staying in touch

It has been a while.
Last year, it felt that as we were no longer traveling, there was no reason to post articles or photos anymore.

That being said, I am posting today because I hope it will help us stay in touch with friends and family despite the little time we have to phone, skype or write.

So here is a medley of our latest adventures in a world full of contrasts , starting with Easter holidays in Venice, where we enjoyed a big bath of beauty for the eyes and mind, delicious food and precious family time with the grand-parents.

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IglesiaAu

sibblings

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Venicewalk

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a week in Hawaii – by Alvar

Hello I am Alvar and we are now spending a week in Hawaii. Yesterday we went on a beach and saw a little spring of fresh water. It was cold but it was all right. When we came back we saw a monk seal and came home. The next day we went to “baby beach” and we could see fishes in small pools. Then we ate pizza. After lunch we went into a canyon, and onto a really fun beach with lots of waves. The water was warm and it was sunset time. We had a great day.

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PS: the seal is having some rest, not dead !

Cannon Beach

Here are some pictures of our improvised weekend in Oregon.

Ben and I already had some good memories from our first trip in the area 12 years ago but we now have a whole bunch of new souvenirs with the children. The weather was perfect and the landscape just incredible.

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Back on track

Hey !
First time in weeks I find a moment to post on the blog. We have been in Seattle for a month now, and it has been physically and nervously demanding, but we are now back on track for a close to normal everyday life.

Seattle
We landed mid-August and went straight to our new house on the South end of Mercer Island. A huge, empty, blue (!) house on a steep hill, in front of majestic Lake Washington. The views are inspiring, even mystical. In the distance, Mount Rainier is watching over us. Since we arrived, the evergreen state has greeted us with a constant sun and an every day blue sky. We’ve been told many times that it won’t last, but for now, we are enjoying the never ending summer.

mercer island

Until last week, our days have been a mix of delighting and peaceful moments at the beach, in the forest or the mountains, and not so pleasant shopping experiences in horrible malls and depressing parking lots. We did our best to quickly empty our boxes and assemble our furniture in order to finally feel at home after those 7 months of nomadic life.

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The children have been so happy to find their toys and books back ! Alvar keeps telling me : “It is really cool to know that we are going to stay here for a while”. Our home is far too big for us and some rooms are still empty, but it is bright, comfortable and very convenient with the children.

School started again on September 4th, and Alvar is ecstatic since his first day at the French American School of Puget Sound. He loves it ! He can’t stop writing in cursive letters, saying out loud his Jacques Prevert poetry and looking for jokes on the Internet so he can share them with his “buddies”. He has a great relationship with “Monsieur Matthieu”, his Grade 3 teacher.

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Austine started attending a Play Center twice a week, from 9 to 12. She meets with other toddlers, enjoys a room full of toys, dolls, painting and play dough activities and spends some time outside in a playground surrounded by redwood trees. She does not like separation (and I don’t either !) but she is brave and seems to like it there.

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For myself, the big adjustment has been to get use to driving. Ben offered me a very nice second hand Subaru Outback, which is probably the best seller car in Washington state, so I blend in well and I do feel like one of them. By “them”, I mean one of the many housewives that are going back and force from a school to a playground, from a shopping mall to an after school activity. I do enjoy the new mobility, but I don’t like spending that much time in a car. We’ll see if I get used to it, but the good news is that we are keeping it local so our lives are mainly arranged around the island which makes it a little less painful. And because we are in Amazon country, the delivery guy is doing most of the shopping for me, saving me time and stress.

Ben has finally found an environment that fits his needs for space. After 10 years in “tiny” Europe, he can start breathing again ! His job is challenging and he has been putting a lot of passion and hours into it, as always. The first three months have been rewarding but goals are still to be achieved and deadlines to be met … And then, they will instantly be replaced by new ones.

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It is Friday afternoon and we have a social weekend coming up (phase 2 of a proper installation in a new country). The school is very good with creating a community and the networking works briliantly. “Ambassador parents” have invited us to their home and a fall picnic is scheduled for Sunday. We also need to knock on our 7 neighbours’ doors to introduce ourselves properly.

I really feel like a Bree Van de Kamp with my batch of cookies in front of my enormous 3 garage house.

How to pack for a long journey with children

Our trip lasted for 71 days, across 5 countries with a wide range of climates : chilly summits, heavy rains, dry deserts, rainy cities and sunny beaches. We planned on living in hotels, houses and a motor-home. I needed to pack for two adults and two children, aged 2 and 6, keeping in mind that we would only have four arms and two backs to carry everything !

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LUGGAGE

– bags :

Our choice was to travel as light as possible. We decided to take 2 Eastpack bags with 2 wheels and telescopic handles (80 litres) and a small buggy. Also, two back-packs, one medium and one small.

For the buggy, I had a choice between the Volo (approx. 5kg) or the Triumph from Mac Laren (approx 6.5kg). I took the Triumph because it was lighter and more practical. It reclines for nap time and offers a better protection against rain and sun.

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The bags were big containers with no compartments which gives more flexibility. I divided our clothes and belongings into Muji garment cases of various sizes. One for each traveler + one for the toys + one for the camping gear + one for the electronic devices. For toiletries, we used one big pouch from Eagle Creek and one small case for the children. It allowed us to pack and unpack quickly without creating too much of a mess. It was also really helpful when we were in separate rooms, as we each had our own gear easy to carry from one place to another. Having two toiletry kits is also very convenient if you are not in the same room for a couple of nights or if you only need a quick wash and don’t want to take everything out of your bag.

And last, but not the least, the Ergo baby carrier . Light and adjustable to carry our baby on our backs, hip or front. Very useful for the treks, but also to rock our daughter to sleep in planes. I did not take the rain cover as our daughter had an overall suit that would protect her from the wind and rain.

Usually, my husband would pull both wheeled bags and carry a back-pack while I would push the buggy, carry the bag-pack and give a hand to our son.

– clothes and other belongings :

I thought we packed light. We only had a large Muji filet per person which I thought was quite an achievement for such a long journey. Now I know that we had twice the quantity of clothes we needed !
I planned for extreme weather as we were traveling in different season, from early spring to late autumn depending on the hemisphere. We were lucky and never had pouring rain nor bitter cold. In the end, the temperatures were always between 10 and 35 degrees Celsius, meaning T-shirts and light trousers were ok for every occasion.

If I were to do it again, I would pack lighter and leave some space to add souvenirs or appropriate gear we could have found during the trip : a new bathing suit in Australia, a nice wool jumper in New-Zealand, new toys in Japan, a shirt in Hawaii etc…

As we stayed in very safe and Occidental type countries, we could find anything anytime : tooth brush, baby-formula, nappies, etc. Other needs were easily met, except for some baby food in Japan and in some very remote places in Australia and New-Zealand.

– Toys :

I think it was really important to take as many toys as possible (two Medium compartments from Muji) as the children were sometimes a bit disoriented and home sick. But remember toys can be fragile and heavy. In the end, we lost many toys along the way and we were glad that none of them were irreplaceable.

For our son :
I asked him to choose 5 cars and planes (not his favourite ones though!), a couple of books, (I recommend you select one story about an adventure around the world. We read Robinson Crusoe and it was a total success), some cards, a diary and crayons. He also took his own camera, a small brain game and a ball to play outside.

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For our daughter :
I took some “little people” from her collection and a couple of accessories to go with. A pouch with plastic animals, one cuddly toy, her tiny baby and her blanket from home. For the bath and the beach, some nesting cups, a couple of small shovels and rake, some bubbles to blow.

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Her three favourite books, in pocket edition, would gave us the opportunity to maintain a routine around bed time, wherever we were.

On the way, in airports, museums souvenirs shops or market places, we regularly let them choose some small toys to take along and some new books. This would keep them busy and happy, reward their patience, and give them a way to remember specific places.

In Hawaii, we met parents that gave us the beach and pool stuff they had bought for their children because they were living the next day. We did the same when we left.

CHECKING-IN

In terms of weight, the allowance varies depending on the company you are flying with (and your airline frequent flyer status). We took 15 flights, with many different companies, national or low cost, all with different rules. We also experienced how the rules evolve depending on who you are dealing with at the check-in desk. Some people were very comprehensive and helpful, some were just applying the rules with no empathy whatsoever.

As we had 4 tickets every time we were flying, the total weight allowed was around 80 kilos, but each bag had to be less than 23 to 20 kilos depending on the carrier.

Ours were a little overweight (around 24 kg each). As a result, we had to negotiate every time we checked-in. If we were do to it again, we would make sure our bags are never heavier than 22 kg.

Some members of the staff did not even mention the overweight as we had only two bags for 4 seats, some asked for money or gave us the possibility to unload and check-in a third bag. This is why I strongly recommend you also take a medium size back-pack (50 litres). In several occasions, we took 4 or 5 kilos out of our main bags and stuffed it in the back-pack at checked-in. Another useful trick is to keep in one of the back-pack pockets another tiny bag (ultra light, folded in its own pocket). In the situation where you need to check-in the big 50 litres backpack, you can load your tiny light one with the stuff you need for your flight : food, toys, nappies, ipad…

Regarding the buggy : most of the airline companies allowed us to keep the buggy until we boarded the planes. It can be helpful but it means that you might have to wait at destination without knowing when (or where) the buggy will be handed back to you. It sometimes is taken back to the airplane door, sometimes placed on the baggage carrier belt with all the other luggage, some other times it is placed at the “over-sized” item counter. Finding out where and when can be a waste of time. So make sure you ask a member of the staff instead of waiting at the wrong place and if your child is not too tired already, you might check the buggy in and let the child walk or use the baby carrier instead.

ON BOARD

Children food :

I don’t like traveling without any food for the children as I don’t want to rely on the meals served on board : there might be nothing available (some low cost carriers don’t serve anything, some other companies serve only what was pre-ordered), the timing might be wrong or the children might just not like the menu. As a hungry child can become really miserable and cause a lot of stress, I tend to always pack a fresh snack and some puree in pouches (Ella’s kitchen type). But in some countries, like New Zealand, Australia and Hawaii, the quarantine is very strongly enforced, which means you will have to throw away any fresh food before you go through customs. I asked several times what “fresh food” meant to them as I wasn’t sure my purees and organic meals would be a problem. The short answer is: any manufactured food which is properly sealed can go through customs. Any opened pouch or fresh fruit is to be disposed of.

Another problem might occur with security services. First, they will ask you to put the baby food in a tray which means that you will have to open your bags, load and unload, again and again. In some places (London for instance), they will even ask you to open the pouches and bottles and take a sip in front of them, in order to prove that you are carrying proper baby food and no other illegal substances. The result is that your pouch is wasted if your child does not eat it soon after it has been opened.

With that in mind, I usually put these “goodies” in my small back-pack :

– a couple of pouches of fruit purees;
– two meals in a pouch;
– two apples;
– some pretzels or light snack;
– some water (each child has her/his own water bottle);
– the right quantity of formula milk for 3 bottles + a bottle filled with the right amount of water;
– some sweets as a reward for good behaviour.

I would fit all of this in an insulated lunch-box, to be able to take everything out at once, for security checks.

Entertainment :

We had two ipads, one “big” and one “mini”, and our two iPhones, each loaded with our children’s favourite TV programs and documentaries about the places we were going to visit. Many downloaded apps (scrabble, puzzles, flash cards, flight simulators, etc) so the children could vary the activities and keep entertained during long flights. Before the longest flights or commutes, we would load new movies or apps. To go with those “virtual” activities, I had a small pouch with tiny plastic animals for our daughter and we would play for hours, just taking them all out and then back in the pouch, naming them or inventing stories.

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For our 6 year old son, die cast cars and planes would do the trick. Of course, crayons and paper were very handy too and books helped us keeping the bedtime routine.

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A piece of advice : don’t give the children any electronic device before the plane is up in the sky. As the staff will ask you to shut it down a couple of minutes before take off, your children may get upset to be interrupted and start screaming to get the screen back. Instead, keep them busy with reading the safety instruction or with some of the tiny toys I mentioned earlier.

Baby Carrier :

I always had the baby-carrier in my cabin back-pack.

We created a specific routine for our baby to fall asleep on a plane. I would wait for the meal to be served and taken away and when all the passenger would start watching a movie or prepare for sleep, I would put the baby on my back, in her ergo baby carrier and start rocking her, standing up in the aisle. I would also sing “Old mac Donald” as many times as needed, in a very soft voice. It would put her to sleep in minutes and she would usually not wake up before the plane landed.

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Some passengers traveling with babies use a car seat. I never tried it, even though we added a car seat to our luggage along the trip. We checked it in, and chose to have a regular seat on the plane for our daughter. She never complained, appreciated the freedom of movement she would not have had with a car seat, slept easily every time and we did not have to struggle to adjust a car seat onto the plane seat. I think it also give a little more space to whoever is sitting next to the baby. I would probably have considered a car seat for a younger baby, that would have not been able to sit on her/his own.

If you have any question, leave us a message and I will be happy to help.