31 October 2007

Armchair Travel with Kids

TRAVEL BOOKS FOR TRAVELLING FAMILIES



Here is my small library of books about travelling with kids.

1. The "Frommers 500 places to take your kids before they grow up" is quite practical and somewhat informative about which destinations match which age group [although in some cases they seem a bit arbitrary]. I like that there is wide variety of destinations covered, and that it doesn't focus too much on North America. Well, 500 is a lot of places. We'd better get busy.

2. I thoroughly enjoyed "One Year Off" by David Cohen. They clearly had loads of fun and challenges and funny moments taking 3 kids on a trip around the world.

3. I love Lonely Planet and I can't wait to get to their book on travelling with kids. I believe its made up of a series of short stories.

4. I still haven't read the last one on my list which is called, "Are We There Yet?"

Do you have any recommendations of kid-friendly travel books? I would love to hear about them.

30 October 2007

Portable Placemats



STUFF TO BRING WHEN TRAVELLING WITH TODDLERS AND BABIES
I love Kiddopotamus portable placemats. You never have to worry about the level of cleanliness on any given table top; this is especially comforting for the toddler who likes to spread her food around while eating. The side flaps fold in and then you simply roll it up into the trough part. In the end, you have a baton-shaped item about a foot long and couple of inches across. It folds up securely enough that you can even leave the dinner mess on it, to clean up back at home.

28 October 2007

Another Stab at It



This is a from-memory-drawing of the my first crochet project; a scarf for my dad. I was 7 years old. I didn't bother with the mundane task of counting stitches to make sure it stayed a consistent width. Boring. But I did put a lot of thought into the plethora of colours of yarn I used. It had a fantastic number of wildly mismatched hues. And it barely fit around his neck.



In my late teens and early 20s I dabbled in granny squares and various afghan projects. And now after all these years, here's my second scarf project. It's for my little guy. I've taken what I learned the first time around and applied it this one. So far so good. Although, the bottom is a little wider than the
middle right now.




This Debbie Stoller has partly inspired me to get back into it. Wish me luck.

27 October 2007

Travelling Petit Picasso

FOUR MESS-FREE CANVASES FOR WEE ARTISTS

1. I just found this no mess doodle book that can be used over and over. The marker is filled with only water so we don't have to worry about crazy antics on the airplane seats. I understand they come in different themes, like Seseme Street and Hello Kitty, but Spud really loves the Backyardigans [so do I!] Try googling "Wow Doodle Book" to see what's out there.



2. I'm also in love with Aquadoodle mats. Occasionally, Spud takes the water-filled marker to the floor, looks at me mischieviously, and waits to see my response. In his charming attempt at trying to be 'bad' I realize that I need to make a distinction between regular markers and his Aquadoodle one. I don't know if they come in Travel-sized or not but depending on how light you are travelling, this mat folds up pretty small.



3. Of course there is the good ol' stand-by Etch-A-Sketch



4. And Pro Doodle Magnetic Drawing Board

26 October 2007

Roly Poly Glitter Toy



A PRACTICAL TOY FOR TRAVEL
My little crow loved shiney things when he was wee. Come to think of it, he still does. I put sparkles and shimmery confetti in empty water bottles for him to roll around on the floor and admire when he was mostly on all fours. This turns out to be a very portable toy too.
BRING
· plastic confetti
· sparkles
· drops of food colouring [optional, if you're feeling daring]

AQUIRE ON THE ROAD
· empty water bottle
· water
· sand, shells, pebbles, coins and other small-enough, found items

Throw it together, make sure the lid is on super tight, and you have your self a toy, which is especially good for the crawler in your life. If you are on the move, you can just tote the contents and get a new bottle in your new destination to save on weight and bulk.

In some cases, you may not want the toy to roll too much. Buying a cornered bottle will solve that problem but make sure you buy it small enough for your wee one to pick up.

24 October 2007

White Beaches of Santa Clara

TRAVELLING WITH KIDS  |  DESTINATION PANAMA





Los Serenas, Santa Clara, Panama

Just across the border into the Coclé province, Santa Clara is probably only an hour away. That's the beauty of travelling in a small country. We found our place, fairly easily. While the reception was a little chilly we really grew to love our little cabin with kitchenette, A/C in the bedroom, and showers indoors and out. The large windows in the front and back only had screens in them and the ocean breeze kept things cool at night. The bugs are nuts. So many different kinds. So many big weird ones. And you just don't know which ones you should be wary of and which are completely harmless. Every morning there are dozens of beetle-like creatures, belly up, all over the floor. Even after we found a broom, it was hard to keep up with them and Spud most assuredly munched at least one ... protein!

Our little place didn't have a restaurant but a gorgeous walk down the beach, maybe 10 minutes away, was a simple outdoor restaurant at the Veraneras Resort with chilled beer and grilled fish. It was nice to have the kitchenette during the day but it was a nice treat to go out for dinner too.

The beach is wonderful and surprisingly spared of people. I found this entry in my journal about a simple evening we had on the beach that I will never forget:
"After dark, at Spud's bedtime, we dressed him in his jammies and loaded him up in the carrier. We thought he would fall asleep as we walked to the neighbouring cantina for a beverage. But no way. We walked back and forth many times [for 45 minutes or so] and he stayed wide awake. He was admiring the moon greatly. He squealed at it repeatedly. It was quite large in the sky and reflected nicely off the ocean. He reached for it over and over again. And looked at me quizzically when it became shrouded with cloud. And I thought, how many ages have babies communed with the moon? There were a few Panamanians foraging for something in the surf. It was all so peaceful. And good."

23 October 2007

Forays in the Panamanian Rainforest

TRAVELLING WITH KIDS | DESTINATION PANAMA






We drove to Soberania National Park near Gamboa where the Pipeline Road is, it is said to have the highest concentration of different bird species in the world. But we had a lot of troubles finding the right trail and when we asked some Panamanian folk they talked us out of it completely, saying that it requires a guide. So on to the next, smaller trail then. By the time we got there, the rain was coming down so hard we could barely see across the street. Trying to wait it out was to no avail. So on to the zoo and botanical gardens then. But alas, the rain never relented. Eventually we packed it in, a little disappointed but it is the rainforest after all.

Our final attempt at communing with nature in the thick of it was in Park Nationiale, which is conveniently enough located right in the city. It was sunny and muggy as always and we looked forward to some time in the green shade, to see what we could see. With Spud on daddy's back, we started on the easiest trail. It's supposed to be flat and the loop takes about 45 minutes. Perfect. Well, actually a few minutes in, we realize that we most certainly should have brought the DEET! The three of went in with exposed legs and flip flops, if you can believe it. What a mistake! It doesn't matter how much travelling we do ... we still do embarrassingly dumb things.

At first I was in a bit of denial. "I'm a bit itchy, but maybe it's psychosomatic". I thought perhaps that if I walked faster, they wouldn't catch on. Nuh uh. But we really didn't want to give up. We took a photo. Admired some leaf cutter ants. And I was obsessing about these strange black bugs that kept getting between my toes and then resting on my flip flops. No amount of foot flinging would cause them to disembark. I was really feeling like a silly city girl at this point. And then, the evidence is there, a mozzy ... right on my leg ... "that's it, we have to high tail it out of here". I don't want to take Dengue fever home as a souvenir.

So do you have any dumb travel stories you'd care to share?

22 October 2007

Look What Came in the Mail!




TRUNKI RIDE-ON SUITCASE FOR LITTLE PEOPLE
How exciting! We first saw one of these on a trip to Cuba. An English family had one and was praising its genius. We just went online and bought one. My little guy insisted on the pink one, although they have a blue one too and a green one which is very nice.

I can't wait to see him push his own luggage around the airport ... he's going to really love it. Also fun is that we can detach the shoulder strap on one end and pull him behind us when he gets too tuckered to use his own steam. And check out the adorable little passport inside; a place for all his particulars.

I'm going to try to keep this under wraps until xmas morning ... if I can wait that long!

21 October 2007

Travel Journal Panama Canal Did-you-knows



DID YOU KNOW? ...
· the French started the Canal in 1880, the US took over in 1904 and it was completed in 1914
· the Panama Canal is 80 km long
· in 2004 there were 12,518 transits with $757.7 million in tolls
· the lowest toll for transiting the Canal was 36 cents by Richard Haliburton, who swam through
· the average time spent in transit is 8 to 10 hours
· 58% of the available water in the Canal watershed is used for lockages

20 October 2007

Travelling with Child



OUR LISTS AT THE MOMENT
Where we've travelled with our wee one:
1. Montreal [3 months]
2. Panama [13 months old]
3. Toronto [2 years old]
4. Cuba [2 years old]
5. PEI and Nova Scotia [3 years old]

Some places we want to go next:
1. More Carribbean
2. Paris and Vienna
3. India
4. Cambodia
5. Thailand

19 October 2007

Outdoor Blankets



Well, we were pretty proud of ourselves for thinking to bring our water-resistant picnic blanket with us travelling. We could lay it out on almost any surface and provide an instantly clean play area. Cool. We first used it on our flight to Panama. I laid it out at our feet in the bulkhead section which gave our crawler a safe place to play and roll around. I would've like to have had it for the whole trip but in the chaos of deplaning, we left it behind. Sadly. And the lack of a common language between us and the airport staff meant we were never to see that blanket again. I don't know what brand we had but these ones look great ... tuffo

18 October 2007

Speaking of Dining



Wanting to keep the amount of laundry to a minimum while travelling, we found the wipeable bib we brought invaluable. I just found these bibs; double-sided, stylish and easy to clean.


17 October 2007

Family Dining, Not Fine Dining, in Panama

TRAVELLING WITH KIDS



MI RANCHITO RESTAURANTE

Resort La Playita, Amador Causeway, Panama City

The three of us ventured out in our rental car to have dinner at Mi Ranchitos on the Causeway. It was a fantastic time. We ate outdoors, under a thatched roof and enjoyed live music. We ate a massive amount of seafood in what was called a “Seafood Casserole”. We also had ceviche mixto for a delicious appy.

There were loads of families dining there but it still had a sort of romantic ambience. The little guy was kept busy by flirting with the little girl at the next table and clapping along with the band until it was time to leave.

In general, when looking for places to eat out on the road, we usually prefer the small, family-run places. This is where they really take care of you. And in Panama, this is especially true when you have a little one with you. On many occasions, actually more like every occasion, Spud was whisked away to be showed off to the kitchen staff or the neighbours or whomever. Sometimes he would be toted around for 10-15 minutes, with whispers of Spanish and being shown things on the walls or the oranges on the trees etc. It was really lovely to watch. And only made me nervous [for no reason it turns out] when they took him out of sight.

16 October 2007

Paradise Imperfect

TRAVELLING WITH KIDS | DESTINATION PANAMA



Isla Taboga
The wavy, 45-minute boat ride on the Calypso Princess made Spud a little clingy ($5 per person, one-way). Our little hotel was brand new, nicely designed and comfortable but it had no kitchen in the room and we discovered there was no hot water which made it difficult to bathe the boy. Thankfully the staff in the restaurant downstairs were helpful with bottles and milk etc. The boy enjoyed a variety of foods including half a plantain which we were later told by Nino, our odd but likable host, should only be eaten cooked and would be very bad for a baby raw. Fortunately his pipes held up well.

Things we’ve enjoyed on the island were the fireworks on Fisherman’s day, the regular tiny ring of the church bell, the gorgeous and ubiquitous bougainvillea, the whole fried fish with fried yucca, ketchup and hot sauce, big yummy shrimp, warm rain, passion fruit con secco (Panamanian boozy beverage).

Other things on the island: backward expats, mosquitos at dusk, and a serious water shortage. We stayed here for 3 days and soaked up the paradise as much as we could. But it was the last time we stayed in a place without a kitchen.

15 October 2007

Panama Canal

TRAVELLING WITH KIDS | DESTINATION PANAMA



I wasn't sure that the Miraflorez Canal would be more than a tourist-have-to for me but I actually really enjoyed our time there. And so did the kid.

It started with a typical entrepreneurial cabby who charged us $8 when we got there. He asked for $10 and from what I’ve read it should cost $5. We paid it without a fuss though. Then we declined his offer to stick around and wait for us for a cool 25 bucks. He tried to scare us by claiming that there would be no cabs waiting for us when we came out. It was somewhat believable since it felt like we were in the middle of nowhere. But we took our chances. In fact there was a very kind and helpful driver there when we were done. And he only charged us $4 to get home!

Firtst we took in the canal museum which was pretty cool. It even had stuff to interest Spud, like fish and turtles in the aquariums.

Next we enjoyed lunch at the Canal restaurant and it was delicious. It's on the second level of the Tourist Building and overlooks the canal. We were told later that we were very lucky to see a big ship go through the lock, and we saw two while chilling on the restaurant's deck! The first boat we saw had to pay $80,000 to get through the whole canal. It’s based on weight and type of vessel. We also saw a couple of sailboats and a few tugs too. The weather was perfect. Warm, with a nice breeze. Of course, still muggy, but that’s a given. Anyway, the whole day was relaxing and charming and cute.

14 October 2007

Our Digs in Panama City

TRAVELLING WITH KIDS | DESTINATION PANAMA







LA ESTANCIA Bed + Breakfast
This place was perfect for us travelling with the little one. The two suites downstairs have large kitchens. A/C. Cute outdoor patios where you can see the sloth, giant guinea pig type rodents, and listen to the billion birds. The hosts were extremely helpful with all of our travel needs such as renting cars etc.

Our little one LOVED the staff who ogled him at breakfast or whenever we went up to the common area. "Que paso, mi amore" they would greet him every morning when we went up for breakfast. One morning we came back to our room and they announced "we cleaned the room early because we knew the baby was coming". Sometimes the acting manager at the time would come down and ask if she could take him upstairs to the common area where she would encourage him to play the piano [he's very experimental] and show him the monkeys in the trees in the back. The people there were really lovely.

The only possible downside is that it's on Ancon Hill which isn't centrally located. A 10- or 15-minute taxi will take you to the city core or to Old Panama. The plus side is that you are in a rainforest. You can walk up the hill to the top and see the canal not to mention all the wildlife along the way.

13 October 2007

An Igloo in the Tropics





We looked into buying a portable crib for Spud, when planning our trip, but he was already too big for any we could find. And we knew that the kinds of places we were staying, wouldn't have such sleeping quarters for our wee one. So, we brought a pup tent igloo-thing that we bought at IKEA for something like $15. I think they have castles now. Also cool.

Anyway, it worked better than we even thought. It packed down small and light. We were always able to find enough extra pillows and bedding to make a suitable little nest in it. We used mozzy net on the doorway when we were in mosquito country. Even though he often ended up in our bed anyway, there would always be those awkward hours where he's asleep but we're not ready to. By keeping him at floor level, we avoided any falling-out-of-bed scenarios.

12 October 2007

Nut Butter Balls



These little balls are rolling in protein and my little guy gobbles them up. I'm taking some of these basic ingredients on our next trip. They should travel well since they are both light and non-perishable.

1. COMBINE
1 cup nut butter
1/2 cup non-fat dry milk powder
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup raisins or mini chocolate chips or Rice Crispies

Mix ingredients in a large bowl. Shape into 1-inch balls.

2. CHOOSE A COATING
Graham crackers, crumbled
Coconut, flaked
Shredded wheat biscuit, crumbled

Roll balls to coat and refrigerate (or freeze).

11 October 2007

Happy Trails Child Carrier


This MEC child carrier was a dream. I'm sad that our little guy has outgrown it already. But since daddy was usually the one to carry it on his back, he may not be as sorry. We used it snowshoeing in the mountains, walking around various festivals around town where a stroller would be cumbersome, and it was a must-have for our Panama trip. The detachable daypack that hung below the seat made a great diaper bag and the sun/rain shade definitely came in handy as did the kickstand when we needed to put him down.

The Portable Highchair

We found this little fold down item so useful ... at home, when dining out, visiting grandparents, and especially for travelling. When researching which one to buy, we chose one that folded down nicely and had a removable cover that could be thrown in the washer without any problem.

10 October 2007

Cleanliness, on the Road



Well, hands down, for me baby wipes are where it's at. If I made a list of my top ten cleanliness items, wipes would be in my top 5 for sure. I actually regret not having babies earlier for a lot of reasons. But one of them is that I'm sorry I didn't discover the beauty of wipes a long time ago. I have these things in every bathroom. They even work as wash cloths in the shower, in a pinch. Of course I keep them in my purse, in the car, and even at my desk at work [I even clean my keyboard with them]. I buy them by the case. Literally. So, of course, this is a must-have for me when travelling, for the whole family. Anyone with kids probably already knows what I'm talking about so I'll stop gushing about these now.

I also like to bring Waterless Skin Cleansers such as Cetaphil and Mustelausa. You don't have to rinse this stuff off so it comes in handy in places where the water may be dodgy. They are also very mild so they are suitable for sensitive skin.

09 October 2007

Wandering in Old Panama City

TRAVELLING WITH KIDS | DESTINATION PANAMA





We took a cab to Plaza Francia [France Square] which is in Old Panama. We wanted to walk there but our friendly B+B host told us “You must not walk through El Chorillo”. As we drove through the neighbourhood, I could see why. It had all the signs of a depressed, desperate place. I’m sure I would have felt similarly if we were without child but having our little 13-month-old bundle of preciousness with us made the situation that much more intense. Since I had never been there before, I had no idea what to expect and my greatest fear was that what we were seeing was in fact our destination. My mantra went something like this: “Please don’t drop us off here. Please don’t drop us off here.” and “Please don’t let this be Casco Viejo. Please don’t let this be Casco Viejo”.

Thankfully the the taxi driver kept driving and In moments we arrived at our intended destination ... Old Panama City... and it was gorgeous. It reminded us a bit of Havana only much smaller and in better condition in spots. The area was almost deserted, save a few mild-mannered indigenous folk selling carvings, jewellery, tapestry, weaving etc. The Square, dedicated to the 22,000 workers who lost their lives in making the canal, led us to the very tip of the old city with a stunning view. Through the mist we could see the New City, the Pacifico, and Ancon Hill, where we were staying.

We then happened upon a 20m long bouganvaillea arch which is amazing albeit a little broken down. There were more people selling their wares. The soft sell is so sweet. Much of the colonial architecture was in ruins and there's a lot of poverty in the area. The kind that really makes your heart sad. Small doorways open onto the skinny sidewalk. I glimpsed inside through the dark and saw the sadness. Some of the old buildings had been beautifully restored. In general, the old town was much smaller than I would have thought. After 45 minutes we saw most of it. Spud saw none of it as he was lulled to sleep on daddy’s back the whole way. His sweet curls wet with humidity pressed on his head.

When he woke up we took a cookie break in Cathedral Square. Next we went to the Canal Museum which was well done but we had to rush because by that time our little traveller was getting restless. Then we found a cute restaurant for lunch. I had sancocho [Panama’s national dish, chicken and veggie stew] and Spud liked it too.

After lunch we happened upon a taxi with glorious A/C and Spud fell asleep as he usually does. Aside from the driver getting us lost and scaring the crap out of me as he aggressively crossed 3 lanes of traffic, the trip back to the B+B was pretty uneventful.

Oh, What to Bring?

TRAVELLING WITH KIDS  |  DESTINATION PANAMA



It turns out it's pretty easy to travel in Panama with a little one. The grocery stores carry all your basic baby needs, including all the diaper stuff you're used to. I had carefully packed a dozen of jars of Earth's Best only to see it staring me in the face in the local super market in Panama City.

We brought a baby backpack carrier instead of a stroller and a small pup tent that could be sealed with mossy net for sleeping quarters. Also, after much deliberation, the car seat ended up on the leave-behind-list.

Instead, our wee treasure was securely fastened into his backpack carrier between us in the back seat. We couldn't figure out a way to fasten him to the seat so we wrapped the straps around each one of our arms, held on tight, and hoped for the best.

The first time we were faced with this scenario, of course I wondered how irresponsible we were being. But could we have asked the driver to wait while we installed it in the back? Probably. Could we walk around downtown toting it around all day? Yuck. No way. Could we find another driver willing to pick us up to get back to our lodgings? Risky. In the end, it didn't seem to jive with our style of travel.

We did however, rent a car for a few days and the car company delivered it to us with a car seat installed in the back. If I had it to do over again, I would leave the baby food AND the car seat behind.

Have Kid, Will Travel






Our baby came along in the Spring of 2004 and since then we’d been wondering if our travelling days were over. We tested it with a 2 week holiday in Panama when he was one years old.

Before going on the trip, I searched high and low for information on independent travel with a wee one and I was surprised to find that there wasn't much out there. My next few entries are about the things I learned from our first trip.

08 October 2007

Hello



Well, hello there. Glad to be finally doing this. I've wanted to join the blogger-rama ranks for some time now. I hope, as a working mom of a 3-year-old that I'll find the time to add valuable entries regularly. And my hope is that others will find inspiration in these pages too. I look forward to using this space to keep and organize the things I love. The things I love to do, love to make, love to see, love to buy [or at least dream of buying]; those special things for wee ones and for the people who take care of them. It is after all, about the wee things in life.
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