childhood

How To Plan An Overseas Trip For The Whole Extended Family

The short answer to this is I plan it first for myself, then I add little bits and pieces of itinerary to cater to the diverse interest groups.

There are, however, some pre-conditions that need to be met:

1. Stick to a budget that everyone (I am) is comfortable with. That means most of our trips will be centred on Southeast Asia (which I personally like), with short-haul flights (yes!).

2. The holidays are for the kids. There is a common understanding within the family that when the kids enjoy, the adults will too, and we can trust ourselves to entertain ourselves.

3. The trips are more about spending quality time together, and about character-building. We try to cut out the frills and luxuries (we allow ourselves to cheat a little once in a while). In my opinion, what better way to achieve that than to rough it out in the jungles or mountains.

Actually, I added number 3 myself. However, since I have always been the organiser, I think I have every right to pursue my own agenda. The reason why I have been the organiser had its roots in me being a former Malaysian citizen. Our first overseas trip was a road trip to the organic rice farm in Kahang, Johor. Since I was born in JB, the responsibility of putting together this trip just fell on my shoulders. I think the successful reception of the maiden trip bolstered the family members' confidence in me. And hence the birth of the Wong's Travel Agency.

Pony-riding on Mount Bromo: one of the most unforgettable experiences for the kids. It was not riding around circles, but through undulating terrain and sometimes doing steep climbs.

Pony-riding on Mount Bromo: one of the most unforgettable experiences for the kids. It was not riding around circles, but through undulating terrain and sometimes doing steep climbs.

After adhering to the three pre-conditions, I would consider the specific needs of the various groups of people.....which basically, are the mothers. There is a common understanding within the fathers/brothers-in-law that when the wives enjoy, we will too, and we can entertain ourselves.

My wife has five elder sisters and a sister-in-law who is a regular on the tour circuit. They grew up in kampungs and anywhere or any activities that can bring back fond memories of those days will win them over. To sell them a suspiciously "hardship trip", all I needed to do was to include some appealing key phrases like : fruit farm, vegetables and fruit market, shopping for produce etc.

By adopting this strategy, we managed to experience the majestic beauty of Mount Bromo, the cool air of Batu and the unbeatable fun at Batu Secret Zoo; visited more volcanoes and hot springs and tea plantation in Bandung; took one of the last few KTM train journeys to a town in Pahang and spent Christmas morning munching away in a market in Temerloh; and observe semi-wild orang-utans up close in Leuser National park, and river-tubing in Bukit Lawang; and of course the most recent trip to Khao Yai in Thailand.

All these sound fun, but not many people know that it is actually a very stressful and thankless job to be responsible for the well-being and happiness of a "village". It was a first time for me too to all those places, and God knows if reality tallied with the research done online and in books. I had to live and die by the decisions and choices I made.

For example, the bungalows I booked for Bukit Lawang trip received very good reviews. I did not pay much attention to the few comments by travelers on the steep climb up the hill to reach them. How bad can it be, I thought. Boy was it bad for the aunties when they wanted to give up and change bungalows half way up the hill. A ten-km trek through Khao Yai National Park to spot wildlife? We had to call our drivers to help pick us up at the halfway mark.

These are part and parcel of adventure travel, even though they did not really sign up for an adventure package. However, these were also the stories that kept being repeated at dinner tables, (painful) memories that reminded the aunties about our mortality, even though I have received strict directives on what NOT to do on our next trip.

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We enjoyed the chalet-type of atmosphere at the cottage in Batu, Indonesia.

We enjoyed the chalet-type of atmosphere at the cottage in Batu, Indonesia.

Visiting the volcano and having mud baths near Bandung.

Visiting the volcano and having mud baths near Bandung.

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Enduring the tough road conditions from Medan to Bukit Lawang. The van we were in was not of the highest specs, with weak air-conditioning and thinly-cushioned seats. The driver was friendly though.

Enduring the tough road conditions from Medan to Bukit Lawang. The van we were in was not of the highest specs, with weak air-conditioning and thinly-cushioned seats. The driver was friendly though.

Crossing the unexpectedly long suspension bridge over a river in Bukit Wayang....I mean Lawang.

Crossing the unexpectedly long suspension bridge over a river in Bukit Wayang....I mean Lawang.

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Next time I will spare a thought for senior citizens when planning the trips. This was the climb up a steep hill to our lovely bungalows in Bukit Lawang.

Next time I will spare a thought for senior citizens when planning the trips. This was the climb up a steep hill to our lovely bungalows in Bukit Lawang.

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Some of the most enjoyable times for the kids are times when they have free play.

Some of the most enjoyable times for the kids are times when they have free play.

Or soaking in cold jungle rivers.

Or soaking in cold jungle rivers.

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The guides prepared nasi and fruit picnic on the trek.

The guides prepared nasi and fruit picnic on the trek.

Tubing down the river after the trek. 

Tubing down the river after the trek. 

Curry puff hairstyle vs candy floss hairstyle.

Curry puff hairstyle vs candy floss hairstyle.

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Eating fresh durians inside the durian plantation.

Eating fresh durians inside the durian plantation.

We are off to pick some durians!

We are off to pick some durians!

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I am glad my children are blessed with a lovely extended family, and having the chance to grow up with so many cousins. Until the day the family decided to swap agency, I will continue to plan these trips, regardless if they make a profit or not, so that I can continue to gift them such memories. 

Friends Of Childhood Past

The Tans are a family of five whom we got along pretty well during the days when our kids attended the same kindergarten. Their only daughter Gwyneth and mine were in the same class and they hung out back in those days.

Subsequently, they each went to their respective primary schools and "lost touch" (the parents still keep in touch). This family photo session was so special because it provided us an opportunity to catch up. "Gwyn misses Yuwen," according to her mum, CY.

Interestingly, the two girls just looked at each other and laughed for the duration they were together in the same room, and that is precisely why kids are such precious creatures. They are genuine and do not hide their feelings. Honestly, their paths have diverged and have no common topics now. They do not know what small talk is, but then, from their laughters I could sense their affection for each other.

I believe the seed of friendship has long been sown inside them, but due to distance, it has not germinated the way it should. Maybe one day, their paths might cross again, and the seed will have grown into a tree.

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A very innocent pair of Gwyneth (L) and Yuwen share a moment.

A very innocent pair of Gwyneth (L) and Yuwen share a moment.