23 February 2015, by Tan Yi Lin
Have kids; will travel. It’s an addiction that we cannot kick, as masochistic a practice as it is. It’s almost a form of self-induced stress and yet we find delight in it.
Since Coco was born, we’ve gradually levelled up on our travel experiences, starting with nearby places before moving on to further destinations; flying with one kid and then two; staying put in one resort before attempting a more ambitious road trip.
This time, we took things a notch further by taking a family vacation in WINTER. Encouraged by our pretty successful family road trip in Hokkaido last July, we decided to return to Japan in February. The highlights of the trip would be introducing the girls to snow and of course – now that Claire could recognise some of the popular Disney characters – a visit to Tokyo Disneyland.
I often get questioned on why we bother to bring the kids “so far away”. After all, wouldn’t a beach resort in Malaysia or even a staycation on our shores suffice? In all honesty, yes. When my siblings and I were younger, our parents repeatedly brought us to Penang, Malacca and Frasers Hill – and we never got sick of it. On the contrary, we looked forward to these trips every single time.
The truth is, Dan and I plan our family vacations around ourselves! I had always longed to experience Hokkaido and Dannie has suggested visiting Tokyo together many-a-time. It had been some time since our last snowboarding attempt in Oregon and we were keen to hit the slopes again – this time at Fuji Ten, a ski resort at the foot of Mt Fuji. (Well, this was my grand plan BEFORE this pregnancy caught us by surprise – and relegated me to the role of snow nanny and cheerleader.) As for the kids, we fit them into our travel plans because other than airfares (which are discounted), they don’t cost us extra because entrance fees to attractions (even Disneyland) and train rides are free for children aged 3 and below. And because they’re still little, we don’t have to pay for extra beds or child meals – they share our beds and meals. Oh right, we bring them along because we actually DO enjoy having them around too 😛
“So young, they know how to appreciate meh? They won’t remember anything!” we’ve been told. I beg to differ – young children DO remember. Their ability to record and retain information is amazing – much better than that of most adults, in fact. Coco recalls her earlier visits to London, and to Disneyland in Paris and Hong Kong. Upon returning home from our recent trip, Claire announced to our pet fish that “I went to Japan, Fish! I went to Japan!” She’s still talking about riding on the Flying Dumbo and spinning around on the teacup ride, and about meeting a snowman in the snow fields near Mount Fuji.
As for appreciating the vacation, they probably don’t – not in the way that adults appreciate scenery or good food, but I do know for sure that they enjoy simply being in the moment. Their sharp eyes widen as they take in new sights and their little faces come aglow when they spot something delightful. I love how uninhibited they are in letting out yelps of excitement and happiness, still unfettered by grown-up urges to snap photos of, or to compare and judge everything new that we see. Watching them is a reminder that we don’t travel in order to capture memories on our mobile devices and Facebook; we travel because it enriches our lives.
That said, we ARE especially tired out from this winter holiday. It’s been 3 days since we arrived home and I’ve yet to fully unpack our luggage. Dressing / undressing tiny tots (and ourselves) in winter gear was a workout in itself – not to mention the urgent “Mummy, I need to pee!” dramas and wrestling with a poopy diaper change with all those layers of clothing on. Navigating the crowded metropolis that is Tokyo with small children AND WHILE PREGNANT was an immense challenge. We were lucky that no one fell ill from the wintery cold. But while I’ve never been so glad to arrive home from a vacation in my life, I do feel a sense of pride and accomplishment in managing to pull off the trip. WE DID IT!
For families planning a winter vacation with small children, we hope that our travel tips will come in handy in making that snowy holiday a fun and painless one:
1. Winter gear can be expensive to purchase just for that rare winter holiday. We borrowed warm clothing for the girls from relatives whose own kids had outgrown the items. If snow play is on the cards, waterproof outfits are essential for keeping the kids DRY – and thus, warm. Coldwear stocks waterproof snow pants and mittens in kids sizes. Dan’s sister ordered cute wellies from Toms online, which worked well for our trip, but if you’re planning to stomp around in deep snow, you’d probably need boots that can be laced tight to prevent snow from falling in.
2. Heavy duty moisturiser – because our usual daily lightweight lotions are useless against the cold, dry winter conditions. We used moisturising cream from Eucerin and Forever Living’s jojoba oil chapsticks for our faces.
3. A thermos filled with warm water. Because even at room temperature, drinking water is too chilly for little bodies.
4. Travel safe. Snow tyres and child safety seats are a must when travelling in icy conditions as the roads can be slippery and mountainous terrain, steep. It’s important to confirm with the car rental company upfront at the time of booking that these will be provided for and not just ask for these additions when you pick up the car.
5. Plan smart. Some outdoor attractions, no matter how interesting, are best visited outside of winter. Brrrrrrr.
6. Bring your own food and snacks. While was easy to find Japanese rice and noodles meals to feed little ones throughout most of the trip, the nosh sold within Disneyland is mostly fast food – burgers, fries, pizzas, which didn’t go down well with the girls. So make sure you have food that they like on hand because hungry tots are cranky tots.
7. A stroller. Disneyland parks are HUGE. If you aren’t planning to travel with a stroller, do consider renting one at the park entrance. It makes carting tired, overstimulated children (and everybody’s bags and additional warm clothing) around the park MUCH easier. Also, a smaller Disneyland isn’t necessary a bad thing. Before we visited Hong Kong Disneyland, we were warned that it was smaller and less impressive than the other Disney parks. On the contrary, its (slightly) more compact size made it easier for us to cover more of the park with a small kid in tow. In any case, the littler kids only want to ride on the same few rides over and over again anyway i.e. Flying Dumbo, carousel, spinning teacups, Slinky Dog, car rides.
8. We visited both Disneyland and Disneysea on a 2-day pass. If you’re travelling with small children like we did, we recommend spending both days at Disneyland for its kid-friendly rides and fantastic parades. While there were more opportunities to meet-and-greet Disney characters at Disneysea, it offers more of a studios experience and is more suitable for older kids and adults. Also, the latter is spread out over sprawling grounds – which requires more time and effort to transport the kids from ride to ride.
9. Actually, after experiencing Tokyo, I’d probably never want to travel with kids to a fast-paced, crowded city anytime soon! I spent most of the time making sure they didn’t get mowed over by human traffic or get into people’s way. It’s hard to navigate the city by train with a stroller or with kids in arms (stations can be sprawling and elevators difficult to locate), and eateries are generally small, cramped and smoky. For dinner, we bought cooked food and instant noodles from the supermarket and ate in our hotel room. I had been hoping to get cute tees and leggings for the girls, just like we did in Hokkaido, and was a little bummed that we hardly got to do any shopping or experience much of the city. But if you manage expectations right from the start, a holiday in the city can still make for a good travel experience with kids.
As for us, after we’re done thawing from the winter cold, we’ll be heading on a babymoon next month. Just me and Dan – NO kids (except for the one inside!)