I am suffering from travel withdrawal syndrome (if there is such a term for it). You know… it’s like you don’t feel like going back to your regular life and work. In short, I need another holiday to recover from the first.
It’s been almost a month since we came back from Melbourne – the kids’ first overseas trip; our first official overseas family trip. Probably I was the only one worrying myself out with thousands and one things to pack; to plan; to ponder. Perhaps, being the mother, I hypothesize too much about every situation that can happen overseas. Like most mommies, I almost packed the whole house into the suitcases before the hubby stopped me!
This Sept trip came about because Xi En had a thematic study earlier on air-travel, planes, pilots, stewardesses, countries and all that. He came home asking if we can fly in first class. I told him we cannot afford that. He asked how about business class; I said that’s still too expensive. Last try, he asked: “Mom; since first and business class are so expensive, we can fly in economy class where there are lots of people and seats are very small, ok?” (complete with a pleading puppy look). That kind of made us sound so pathetic (pre-school teachers; FYI – errmm… please try to manage our little ones’ expectations ya?) But that got me thinking he’s probably ready to have a look at the world and learn stuff out of the books. I had a chat with Kim and after a quick check on the luring promo-rates airfares, we decided: Yes – we can somehow afford to grant our young boy an economy class plane ride! hahahaa..
Australia was an easy choice as it’s known to be more kids-friendly and a place where we haven’t explored as much. And the flight hours of 7-7.5hours is still manageable in my dictionary for young children. Melbourne because I liked that part of Australia and it’s more “traditional” with trams and all. Xi En loves trains; trams and buses. Without revealing to him that we were planning a trip; we saw his drawing during the Parents-Teachers-Meeting. It’s telepathy huh? 🙂
Kim and I were somewhat seasoned travellers in our individual and couple-lives. But with kids; it’s a whole new ball game altogether (so we’ve learnt).
Just to share a little on how we “survived” this inaugural family trip.
1) Choose an airline which you are familiar with
We both agreed that it has to be Singapore Airlines while the kids are still young. It’s the only one I am familiar and comfortable with. With good promo-rates, it’s still “A great way to fly”. 🙂
SQ didn’t failed us except one annoying episode. On the leg to Melbourne; we board at 9pm; were served 2 rounds of drinks with nuts at 930pm to 10pm. Dinner was served at 10pm (YES; 10PM!!); complete with ice-cream/coffee tea/wines and all. Clearance of trays and lights out around midnight as it was a full load flight. And when all the kids were trying to doze off; the lights came out again around 2am and continental breakfast was served before landing around 4+am.
The SQ I know loves to give it’s best to passengers; the best value; the best service. But seriously whoever planned this route and the meal services have to reconsider it’s inconvenience to tired passengers. Yes, you can use “do-not-disturb” stickers and all. But with little ones; that doesn’t kind of work when the whole load of passengers are stirred for meal service.
Still I have to applaud SQ for it’s Krisworld (kept Xi En occupied for hours!); ever-so-well-trained cabin crew; attention to details (kids loved the lunch boxes which came along with the kids’ meals we ordered ahead of the flight) and scheduled on-time arrivals/departures.
2) Pray for the best but be prepared for the worse
It sounds a little “faithless” to say the above. But travelling to a foreign country (with young kids further) always put me in high alert mode. Medicine is my must-pack for all trips. I pray I won’t need to use them; but I packed them so I can sleep at night. Basic medicine such as Paracetamol, Ibuprofen, Charcoal pills, medicated oil, flu and cough syrups, creams are under my essential list. And for Xi En, I packed a Salbutamol inhaler too. Going to Melbourne at the tail-end of winter; I just have to be more than careful that they won’t catch a cold.
I am so glad that the boys did well on this trip except some minor hiccups. We nearly went to go to a doctor when we landed as Eizac came down with a red eye and sticky discharge just before we boarded the plane. We were almost certain that he has an infected eye; but it miraculously cleared up after a day!
As for Xi En, it did seemed that air travel wasn’t too kind to him unfortunately. On both the going and return flights, he threw up his meal (thankfully at the tail end of the flights). Ah ha, a pat on Mommy’s back for packing spare clothes, wet tissues and medicated oil on our carry-on luggage. 😛
3) Travel with family or more
An extra pair of hands and eyes (or more) is always helpful. My mom had always been the kids’ main caregiver; we knew we cannot do without her during travels with the kids. We had to “drag” her along and we are so glad we did! haaa… Probably I am too pampered with help; but I cannot imagine running after 2 active boys while trying to take photos; enjoy the scenery or even just to go to the washroom. That’s why they say being a mom is for life. It doesn’t stop even when your daughter is married with kids. 😛
4) Plan more, do less, enjoy more
Sorry that sounded quite singlish (Singapore English). Basically we did a lot of homework, planned a whole lot so that we can “do less” while enjoying the most out of the trip.
Since I am the one with more time on hand, I researched and narrowed to the places and activities suitable for all. Desperate for time, I simply copied, pasted and printed 2 key things: places of interest/activities and food options. Staying at places with free Wi-fi helped a lot as we planned on the go too. There are a whole lists of helpful apps which you can download to help in your planning. More information on visitmelbourne website. In particular, I found these quite useful:
PTV – for taking public transport
myMarketsVic – if you enjoy going to markets like my mother and I.
TripAdvisor – popular real visitors reviews’ guide
Melbourne Guide – Melbourne’s official visitor guide. Some online discount vouchers available too.
The ever smarter hubby limited his haphazard-minded wife to only 1 main activity each day while filling small random activities during pockets of lull time. This worked out quite well for us since Eizac is still taking afternoon naps; taking it slower was a great idea.
The whole trip was a 9 days, 10 nights plan. We went from central Melbourne to Philip Islands en-routing at Mornington Peninsula and then back to fringe of city at St Kilda. Purposefully, we omitted The Great Ocean Road after deciding that 7 to 8 hours car road trips aren’t quite up our alley with the kids (just yet).
5) Minimize changes
Knowing my children, they take a day or 2 to adjust to new beds and “a new house”. We do not prefer to have over-excited kids every night and thus to minimize changes, we choose to change accommodation only 3 times; thus averaging 3 nights per location.
After much research, instead of the regular hotels and serviced apartments, we choose to go with the growing popularity of renting others’ houses. Airbnb is a fairly new concept which started a few years to allow the community to rent their extra rooms or houses/apartments to visitors for a short or long stay. I have no affiliation to them whatsoever but they definitely did a good job on their website that it is growing in it’s online presence. The website is nicely done up, user-friendly and everything is transacted online including communication with the hosts.
We picked out 2 places from Airbnb after narrowing search by budget, photos, user’s reviews and communication with hosts – 1 at central Melbourne and the other at St Kilda (fringe of city). It was a breeze to made payment even though there was a slight glitch which Airbnb responded promptly. It’s good that they have an office in Singapore now for easy communication if you face issues. *Tip: Do search online for promo codes before making payments. We chanced upon a DBS card promo which gave us some good discounts!
At central Melbourne, we stayed in a small 2 bedroom apartment with open concept kitchen but location is superb and within 5 to 10 mins walking distance to Victoria Market, Chinatown, train station, Coles and a food court. The host kindly allowed an early check-in as our flight was early; but the person who was to open the door was late for 20 mins. Thankfully there was a lobby to wait in and not out in the cold. Booking others’ houses do pose such risks that there might not be a reception or concierge to seek help in unforeseeable circumstances. So do minimise the risk with alternative plans in mind when booking through such websites.
The 2nd accommodation we stayed in was at Philip Island which we booked through Stayz – this is also a similar concept to Airbnb but not as user-friendly as the latter. Accommodation at Philip Island was the hardest to decide as many looked dingy, old, remote or too big for us. Finally we picked Waterfront@Waves along The Esplanade. It is located in front of the sea (full sea view!), there is a playground just in front of the apartment (which unfortunately we didn’t get to play as it was raining!) and it is within walking distance to Cowes (the town at Philip Island).
It is a perfect accommodation with a free underground parking lot except a few grouses: No free wifi (I realised only after arriving at the premise). Some of the beds are located in the kitchen and dining area which made it rather unconducive for sleeping unless you don’t intend to cook. We ended up moving 2 mattresses into the living room as futons since the kids are used to sleeping on the floor at home anyway.
The final place we picked was at St Kilda’s neighbourhood near to St Kilda Beach. It was slightly cheaper as it was at the fringe of city and options were more spacious here. This was my favourite stay of the trip with 2 good sized rooms, European king-sized bed, double size bunk bed and a fully equipped kitchen with children cutlery too! The owner also kindly provided a welcome pack with bread, milk, butter, jam, tea and coffee. It is helpful that this host has a child of her own and left some extra diapers (and toys!) for us to use; this came in handy as we ran out of diapers at the last leg of the trip!
There you go; 5 key things which we did to make this trip enjoyable for all. Hope it comes in useful for those who are planning for your inaugural family overseas trips (or to Melbourne) too!
Will be sharing more on the attractions in upcoming posts. Watch this space! 🙂
Updates on the rest of our Melbourne Travelogue: