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Travelling with children in Asia part 2

Our 5 week holiday through Malaysia and Indonesia with our 4 year old son and 6 year old daughter has come to an end and I am inclined to cogitate on our trip. We decided to take a holiday together to connect and spend the summer school holidays together rather than madly juggling work, days off with children, vacation care etc. We also have never travelled at Christmas time so we were intrigued to try it. We have never been to Indonesia and we were determined to avoid Bali if possible so instead we spent a couple of weeks in Malaysia then Java before heading to the less commercialized little brother Lombok and ended the trip on the tiny island of Gili Trawangan.13897089176531

Throughout our trip, prior to reaching Lombok we had used Bahasa Indonesian daily to get by and we were remarked upon, interviewed, photographed, and touched. When we reached Lombok and Gili Trawangan we finally had the anonymity we are accustomed to, due to the popularity of these lovely islands with Dutch and Australian tourists. Interestingly, with the anonymity though comes commodification of material culture and annoying touts.

As I ponder why we took this trip, spent all of our annual leave and a lot of money that could and perhaps should have been used for our home loan, I feel undecided. By travelling with children I was unable to move at my preferred pace; walking slower than preferred, moving on sooner than I would like and never being able to devote even 1/2 of my attention to anything. We barely visited any museums and had to rush while paradoxically moving slowly past every cultural site I would have loved to explore at leisure. The rivalry between our children, their low thresholds for stimulus, and poor diets due to fussy eating made it necessary to devote sections of each day to behavior management. It’s left me with a partially hollow feeling and wondering why we bothered. Though I must say that they travelled very well and coped with many discomforts, peculiarities, and foreign experiences. They were stoic travellers and never once asked to go home or complained when we moved on (we stayed at 9 different places in 5 weeks); in fact they cheerfully adapted to each new temporary home. They have a store of unique memories, photos and a few souvenirs that hopefully will help to stir memories as the years pass.

At the 3 1/2 week point we were unable to extend our stay in Yogyakarta, my husband had a tummy bug and we independently found ourselves wishing that we could go home. I think that I made us do too much each day before that, packing in too many adventures, too much sightseeing, and not enough rest time (although it’s difficult to want to rest in a dingy hotel in a dirty, bustling city). At that point I realised that we needed an actual holiday. I flicked through the Lonely Planet Guide, re-read travel recommendations from Indonesian friends, checked for cheap flights, and booked us on Lion Air to fly to Lombok. After 5 days of resting on Lombok we shifted down another gear and had a totally relaxing time, for another 5 days on Gili Trawangan, because it doesn’t have any sights to see so it was perfect for a person like me to be forced to rest. Frankly those final 10 days of our trip redeemed it in the minds of myself and my husband because it allowed us to rest, regather, and enjoy being together rather than wishing to be elsewhere and alone!

The type of travel that my husband and I like to do is light on sightseeing and is more focused on authentic experiences, learning, and connecting with people. This post contains a great discussion on authenticity during travel. By far the highlight of our trip was to stay in Bogor with a family we know from our hometown in Australia and spend a couple of days sightseeing with a new friend in Yogyakarta. Otherwise, perhaps due to the cultural and language gap, we failed to have many meaningful interactions. Annoyingly there are many men in Yogyakarta, Lombok, and Gili Trawangan that use that desire for human contact as an opening to rip us off. Often we would be engaged in a family discussion that would be interrupted by a middle aged Indonesian man; he would ask us where we are from, share with us a connection that he has to Australia, engage us in conversation and then try to sell us something or become an unasked for tour guide. Towards the end of the trip we became shy about responding to friendly Indonesians because we were sure that it would follow the same pattern.

Throughout our trip we used our 3G connection (Wifi was never strong enough to be useful) with local SIM cards to book the next stage of the journey. For accommodation we used, for travel between islands we used cheap Asian airlines that were safe but always ran late, we used a 1st class train in Java that was on time and comfortable, we used bicycle rickshaws, horse and carts, speed boats, local buses, interstate buses, taxis, and for long journeys or sightseeing we often used connections we’d made to book a driver and car. We found that Trip Advisor was pretty unreliable because many places are incorrectly located on the map and many reviews are ill considered. The Lonely Planet Guide was not much more useful because it is geared towards young people travelling without children and seeking less travelled locations for unique experiences. We are very interested to find out about a reliable source of information for families travelling with young children. If anyone can recommend a guide book geared towards our demographic I would be very grateful! It was a wonderful trip that I’ll never forget and as the amnesia brought by about by the passing of time adds a patina of nostalgia to our memories I’m sure that we will be biting at the bit to travel again quite soon!

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2 comments on “Travelling with children in Asia part 2

  1. Teresa Hooper
    February 4, 2014

    Great experience, but yes young children are happiest swimming in a pool or playing. We also have found Trip Advisor to be somewhat unreliable, particularly with regard to reviews on hotels. Teresa

    • strivetoengage
      February 6, 2014

      Hi Teresa, thanks for your comment! You are absolutely right that swimming nearly every day for 35 days was the standout experience for our children. Oh well, we can only try to add other experiences as well! I am always inspired by that trip to Thailand; granted I was much older but it was a life-changing trip in that it greatly broadened my horizons, as well as strongly linking me to another family 🙂

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