Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Activity Backpack-for Toddlers

I have been getting this question a lot lately...
Any tips on how to keep a toddler occupied on a long plane ride or road trip?  
Yes, I do.  It has worked the three or four trips with our kids, and the numerous friends and clients who have done it under my advice.  This is for an independent walker up until older kids...(dunno, depends on your kids, you know them better than I do!)  
First, you take a small compact backpack.  Don't get one of those chincy ones with crap hanging all over it, and frills and bows... for airport security and your sanity.  You want your toddler to put it on his/her back.  This makes them feel important and grown up.  Weeks or days before the trip, you hide it and store it somewhere.  When you go to the store, look for teeny little activities to put inside.  Small notebooks, some crayons, stickers, bandaids with cartoons on them, tattoos, small novelty bubbles, and snacks.  You can also print out pictures of your pets and grandparents and friends and put them in a little book so he/she can show people where your visiting.  My two year old loves it when we give her a disposable camera and we show her how to take pictures on it.  Of course, the pictures are not going to be very good, but it still makes her feel cool.

Put all this stuff in your hidden backpack, make sure it's not too heavy (over two pounds for their little back might be too heavy.)  And don't let them open it until they get on the plane, or at the airport when you guys are waiting for awhile and that toddler starts to be, well a toddler. What objects to avoid? Too many pens with caps.  Play Dough or clay.  Paint.  Stuff that would get all over. I would also suggest not putting a bouncy ball in the bag (I did it.) and chasing it around was not fun.  Of course, if you have a kid that puts stuff in his or her mouth (my first one never did, I don't know about Emmy yet.) Be sure to put things inside that are not choking hazards.  (Good rule of thumb: If it can fit into a toilet paper roll, it's too small.)

If you can, I recommend a portable DVD Player... we have a Sony one that seems to be indestructible if someone wants to know a brand, just email me.  

Anyway, that was my toddler boredom tip for the day.  Let me know if you try this stuff out and how it worked for you! -MELISSA

Jar Update...

Dunno why I didn't think of this.  Every week (Tuesday, because Mondays are too busy.)  I will post how much we saved and put in the jar.  But it's Wednesday today... so, let's pretend it's Tuesday.  =)
The week of 20-26 April,  14.27 USD.  

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Italy/Prague Trip 2010

This trip is set for April 2010 and we have about 20 days to do it.  We are covering a lot of Italy, Rome (where Rachel will be), and we already know where we are staying.  I dare not type any names until I get the okay from them to do it.  And then 4-5 days in Florence, Italian countryside to Venice, swing by Austria again, a little bit of Germany, Czech Republic for 3-4 days, through Europe and we eventually want to go to London, where we fly out of.  Generally speaking this might work.  Anything anyone recommends, has family they want us to visit, we are always open to that.    

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Two Trips in the Works...

First of all, there are two trips being planned between now and the RTW trip in 2011.  One is Italy/Prague trip with my family in 2010.  The Italy/Prague trip will serve two purposes... to visit my sister in Italia, and to visit mom's friends in Prague.  Also, this will give us a chance to use our gear and see what is more convenient.  2010 trip will be MUCH shorter (at about 2 weeks) and also will be a prelim to the bigger trip the next year.  

This being said, we will be with a bigger group for the 2010 trip and the dynamic will be really different.  So, there is a lot more planning involved.  Anyway, this is an exciting time. I can't wait to start.

Remember, money you can always, eventually make, but time can never be made back.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Post Under Frugal Traveler Website...

I don't know how many people get to check out links, so I thought I would post my comment on the Frugal Traveler's page in the New York Times Blog.  The post was in response to a bunch of his readers being annoyed that the Frugal Traveler's budget of 100 USD a day in his article wasn't very "frugal."  I didn't think there was anything wrong with it.  

I appreciate this post and I have linked your blog with mine after recommendations from some friends who are regular readers. My family and I are embarking on an around the world trip in 2011. The catch? We are traveling with our two kids who are going to be two and three. Our budget for a family of four is going to be about 250 USD a day. This is an exorbetant amount, but I have aimed high for inflation and other costs. My kids already have a few stamps on their passports (acquired when they were weeks old) with Emily being 3 months old and Myla being 20 months old. We have traveled on a cross country road trip, a three week jaunt to the UK, and most recently a trip to Taipei and the Philippines. We do not make more than the lower average middle class family, but we live a simple life so we can save for this trip. We have a 1998 Honda Civic (complete with two carseats in the back), sack lunches for two years, I don't have a babysitter, And literally keep a water jug full of change in our living room. I can see what the frugal traveler is doing. Frugal traveling doesn't necessarily mean not spending any money at all. And to a general audience, not everyone is a backpacker. There is a fine line between a backpacker and an independent budget traveler. Which is where I like to categorize good 'ole Frugal. I am a travel concierge, and people are always surprised that stuff that claims to be cheap isn't cheap. The public is always looking for more, more more and are surprised at what they get when they pay nothing for something. (ie. "a flight to London, at a fraction of the cost, but has 4 stops? WHY??") I think the biggest misunderstanding for people who travel is that there is a lot of give and take for travel budgets. If someone really wants to travel, everyone has the means to do it, it's just a question of how badly you want to do it. how much you can sacrifice (if you don't want to pay a lot) and how much time is worth to you more than money is.  
-Melissa Keith,

Animals in the Philippines

Going to the Philippines this past February with a 21 month old and a two month old was an eye opener .  Andy and I commented numerous times, on how most of the things we did could never be done in the states.  
At the Highland Park Zoo (this is one of the photos pictured on the right.)  When you first walk in to this cute little zoo, a man comes by with a box and a couple of birds.  He puts a bird on your shoulder either a blue Macaw or a big white cockatoo... and (if you request) he'll throw a green tree python with his mouth taped shut, around your neck.  You can take as many pictures as you want for free.  You can even throw a bird in the bushes and no one gets mad.  This poor cockatoo was tossed by my 21 month old, who had never had a bird that large on her arm before.  The man, pretty aggressively placed the bird on her arm, and it started to playfully crawl towards her neck.  Poor girl, was surprised and afraid and chucked the thing about 6 feet into the bushes.  The bird jumped out, looking pretty disheveled, but fine nonetheless.  This bird was truly a professional, and my entire family was very apologetic to him.  But, in all her toddler wisdom, Myla shouted... "SAW-REE BIRD!!!" and looked pretty disappointed in herself for throwing him, which again reitorates the fact that I know my daughter was born a nice person.  
Then, we went to a resort in Bataan where there was a Pawikan (Sea Turtles) Preserve.  During breakfast, we heard that the night before, all the sea turtle eggs hatched and we were allowed to go see them!  I was expecting a small room where you could look through the glass and view these sea turtles.  We walked around the resort in our pajamas and passed a small hut that usually was a place where you could reserve body boards and snorkel gear.  There was a large, blue plastic basin in it, and the guy working there said, "here!  Baby turtles!"  and there they were, about 65 baby sea turtles.  They were going to be released into the wild at sundown and they were in the basin so people could look at them.  I had never been that close to a sea turtle, much less a baby sea turtle before.  Myla got to look and oogle at them and appreciate these little miracles.  It was kind of a tear jerker.  I mean, I was getting emotional from something that small!  We picked a few up and she got to touch them, but we knew that too much handling couldn't possibly be good for the turtles, but what the heck do I know?  So we thanked the man and left.  
There are other places like in Subic (the old US Army Base) Zoo, where you could feed live chickens to crocodiles.  And we did the chincy take a picture with a baby tiger thing.  It cost about 5 bucks.  You paid a man at the counter and there were two wiry guys with a baby tiger behind a small chain link fence.  They bring out a baby bottle feeder, and the guy instructed us (it was just me, Myla & Papa, Emmy would have been a chicken nugget to the baby tiger we are told.)  to sit on the bench.  "No sudden movements."  
"No loud, sudden noises."  
This terrified me because Myla is all one, loud, sudden movement.
I asked if we could Myla in the middle, and both guys said, "Nooooooo!"
So, Papa got to hold the baby tiger, who was about the height of a labrador and probably about 1oo pounds already.  When a baby tiger walks by you, and you have a 22 pound 20 month old on your lap, you think... oh my god, are we going to be on that "when animals attack" show?  This baby tiger's paws were about the size of a saucer, and his head was twice the size of mine.  Man, it was cool.  

Picture taken.  

The guys was fumbling with our camera, and the safety guy who was holding the chain of the tiger on Andy's lap, was gesturing to the guy taking the picture, to hurry up because the bottle Andy was holding was running out.  

Last picture taken.  

Again, I am very much against the exploitation of animals, but none of the zoos WE went to in the Philippines looked like they were mistreating or neglecting the animals at all.  In fact, all the zoologists and caretakers seemed very much in love with the animals, and all seemed genuinely excited to have people touch and hold these animals and learn from them in this way. I actually gained an appreciation for the power of a tiger by this 3 minute experience.  Again, I would have had to pay an arm and a leg to see one baby sea turtle a Sea World, or get a picture with a baby tiger anywhere.  Tigers' fur was coarse but really soft!  It was so cool!  

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Big Earth Website

Hey ya'll.  I was a fan and subscriber to the Long Way Round and Long Way Down  programs with Charley Boorman and Ewan McGregor where they went around the world in their motorbikes and I was pleased to discover they had a website called Big Earth, it's like a facebook for travelers.  You can map out your trips on it, create a profile and rate places and rate airlines and all kinds of stuff.  I just started a profile, but need a few hours to work on it.  Anyway, it's on our links over on the left... so check it out!  

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Where is "Safe?"

My two year old?  Wakes up to cereal and Barney, and a hula skirt where she dances to Lilo and Stitch on a portable DVD Player.   She has fed the seals at Sea World, and the closest she gets to being near a goat is at the petting zoo.  I am afraid of tetanus, e-coli, stress about 5-point harnesses on car seats, make sure there are plastic covers on all electrical outlets in our house, worry about her banging her head on something sharp, not getting enough nap time, getting to bed on time and stress about brushing her teeth twice a day.  

A few months ago I was talking to a travel client about her daughter.  Her daughter is about 5 months older than Myla, and so we instantly had a connection.  She was inquiring if it was possible to send her daughter to the Philippines with her mother so she could live there temporarily.  I started my usual textbook answer of how I couldn't give any kind of immigration advice and started to name a few people I thought who could help her.  Truth, is, I wasn't really listening to this woman, even though we had a common interest and bond.  It's just a handy trick of the trade when you talk to as many people as I have.  My mind instantly goes blank, and I think of other things while I look her straight in the eye and she really, truly, believes I am listening.  We are both mothers to two year old girls, and in our early 30's.  She went on to volunteer more information as to why she wanted to send her two year old daughter to the Philippines to live with her mother.  

"He doesn't have a job, and he gets frustrated sometimes..." she began.

Now, I'm listening.

"He cut her hair the other day... to punish her for being bad..."  

At this point, she is starting to cry.  

We got her daughter an open ended ticket, and her mom (grandma) a round trip one as well.  This little girl, just a few months older than my own little girl lives in a farm about 40 miles east of Manila, Phillipines.  She collects eggs from their chickens and can feed a handful of poultry and knows where to take the goat when he needs to graze.  She will be in the Philippines until her mother can figure out how to get rid of her husband, and they send me emails about her progress, and she is growing fast and strong.  Keep in mind this baby is 2 years old. 
Don't get me wrong, this doesn't sound like a bad way to live at all.  In fact, it sounds great. And fulfilling. and uncomplicated.   This client is just recently asking for a ticket so she can move back to the Philippines with her daughter.  Away from the abuse and the complications of America.  

This leads me to wonder, can't I take both aspects of living somewhere else and living here and make it wonderful?  Downside of living here as opposed to a foreign land... insurance companies.  Automated messages, robots who determine the outcome of your healthcare.  The need for money all the time, HUMONGOUS portion size and consumerist society.  Just the need to have more and more and more is so stifling.  The upside of living here?  Most diseases and nutrition problems are abolished with immunizations and proper sanitation in the city. People know that proper hand washing is what kills germs.   I don't have to take a two day trip to get my daughters or husband to a hospital.  If I want a certain kind of cheese from anywhere in the world I can more than likely get it almost immediately.  I have the freedom to go places if I like.  

Even though there is a higher risk of bad healthcare in third world countries, and basic societal functions are unheard of in most of them, this two year old girl who moved to the Philippines is still safer cleaning up after a goat, not washing her hands and then eating, than she was in her own little apartment alone with her stressed out, abusive father.  

There's something wrong with that.

Sunday, April 19, 2009


Ummmm, I think I'm a little biased but, if you need ANYTHING related to travel gear... I always, always recommend Le Travel Store!  They have an online store and a store in Downtown San Diego.  The helpy-helpertons also can walk you through anything you might need on your next trip, big or small.  Honestly, I am a big travel gear buff and there is no other store like this.  The owners are world travelers and their stuff focuses on independent, budget travel.  I mostly buy their Eagle Creek Gear, but the downside to this is that the stuff is indestructible, so you only need to buy a new backpack or piece of luggage only if you get sick of the color or something!  Anyway, if you are in the market for new stuff, or even just want to buy something for the heck of it, check them out first!  

Saturday, April 18, 2009

A Couple of Goals for the End of This Month

Our goal is to finish all the query letters by the end of this month.  Query letters for the travel guide and for the travelogue.  There is definitely a need for travel with infants information.  From availability of baby supplies, tips on flying, tips for occupying a toddler, what to pack, travel safety and so on.  
Also, queries for our travel narrative will also be done by the end of the month, since it takes months for queries to be answered.  Anyway, everyone cross your fingers and pray that the right person gets our letters and catches wind at the right time and place.  

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Jar Method

Wanna know how you can make save an average of 500-1000 a year to pay for your trip?  Get a big container.  We are using a five gallon water cooler container.  Put change in it.  Not just the loose change in your pocket... you have to also change your spending habits.  Just a little.

First:  Start paying for things solely in cash.  Get cash out of your bank's ATM's.  This might require some timing on your part.  
Second:  Don't spend your change.  For instance:  you buy a coffee that costs $1.85.  Pay with 2.00, and not exact change.  You will get .15 cents back.  Put that in your pocket or wallet.  You should never touch coins to pay with again unless you are putting it in the jar.  My husband has a hard time with this.  But he has gotten the hang of it.  
Any money that is in coin form, or loose money you know you will end up wasting throw it in the jar.
Here is how ours is progressing: 
Our average week using this method between Andy and I is 13.22 USD.   This is the change saved from trips to the market, gas, Starbucks, lunch etc.  
52.88 a month
634.56 a year.

We have really gotten into it and put any money saved from no impulse buying, or for every time we made a greeting card instead of buying one.  Once in awhile, if there is a little extra ones for change... I throw it in.  You can do it any way you you feel easiest.  At the end, we are having a coin rolling party.  Dont use those coinstar things only because they charge you 9 cents to the dollar. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Where We Are...


We have a few things sort of hammered out.  We are at the planning stages right now where everything is reconnaissance.  We are asking around, reading, emailing, talking to various families who have done RTW trips.  There are quite a few out there.  I have my sponsor list almost done and pretty soon will be executing the emails, inquiries, and phone calls.  I am at the hunting and gathering stage and I only have some simple ingredients.  
The trip itself has a few kinks in it we have to figure out and we should have the itinerary finished in a few months.  There are a lot of things to factor- transportation, availability of routes, roads etc.  And this will be a very rough, rough itinerary because we won't really know what it will be like in 2011.  A week before each change we will have to confirm everything.  For instance, there is only one ferry from Tunisia to Sicily, and it only leaves weekly, which I didn't know.
Financially, I am not too worried about this.  Luckily, our every day expenses are simple.  (there will be an entire post on budget coming up).  We are going to be very dependent on saving literally nickels and dimes, fundraising, and sponsors.  Also, I start my quest for the publishing aspect of it soon.  We have a very simple life, with one small car, and home made lunches.  I think also, we are at the point in our life where we don't possibly need anything else. This is through the generosity of our parents.  We make enough money to sustain ourselves with very little savings, but I always think something as common as money should never get in the way of your life.    
We are at the part where we are still dreaming up this trip, and it isn't quite real to me.  The thought of it is real to me.  The thought of being with my kids and my husband for 4 months sounds like a dream.  To be able to share these sole, precious moments of their life, together as a family makes me want to work harder than ever to get to this goal.  I am already a busy person, but having this as a goal has really changed my step in terms of work and the everyday grind.  Trips always do this to me.  I feel like when stuff gets hard, I have this to look forward to.  Not to say, I don't enjoy my family when there isn't a trip planned, I just feel in my total element when I have a trip planned somewhere.   Overall I think travel is good for you.  So other people should do it too.  
I spent my college years starting things, finishing some, and then starting other things and not finishing those.  I traveled in between those, and the only regret I have is that I wasted my time spending it in the classroom.  Don't get me wrong, I understand the value of education, and that alone is a journey in itself.  But I also understand the value of life, and precious, precious time.  I can always go back to school.  I can always go work somewhere and make money, but I will never have Myla be 3 and Emily be 2 ever again.  

Anyway, enough of this sap.  I thought I would close today's post with my favorite travel quote...

The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page. 
- St. Augustine

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Trip with No Name

I am a little weirded out by the fact that one long post was deleted from this blog somehow. The gist of the blog said That the Keith Family will be embarking on a trip around the world in 2011 or 2012.  This is all dependent on our prospective work places, our savings and our sponsors and advertising.  It will be concentrating on traveling with small kids and infants and so far, is a weblog and a prospective book.  We are obviously working out a lot of the logistics of the whole thing.  Like, say, the itinerary.  

I had a lot to say, but apparently I put it all in one paragraph.  Okay.  

Love to you all. 


Somehow, I managed to lose 2 posts on my blog between now and yesterday.  Weird.  I have to rewrite the longer one.  Yuck!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Why This is Important

This is important because we want to let our girls know that they are small, although important parts of a larger world.  I want them to feel like the world is an explorable place, and that there is much more to their life than just Cost-Co and Gymboree class. 
I can already hear the hamster wheels spinning as I get a couple more hits on this blog.  I have put some FAQ here.  Believe me, I have asked myself these questions before we take our kids someplace other than an hour and half drive away.  
Why would you take your little kids on a trip like this?  They won't even remember!
I think it's best to say as far as memories go, this trip is for Andy and myself.  Myla is at the age now, where she can appreciate, retain and comprehend more than what people give her credit for.  Emily just loves to be out of the house.  She loved the month in the Philippines and being toted around and just being near us all the time.  The truth is, we will be able to spend quality time with our kids while sharing the world with them.  There will be no regular TV watching, no house to worry about or grind to work on.  I think for people with kids, you will understand that feeling of watching your kids go through it also.  It's more fun to watch your kids experience it, than it is to experience it yourself.
Aren't you afraid of the dangers in other countries?
Foreign countries are no more dangerous than any major US City or the Philippines for that matter, and I have been going there almost every year since I was fourteen.  
How are you going to pay for this?
The water jug in our living room.  Mostly sponsorships and advertising.  Private investors.  No loans.  This is all being worked out and we have two years to work on it.  We are a very simple living ffamily, and our indulgences rest on DVD's and books. We have one small, non-gas-guzzling car and make homemade lunches. The water jug will be supplemented by some small and big sacrifices we will have to make for the sake of the trip.  

Our budget...just numbers.

In case you are wondering...
Here is a breakdown of what a trip like this might cost...and of course, I estimated an overage of EVERYTHING by about 50 USD, and I also made everybody the cost of an adult.  Some of the things, like rail passes and airfare and such the kids might still be free.  As things get weeded out we will deduct or add from this list.  I kept in mind inflation in two years also.  This is based on a 120 Day Trip... 
1. Daily Allowance accomodations 100 USD = 12,000
2. Airfare (round trip for 5 passengers) 4000 USD = 20,000
3. Rail Passes/Ferry Tickets 900 per passenger = 4500 USD
4. Emergency Money 10,000 USD (in the form of a credit card)
5. Travel Insurance 400 USD per person = 2000 USD
6. souvenirs 25 USD a day = 3000 USD
7. Museum/Attractions/Events Admission 50 USD = 6000 USD
8. Baby/Kid Supplies 20 USD a day = 2400 USD
9. Food 50 USD = 6000 USD
10. Local Transport 20 USD = 2400 USD
11. phone/internet 10 usd a day = 1200 USD
12. laptop 1100 USD
13. cameras 1100 USD
14. Travel Gear = 600 USD
15.  entry/exit fees = ???? varies by country
16. Visas = ???
17. Passports/Pictures 100 per person = 500 USD
18. Toiletries 50 USD per per person = 250 USD
19. Change Money Fees/ ATM Fees 5 USD a Day = 600 USD
20. Misc. 20 USD a day = 2400 USD.

A Grand Total of 76,050 USD.

WAAAAAIIIIIIIIT!!!  Don't leave!  There are adjustments to be made... remember I estimated the MAXIMUM of what something could cost.  Automatically, 10,000 on the credit card is just there, not an expense.  It's a bill I would have to pay later.   Let's say, I never use it.  
66,050 USD

Travel Insurance only costs 340 per person, so we save 300 USD there...
65,750 USD

souvenirs at 25 dollars a day?  Too high!  If we spent an average of that much... it would be too much... so let's bring it down to 20 USD a day, subtract 600 USD.
65,150 USD

Let's face it, there isn't going to be admission tickets to something EVERY day.  So let's bring that down 20 USD a day... subtract 2400
62,750 USD

laptop and cameras... sponsored or use the ones we have...
60,550 USD

Travel Gear, sponsored or use what we have...
59,950 USD

Accomodations, subtract the days we will be on the road, in a couchette or traveling (estimate about 20 of these...2000 USD saved.
57,950 USD

I didn't even go through what things could have been sponsored only because I don't want to jinx anything.  I will update this and the cost will predominantly adjust as time goes on and sponsors get wind of this.  So we brought this down predominantly, and haven't even skimped while we are there.  I think the key is just your daily budget and also planning a little bit ahead as you go, so that you aren't driving yourself crazy.  For instance, if we are in Southeast Asia and a week later we find out our family has only spent 800 for 9 days, we are totally under our weekly budget for when we go to the more expensive cities, like Paris.  

If it was just Andy and I traveling, we would do more camping and more outdoorsy, sleep in the train station stuff to save money.  But since we are taking the little ones, accomodations will have to be a little more than the typical low budget traveler's ideas of saving money.   Also throughout the year there are little things you could do to budget.  I have a jar method.  Which I will talk to you more about in length later.