family, health, health and wellness, live in the now, travel

Free to Move About

Almost exactly one year ago today, I was about two-thirds of the way into a 12 hour flight to Beijing; the first stop on a family trip to Thailand. School was very much in session, so as a teacher and a mom, I had all the plans in place. I prepped for a 10 day substitute teacher for my third graders. I also made sure I followed the rules and guidelines to apply for and set up my daughter’s independent study for learning abroad while she was on vacation halfway around the world with her mom, grandmother, and extended family members. 

My husband and two-year-old son stayed home and held down the fort. My father was still alive. He stayed back too, mostly at peace with the ladies of his life embarking on this big life-changing travel adventure.

Now it’s March 18th, 2020. Since then, dad passed away nine months ago. Other family members and friends have also become ill or died. And of course, most recently, and unrelated to the loss of those loved ones and purely by strange coincidence, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. 

I’ve spent the last four days scrambling, collaborating with colleagues, and piecing together “remote learning” plans for another group of third graders who I’ve had to leave, this time with no real date of return, due to school closures. 

 Over the course of the last 365 days, my family and I have been through a journey of travel and grief; life changes, hope, and social distancing. I’ve lost track of how many versions of “The New Normal” I have lived through to this point since March of last year. 

I still bring myself back to that Air China flight from SFO to Beijing. I was scared and anxious. I didn’t know what to expect. Things that happened around me were already so different from what I was used to, and I hadn’t even set foot on new land yet. I had to adapt right then and there. 

Currently, I continue to move freely about this airplane cabin of life, confined to my own home, hours on end. Fear of the outside. New ways of navigating the interior, and forced to adapt. There’s nothing to do but make the most of the situation, meet basic human needs, find entertainment value in things, and keep the blood circulating. Eventually, I’m hoping that I and everyone else will land.             

A year ago, I had one of the most beautiful life experiences that ended up helping me through some of the most difficult ones down the road, and I am thankful everyday for that time in my life. Even though at one point I was anxious, and wasn’t sure it was going to end, I wouldn’t have gotten there without that long flight.

family, favorite things, thailand, travel

Always Travel with Unicorn Glue

It’s a good feeling when the first “real day” of travel adventure begins during an international vacation. Roughly 24 hours after our arrival in Bangkok, the family was ready for our first outing beyond the resort hotel property lines. Our mission was to locate unicorns.

Unicorn Cafe was our destination. My cousin’s wife Anne spearheaded the endeavor, and I was all for it. We were vacationing with four young ladies ranging in age from 5 months to 8 years. The quest to find a place that had cute, unnaturally colored desserts, sparkly unicorn decor, and toys and gifts galore was a fun tourist goal for us. It was a quest for buried treasure to locate this establishment in the busy city of Bangkok by means of multiple modes of transportation.

We rode the complimentary hotel shuttle boat that took us along the Chao Phraya river to the nearest BTS Skystation. Here, we accessed the city’s rapid transit rail system. The trains were crowded, but very clean, and easy enough to maneuver through.

After we disembarked, we spent about half an hour learning the lay of the land on foot. I was thankful for Anne, the leader of the pack, who kept us motivated and on track with our route. Along the way, we stopped in a McDonald’s for a restroom break and GPS calibration. Then we pushed on and passed by various street vendors, powered through the thick heat and humidity, and walked up and down flights of stairs on pedestrian bridge walkways.

Finally, after walking down a few more narrow alleys as scooters and tuk-tuks zoomed by, we rounded one last corner and arrived. The storefront had department store style glass windows from floor to ceiling that really featured the over the top unicorn theme. It visually welcomed the weary tourist with energizing tones of pink fluff, pastel baby blues, and mixed patterns of plush and pleather. A white unicorn statue was on display by the front door. It was a life-sized version of some toy that I may have owned in the 1980s.

The family took over the Unicorn Cafe for a good hour or so. Desserts were consumed. Toys were purchased. Ice cold water was chugged. The all important photos were taken to document the experience and post online. I definitely discovered a new travel tip. Sometimes unicorns and sugar are the glue that holds families together during international travel. It makes for good photos too.

How do you keep family vacations enjoyable when you travel with extended family?   

Check out Unicorn Cafe on Facebook

balance, gratitude, travel

Moving Walkways

In September, we made the purchase. I clicked confirm for round trip tickets for one adult, one senior, and one child from San Francisco to Bangkok and back. Fast forward to mid March, and there we were: three travelers, two carry on roller bags, and one backpack each between the three of us, standing curbside on the passenger unloading zone. My mom, my daughter and I walked through the automatic glass doors of the International Terminal at SFO. I felt strange and hopeful. I felt calm and collected, but I already felt like I had stepped into a time-warp portal that didn’t quite feel real yet. The need for the restroom was real, however. We had already started our preemptive hydration efforts before we left the house, so that was the first order of business.

A few hundred steps later, we checked into the flight, checked our bags, and met up with our other extended family members. My aunt and uncle, cousins, and nieces joined us for step one of the adventure, and they would be with us for the remainder of the trip. The reunion was sweet, and we became a team of 10.

We completed the non-negotiables as a group. We went through security. Personal items were re-organized, and shoes were put back on. We purchased light snacks in addition to having lunch. Two more family members me us; my cousin and his girlfriend found us as we were finishing up our meal, and it became the ultimate family gathering in the airport. Any travel anxiety, or “hurry up and wait” feelings seemed to fade at a regular rate because we were enjoying each other’s company, especially the kids. My daughter and her 3 younger girl cousins were about to begin their own unforgettable childhood travel memories.

However, our Waiting To Board the Plane Celebration resulted in almost missing the final boarding call.  In this particular part of San Francisco International Airport, the stores, restaurants, and amenities are located at the upper level, (quite comfortable and fun for hanging out), and the actual gates, boarding area, and jet ways are located downstairs. We had a substantial route cut out for us to actually get to our gate.

The young world travelers

Luckily, we hustled down to where we needed to be. Scooping up my four-year-old niece just before setting foot on the down escalator will always be a moment that I’ll be proud of.  It required balance and maneuvering on my part to prevent us from both toppling all the way down to the bottom, backpacks, snacks, and all. The two of us and the rest of our party arrived safely just in time to the entrance of the jet way, and with the turn of events actually in our favor, we found ourselves immediately on the plane. I think we could all safely say that this was an exciting way to start our adventure, and it was even beneficial to be able to board the aircraft ‘right away”. The positive outlook that my family had on particular travel moments during this trip will forever be ranked high in my memory banks. The fun definitely continued, and I’m hoping to continue watching the replay through my writing (and photos the that are on my phone).

Until Then,

What are your most memorable family travel experiences?