Heading Out Back – Western Loop 2020

Instead of another flying overseas holiday, we have bought ourselves a Jayco Hawk wind-up van and are heading off into our own backyard, taking the kids exploring the outback of Australia for a couple of months.

camping at Chuditch campground in Dwellingup
our test run, camping at Chuditch campground in Dwellingup

With the spreading coronavirus in the news, now is probably not a bad time to be hitting the road, away from the big cities, and having a little time off-grid.

We have settled on a plan to head across the Nullarbor from Perth, turning left at Port Agusta and up the middle to Darwin, before following the west coast back to Perth. It will be a little rushed, covering over 10,000km in two months, though undoubtedly a family adventure to remember.

Here is a map of our planned route. Our van is not built for off-road touring, so we will mostly be sticking to Highway 1 and the Stuart Highway through the middle. There are many long driving days, but that is what we just have to do.

Some of the places we are really looking forward to are the Nullarbor and Great Australian Bight, Coober Pedy, Uluru and around Alice Springs, Mataranka, Darwin and around, Coral Bay and Shark Bay.

We head off in mid-march, keep on eye on this blog for updates and stories as we travel around.

A Beer in Every Country I Visit

Hopping Around the World

Is it too much to ask for a beer in every country I visit? It is not that I drink a lot of beer, but when I am travelling it is one thing that I always make an effort to do, partly to sample something unique about the country I am visiting, and also to sit and relax, usually after a busy day of seeing the sights.

Let’s see if I can find a photo of me drinking a beer in every country I have visited, all 45 of them. So far I have found photos of me and a beer in over thirty countries, which I think is reasonable. Here they are, starting from the most recent. I hope to keep adding to this article as our world travels continue.

Thailand 2019

A hot evening in Phuket Town, Thailand, perfect for a beer. The front steps of our restored shophouse in the old part of town was the perfect place to sit, as other tourists walked past to take a photo of our hotel (and me!).

New Zealand 2019

Having a beer on our first night in Queenstown at the casual Perky’s Floating Bar, a low budget bar moored at the pier with brilliant views.

Sri Lanka 2018

Marrissa Beach in the south of Sir Lanka. Nothing beats sitting at a beachside bar with a cold one and your toes in the sand. I’m also able to keep an eye on the kids swimming at the same time (that’s them in the background).

Belgium 2017

Having a beer in Belgium in 2017
It was not hard finding a picture of me having a beer in Belgium. There were so many good beers for us to taste – and big glasses too!

The Netherlands 2017

Having a beer in Haarlem The Netherlands
A set-up photoshoot outside our accommodation in Haarlem, The Netherlands.

Spain 2017

Having a beer in Seville Spain
Having an Estrella Del Sur (a European Pale Lager style beer) in Seville. The beer name translates as Southern Star.

Portugal 2017

Admiring a beer in Portugal
I had many Super Bocks (love the name) in Portugal, but this is not one of them.

Switzerland 2017

Having a beer in Switzerland
Refreshing as the view, the Swiss Alps from the village of Mürren.

Corsica 2017

Having a beer in Corsica
OK, this is not another country, as Corsica is officially part of France, but I include it here in support of our friends on the island who would like to be independent.

Italy 2017

Having a beer in Italy
Birra Moretti in Italy

Greece 2017

Having a beer in Athens Greece
Mythos in Greece

Swaziland 2016

Having a beer with Clare in Swaziland
I’m not in this photo, but my beer is!

South Africa 2016

Having a beer in Durban South Africa
One of the many beers to celebrate my 50th birthday (from the pier in Durban, South Africa)

Singapore 2014

Having a beer in Singapore
the ubiquitous Tiger Beer

China 2013

Having a beer at the Outside Inn in China
At the Outside Inn

Nepal 2012

Having a beer in Nepal while helping to build a house for a local family in Dulikel with for Habitat for Humanity.
Everest Beer, what else would you drink in Nepal?

Indonesia 2012

Having a beer in Lombok, Indonesia
Living in Bali for a year meant many Bintangs

Japan 2011

rob drinking a beer from our trip to Takayama, Japan May 2011
Enjoying a Japanese beer, bought from a vending machine at the backpackers

Malaysia 2010

Having a beer in George Town, Penang, Malaysia
At a food market in Penang, Malaysia

Laos 2006

Having a beer while floating down a river in Laos
River tubing in Vang Vieng and having a relaxing beer (after crazily jumping in on a rope swing)

Cambodia 2006

Having a beer in Cambodia
An appropriate name for a beer in Cambodia, goes down well with fried spiders!

India 2005

Having a beer in Goa India
Having a dark larger in the hippy hangout of Goa

England 2005

Having a beer in England
Where else to enjoy a beer in England than in a small country village by the side of a canal.

Germany 2005

Having a beer at Oktoberfest in Germany
Oktoberfest – what more can I say

The Czech Republic 2005

Having a beer in the Czech Republic in 2005
Great beers in the Chech Republic, and cheap too.

Italy 2005

Having a beer in Italy
Having a sneaky wine at Palio in Siena, Italy

France 2005

Having a beer in Avon, France
Avignon in the south of France

Egypt 2005

Having a beer in Egypt
Not a lot to do in Dahab, on the Red Sea in Egypt.

USA 2005

Having a beer in San Diego USA
Back in the day when I did not follow the rules. I am more responsible now.

Mexico 2005

Having a beer in Mexico

Belize 2005

Having a drink in Belize
Drinking on the sailboat on the way back from a snorkelling trip.

Honduras 2005

Having a beer in Honduras

Costa Rica 2005

Having a drink in Costa Rica

Vietnam 2001

cruising in Halong Bay

India 1999

Having a Christmas drink in the’dry’ town of Hampi in India.

Mexico 1995

How Mexican is this, having a Corona while visiting Isla Mujeres, a Mexican island in the Caribbean Sea, 13 kilometres off the coast from Cancún.

USA 1995

On a Suntrek tour of the USA, a few beers had

Australia (home!)

Beer in Australia
inspiring a new generation of beer drinkers

Next

Unfortunately, there are still quite a few countries without an image of me drinking a beer. I’m sure I did have one though …

Here are the photos I am missing:

  • Morocco 2017
  • Vatican City 2017
  • Phillippines 2014
  • Canada 2014
  • Thailand 2006
  • Hong Kong 2005
  • Poland 2005
  • Hungary 2005
  • Slovenia 2005
  • Austria 2005
  • Turkey 2005
  • Guatemala 2005
  • Nicaragua 2005
  • Hong Kong 2002

New Zealand Here We Come

A New Zealand holiday has had a long-time presence on our travel wishlist. Being Australian, we like to travel and have been all over the world, but up until now we have not visited one of the greatest travel destinations right at our doorstep. This is all about to change, a two week trip to New Zealand is planned for Aril 2019.

Here are some of our notes from the planning for our trip to New Zealand. We use online blogs by other families to help with our planning, so maybe this may be interesting to some other families who are doing the same.

How Long To Go For?

We have a two-week holiday planned, mostly limited to that duration by the school holiday period,  the time we can get off work and budget restraints. Judging by the selection of online itineraries, this is a common amount of time to tour New Zealand. We picked this timeframe before we looked at where we were going to visit. But as usual, once you start to plan out your trip you quickly discover that whatever you have panned is never enough. New Zealand is a lot bigger than we thought, and there is a lot that we would like to see and do too.

Two weeks is not really enough to cover the whole country, you would be better off selecting either the North Island or South Island if you have this amount of time. But that wasn’t going to be good enough for us, this might be our only New Zealand experience, and we want to see it all!

2 weeks in New Zealand

Where to Go?

The North and South Islands of New Zealand offer very different travel experiences. We were able to come up with an itinerary that sampled a bit of each, without rushing too much (we have kids in tow remember), though to fit within our time restraint we had to include an internal flight between Auckland and Queenstown.

We fly from our home in Perth into Auckland, the capital city on the north island, and head straight out of town (cities are not what we come to New Zealand for), heading to the glowworms of Waitomo Caves. From there we cross to Rotorua for the hot springs and an authentic Maori experience. Unfortunately, that’s all we have time for in the north, if we had longer we would have travelled overland south, visiting Wellington and crossing Cook Strait to the south island.

By flying internally from Auckland to Queenstown we save a few long days of driving which we didn’t have time for and also did not want to burden the kids with.

For us, the south island of New Zealand represents quintessential New Zealand; adventure sports, dramatic scenery and wildlife. From Queenstown, we head to Milford Sound (it’s too far to drive in a day so we stop at Te Anau). Then we head to the coast, and drive from Dunedin to Christchurch, from where we fly home. If we had more time, we would have loved to spend more time in the high country and visited Franz Josef Glacier.

When to Go?

We did not have much choice of when to go but are happy with being there in April, apparently one of the prettiest months to be in New Zealand. Autumn leaves and colours abound, and it is not too cold in the south. That suited us. If you want to go skiing, or at least see snow-capped mountains, you need to come at a different time. We don’t like travelling in the cold weather, so springtime was as cold as we wanted. Now let’s hope we don’t get too many washed out days, there is no time to rest in our itinerary.

See You Soon!

Stay tuned for photos and reports of our trip, they are sure to be spectacular.

2018 Annual Letter

Another wonderful year has passed, 2018 for us has been very exciting and has seen us grow and learn some more …

As always our year has been full of travel. Our trips this year have included a two-week adventure to Sri Lanka in April, with an action-packed stopover in Kuala Lumpur! We have not had much opportunity for camping, but managed some glamping at our annual Wharncliffe Mill weekend in June with a large group of school families. During the October school holidays, we went on an east coast adventure, starting in Melbourne during the AFL Grand Final week, then on a road trip via Canberra to Stanwell Park near Sydney to stay with the oldest Wood sibling, Peter and family. The kids always love staying at this beachside town. (more photos: Facebook | Instagram)

Canberra’s Floriade Festival

Olive is turning into a beautiful (and tall!) young lady. She has had a very busy and rewarding year final year at primary school. She has been active playing netball and getting adventurous with Scout activities and camps. She loves music and singing and has been very active in the school choir, highlighted with the One Big Voice Choir event. Most importantly though, she has graduated from Primary School, and what a festival it was, with dinners and ceremonies, and lots of excitement. We are very proud of her winning the Language Award at her graduation ceremony, as well as doing well in the GATE testing and being accepted into the Academic Program at Shenton College. She is a little nervous, but mostly very excited to be going to high school next year. The highlight for her is probably getting her ears pierced, perhaps signalling that she is now officially grown up.

Olive loves science

Jetson is now 9 and is still the comedian of the family. He is an absolute sports fanatic, and if you asked him what the best part of the year is, he would tell you all about his amazing goals in the lunchtime soccer matches, even ‘Megs-ing’ someone!! He is loving playing indoor soccer with his schoolmates and playing master blaster cricket. He dabbled in some golf lessons early in the year, and he even starred in the WA Disabled Sports Track and Field Championships. He’s a passionate collector, having lots of AFL and cricket cards, as well as having quite a collection of Pokemon cards! He also enjoys his weekly adventures with Cubs and through that has been more involved with community events.

Jetson at the Disabled Sports Track and Field Championships

Casper looks up to his older siblings but is making his own mark. He loves school and is an exceptional student in both behaviour and ability, a favourite of the teachers and fellow students. He continues developing his art and craft, but sport is also taking up more of his time now. He has played Auskick, master blaster cricket, as well as indoor soccer. He was the third-fastest sprinter in his year, which got him a spot on the interschool team, winning first place in the relay. Finally, some of his dad’s sporting prowess coming through.

Casper’s Edudance performace

With Clare still working for the WACA, her time is not surprisingly dominated by cricket. Her contract changed to solely working with the women’s team at the start of the new season in June. She has travelled with work a couple of times, to Adelaide for the WBBL grand final in February and a conference in Brisbane in May. Life is still a juggle between work, taxiing the kids around, and spending time with Nina/Mum who is declining in health with a diagnosis of Dementia. It is not all work and family, even though it feels like it sometimes. She got away to Broome with some girlfriends in August and has even done some fictional reading. 

Clare on a camel in Broome

Rob is still happily working from home, juggling family duties and work on his websites, always striving for the perfect work/life balance. With a large amount of holiday time, there seems to be a lot more ‘life’, than ‘work’! He visited John/Dad in Melbourne in June as he moved permanently into aged care. He celebrated father’s day with a fun game of disc golf, which he won of course. He has also really enjoyed attending many of the local Fathering Project events, and is due for another trip away with the dads!

Rob relaxing in Sri Lanka

We had an extra family member for part of the year, but little Squeak the guinea pig did not stay around very long. Luckily we were able to look after some of his pals from the neighbourhood so his cage was not always empty. In the last couple of days, we have taken procession of a new tenant, a little bunny called Latte. Maybe the kids will be inspired to help out more with this one as it is soooo cute and fluffy.

Olive and Latte

This year we also got a long-overdue upgrade to our car. The Holden Astra had served us well, but the extra seating and pulling power of the 7-seater Mitsubishi Outlander is going to serve us well into the future – ferrying kids to sports on weekends and maybe to tow a caravan around Australia one day.

We spent the Christmas break home in Perth, catching up with family and friends, and getting ready for another busy but undoubtedly exciting year! We look forward to catching up with some of you in the coming year (especially if you are in New Zealand in April!)

Love from the Travelling Woods

16 Apps for Smoother Travel

During our three months travelling around Europe last year, we relied on our electronic devices a lot to record, share, locate, connect and a myriad of other things, including even making calls! We have experimented with many travel apps and have come up with a core group that cover all the jobs we need and helps make our travels run more smoothly. So here’s our list of 16 essential travel apps that have a permanent place on our phones. These are all Android apps to run on our Android devices, though most of the time there will be an equivalent application for iPhones.

1. WiFi Map

wifi map

Having a great suite of travel apps may not be useful if you get stuck without a wifi signal. If you are just visiting a single county then it may be worth getting a local SIM card with a data plan so you won’t need to worry about finding free Wi-Fi, but when travelling around a lot and visiting many countries it is not always a suitable option, and you will be needing to find a wifi signal to connect to. We find that almost every accommodation these days will provide free wifi, but when you are out and about it is not always easy to stay connected. So one of the most important Apps on our devices is this Wi-Fi signal finder. The Wifi Map app can scan your location and provide you with crowdsourced login information for nearby available networks. Don’t forget you need to make sure that you download the map of the area you are visiting before you leave home or the hotel, as you need to be connected to do that.

2. Toliet Finder

toilet-finder

When travelling with kids we often find ourselves in an ’emergency’ situation where we need to find a toilet in a hurry. In many places around the world, public toilets are not easy to find, and asking a local may be difficult, particularly if there is a language barrier. The Toilet Finder app will give you a list of the toilets nearby. The App relies on users adding information, so it will not always be up to date and you will find some areas are lacking in nearby restroom data, but in an emergency situation this App might be all you need to get you out of a sticky situation.

3. Airbnb

airbnb

We have certainly got on board the Airbnb bandwagon. On our three-month European tour, the majority of our accommodation was found on Airbnb (with the rest found using booking.com). As a group of five people, hotel family rooms usually don’t fit us and we would usually need two hotel rooms. An Airbnb house or apartment often works out cheaper, plus you get a place to stay with plenty of space, the ability to self-cater and you are often in the suburbs and can get a local travel experience. As with any accommodation type, we are avid review readers, which can give you a lot of extra information about locating the place, finding places to eat and things to do nearby, and may even have user photos that may be more realistic than those supplied by the hotel. Our process for finding the perfect place on Airbnb is to use the filters to select the home type, adjust the price range, look on the map for locations, check reviews, then book!

4. Monefy

Monefy

We would not be able to travel frequently if we were not smart with our money. That means saving well before we go away, but also spending wisely when we are away. A part of that is keeping track of our spending while we are travelling. We also need to keep track of some of our expenses for tax purposes. The Monefy app allows us to track all our spending. There is a free though limited version, however we paid for pro version for the extra features. You are able to set up custom categories, use multiple currencies and update conversion rates. It is all backed up on the cloud when you are travelling, and back home you can export the data into Excel if you need to.

5. Google Drive

Google Drive App

Google Drive is our choice for cloud storage (we are a Google family!), but you could you could use another popular choice like Dropbox or iCloud. We keep scanned copies of important documents in Drive which we can access from anywhere with any of our devices. We also use the Google Drive scanning function to take a copy of all of our receipts and throw out the originals, rather than carrying with us an ever growing large pile of paper receipts.

6. WhatsApp

whatsapp

Keeping in contact with friends and family back home has never been easier. We use WhatsApp to send texts and to make video and voice calls, all you need is a wi-fi connection. We also use it to keep in contact with each other if we are out and about separately, we just both need to be within wi-fi range.

7. Google Photos

google photos

Like most travellers, we love to take photos as memories of the places we have visited. All of our photos are stored on Google Photos, which means we always have access to every one of them wherever in the world we are. It also has a great filtering system, so we can search our tens of thousands of photos for a particular person, place or object. While we are on the go, we use Google Photos to keep an online backup of our photos. We have unlimited storage of the images at less than full size, but as an extra backup it is useful (we also back up our photos on a second device and/or a USB drive or sd card). We are now moving towards using our mobile phones for all our photography, but when we use our SLR digital camera, we are also able to transfer the photos from the memory card onto one of our tablets and back these up with Google Photos too. We also make use of the Google Photos albums, to make photo collections and share them with our friends and family back home.

8. Instagram

instagram

We post photos from our travels on the Thistravellife Instagram account to share with friends and family back home, and to share with the network of other families who travel the world with children. We make use of this network of fellow travellers to find inspiration for places to visit and things to do.

9. Keep

Goggle keep

We love lists. We use Googe Keep for keeping notes. Before we leave home we have our packing lists, and when we are on the road we have todo lists for each place we are visiting. We all have access to the same notes so whenever we read about somewhere to go or something to do, we can add it to our list. Each day before we leave the hotel we go through our checklist of what we need to take, and when checking out we have a list of what we need to find as we have left behind many items in the past.

10. Maps.me

Maps.me

We use our map application all the time, to find directions to our accommodation, places to eat and tourist attractions. There are a few maps applications and we usually have a more than one installed for different purposes. The Maps.me App has been our main offline maps application, its walking directions work really well. However, we are trying out Offline Maps & Navigation which seems to have clearer directions and is easier to use, and we may be using that more in the future. Google maps is handy for integrating public transport options, but you will need a wifi signal. You also need wifi for walking directions to work on Google Maps. Whichever map application used, you just have to make sure you download all the necessary maps and have offline access before you leave home.

11. Overdrive

Overdrive

We have a couple of avid book readers in our family so we make sure we have something for them to read without having to carry around loads of heavy books. The Overdrive app links to our local library, so we can borrow a large number of books. For ebooks that we have purchased, we store them in the Google Play Books app. We also occasionally buy the relevant chapters of the Lonely Planet guides and have them as an ebook to read, but usually we prefer to carry and read the printed version.

12. Google Translate

Google Translate

We are not a family of linguists and generally we find it hard to pick up any more than a few words of the local languages when we travel. Having said that, we have successfully travelled to foreign lands and battled through conversations with locals and fellow travellers, resulting in some very memorable travel experiences. However, there are times where having a translator with you would make things much easier. Google Translate is amazing, especially the function where you can aim the phone camera at a sign or menu and it is translated in real time. You need a wifi connection for that, otherwise you can type in the words and get a good translation in the app. You have to download the language packs before you go.

13. TripAdvisor

TripAdvisor

The TripAdvisor app has become the online version of the Lonely Planet guides for us, it is where we can find the best hotels and restaurants nearby, and read personal reviews to see if it suits our needs. There are a lot more to choose from than in a printed guide, and using filters you are easily narrow it down to suit your personal preferences. We are often looking for the “best-rated cheap-eats local-restaurant nearby” or “good-value well-located family-room with friendly-staff”.

14. Rick Steve’s audio guides

Rick Steves Audiobooks

We are new converts to the Rick Steve’s audio guides, but when we were at the Coliseum in Rome we found that we are not the only ones using them. We have always baulked at paying for a guide at tourist attractions – they are not always needed and often are overpriced. Most of the guides are for European locations.

15. Uber

Uber
A big stress when travelling is bargaining for a taxi ride and worrying about being ripped off. We use Uber both at home and abroad as our first option for getting to and from the airport, and other times when we need a car for transport. An added bonus is not having to deal with handing over cash. Unfortunately, vehicles to carry our family of five are not always available. We still look for local buses and tuk-tuks if we can, for the travel experience. While we were in Malaysia recently, Uber was not working due to a government ban, but the alternative service Grab was just as useful.

16. Spotify

Spotify

Sometimes when you are travelling you just want to sit back and relax, maybe while you are waiting for a train or on a long bus journey. If we have free or unlimited wi-fi data, we like to log into Spotify and listen to some familiar tunes.

Technology is ever-changing, and these apps may not be on our phones for the next trip as better or different apps come along to suit our purposes. We’d love to hear what your current favourite travel apps are. 

crocodile enclosure
Rob and Clare having a meal while sitting in a crocodile enclosure near Durban in South Africa.  A mobile phone app is maybe not so is handy in this situation.

The Kids have a Krazy Day in KL KidZania

KidZania, a place where kids have taken over the world, role-playing and doing adult things for a day. Apparently spending a day working in a supermarket or fast food outlet, fixing power poles or working in a science lab is a lot of fun. Our day spent at KidZania during a stopover in Kuala Lumpur has been one of our kids’ favourite travel experiences.

There are 60 real-life role-play adventures, and some do actually sound like fun, like being a policeman or fireman. Kids get to experience these real-life occupations hands-on in a fun learning environment, though pity we can’t keep the money they earn! 

Working as a fast food worker at Kidzania in Kuala Lumpur
They got to make burgers and eat them too! I don’t think that footwear would be allowed in a real kitchen

KidZania is designed for 4 to 14-year-olds, which was perfect for our three kids who were 6, 8 and 10 years old at the time. Kids six and under require a parent to follow them around, but that worked out OK as our youngest needed a little encouragement for the first few activities, but after that, we struggled to keep up with him as he raced around the complex. We spent some of the time wandering around enjoying watching the kids have their fun, but when they were occupied for a while we made our way to the parent’s lounge to relax.

Working as a fashion model at Kidzania in Kuala Lumpur
Being a supermodel without the substance abuse

Getting There

KidZania is located in Petaling Jaya, about 20 minutes drive from the Petronas twin towers in Kuala Lumpur. There is no easy way to get there using public transport, so the relatively cheap taxis are the best way to go. Taxi drivers in Kuala Lumpur notoriously refuse to use the meter, so we walked to the other side of the shopping centre near our hotel to a taxi counter, where you can pay two Ringgit to guarantee a metered taxi to your destination, without the haggle and hassle of negotiating a fare. We realised later that we were taken by a larger more luxurious blue cab that cost a bit more anyway, though it was a very pleasant and comfortable journey that was worth the extra expense.

on the way to fix a power outage

The Check-In

Check-in is the correct term for this, as they have set up the entrance ticketing like an airline check-in desk, complete with AirAsia branding. We arrived just after 9.30am (which was well before the listed 10am opening time), though we were still welcomed in. We had bought our tickets online before we left home, saving 10% on the listed price. There are also occasional specials you should look out for. They gave each kid a wad of money and we all got an ID wristband.

Working as a scientist at Kidzania in Kuala Lumpur
mixing potions in the science lab

Earning KidZos

The idea is to freely wander around and choose which activities you would like to do. The kids get paid for the jobs they do in KidsZania’s own currency, KidZos, which you can also use to pay to do some activities. Any KidZos they accumulate can be spent at a toy shop at the end of the day, or it can be deposited at the bank to use at your next visit.

The City

The KidZania mini-city area is spread across more than 60 establishments over two floors. It was not as large an area as expected, though everything is so well packed in it doesn’t seem too cluttered. You are free to wander and do whatever activity you please, but some are only conducted at certain times and some popular ones you will need to line up or put your name down for a later time slot. It is worthwhile doing a little bit of planning to get to all the activities you would like.

Working as a checkout chick at Kidzania in Kuala Lumpur
practising for a career as a checkout worker

Activities

The most popular activity was being a policeman and fireman, isn’t every kid’s dream to become one of these? Go early to these places and put your name down for later. The staff are very helpful and the activities are often coordinated events involving many kids. The police will cordon off the area while the firefighters put out the fire, reporters may record the events and photographers take images for the newspaper that will be delivered later.

Working as a fireman at Kidzania in Kuala Lumpur
quick, put out the fire

The job as a photographer starts with instruction on how to use the camera, then you roam around the complex taking photos to be used in the KidZania newspaper (you can work in the newspaper design room too).

Working as a photographer at Kidzania in Kuala Lumpur
working as a roving photographer for the local newspaper

One of the favourite activities that our kids took part in was cooking at a fast-food restaurant, mainly because you can eat the food you make! This one may actually be useful work experience.

At the supermarket, you can be either the shopper or the worker scanning the items. Surprisingly the kids find this lots of fun, even though they never like going shopping with mum back home.

Working as a pumper at Kidzania in Kuala Lumpur
waiting for the next car to come for a fillup

You can have a turn being a fashion model – try on some clothes, get some tips for the catwalk, and put on a show! You can also put on a magic show. Spend some time learning a few tricks, then put on an act as part of a magic show performance for the parents!

Working as a climber at Kidzania in Kuala Lumpur
climbing a wall, not sure what occupation this is

It was loads of fun for the kids, a great way to fill a day in Kuala Lumpur. They would go back in an instant, there is not enough time in the day to do everything, and our kids like to do everything! We visited the KidZania in Kuala Lumpur, but they can be found in 29 locations worldwide, so there may be one near you. We will have to look out for it at our next holiday destination.

KidZania KL: Curve NX, 18, Jalan PJU 7/5, Mutiara Damansara, 47810 Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia

Not Just Elephants in Sri Lanka

On our two-week trip to Sri Lanka last year, to keep the kids busy we played a game, making a note every time we saw a different animal (we did a similar thing when on safari in South Africa). It was a surprisingly popular activity, right up there with spotting different coloured tuk-tuks (we found over 20 by the way).

How Many Different Animals Can We Spot?

Despite what you may think, finding animals in Sri Lanka was not always easy. Sri Lanka is synonymous with elephants, and there are references to them everywhere. We were halfway through our trip and we had yet to see one, and we started to think we may not see one at all. One way to guarantee to see elephants is on a safari, however, we had decided not to go on one after our amazing experiences in South Africa from two years ago still fresh in our mind. We did not need to worry. On the first night in Sigiriya, when walking into town for a bite to eat we crossed a bridge and saw an elephant metres away bathing in the river. Later on, as we ate our dinner further down the road, we were surprised as it walked past the restaurant, heading back home (and poking its head in a few shops as it passed).

elephant in Sri Lanka

Another animal we expected to see a lot of in Sri Lanka was the monkey. We did not get our monkey experience until even later in the trip when we spent the day touring around the ancient city of Polonnaruwa. Here monkeys have made their home, as featured in the Disney movie the Monkey Kingdom. We even lost a pair of socks to a monkey who snatched them and ran up a tree, thinking the plastic bag they were in contained food.

monkey in Sri Lanka

In addition to monkeys, there were many small mammals abound. We had come across many squirrels before, but when we saw a mongoose we had to do a Google search to find out what it was.

squirrel in Sri Lanka

Driving along the southern coast towards Mirissa, we stopped at one of the turtle farms. It may not have been the one that we planned to visit, but it turned out to be a very enjoyable and educational stopover. We got to learn a lot about all the different types of turtles around the world, and see examples of many of them kept in pools. There was also the option of releasing a baby turtle on the beach.

turtle in Sri Lanka

Our experience with fish in Sri Lanka was primarily to eat them. In Mirissa we got to chose one from the selection laid out for us at a beachside restaurant. As is often the case for these restaurants, the fish was too overcooked.

Fish on display at the beach in Mirissa Sri Lanka
Fish on display at the beach in Mirissa Sri Lanka
fish in Sri Lanka

Also while near the beach, saw lots of crabs. Not big enough to eat, but definitely big enough to give us a fright as we walked along the rocks or the sand.

crab in Sri Lanka

We also had a few reptile experiences. As we sat down for a rest on our first day walking around the fort of Galle, a large water monitor ambled past.

water monitor in Sri Lanka

We saw geckos on the ceiling of our bedroom, reminding us of the time we lived in Bali. But we also saw much larger lizards, like the one pictured below at the peak of Little Adams Peak. We also saw a chameleon which was very exciting, and a snake as it darted into the bushes.

lizard in Sri Lanka

It was not surprising that we saw a lot of insects: We were prepared for the mosquitos, though fortunately, we did not see very many of them. Although the mossies in Sri Lanka don’t carry malaria, they can carry other diseases such as dengue fever.

Butterflies at a temple in Sri Lanka
Butterflies at a temple in Sri Lanka

There were lots of other creepy crawlies though, some very familiar: ants, cockroaches, spiders, dragonflies, butterflies, wasps and bees. Somewhere we saw a glow bug. Walking up Lion rock, there was a warning about bees up ahead, which sometimes cause the path up the hill to be blocked.

bees in Sri Lanka
hives in a tree

There were plenty of domesticated and feral dogs and cats.

dogs in Sri Lanka
cat in Sri Lanka

What about the big cats? There are no lions in Sri Lanka, despite one being featured on their flag and also in the name of the premier tourist attraction, Lion Rock (Sigiriya). Also, there are no tigers in Sri Lanka, despite it being the mascot of the Tamil terrorist group.  You have to go on a safari to see Sri Lanka’s elusive big cat, the leopard. So we did not see any of the big cats.

lions in Sri Lanka

It is not always desirable to see a mouse or rat while sitting in your restaurant waiting for food. We were happier to see a dead one. We came across this dead and squashed (or squashed and dead?) rat.

rat in Sri Lanka

And there are lots more animals that we did not get any photos of. For some reason, we did not get a photo of the many birds we saw, including chickens and a peacock. We also saw cows, goats and buffalo, and even a deer.

A couple of birds
A couple of birds

So, there is much more than just elephants in Sri Lanka, you just need to spend the time and keep your eye out.

Easy Introduction to Sri Lanka at Galle Fort

Our first destination on our holiday to Sri Lanka was the southwestern city of Galle. The old part of town, Galle Fort, is a world heritage site. We chose to start our Sri Lankan adventure here not only to explore this historic site, but also as it seemed like a quiet, clean and organised town. Though, first we had to get there from Malaysia.

After our stopover day in Kuala Lumpur, we had another early morning wake up for the next step on our journey to Sri Lanka. We opted for the KLIA Xpress train as it seemed like a relaxing way to get to the airport, and it was the quickest, taking only half an hour compared up to an hour driving, taking us from KL Sentral station which was a short walk from our hotel. We were also able to eat our breakfast, which we had bought the night before, along the way.

We arrived at KLIA2, Kuala Lumpur’s budget airport which appeared to be basically only servicing AirAsia flights, which did not make it easy for us to locate the check-in counter we needed. We had arrived in plenty of time, but the numerous security checks slowed us down, and we were further slowed having to frantically backtrack to get Clare’s handbag (containing our passports) she had left behind at one of the security scanners. We had brief thoughts of missing our flight as we scrambled around looking for it. Then Clare insisted on an airport coffee to avoid the pre-mixed powder your they serve on the plane (which Rob surprisingly doesn’t mind).

Sunrise at KLIA2
Sunrise at KLIA2

It was only a short flight to Sri Lanka. At Colombo airport, the driver sent by the hotel was waiting for us. We may have been able to get a taxi at the airport for cheaper using the prepaid system, but we decided to go with the trouble-free option of booking a lift through our hotel, as it is always more pleasant to arrive in a new country to a man waiting with a sign with your name on it. Our excitement was somewhat dampened when the driver did not even know which hotel we were staying in, not even the city, and it was not even his car. We started the journey not even sure he had picked up the right people. Mr Robert seemed to fit our description, but there could have been more than one Robert on our flight.

We got all cashed up at the airport as is our usual practice (even after losing all our cash to pickpockets in Greece), the wad of big notes was only a problem when we stopped at a small local shop on our way out to buy some water. If they want our money they can usually find some change eventually.

It was 2-hour drive south to Galle, bypassing the large metropolis of Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo, which had no appeal to us. An hour into the journey our driver pulled into a large restaurant complex which we feared was a tourist trap, expecting rubbish food and service at exhorbitant prices. We were only being cynical and cautious as you need to be on the first day in a new country. It was not such a bad place, probably just what we needed, with a good selection of food stalls to give us our first taste of the local cuisine.

Dream Villa hotel room Sri Lanka
Dream Villa hotel room Sri Lanka

We arrived to a friendly greeting at the Dream Villa hotel in Galle, located within the historic fort walls. The room was fancy, especially by our usual standards, particularly the large bathroom. There were only a couple of rooms in the hotel so it felt like a place just for us. We dropped our bags and headed out, as we were eager to explore the surrounding streets.

The old buildings of the fort have been well looked after, many have been converted to upmarket hotels, shops and restaurants. The actual fort walls were just a short walk away. We walked along the top of the wall, joining the locals and tourists doing the same. It was a great meeting place at sunset time.

fort wall Sri Lanka
The view along the fort wall of Galle Fort

We checked out the flag rock bastion and then the lighthouse. Further along the wall we came to the old hospital building that is now filled with trendy shops, bars and cafes. We looked to have a beer at one of the bars, but surprisingly discovered that most places don’t offer alcohol, or at least not this weekend which is the Sinhalese New Year holiday.

swinging tree Sri Lanka
swinging tree Sri Lanka

Further along our exploration, we came across a large swinging tree which the kids could not resist climbing and a cricket game in the nearby town square. We were tempted to ask to join in the game, but it looked a bit too serious for us.

A cricket game in the main town square in Galle
A cricket game in the main town square in Galle

Back at the hotel, we discovered right next door was one of the highly rated restaurants which we had earmarked to visit, Coconut Sambol, perfect! It was a tiny place, so we were glad it was not too popular. We sat along the wall of this narrow space, with pots of a range of home-cooked curries bubbling away. The kids all had a try of some curry, which were tasty but not too spicy for them.

curry buffet Sri Lanka
curry buffet Sri Lanka

The next morning the hotel owners cooked us up a fresh breakfast, preparing us for our planned walking tour of the fort area, following a map we had copied from Lonely Planet. We tried detouring out of the fort area to a marketplace, but found it was closed (as was many other places), due to the new year celebrations.

Driving a tuk tuk in Galle Sri Lanka
Driving a tuk tuk in Galle Sri Lanka

We negotiated a tuk-tuk ride back to the fort, and Casper was invited by the friendly driver to take over the controls and do some steering. It is an experience a 7-year-old would never get back home.

Galle cricket ground Sri Lanka
Galle cricket ground in the background, Sri Lanka

At the old the clock tower there was a great view over the Galle cricket ground, probably a popular viewing spot when the English team come later this year for a Test match.

We continued following the wall around, knowing that we would eventually arrive back where we started.  While we stopped for a rest, a large lizard ambled up to us, just another day on this tropical island.

wildlife of Galle Sri Lanka
Monitor lizard in Galle Sri Lanka

We had some great meals while in Galle. During the walk around town we detoured for lunch and a cold beer at the casual and friendly Pilgrims Backpackers. In the evening, dinner was at the The Blockhouse for hoppers and kottu, two of our new favourite Sri Lankan dishes. On our final morning at the hotel, we asked for a Sri Lankan breakfast, which we knew they supplied to those who asked. It was a great feast and a fitting end to our stay in Galle.

breakfast at Galle Sri Lanka
Our hotel provided us with a Sri Lankan breakfast on our final morning

After the confusion about the taxi driver the hotel had arranged from the airport, we lacked the confidence that the hotel could arrange someone to take us to the next town. We arranged for a taxi ourselves to take us along the coast to the beachside village of Mirissa. This backfired as he arrived with just a small car with barely enough room for us and our luggage. Fortunately, our hotel owner was there to arrange another driver with a better vehicle, and we paid off the first driver for the inconvenience, and happily went on our way to the next destination in Sri Lanka.

Sunset walk along the fort wall in Galle Sri Lanka
Locals and tourists together enjoying a sunset walk along the fort wall

We highly recommend Galle as a gradual introduction to Sri Lanka. It might be a little more expensive than elsewhere, but the place is safe, the sights are located close and within walking distance, and you can get a taste of the wide range of Sri Lankan food from quality restaurants.

Where We Stayed

  • Dream Villa. No.66 Church St, Galle 80000, Sri Lanka

Places to Eat

Here are the restaurant options that we researched before we arrived. We did not eat at all of these places. The ratings are from TripAdvisor. This was in 2018, so check the details as they may have changed since then.

  • Hoppa Galle Fort #1 of 125 Restaurants in Galle. $. 20 Pedlar Street20
  • Coconut Sambol #2 of 125 Restaurants in Galle. $. 68 Church Street, very close to where we are staying, buffet meal for 1000LKR
  • Imal’s restaurant #20 of 125 Restaurants in Galle. $. Lighthouse street. Great Kottu to try here, family run husband-wife team. Fabulous reviews.
  • Indian Hut #34 of 125 Restaurants in Galle. $. Indian food, Rampart st on the seafront, near the lighthouse, great views, some not so good reviews.
  • The Blockhouse #5 of 125 Restaurants in Galle. $ 78A Church Street.

Sri Lanka Here We Come

A family holiday to Sri Lanka has been on our radar for quite a while, but with our busy travelling schedule over the last year or two, we have not had much time to think about it. After assessing the school holidays of the year ahead, work commitments, and checking the best times to travel, April suited best, which did not leave us long to organize a two-week tour. With just a day to go before we leave, we have all but completed our research, planning, booking and packing! As we have just spent a lot of our recent weeks planning this trip, now seems a good time to reflect on where we have chosen to go and why.

Are Two Weeks Enough?

Once we had booked our flights, we realised that two weeks in Sri Lanka would only be enough to tour the major sights, and we have settled on a fairly traditional loop around the southern part of the country. Even though we have travelled a couple of times to India (without kids), Sri Lanka appears to be quite different from its close neighbour.

Here is a map of our planned route, starting at the airport near Colombo, and travelling in an anti-clockwise loop back to where we started. As you can see, there are many parts of the country that we are missing.

Our Sri Lanka Route

Along The Coast

Our route skips over the capital Colombo – we arrive at the airport and immediately head south along the coast. From what we have read, the large bustling Sri Lankan capital of Colombo does not have much of interest for the tourist, and from our experience of past trips we find the big cities not very appealing. As we head south we will pass some popular resort areas that dot the south-west coast, but that is also not for us. We are heading further along to the Dutch colonial-era fort town of Galle, an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We are staying within the fort walls for a comfortable first night in the country. From Galle we follow the coast a short distance to stay at a relatively underdeveloped and laid-back beach village of Mirissa, where hanging out on the beach is the main attraction.

Into The Hills

From the south coast, we head inland and into the hill country to the small town of Ella, set among the tea plantations and spectacular scenery. Some people choose to stay in the larger hill town of Nuwara Eliya. Here we jump on a train for a full day train journey to Kandy. Tickets for the train can be hard to come by, and the reason we are doing this route in the anti-clockwise direction is that it is less travelled and it was the only way we could get reserved seats on this train.

Sri Lanka’s second largest city, Kandy, does not hold much attraction for us, though we do stop over for a day before heading to what’s called the cultural triangle, staying in Sigiriya (for Lion Rock), and day trips to the cave temples of Dambulla and remains as the royal ancient city of the Kingdom of Polonnaruwa.

We Can’t Do It All

As with most trips, there are many more places we would love to visit. We have a varied itinerary that will give us the chance to experience the different aspects of Sri Lanka; the Dutch colonial history, the beaches, the hill country and tea plantations, and the cultural past and of course the food. In addition to missing Colombo, we are also not intending to do a safari, which is a popular Sri Lankan experience to see elephants in the wild and if you are lucky a leopard. After our unforgettable safari in Kruger in South African in 2016, we are happy to give this a miss. We also don’t have time for the quieter east coast and places to the north, which can always be put in the ‘next time’ basket.

You must agree it sounds great. We are looking forward to some exciting unique adventures, and fun for all the family. We hope it lives up to the hype and our expectations.

We’re Not Superstitious But …

We are not a superstitious family at all, but we can’t resist any travel experience and will jump at the chance of joining the fun things tourists do for luck or some other reward as they travel the world. Here are some of these customs we have come across in our years of travelling the globe and had the chance to participate in.

Spinning on the Bull

Spinning on the Bull in Milan
Spinning on the Bull in Milan at the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.

Italy has provided us with many of these opportunities to gain good fortune. On the floor at Milan’s upmarket shopping arcade, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, there is a mosaic image of a bull. There is a curious tradition of placing your heel over the bull’s testicles and spinning, which is said to bring you luck. The correct way to do it is to place your heel into the well-worn hole where its testicles would be, and turn backwards three times. We noticed that many people were spinning around the wrong way or not three times, which obviously means no luck for them!

Visiting Porcellino

The boar, called Il Porcellino

In Florence there is a bronze statue and fountain of a boar, called Il Porcellino (translates as ‘the piglet’). Visitors put a coin into the boar’s mouth, with the intent to let it fall through the grate below for good luck, followed by a rub of the boar’s snout to ensure a return to Florence. Our visit last April was our second visit, and it’s a place I would love to return to again, so let’s hope it works.

Spin Finger at Hagia Sophia

Spin Hagia Sophia
Spin your finger in the column at Hagia Sophia

Inside Hagia Sophia Istanbul, Turkey, there’s a column where tourists perform an unusual ritual. You put their thumb in hole and spin a circle. Supposedly, if your finger gets wet, it means their wish will be fulfilled or their illnesses will be healed.

Mouth of Truth

The Mouth of Truth (Bocca della Verità
Rob testing out The Mouth of Truth (Bocca della Verità) in Rome

The Mouth of Truth (Bocca della Verità) is a marble mask in Rome, Italy, which stands against the left wall of the portico of the Santa Maria in the Cosmedin church, at the Piazza della Bocca della Verità. Legend says that if you put your hand in the mouth and tell a lie, the Bocca (which is Italian for ‘mouth’) will bite your hand off. Rob tried it out in 2005, and still has his hand attached. When we visited recently the line was too long and we gave it a miss, which was unfortunate as we had specific questions prepared to test on the kids.

Kiss a frog

Jetson kissing the frog
In a square in Brugges in Belgium, kissing the frog might bring you great riches

In the medieval City of Bruges in Belgium, there is a statue in Burg Square with a little frog hiding at the base. It’s said that when the person number 100,000 kisses the frog, it will turn into a prince or princess who will carry your backpack for you forever. We let Jetson do the kissing as that would be very handy for him. Now that’s more interesting than just a bit of luck or coming back again.

Water for Health

Drinking from the foundtain at Kiyomizu-dera Temple Kyoto Japan
Drinking from the fountain at Kiyomizu-dera Temple Kyoto Japan

At the Kiyomizu Dera temple (which means “Pure Water Temple”) in Kyoto, Japan, the waters of nearby Otowa Waterfall are divided into three separate streams that fall into a pond. You can catch the water in a cup and have a drink, which is said to confer academic achievement, fortune in love or longevity, depending on which stream you drink from. Either way, you get a refreshing drink a fresh water.

Hold it

Swan View Railway tunnel at John Forest National Park
Walking the Swan View Railway tunnel at John Forest National Park, Western Australia.

A widespread belief is that if you hold your breath for the entire duration of a tunnel and make a wish, the wish will come true. We do this regularly, but in Switzerland, we met our match with the world’s longest train tunnel. The Gotthard base tunnel travels under the Swiss Alps for a whopping 57kms (35-miles) which took us over 20 minutes to get through. It was a great to be able to say we have been through that tunnel, but disappointing that we missed so much of that wonderful Swiss scenery.

Watching the Sunrise to start a New Year

Watching the sunrise on the Gili Islands Lombok
Watching the sunrise on the beach at Gili Meno, Lombok, Indonesia.

Hatsuhinode is the name for the welcoming of the first sunrise of the New Year in Japan. The Japanese believe that it brings good fortune for the coming year. Watching the sunrise is a wonderful way to start any day, it can’t but make you smile and get you started on a productive day. We have been able to witness a few sunrises to welcome in a new year, but while travelling we often take the opportunity to see the sunrise and make a great start to a day exploring a new place.

Wishing Wells

looking for luck at the Kings Park wishing well
looking for luck at the Kings Park wishing well

Wishing wells come in all shapes and sizes. It is not just wells, any pond and fountain can become a ‘wishing well’ once a few coins are thrown in. Throw any coin and make a wish, and it will come true. My wish is that people in need will come at night to collect some coins.

Ask For Forgiveness

touching the hand of Mary
Olive trying anything for forgiveness, touching the foot of baby Jesus at the entrance to Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano, in Rome, Italy.

If all else fails, you can ask for help from a higher power by touching, kissing or rubbing a part of a religious statue. You will know of such a tradition when you see the highly polished part of the statute. If might help if you actually have some faith.

We Will Be Back

Back at the Trevi Fountain
We must have done something right as here we are back at the Trevi Fountain more than 10 years later

Apparently, if you throw a coin over your left shoulder into the Trevi fountain you will return to Rome. We were not the only ones doing it, which might explain the increasing crowds visiting Rome each year. That’s a lot of coins – we were glad to hear that the coins are collected and donated to charity. We threw a coin in 2005, and were back again in 2017, so maybe it works.

Our recent European holiday (April-July 2017) was filled with adventures, stolen and lost items, accidents, though an amazing time and fantastic memories. Despite occasional setbacks, we always feel lucky to have the opportunity to do such trips. Would we do it all again? According to the Trevi fountain, we may not have a choice.