Things we've learned traveling with children.
I'm not big on reading "Top Ten Tips" blogs or stuff like that, but Christina and I are on the road again renewing our visas with the kids, and after letting our 12-year-old Simon pack for us, we would like to share at least what NOT to do!
We get 180 days in Guatemala at a time on our visas. Every six months, it's time for us to get into several buses with the kids and take the 12-hour journey across the border and into Mexico. Because we had kid's club this last Saturday on day 179, we left in quite the hurry right after club. The inevitable schedule led to a bit of a frantic start to the journey. So, tip number 1: I would highly recommend not hosting 40 Guatemalan children in your home for an educational kids club the same morning you embark on an international journey.
Thoroughly packing the day before would be another thing I would recommend. Christina was quite keen on it and laid out all the clothes for everyone in our room. The only problem was that Columbia, our youngest toddler got into the room right before she put the clothes in the backpack and ripped all the garments onto the ground. Now, Simon was supposed to be watching Columbia during this time, so as a consequence, Christina told him that he was to pick up the clothes and finish packing while she got onto some other last details.
At this time, I am going to display a picture of the total amount of socks packed for a 6-day trip for our whole family of seven just to show the fantastic job Simon was able to do:
Royal and Faye also packed their bags for Mexico! Royal (9) fit three whole sweaters into his backpack to face the scorching heat of Mexico in packed-out public transit buses with no air conditioning. I highly suggest that the children do the packing as it is a great learning experience on preparing and thinking ahead. However, I also advise checking your children's bags before leaving. You might not only find a redundant amount of sweaters for a tropical destination, but you could also find tea towels, toys, some random foam blocks, etc.
Traveling with five children under twelve in chicken buses through a country like Guatemala is not for the faint of heart. It has taught me that drivers often listen if a passenger expresses unease with the driving. I now do it all the time because, well, I am uneasy all the time. During our last big bus ride, I was sitting near the front of the bus with Columbia, and I noticed a motorcycle honking as our driver cut him off. Our driver continued to cut him off despite the warning. The motorcyclist proceeded to speed up and slow down in front of our bus and flip off the driver. I had a nice front-row seat to all of this and was interested to see what kind of driver we had on our hands. He met all expectations and switched lanes to cut the moto off a second time. I must remind you that this is happening at roughly 120 km per hour on windy busy roads on the outskirts of Guatemala City. I did not hesitate and raised my voice quite loud. Ok, I mean... I yelled at him, "ESO NO SE HACE!" (You do not do that!) "You are playing games and playing with lives!"
He yelled back, "No, I am not playing games!"
The argument ended as soon as it began when I reminded him that my children's lives were in his hands and that I would not hesitate to find his boss and report his road games.
The crazy part was that the whole bus was quietly listening, and the moment I finished, Columbia (1.5 years old), in full yelling baby talk, added her two cents in a final rebuke towards the driver. Wha-mata-a- nana!! Finger shake included.
It. Was. Hilarious.
So, tip number 3, if you have a taxi, shuttle, or bus driver making you nervous, remember, this is a service you are hiring. You are the boss, and you can ask for slower driving or even yell at them to not cut off motorcyclists in acts of ego-driven rage. The world is your oyster.
Something we have actually gotten quite good at is budget travel. Because we are a family of 7 and love eating, experiencing, and exploring, here are some excellent tips on keeping it cheap!
Finding destinations off the tourist cycle is crucial. The best way to do this is by jumping in a local cab and finding a way to communicate and ask for the gems, whether you know the language or not. Taxi drivers possess a world of information that has even managed to outpace the internet. I'm not joking and here's why. These drivers pick up and drop off thousands of people a year and bear witness to live reviews of each destination their city holds.
They know the best spots, but they can also give you the best safety guidelines for your family. They are well connected and in the know. They, too, must be careful as they are one of the most vulnerable demographics for assaults and hijackings. So, tip number 5: talk to taxi drivers. They know their stuff.
When traveling with children it is also worthwhile to use weekends as lay-low days to recuperate and use the weekdays for the sightseeing. First of all, if going with the local taxi- led plan, you will be going to places off the main beaten track, which paired with being during the weekday usually will mean your family will have the place to yourself. I recently read this somewhere, "Parents don't go on holiday, they just take care of their children in different cities." This is true, and the sooner this reality is accepted, the sooner you and your spouse will be able to plan things like intimacy and pillow talk for 2:46 in the morning.
Another thing that saves an enormous amount of money is using public transit. If we didn't do this, we couldn't do this. A single plane ticket, let alone seven, would put us in debt with the budget we are running. In most places we have been to, kids under ten are not charged a fare on public transit. Public buses or trains may seem sketchy or unnerving to somebody unfamiliar with the language, location, and routes, but it improves with some practice. Remember, it's public transit, which means millions of people are using this method of travel for daily commutes. It is safer than you're conditioned to believe. For traveling with little ones, get into the routine of bathroom breaks between each stop and pack enough snacks. It gets hot on these bus rides so grab the window seats. Have a water bottle with the sip spouts to avoid your child guzzling the H20 and needing to H2P (have to pee).
Camp, or find rustic but clean accommodation. Find places with tables or wee kitchens so you can avoid high restaurant bills by getting groceries or safe takeout street food. Again, taxi drivers are the ones to ask about the places for this stuff, and they will gladly take you to the spots. I will admit this taxi plan has one flaw: some hotels offer taxi commissions for bringing tourists to their doors in some cities. To counter biased information, make sure to avoid a rushed decision. Even if you are exhausted from the previous bus ride, check out more than one or two hotels or inns. It's worth it.
And last travel tip for today: As a matter of opinion, avoid Airbnbs in countries like Mexico and Guatemala. I say this because Airbnbs are usually foreign-owned and overpriced in contrast to the local market. (These platforms are just beginning to catch on with the local population.) We rarely make reservations for any accommodation, and the times we have, we have lived to regret it as the rates or location land up being sub-par within a frame of reference.
Well, that's all folks. Here are the pictures of this journey, thank you so much for reading and sharing this with a family that you think should try some travel! We found some beautiful places and an amazing waterfall we hiked to and swam in with the kids. It was Wednesday so we had the whole place to ourselves!
PS: Flip lots of coins for the important decisions.
PSS: (In the mornings, never let your ten to twelve-year-old order breakfast for the family at a hotel, and if you must, make sure you remind them to do it from the breakfast menu and not the dessert menu.)