Go! International

Tips and Tricks for Foreign Travel
(Inspired by 4 months in Taiwan) by Steffanie Casperson

YES, some of these tips are written to be Taiwan-specific. I thought of editing out those that may only be true for Taiwan, but then it occurred to me that those tips may very well apply to other destinations, and I simply don't know it yet. In the least, they ALL may give you a bit more to think about as you consider foreign travel with your family. (So few tour books seemed to be geared to the family with more than 1 or 2 kids...) So enjoy!

1. Order specialty meals on the plane - you get your food first and it's YUMMY!

2. Travel with post-it notes. I bought some of these on our first day to cover all the bright lights from air-conditioning units and other electronics in the rooms where we are sleeping. (Another option would be to wrap some black electrical tape around the top of a pencil for this purpose.)

3. Bring changes of clothing on your carry-ons, AND plastic bags. The changes of clothing just seem like a good idea in case luggage is delayed. But on our trip to FL, one little one puked on the plane, and on THIS trip, the littlest peed himself (and his dad - our bad because we forgot to have him go before he went "to bed," ie: fell asleep during OUR night-time on the plane), so not only have changes of clothing come in REALLY handy, but so have the bags to put the smelly, soiled laundry! Ooh, and remind your little ones to go the bathroom before "bed" while you travel. :)

4. Speaking of which, go before you go. Public bathrooms don't exist in abundance in Taiwan so keep that in mind before you head out.

5. Skirts are WAY better in humidity than capris.

6. Take tissue or napkins in your purse/bag. Though eating places abound, they DON'T generally give you napkins with your food purchase OR have napkins sitting out for the taking.

7. Bring an air mattress. Ours has saved us from hard beds a few times, and has augmented the sleeping accommodations in smaller rooms.

8. Bring a flat sheet or two. I completely spaced this, though it had been in the plan. I simply wanted something to cover the air mattress with, but I would have used it almost daily had I remembered it. First, not one of the beds in any of the places we've stayed has provided sheets. You get the mattress and the blanket. The end. At the Catholic hostel, for example, I would have loved something between me and the blanket used by hundreds of other cheap travelers. AND a flat sheet would have provided a faster clean-up after snacks had we eaten on it in any of the places we stayed. Shaking a sheet is better than endlessly sweeping. To both these ends, I also intended to bring a sarong as a swim-suit cover-up. It might have passed as a sheet, a picnic blanket, given added privacy or darkness to windows, been a clean surface to set a clean batch of laundry on, been something to bundle the dirty laundry in, provided extra shade attached to the stroller, AND covered me on the way to and from the pool! Dang!

9. Now we're in our home base, I'm missing sticky tacky to hang pictures to make this place just a bit more our own.

10. For LDS readers, bring hymn books in English. It would be much nicer to be able to sing in church, even in a different language, than not sing at all. We've found the popular hymns here are very different from the popular hymns back at home. (The web-based tools provided by the church have not been very convenient, as hymn numbers are different here, and I haven't found where to look up hymns by name using the online tools.)

11. Carry empty plastic bags with you to the 7-11's or grocery stores if you are going to buy more than you can carry. They charge now for bags when you shop for food. Clothing stores and markets still provide bags for free.

12. Stroller. If you have any marginally small children, bring one! They are a god-send when littler people are tired, and when they aren't, it can haul your purchases at the market!

13. Bring an extra bag to put dirty laundry so you don't have to carry the stinky stuff with the clean. And bring laundry detergent for a stay of a few weeks. Some laundromats provide it, but knowing YOUR luck, you won't have enough change for your loads AND the soap or the dispensing machine will be out of order. The other nice thing about bringing your own is it's a familiar brand- you know how much per load to use and you know how it cleans.

14. Speaking of laundry, don't bring too many clothes. I think I brought us 10 days of summer clothes. It's about 3 days too many. The machines here in people's homes are SERIOUSLY SO SMALL that you will want to do laundry frequently to not be stuck doing it forever and having no where to dry it all. Doing a batch every few days means you will have a steady stream of clean clothes, reducing your need to have MORE clothes. Only bring enough clothing for your longest stay away from accessible washing machines.

15. Consider a leash for little people. I get funny looks when my 3 year old is in his, but it has saved him from trips, falls, from dashing to the edge of the train platform, or slipping between legs on the crowded subway. It's saved him from getting too far ahead, from getting hit by a car, and when I am trying to talk to a stranger in a strange language with 4 kids in tow, a leash helps me to always know where my little one is, even if I can't always keep my eye on him!

16. Bring, don't buy. Yes, shopping in Taiwan is a lot of fun. Yes, you can find almost anything here, and the prices are good. And between kids AND luggage, it can feel like you are hauling a lot and you may want to off-load. But if there is anything you NEED that you have at home, don't pack so light that you don't bring it. We made this mistake on a few items. (Walking shoes, bug spray, batteries, etc.) Once here, we discovered sure, we COULD buy what we needed, but finding where, getting there, getting back, or having enough cash on hand when we happened upon something, ensuring quality, getting a good price, making out what was what from unfamiliar brands and all the Chinese on the labels, ALL with kids in tow who have OTHER ideas about what fun looks like (that don't usually include a list of errands) translates into BRING the stuff you need. You'll be glad you did!

17. Planning your island tour: IF you want to see all of Taiwan, and it's LOVELY to do so, and it's a smallish country so it IS totally doable, consider doing it in a loop tour fashion. Yes, this requires more stamina from every member of the family, but the alternative is WAY more expensive. On a tour, you can travel from one destination to the next with next to no back-tracking. If you are touring, you also likely aren't paying for another place to stay while you travel around. Our island tour took apx 18 days. I highly recommend booking accommodations through Airbnb.com if you are traveling with more than 1 small child. Our Asian friends were quite impressed with where we stayed for the prices we payed. (Though Taiwan has similar sights to Airbnb, for us English speakers, and between the search options and safety features of Airbnb, I didn't find anywhere that was a better tool.) And as often as possible, hit big destinations mid-week and off season. OUR tour was in Sept. Mostly the crowds we encountered (not too too many) were from mainland China. If you can get out first thing in the morning and be wrapping up for rest and dinner around 2 or 3 pm, you should miss the bulk of the mainland Chinese tour bus crowds as well.

18. Finding a home base: If you plan to stay put largely in one place for all or a part of your stay in Taiwan, here are some considerations to keep in mind when hunting for perfect digs. First, look for a furnished place. My husband made some off-hand comment about being able to furnish a place, but here's the thing: who will be taking you to furniture stores? Who will be hauling your furniture? Even if you think you'll rough it and go furniture light, what about dishes? towels? bedding? pots, pans, and small cooking appliances? what about hangers for your clothing? a sponge to clean dishes, etc. etc. etc. etc. The cost and hassle of buying these things just to leave them when you go or try to sell them simply isn't worth the increased cost if you can find something even simply furnished.  If it's furnished, ask about mattresses, unless you are okay sleeping on very hard, Taiwan style beds. If you will drive a car (and more thoughts on that to come), look for a place with free, near-by, convenient parking. If you won't be driving, be sure you are near convenient public transportation. Being close to a grocery store and/or market is nice too - remember, with smaller fridge space (and you may want to confirm fridge sizes because one of the homes we stayed in only had a beverage fridge), you will be shopping a lot more often. Another odd but necessary thing to look for is closet space. Closets are NOT planned into floor plans here. They certainly are not a given. Even in newer buildings. In our first stay, the rooms were not even large enough to fit a closet. I say ask about closets, because a proper chest of drawers is practically out of the question. But if you are hunting for a home base, at least a closet may keep you from living out of suitcases. And confirm a washing machine (dryer if you are INCREDIBLY fortunate) or the convenience of a laundromat. Finally, consider the activity needs of your family. If you are accustomed to a yard, try to find somewhere with a park near-by. Many apartment complexes have a small playground in them. Newer high rises should have less of an insect problem, but that isn't always a given. Much depends on your neighbors and their cleanliness habits. If you are in a high-rise, there should be a garbage room and policy. Older homes are serviced by nightly runs of the garbage truck. When you hear a tinny-sounding ice-cream truck, that is your cue to grab your trash and head out to meet the waste workers - no ice cream provided!

19. My advice on vehicles. Driving in Taiwan is stressful! There are people in AND out of vehicles everywhere! The fear of hurting yourself or others with a vehicle gives many a traveler pause when considering driving in Taiwan. Of my 4 times in Taiwan, this has been the only time I have driven, though Q did most of the driving. We chose driving over using the abundant and mostly convenient public transportation for a few reasons. Driving, we could come and go according to our convenience and whims. We didn't have to worry about buying train tickets or hauling our little people and ALL their stuff through MRT stations or staying safe on the side of the road while we waited for a bus to come. Though driving IS nerve wracking, so it riding in a bus or cab here - something about being behind a wheel just translates into crazy aggression for most Taiwanese drivers. (Aggression should not be confused with anger. Road rage isn't even heard of.) So driving provided a smoother transit for everyone in the car not responsible for getting from A to B safely. Our van also provided a home base away from home. It held all our stuff, allowing us to take into our accommodations only what we needed for the nights we stayed in any given place. The definite down-side of the vehicle was the cost. We got a better deal because of our extended rental period (over 2 weeks) but at $60/day, that added up fast. And with our digs averaging about $100/night, it might have been tempting to try and get around a bit faster than we did. We just didn't have the family stamina to have everyone hit it hard core day after day after day. (Avoiding hot spots on the weekends was a nice, mandatory break to sit down and/or catch up on laundry.) NOW we are in our home base, I am glad we DON'T drive. Even with a provided parking stall in our building, parking isn't a guarantee anywhere else! And I think the kids enjoy amusing the riders on the MRT with their antics far more than they would enjoy being strapped into seat belts and sitting in traffic. Now, IF we had a car we could drive only when needed, but could otherwise take the public transportation options, that would be heaven!

Bringing the International Experience into the Comfort of Your Own Home
by Steffanie Casperson

Ten years ago my oldest was two. And I was longing to get him out into the whole wide world to share with him all the loveliness to be found there. But we didn't have the money, time, or confidence for international travel with 2 year olds. 

As I hunted around for options that would work, I found Rebecca. She works for a company, OvECS, which places students with American families as they come to the USA to study.  Called "homestay," this experience helps the students learn English more rapidly, and (perhaps more importantly) helps them learn and navigate American culture.

From our perspective, hosting brought the world to us and our children. Over the next 3 years and the addition of another baby, we hosted a total of 23 international students in our home and LOVED the experience.  We hosted students from countries we already knew and loved from our missions in Taiwan and Korea. (We still cook the food I was taught by the Korean mother who lived with us.) And we hosted students from countries as foreign and new to us as Saudi Arabia.

Thinking that other Goschoolers might appreciate LOCAL international experience my family did, I recently contacted Rebecca again and asked for an interview. Enjoy!

How many students have you placed? Wow your first question is hard!! I've done this job since 1997 and I can't even imagine how many students I've placed. So I just counted from last June to this May (1 year) - I've placed 270 students. So maybe I've placed close to 5000 students!!

What are some of the countries they are from? By far the biggest group is Japanese but also Saudi Arabia, Korea, Taiwan, China, Mexico, Columbia, Thailand, Kuwait, Qatar, Peru, Brazil... 

What do families enjoy most about hosting? Learning about different ways of life, different cultures, different foods, and for some host families, they host for the company. I have quite a few single older women who like to have someone in the home.

What aspects of American culture seem to be most challenging for the students? The food is very different for some students. But I would say that our big family gatherings are hard for students. They aren't used to big families or having big gatherings weekly. The conversations are hard to follow when it's not one on one. 

In your experience, what makes for the richest cultural exchange? Just being yourself and involving your student in your everyday family life. 

What are some of the benefits to both students and host families when they host? The students are able to practice their conversational skills with native speakers. They also have the opportunity to experience American culture first hand - to be part of a family and do things with a family. This experience cannot be had in a classroom. Although the family conversations are hard to follow, over time it can really improve their speaking and listening skills. Also, many times the students get very close to their host families and remain in contact for years and even return to visit their host family. On the host family side I've had some families that have even gone to visit their student in their country! The families also make close bonds with the students and the students become part of the family. The families also gain understanding of another culture, and of course for some families the monetary compensation is helpful. 

What should families know if they are considering hosting for OvECS?  I have all different hosting opportunities available. I have short term groups (2 weeks, 3 weeks, 4 weeks, 8 weeks) and long term students that come from March-December. They are usually between 19-23 years old. Families can say if they want a male or female. Students must have their own room, a bed, a desk and wifi. Being near public transportation is also necessary. The compensation is $500 for four weeks and families provide breakfast and dinner. I have a group of 78 fourteen year old Japanese boys coming in September for 10 days and I need families!! It's two per family and the compensation is $425 for that group.

Why do families STOP hosting? What is the longest a family has hosted for? I have some families that have hosted for me for all 18 years! Some families only do one short term group each year. Families stop for a few reasons: (some have the nerve to move to Cache Valley!!) some stop because their kids have grown up and left home, some because they move to an area where there isn't public transportation, sometimes there are family members who move back in and the room isn't available. I had one family who hosted a Saudi national for 5 years!! He did his whole degree at the U and stayed with the family. The host mother said he was like a son to them. 

Where do families need to live to be considered to host with your program? And if they live there, how might they get in contact with you about hosting? (I'll let you answer specific questions with any who might contact you.) Host families need to be within the Salt Lake Valley and near public transportation. The website is www.azhomestay.com, my email is rebeccatatlowwhatley@yahoo.com and my phone number is 801-453-9847

"Eat Your Way Around the World"
Book Review by Amanda, Road Trip Guru

Wish you could travel the whole world with your kids? Want your children to get an international education? Are your kids curious about other cultures and peoples? 

Your answer (short of a money tree in your backyard) is here! When I asked my kids what they wanted to learn about my oldest son said he wanted to eat food from different countries. My oldest daughter’s response was that she wanted to learn about people from around the world. As I went to the almighty google to find a easy way to meet these requests, in the back of my mind I remembered someone mentioning “Eat Your Way Around the World” by Jamie Aramini. 

I quickly found the book, reviewed it and decided it looked perfect! The author gathered recipes that represent each of over 30 countries. The recipes were chosen for their representative value and the ease of finding ingredients. We started having a ‘country dinner’ once a week. We have ‘visited’ 6 countries in Africa followed by 5 Asian countries. Next week we will visit our first European country: France! 

The book includes quick facts about the country and culture. It describes how they dine, such as with their hands or chopsticks. One country was without plates! Another we ate with our hands! All of my kids have really enjoyed the experiences (and at least some of the foods). 

To complement our dining experiences I bought “Around the World’ coloring book by Winky Adam, which has some facts about the country, the map and flag to color. 

Before eating, I read all the facts to the kids, and they color the flag appropriately. I often look (online) for some traditional music from the country to listen to while we cook and eat. I show the kids where on the globe the country is, and then have each child find it (or look for it). 

Enjoy your "travels"!
Note: “Eat Your Way Around the World” and “Around the World” coloring books are not affiliated, and do not exactly correspond. However, most of the countries so far have been in the coloring book.

Costa Rica with the Whole Crew
Interview with Sarah

Sarah, a Goschooler and homeschooling mother of 3 daughters, ages 8, 11, and 7, traveled internationally with her family (and mother) for the first time in February. Goschoolers wanted to find out how it went and publish their report as inpiration for families considering international travel, or curious about Costa Rica. Thanks to Sarah for those helpful details!

What made you choose an international destination over a domestic one?
I love South and Central America, and I wanted my children to experience it. Also, I think it is so important to expose children to other lifestyles, cultures, languages, climates, lands and ideas. Since I know a little Spanish, and since the flight was shorter than a European trip (maybe 6 or 7 hours from Phoenix and only a one hour time difference from Utah) we thought this would be a good foray into International travel. 

How did you prepare yourself and your children for an international destination?
We got everyone passports. We checked out lots of books, and we bought lots of clothes including waterproof hiking sandals. I bought some fun new surprise activities for the plane, and hubby added audio books and movies to the kids' phones. We did a lot of planning so we could be sure to see everything we wanted to see.

Was there anything about traveling internationally that made you nervous?
My husband was a little scared of the drinking water, but we learned that Costa Rica has great water. The older girls were nervous about not knowing the language. I guess I was nervous that people wouldn't have fun.

Were there any difficulties on your trip? Perhaps things you didn't foresee becoming a problem that you could give other families a heads-up on?
I really wish we would have had more time, but since we didn't, everyone would have been happier if we didn't travel quite so much. We stayed in 5 different hotels in 11 days. We could have pulled off three beautifully. One daughter wished we would have spent the entire trip on the beach. Emotions run high on days when people are over-tired. I would plan on having extra money. Taxes, tips and snacks come up over and over again! I didn't anticipate any homesickness, but a couple people in our crew got a bit lonely for routine and our pets. We had three rooms and sometimes three cabins everywhere we went, and surprisingly, I think the kids might of liked a shared house better.

If you had it to do over, what would you do differently? What would you do the same?
I am really glad we had a travel agent and drivers for our first time in Costa Rica, but next time I think we could rent a car and make some meals and do it a lot cheaper and at our own pace. With children, I would plan to stay in one place a bit longer.

What might you tell other families considering international vacation destinations?
Stay as long as you can! Remember to go with the flow. Flights change, tour times change, cultures are different...embrace all that as part of the journey!

How likely is your family to travel to the same destination again?
My husband and I will go back. It would be fun to volunteer for a couple months at Rancho Margot. I doubt we'd take everyone back there again.

How likely is your family to travel internationally to a different destination again?
We would really like to get everyone to Europe next....

If there is anything you really want to share that I didn't ask about, share THAT!
We bought five copies of the same book, so we could all read and discuss together. I would HIGHLY recommend this. Just one more conversation starter during waits and rides. Finally, we have so many shared memories that we draw on almost everyday. That is priceless. What a gift to experience so many firsts together ~ zip lining, snorkeling, the Caribbean, fried yucca, lots of windy, dirt roads, an organic farm, beach yoga, a volcano...

What was the best part of traveling internationally as a family? 
The best part was spending uninterrupted time together. My husband was really at ease and excited about everything.  It was really fun to be away from cell coverage and other electronics. I suppose all of that could have been accomplished in the U.S., but it was still my favorite part of the trip. The youngest was such a great traveler. She tried new foods, new activities and carried her own bag like a rock star! We learned many things we wouldn't have learned from reading books or watching videos, and I loved that! The people and the pace and the lifestyle in Costa Rica are extraordinary, and I am so grateful I got to experience the Ticos for a couple weeks!

Cruising with Kids
By: Steffanie

We didn't think of ourselves as "cruise people." We thought we were the adventurers who preferred avoiding tourist traps. When my husband won a cruise when our oldest was our only and barely 3, the idea of a cruise being a romantic get-away didn't seem practical either - we didn't have anyone to leave our 3 year old happily with. So he came with us on our first cruise to Mexico, and I fell in love cruising as the ideal family vacation! Most recently, my family has cruised to the Bahamas, this time with 4 kids! And while it WAS a bit trickier, I still love it as a travel option for a few reasons.

First, on many "closed-loop" cruises, you can travel internationally without passports! Phew! If the cruise begins and ends in the United States, the only ID your children may need is their birth certificates. Easy!

Second, you get a new adventure destination every day without having to switch beds or load anyone into a car seat. One day you might spend relaxing on the beach, the next, hitting a local market in a foreign country, and wrap it all up at an amusement park, and yet you never need to drive to the next stop - the boat effortlessly gets you there.

Third, feeding the masses is NOT an issue! In fact, not only is eating so convenient, it's it's own delicious adventure. I loved dining "fancy" in the cruise dining room for dinner. Our family avoided the kids menu and ordered a different dish for everyone so we had a whole lot of amazing food to try. For my later-to-rise kids, room service was the perfect solution for breakfast. We ate before we even were out of our PJ's. And the never ending buffets on a cruise were a great stop-over for snacks/lunch whenever we were ready.

Fourth, all the entertainment is included! We saw great comedy, magic shows, and singing and dancing. No one had to wonder what to do with that tricky after-dinner-and-before-bed time. On or off the boat, our time was as filled with fun OR relaxation as we wanted it to be.

So, between the food, the fun (and it was easy enough to not do the pricier shore excursions), and everyone getting his or her own bed every night(even bunk beds!) the price seemed pretty unbeatable too! I'm already looking forward to taking my grand kids cruising!

No comments:

Post a Comment