Back to Blighty

DSC00701I’m home. Sigh. I’m jet-lagged. Deep Sigh. And I’m slowly settling in to ‘real’ life again. I can’t believe our big adventure is over — that was the quickest 3 months of my life — but I must admit that it feels nice to be back in London and back to our familiar routine. (I missed my washing machine, my kitchen, my bed, my grocery store, my friends, my babysitter, my city, etc….)

It feels nice to be back and to have a fresh perspective on things. I really feel like our time away was not only a nice, long, sunny holiday, but the time spent together was really good for our family and has shifted our focus on how we want to live our lives, parent our children, etc. I know it’s an enormous luxury to be able to take an extended leave, but I really recommend doing it if it’s something you can swing. It’s so worth it.

Anyway, I’m back in London and will return to normal blogging. But if you have questions about traveling with kids, traveling Australia, touring by campervan, long-haul flights, or dealing with jet-lag, etc…. please fire away. Especially now while it’s all fresh in my mind.

-Courtney

Read and Wonder storybooks

one tiny turtleWhen packing for our trip I knew I had to pack children’s books — we couldn’t go a whole three months without them, no matter how heavy they made our suitcases! So I decided to pack books that were relevant to our travels — books about nature, animals, sea creatures, etc.

Over the years we’ve collected many of the books from the award-winning Read and Wonder series of nature storybooks, including One Tiny Turtle, Surprising Sharks, and Bat Loves the Night. The Read and Wonder storybooks are great because they merge stories with interesting facts, making them entertaining as well as educational.

These books have turned out to be perfect for our trip — we’ve seen so many of the featured animals (sharks, turtles, bats, frogs…) and so it’s fun for the kids to read about them. Plus the books are all paperback — making them much easier to lug around with us.

-Courtney

Papaw ointment — an Australian treasure

lucas papaw ointmentI’m probably not winning any points for originality with our Australian  readers, but before coming to  Australia I had never heard of Lucas’ Papaw Ointment and it has since become our favourite Australian discovery. This natural remedy, made from an enzyme in papaya fruit, can be used on burns, boils, cuts, insect bites, open wounds, chapped lips, haemorrhoids, and the list goes on. And it is definitely the best treatment for nappy rash I’ve ever used.

After stockpiling these little tubes to take back to London with me, I discovered you can actually buy it in London (the creator was, in fact, British)! Dr. Lucas formulated the papaw ointment more than 100 years ago in Australia after leaving London for a warmer climate. Its natural antiseptic quality is great for preventing infection in wounds, it’s totally safe to use on babies and children, and it is so natural it can also be taken internally to aid digestion. It also smells nice — an added bonus!

-Courtney

Bellachara, a blowhole and a big beach

DSC_1540When we planned our trip to Australia we purposely scheduled our campervan trip in the middle to allow for some down-time after the camping. We thought we would return to Sydney to spend three more weeks in the city, but unfortunately we weren’t very organized and by the time we set out to book accommodation there wasn’t a single room available in the entire city! (Apparently this past week was the busiest Sydney has been in more than two years — with several concerts and sporting events in town as well as the Mardi Gras festival.) So we were forced to look outside of Sydney… which is how we stumbled upon Bellachara — a really lovely boutique hotel two hours south of Sydney. The hotel was a lucky find — it is extremely kid-friendly with a playground and kid’s club, the rooms are equipped with kitchens and full-sized fridges, there’s a laundry room, a restaurant, a couple pools, etc… (I totally recommend it for families in Sydney who want a weekend away!) Plus, it’s a really beautiful area with green rolling hills and beautiful beaches. Here are some photos of the area…

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Scruffy Dog shoes

scruffy dog sandalsThanks to a tip from Sara, I stopped into a great children’s shop in Bangalow (just inland  from Byron Bay) called Echidna Place, which is where I discovered Scruffy Dog — a cute Australian brand of children’s shoes. I promised my husband I woudn’t do any shopping while we’re here (only browsing!)… but I must say I was seriously tempted by the Buddy sandals. And I also love the Bonnie strappy sandal… but my daughter is too young for them, much to my husband’s relief!

Scruffy Dog’s aim is to produce good-quality, stylish children’s shoes which are also affordable and comfortable (no easy feat!). The brand is growing rapidly too — one of my favourite American shops, Sweet William, is now stocking the Buddy sandal (pictured). Perfect for summer…

-Courtney

Camping: The good, the bad and the ugly

DSC_1483We’ve just completed our 30-day drive up the eastern coast of Australia in a campervan, driving more than 4,000 km from Sydney to Cairns with a few detours in between. We did and saw some amazing things, but I think it’s safe to say that we’re happy our camping days are behind us! I’m still not sure whether it was the best or worst decision we’ve ever made – there were moments where I nearly divorced my husband, disowned my children (only kidding, of course!) and swore I’d never return to Australia. BUT it was a really wonderful way to see the country, and the highlights of our trip were well worth the struggles — snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef was worth the journey alone! I think it all would have been much more enjoyable (and easy) if we didn’t have the kids, but the irony is that the kids LOVED the campervan and could carry on camping forever.
I’m sure in years to come we will look back at our camping trip with really fond memories but right now I’m happy to be sleeping on a mattress, eating good meals and staying put for more than three days at a time.

Anyway, now that I’m a ‘camping expert’ I’ve compiled a list of all the pros and cons of traveling in a campervan (with young kids). (more…)

A sun hat that’s guaranteed for life

T3 Tilley HatThese days, it seems, nothing comes with a guarantee, and quantity usually takes precedence over quality. Not the case, however, with the Tilley hat. These hats have been around for ages – we used to wear them when we were little – and they’re still made with the same good old-fashioned care.

In anticipation of our big trip ‘down under’, my siblings gave each of my boys a children’s T3 Tilley Hat for Christmas, and it’s the one thing we ‘don’t leave home without’. I think these hats have got to be the best sun hats on the planet. They’re UV-protected (with the maximum UPF 50+ rating), rain-proof, they don’t shrink and won’t get floppy if wet, they have two different drawstrings to keep the hat in place, and they’re machine-washable. And like I said, they’re guaranteed for life (even insured against loss!) – you just can’t beat that! They’re made in Canada, but available internationally.

P.S. They also have a secret little pocket in the top of the hat. Tell me a kid who won’t love that!

-Courtney

Teaching your kids to read

key words flashcardsBefore we left for our sabbatical, I sat down with the teachers at my son’s school and asked them if they had any suggestions or activities they recommended for my son while we’re away. They told me that kids often forget basic lessons if they take a long break from school — apparently kids can forget how to use scissors, forget how to count, even forget how to read if they go a while without doing it! So they suggested that I try to keep up on these sorts of activities. They also suggested that I take the time to teach my 4-year-old the basics of reading.

I’m not the most patient parent and I’m certainly not cut out for ‘real’ home-schooling, but I must admit I’m actually having some success thanks to these Key Words Flash Cards — containing the 100 key words that make up 50% of those we read, write and speak every day. The concept of flash cards is easy: they gradually introduce the words and, because of repetition, teach kids to recognize and memorize the words on first sight. (more…)

The rainy season

DSC_1263When we planned our big road trip up Australia’s eastern coast we knew that it was going to be Queensland’s rainy season. Naively, we thought we might encounter a few afternoon thunderstorms or possibly a day or two of rain. We had no idea just how much rain we would see. Since crossing the border of New South Wales into Queensland it has rained all day every day. And the rain is fierce here – we’re talking serious rainfall. It has rained so much that we have had to make 2-hour detours because entire highways have been under water. The rain is, of course, good for the rain forests in this area, but it has totally dampened our spirits. Not to mention, it’s put a kibosh on our plans of visiting some of Australia’s most famous islands and beaches. We made it all the way up to the (apparently) beautiful Whitsunday Islands only to sit in our campervan and watch the rain fall. Boring. (Can you sense my growing frustration?!)

Alright, I’ll stop complaining. I’m sure all the Australians are sitting at home saying “I could have told you so!” And, to be fair, we have done some pretty cool things in the past couple weeks despite the rain. Here are the highlights…

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Our favourite travel game — Djeco Bingo

djeco bingo
Just our luck — we’ve driven into a cyclone storm here on the eastern coast of Queensland! It has rained every day for the past five days… which is seriously NO fun when you’re living in a tiny campervan and you have three kids with pent-up energy!

Thankfully we brought loads of colouring books, cards and travel games with us, which we have now played about 100 times! Our favourite is this travel bingo game by Djeco because it’s so easy even the 2-year-old can play!

The concept is easy — everyone takes a puzzle board, empties out the six pieces (6 different animals), and then takes turns spinning the wheel to try to fill their puzzle back up! The first one with a completed puzzle wins! Fun!

-Courtney

Touring Australia in a campervan

DSC_0811Before we embarked on our 30-day camping trip, my husband and I agreed it was either going to be the best idea we’ve ever had… or the worst. So far it’s been a bit of both! I think it takes some getting used to, and a bit of extra patience. But admittedly it seems to be getting better. We’re quickly getting used to this camping lifestyle and things like: wearing the same dirty outfit twice, using communal showers, sleeping like sardines in a tiny tin, cooking for five in a tiny kitchen, eating peanut butter & jelly sandwiches for lunch every day, cleaning out baby bottles with a hose, the scorching heat, the nasty insects, driving in unfamiliar territory with crying babies in the back… etc, etc.

All that aside, we are actually having a really wonderful time as a family, and we’ve seen some incredible sites already. Here are the highlights of the past 5 days… (more…)

A busy week in Sydney

DSC_0682We’ve just spent the past week in sunny Sydney, and it just flew by! It was difficult to try to see and do all the things on our list whilst trying to live the beachy, laid-back lifestyle that Sydney is known for.  But we did our best. Sydney is amazing in this way — it’s a vibrant cosmopolitan city with so much to offer, yet it also has a very ’surfer dude’ beachy vibe which is really fun and refreshing. Everyone here is beautiful, the food is delicious, the shopping is very tempting, and there’s a noticeable buzz in the air. Maybe it’s because it’s summertime, or maybe it’s just Sydney. In any case, we love it here!

We’re staying in a really lovely guest house in Bondi Beach, and it has turned out to be the perfect place for us.  We’ve even made some new friends who are staying here as well and who, coincidentally, are also from London! Such a small world.

Here is a re-cap of the past week…

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Auckland, NZ

After a 12-hour overnight flight from Los Angeles, we landed in rainy (!!!) and grey Auckland, NZ. Not the most welcoming sight for a family seeking summer, but I was so relieved to have survived the flight that I didn’t care too much. And  by that afternoon the sun was out and shining. Apparently New Zealand is known for its potential to have all four seasons in one day!

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We stayed for the first four nights in a charming neighborhood called Devonport, which is across the bay from Auckland (by bridge or by ferryboat).  The town feels a bit like something out of southern California in the 1950s — it’s quaint and friendly, and we definitely enjoyed the slower pace… and  good coffee (another thing they’re known for!). (more…)

Around the world to the Southern Hemisphere

TravelI was having lunch with my husband one day last winter, probably complaining about the gross weather, and probably swearing for the umpteenth time that it was ‘the last winter I’ll spend in London’. Somehow we started talking about Australia and how we had never been and how we would love to spend some time there.  I (very optimistically and probably half kidding) suggested we take some time off work to enjoy an extended holiday in Australia… and soon before our kids have to be in school.

To my great surprise, my husband the planner, the never-make-a-decision-without-a-spreadsheet type, agreed. And it was right then that we decided to spend the following winter in the sunny southern hemisphere! (!!!!)

We leave on January 1st and we will return to London on March 21st (the first day of Spring!). We’ll be spending two months of our trip in Australia, driving up the eastern coast… in a campervan! Crazy, I know.  But we figured it was the best way to see the country and  enjoy a more relaxed agenda.  Plus, I’m sure my boys will love it — a ‘house on wheels’?! –  they could not be more excited about it. (more…)