The Truth About Traveling with Toddlers

29 Oct

Right before we left Vienna, we spent three weeks road tripping through Europe with Cletus and The Babe. One week in Slovenia, a short break back home, then 2 weeks through Croatia. It was an ambitious agenda by most standards, but probably sounds absolutely insane to anyone with small kids. Just getting to the grocery store and back with those animals is usually adventure enough. But, crazy world wanderers/gluttons for punishment that we are, we just couldn’t leave that part of the world without checking some stuff off our list first. So we hit the highway, packed to the brim with snacks and travel cribs and coloring books and DVDs (thank GOD for the DVDs). We saw castles and medieval cities, hiked through lush forests and felt the spray of magnificent waterfalls. We sat on rocky beaches met by stunning turquoise waters and drank cold beers while the kids looked for seashells. It was glorious.

Except when it wasn’t.

The thing about traveling with very little people is that while you will certainly have moments so perfect and spectacular that you can hardly believe your luck, mostly your time on the road will look like this:

I'M IN A GLASS CASE OF EMOTION!

And this:

human pack horse

And this:

vacation is so much fun!

There will be tears. Someone will probably vomit. At some point you will want to burn your passports and forsake vacations completely until they’re 25.

Yes, when you have kids, what you used to call “vacation” instantly becomes The Amazing Race: Toddler Edition, full of roadblocks, insane challenges and stretches of time spent running through crowded tourist areas searching for something (a missing blankie, a dropped pacifier, a wandering child). Has this slowed us down? More than a bit. But I look at it this way: would I rather deal with another tantrum in my living room, or while sipping crisp white wine on the rocky Croatian coast?

The key to winning when you’re traveling with the under 3 crowd is embracing that Amazing Race mindset and rolling with it. For all the people out there wondering how we do it, here’s a brief look at our strategy:

Pack a multi-purpose arsenal of supplies.

The kids get to bring their blankies, a favorite stuffed animal, and a few small toys. Otherwise we try to go minimal, with a few helpful supplies thrown in – things like tin foil (to make instant blackout shades, wrap leftovers, entertain the tots with swan sculptures) and painter’s tape (homemade stickers, matchbox car roads, makeshift babyproofing on arrival). A small bottle of dish soap is critical (washing sippy cups, stained clothes in a pinch). Basically, if MacGyver had kids, this is what you’d find in his suitcase.

Book an apartment.

My husband and I fondly remember a time long ago when the first things we did upon entering a hotel room were crack open the minibar and flop on the bed. Maybe then we’d unpack, but not before sitting on the balcony for a while, contemplating dinner options. These days we swing open the hotel room door and launch into a SWAT-style sweep for baby hazards while simultaneously assessing optimal Pack-n-Play locations and checking to see how early we can get breakfast the next day. Or we just book a centrally located apartment through AirBnB and save ourselves a lot of headaches.

Adjust your expectations.

Do not plan on a 3 hour historical tour or a meal at the coolest restaurant in town. Do not even assume you will make it to all the major landmarks at your destination. Do ask around for playgrounds or green space near some of the things you’d like to see, and split your time between the two. Street food will be your best friend – easy, quick, and no big deal if they spill. Let the little guys take naps per usual and chill out for a while in front of foreign language cartoons (it’s educational!).

And remember: even the most well planned, toddler-proofed trips can and will go awry. Like that time in Mallorca when it rained for 3 days straight, the power went out, and the bed collapsed when I threw myself on it in despair. Or that time on the way home from Crete when Cletus, strapped to my chest in the baby carrier, puked so profusely that the vomit streamed down my chest and pooled at my feet while I waited at the baggage carousel. Or that time we drove 7 hours to the Croatian border only to realize we forgot our passports. That was a good one.

But when mayhem ensues, please remember that there will be moments of unparalleled beauty and days of awesome discovery. And wine. Lots of crisp white wine.

I know you’re dying to know.

27 Oct

It’s been nearly two months since I arrived here in Delhi, and I know you are all dying to know one thing: what my oven looks like. Or perhaps you’re wondering if it has tried to kill me yet. Well, I am overjoyed to report that I have a beautiful, boring old American style oven.

Delhi oven

It features a gas range and oven space wide enough to fit baking sheets and roasting pans I haven’t used in almost 7 years. The temperature dial is in Farenheit, there are no pictograms, and it seems to run reliably well. It is rather precariously hooked up to some decrepit old gas tanks out back, but other than that, I am sorry to disappoint you.

But before you decide to unfollow my blog on the grounds of insufficient subject matter, let me show you my microwave:

silly microwave

This technological kitchen wonder has at least 500 settings, none of which I can really figure out. I usually just throw leftovers in there and punch the keypad blindly, hoping it will start making noise. But if I ever need to make that ancient Indian delicacy known as “chocolate cake,” I’ll be all set.

Monday musings.

20 Oct

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Absolutely nothing better in this world than sari shopping. An hour of being draped in luxurious silks will cure just about all that ails you.

Eating on the edge.

17 Oct

Sorry for the radio silence folks. I am just now bouncing back from a weekend of adventurous eating, and the resulting week of gastrointestinal distress. Yes, Delhi Belly is a real thing – an accute bout of indiscriminate tummy troubles that is practically a right of passage here. It was not so much fun. But completely expected after three days of authentic Indian eating.

It all began when Husband and I hit up the Dussehra Ramlila festival in Old Delhi. Dussehra is a Hindu holiday that celebrates lord Rama’s victory over the ten-headed demon king Ravana and the triumph of good over evil. It’s often celebrated with performances of the Ramlila, a dramatic folk story about the life of Rama which ends with a ten-day battle between Rama and Ravana.

(If that sounds confusing, it is. Just nod your head until I get to the part about the food and death defying Indian carnival rides.)

We signed up for a special tour of the festival with Delhi Food Walks, which I highly recommend. Our guide met us by the metro station and walked us through the slightly harrowing yet festive alleys of Old Delhi, stopping along the way to try some jalebi – basically little Indian funnel cakes fried in ghee and drenched in simple syrup:

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As I stood in the street with ghee dripping off my chin, one of the processions plowed by:

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Then we made our way to the food tent where we sampled all kinds of spicy snacks: little fried puff balls filled with a broth that I can only describe as liquid fire, fruit cups filled with crunchy bits and spices, lentil pancakes stuffed with more tear-inducing spice. Did I tell you it was spicy? Holy Lord Rama.

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It was all carefully washed down with bottled water and hand sanitizer. But there was one moment when we watched a worker douse the same freshly cut fruit we’d just eaten with a bucket of sludgy looking water and thought, Merde. This could get ugly later. But the damage was already done, and there was still Disco Fruit Ice Cream to be tasted!

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This special festival confection is made by pouring fresh fruit puree and milk over a hand-cranked frozen tube. If you want to recreate this machine at home, the Disco chef told me all you need are a few spare rickshaw parts.

It’s hard to top Disco Ice Cream, but our guide was undaunted. After a brief pause to watch the Ramlila unfold on stage, he skipped gleefuly to the rides. Most of which were hand cranked and also seemed to be built out of spare rickshaw parts. No one in the group seemed keen on taking a rickety spin on the tin ferris wheel of death, which really bummed our guide out. So I jumped on, saying a silent prayer to Shiva, Ganesha, Rama and anyone else I could think of to please let me live to eat another jalebi.

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Even after that exhilarating experience I was still feeling pretty good. Stomach felt mostly normal. I woke up the next day ready to tackle an authentic Punjabi meal for dinner. And some local biryani for lunch the day after that.

Which may have been pushing it, because that’s when it all came crashing down. The next morning I woke up in a world of hurt- a place of porcelain god worship that could only be escaped by sleep, fluids and mass quantities of probiotic supplements. A week later I am five pounds lighter (bonus?) and asking myself some important questions, like “Was the puff ball of fire really worth it?” and “What if this happens to one of my kids?” and “Is there enough hand sanitizer in the world to keep us safe from harm?”

Probably not. But am I going to let that slow me down? Never! Then I wouldn’t have any material left for this blog. So I’ll be back at it this weekend, living dangerously – one Disco Fruit Ice Cream at a time.

Making DC look good

25 Sep

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The filing system at the Delhi DMV.

No words.

23 Sep

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Flipping through The Times of India and found this ad from the local police. It’s asking for information and includes a photo(!) of said dead person. I guess that’s one way to solve the case…

Truth.

22 Sep

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My new favorite book store.

Days like these.

17 Sep

There’s a nifty graph that gets passed around whenever we move to a new place that shows the stages of adjustment. There’s a honeymoon stage, where everything seems new! and exciting! and did you see that?! Amazing! This quickly fades into hostility, as you start to realize that the locals may be friendly, but buying milk is going to take 3 hours and an advanced degree in linguistics. The hostility toward all the stupid ways people around you are doing things is supposed to ebb as your sense of humor returns and you make some friends who can show you the ropes. And finally, through time and effort or the discovery of cheap local booze, you feel at home. Or at peace. Or at least a bit buzzed.

I’ve certainly experienced these stages, but they have never happened in such a neat linear fashion. I feel like I run through most of them on a weekly basis, especially in the first few months. There are those days when you stumble into the perfect cafe, conquer the metro system and survive whatever gauntlet the local phone company throws down. You power down the weird supermarket aisles thinking I GOT THIS! I am WINNING the Amazing Race! Here’s to kicking this foreign country’s ASS!

And then 45 minutes later you get mugged on the train and forget how to say HELP! in the local language.

Then there are days that just feel like one long, slow grind against your very existence. Every effort at fulfilling basic needs is met with a roadblock. The bananas are different and the toilet paper is absurdly scratchy and the light switches don’t make sense and even the air you’re trying to breathe is just foreign. Every cell of your body bristles at the foreigness of it all, and it’s exhausting.

At the end of those days you crawl into bed and try to laugh about the absurdity of life. Then you make a plan. Sometimes the plan is simply “wake up tomorrow and survive.” Sometimes the plan is “book a trip to the Maldives, immediately.” But usually the plan is take a deep breath, get some rest, and get ready to kick this country’s ass again tomorrow.

(Aack! just realized this might imply that I was mugged! I was not. At least not in India, anyway. Just speaking generally about all the possible ups and downs of living in a new place!)

A gift from the heavens

14 Sep

gin and tonic tree

cute little baby limes

Guys, look what’s in my front yard: This gloriously scented gift from above, ripe with little green limes. I shall call it my Gin and Tonic Tree.

Namaste!

13 Sep

We made it! Alive! Two 8 hour flights with two small people under the age of 3 and I am still coherent enough to write to you. If that’s not a miracle, I don’t know what is. We touched down in New Delhi a week ago and so far, things are really not as crazy as I expected. Or maybe that’s the jetlag talking. It does help that we had a car already purchased and a nanny/housekeeper waiting to pitch in. And by day two we had a gardener and a driver. I might never leave India. Except for the hotness. The hot, sticky, sweat-through-your-clothes 3 times a day humidy horrow show that is monsoon season. Complete with swarms of Dengue fever-spreading mosquitoes. My beauty routine now solely consists of slathering on insect repellant and finding a tarp to tie down my hair. India is not kind to curly short hairstyles and I will probably avoid being photographed for the next 2 years. But aside from that, this place is exhilarating. We took the car out for the first time last weekend (sans driver) and braved the New Delhi roads with Husband behind the wheel, on the wrong side of the car, on the wrong side of the road. Here’s what that looked like: oh shit! (Ok, so I let you see that photo of me, but only because you needed to see how driving here envokes the same kind of feelings most people get on old, rickety roller coasters) Anyway, we took the kids just up the street to India Gate, a Delhi version of the Arc de Triomphe (I guess we like to live near large, monumental arcs). Tucked in the surrounding park grounds we found a huge playground called Children’s Park. It was a Sunday afternoon, so the place was packed with families and kids and vendors selling everything from cotton candy to incense. We got a lot of stares, but the Babe and Cletus didn’t waste any time assimilating. assimilationbuddies Before long, strangers started grabbing my children for photo ops. Several different people just walked over and picked up Cletus for a group shot that most definitely got posted to FB later with a tagline like, “look at this weird blonde kid we found at the park!” Thankfully (?) Cletus has no sense of stranger-danger and would happily walk away with the first axe-wielding sociopath that growled at him, so these photo shoots were not a problem. He gamely jumped into each new Indian friend’s arms and shouted “CHEEEEEESE!” So if that’s any indication of things, I think we’re going to be alright here.

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