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I know all parents have an idea on how to make this possible. It is in a parent’s blood to know how to manage their children, but there are times that parents may lose their confidence especially when they have too much to handle. That is why help like this is needed in times of trouble.

Here are some tips that I can recommend. I am confident to say that they are effective because I have tried travelling with kids of different ages, and when I was a kid, I have also had my share of travelling experiences.

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Know the Age Group

As a parent, you should know what type of activities your children will enjoy. This is where your planning begins. You must choose the right place that is safe, accessible, and fun. If you have different age groups (toddlers, grade-schoolers, and teenagers) in your family, choose one that will be most relatable to everyone like beaches, amusement parks, or reserve parks. Toddlers will just play and run around, grade-schoolers are very curious and will always want to explore, while teenagers easily get bored and are always looking for thrill. It is good news that there are now several destinations that are child friendly. The top places to go to when travelling with children are Australia and Africa.

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Know the Budget

It is very important to know your destination and itinerary ahead of time to correctly plan a budget. Always remember that children have student privileges, do not forget possible discounts they can get anywhere. Plane tickets, land transportations, and entrance fees may have student discounts.

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Be a Girl Scout

If you have older children, you can assign some of these tasks to them. You can let them carry it and instill a sense of responsibility in them. You should bring a first aid kit composed of a first aid manual, thermometer, band aids, bandages, antiseptics, bandage tape, safety scissors, and cotton balls. A medicine box is also important and should contain paracetamol or acetaminophen for fever, sulfadiazine for burns, anesthetic spray or lotion for skin irritation, diphenhydramine for allergies, aspirin or ibuprofen for mild pain, loperamide (for older children) for diarrhea, and some sunscreen.

It is also very important to carry snacks around while travelling. Children should have enough energy throughout the day. This will also save you from buying unreasonably expensive snacks along the way. Yet, it is still important that you let them experience food from different places, and make them experience the culture.

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That’s just about it. Children are not very hard to please when it comes to travelling, just like adults; they want to experience things that are new to them. Since they are children, there are limitations to their travel destinations. It is the parents’ job to know precautions to avoid accidents. Activities such as hiking in the forest where there are slippery rocks, mountain trekking in the heat of the sun, swimming during high tide, should very obviously be avoided. As a parent, know every angle of the travel destination and always look ahead for possible accidents that may come. Know and study the place because you do not want to get lost with a bunch of children with you. A planned trip will always be fun and successful, and I know that you are capable enough to make this happen.

Hanging out at the Opera House

It was not my first time to be a tourist in my own backyard. I’ve lived in Sydney, Australia for more than 12 years but got to appreciate it even more when I moved to the Philippines back in year 2000. Since then I’ve been visiting Sydney almost every other year and it still manages to offer me new experiences.

One of the things that still amazes me is how bright the sun shines in this city, literally. If you manage to catch a flight that lands in the morning, don’t forget your sunglasses or sunnies as we call it, you will be blinded by how bright the skies are, even during winter days! This probably explains why Sydney-siders are a happy, friendly and laid back bunch of people with a hearty appetite for the outdoors and barbecues or barbie, don’t roll your “r’s” prolong your “ah’s” and you will instantly sound like an Aussie!

Glebe Apartments

Where to Stay?

There are various choices for accommodations in Sydney and your choice is limited only by your budget. The cheapest accommodation, besides having family to stay with, is a hostel or backpacker hotel. These types of accommodations are popular among the young travelers, especially from Europe or North America. Rates usually start at AUD50 and depending on the season there are some that you can get for as low as AUD30 per night. These are no frills accommodations so do not expect anything more than a bed. Ensuites and televisions come as extras. Backpacker hotels are usually situated near the Central station and offers easy access on foot to Chinatown, Sydney Entertainment Centre, and Darling Harbour. One thing good about these types of accommodations, aside from not blowing a huge hole in your pocket, is you are guaranteed to meet new friends from all around the world to exchange travel stories with.

I personally like the boutique hotels near the eastern side of the city. They are a bit more pricey than the backpacker hotels but it’s closer to the nice restaurants, cafes and bars in Oxford Street. I’ve stayed in Hyde Park Inn along Elizabeth Street, right across Hyde Park. They offer the usual standard and deluxe accommodations but the best room I’ve stayed at is the apartment. I paid AUD275 per night for a 2 bedroom apartment with 2 bathrooms, lounge area, dining area and kitchen facility complete with stove, refrigerator and essential cookware and table ware. Ideal for extended stay and families. The cooking facility is great for saving hefty sums from eating out. The apartment rooms are good for 4 occupants and if you expect to have visitors during your stay. The hotel is right across Museum station where you can easily hop on a train to get you anywhere around Sydney and the suburbs. Buses are also abundant and if you feel like catching the surf at Bondi it’s only a bus ride away.

Food glorious food!

Where to Eat?

I can write a book on where and what to eat in Sydney. This place is a haven for the foodie and you will never run out of choices to eat. The best restaurants, subject to my discriminating taste, are found in the inner western suburbs. Here are my top 7 places and food to eat:

  1. My favourite is Thai Pothong along King Street in Newtown, about 10 minutes from Sydney CBD. I’ve seen this restaurant grow from just a hole in a wall to its current size. It’s a bit pricey but worth every penny especially the fish cake, tom yum soup, and the glass noodle salad.
  2. The most famous Aussie food however are meat pies, sausage rolls, and fish and chips. You can find these practically everywhere. The best meat pies and sausage rolls are those from local milk bars or tuck shops as we call them. Fish and chips are good eaten near the beach so make sure you order these when you go to Bondi, Coogee or Manly beach. They are normally served in news prints with lemon and tartare sauce. Best eaten while watching the surf or in between dips in Sydney’s icy cold beaches. But if you’re after a more fancy fish and chips dining experience look for Doyle’s in Watson’s Bay or simply go to the Sydney Fish Market for brunch over the weekend. For more exotic meat pies look for Janet’s Pies along King Street in Newtown. They have pies with vindaloo, potato and leeks, Thai broccoli, among others. Try the cheese sticks, crunchy outside and soft on the inside.
  3. My favorite lunch is fresh ricotta cheese, cold cuts and bread bought from any Italian deli. There’s one practically in every corner around town. Just get about 200 grams of cheese, 100 grams of salami Milano, 100 grams of mortadella, a tub of olives and artichoke, 6 baguettes, find a park and you have an instant picnic. This meal will set you back around AUD15.
  4. A day at the Circular QuayFor Italian food you can try Gioia Cafe along Norton Street in Leichhardt. They have traditional Italian cooking. Their wood fired pizza and tiramisu are to die for! Incidentally, I was taught by the grandmother of the owner on how to make tiramisu and it’s never failed to impress even the most discriminating tastes.
  5. I am also a big fan of Greek, Turkish and Lebanese foods. The best places I’ve tried are Isteki’s in Newtown for Greek – great moussaka – Abdul’s for Lebanese along Cleveland street in Surry Hills – fantastic falafel and dips – and Saray’s along Enmore road in Enmore – beautiful Turkish pizza or pide and bread!
  6. For Vietnamese food the are 2 places to go – Thanh Huong along Illawarra road in Marrickville and Pho 54 in Cabramatta. Thanh Huong is great for sit down dinners and lunch, my favorite being the spicy salt and pepper prawn and the game meats like venison, frogs, ostrich and snail cooked stir fried or curry style. Pho 54 is best for beef noodle soup and they teach you the proper way of eating these or you get a chopstick spanking on the knuckles! Walk along the streets of Marrickville and Cabramatta and you will see the Vietnamese pork roll – freshly baked baguettes filled with pork patties, liver pate, coriander, cucumber, onions and chilli for only AUD3.50.
  7. And if you are in for a spicy treat that is sure to stuff your belly for under AUD20 look for Tamana’s Indian eatery along King Street in Newtown. For 20 bucks you get a choice of 3 curries, rice and naan that’s good for 2 already. Choice of curries include vegetarian and meatcooked either mild, medium or spicy. Beware of the vindaloo, they sting!

Sydney Landmarks

What to Do?

So much to do in Sydney but I will cover my top 5 favourite things to do.

  1. Interesting finds in flea markets. The weekend flea markets in Glebe, The Rocks and Paddington are best places to find interesting items like handcrafted jewelry made from precious gems and recycled materials, clothing made by local designers or imported from Thailand, or leather goods like bags and book covers made from recycled materials like old sofa and jackets. The weekend flea markets also has food and entertainment so even if you are not buying or unlucky enough not to find anything you can just sit and watch the performances.
  2. Sydney also has a lot of independent bookstores that sell hard to find books, second hand books, eclectic and new world collections. Be sure to visit Gleebooks along Glebe Pt road in Glebe, Modern Times bookshop along King Street in Newtown, and a dozen of small bookstores along Oxford St in Darlinghurst and Pitt St in Sydney CBD.
  3. Of course a visit to Sydney would be incomplete if you don’t go to its famous beaches like Bondi and Coogee in the East and Manly in the North. These beaches have fantastic surfs, beautiful sands, and lots of places to buy fish and chips. Parking is expensive so transport us to these places instead.
  4. A trip to the famous landmarks like the Sydney Opera House and Darling Harbour is also a must! The Opera House is uniquely Australian and frequented by tourists and locals alike for plays, opera and concerts. Darling Harbour is sure to be a bit for kids for its wide open spaces where they could interact with sculptures, chase sea gulls, or go inside the Sydney Aquarium.
  5. Another big hit with kids and those who are kids at heart is Luna Park in Kirriibilli. You can see this from the Opera House and the only amusement park in the City. Try the roller coaster, it’s fun as it dodges the buildings.

City Explorer’s Tip

I find Sydney to be very tourist friendly in terms of transportation and entrance fees to amusement places. You can get a city explorer pass which is roughly 20-30% cheaper than normal fares and this allows you to take the train, bus and ferry for the day without costing an arm and a leg. There are also family day passes to the Sydney Aquarium that works out to be real value for money. Maps and schedules for trains, buses and ferries are also freely available allowing the traveler to maximize the efficient transport system and become very mobile. Don’t bother hiring a car if you are only within the city area, parking is every expensive not to mention the cost of petrol.

Something fishy!

A Day Off the Beaten Path

My day off the beaten path would be fishing along the wharfs around town. My favorite places are Balmain wharf and Greenwich point. There’s nothing more relaxing, of course second to scuba diving, than casting a bait, hearing the sound of the reel and watching the bait touch the water, sinking to the bottom and waiting for that big bite, hoping to score a big one. I would almost always end up not catching any but watching the still waters while drinking beer gives a feeling of content, no worries as we say it, even for just a few hours. The goal is not to catch a fish but to feel the stillness of life while reflecting on your achievements and planning your next steps, even your next holiday.

I am planning another trip in August this year and who knows I might find the urge to stay there longer and start a new life once again. I’d be your local tour guide so give me a holler whenever you are in town after August! Oh and don’t forget to greet Aussies “g’day” and “how’s it going mate,” you will instantly sound and feel like a local.

Would love to make this car purr

Mom’s new Peugeot that I am itching to drive!

Mobility has always been a major consideration when I travel and it’s never been a problem for me whenever I go to Sydney. My mom would always lend me her car for the duration of the trip, provided that it is only within the Sydney metro and nearby locations.  If ever I need to go out of town she usually joins me, so car hire in Australia has never been an option before.

Kinda reminds me when she gave me my first pushbike, I am not to go farther than the street where we lived! But bikes and cars have wheels and those round things tend to just keep rolling on and on and my wandering nature has a natural aversion to hitting on the brakes. My mom has gotten smarter though and she started accounting for the mileage used, especially when it’s the Mini Cooper or the Range Rover, and I’d be so lucky to even drive the new Peugeot 206cc convertible out of the garage.

I need to have options for my February trip to Sydney. Sure, Australia has one of the most organized public transport systems but I’ve never been any good at following timetables, determining which train or bus to take, or getting off at the right stop. Luckily, hiring in Australia is also one of the most advanced in the world that one is only limited by the sophistication he wants to experience.

I only need the car for my out of town trip since my mom is lending me one of hers for the Sydney metro trips, which means I can do the flea market runs, café and food about town hops, and limited great outdoor adventures in beaches, and national parks at no additional cost. So I only need a car for that out-of-town drive to Gold Coast, since it kinda feels funny still traveling with your mom at the age of 43, plus the fact that she turns into a human GPS that I could never turn off!

I am no stranger to car rentals, having lived there for more than 12 years I have hired utility vehicles (utes as we call it fondly) for those do-it-yourself house moving events, and the usual sedans for formal events like weddings. But back then the Internet was still in its infancy and I would still let my fingers do the walking on the trusty yellow pages and newspaper ads…shopping for good rates and the best deals in town. Now, I am surprised at how it has become even easier to find the right car to hire.

Exploring the web for car hire in Australia I shopped for the right one. The most obvious site to go to are comparison sites where I was given choices on the type of cars available for the inclusive dates and purpose of the travel. My itinerary is to drive from Sydney to North Stradbroke Island in Queensland, stay there for a couple of days, then to Gold Coast where I will drop off the car at the airport to take a flight back to Sydney.  I also want to drive in style so I eliminated compact and economy cars from my choices, leaving me with a four-wheel drive, a luxury sedan, a sports car, a mini elite, and a few full-sized sedans. Don’t worry if you are not familiar with these categories because there are specific car models identified per category.

Audi A4

Audi A4

The trip to North Stradbroke Island would take me about 14 hours so I need to consider the comfort of the ride and leg room for power naps. I like driving with the radio in full blast as it plays the best of the Carpenters (NOT!), preferably with an iPod dock so I don’t have to bring CD’s or search through radio stations. The car has to be powerful enough to overtake with ease but should be easy to handle in all terrains, although I am not expecting to go off-road driving. The deal should give me value like unlimited mileage or best price for mileage, insurance, reasonable excess in case of accidents, road support, and other extras.

It’s a toss up between the RAV4 and the Audi A4 Sedan. Initial price comparison of total rental cost gives a AUD54.00 difference

RAV4

RAV4 SUV

with the RAV4 fetching at AUD 580.00 and the Audi A4 at AUD 635.00. The comparison site however provides more information than just the rental cost. Upon closer examination the Audi has limited free mileage, additional charges for usage of GPS, a higher excess rate, and additional airport charges. The choice will now depend on my financial resources and competing experience items like food and drinks, accommodation, souvenirs, a dive maybe and other incidentals. And with all my travels the Excel spreadsheet is invaluable in planning and estimating how much cash I can dispense, there will be some tradeoffs.

So off to the bank I go, which is also done through the Internet, to make sense of my finances before I make a decision on which car to hire. The good thing is I am now armed with information to base my decision on, thanks to the wonderful wide world of the web!

We were travelling Australia by four wheel drive – a trip which was the culmination of a dream I had had for many years, built upon the tales of a trip around Australia my father did back in his twenties.

Our steed was the legendarily rock solid Toyota Landcruiser 80 series – a vehicle which for many is the definitive off road companion. The challenge before us was to cross a river, the first body of water across a road we’d encountered in our trip so far.

Crossing a river is one of the riskiest endeavours possible in a four wheel drive. Water and engines don’t mix too well. And this being Australia’s Northern Territory, the water was likely to be filled with all sorts of deadly creatures, not least of which would be the saltwater crocodile, a fearsome man eating beast capable of growing to up to five metres in length.

Normally, one of the first things you’d do when pondering a river crossing would be to walk across the river and gauge the risk. In this case, being in croc infested territory, this wasn’t an option. Our only aid to the task before us was a little depth marker sitting in the water which indicated the river was 0.8 metres deep where the depth marker was. This wasn’t entirely reassuring.

At this point in our trip, our vehicle wasn’t fitted with a snorkel – a device which moves the air intake of the engine to a happy height just above the roof. If you’ve got water up to that point, you need more than a decent four wheel drive. Without a snorkel, 80 centimetres of water was the absolute maximum that we could risk driving through – any more and the engine might flood, with disastrous consequences.

Nor had we had the foresight to learn how to fit a “blind” – essentially a tarpaulin stretched across the front of the engine to help stop water from pouring in through the front vents. No – hugely prepared we were not. I had read a book on the subject of four wheel driving which had covered river crossings. Theory was about to become practice.

Our only alternative to crossing the river was a massive back track, back along the four wheel drive track we had just spent a couple of days driving through. The far side of the river was home to a main road, which could blast us up to Darwin in barely any time at all.

We couldn’t handle the thought of defeat and so we decided to press on.

I engaged the low gear ratio, and set the hand throttle to a steady pace. Using the accelerator in a river crossing isn’t usually advisable – a bump in the riverbed could cause your foot to slip with a potentially catastrophic loss of speed.

We nosed our way down the river bank and into the river. The water rose to the top of the tyres. We had already measured these as being seventy centimetres in height – we only had ten centimetres to play with. But we were committed now – no turning back.

The secret was to keep a steady pace, to stay just behind the “bow wave” that the vehicle created.

The engine fan, which we later learnt we should have disabled, was quickly immersed in the water. This resulted in water being sprayed out of the top of the bonnet. This was deeply unnerving stuff. And the river was at least twenty metres wide – we prayed there were no hidden holes.

The tension was nail biting. But our steed was more than up to the challenge. Her wheels bit the riverbed firmly, and she conveyed us with dignity. There were no hidden surprises, we didn’t meet any sleeping crocs, and we emerged at the far side, dripping and triumphant. Our first river crossing of many to come.

Shortly after this river crossing we fitted our vehicle with a snorkel and learnt how to fit a blind. We also adopted a new river crossing tactic – to wait until someone else gave it a go before heading in ourselves to get an idea of the depth and hidden risks ahead. Faced with the same challenge today, and knowing what I know now, I’m not sure I’d still take the risk we took that day. But it was a hell of a ride.

About the author: Laurence is the author of Finding the Universe, a travel/photo blog detailing his ongoing journey, started in June 2009.