This blog is sponsored by the Hilton Beijing Capital Airport. Call 6450 4827 to book a Family Staycation.
Family vacations can be wonderful and we here at BeijingKids love to cover (and fantasize) about travels to far-flung destinations as much as anybody. But when you consider the money, headaches and hassles that can happen when you’re on the road with your kids, they can be more trouble than it’s worth for beleaguered Beijing parents.
We spoke with a group of families and asked them to give us the dirt on some of the worst travel experiences they have had to endure to prove one simple point: The best and most relaxing getaway is sometimes closer to home than you think!
A Hotel of Horrors in Hua Hin
From the balmy weather to the lavish resorts, Thailand may seem like an idyllic destination for vacationing families. Anna Sophie Loewenberg was one such mother looking forward to a heavenly reprieve in the purported “land of smiles,” but unfortunately things didn’t quite go as planned. “When we got to the hotel it felt like The Shining. The air was just heavy,” she says when describing the room that she had booked in Hua Hin, just outside of Bangkok.
The LA-born mother-of-two had planned the holiday for herself, her Venezuelan husband Dennys Pena and their daughter Ella Pena-Loewenberg after finding out that they were expecting their second child, Jacob Pena-Loewenberg. Despite checking out some nice reviews of the Hua Hin resort hotel, Loewenberg says she “definitely didn’t read up about it enough.”
Upon their arrival the family found themselves surrounded by hordes of mosquitoes, and were spooked by the eerily quiet vibe that seemed to pervade the entire resort. Exhausted from their flight delay they thought little of it at first – at first glance, the room seemed decent enough and the window had a lovely view of the sun setting over the sea.
But they soon discovered that their wonderful view was obstructed by a passing tractor. Then another. Then a large dump drunk … followed by another tractor – each of them rattling and roaring as they passed by in a seemingly unending parade. “What we quickly figured out was that it was a nice beachfront, 20 years ago,” says Pena, “But by then, it was a very old property and no one told us that it was right next to a construction site. They were building this huge road right there — you could see the truck drivers looking at the ladies in the hotel’s pool as they drove past.”
Loewenberg tried not to panic, but it was unsurprisingly difficult to suppress her sinking feeling. This was to be their last big holiday before they’d have to focus on tending to a newborn and she because she was only a few months away from her due date, it was going to be extremely challenging for her to help her husband with little Ella during the trip and it would certainly hamper their ability to pick up and leave for a better hotel. To make matters worse, they were in the midst of the Christmas holiday, meaning most alternatives would surely be already booked.
Fortunately, Loewenberg quickly recalled a luxurious Bangkok hotel that she and her mother had stayed at a few years before. “I didn’t mess with the internet or anything, because by now we only had four days left for our trip,” she says, adding that instead she “called this fancy Bangkok hotel up and said: “Look up my name from the last time I was here, two years ago. I want the exact same room.’ And we lucked out, they had it. That’s what I learned in that situation: you have to act swiftly and use all the resources at your disposal.”
The Cave of Unpleasant Surprises and Olympic-style In-flight Diaper Changing
Jade Harrold can relate to Loewenberg’s frustration. She and her husband Adam (who are both teachers at the Canadian International School of Beijing) also recently took their four-year-old daughter Kinsley on a trip to Thailand only to be met with a jarringly unpleasant surprise. The Harrolds wanted a bit of adventure and exposure to the local culture to go with all the R&R by the beach and pool, and happened upon a brochure for what seemed to be the perfect spur-of-the-moment day trip: Boat rides to a nearby cave with a temple inside. “We hadn’t read the guidebooks. We just saw lovely pictures of the cave and signed up,” recalls Jade Harrold, adding that she would eventually regret that spontaneous decision.
When they arrived at the cave — the parents in flip flops and the children in water shoes — they began scaling the steps toward the cave. But, unfortunately, those “stairs” quickly became “random rocks that lay precariously.” And, of course, the cave and temple were not simply “around the corner,” as the guide had promised, but instead quite a distance away. “We climbed, we sweated and we held our children tightly,” Jade Harrold says, adding: “When we finally got to the temple inside the cave, it seemed worth it – that is, until we had to climb back down. So that was our lesson learned: Read the guidebook carefully.”
Jade adds that even the most routine of family trips can be tricky for parents, which they found to be especially true when they took Kinsley on a trip when she was a “not-so-little” baby. “Nowadays our 4-year-old daughter is average height, but when she was an infant she was in the 100 percentile for length,” Jade explains, adding how they constantly marveled at her then-baby’s body length, especially since she and her husband are not particularly tall. “We were pleased to see her grow and thrive. But on flights home to see our families in Canada it became a challenge.”
Along with being fussy with the unfamiliar surroundings most babies typically have difficulties dealing with the changing cabin pressure during takeoff and landing, but the biggest challenge for Kinsley was getting her diapers changed because her exceptional height made it difficult for her to fit on the tiny changing boards in the airplane bathrooms. “It was a lesson in multi-tasking,” explains Jade. “We had to keep her head from hitting the wall and her feet from ending up in the sink, not to mention her flailing arms from pushing the emergency assistance button – all of which had to be done while making sure the mess was solely confined to the diaper. On a long flight this can feel like an Olympic event.”
Ja Wuttithamrong can also relate to the Harrolds in-flight woes. The Marketing Manager at Daystar Academy frequently flies with her two daughters, Jessalyn Chang (aged 5) and Jamie-Leigh Chang (who is three and a half years old) for biannual visits home to her native Thailand, or back to the US with her husband to visit his relatives.
Despite being very well travelled, Ja’s little ones have had their share of terrible trips. The worst such instance occurred on a flight from Beijing to Bangkok where not one but both daughters got sick and vomited in the aisle … and then again on their mother. “When my youngest was sick the first time it was okay, because I had extra clothes for her,” Wuttithamrong says. “But when Jessalyn became nauseous I was caught off guard and even more dismayed when I realized that I had not thought to bring a change of clothes for her.”
The poor girl had to spend the remainder of the flight in her soiled clothes and Wuttithamrong had to break open her luggage to get her daughter changed as soon as they arrived.
Michelle Hemsin, another local mother of two and co-owner of Counting Sheep Boutique, says one of her biggest difficulties when traveling is simply keeping her young ones occupied during the journey. “My impatient six-year-old daughter constantly bombards me with phrases like: “Mum, I’m bored! Mum, are we there yet?’ I need to constantly entertain her while all I want to do is read my book.”
But Michelle’s most frequent in-flight challenge are her kids’ constant trips to the toilet. “My kids will always ask: “Mum, I need to go to the toilet now!” while the seat belt sign is on as we are taking off, or when we are encountering turbulence,” she says, adding that the single worst such instance occurred one time even before they had boarded their flight.
“We were waiting in line for the security check at the Beijing Capital Airport and suddenly my [then two-and-a-half-year-old]son tells me that he needs to pee.” Unfortunately Michelle and her son were “stuck in line between the two check points,” so they asked the security personnel if there was a toilet nearby, only to be told that the nearest toilet was in the departure hall behind the security checks.
“The guard sensed our desperation and suggested that our little one relieve himself in the big silver trash bins that were there to dispose of water bottles and lighters!” Somewhat shocked they were obliged to take him up on his suggestion and Michelle’s son proceeded to discreetly do his thing in the furthest bin.” “We went back in line and did our best to hide our faces among the crowd.”
Michelle goes on to say that travelling with her children is most certainly fun and rewarding at the best of times, but staycations can also be highly appealing if you want to save yourself some undue time and hassle, thus she frequently books such mini-retreats for herself and family at Beijing hotels.
“It’s very leisurely and normally the hotels are just within 30-minute drives from home,” she explains. “And if we happen to forget something important like a blanky, we can always go back and get it.” Michelle says she and her husband enjoy the nice rooms and the children always love the swimming pool. Best of all meals are served without mommy having to lift a finger, and after a sound night’s sleep the whole family can enjoy a beautiful, bountiful breakfast. “It’s always a treat!”
Check out more Family Travel Horror Stories in the next installment at the same time next week.
Need a break but don’t want to travel far from home? The Hilton Beijing Capital Airport offers Family Staycation packages where families can enjoy the hotel’s luxurious rooms, fitness center and pool, play area, restaurants, weekend brunches and fun group events. Call 6450 4827 (weekdays) and 156 1197 9131 (weekends) for reservations and more information.
Photos: Joey Guo and courtesy of the families