So everything is planned. All the tickets booked. All our places of stay. Cars reserved. Bathing suits bought. Bags packed (and sent in advance). Grandmas birthday cake eaten (she happened to have her birthday just the day before we go). And by the way, we are leaving tomorrow.
Directionally Challenged Assistance
That is the day when I start to check the airline website again, to make sure that I got the check-in time right. I check the route from the airport to the hotel (or lodge, or villa). I check how to get the key. And so on. I do not worry. Yet. I just want to make sure. And that I know how being sure will help me. For instance, if the key is in a box with a four-digit code, do I press the buttons or turn them? How does the lock box work? How do we get into the elevator, and when we do, how do we get out when we get to the right floor? Do we go right or left?
I know, I do not really have to worry about these things. If we go right or left when we get out of the elevator is something we can worry about later. When we get there. But the less insecurity there is, the less worry there will be, and less frustration.
Getting lost can be interesting, if you do not have a couple of hungry and tired children to drag along, and have to meet your wife or husband in a certain place and a certain time.
Some people (chronically directionally challenged, lacking a sense of location and direction) find ways of coping with the situation, like bringing maps or compasses. Or my wives mother, who will ask the first passerby to help her when she gets lost. Which would be a good strategy if she had a clue about the destination. Like, what it is called.
Five Year Olds Are Cuter
When you are 80 years old and never have had to find your own way, you become completely dependent on others. You can get by only by throwing yourself on the mercy of others and asking how to get to your destination. Which works if there are people who are willing to be nice to a little old lady. And speak her language.
If you get lost in a foreign country and do not speak the language it does not matter so much if you are five years old or eighty. You will end up in the care of someone who can take you somewhere you will be taken care of. I probably should make a T-shirt for grandma for the next time she gets lost.
Street Maps Are Good At Home
The best way of handling the situation, though, is not to be lost in the first place. The second is to speak the local language. Both require preparation, but learning a new language takes a lot more preparation than finding the way using a map.
Regardless of where you are going and whether you speak the local language you need to find your way around your destination on a map. At least Google Map, with Streetview and Google Earth. Navigating foreign destinations from the comfort of your own home is great fun, but does not compare to actually being there. In particular since you can not see all of it. Look at Thai streets and you will be severely challenged to figure out if you can push a stroller around somwhere in there.
Checking The Budget
You can apply the same thinking to the budget. Before we leave, I check my calculations. I know how much I make per month. I know what we are going to pay (or at least how much I can afford to pay). I know how much I can afford to pay off my credit cards. So this is why I need to book far ahead in advance. So I can pay for the trip when I get paid.
The alternative (since I know how much I earn, how much I can pay, and how much our trip will cost) is to save the money ahead of time. Then I could pay off the entire trip at once, and get a small interest payment to boot. The disadvantage of that is we would either have to decide where to go in time to start saving, or we would miss out on booking the best-priced seats. As you probably have noticed, there are no fixed prices for airline tickets any more. The airlines set the prices according to projected demand. But it is not so easy.
Travel With Cargo
An airline loses money when nobody sits in a seat when the plane takes off. Unless they are on a route where there is plenty of freight. Then they may not want those pesky people who cost money. Air freight does not require stewardesses, booze or blankets. It is happy to sit in the cargo hold and make money for the airline while the reciever and sender are happy because they are getting their stuff earlier and faster than they would if they had to wait until a cargo plane would be full and could be scheduled.
This is something you can use for yourself if you want lots of seats, by the way. Like an entire row to lie down on. An airplane can only transport so much weight (and volume, but that is usually less a concern with people than freight). So if there are routes with lots of freight, airlines may be inclined to prioritize stuff over people and limit the number of people if they have lots of freight.
At The Mercy Of The LCC
Those routes are from destinations where they make time-critical goods to destinations where they use time-critical goods. To be able to use it to get seats, there has to be a steady demand for goods.
This means only a few routes are concerned. Those time-critical goods are not very common and they are not sent all the time. And there is another problem: This only applies to long-haul airlines. Which means it does not happen on the routes where low-cost airlines fly. So unfortunately you are completely at the mercy of the low-cost carriers, the likes of Ryanair and Air Asia, when it comes to scheduling cheap short-haul flights.
Better Than Flying
Sometimes there are better alternatives than flying. In Japan, anything within a one hour flight is accessible with a four-hour train ride. That may sound like a no-brainer until you consider the time it takes to get to the airport, check in, pass security and passport control, and hang around waiting for boarding. And while there may be a flight every hour, there are trains to the big destinations every ten minutes in Japan.
But you already bought that airplane ticket, booked that AirBnB, and rented that car. You have done everything you could to create the smoothest trip possible - haven't you?
It is useless to worry now. You can no longer control your choices. You have made them, trust the people you bought from to deliver. Manage what you can control, and adapt to what you can not control. Just before the trip there is no way you can manage your choices any more. Just try to execute them to perfection - so you make the trip as smooth as possible.
Just to make it clear from the start, there is no such thing as an international drivers license. So what did I just get from the drivers license office?
If you have ever done a search on the Internet for something containing the words "international" and "drive" or even remotely similar things, you are sure to have seen the ads for international drivers licenses pop up (and nowadays, even more irritatingly, following you around). As I need to drive when we are in Sweden, I need some way of showing that I am allowed to.
Not Valid In Brazil And China
Every country has its own rules, but if they are signatories to the International Convention on Road Traffic of 19 September 1949, they recognize each others drivers licenses if you also have an international driving permit, which is just a piece of paper with some impressive stamps and text in English and French. So with my international drivers permit, I can drive in most countries in the world. The most notable exceptions are China and Brazil.
There have been a number of subsequent conventions, and most notably the EU has harmonized its drivers license requirements, but the conventions build on each other. So I am permitted to drive in Sweden as well as the US (if my wife will let me). I drove in Ishigaki and during our Okinawa trip.
Pay The Fee And Go
But, this is not as good as it sounds. The only requirement for getting the international drivers permit is that I have a valid drivers license and that I pay the fee. Why is that bad?
Because in Japan we drive on the left, which Sweden stopped doing in 1967. And to get a Swedish drivers license, you have to drive several hours on a specially built slippery course. Roads in Sweden can be quite treacherous, and you actually need to have tried driving on an ice slick to know how to handle the car. A verbal description just can not make justice of that weird feeling when your wheels no longer obey the steering, and the counterintuitive way of straightening out the skid.
Capturing The Moose Feeling
Nor can you appropriately capture the feeling of a moose suddenly appearing in front of your car, or the "elchtest" which requires you to turn suddenly, or get a 500-kilogram hunk of meat across the windshield. You may remember how it got famous. A Swedish motor journalist was testing the Mercedes A-class car and when he did the turn, the car flipped over.
Now, this is no joke. After seeing a friends car after such an encounter, you realize that the speed of the vehicle is added to the mass of the moose. No wonder Swedish cars used to be sturdy.
Dangerous But Convenient
So how on Earth can a drivers license from a country where there hardly ever is any snow, where people rarely drive faster than 70 km per hour, where there are less than a hundred roundabouts, have its own completely different road signs, and drive on the left side of the road be valid in Sweden?
It is. And in the US it was the same - But I keep wishing that there was some training associated with it, since I care about the safety of my family. I do not want to expose them to a moose. But it makes renting a car very convenient.
I have written about our trip to Korea before. We went to Seoul for a week and absolutely loved it. The kids did a lot of walking - our sturdy stroller got a puncture on the first day and then we just forgot about it.
Now our Seoul trip was featured in the TraveLynn family interviews about Asian travel! Since it was our favorite trip so far, that was an awsome feeling. Made me want to go back to Korea even more. And not only that! We were featured by familyoffduty in their humongous blog post about places to travel in Asia! Really happy to help people to choose where to go with their families! I also got to write a separate post on Seoul, so check it out!
Ways to remember your trips
Our kids talk about the trips they have been on and the places they have been to all the time. They love Korean food (they could eat their own weight in ossam, the steamed pork which is not spicy at all).
Our way to remember our trips are through the taste and some small mementoes (seashells they picked at the beach on Ishigaki), but mostly talking about the trips and what we did there. And look at the photos we took.
We are starting to plan for our next big trip, almost halfway around the world. As anyone with children can tell you, the first time you meet the extended family can be a bit of a strain; and going to the country of their citizenship for the first time will be interesting.
with a trip this long (first flight is four hours; then 2.5 hours stopover; then a 10-hour flight) you need to minimize the painpoints.
A big part of traveling that far is planning for the trip. I have written before about flying with toddlers and about flying with infants. The two are very different. Best case, your infant is cute and smiling to your seat neighbors as you taxi out to the runway, and then falls asleep for the duration of the journey.
The Jetlag Painpoint
Aside from the flight itself, one of the major painpoints is the jetlag. It is not just your kids waking up in the middle of the night and wanting to go out and play. They occasionally do that at home too. It is more about them not being able to fall asleep; not getting enough sleep; sleeping at odd hours and being grumpy and crying because they want to sleep but don't know how.
Timing The Excercise
There is a simple way to make sure your children get into the right rhythm as soon as possible, and that is perhaps counterintuitive: Tire them out.
This may sound like a no-brainer. Of course they need to be tired to sleep. But if your brain is tired but your body is going full steam, then you get monumental tantrums. You need to make the body more tired than the brain, and you need your children to get tited at the right time. If their bedtime at home is 7 PM, you need them to go to sleep at 7 PM locally and not wake up until the time their usual wake-up time.
That is quite a trick, as all parents know. It is even harder when they want to fall asleep at 3 PM the local time. Which means they will wake up at 3 AM, wake you up, not go back to sleep, and be grumpy and full of tantrums the entire day.
Research The Playgrounds First
So how do you make sure your kids get tired enough to fall asleep properly? Well, it is about two things: Research, and timing.
Timing first. This is not just about when to send your kids to bed. It is also about when to have dinner with your children, when your family should arrive at your destination, how long time you should take to getting to your place of stay, etc.
The time of arrival at your destination - the airport, that is - should not be too close to bedtime. Regardless of whether your kids slept on the plane or not, arriving just after lunchtime gives you the optimum amount of time to acclimatize. They will be tired but not so tired they can not stay awake. After getting your luggage and a light lunch at the airport (think sandwich), you take the train, bus, shuttle or rental car to where you will stay.
It does not matter if they sleep through the ride to where you will stay, wake them up when you get there or when you have to change trains. It may seem brutal but they are not ready to sleep yet. Give them some water and a snack, and go for a long walk in the neigborhood. A really long walk, at least an hour. You need to research this in advance so you do not get lost. And know how long it takes. There is always something interesting to see, independently of where you are going. But check in first, so you are rid of the luggage.
Now it is time to leverage the second preparation item, Research. You can find our a lot about the neigborhood on Google Maps and Google Streetview, but you need to check out what you find, both physically and online. Especially reviews can be helpful.
After the long walk, you locate the playground. It does not have to be big, but it should have some equipment so they can get some variation in their excercise. Slides and swings are enough, and never mind that your kids get their hands dirty digging in the sand.
Now comes the hard part. They have to run and play for at least an hour. They are already a bit tired from the long walk and they may complain about playing and want to go home. They will need some encouragement. Dinner when the big hand of the clock stands straight up is one way of encouragement, your playing along with them is another.
Advance Restaurant Booking
The next step is dinner. Instead of making your kids sleepy, it will probably perk them up as they get more energy in their bodies.
You need a restaurant close to your accomodation but you also need it to be family-friendly. This should influence your choice of the place to stay, too. If it is like most Japanese family restaurants, you may be stuck with a childrens menu that consists mainly of breaded and fried shrimp and orange juice.
After dinner you need to go "home", and familiarize youself with the place where you are going to stay. It should now be about 8 PM. Your kids may want to play some more so you can either give them a bath or dress them in pyamas straight away, and no later than 8 PM you should start the bedtime routine and let the kids go to bed.
It may require that you go to bed with them too. If you should happen to fall asleep too, there is no helping it: The total physical exhaustion has done its work.
It works for us. If it does not work for you, I contributed to a collection of tips where you are sure to find one that cures the jetlag of your kids.
Tokyo lights up from Halloween until mid-February. Despite calling this "christmas illumination" it is really a way for the cities and shopping centers to scare away the winter blues. Daylight in Tokyo start around 7 AM and it starts to get dark at 1630, but stores are regularly open until at least 20:00.
Every shopping center has its own illumination, and they are definitely worth watching if you happen to be there. But there are five places in Tokyo which are easily accessible with a stroller, and where the illuminations really are something special. So where should you take your kids if you are in Tokyo for the 2017 Christmas and New Year season?
i have written before about finding baby products in Japan, and the problem of finding diapers when the brands make no sense.
Now there is a reference page for all countries, thanks to the Wandermust family. Here you can get help for those moments when you are standing in the store wondering which side is up, and what the product actually is supposed to do for your child.
By the way, a tip: if your child is on formula, buy Hohoemi cubes. They are compressed formula powder blocks that dissolve in hot water. Super-convenient for feedings on the go - no more messing with powder.
Elevators in Tokyo subways are usually easy to understand. The arrow pointing up makes it go up, the downward arrow makes it go down. If there are more than one floor 1, 2, 3 ... are easy to understand. B1, B2, B3 are no ptoblem either - those are basement floors, where you find the grocery departments in the department stores. That is also usually where the stores connect to the trains or subway.
Trains are the most convenient and cheapest ways of getting around in Tokyo, if you avoid rush hour as I have written about before. And the easiest way of getting to the subway, at least if you have a kid in a stroller, is to take the elevator.
But where is this elevator going? What does the characters on the buttons mean? And it does not help the tourist that the staff have been helpful and addrd text in hiragana, the Japanese syllabic writing.
The elevator is going down, since I pressed the ホーム button. It reads "ho-mu", and does not mean home, but is an abbreviated form of the Japanese pronounciation of "platform". So the elevator is on its way to the platform where the trains depart.
But where is it coming from? The characters 改札口 means ticket gate (kaisatsuguchi in Japanese). Which means you took it after entering the ticket gates.
But where is this elevator coming from? It is evidently on its way to the ticket gatrs, since that is the button that is lit. But where is 地上?
Pronounced "chishou" it simply means "above ground". So the elevator is going from street level to the ticket gates.
Hope this helps!
I am Wisterian Watertree, recently moved from Tokyo to Sendai, previously of Bangkong and Honolulu. I write about travel, especially with our three beautiful kids (two girls and one boy, soon turning seven - yes. they are triplets). Travel is education and fun rolled into one, and if you are like me, that is something you want to give to your kids. If you want more tips and want to find out when I will publish something, get it from my email list. If you want to be personal, drop me a note on firstname.lastname@example.org, or if you want general tips, follow me on Twitter @wisterianw.