Parentpost from anywhere

Published: Friday October 10, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Friday October 10, 2014 MYT 6:15:20 PM

Getting away as a family for memorable learning experiences

The writer's husband Dr Aaron Paul and their daughters Alyssa and Janessa at Bundu Tuhan, Sabah.

The writer's husband Dr Aaron Paul and their daughters Alyssa and Janessa at Bundu Tuhan, Sabah.

Travelling is about bonding, acquiring memories and seizing teachable moments.

With the birth of technology, the world is so much closer. America looks almost next door to us, Bali is a stone’s throw away, China and the great wall beckon, Rome is romantic and Paris pretty. It beckons us in magazines, on television, in documentaries, advertisements and the Internet. Everyone wants a bit of travel and living.

There is an old Malay saying that says jauh perjalanan, luas pengalaman, which means that those who travel far gain much experience. I don’t doubt the experience that travel brings and the literal opening of one’s mind when we are at it.

Yet, we remind ourselves always, that one need not necessarily travel with a huge hole in ya’pockets.

“Cut your coat according to your cloth” is a wise adage dispensed to us the year we were wedded by an old couple. And so measuring against our cloth, we have often made the best of cuti-cuti Malaysia. I can hear you cackling already!

Travelling for us does not mean having to pull out the passports. We travel in anticipation of meeting friends, visiting small towns, seeing beaches or landmarks and historical sites. Sometimes it’s just a sheer desire to drive somewhere. My hubby loves going off-road and hearing our lovely GPS gadget say: ‘No paved roads’ and nothing else.

As we have always travelled on a budget, the most important necessity has really been fuel and accommodation. We often pack simple but nutritious meals and snacks, as well as a few unnutritious, cavity-inducing grub. Doing this has helped with cent-saving and if you don’t believe me, do the maths and you will see how much you save by simply taking the time to plan and be prepared.

Time together: Daddy and daughter on the beach achieving lift-off with a kite.

That’s the Thrifty Thomas in me (who coincidentally was once a girl guide). You view money differently if you’ve been where I’ve been as a child.

Recently, my husband and I were enjoying our evening coffee on our garden bench and we pondered on what travelling means to us. We both don’t quite like packing or unpacking very much but we realise that it is what’s sandwiched between the two ends that has always had a heartening effect on us.

The acronym for our reason to travel that comes to my mind is B-A-T. Yes, that guano-dropping-upside-down-supersonic-creature.

“B” is for bonding as nothing beats having the time to focus on a single experience as a family.

We are both much more involved with work and society these days, and we realise we need to make a conscious decision to break away once in a while.

Our daughters get excited about almost any trip (literally). They are travellers who need not know the destination and are quite game for detours that turn a planned three-hour drive into an eight-hour one. They pack up clothes, binoculars, swimwear, a good book, notebook and colour markers and pens, board and card games.

My husband and I usually pack the boring stuff, such as fruits, meals and snacks, medical supplies, a mat, definitely a batik sarong (our ad-hoc changing room), an umbrella (Sabah’s instant child urinal) and water for drinking and washing along the way.

“A” is for acquiring memories, which we consciously decide to do.

As a rule of thumb, we stop at what excites anyone in the car. This has included a beading village, a virgin coconut oil plantation, a war memorial, the local tamu, an organic nursery, a stream, or such. If it draws you in, just succumb!

This has led us to discover many interesting things – like having our pails of pine cone collection all ready to be painted gold for Christmas and catching a glimpse of a blooming rafflesia in a nature park on the way home. In Borneo, we try to get off the roads by nightfall for safety reasons.

Creating memories also includes talking to people we meet, even if we know we may never cross paths again. We share food when we can, try new ones and partake in activities. Next time you are in Sabah, try the tarap (it is like tar up your nostrils!) We also acquire memories by doing nothing more than soaking up a sunset together, admiring padi fields swarming with migratory storks or watching two great seas clash majestically at the apical point of Sabah.

Often there is the pressure that if we were doing something specifically or heading to a destination, we should really see X, Y and Z. We realise with the wisdom of some travelling that sometimes, less is truly more. As a family, we pick one or two highlights and let everything else go.

When we visited Tawau last year, we headed to the cocoa museum and had a lovely time discovering how cocoa and cocoa products were made and ended up having yummy cocoa drinks and treats with Mr Raymond who thought our girls were mini-journalists. We encourage them to write a recount of one experience at each trip, and they keep simple recount books.

Sometimes, our trips out are an hour away or literally five minutes from home. Some trips are picture-perfect like our recent camping getaway to the Bundu Tuhan, overlooking Mount Kinabalu.

At other times, our trips don’t turn out perfect but they are always memorable. Given that Sabah has gorgeous birds which we all love having as daily garden visitors, we decided to branch out on a bird-watching trip with friends and a guide. The only rare birds we found that trip were the bald white-breasted and brown-breasted eagles – our hubbies!

At other times, we stumble upon mines of gold. In Kota Baru, we discovered kite-laden beaches and village beaches dotted with star fish, watched villagers catch bountiful fish using trawler nets and found tiny hidden-away accommodations where horses bathe in the sea. In Sarawak, pristine emerald rivers and a fairy cave that looked like a scene from an Enid Blyton book was memorable.

In Australia, our motorhome trips took us to lovely rockpools in Lorne, the Umpherston sink hole filled with pretty hydrangeas, and a tiny 200-people town called Dartmoor which was lined with carved trunks – including a gorgeous one with 60 nursery rhyme characters on it. We have experienced all these in our travels, and they don’t cost the earth.

“T” is for teachable moments. People often ask us if we homeschool our children and we say, “Yup, we’re parents”, although they go to government school. There is a myriad of opportunities to teach ourselves new things and this covers the spectrum of science, nature, maths, animals, sociology, the arts, people, culture, history and architecture.

We don’t have all the information or answers and the children know we learn something new every day. We read signs together, ask, talk and discover. I was 35 when I learnt about how a bird singing and cricket singing competition work. I feel that my mind has opened up more over the years. A year older, a year wiser they say. We all live in hope!

Somehow it doesn’t quite matter where we have or have not been to yet, but I think it is in doing things together that we make memories.

Tags / Keywords: Family; Parenting; Travel; Parentpost; Holidays; Cuti-Cuti Malaysia; Sabah

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