500 Places to Take Your Kids Before They Grow Up

Or, 500 Tacky Tourist Traps it might be better to avoid.

I guess you can tell from my sub title I’m a little underwhelmed with this book. It’s a disappointing offering from Frommer. I’ll cover what I think are the major flaws of the book.

First of all, it’s organised by themes. So chapter one is “awesome vistas’, chapter two is “exploring the scenery” right through “walk with animals” to “budding scientists” to “rides and thrills at the end”. Don’t get me wrong the themes sound great. The problem is that for each theme they then pick one or two highlights from each continent basically. This creates a kind of artificial selection, so that for theme parks we have Lunar Park in Sydney as the major offering (eh?) rather than focusing on the fact that the Gold Coast has a cluster of whizzie woo woo theme parks (and that maybe a park like Wet ‘n’ Wild Water World is more iconic of Australia). There are quite a few choices in the book that felt like this type of token gesture to me. I mean, really did someone pick Lunar Park of wikipedia?  I can’t think of any other plausible reason for it’s inclusion.

The other problem with themes is that it isn’t how you actually travel. You travel geographically. While there is a small  geographical index at the back, it was almost like an after thought. There were maps provided of all the major countries but while the main cities were marked, none of the actual attractions or destinations were. I’m not sure what purpose they thought these maps were going to serve but they certainly don’t help you to work out where to go.

Let’s take an example of a family visiting New Zealand. You want to know what things you must see. It’s a long way to get to NZ from anywhere, so you don’t want to miss out on anything, right? In the index fro NZ the attractions we have listed are: Fiordlands National Park, Mount Cook (ahem, correct name Aoraki or at the very least Aoraki/Mt Cook), Rotorua, Stewart Island and Wellington Cable Car. If you’ve never been to NZ before, you might well wonder where these things are. Well, don’t use the maps in this book, on NZ it has marked: The North Island, Wellington, The South Island, and Stewart Island. Now we have been to NZ several times. In fact Super Gizmo man had to take Beckham across the ditch just a couple of weeks ago. I did the planning and listed all the places they really should visit depending on where they got flights. In the end they flew in and out of Wellington. Not once, not once did it even cross my mind as a merest flicker that they ‘really should go on the cable car’. If you are in Wellington with kids, the places you should make a bee line for are Te Papa which is the fabulous national museum and the Karori Santuary. If you need a bit of public transport excitement, then Wellington has the only public trolley bus system in Australasia.

Another problematic aspect of the book is it’s US centric focus. Now I am sure that the US is an amazing place to visit but the mere fact that a whole chapter is devoted to “Settling America” is pretty telling. Especially when American places dominate the other categories as well. Maybe a better title would have been “Places American’s should consider taking their kids”.

Compounding the disappointing nature of the places selected is the fact that the selections seem to focus on major cities and traditional tourist destinations. I confirmed this with my flick through of their choices fro France and Italy. D’uh oh! We neglected to go to almost all of the places they mentioned. Give me Pienza any day over Rome for an amazing cultural experience for kids. Famous Bridges selected were the historic choices of the Tower Bridge, London and Le Pont Neuf, Paris. Where is the hair raising Millau Viaduct (France) the tallest vehicular bridge in the world? Or the Forth Railway bridge in Glasgow, the first bridge and major structure in the UK to be built of steel ? Instead the choices are those found in any travel agents brochures. There are no hidden gems waiting to be discovered. Instead this book follows a very paint by numbers approach to exploring the planet. Hard to believe this is published by the same company as the brilliant “with your family” travel series. Save your money for those or the much glossier Travel with Kids by William Gray.

Infant among passengers injured as Qantas flight hits turbulence | Herald Sun

Infant among passengers injured as Qantas flight hits turbulence | Herald Sun.

This is really interesting to us because in the weekend SGM and I were just discussing clear air turbulence with the kids. You can see really good definitions of the different types of turbulence on the Australian Government Civil Aviation Safety Authority. Basically clear air turbulence is turbulence that occurs without any warning at all. Also it is generally more severe at the rear of the plane. The CASA recommend that passengers keep their seat belts fastened even when the seat belt signs are turned off. The thing I find most disturbing about the effects of turbulence is that children under two, infants and babies are often travelling without their own seat. In this news article, an infant was one of the people who were injured. Surely infants and babies need as much, if not more protection than adult passengers?

Carry on luggage – not so crazy

My parents are currently in Europe. I know, it was a coincidence that both families planned to go to Europe in the same year. As you can imagine, before they left we compared lots of notes. As ‘mature’ travellers (yeah, we’re the immature ones) they have quite a different itinerary and pace. Although they politely admired our Rick Steves carry on bags, they maintained they didn’t mind taking bigger suitcases and not having to cart their bags onto the plane.
Well, we are currently piecing the story together from SMS messages and emails but the gist of it is that my Mum has lost her bag. They flew from London to Paris. The airline didn’t loose the bag – another passenger picked up Mum’s bag by mistake. When he realized the mistake, he contacted my Parents (who were half way to Germany by that stage) and returned the bag to security at CDG Airport. My parents drove back to CDG to retrieve the bag but it couldn’t be located.
So my parents have resumed their trip minus all of Mum’s clothes. They will be able to buy replacement clothes and they will put in a claim of course but now they have the added hassle of trying to shop in an already busy
I don’t want to get too smug because all our travel disasters have yet to happen. We need to wait until we get back before we can truly say that carry-on is a better way to go. In the meantime, it’s certainly sounding less crazy.

Things never to skimp on when traveling with kids

Things never to skimp on when traveling with kids.

I like the points this article makes – it just seems to be more US centric than perhaps intended.

Ok, I don’t agree with the number one point, which is don’t skimp on the hotel. To me, that is a very American way to travel. In fact, ignoring  hotels has been the number one way that we can actually afford to travel. I would amend this point to “do your research on your accommodation – read the reviews”. Now that I totally agree with.

Perhaps it’s having flown so often between Australia and NZ but both of these countries have quite strict regulations about what food you can and cannot take off the plane. If you came laden with snacks, you can expect to have your bags searched by sniffer dogs (and yes, you will have to open your bag on the airport floor and everyone will see the underwear you packed).In fact the sniffer dogs know if you’ve had fruit in your bags anytime over the past couple of weeks, so even if you don’t have fruit currently on you, your bags can be searched. I speak from personal experience! You will be required to dispose of any fruit or dairy products before customs. Pre-packaged, highly processed and unopened snacks may make it through customs (you will of course have to declare them) but I don’t see the benefit in carting around loads of highly sugared junk. I’m still trying to think of an alternative.

More tips for travelling long distances with kids

Gummy Bears
Image by wishymom via Flickr

Kid Friendly has just published some tips for travelling long distances with kids. They have also done a comparison of the low cost carriers who fly from Australia. Both are good articles worth reading.

The best tip I have ever heard for dealing with long car trips with kids is to buy a bag of sweets before the trip starts. Every time the kids misbehave in the car or get rowdy, simply roll down your window and throw one of the sweets out! Make sure of course that the kids notice you throwing the lolly away! When you reach the destination, the kids may share whatever is left in the bag of lollies.

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Teh Travel Bug – I Haz It


[amtap amazon:asin=1906098034]

Yesterday I discovered this book at one of our local libraries and nearly od’ed on the excitement of it. The library must have accidentally ordered the book before the recession was official or something. The author, William Gray, writes for the UK magazine Wanderlust. After reading this book I have a serious case of wanderlust myself.

Peaks of Greatness:

  1. Will (as I now like to refer to him) has travelled with twins and has lived to tell the tale, which he tells honestly.
  2. He has great sections on general travel tips and then specific tips for each of the categories of babies/toddlers, children and teens.
  3. The main part of the book is divided up geographically and covers the whole planet (woo-hoo). Each geographical section contains highlights and kid friendly attractions for different age groups. Unlike a backpacking guide book which might assume you can spend three months in one suburb of outer Mongolia, Will goes for the jugular in each location. Along with family friendly accommodation, tour operators and food recommendations, he has included bonus nuggets of information such as suggested books to read and DVD’s to watch.
  4. It’s colourful, it’s glossy. It can be read in bite sized chunks which is helpful for sleep deprived parents and those with post-pregnancy brain.

Valleys of Despair:

  1. It is ad supported. Not offensive and very relevant travel ads (and not many of them) but it does “magizinify” the experience. However, if that is the difference between having a super fabulous travel book or not, I can live with the ads.
  2. Egypt. I get it. It’s fantastic and educational and incredible and we are not going there. So don’t rub it in already.
  3. Carbon offsetting. See “Egypt” above.

Overall this is a fabulous book packed full of great advice. I’m finding it particularly useful because we only have a week in each of the major cities, so it’s great to see suggested itineraries suitable for kids and families. EVERY library should have a copy.

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The Holy Grail of Family Travel Guide Books

After Christmas I went and did the rounds of our local libraries, I have to confess I was hoping to find a guide book along the lines of “Where to Stay in Europe if you Accidentally take Your Children”. It became painfully obvious that our local libraries are not inundated with families travelling to Europe, hmmmm. One of our libraries had a copy of the excellent Take Your Kids to Europe, 7th: How to Travel Safely (and Sanely) in Europe with Your Children

This is a fantastic book which I can’t recommend enough. After I finished reading through the library copy I realised I had bookmarked every second page and so it was necessary to buy our own copy. It is absolutely loaded with information and is a fantastic resource in planning a trip in general. However, there are a few areas where I wanted even more specific information. Although Harriman encourages families to travel “off the beaten track” because of the scope of the book, she does not go into details about specific locations. There are recommendations scattered throughout the book but for the most part, the book is about managing the trip. Also Harriman’s emphasis is on going for as long as you can rather than squeezing as much as you can into a short space of time.

Young Rick Steves convert
Image by eugene via Flickr

Another guide book series that is excellent in terms of getting off the beaten track are the books by Rick Steves and Co.  These are great in that he is all about travelling very economically without necessarily backpacking (and you can find location specific advice). He does include information for families in each book but overall his target audience are “mature travellers” and those requiring standard accommodation for one or two people. Plus guidebooks for specific locations.

The best guidebooks for details about sights to see are the Eyewitness Travel Guides by DK.  These are stunningly beautiful books with illustrations of all the best sights and loads of historical information. They are like having a tour guide on tap and I think particularly helpful in deciding which sights you want to see in a particular area. However, I wouldn’t rely on them for affordable accommodation or even eating recommendations.

All of these guidebooks are great and I’m using all of them, however none of them could be classified as Family Travel Guidebook Nirvana. But I did not despair. Well, ok, actually I did despair, quite a lot. But I did not give up and my intrepid searches on Amazon were finally rewarded by finding the Holy Grail of Family Travel guide books. Frommers have just published an entire series of books for families and they are brilliant!!!

You can find the list of Frommer’s with Families guide books here:

The one thing you must take


No – my medications don’t need adjusting. Let me tell you how I have arrived at the conclusion that a rubber chicken is an essential item to take on an international trip even when only taking carry-on luggage.

Last night I was lying awake thinking about the logistics of travelling with kids on a long haul flight. While the two boys are happy enough to be plugged into the nearest gaming device for hours on end, Cityhall is not so docile. She still needs a good routine (well, lucked out on the parents there) and is quite energetic (again, bad luck on the parent front). Even her swiming teacher remarked on Cityhall’s ability to just keep going like the battery bunny.  [amtap amazon:asin=B001FBN1M2] What I realised, was we were going to have to put focused effort into making sure we got up and did some type of exercise or games during the flight. This is quite a challenge on a plane given that whatever we do will have to be quiet and in a confined space. 

So I’m making a list and checking it… obsessively. I’ve started going through some of my PE handbooks and games books. I came up with three types of activities – things to do at airports where we can have lots of movement and space (and probably a bit more noise), things to do on the plane if we can find a corner or space behind / in front of seats, and things to do on the plane that are very quiet and confined. With this I came up with a list of equipment to bring. This included rubber erasers, rubber bands, small empty boxes packed flat and an inflatable beach ball. My idea was that the inflatable beach ball could be used to play catch or four square or similar while we are in the airports. 

Then I discovered this book [amtap amazon:asin=0736063927] I actually found it at Groovy Games  where it comes bundled with a rubber chicken. (I think I found it looking for Wikki Stix in Australia – as recomended on travel with kids sites everywhere) [amtap amazon:asin=B00000J0H7] So I HAVE to have the Chicken Noodle Game book and the rubber chicken. They look hilarious. And I decided it was about 100,000 times more interesting to play catch with a rubber chicken at an airport than with a beachball. Plus I really want the security personnel to ask us why we are bringing a rubber chicken so that I can answer “for religious reasons”. And that’s when I realised that the most important thing you can bring on an adventure is your sense of humour. 

Go on, I know you want one too. [amtap amazon:asin=B0000BYQAO]