Five years ago we re-evaluated our lives and our goals after the sudden loss of my mother in law. We vowed to slow down and to enjoy life with our small children. We got outside and explored. And we travelled. This Amazing Journey series documents our journey through Canada and the US, provides an insight on travelling with children, local destination tips and tricks, and, of course, gives an Accountant’s perspective on making the most of your holiday dollar.
The day we left New Zealand was crazy! We had been cramming everything into a short period before our departure – I’d been on the road most of the month, my mother was leaving for three months, we worked right up to the last day to maximize our annual leave – and we had to get our house ready to rent out on AirBNB while we were away. By the time we reached the airport that evening, I collapsed with the shakes. I hadn’t eaten all day and have a habit of fainting – so my husband promptly left me there to find food and something to drink. Give me half an hour, and a bit of sugar – and it’s time for the adventure to begin!
A year in the planning – it all starts now.
Part one of the adventure for Miss T and Miss M was the Koru Lounge at the airport. All the food and drink you want, for free, they were in heaven. And they promptly decided “this” is the way to travel. They can thank our crazy busy jobs for this one. Two Koro Memberships provided by our employers = food and drink for all of the family at Air NZ affiliated airports – cost to us = nil. First bargain of the trip.
Then the flight, 13 hours to Vancouver. I’d booked a “Sky Couch” which means that three of our seats fold out into a bed. A fantastic idea if there is only one or two of you, but it didn’t work at all with three of us. And with a full plane, we couldn’t move around or spread out.
So how were the girls on the flight? Miss M was fine, she curled up and went to sleep. But Miss T was another story.
As a two-month-old baby on the plane to Fiji Miss T feed the entire way, and her crying on landing was greeted with looks of compassion from fellow passengers who commented how it must hurt her tiny ears. At 18 months she screamed all through takeoff until she fell asleep on my knee – but not before she had done the most huge pee that promptly exploded from her nappy and all over me. After the performance on takeoff, I didn’t dare wake her – I asked the air hostess for a blanket and that’s how we stayed for the rest of the three-hour flight – soaked in wee.
And at 11? Well the hormones are kicking in and the legs are long and lanky and she just wasn’t going to put up with being cramped in a plane seat thank you very much! So Miss T, her world centring squarely around herself, and the fact that there wasn’t room for her lanky limbs to spread out – treated her sister and me to a few good elbows and a couple of kicks thrown in for good measure, as well as a full-on two-year-old styled tantrum.
So there wasn’t much sleep on the way over.
My tips for flying with a tween?
- Talk to them first, let them know what to expect – you will have to sleep sitting up darling.
- Don’t bother trying to squeeze into a sky couch, you are better off having your own seats.
- Talk to the airline on check-in, if the plane is not full can you get a spare seat beside you? We did this on the way back and managed to get two spare seats to stretch out into.
- And don’t stress too much about sleep, you are all going to feel like crap afterwards anyway so if they want to sit and watch movies for the first five hours just go with it, chances are they will fall asleep on their own accord anyway.
As for our arrival at Vancouver, we were met with massive ques, but that wasn’t unexpected. Our transfer to the seaplanes went smoothly and we got to enjoy the views on our way over to Vancouver Island. We would highly recommend Harbour Air for the seaplane transfers.
At Vancouver Island we were lucky enough to be staying with family friends whilst recovering from jet lag. They went out of their way to let us recover, show us around the local haunts and introduce us to as many Canadian traditions and foods as we could cram into a weekend.
So our first night we were introduced to Canada’s number one cocktail, the Caesar, a meal in a glass! (Key ingredients are clamato juice – not to be confused with tomato juice, vodka, Worcester sauce and a celery salted rim).
For dinner, it was ribs on the BBQ. Canadians certainly know how to BBQ! Then a night spent in the hot tub enjoying local bears and catching up till the early hours.
In the morning we were introduced to Tim Hortons – coffee and Timbits. Granted the coffee wasn’t the barista-brewed coffee we are used to in New Zealand but it was good, and the Accountant in me pretty quickly worked out this would be a very affordable way to both get caffeinated and experience a Canadian tradition. And Timbits with breakfast? Well, why not, we were on holiday after all [Timbits are bite-size doughnuts made out of the “holes” in doughnuts]. Our hosts also cooked up a hash of potatoes, onions, mushrooms and chorizo, with Canadian bacon of course (read – maple syrup infused!). Bacon appears to be served with almost every meal in Canada.
Then for a day on the boat in the Nanaimo harbour. It was a beautiful day spent lazing and snoozing in between the fish (occasionally) biting. There was seal spotting at Gabriola Island and checking the crab pots and watching the log barges as they transported logs from the island for processing by floating them for hundreds of meters behind a barge. No orcas out today, but we have another five weeks to spot whales.
The afternoon included a touch of shopping and an introduction to CostCo, a mix of a supermarket and a Warehouse/Kmart type department store with wholesale prices.
Tip: CostCo was a great place to stock up. With the help of local knowledge, I stocked up on pre-cooked meals (butter chicken and pasta were fantastic), as well as bulk maple syrup, muesli, snacks for the road (scroggin mixes went a long way) and a chiller bag. The pre-cooked meals seemed expensive, the butter chicken was $17, but it had real ingredients in it, and when combined with rice, it made two meals for our family of four. We also bought containers for lunches and snacks. I should also have stocked up on drink bottles at this point rather than re-using single-use bottles!
A couple of points about CostCo – whilst it is cheap, you need a paid membership, we were lucky enough to use our friends. You can also get a day membership, but you would need to make sure you are buying enough to justify it. Also, like many places in Canada, they do not accept credit cards. We recommend loading a debit card before you get to Canada as it can take a few days for the funds to transfer over.
Another Canadian feast tonight – salmon (caught on an earlier trip) and more ribs :). We would also be treated to Cabbage Rolls (with bacon bits) and pierogis (also with bacon bits), one of Miss M’s favourites.
So for my morning run? I certainly needed it after all this amazing food but decided to give that a miss after I was told about the cougars in the nearby forest! We are not at all used to dangerous or large animals in New Zealand, we don’t have any. So we are endeavouring to install a sense of awareness in our children and to maintain a mindfulness for this trip.
Day two was spent exploring Nanaimo, a trip to Cabelas and to Goats on the Roof.
Cabelas is an outdoor hunting and fishing store on a scale we had never seen before! Definitely worth the visit, not only to marvel at the size but to view the life-sized models of Canadian animals. Also, a fantastic place to shop, the girls grabbed a soft toy moose and fox for a lot cheaper than we saw anywhere else on the trip. We also grabbed a few souvenir t-shirts for gifts. A lot cheaper than souvenir shops.
Goats on the roof – well it’s exactly that! The shopping complex has a grass roof where the goats live! We all had ice cream and the kids played on the statues as well as doing a touch more shopping with local recommendations.
For the trip back to the mainland we decided to give the ferry a miss and upgrade to a helicopter. Helijet (Sikorsky) was running a special where the kids flew for free. So we spent an extra $100 but we saved a few hours on the ferry, got dropped off at our apartment in downtown Vancouver, and we got a scenic ride on a helicopter!
My thoughts on the first few days:
I had naively thought it would be easier to travel with an 11-year-old than a two-month-old baby. Wrong.
We can’t get over the size of the trucks here. They look like monster trucks compared to our utes/trucks back home. By the end of the trip this would be normalized, and on return to New Zealand our utes look like miniature versions of the Canadian/US pick up trucks.
My first encounter with tipping was rather naive, when I asked our driver if they tipped in Canada she looked at me strangely and said I should keep the money and spend it on the kids. So do they tip in Canada? It turns out yes and no.
Jet lag is not helped by drinking beer in hot tubs all night.
We will continue our adventure in Vancouver in my next blog post in this Amazing Journey series.