"We travel not to escape our life, but to stop life from escaping us"
Tilley in one arm and Lucy on my shoulders. I step up to Indian immigration with papers in hand. The officer eyes our little rabble and looks at the paper work. He thumbs through the passports and visa, looking up from them at us from behind the desk comparing our pictures. Lastly, out of the crisp manila envelop, he pulls the letter that confirms Sheena (my wife) knows we are traveling. A few stamps later and we are off on our adventure, ready to start exploring.
So today I though I would write about a few things you can do to make traveling alone with your kids, through a international boarder crossing a little less stressful. Firstly, if you are traveling alone with your kids as mentioned above a notarized letter signed by you and their other parent is gold to an immigration officer. We pulled a template of a letter from the web and rewrote it to suit us. After that we took it to the local notary and after signing in front of him he stamped it and we were good to go. Now when I say this is gold to an immigration officer I mean it makes their life much easier. Having an official document, sign by both parents and notarized by a credible source means they can make a fairly quick and easy decision about weather you traveling legitimately with your kids or up to no good.
Next, there is nothing worse for you or the person behind the desk at the boarder than someone who arrives still digging out their documents and papers. Have your travel documents organized and out ready to show or at least together and easily accessible This will also mean that you can hand it all over quickly then concentrate on keeping the kids together are calm while the officer looks at everything.
Lastly, probably the biggest things that will easy the pain of going through immigration, prepare your kids. We start early, making sure they eat some snacks and use the bathroom. I'm also never above bribing my kids. It's surprising what the promise of a chocolate bar or ice cream can do to keep my kids subdued while passing through immigration. The more prep you can do the better. Keep your kids happy through the process is the key to passing through an international boarder happily and efficiently.
Traveling Is amazing, but we have all heard horror stories either on the news, through the 'grapevine' or first hand accounts of when travel goes wrong. I'm not one to buy into some of the sensationalist news we are shown for the most part. However I do use some very easy techniques when I travel alone or with my family to help keep us safe and I thought I would share them. So here are my top ten tips for safe travel.
1. Research Your Destination
This is one of the quickest and easiest way to stay safe while traveling. Nothing beats a bit of prior research on the country or countries your are planning to visit. I regularly use both the Canadian and British government travel advisory websites for threat level updates on countries I am visiting. Also a quick search of travel forums/ message board can be invaluable for the latest news on your travel destination.
2. Leave Your Itinerary With Someone
Once you have planned out when and where you are going take a few minute to type up or jot down your travel plans and give it to someone your trust. Let them know that about your travels and when you should be back. If they something goes wrong or if they don't hear form you by a certain time give them a number to call (embassy, police, family member). It maybe you only life line in a situation gone wrong.
3. Copy All Your Documents
Visa's, passports, letters of permission, flight tickets, reservations anything that you think is important and would make life really hard of you lost make a copy and have it somewhere available. By available I mean in your email, cloud or Dropbox. If you lose anything or have the unfortunate luck of being robbed at least you have everything you need to make it home. Just remember to delete your online file copies once you get home as part of good online security.
4. Carry An Embassy Card
If you are on holiday/traveling a great asset in your time of real need is your countries embassy. However this is no good if you don't know where it is. When travelling I will look up the nearest embassy to where we will be and put the address on a business card that I keep with me. Sometime I will even make a simple map from my hotel to the embassy on the back of the business card. It may sound like a strange thing to do but you'll be glad you have it if you ever really need it.
5. Know When To Speak The Language (and when not to)
Traveling is a great opportunity for expanding you linguistic talents. I love being immersed in a culture and language and find its the best way to practice a learn. However its also good to realize that not ever situation is a time to practice your skills. For instance, if you travel in Russia and are asked something by the security forces if you answer in Russian they will then exclusively talk to you in Russia and no other language. Your can see the problem here if you aren't completely fluent. In most situation find local people will enjoy you trying to communicate in their national tongue but definitely be mindful of who and why your are communicating to and you can avoid any communiation breakdowns.
6. Practice Situational Awareness
Situational awareness is probably the tip that will keep you most safe during your travels. Being able to pick out key indicators, analyze them and use the information can make all the difference at home and away. Taking note of people, places and things will allow you to make better decision faster and hopefully with a more successful outcome. when it come to people be aware of body language, vocal volume, emotion, and grouping. All of these thing can give you a heads up on the development of a problem and allow you to exit before it becomes unsafe. Thinking about places simply means looking around and asking yourself questions. Are there any exits and where are they? if I have to leave where will I go? where is my nearest form of transportation? what around me could help or impede me from making an exit? Asking these question regularly will not only keep you safer but give you more confidence to act if something does go wrong. Now Things, this can be a tricky one and can range from animals to vehicle to landmines (in the extreme). Be aware of things that can place you in immediate danger, it may sound stupid but if you are on safari maybe don't take that night stroll alone in the dark. Paying attention to your common sense and reading warning sign is a great way of avoiding a needlessly risky situation.
7. Know When To Bug Out And How To Communicate It
The problem with uncomfortable situations while traveling (or anywhere) is that no one person is going to have the same comfort level. What I might be complete fine about my wife could be completely stressed over and vise versa. Having a word or phrase that indicate to your travel companions that you think its time to go and listening and acting when you hear that word or phrase is a great tool. They may have noticed something you haven't and by being able to call you attention with alerting anyone else you can stay safe and keep your travels rolling with minimum bumps. When it comes to choosing a what to use a word or phrase we tend to mix it up. Something that rolls off the tongue naturally in person, email or on the phone but would be unlikely to be used in everyday communications. Example of phrases could be: asking where something is (is the passport in the blue folder?), expressing interest in something (do you fancy ... for dinner tonight). Alternatively it can just be a word used in a sentence whatever it is agree on it before and don't misuse it.
8. Separate valuables
If you a out and about try to split up your valuable (money, passports etc) buy keeping them separate if you do come up to the unfortunate situation of being robbed you may get away with minimal loses and hold ups in your travel. A good example of this is a friend of mine who, when sleeping in vehicle during is travel puts his passport in his underwear. This may sound crazy but the one time his bus was stopped in Thailand and robbed he only lost the small amount of money he was carrying in his pocket., not so crazy now.
9. Stay Healthy
Part of staying safe while traveling is staying healthy or in other words avoiding illness. Researching and getting vaccinations, using water filtering aids and carrying a first aid kit stocked with basic first aid supplies and medicine and all help you from falling ill or help you recover if you do. Think about specialty item as well that you may wan to bring. Are you in a remote area hiking with no access to medical facilities? maybe think about a surgical staple gun (its a lot easier to pull a trigger than sew yourself together). Are you somewhere very hot? stock up on hydration salts. In a place that has unclean water? Using a water bottle that filters out the bad stuff may be a good purchase.
10. Above All Trust Your Gut
This is the most under rated from of safety precaution. If you have a bad feeling about something, if something just isn't right then don't do it and express you concern to the people your are traveling with. It may be nothing but why take the risk. If you are getting a gut feeling about something it going to make you more stressed and uneasy which in turn and cause situations to turn bad in itself. If you realize later your gut feeling was just that extra dumpling you had at breakfast you can always try again and you will probably enjoy it more without the overhanging black clouds.
If you are expecting a hotel resort with all the modern comforts and I want to say upfront Seljavallalaug is probably not for you. However if you are up for an adventure and feel like getting an authentic old style Icelandic experience thermal pool then this is definitely somewhere you should carve out time to visit.
Take this road all the way to the end, park and then look into the distance and your will see a 'V' where the valley is. Walk towards that 'V' for about 20-25 minutes and you will find it. These were the direction given to us and we were also told ' don't turn back before 2 minutes, you might think you are lost but keep going'. So this is what we did, driving up a bumpy road to the end we parked our car and got out to look around. As described we could see the 'V' in the valley out in the distance so packed our bag and set out on our hike into nowhere.
Surrounded by amazing views, a river meandering along beside us the hike alone is worth the trip. We walk easily and Lucy takes a shoulder ride we check our watch to see how long we have been hiking for every so often. Just when we are starting to think we had taken a wrong turn or had driven up the wrong road, around a small corner to the left sat a pool. At the far end a white building with a landmark sign written in Icelandic and various pipes protruding from the rock cliff the pool is built against feeding warm water in.
The 'changing room' is a little like a stable and the water is completely unfiltered or treat which does mean it has a greeny tinge, but for us this only added to it. We dive into the changing rooms and put on our swim gear then into the hot pool for some swimming, playing and relaxing. A few more people arrive to swim but other than that we have the entire hot spring to ourselves. We spend the next few hours enjoying the pool and the amazing scenery until we are forced to hike back due to the fading light.
Now, I could tell you how to get to Seljavallaug. Drop a pin in a map or give a step by step guide but where would the fun in that be. You have the name and a rough idea. Half the fun of going somewhere like this is finding your own way. If you do then you can expect to enjoy your own little slice of an authentic Icelandic experience and man does it make for a good travel tale.
Our taxi drive waves to the man in uniform standing at a big metal gate and he swings it open to let us pass. We step out and are greeted immediate by Sharon who takes us to the main building for a glass of fresh lemonade as our bags are taken to our room. On the way we meet Vikrum who is carrying on his fathers dream of turning a once baron piece of land into a beautiful yet natural place to stay. Looking at what it is now, the dream is alive and healthy, because it feels like we're in an oasis and we're definitely going to make the most of it.
The jungle hut is one of the oldest accommodations in the area and already from the customer service and the beautiful surrounding I can see why it's kept going from strength to strength. We pass the kids area with tree house and trampoline and up for our lemonade. A tour of the main area let's us see the games cupboard (which both my girls loved) and the swimming pool (also a huge hit) and then we sat down for a delicious lunch.
Post lunch it's time to check out the room. Down to hut 5, a small building with a wrap around veranda. Opening the door the cool AC is a welcome break from the dry heat outside and we lay our bags down as the girls jump on the bed and check out the bathroom. The room is simple but has everything we need and we love it!
Over the course of the next two days we take tours (temples and tigers) and enjoy the included meals at breakfast lunch and dinner. Each meal is tastier than the last. A mix of cuisines from traditional Indian to lasagna. Malay chats with us in the dinning room and gives advice on flavor combinations to try. Relaxing while the girls make the most of the games cupboard, Sharon sits down with us and talks about the area and how they source all organic and pesticide free veg for their cooking. Her love for the area and the jungle hut family are apparent in the the way she talks about it lovingly.
By the morning of our last day we've climbed into the tree house, taken a dip in the pool and eaten more delicious meals than I can describe. The girls say goodbye as do we and we hop in our taxi to Mysore almost sad to be leaving such a friendly beautiful place. I think the jungle hut is a pretty special place and the people there are amazing, if you come to southern India and miss the it, you're missing out, in a big way!
We step off the plans and almost instantly break into a swear. It's 35 degrees C as we stroll across the Tarmac to the arrival building after a 3 hour flight from Delhi. Lucy and Tilley are both asleep still as we pass through the arrivals building. Inside there are groups of people waiting around the baggage Carousel and a few booths offering pre-paid Taxi's and sight seeing tours. We meander out into the street hop on a local bus to Fort Cochin.
When planning our itinerary I looked into lots of modes of transport between different places we wanted to see in India (plane,train,bus, boat, tuk tuk, taxi). The problem for us was time. We wanted to see a lot and had a couple week to squeeze it in. We were able to use the train system but for time saving a couple of internal flights really helped us out. India has a few airline that provide internal flights to hubs inside the country. After check the main ones we landed on using Vistara. They seemed to offer the times that worked best for us with tickets under $60 each were a bargain for the time we saved getting between places.
Our flight was Delhi to Cochin. The night before we left Vistara handily messaged me, updating me on my flight time, check in area and time, which was a great perk as thats something i'm always rushing to do before a run out the door before a flight anyway. The next day as we board the plane, Lucy and Tilley are out for the count and we are given blankets and pillow to make them, and us more comfortable by the cabin attendants. It's refreshing to have cabin attendants that seem to really want to help you. Unfortunately I think that been lost over the last few years so I definitely like to make a point of writing about it when the service is way above the norm. After take off we are served us followed by our meals. When we booked we were given a huge choice of complimentary meals but settled on Hindi and Asian vegetarian. These translated into curry with bread, and noodles with stir fried veg, both accompanied by and chocolate sponge and a yoga granola bar, yum!
Our flight was around 3 hours. A few captain updates, a short nap and a cup of tea later and we arrived almost exactly on time. The cabin crew helped us out and waved us on our way with a smile. So don't be fooled by the cheap prices that Vistara offer, these short internal flight give you bang for your buck and if you're short on time definitely think about checking them. I will be using them again for sure.
I recently return for a trip and realized there were a few apps that I tend to use while away. So I though is would share them and why they were useful!
Kayak - This is good for on the go planning the night before. We can look up flight times and price and narrow the search to one company to fly with. You can also use it for hotels.
Mymaps - This app lets out download a route and add way points so you can use it off line. This i great obviously for getting around but also for making sure you aren't getting rolled around by a dodgy taxi driver.
TripAdvisor - Great for looking up things to see in unplanned stop overs. Also very good for avoiding really bad accommodation or places to eat. I like it because it's review by travellers for traveller so in general it's pretty legitimate.
Rome2Rio - This app let you put in two destinations and find you the different option and rough prices for each type of travel between them. its good for quick looking up a planning when you're winging it.
AirBNB - This app is great for finding unique accomodation. It easy to use and book just make sure you register for an account before you leave on your trip. It make life much easier.
The alarm goes off and we stretch out of bed and get dressed. Heading up to the dinning area for a snack and tea before our morning hike. The girls are still sleepy but as we load into the jeep as the sun rises they both become more alert and eagerly wait for us to start.
Our driver shows us around the area driving two and fro to pointing out macaques leaping and bounding and spotted owls sat quietly on branches.
We weave our way through the landscape and slow climb towards and small flattened out area. From here you can just see the top of the temple peeking over the hillcrest as we stop and unload from the jeep.
We all start to hike uptowards the summit, Lucy under her own steam and Tilley with some help. Stepping and hopping over rocks in no time we reach the top. Looking around we decided to sit and have a snack while we all enjoying the amazing view.
On the other side of the small plateau stands a beautifully colourful temple. Snacks finished we slowly head over, remove our shoes and are greeted by a 'priest' who lets us look inside and around.
The temple is adorned with colourful painted sculpture of Hindu gods and the smell of freshly burning incense fills the area.
We end our visit with a 'Namaste' from Lucy and head back down the rocky stair way on the other side of the temple. Down to our awaiting jeep and lunch!
Full and ready to go we hop into the jeep and head out forgot for a ride around the Bandipur Tiger Reserve to spot some wild life on our and if we are really luck a tiger. Our driver turns off the main roads and follows the dusty dirt track, slowly scanning for wildlife with the girls and I on the lookout too.
First a peacock (India national bird), then a wild boar and a bison. Down the road a kilometre he pulls up and points out elephants, one mum and one baby. Lucy and Tilley are ecstatic and move to get a better view. We drive on and loop around the reserve passing different types of deer and even a small bear.
As we see that gates and the road up ahead it's a sign that there won't be any tiger spotting a today. Lucy tells me the tigers are probably sleeping because it's to hot, and that's a good enough reason for me. With all the views and wildlife we saw it was still an amazing adventure!
We scoot along the platform looking for the station masters office as the light from sunrise peeks across the platform in mettupalayam station. Handing him our ticket its confirmed we have no reserved seats, so into the unreserved line we go and wait to be huddled into our train carriage.
We had intended to book our tickets ahead of time but lack of a stable wifi connection had made that almost impossible. So now we hit and hope with unreserved and get into the Nilgiri Mountain Train Railway (called the toy train due to the cog system used during the assent up the mountain). I place my bag on the scale as a man adds weight to see how heavy it is. Then go into the parcel office to get the bag onto the train as our seats are to tight to have it with us. Bag tagged and taken, I head back to our carriage.
The train creeks and shunts into life and we start to move. Houses give way to amazing vibrant greenery. Which in turn gives ways to long deep valleys dotted with tea, waterfalls and the odd dwelling. Slowly but steadily our train picks its way up the mountain side over bridges and through tunnels. The carriage is packed, with every seat taken and a few people standing. At every turn of the track people lean towards the windows to snap a picture or just admire the view.
We stop at stations and take 5-10 minute to stretch legs, buy snacks and look at the views. Some station are overlooking rivers, others full of monkeys and even one station seeming to balance on the edge of the valley side as it drops away behind. The train whistle sounds and everyone loads back onto the train, snacks and cameras in hand.
Mettupalayam to Coonoor offers us amazing scenic landscape then changing gears and heading to Ooty we pass through towns and villages stopping only quickly for people to hustle off the train. After a while the train eases into the station and we pour out and down to the parcel carriage to collect our bag. Lucy waves goodbye to the train driver and we pick our way through the crowd and into the station. What a fun experience and a beautiful ride.
'Sploosh' the front and rear punters plop their bamboo poles into the water and we push away from the bank. The river is quiet and the as we glide past lush green banks of palm and mangrove and past clam shell fisherman. We are on our back water tour, but we aren't in Alleppey we're in Vaikom. Around 30km south of Cochin and 30km north of Alleppey lies Vaikom. Vaikom offers the same backwater experience but without the crowds. As we glide away from the
As we glide away from the bank our guide introduces herself and talks to us about the area and the history of the 250 year old man made canals we are traveling on. We drift between the banks which are dotted with house and the odd tributary stretching into the undergrowth. After a while the canal opens up to reveal lake Vembanadu, the largest lake in Kerala. Across the water we can see boat moving in and out of Alleppey and in the distance a ferry crossing the waters. Our boat eases right and hugs the bank of the government backwater area and before to long we are slowly pulling up at the village of Chempu.
Our guide walks us around the village and explains how they make rope for soaked and dried coconut husks. We stroll through the spice plants and back towards the water where we sit in a small open sided building to have lunch. Served on a banana leaf the traditional south India lunch is going to go down a treat. We all tuck into to the meal and sit back after full and happy.
Back on the boat and we make our way through the tightest canals yet. A brush against a mangrove on one side, then slide against a palm filled bank on the other and we are back out into the main canal. Pulling back up at the bank we thank our tour guide and the hard working punters and head back to the road to jump in our van back. So, if you are going to Alleppey to name drop it as a destination the keep on going but if you want a peaceful, uncrowded and authentic backwater experience then maybe check out Vaikom, you won't be disappointed.
We pull on our jackets and hats and lace up our shoes. Stepping out of the hotel the air is cool but comfortable. We take a left and head down the round the the start of the tunnel mountain trail. Tilley is in the front carrier and Lucy is scooting along beside me. We had talked about hiking the tunnel mountain trail the night before and Lucy was adamant that she didn't need any help to get to the top. So as mum sat down to enjoy on of the programs at the film festival we took the first steps up the tunnel mountain trail hear.
The trail loops back and forward with flat, steeper, stoney and muddy sections. For the first hour Lucy runs ahead and waits for me to catch up. Then zooms ahead again. Slowly though and inevitably she starts to tire. two thirds up the trial and we stop for a rest. Lucy sits on her log snacking on a cliff bar she had stashed in her jacket pocket and we all have a sip of water. I can tell she wants to go walk down but after a little coaxing she decides that she can make it the rest of the way. We steadily make our way up the last third of the trail. Lucy now determined to get there without being carrier. She scurries over the last section of rocky trail and I find her sitting in a big red muskoka chair looking very pleased with herself.
We head up the last few meters of trail and Lucy finds another log to sit on and produces a second cliff bar. This kid has got it figured out. We eat our snack and enjoy the view and I give her a huge hug. This is the first hike she has done completely under her own steam and i can tell she is tired and it wasn't easy. she hug me back and I tell her how amaing she has done and prund I am of her. As we start to make our way down Lucy pipes up 'I think we should go down and get have ice cream tonight, is that a good plan'. 'Yes', I reply 'I think that's a great plan'.