Category Archives: Travel With Kids

Our New York City Family Favorites

This month, our Facebook Families on the Move group got nostalgic about home. We are all traveling around the world with children and keep asking each other for advice on our hometowns. This is our collaboration to bring you our favorite family spots from home.

For the New Yorkers reading this blog – I’d love to know your comments on our selection or your thoughts on what was missed. We could only choose five and know that our city has hundreds more.

Whole Foods Bowery

This Whole Foods has two floors spanning an entire city avenue. Roaming the wide isles (a rarity for New York City grocery stores), cheese vault, dry food bins and upstairs food court is like attending a food amusement park. The real education is to be had upstairs in the Whole Foods Culinary Center, a teaching kitchen that hosts recreational classes in an intimate settings for kids. The calendar rotates each season. Our kids have taken Spanish Tapas and Indian food classes here. Ava went to a week long summer camp last year, where each day was focused on food from one of the five New York City boroughs. She made pizza from Staten Island, pierogies from Queens, cheesecake from Brooklyn, empanadas from the Bronx and bagel and lox from Manhattan. Chefs Wei and Cricket are great with the little ones and provide everything from safe cookware to miniature bibs. The a la cart classes are well priced at about $20 per child per class.

Brooklyn Smorgasburg

Brooklyn Flea was started in 2008 as an outdoor market for local vendors. It’s only three years old, but has already gained a strong following for its quality and breadth of offerings. So much so, that it’s all-food offshoot, Brooklyn Smorgasburg, is packed every weekend during the summer. The market is wonderfully kid friendly, with stalls selling everything from stuffed animals to handmade furniture. And who knew clothing racks can be so fun when filled with sequins, yards of fabric and the occasional boa? The food choices meet all our needs. I usually go with a veggie quesadilla from the Red Hook Taco place, Sandeep gets bratwurst, and the kids get fruit salad, horchata and tacos. The other unique thing the venue offers is a plaza where the kids can actually feel their feet on grass – a rarity in New York City.

Tompkins Square Park

When we first moved to New York in 2003, a local friend advised that we could live anywhere in Manhattan except north of 96th Street and Alphabet City. How things have changed. In 2009 we moved to Alphabet City, now one of the few neighbourhoods in Manhattan that is still filled with mom and pop stores and a very strong cultural heritage. Tompkins Square Park in the 1980s used to be a drug dealing and using shanty town. Now it houses one of the nicest playgrounds in the city. Our favorite is the one along Avenue A between 7th and 9th streets. It has several distinct areas for different age groups, a large sand box and water sprinklers in the summer. Fun for the kids extends beyond the playground. An eclectic mix of musicians, artists and elderly playing chess claim the benches and make for eventful discussions. The north side of the park has some playing courts and a small, shallow public pool. You’ll find plenty of eating choices around, but our favorites are Australian pies at Tuck Shop on St. Marks between First Avenue and Avenue A, and stuffed Venezuelan arepas Caracas Arepa Bar on 7th Street between First Avenue and Avenue A.

The New York City Transit Museum

We’re generally not a museum family. The kids are too difficult to control and we can’t focus on the exhibits. There are several museums in the city that are catered to children and have children’s activities, but the one that our entire family enjoys the most is The New York Transit Museum. The museum is located in an old subway station in Brooklyn Heights and offers a history into the century old subway system. The best part lies underground, where a live subway line houses cars from most decade since the system’s inception. The kids have a blast running between the cars, and we enjoy the step back in history with period appropriate advertisements.

Sandy Hook Beaches

There are some great beaches within a couple of hours of the city. We are fans of Sandy Hook because half the fun is getting there. The Seastreak Ferry departs from 34th Street and the East River as well as Wall Street and arrives in Sandy Hook National Recreation Area within 30 minutes. The ride passes under the city’s bridges and the Statue of Liberty before docking at a Sandy Hook. Summertime weekends can get packed with the school crowd, but a weekday trip usually offers quiet beaches and unspoiled surroundings. It’s also possible to rent bikes and cycle the park, just go with all needed supplies. Apart from two cafes selling burgers, hot dogs, fries and beach umbrella rentals, there aren’t any conveniences.

The links below take you to the homes of other traveling families. Enjoy the trips.

Ambergris Caye, Belize – A King’s Life

Boston, USA – Great Family Escape

London, UK – Travels with a Nine Year Old

Central Australia – Wandering Photographer

South Australia – Livin On The Road

The Netherlands – Act of Traveling

Antigua, Guatemala -Raising Miro

Seattle, WA – Walkingon Travels

Sunset Coast, MI – WanderingEducators

Vancouver, B.C. – With 2 Kids In Tow

Kingston, Ontario – EdventureProject

Lake Chapala, Mexico – Living Outside of the Box

Washington, D.C. – Growing Grace Life

Costa Rica – Bohemian Travelers

Fethiye, Turkey – ramblecrunch

Brisbane, Australia – OurTravelLifestyle

Israel – The Nomadic Family

Chiang Mai, Thailand – The Dropout Diaries


Filed under Travel With Kids, Traveling Family Writing Projects

Kaveman Kayan

When Ava was an infant, Dr. Harvey Karp’s Happiest Baby on the Block was our lifesaver. His simple methods ensured that we had a calm, smiling, rested baby. So when she turned three and started throwing tantrums, Sandeep and I bought The Happiest Toddler on the Block DVD. Dr. Karp’s advice is to see toddlers as cave(wo)men and deal with them accordingly.

As is generally the case, we didn’t find the sequel that good. Ava just didn’t strike us as cave-like.

Kayan, but contrast, is a cave person at heart. If Dr. Karp comes out with another addition of Happiest Toddler, we shall definitely send Kayan to the casting call. We’ve been studying his behavior closely during our trip. Weeks of constant togetherness have given us plenty of material confirming that his toddler-hood offers insight to our origins.

When faced with sand, gravel, dirt, pebbles – anything the earth has dusted off – Kayan’s innate reaction is to cool off in it. I have heard that cavemen may have used mud as natural sunscreens. This picture was taken on a Goa beach and, yes, it was a sunny day.

When faced with a choice of utensils, Kayan prefers his hands. That goes for Chinese soup, Thai noodles or cereal dipped in egg yolk in Malaysia.

Even when ice cream comes neatly packed around a stick, Kayan would rather use his hands as a scoop.

A brand new puzzle set to Kayan turns into a primitive digging tool. That too, in a flower bed.

Perhaps Kayan has caught on to the fact that norms differ among countries. He may as well resort to the common place we all came from before we had to worry about social graces. I also know that we, as parents, are contributing to the behavior. We have generally taken a more laid back approach to parenting. We’ve noticed in Asia that kids are less restricted than in the U.S. and parents don’t obsess over every spilled drink or dirty hand. Kids run around, some messier and more rambunctious than others, and people don’t see them as an annoyance. It’s been convenient for us to adopt a similar mentality, and certainly advantageous for Kayan to hone his connection to our ancestors.


Filed under India, Malaysia, Thailand, Travel With Kids

Registering the Kids at a Kerala Pre-School

Sandeep and I don’t speak a common Indian language. My Hindi is shameful, and his Malayalam sounds to me like a fluent string of gargling but he insists it’s rudamentary. Since we’ll be travelling in and out of Kerala for two months, we figured we’d use the base to offer the kids a social network and an opportunity to learn Malayalam.

Sandeep and I have been meeting interesting people and through cyberspace have managed to maintain contact with our friends. As parents, we now give Ava and Kayan undivided attention. Despite this, we could tell that Ava particularly yearned for kiddie contact. I suppose we all need our own peer group to talk, play and bounce of the walls with.  Thus far we’ve been so nomadic, it’s been hard for her to establish any friendships. It breaks my heart to hear her ask, “Do you think she’ll be my friend?” about every girl her age we see on our trip.

Enter Lullabies Montessori School and Day Care, which is up the hill from Sandeep’s parents. Our casual decision to enroll the kids was a stark contrast to the agonizing deliberations we went through for New York City pre-school aplications. We figured we didn’t know the nuances of Indian pre-schools well enough to research the matter, and for just two months, all we cared about was a safe environment and happy peers. The owner and teacher, Smita, was warm in her welcome and flexible in accommodating us for the short period.

When we told Ava that she was going to school this morning, she got herself ready for the first time. She changed her clothes, brushed her teeth, packed her Dora backback, and fed herself the entire bowl of oatmeal. Her excitement was so focused, this was the calmest morning we’ve had on our trip thus far.

Upon walking into the open air classroom, Ava went straight up to the row of kids and took a seat. Kayan, who hasn’t been more than a few feet away from her for over two months, followed right behind. Despite empty seats he attempted to sit on Ava’s lap. He must have needed more reassurance than she at being introduced to new faces. Ava firmly said, ‘Kayan, go sit in the green chair over their.” She’s gotten quite used to bossing him around. Naturally, he listened.

They immediately seemed to be in their own element and we left feeling happy and sad to be not needed by them for the first time in over two months. When we arrived for the 12:30 pick-up, both kids protested about leaving school and on the way home happily sang a newly learnt Malayalam song.

I’ve written before about how the kids are being educated without formal schooling, but we feel good that they now have an opportunity to mingle with their own peers. If that comes with some formal education, we’re not opposed.


Filed under India, Travel With Kids

Ladies Only, No Gents Please

Apologies for the short hiatus in posts. India has been a whirlwind of family oriented travel and unreliable internet. I can’t understand how the country supplies the world’s IT brains, but can’t seem to network the motherland. Anyway, it’s good to be back online and reunited. Here’s a recent Luke story.

We were on our way from my parents in Goa to Sandeep’s parents in Cochin, with a layover in Bangalore. In Goa, once our bags were checked, we proceeded to the security line – the four of us, as usual, moving in an efficient pod of kids, carry-ons and our faithful stroller. By now we have the airport drill down to a well practiced march. After ten flights in eight weeks, even the kids know their parts.

When a uniformed policeman ushered Sandeep and Kayan to one side and Ava and I to another, we were thrown off order. Kayan went into a state of panic at being separated from Ava. “Where is Dada going?” yelled Ava, as she made a run towards Sandeep, “Dada! Dada!”

It took me second to realize that we weren’t being detained, but separated by gender. “They’re putting the women on one side and the men on another,” I explained to my tear streaked daughter.

“But waaaiiiiii?”

As I understand it, based on my time in India, there are Ladies and Gents lines and sections for two main reasons. The first is conservatism. India is still a conservative society, and giving women their own space without being forced to mingle with strange men is appropriate. Second, being a society with zero concepts of personal space or boundaries, giving women their own space reduces improper interactions.

For a family traveling within India, this poses a few challenges. Here’s where to expect gender segregation.

  • Lines at any government run facility, including train stations, airports, and monuments. Where security is not involved, women can choose to be in the general line. If a woman so chooses, she should be prepared for plenty of staring and close contact. The upside for a woman, however, is that Ladies lines tend to be much shorter.
  • Certain public transportation, such as the bus we took in Goa, offers Ladies Only sections.
  • Restaurants in South India offer a Family Section at the back. It may as well say Ladies This Way Please. The front of the restaurant is usually a bar area where men mingle, drink and eat, while the back is where it is appropriate for (it is assumed) non-alcohol drinking ladies and children to hang out.

When we arrived in Bangalore, we realized that we had a limited number of diapers in our carry-on. In an effort to conserve, we let Kayan stay in bit of dampness as we passed time over cups of coffee and juice. Ava was on my lap and Kayan on Sandeep’s while we people watched the happy greetings and weepy goodbyes at the airport entrance. As we stood up to board our Bangalore-Cochin flight, we realized that a little more than dampness had made its way out of Kayan’s pants and onto Sandeep’s.

A speedy check in through security (this time we knew to separate ourselves by Ladies and Gents), we made a dash for the Baby Care room. I had taken Ava there when we were in Bangalore two years ago. The facility is maintained by Himalaya is the most well equipped family room we’ve seen – clean cribs, changing tables, baby soap, oil and lotion are all available for passenger use.

As the four of us jostled the door knob, a guard appointed to care for Baby Care stopped Sandeep with a polite “No gents allowed.”

India is seeing a rise in dual income families as it races along the highway of development, yet the assumption still exists (in Bangalore – the model for the modern Indian city) that women take full responsibility over child rearing. Even in an age when baby accidents happen on gents just as much as they do on ladies.

As we’ve said before, this trip is a chance for us to get out of our comfort zones, no matter if it’s in the country of our origin or it means reversing on the road of social progress.


Filed under India, Travel With Kids

Our Very Own Tea Party Movement

We don’t carry around much stuff, which means very few toys. On rainy days like yesterday, the kids get creative in our apartment.

Kayan, Ava and Taniya enjoyed quality conversation about airplane buckles.


Filed under Malaysia, Travel With Kids

Taking Our Pause in Penang

Despite being a bustling place, Penang still retained the laid back island feel that caused us to slow down more than we did in Hong Kong and even Chiang Mai. We didn’t feel the need to see or do a lot. Fortunately, our apartment rental was gorgeous and self sufficient with a beach, pool, tennis courts and a large playground.  So, aside from a few excursions into George Town, we just hung out around the apartment and ate in the neighborhood.

Our very short to-do list in Penang gave us a lot of time to spend together as a family.

We took time to lounge.

We took time to talk.

We took time to get in shape.

We took time to play.

And of course, we took time to eat.

We said our goodbyes to Penang this afternoon and are now in Kuala Lumpur. The energy of the city already feels overwhelming after our island escape. We don’t yet have an agenda here, but can already feel the pull to see and do more. Despite this, I hope that we still find time to lounge, talk, stay in shape and play. Oh, and eat!


Filed under Food, Health, Malaysia, Travel With Kids

Lessons From Penang

At the start of this trip our goals were to appreciate each other, our world and ourselves. Penang has provided a laboratory for appreciating our world from a cultural point of view. Our family was formed in New York, considered by many to be the most cosmopolitan city in the world. We were raising the kids in New York City to expose them to this kaleidoscope.

After one week in Penang we have realized how truly interwoven a multi-cultural city can be. I’m not claiming that Penang can boast the diversity statistics of New York City, but in terms of cultural integration, my reaction is that Penang has New York City beat.

Today, Malays and Chinese make up about 40 percent each of Penang’s population. Indians comprise another 10, expatriates about 5, and other races the remainder. Not surprisingly – this is Penang, after all – how this came to be has something to do with food. Portuguese spice traders used the island as a stop over between Goa, India and the far east. The British set up the island as a free port to lure trade away from the Dutch. For a while after, Penang served as the meeting point of opium trade between India and China. Exciting things have been happening between diverse groups of people on this island for centuries, and these interactions (not the opium trading – you get hanged for that now) carry on today.

Ava and Kayan may be too young to appreciate the cultural milieu of Penang. But as they grow up, we want them to embody some of what we’ve seen on this striking island.

First, we want the kids to have an open mind and ear to the different ways people communicate. We’d love them to know at least one foreign language and wish they were able to see see and hear all the different ways that Penangites say the same thing. Between the English, Malay, Mandarin, Penang Hokkien, and Tamil, there is also Manglish (Malaysian colloquial English). Most Penangites know several words in each others’ languages. We’ve overheard several conversations where one party speaks in English while the other answers in a different language. Here are a few street signs written in a spectrum of languages spoken on the island.

The interaction of languages was the most apparent when were looking at an English menu in an Indian restaurant yet we had no idea what was on offer. Apart from a few words such as briyani and tomato, we were lost.

Second, we want the kids to realize that regardless of who people pray to, we’re all likely praying for the same things. Temples, mosques, and churches stand alongside each other throughout Penang, but no where more obviously than on the 1 km stretch of ‘harmony street‘ in George Town. Malaysia is an Islamic country, but here houses of worship representing Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism have stood side by side for over 200 years. We’ve been visiting many places of worship on our trip, and now Kayan instinctively takes off his shoes when he enters a temple. Ava, who used to blow out candle offerings, now asks to place one instead. Hopefully these are the beginnings of two people who will grow up respecting all religions, regardless of what they themselves practice.

Even though Ava and Kayan won’t remember much of Penang when they grow up, as parents we are grateful to have had this island as our muse.


Filed under Malaysia, Religion, Travel With Kids

Preschool Lessons Around the World

A neighbor from New York City asked us several questions in preparation for her family’s year off, one of which was what do to about pre-schooling her three year old twins. I think only New York parents would worry about this (we did) since our school system forces us to get competitive at birth.

We figured once we started the trip (and deferred the kids’ pre-school admissions for a year) that the family would get an educational experience far richer than anything learnt in a school. What has that meant so far?

The most obvious lessons have been with language, English and otherwise. We’ve already been through three countries and both kids have learnt basic greetings and words in each. Their favorite foreign word so far is ‘tuk tuk’. Learning foreign words means that we go through long explanations of why people speak differently around the world to say the same thing. Kayan knows words like ‘fireworks’ and ‘lantern’ because he saw them nearly every night in Chiang Mai. Ava knows ‘approximately’ because of all the currency conversions.

We’ve been exposed to a lot more nature than at home. Yesterday we got caught in a thunderstorm. In New York, we would have hailed cab and called it a day. In Penang we walked back home, which gave us plenty of time for a discussion of thunder and lightening. Ava still calls them “thunder stones” but there are some things I don’t have the heart to teach. Kayan now thinks thunder and lightening are Penang’s version of fireworks, and Ava thinks the covered paddle boats in the ocean here are tuk tuks, so all this education is not without some confusion, but we’re working on it. When we first got to Thailand, both kids thought a buffalo was a horse. Now Ava can name several flowers – her favorite is the frangipani. She also knows why it grows in Asia and not New York.

Socially, both kids have made huge developmental strides. Since they have to create friends everywhere we go, they’ve learnt to be more outgoing. They realize that they can have a lot of fun with kids who don’t speak the same language, such as making lanterns with Japanese and Thai kids. They’re also learning to be patient, since Sandeep and I spend quite a bit of time trying to figure things out.

The kids still have their sibling issues but, since we have limited toys, they are much better about playing together. More often than not they’re engaged in some sort of creative play, whether it’s making up songs, serving invisible pizza or creating sand houses.

Perhaps what we are most proud of is that they’re developing a more adventurous palate. Kayan will eat most anything, and Ava is finally moving beyond pizza and sushi. Since we are in Penang, we can’t end our post without some talk of food. We spent the evening at a Batu Ferrangi hawker market. This one is more touristy than our neighborhood Tanjung Jungah market, but still has that great Penang vibe. Every hawker market has a satay stand, serving by the stick or ‘set’, usually 10 or 12 sticks. They’re sweet on their own, but with some peanut sauce have the perfect balance between sweet, salty and spicy.


Filed under Malaysia, Travel With Kids

Thoughts on Flying with Toddlers

After having kids, I looked forward to business travel. I appreciate those trips all the more now after being on the road for five weeks with two toddlers. While working, I had the benefit of doing mostly day trips, so it wasn’t as if I was necessarily running away from the kids… However, just a few hours on a plane or train provided a much needed break from the insanity at home. I loved the anonymity of being a business traveler and it provided my only opportunity to have large blocks of time to myself.  I could relax with a book (more often People magazine) and sip coffee without worrying about it scalding a child.
While I find business travel relaxing, traveling with toddlers can be exhausting. Ava and Kayan have generally handled flights, from the 16 hour New York to Hong Kong travelathon to the one hour connecting flights from Chiang Mai to Penang, very well. There have been a few tantrums and lessons learnt, but I thought I would share some thoughts we have on making plane journeys more pleasurable for the entire family (and fellow passengers).
Board last. We confine the children to their seats for as short a time as possible. We decline the airline’s invitation for families with young children to board first. Instead, we watch everyone fight for the front of the line, which is entertaining in itself. Once final call is announced, we claim our seats, hopefully just in time for taxi. Ava’s legs are too short to reach the floor, so the carry-ons just go under the seat in front of her.
Fly while asleep. This is only practical sometimes, but we plan to be in the air an a couple of hours after the kids usually nap. This way, they are tired and pass out just as the flight is taking off. Red eyes for long hauls are great for little kids who have strong sleeping schedules. Ava and Kayan slept 13 of the 16 hour midnight flight from New York to Hong Kong.
Eat and fly. Our kids are cranky when they are tired or hungry. Well, sometimes they are cranky around the clock, but it’s worse when they are tired or hungry. We’ve found that having a meal or heavy snack at the airport provides something fun for them to do and fills their bellies for the flight. Eating on the flight is also great since the inflight meals have little dishes to sample. Sorry to my friends back home in the U.S., this doesn’t apply to you, but make the most of those peanut bags. The only time we give Ava and Kayan lolipops is on a plane during take off and landing. It helps avoid ear pressure and keeps them quiet for 15 minute blocks during take-off and landing.
Use the airport playground. We let the kids run around at the airport to burn off energy. Airports are an enormous playground of escalators, ramps, elevators, and observations towers. We make games around finding our gate number and racing down low traffic hallways.
Get excited.  Both kids help us pack when we move on to the next home. It gives them some closure but also gets them excited about reaching our destination and taking out their stuff. We tell them something about our new home that will make them happy. For Penang it was the fact that the pool in our apartment has a water slide. Ava couldn’t wait to arrive so she could see it.

Take little. We already have to lug our computers, camera, diapers, and my refrigerated medication, so we don’t have room for optional stuff. We carry one multi-colored pen and some paper to draw and do origami. Otherwise, we find entertainment in the inflight magazine, duty free catalog, windows and isles.
But don’t forget the stroller.  We debated this one, but in the end, the stroller comes in handy. If it is not carrying a kid, it holds our hand baggage. The stroller is great when we’re trying to balance waiting for last call and not missing our flight. The international departure terminal at Bangkok is huge and it would have taken us 1 hour at Kayan’s glacial pace to reach our Air Asia gate. We strapped him to the stroller and sped on our way. We have a low cost umbrella stroller, though. I think strollers go through some sort of pulverization mechanism in the cargo compartment, so it doesn’t seem prudent to carry around anything fancy.
It may not be as relaxing as a business trip, but traveling with kids has gotten easier as we’re figuring out a groove.


Filed under Malaysia, Thailand, Travel With Kids

Choosing to do Something Without the Kids

Tomorrow will be the first cultural experience when we’ll leave the kids at home, with Pu.

At dawn, 12,600 monks from neighboring provinces will congregate in Chiang Mai to receive offerings of food. A regular part of Thai life includes offering alms to monks in the early morning. The residents of Chiang Mai also have a biannual opportunity to offer alms en mass to thousands of monks. This time, in addition to sustaining the temples, the food will be shared with communities affected by the Thai flooding. We are lucky to have the opportunity to be part of this tomorrow.

Why are we leaving the kids behind?  The 6 AM wake up will put them in terrible moods and Kayan has been a real handful lately. Maybe we jinxed ourselves by bringing him to Thailand, where “Kayan” translates to “active”. Upon touchdown at Chiang Mai Airport, our son turned from a laid back boy to a rambunctious wild animal. He bites his sister. He throws stones at his mother. He kicks his father. As long as he is in this crazed state, we have decided that it’s better to leave him and Ava (who are now inseparable) out of things that are intended to be experienced in a somber state.

Speaking of somber states, we visited Wat Doi Suthep today, Chiang Mai’s most revered temple. It’s golden structures shine over Chiang Mai at 1,676 meters above the city.

Kayan ran around, tormented a Thai baby, and refused to put his shoes back on to leave. Luckily, the temple was swarming with visitors, so most of this went unnoticed.

Tomorrow, while the kids are warmly tucked away in bed, we’re looking forward to peacefully experiencing our alms giving to the monks.


Filed under Religion, Thailand, Travel With Kids