Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Best Achievement Award (half year)

a.k.a. Travel tips for Single Parents travelling with kids

Mother's Day was last Sunday, and it made me think about the Best Achievement awards for myself as a mom. And I would have to say that, so far, for the first half of the year, my best achievement would be travelling solo with the kids to Singapore for a 3D2N holiday!

I really give myself top credits for that trip. Totally last minute, but not without top-notch planning. So, for all those single parents out there, let me tell you that going on holiday (or just travelling) with two kids is not a nightmare, and it's not impossible! I was pleasantly surprised myself, at how well we all handled the trip. No tantrums, and no me losing my temper, too.

Book everything online in advance

My first advice to would-be single-parent travellers is to book everything online in advance, if you can! And not just the flight and hotel, but everything else, like theme park/zoo entrance tickets, ground transport/train/taxi services. Everything that you can possibly book, order or purchase online, get it done before you travel. This not only saves you time, but gets rid of the headaches once you reach your destination.

What I liked:

1) Download the Air Asia app for your smartphone, and you'll be able to view your bookings anytime, anywhere.

You can check in via your mobile phone too, with our without the app. Download the barcode and save it to your phone. At the airport (LCCT), scan it at the Self-Check in kiosk and print your boarding pass.

What I didn't like: Unfortunately, the screen-protector that I have on my smartphone is the one "non-glaring" one (the one that is tinted), so the barscan reader at the airport wasn't able to read my barcode, and I had to queue up to print my boarding pass anyway.

NOTE: Most flights allow you to bring your stroller on board, however please check with your airlines first. Most airlines require you to check-in your baby stroller with your luggage, but will allow you to use it up to the gate. Your stroller will need to be tagged (as it was on Air Asia), and you will need to leave it at the gate for the air crew to stow in the luggage compartment below the plane. They will return the stroller to you once you get off the plane.

2) Book taxis online with Blue Taxi service (in malaysia). www.bluecab.com.my
Don't be discouraged if you don't get an instant "booking number/confirmation" on the website itself. You will be given an email notification and they will confirm your booking via phone and sms.
Tip: Blue Cab charges by meter, so have cash in hand if you are traveling to and from the airport.

You can also book taxis online in Singapore, but I just got the hotel to do it for me. If you know that you will be using the cab a lot at your destination, I do advise you to book ahead online, too, to save you the trouble of having to wait in line at the taxi stand. Children get very antsy when waiting in line.

3) Purchase entrance tickets to Singapore Zoo/Night Safari/Jurong Bird Park online

Go to www.zoo.com.sg and you will be able to buy your entrance tickets (at a discount too) online in advance. You can buy 2-in-1 or 3-in-1 entrance tickets to the zoo, night safari and birdpark, and you can choose the option to buy tram tickets, too.

What I liked also is that I was able to save the ticket in pdf format on my smartphone, and show it to the zoo staff at the gate, and they were able to key in the barcode at the turnstile to let us in. No need to print on paper.

Tip: the entrance ticket is valid up to 30 days of the "Visit Date" that you enter on the order form, so you need not fret if you aren't able to visit all the locations on the same day.

Another tip: I didn't do this, but you also have the option to purchase a Singapore City Pass, or a Sentosa Play Pass online in advance. You can purchase Universal Studios Singapore tickets online too, but I didn't include it in my itinerary because my kids are too young for it.

Stay at a child-friendly hotel

Both my kids' schools had to close for a week due to an outbreak of HFMD in the first week of May, and so, at the spur of the moment, I managed to secure a flash booking at Sentosa Resorts World Festive Hotel at 50% off. I did a lot of research, and I regret just a little for not booking the Hard Rock Hotel next door instead, but still, the Festive Hotel is one of the most top-rated child-friendly hotels there is in Singapore, and maybe in all of Asia. If you're traveling with kids, then you must know that the hotel has to satisfy your kids' needs as much as yours.

What I liked:

1) Festive Hotel's Welcome Goodie Bags for both my kids, which had a rubics cube, kids toothbrush, animal hand puppet/bath sponge, inflatable rings.

2) Festive Hotel provided us with bath slippers and bath robes in child sizes.

3) The kids loft bed in the Deluxe Family room.

4) Kids pool and separate splash & spray wet play area

5) Free transport passes to-and-from Sentosa provided by the hotel.
The hotel's close proximity to the monorail station that links Sentosa to mainland Singapore was a plus. It's easier to travel on the monorail/train with a stroller, so I recommend this mode of transport for travellers with kids. We also tried the bus with the handicap facility, but it takes a bit of effort to carry a stroller on and off the bus, so I don't recommend this, even though the busride from Sentosa to Singapore mainland is free (up to Vivo City)

6) The hotel's close proximity to shopping mall, Vivo City.
It was easy to find whatever we might need for our trip at Vivo City. For muslim travellers, Vivo has a halal food court, so finding (inexpensive) food is easy there. Vivo also has a supermarket, so you can stock up on snacks, first aid, bottled water, easily.

Research and find places to eat in advance

Okay, I only did this because I needed to find halal restaurants in Singapore, but I found that this was a time-saving task if you do it before your trip. So even if you aren't limited to just halal food, researching the restaurants at your destination, and if needed, making prior reservations is highly recommended. It saves you the headache of "Where shall we eat today?" kinda thing. Find out the menu, and if there are any "kids eat for free" stuff. Tell your kids about it beforehand, too, like "At this place, we get to eat your favorite fish and chips!" or whatever. List out down the restaurants, address and phone numbers, so you can easily locate it on a map or easily show it to your cab driver to save more time.

What I liked: Banquet food court at Vivo serves only Halal food.

Buy a light-weight, compact stroller

What I like: Maclaren Volo

More tips:

7) All kids love travelling by plane or train, but be wary of motion-sickness. Kids can get carsick even over short distances, so keep one or two plastic bags in your handbag, in case they need to throw up.

8) I know this is a no-brainer, but make sure you and your kids wear comfortable walking shoes.

9) Stay hydrated, all the time!!

10) Bring along some medication (just in case).
I wish I had done this, because suddenly, one of my kids got a fever and terrible runny nose on the last day, and I had to buy medication from the local pharmacy, which cut my budget slightly. We have the same medicine at home, and if only I had brought them, I wouldn't have had to fork out extra dollars to buy it again.

11) Give your child some responsibilities during the trip, like being in charge of the stroller, or being in charge of carrying and filling up the water bottle. Whatever. To make them feel important. And at the end of the day, make sure you praise them for a job well done, and reward them.

For instance, my eldest was in charge of pushing her sister's stroller when mummy was handling the luggage. And she was also in charge of making all the "checklists". Before we leave the room, she has to check that we have all the things we need before we set off.

12) And most importantly, for young kids especially, never ever skip nap time, even when you are on vacation!

Make sure your kids get plenty of rest during the day, so they can fully enjoy themselves. You, also, need to reward yourself with a break (while they nap), so make sure to plan gaps in your daily itinerary. You don't need to spend the whole entire day out! It just makes people tired and cranky.

Just like at home, at your hotel room, bathe them, change their clothes, dim the lights, close all curtains, switch off the tv, and put them to sleep. Enforce it if you have to. And this is something I don't regret doing, because once my kids were up again, they were refreshed, and full of energy and were raring to go out again, and you don't get that "Are we there yet??" or the "Can we go home now??" complaints.

All in all, we had a really fun time on our vacation. I actually can't wait to do it again. Traveling with my two kids was easier than I thought. With pre-planning, there was no rushing and getting annoyed. We were just able to enjoy ourselves. I think this makes me a supermom! =D

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