Travelling is one of my passions, and having a toddler doesn’t stop me. I’ve learned to cope with airport security logging around a stroller, my daughter’s necessities and “treasures,” and my own bare essentials. But it’s all worth it, especially when I see her glowing face as she experiences the new environment, tastes the local dishes and recognizes the monuments, for instance, the Eiffel Tower. Well, I’m not alone.
Meet Marlene of “Chocolate, Cookies and Candies,” an avid traveller and, if I may say so, an excellent photographer. Her pictures rival those of travel magazines.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m Marlene. I have two kids, if you count the husband, and run an online consignment store specializing in designer bags. I’m originally from Borneo but immigrated to New Zealand more than two decades ago. I’m currently based in the UK with the rest of Europe at my doorstep. I’m still pinching myself that Paris is just a 40-minute flight, you couldn’t even get from Auckland to Christchurch in less than an hour!
You have been to some amazing places, can you share with us some of your adventures?
The wanderlust spirit took root when I was 23. I was young, single and footloose. I spent the next nine months hitting the books learning as much as I could about Europe – every important painting, sculpture and country – before embarking on a backpacking trip that lasted three and a half months, culminating in the loss of my passport and money in Genoa, thanks to a four-year-old pickpocket!
In Greece, I spent two months where I traveled from Philippi and Thessaloniki in the north to the Peloponnese in the south, as well as to the islands of Chios, Crete, Folegandros, Lesbos, and Santorini. I spent a lot of time with the locals and was taken to places few tourists have been.
I also took my husband on an adventure to remote parts of China as I wanted to learn more about the elusive Miao tribes. Let’s just say, it took him a few years to recover from it. He’s more of a beach resort type kind of guy. We had some rather hair-raising rides on decrepit buses, stayed with the locals and discovered what poverty was truly like. It made me grateful for the life I have. Travelling has enriched my life in more ways than one. To date, I still love discovering off the beaten tracks and taking time to meet locals.
Do you have a favorite country?
No, I don’t. Every place that I’d been to is special in its own way.
Where is your dream destination?
Call me crazy (some do) but I’ve always wanted to go to Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and explore Kashgar, which is along the Silk Road. I might have to wait until my daughter is a little older. Until then, I’ll set my sights on Cinque Terre, Capri and Naples in Italy, as well as Poland.
You often travel with your daughter, what have been your most memorable travel moments with her?
We started travelling with her before she was barely a year old and also took her to Hong Kong when she was 14 months old. Lil L is an extrovert and loves being around people, which is great in some ways but she has also given me quite a few grey hair. Once, we were in a cafe at a mall, turned our back for a few minutes and she was gone. She could barely walk then so she used her stroller like a walker and took off to visit a shop. I found her there chattering to the shop assistants! They begged to babysit her while we have our coffee and all three of them had a ball.
Last year, I bought Lil L a book of famous buildings in the world and spent some time studying about the Blue Mosque. She was thrilled when we arrived in Istanbul and was able to point out the little things we’d learned in her book. Since then, she has been dying to visit the other buildings. Last August, she desperately wanted to go to see the Eiffel Tower. After spending four hours queuing in the rain and being squished into tiny lifts, she was the only person who was beyond excited about the entire visit. Mind you, her excitement was pretty infectious and got the miserable lot in the queue smiling despite the long wait. In fact, she still talks about it to this day.
Living near London, can you give us some insider secrets and your favorite things to do, for free?
If you have kids, visit the Natural History Museum on Brompton Road, a 10-minute walk from Harrods. It’s free and has an awe-inspiring collection of nearly ever species on earth. St James’ Park is wonderful with plenty of squirrels and birds to keep the kids entertained. Personally, I just love wandering around checking out the architecture. I live in Hampshire where there’s an abundance of old estates, abbeys and ruins, some which are free.
Stonehenge is completely over-priced and over-rated. Few tourists take the time to drive another 40 minutes to Avebury, which has the finest neolithic display of boulder formations that date back 5,000 years. The Red Lion pub situated at the entrance to the village is reported to be one of the most haunted pub in the UK, but I’m not brave enough to venture in.
The town of Beaulieu (pronounced Bea-you-lee) in New Forest is pretty and quaint. The wild horses there often pop into the town center, which is quite a sight to behold.
How would you define the style of Londoners?
Personally, I think the Londoners’ styles are defined by where they live. Those who live in Chelsea and Kensington tend to be polished, classy and sophisticated whereas Notting Hill and Soho have a more contemporary devil-may-care vibe.
What’s your typical travel outfit?
I tend to keep to comfortable and loose fitting clothes when I travel. I like clothes with pockets so that I could store tickets, tissues (a handy thing to have), etc. I prefer to travel light so I rely on clothes that I can mix and match with ease. Accessories make a difference to an outfit particularly when I’m only bringing a few separates.
Lastly, what tips can you give parents travelling with children?
Don’t do what I did. I was way too ambitious and planned a total of eight or nine flights within five weeks hoping to cram everything in while trying to visit all the relatives. Needless to say, none of us enjoyed the trip. Generally, most kids enjoy trying new cuisine but don’t stress if they don’t eat. They won’t die of starvation. If they’re hungry enough, they’ll eat anything.
I hope you enjoyed reading Marlene’s travel adventures and her tips on what to pack for vacation. Looking at her pictures makes me want to hop on a plane and see the world. I think I’ll also head to the bookstore and buy a book of the world’s important monuments for my little one.
Until my next post … take care!
* Pictures courtesy of “Chocolate, Cookies and Candies”