A guest post by Stephanie Chua Gonzaga.
One fine afternoon, my husband caught me off-guard when he asked me to grab Cebu Pacific Air tickets for Singapore and Malaysia.
After recovering from the shock, I realized that this was to be our very first vacation abroad as a family. We’re comprised of two adults, a two-year old and a six-month old baby on the way.
In minutes, I was brimming with excitement. Suffice to say, I spent the entire month of April 2012 planning and thinking about what traveling to Singapore/Malaysia would be like.
Considering that we were traveling as a group and that life can be so unpredictable, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that 80% of my plans had come apart when we got there.
Memories of us rushing to get to the MTR before 11PM, spending for emergency stuff and going way over our initial budget, and struggling as we hauled our daughter’s stroller off of Malaysia’s train station still leave me cringing in my seat.
But, I learned a lot from the experience, and I’m determined to make future family trips more organized and less expensive. With this in mind, I’d like to share what I’ve learned to travelers who plan on going abroad with their families. If you’re planning a family vacation outside of the Philippines, learn from my mistakes and you may be able to save yourself from a lot of unnecessary stress and exhaustion.
Mistake #1: Overpacking and Under-packing
Traveling with a toddler was a big challenge for us as it meant making sure that none of her essentials would get left behind. It also meant keeping an eye on the number of clothes, lampins, bottles, and toiletries without putting too much weight on our suitcase.
We didn’t achieve that balance, and so we ended up bringing too many clothes—40% unused during the trip—and yet buying extra lampins from Mothercare at Orchard Central mall. At times, we’d forget to bring extra clothes; little did we know she’d wet herself while we were on the way to Low Yat Plaza. We spent a lot of money on these things, which took a big chunk of our travel fund.
This, of course, led to our suitcase becoming twice as heavy as before. Fortunately, we managed to keep the weight under our limit and didn’t have to pay for overbaggage fees.
Lesson learned: Bring only the essentials, don’t forget to double-check before leaving the hotel, and remember to bring laundry soap if you don’t have the budget for laundry services.
2. Busting Your Budget
Our second traveling disaster was going way over our budget. It would have been fine if we did so for life/death emergencies, or in case we got stranded and need to spend a little more to get back to the hotel.
Unfortunately, we went over our proposed travel fund because of carelessness and bad decision-making. We bought extra clothes because the stash we brought on our travels wasn’t enough. We gave in to our daughter’s pleading for 25+ SGD rubber duckies. We ate at our hotel’s expensive buffet when we could have saved and still enjoyed a hot breakfast at Toastbox.
I’m ashamed to say that the worst expense we made was of my own doing. We were running out of clean clothes and I thought it would be okay to hire our hotel’s laundry service. Well, let’s just say our bill skyrocketed to five figures because of that bad decision alone. If my husband didn’t bring along his credit card, we would have been in serious trouble.
Lesson learned: Research, research more, ask around for more affordable places to have your meals (e.g. the reception), and always keep to your budget. Your credit card should only be for real emergencies.
3. Late Birds
Finally, we didn’t get to explore most of Singapore and Malaysia because we didn’t allot more time for travel, and it’s partially because we couldn’t wake up early.
Every morning was like roll call at a military base camp. I always had to shake my husband awake to get him in the shower. I then have to dress my daughter while making sure we had everything ready for the day’s activities. Sometimes, we’d have to go back to the hotel for an hour more for a quick bathroom break.
The bad side to this is traveling back to the hotel as late as 10:00 PM. It would have been all right for us adults, but we had a daughter who was tired and sleepy, so we’d rush to the MTR or pay an extra 2 MYR for a taxi to take us back to the hotel. It didn’t help that I was 6 months pregnant and was easily tired from all the walking we did.
Lesson learned: As parents, we really have to put our children’s conditions first on our priority list. Make it a point to wake up early and to get back to your hotel early, so that they get enough rest for the next day. The last thing you’d want are cranky kids while on the bus to the Singapore Zoo.
Valuable Experience and Memories Nonetheless
Some say it’s because we didn’t wait long enough till our daughter was big enough to handle herself. Others point out that we should have hired a travel agency, since we were traveling as a group. They may be right, but I didn’t regret a single bit of the entire experience.
Although we could have saved hundreds of pesos on this trip, what mattered was being able to enjoy exploring these two Southeast Asian countries with my loved ones. I got to see the infamous Merlion up close, had a delicious pizza slice at Universal Studios Singapore with my daughter, and enjoyed every train ride back to our hotel at Sentosa Island. We had a relatively good time at Genting, saw the entirety of Malaysia from the top of the KL tower, and had a momentous photo of the Petronas towers at night.
In all things in life, we learn from our mistakes. I hope that from this post, you’ve learned from ours and that you’ll have a fun-filled, organized, and less expensive trip abroad with your loved ones.
Have travel advice and tips for families (like us) planning to go abroad? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!
Stef Gonzaga is a freelance web writer, professional blogger, and poet. She’s also the voice behind The Freelance Pinoy, the freelancing blog for Pinoy freelancers and solo professionals. She’s a mom to two and a lover of all things tech. Her dream destinations are Sparta, Greece; Italy, and England.
Follow her on Twitter and Google+.