good ol’ Americans sprinkled in such as Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift.

Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum

This Madame Tussauds did have some areas that allowed participation of guests such as a live recording studio, a model runway, and a chance for visitors to jump on an air vent with the iconic Marilyn Monroe and recreate her famous blown white dress scene. Visiting Madame Tussaud’s was a nice change of pace from all the animals and sea life we had already experienced during the day.

Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum

4) Sydney tower:

View from the Sydney Tower

If one of our destinations has a tower, we are going to visit it! There is just something about being above the entire city and looking over its beauty that I absolutely love.

View from the Sydney Tower

The Sydney tower was a very simple stop to access. We waited about 5 minutes in line before entering the 4D cinema where we watched a 10-minute show that portrayed various angles of Sydney via a drone. After the movie, we walked onto the elevator and ascended 1,000 feet to the top.

View from the Sydney Tower

The 360 degree roof give guests every possible viewpoint, but if that’s not enough, and you’re a daring (and child free) individual, you can even participate in the tower’s Skywalk. The Skywalk places guests in individual harnesses and gives them an open air view. At around $60 a person, it’s a fairly affordable price for such an exhilarating experience.

View (and kisses) from the Sydney Tower

5) Hop-on hop-off bus:

 

Similar to the tower, if there was a city tour bus, we were going to be on it! There were two routes, each lasted an hour an a half. On our second full day, we took the loop that sent us by the Opera House, Botanical Gardens, and historical sites.

Route 2

The bus tour pass was only good for 24 hours, so we made sure to hop the second loop the following day, which focused more on beaches. Bondi beach was a huge tourist spot. Although we visited in the winter, and hadn’t planned on spending any time at the beach, it gave us the opportunity to drive by to see the stunning view. The cold water didn’t seem to bother everyone though since the ocean was full of surfers. Chilly or not, we made sure to sit on the open air top of the bus!

6) Opera House

Sydney Opera House

The Opera House was an obvious staple to visit, but both Jesse and I were surprised by how much we just loved being there.

Sydney Opera House

We didn’t tour the inside, but walked among the shops and had lunch at the outdoor restaurant. It was pricey, but as I said to my husband when he questioned eating there, “How often do we get to have lunch at the Opera House?” If I had been given the chance to actually attend an opera, I believe that would have been my most memorable experience. It didn’t happen for us, but maybe for you?

View of Circular Quay from the Sydney Opera House restaurant

7) Whale Watching:

Whale Watching Sydney

Growing up in Florida, I was used to dolphins, but whales? I had only seen whales in aquariums.

To have the opportunity to see them in their natural habitat was beyond amazing. We caught a three-hour whale watching tour out of Darling Harbor and weren’t on the ferry for 20 minutes before we saw our first spout. For the next two hours we saw up to 35 whales splash, blow, and breach. It was beautiful, peaceful, and mesmerizing. An experience that I would be happy to repeat. We used this company, and they were pretty great:

http://www.whalewatchingsydney.net/

Whale Watching Sydney

8) Shop ’til you drop:

Outside of QVB

The multi-story Queen Victoria Building (referred to QVB) was built and completed in 1898 during a time of severe recession and specifically built to accommodate warehouses, coffee shops, tradespeople, and a concert hall.

When we entered the Romanesque architecture , we immediately heard a a pianist playing ballads from the top floor that radiated among several stories. The mall boasted more unique, high end boutiques and after walking through, we took the elevator to the bottom floor (underground), and a new world opened up.

Inside of QVB

The QVB attached to the Westfield Mall. Walking through, we found more escalators that took us right back to street level, but blocks away from the QVB. We realized the shopping didn’t end there. Alleys upon alleys were lined with stores ranging from H&M and Gap to Gucci, Louis Vutton, and Christian Louboutin. Street performers entertained and there were countless restaurants. I was glad we  planned at least an entire day to shop.

Shopping down the main avenue

9) Tarongo Zoo:

 

We saved the zoo for the prettiest day of the week. One of my favorite parts about visiting the Tarango Zoo was the journey to get there.

View from the ferry

Close encounters at the Tarongo Zoo

We had to catch a 20 minute ferry from Darling Harbour that gave us incredible views, including a different angle of the Opera House.  Once we reached land, we then took a sky ferry up to the actual zoo. The Tarongo Zoo had the same animals and reptiles that the Wild Life Sydney Zoo had, but on a much grander scale. In addition, they also had the standard zoo mammals such as giraffes, elephants, gorillas, etc.  One thing that stood out to both Jesse and I was how close we could get to these creatures. Often, just a simple rope kept us away. The one exception was the Tiger Trek, which the zoo was very strict on keeping as close to their natural habitat as possible, meaning only a select number of guests could go into the Tiger exhibit at a time (and those tigers did not look happy to see us). It was wonderful zoo with absolutely breathtaking sights that are second to none.

View from Tarongo Zoo

10) Visit Darling Harbor:

Darling Harbour

We booked an airbnb overlooking Darling Harbour. Darling Harbour is not only an attractive spot, it has quick access to anything: ferries, shopping, attractions, etc. With the exception of the bus and museum (both which were a 10 minute walk), all of our attractions left from Darling Harbour. On the opposite side of the Marina is a mall with loads of shopping and lots of dining restaurants.  Since we had a toddler and an infant, we tried to make our dining experience as easy as possible, so with the exception of eating at Hard Rock one night (also located at Darling Harbour), we ate at the food court each evening. There were tons of options (it is one of the largest food courts I have ever seen), so we never got bored. On the second floor, there were play areas for children, so after dinner, we would let Maddox play a bit. There was even a massage studio that I stepped into one evening for a foot reflexology session. I was able to watch Maddox through the glass play while I was pampered (don’t worry, Jesse stayed with him).

Darling Harbour

When Jesse and I visit places more than once, we always like to stay in different locations so we can get a variety of experiences. This is the first exception we’ve had where we both said we would stay at Darling Harbour again. Beauty plus convenience is hard to beat.

Bridge adjacent to Sydney Opera House