We have been traveling for 2 1/2 years! We spent nearly 2 years with Southern Spain as a homebase and explored a bit of Western Europe. As of July 2014, it was on to see what Southeast Asia had in store for us. It was time for a nomadic life, the life of modern-day gypsies. We would move around just about every week. Once in a while we would stay for a bit longer and in Chiang Mai we stayed for 3 1/2 months. After 7 months of being on the move, it was time for a family vacation!
I know exactly what you are thinking.
You’re thinking…“They travel all of the time. Their life is a family vacation. What are they talking about needing a vacation? Are they nuts?”
The Truth About Being A Traveling Family
I’ll let you in on a little secret. We usually take photos and share with you the vacation moments. So I get it. I understand why you think we are on perpetual vacation. We don’t have many photos and social media shares of the complaining, arguing and the good stuff. I guess I just don’t think to pull out the camera and record me yelling at the kids or when we are all hot and sitting at a bus station.
We’ve been moving around every 4-7 days for many months and it a has pretty much all been on the fly. Living life on the fly and in the moment takes a bit of planning. No, loads of planning! That’s what went into the big master plan for the rough route around Southeast Asia, but the day-to-day choices we’re on the go. The exact town, hotel, transportation, activities and so on. We intentionally wanted it this way, so we could leave early if we didn’t like it, we could stay longer if we loved it, and we were committed to anything!
Needless to say the past 7 months have been like planning 30 mini road trips or 1-2 a week! Imagine trying to find the perfect accommodation for a family in Asia, where most rooms only allow 3 people and you have 4! Trying to meet everyone’s needs and the budget too. We need wifi, AC, separate beds for the kids, sometimes their own room, clean, good area, close to “town” and public transportation, ideally with a fridge and big bonus if there is a kettle, all for less than $30 per night. This isn’t always an easy task.
Not only is there the planning aspect, but there is the work involved with sharing much of what we do. Of course we don’t share it all, we would never have time to sleep. We do the best we can to share what we are doing, as we do it. Sometimes, it is a few weeks later and I can promise you somethings will be a few months later. It can take hours to write just one blog post.
Well, I should tell you more. It isn’t just the writing that takes all of that time. It is going through and editing the hundreds of pictures, I just had to take. Trashing what I can and deciding which are worth a blog post and which should just be kept for us. There is the photo editing, researching facts about the location and resource links, writing the post, making sure the post is optimized for the search engines to find it. Scheduling it to publish on the blog and social media channels. Oh and if a video is included, just triple the work. The list goes on and on.
The Dreaded Travel Days Aren’t Too Glamorous
I think the one thing that wipes us all out the most are what we call “Travel Days”. These are the days we depart from one location and move to the next. Let’s just say we are not always happy campers on these days. The grump comes out in us all. Remember when I was scolded by Gma Bev? We are extra snippy, hot, tired and it is a challenge for me to see if we can “prevent” the grumps from rearing their ugly heads. Every once in a while I am successful and pleased, but that is not always the case. Thanks to Gma Bev for capturing one of our travel day moments in Kep, Cambodia. There we are in all our glory. Happy as can be, hanging out in the gutter alongside the road, waiting for our bus.
Sometimes it is the usual kid thing of “Don’t touch me!”, “That’s my spot!”, “I’m hungry!”, or “I have to go to the bathroom!”, just when you are out in the middle of no where. Then the bus finally stops at a reststop and they refuse to use the “toilet”, because the whole in the ground smells, or is so disgusting, they can’t take it.
Then there is the lack of proper food. We tried stocking up on fruits and healthy snacks, but they aren’t easy to come by and often don’t travel well. Many times we will go a full 10 hours without any proper meal. A travel day usually means stocking up on snacks at a mini-mart or 7-eleven, the night before, and living off of those the entire next day. No matter how near or far our destinations are, it seems it is a full day of travel.
If Google maps says it is a 3 hour drive, go ahead and add a couple of hours for the public bus and taxi rides between bus stations and hotels. Even the quick ferry ride of 90 minutes between islands can turn into a 4-5 hour travel day. Usually you need to show up for your transportation early. You know the airport, bus or train station etc. You then sit in the heat and wait. You take your transportation, stop everywhere along the way and then finally get to the right town.
Now the task is to figure out how to find the location of your accommodation. Sometimes it is within walking distance, but most often it is another 20-90 minutes away via taxi or public transportation. Not to worry, this is exactly what we signed up for.
We enjoy it all and have fond memories, like our 15-hour train ride from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. It still takes a toll on your soul and your energy. It wipes us out because the travel, combined with carrying backpacks, in the heat up hill both ways! Okay, maybe not both ways, but it feels like it sometimes. There is always a hill involved.
On rare occasions, we make transportation a fun activity. This is when we go our for that fun Scooter day, we take a 2 day cruise along the Mekong River, a long-tail boat in Cambodia or we ride the bamboo train. On those days, we aren’t as grumpy, because we don’t have all of our luggage.
We said so long to my mother, Gma Bev, in early February in Bangkok. She was a trooper and traveled with us “backpacker” style for 3 full months and it was time for her to return to the USA. This was so much fun, and sometimes a little more stress for me to worry about another person. She completely understands the difference of family travel vs. a family vacation. You can read more about all of that here on Adventure333. After she left, we spent about 3 weeks on our own, hopping around the Thai Gulf Islands.
We visited Koh Tao, Koh Phangan, and Koh Samui. This was time for our family to bond again and get our family of 4 rhythm back in full swing. It was time to rest and recharge our batteries, but it was also time to catch up on some blog writing and other work. Oh and boy did we eat! Check out our favorite eats on the Thai Gulf Islands. We were on these gorgeous islands and half of the time we were catching up on work or school. That is what our life is. Normal life in gorgeous places.
We can quickly and spontaneously change from work/school “typical life” to having a picnic on our own private island or take a few hours and go explore the island with a Wagoners Abroad Scooter Day! You see, we just incorporate fun into our daily lives, but our daily lives aren’t being tourists every day. I realize is sounds as if I am complaining. Not at all. I am having the time of my life and I think the rest of the Wagoner Family is too. But it is by no means vacation time every day.
All of this to say “We need a family vacation!”
You know, no working, time to chill out by the pool, eating out nice meals and spending good quality time with family.
Months ago, we planned a vacation with Alan’s mom, Grandma Linda. She lives in New York and she wanted to meet up with us in Southeast Asia in late February. The only problem with planning this family vacation was trying to pin point a location. We wanted something fairly easy for her to reach and somewhere along our general Southeast Asia Plan. Back in October of 2014, we decided that we would likely be in Thailand in February 2015, so that became the plan. We could have met her in Bangkok or Phuket, since we’ve all had plenty of city vacations, we opted for the island vacation. Phuket it was! The plan was in motion.
Just like any other family planning a vacation, it was time for a treat and something nice. No more $30 a night rooms. This was going to be a vacation from the flashpacker (a step above backpacker) lifestyle and bring us back to our vacations of our former life.
Vacations with Grandma Linda Are Always Something Special
You see when we travel with Grandma Linda, we are sure to have a very special destination vacation. We have gone to Beaches Resorts in Jamaica, Disney, Cruising to Mexico, Myrtle Beach, Crystal Springs, Universal Studios, Spring time in Budapest, Macy’s Parade in New York City, Christmas in Paris, Luxury in Spain, and the list goes on.
The plan was set in motion and we just needed to be in Phuket Thailand, for her arrival on February 21st and stay through March 3rd. We moved all around Southeast Asia and re-entered Thailand on just the right day, for our 3rd and final 60 day visa to be used. This would give us enough time to spend a few weeks in Southern Thailand, before and after our vacation with Grandma Linda.
When The Plan Has Different Plans
Well, it didn’t quite work out that way. Nope. We entered Thailand on January 30th and they only gave us a 30 day stamp! We had to exit Thailand by February 28th, but we needed to be in the country until March 3. UGH! Apparently all 3 of the 60 day visas we purchased in July, needed to be used/started by December 29th. Yes there was an expiration date right there in our passport, but we thought it was the series of 3 that had to be initiated, not all three. Our bad! It was off to the immigration office to purchase an extension. Now that our visa was all set and we would legally be in the country, it was finally time for that vacation.
We made sure we had plenty of blog posts written and scheduled, so we wouldn’t have to “work” while on our vacation. We had the kids finish some outstanding projects as well, so we could just focus on our time with Grandma Linda.
Grandma Linda Arrives in Phuket Thailand!
We were already on the island a few days prior to Grandma Linda arriving, so we checked into the hotel early in the day. Grandma Linda was scheduled to arrive, with her friend Mel at about 10pm. We of course kept a close eye on the flight schedule and noticed it was delayed a couple of hours. We checked the flight schedule again and it landed. Great that mean they would arrive to the hotel about 12:15 am. So, we went out to the lobby and waited for that Taxi to arrive.
Here is a little video of the arrival. I asked Alan and the kids to wait back so we could have better lighting, but it didn’t quite work out like that.
The Most Amazing and Special Week + at the Marriott’s Phuket Beach Club
We stayed at the Marriott’s Phuket Beach Club, which is part of the Marriott Vacation Club. That means we had 2 bedroom apartments, with a kitchen, living room, washer/dryer (a real one!), the works! On the property many of the amenities and restaurants were shared with the JW Marriott Resort & Spa as well.
This was going to be a vacation of relaxation, good quality family time, awesome food and loads of pool time. The computers and phones were set aside (most of the time) and it was all about making memories.
I won’t recite our vacation minute by minute, but I am going to highlight some magical memories.
- Unpacking the suitcase! When Grandma Linda travels, the kitchen comes with her! Yes, I bet she would put her food processor in there if it weren’t so darn heavy. You see, Grandma Linda doesn’t just like to cook, she is an amazing chef, baker and more. She makes wedding cakes for 200 people and throws parties for a hundred without batting an eye. Of course we can’t get enough and always want more. Since we knew she was coming, we made a few requests and got even more! We were going to have tamales, bagels and even her special pancakes!
- Pool Time! Yes, sometimes that did involve lunch time happy hour or ice cream at the swim up bar or infinity pool.
- Cooking with Grandma Linda at the apartment! The best part about the Marriott Phuket Beach Club was the size of the apartment and having a kitchen! Anya learned the family secret to making the perfect tamales. You have to remember Mexico is part of the family heritage and it is great they are learning the family traditions, right from Grandma. Lars opted to learn the family secrets for making cookies and brownies. 🙂
- The view at the infinity pool! Mel and Anya would wake up early and save our favorite spot for lounge chairs. It was awesome!
- Happy Hour and Sunggle Time! Every hour was happy hour. At the main pool it was happy hour during sunset. At the little bar near our villa it was happy hour from 9:30 – 10:30 pm. This was the perfect time for the kids to have a little snuggle time with Grandma Linda. Okay, it was really just Anya. Our budding teen Lars won’t snuggle with any of us anymore.
- A Tribute to Poppi! Poppi was a wonderful grandfather to the kids and while we were on this family vacation, it was the 6th anniversary of his passing. We had some very special words and moments together on the beach in honor of Poppi. Someone that was amazing, generous, loving and special to us all. He will live eternally in our hearts.
- Dancing with Mel ! Mel brought her Fit Bit. I didn’t know what it was and I love the concept. (Fitbit One Wireless Activity Plus Sleep Tracker, Black) Anyway, Mel brought it along with her on the trip and she was determined to get at least 10k steps a day. If she was close to the next milestone, like 15k, she would dance before bed to get those steps. Anya and Lars loved helping her get those steps and made the most of those dance moves. We just love Mel, she too is part of the family and fits right in.
- Sunsets! Wow, did we see the most amazing sunsets during our time here. That was my favorite family vacation nightly ritual. We often incorporated it with happy hour at the bar and sometimes, we would head out to the beach. No matter where it was, it became a special time to say goodbye to the sun and know it was rising at that same moment somewhere in the USA.
- Off to the market. Taking the little resort shuttle to the market for goodies.
- Exploring the island! The boys having a day out exploring the island with Grandma and Mel. The boys don’t typically raise their hands when it comes to more travel time, but this time they did. They wanted some quality time with Grandma and Mel and spent the day out exploring temples and towns.
- Meals Out! We had a good mix of eating meals in and out. Of course I think we all loved Grandma’s Tamales the most, but no complaints with our meals out.
- Playing “Heads Up!” with the Family! Mel brought along her iPad and it was fully loaded with the Head’s Up Party Game. Imagine charades, password, Pictionary, movie quizzes and more all on this little iPad. I think it is usually played one on one, but we made it into an overwhelming and fun group activity. Just think of holding a clue / word up, sometimes blindfolded, and 5 different people yelling at you with clues to make you guess that word. Oh and the iPad records it all, so you can play it back and see how silly you look. Way too much fun and another nightly ritual. We are addicted!
- Girls Day! Time to relax by the pool and then hit the spa to be pampered.
- Paddle boarding with Mel! It was free to paddle board, kayak and boogie board. Thanks to Mel for finding this out. Mel and Anya had a great time together out on the boards. The following day the rest of us gave it a try. Of course Mel, Anya and Lars were all naturals. Alan did great after a little practice and I bit the dust and decided it was best I take photos.
- Walking on the beach! There is nothing like walking on wonderful sand. Especially when there is the most incredible turquoise water lapping up on the beach and amazing skies.
- Towel Animals! The housekeepers just loved making towel animals for Anya each day. It was so special to see what we would find each time. We had quite the collection going.
As you can tell, I could go on for quite sometime. So at this point I will spare you any more words and just let you look at more photos. Mission accomplished and an Amazing Family Vacation with many memories was a success! Thank you to Grandma Linda and Mel for flying half way around the world to spend time with us. It took no time at all to get used to the luxury lifestyle, but it was going to end on March 3rd. As of March 1st, I didn’t even know where we were going to be next. The “real” life quickly kicked back in and it was on to figure out our next destination. Stay tuned and we will tell you more soon.
Have you been to one of the Marriott properties in Phuket? What did you think? We give it 12 thumbs up (there were 6 of us there).