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On the road with kids…learning how to travel all over again.
It’s been almost three weeks since we left “home” to embrace a nomadic life as a family. Hao and I have both traveled extensively in the past -in fact that’s how we first met seven years ago, in a train between Jaipur and Jodhpur, in India. We were living in the moment and relying on our natural instincts to navigate through and between cities, countries, cultures… We were excited, confident, and capable of going with the flow and being spontaneous while making it work.
Learning, the hard way
Well… The first week here in Mexico has been quite challenging in a lot of ways – from finding cheap places to sleep, to finding budget-friendly places to eat, to finding places to use the bathroom… Traveling with kids is just different! Planning our day according to what the kids could do, gauging how much they could walk, thinking of snacks, lunch, dinner, laundry (diy hand-wash), and shower time. It’s a whole new way of traveling. There was definitely a learning curve, and the adaptation was tough in the beginning.
We’re still trying to figure out a loose routine that would work for all of us. It feels like it’s slowly coming together, although for us, we had to learn it the hard way – experimenting, getting frustrated, experiecing small successes and facing a few challenges here and there.
First days, hard days
The first few days in Mexico City were tough. I had what’s commonly known as traveler’s diarrhea (which lasted over a week!). Our hotel situation wasn’t the greatest – quite noisy, and no water in the building most of the time! So, dirty clothes were piling up, we couldn’t really use the bathroom or even shower (at some point the water stopped while Hao was shampooing Gaia’s hair!). During the first couple of days we tried to look around for better budget-friendly places but all of the good-value guesthouses were booked for the rest of the week (due to the flood of visitors arriving in DF for the very much anticipated Independence Day celebration). We ended up days later in a cheap but even worse hotel than before (dark, airless, and sketchy, also used by prostitutes and their clients in the evenings.) Time to ditch Mexico City and head out to a smaller town!
The morning after, we called a hostel in Puebla (a city located 2 hours away by bus) and booked our double room for two nights…only to realize, once we arrived at the hostel, that our room was no longer available and that they could only give us a much more expensive room for soley one night (manager’s “mistake”, although don’t expect them to right their wrong and find a solution for ya). Here we go again, checked the guidebook and tripadvisor, called places, nothing available…apparently everyone and their grandma are in town for la fiesta nationale. We decided to move on. The next morning we called Hostal Pochon in Oaxaca (another 5 hours away), booked a room, headed to the bus station, waited about four hours there before hopping on our “executive class” bus (all of the other buses were booked except for the most expensive one, of course).
Moving quickly from one town to another isn’t really our style and neither is it compatible with our kids’ rhythm. We could tell that they’re exhausted, and so were we, especially since Greg were feeling so miserable most of the time and needed just to rest and sleep. So once in Oaxaca, we really made sure to slow down, settle in and have a different experience of being in Mexico than our first week of bad hotels, food poisoning, diarrhea in a fast-paced metropolis.
The first few days, we looked around for a basic, bugdet apartment to rent for a month, and we ended up staying at our hostel (a very nice place with volunteers from different origins) and paying a monthly rate that works great for our tiny budget. The set-up seems perfect for our family as well – we have a private room and access to the community area (kitchen, living room) where Gaia and Keano get to interact with volunteers and fellow travelers, giving us a bit of a break from each other.
A very enjoyable, unhurried rhythm
Our time is divided between walking around town, going to the market, visiting other sites around Oaxaca and running errands (laundry, cooking, figuring out activities for the kids, looking around for good, affordable language schools). We even visited a local non-profit to see if we could do some volunteer work while we’re here. It’s a very enjoyable, unhurried rhythm that we’re experiencing in Oaxaca. Of course, we’re far from having everything figured out! There are things that we would like to do while we’re in Oaxaca but decided against because of our budget (such as Spanish language courses as they are not cheap in Mexico – one week of classes, for just two hours a day, can cost way more than what an average Mexican might make in a month!)
Walking the line
Here in Oaxaca, our feet are our daily transportation. We walk, walk and walk. It takes some strategy to get the kids to walk, especially for Gaia who still spends a significant part of our promenade in our arms or on our shoulders. But she’s getting better and better at it everyday, or maybe we’re just getting better at convincing her to do it! Among the different strategies we’ve tried, finding lines to walk on has been very successful in the last few days.
Another strategy, or rather bribe, that works pretty well is the promise of ice-cream or other sweet treats at the end of the walk… but we’ve been careful not to overuse it (we wouldn’t want it to become an expectation!).
Having regular breaks, learning to just enjoy observing what’s going on around us, discovering the streets, the shops, the monuments are among the different ways to encourage a few more steps. Then when all fails, it’s time to get back on daddy’s shoulders and away from the many giant legs hurrying all over town.