You Brought Them With You?

By Michele Hopper

The most common question folks ask when my husband and I tell them we’re going on vacation is whether our children are coming with us. The most common reaction when we return is shock with a touch of disbelief that we did indeed travel as a family.

Living in Manila, Philippines as a Foreign Service family comes with its own challenges, but people never questioned whether our children would be accompanying us to post. Traveling for pleasure is a whole other ballgame. It probably has something to do with the ages of our children. With a pair of sons ages two and four and a pair of daughters ages six and eight, I’m pretty sure if it was anyone else I would be cringing at the thought as well.

But traveling as a family is what we’re all about. It would certainly be more relaxing to not keep tabs on the nearest bathrooms or make sure each of us is holding the hands of two little people. We’re not here to relax, though; we’re here to experience. Having been an overseas Army brat myself, I know firsthand the value of being exposed to various cultures from a young age. Why live this lifestyle and be halfway around the world, if not to expose our kids to everything wonderful and different about our planet?

That’s why we’ve taken them around the Philippine islands, like to Cebu where we didn’t hit the typical beach resort. Instead, we saw Magellan’s Cross, planted by the explorer while attempting to circumnavigate the world and convert the locals along the way. We also explored the Lapu-Lapu shrine, dedicated to the guy who killed Magellan right on these shores because (more or less) he wasn’t all that keen on being converted.

We’ve taken the kids to Hong Kong, where we visited the bird and goldfish markets on foot and Victoria Peak via tram-one so steep that the aisle has slanted steps. We also dedicated a day to Ocean Park, an amusement park and aquarium where our oldest enjoyed her first roller coaster ride.

Most recently we spent three weeks on our official R&R travel. Living in Manila is exhausting, as life always is when you’re fully immersed in a foreign culture. So for some supposed rest and relaxation, we planned a packed itinerary to New Zealand for two weeks, with another week of stops in Sydney and Singapore on the way home.

Of course, the kids came too.

When planning our trip, I did everything online and through email. I scoured hotel websites and asked about airport pick-ups and drop-offs. I booked the RV rental, the van rental, ferry passage, and train tickets. I pulled together a travel binder, complete with page protectors, and filled it with reservation confirmations and expected travel destinations. The book doubled as a place to hold ticket stubs and postcards for easy scrapbooking. I printed out a calendar with flight departures and arrivals where I marked reserved activities in red and open activities in green.

Traveling as a group of seven (my mother came with us, not knowing when she’d ever have another chance to see New Zealand) had its challenges, but with some extra planning, it had even more rewards.

From Auckland to Wellington, we worked our way south in a campervan. We visited the usual museums and aquariums, and tossed in panning at a goldmine. We couldn’t pass up Zorbing where our eight-year-old sloshed down a hill in a bouncy plastic bubble. My husband and I also did it together-a tandem spin cycle. As a family, we fed sheep at the Agrodome, poked our heads out of Hobbit holes (from the “Lord of the Rings” movies), and visited a Maori village, complete with show and hangi, a traditional dinner. We ferried across Cook’s Strait and took the TranzCoastal rail to Christchurch where we played at a hands-on science museum and saw kiwi birds. We spent a day in Hanmer Springs to ride horses and soak in hot mineral springs. We moved on to Sydney to “Find Nemo” at the Aquarium, and were impressed by Singapore’s unique Night Safari.

We slept at holiday parks and hotels and ingested everything from fast food to convenience store steak pies to swanky, multi-course meals with escargot. The kids even liked it. We traveled by RV, boat, train, bus, van, taxi, tram, trolley, and hours by foot. Every day held something new and the kids reveled in it. Because of that, so did we. Happy, busy, and exhausted kids were a top priority.

Here are four tips for a successful family adventure, even if you have four young children. As we’ve discovered, traveling with them was more than just doable, it was just plain fun:

1. Find a destination that has plenty of cross-generational appeal. We found things that were not only new and interesting to adults but fascinating and fun for the kids. Even though the younger set couldn’t go extreme caving with us {thanks mom for keeping the kids!), the same area had a gentle walk and boat ride through caves to see similar stalactites, stalagmites, and glow worms. We did both and nobody felt like they had missed out.

2. Plan everything and leave no day unscheduled. It’s fine if plans don’t go the way you intended or if something else comes up, but always have a schedule for the day. That way you know what you’re doing the following day and can talk it up to the kids. We knew in Rotorua that we’d be visiting a geothermal park and that we’d probably check out the city museum. Along the way we passed a 3D maze. After seeing the mud pits where we touched a sulfur spring, inspected gaseous vents, and realized our clothes smelled of rotten eggs, we beelined back to the 3D maze, broke into two teams, and ran ourselves silly for an hour.

3. Listen to your kids. Take their suggestions seriously if something catches their eye. They may never recall the history museum, but I can guarantee they’ll be talking about that maze for a long time.

4. Leave time for play. Schedule it if you must. While waiting for our dinner reservation at the revolving Orbit restaurant in Auckland, we wandered to Albert Park in the center of town to feed the birds, climb some trees, and play freeze tag. We also had a couple heavy driving days on our way south, but along the way we stopped at a Family Adventure Park in Levin, a small town north of Wellington. Again, for an hour we tore across the field on “flying fox” zip lines, bounced on a trampoline, crawled along obstacle courses and swung in circles until we were dizzy. The kids didn’t want to leave, and truth be told, neither did we.

What’s in our traveling future? Aside from a car trip around the eastern half of the U.S. next summer and a new post in 2005 (Togo, here we come!), we may take a final trip to Vietnam before leaving the south Pacific. And yes, we’re bringing the kids with us.

Michele Hopper is a brave mother of four, Foreign Service spouse, and AAFSW member. If you have questions or comments regarding this article, please contact the AAFSW Media Director at

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