We most definitely live and learn travelling the way we do. Mistakes are inevitable, but also invaluable.
That's why every 'bad' experience we've had has effectively been a blessing. It also doesn't harm to learn from what others have been through. Therefore, we thought we'd share with you what information we think has been priceless or helpful from our first 12 months travelling - advice that would most certainly have shortened our learning curve had we known in advance.
Both Claude and I relish the sunshine. So when we mapped out our itinerary to London, we knew that we wanted to follow the sun and be in places during their summers. However, what we did not consider was how our pursuit of warmth would also empty our pockets more quickly.
While it has been fantastic enjoying over a year of summer-like conditions, it has also meant travelling to places during peak season. Had we thought more deeply about travelling with the sun, we could have timed our arrivals into certain cities/areas just before or after the high season.
Something else that did not cross our minds was how travelling with the sun would effect Zenchai's socialisation with other children. By continuously landing in places during summer time, schools have almost always been closed.
When in small villages, like Kukljica in Croatia, this was not so much a problem as potential playmates by the sea were abundant. But in large cities like Buenos Aires, where children weren't roaming freely, this meant lonely playtimes for Zenchai.
When you arrive in a new location try to have the first night's accommodation pre-booked. Sometimes there's a temptation to take a chance and see what you can find by wondering around - and that's understandable if you're not sure you want to stay. But we've found this rather stressful, especially if you discover the city or town you intend to stay in is fully booked. It's a real pain, particularly if you have children, to go from one hotel/hostel to another, hoping something is available. Going through Europe by car last summer we found ourselves on a few occasions - tired from a long day of driving - cruising down dimly-lit streets in the middle of the night and knocking on doors to find accommodation. Now we check online with tripadvisor and hostelworld and always read reviews, too. It narrows the choice and you discover feedback on whether a place is noisy, a party hostel, has a kitchen, internet etc.
Challenge of staying with people
On both Claude's and my top ten memories of 2010 was meeting and staying with friends and family. Those moments of union with loved ones have definitely left a huge impression on our hearts.
However, at times those stays didn't always go without a hitch in the sense that we both have felt uncomfortable in instances where our destiny was out of our control. Being reliant on transport, food or basic necessities has at times made us feel powerless, which can create friction for us.
We have learned that we are far more comfortable in other people's spaces if we are able to cater to our basic familial needs and not having to completely pass the buck to those who host us.
Clothing, toys, books etc
With each leg of our trip we have realised our tendency to over-pack, especially clothing, toys for Zenchai and books. This overindulgence created many anxious moments while we waited in queues at the airport to check our luggage.
Would our bags be overweight - again? This is something we are continually refining and with the impending arrival of our newest family member it is also something we need to perfect sooner rather than later.
At the moment we are travelling with two suitcases. My monster pink case and Claude's more sensibly-sized case. However, we have encountered many situations where having a rucksack each would have made for smoother travel.
Travellers cheques used to be the only way to carry large amounts of currency when travelling. Not anymore. In Ecuador, travellers cheques were practically useless. Claude had to go from one bank to another to find someone willing to cash them. We haven't used them since. We opted for the FairFX card. It's simple to top up and all you require is an ATM machine to get your cash. FairFX offer you the option of having your money in pounds, dollars or Euros but don't charge for currency conversions or withdrawals (however, banks in certain countries, like Argentina and Uruguay, do impose a fee per transaction - roughly £3, which adds up). It's also worth noting - and checking - before travelling which credit cards certain countries prefer. For instance, Visa is the favoured card in Argentina. And in some countries, like Ecuador, credit card transactions are minimal, so you need access to cash. Do your homework.
We do our best to purchase fruit and veg from local markets. The produce tends to be fresher, cheaper and local. It also helps keep them in business. In Marrakech, for instance, the difference in price between the markets and supermarket chains was ridiculous. If you're on a tight budget, it is definitely worth considering.
Twice we turned up in Buenos Aires on days when the city had practically closed down. Once was a national holiday and on another occasion it was the Census. When you need access to shops - particularly for food - you don't want to be caught out. So before travelling or nailing down your dates, it's worth confirming your arrival dates don't coincide with a public holiday. Don't rely on the travel agent to tell you.
Tolls in France and most of Europe are really expensive. We couldn't believe last summer how much the cost of driving in Europe had escalated. We came off the toll roads in France, Italy, Slovenia and Croatia several times and, guess what? The experience was much more pleasurable: you get to see the real countryside and villages. You see so much more than when bombing up and down motorways, which tend to always look the same. Though it was much slower, going on the A roads is a lot cheaper. If you're not in a hurry, we'd certainly recommend it.
We had several incidents - in coaches, cars, taxis, ferries, aeroplanes - when a sick bag was required and we didn't have anything at the ready. In Ecuador, the taxis and public buses were awful in terms of smooth riding. Zenchai sometimes would throw up within minutes! Some plane rides are rough also. It's just better to be equipped and have plastic/paper bags easily at hand. You won't be sorry.
It's easy when renting an apartment to look the place over, sign on the dotted line and part with your cash without looking in the cupboards to see what they have provided. Check the details. Make sure the accommodation offers what is being advertised. We got caught out in Cuenca last year when the kitchen didn't even have any gas for the burner! We also had to beg for dishes, chopping boards, knives etc - items you'd think would be standard. Don't assume kitchens are fully equipped.
Do you ever find that when you leave behind your camera a photo opportunity presents itself? We do. So we decided that the golden rule is always take the camera - just in case. Better to have it and not use it than to have a once-in-a-lifetime moment pass you by. Charge your spare battery also. We do it almost immediately whenever one of our batteries dies. Having photographic memories is priceless. Be organised.
Doing everything as a family can be tiring and absorbing. Sometimes we, as parents, need a break - from partners, being parents and children. We learned to split the responsibilities. We still do things together, but, more now than before, also take turns in looking after Zenchai and going on excursions with him. It's made a significant difference and can really help restore some sanity and reduce the demands of being a close-knit family.
With young children - and pregnant women - you can't go far without having snacks. If, like us, your dietary requirements mean you prefer not to rely on junk food and sweets etc, it's essential to do some shopping in advance and get stocked up in case of any emergencies. Kids can quickly become a handful if they get over-hungry, so we try always to remember to pack fruit and snacks or make the effort to find out where there is a food source nearby. A pen can also come in handy. You never know when you may have to jot down some important information. So keep one tucked away in your bag or pocket at all times.
When eating out, we make sure we've done some investigating first. We use the Happy Cow and Vegan backpackers websites a lot. They are excellent for details on where to eat vegan around the world. We also have our travel guidebooks, that make recommendations. However, don't always trust the information. We've gone searching for restaurants with great reviews on Happy Cow only to find they no longer exist. That's why it's always useful to have a back-up plan. Similarly, guide books are usually a year or so out of date by the time you buy it. Prices can change. We learned the hard way that it pays to check the prices before sitting down. Usually, restaurants will display their menu and prices in the window.
There's a good way to check if a watermelon is ripe: put it to your ear and tap it. If it sounds hollow then it's ready for consumption. But sometimes shops and small grocers will sell large watermelons in halves or slices. This can result in a melon sitting out for a while. We had one case in San Marcos Sierras, Argentina, where it was hot and we bought a half watermelon. By the time we sat down to eat it (about 30 minutes after the purchase), it had virtually turned to alcohol. The best way to avoid this is buy them whole or watch them cut a whole one open if you want slices.