Work from Home with a Newborn: Advantages and Disadvantages

This is the final blog in a 3-part series discussing working at home when the baby, or babies, arrives. Part 1, Tips for Talking to your Boss, looked at the choices involved and provided suggestions on how to talk to your employers to try to get the opportunity. Part 2, Tips for Making a Schedule, discussed the importance of managing your time during this chaotic period.

In this final instalment I will look at our experience and what I feel are the advantages and disadvantages of working from home with newborns.

AdvantagesIMGP0930

  • Spending time with the kids: I tried to get most of my work done when the kids were sleeping which meant that I could spend a lot of time with them. While my family time involved a lot of changing diapers and doing other chores, it also meant doing fun stuff. Working away from the house usually means that you miss 60-70% of your child’s awake hours during the week. Being able to arrange your schedule to fit best into my family life meant that I only missed 20-30% of those hours which equates to a lot more fun and some very meaningful experiences.
  • Sharing the responsibilities: It would have been far too difficult, and unfair to the kids, if Lisa did not get the help she needed after the twins were born. Raising twins when there is a 3-year old in the house will exhaust any mother regardless of how much help she is getting. Just feeding the twins (so proud of Lisa for breastfeeding our kids) can be a full time job. She was spending at least 45 minutes 8 times a day, over 6 hours in total, feeding the twins for the first 6 months. By assisting with other aspects around the house meant I was more involved in the family and Lisa had less to worry about and had at least a few moments of not feeling overwhelmed.
  • Ability to do errands mid-week: In a city it can take a long time to do your grocery shopping and other errands. I did most of these tasks in the morning mid-week as I found the roads and the stores less busy at that time. Shopping after work and weekends usually meant a lot of wasted time.IMGP1168
  • Mid-week activities: One of my main responsibilities was to spend quality time with Annika, three years old at the time.  Lisa had to spend most of her time with the twins and Annika could easily feel like she was being neglected. There are some good deals, and less crowds, mid-week and we had some great outings including visiting different playgrounds, swimming, sledding, and mornings at the zoo.
  • Arrange schedule around your peak times: I am at my best, most mentally awake, from around 6am to noon and then I start to wear down slowly. Many people do not do very well in the morning and are at their peak during other times. I arranged my schedule to get my work done during my most alert hours to increase efficiency and quality of my work. You may find that if you work from home and schedule appropriately you can reduce the time needed to get your work done.
  • Lower transportation costs: This can be like a raise in pay. It took us 5 weeks to use 1 tank of gas when I was working from home compared to using a tank of gas every 2 weeks when I worked in the office. Assuming that the tank of gas cost $75, we saved $1170 in fuel alone for the first year. You can also save on the wear and tear on your car, reduce your insurance costs and if you have one, sell your second car and eliminate all the cost associated with it.
  • Not wasting time in traffic: Let’s say you have a 20 minute one-way commute and your new schedule means 4 fewer return trips to the office a week. In this scenario you would save 138 hours or almost 6 days a year. For a young family that time is nice to spend elsewhere.

Disadvantages

  • Being pulled in all directions: When you are at the office you can work, and then when you are at home you are with the family. When they are both under the same roof it can feel like both worlds are competing for your time. If you favour one more than the other then you can feel like you are letting your family down or letting your work responsibilities slip. Neither employers nor babies have a lot of patience.
  • Hard to concentrate at work: It is hard to turn the music up loud enough, even in the basement, to drown out crying. Even if you cannot hear it you seem to sense that you could be needed. You must create an environment so you can get some quality work done without interruptions or distractions, if only for a few hours a day.
  • Lose out in the social aspect of work: While part of this may be a positive as you do not spend as much time chatting and you can spend that time getting your work done or with the family, you do feel isolated from the goings on at work and removed from the team.
  • Hounded at office appearances: My job involved dealing with dozens of different people within our office and when I did make an appearance I was literally swarmed by people. Some wanted to say hello and ask about the kids and some were saving up work questions until they saw me as they preferred to talk face to face.  I was in the office two afternoons a week and needed that time for meetings and to organize paperwork and it was really hard to get anything done during that time.
  • Never leave work: My schedule had me up at 5am and I was working periodically throughout the day, often into the evenings, and working weekends. While I worked around the same number of hours as I had before, it felt like I never stopped working.

Our Conclusion

This was the busiest, toughest, most exhausting year in my life, and it was great. I realize there could have been an easier solution, taking leave or acquiring more outside help, but I wanted to keep working during this time (easier on the finances) and I wanted to experience this period of family life as much as possible. When your work life and family life are both very demanding and are under the same roof it can be hard to fit everything in a day but we made it work. If you are considering a similar move for your family I would recommend that you analyze this option thoroughly before deciding to pursue it, and if it is the best option you have go for it and make it work.

If you have any questions, comments, or would like to know more about working from home with newborns please leave a note below or contact me directly.

Repairing Humpty Dumpty

ABC’s Sarah Collerton (link)  reports on the outcry of a  decision by a BBC children’s show to re-write the ending of Humpty Dumpty.  Apparently the kings horses and men did have the resources available to put our egg friend back together again.  For what ever reason I found this story (even though it really is a non-story) interesting and pretty silly.  I think kids are fine with learning that not all stories, even ones about eggs, do not have a happy ending.

Work from Home with a Newborn: Tips for Making a Schedule

Part 1, Tips for Talking to your Boss, looked at choices involved with deciding to work from home when your kids are young and how to talk to employers to try to get the opportunity. Now that you are going to be working from home you have to schedule your time to make it work and you will realize very quickly just how busy you will be.

After arranging with my employer to work from home I now had to ensure that I could do my job as well, if not better, than when I was in the office.  Not an easy task when there are 3 kids in the house I have to help look after. I set up two places to work with the basement being the quiet out of the way spot I could get most of my work done without being disturbed, and in the living room where I could monitor e-mail & phone-mail while doing family duties throughout the day.  I spent a lot of time on my schedule before the babies were born to come up with the best way to fit everything into my day.  Looking after, and nursing an infant, let alone twins, is a full time job for the mother and I knew I would have a lot of responsibility at home.  I needed to fit in a full work week, help Lisa with the twins when she needed it, and spend some real quality time with Annika away from the house so she did not feel neglected. The only way I could figure out to accomplish this was to work 7 days a week with most of my work hours being spent early in the morning when everyone was sleeping and during afternoon nap time. 

My Daily Schedule:

  • 5am-8am: I would get up, walk downstairs and get straight to work. This time was essential as it was usually the only distraction free time I would get in the day (too early for anyone to phone or e-mail me). It was amazing how much work I could get done in this time.
  • 8am – 9am: When my 3-year old got up it was time to switch to my family responsibilities. I would prepare breakfast for the family ( I would be hungry at this point too).
  • 9am – noon: This would be my time to help with the family. I assisted where I could with the twins, played with Annika, cleaned up the house, did laundry, went grocery shopping, and other chores.  At least once a week (usually more often) I would take Annika out swimming or to a playground, to the local zoo, or other fun activities. When I was at home I would monitor my e-mail and voicemail to make sure no emergency was occurring at work.
  • Noon to 1pm: Prepare lunch for the family.
  • 1pm to 4pm: Back to work.  Communication was an important aspect of my job and I received a lot of e-mails and phone calls. During the afternoon time I would spend most of the time writing e-mails and talking on the phone. Twice a week I would spend this time in the office.
  • 4pm to 6pm: Play with Annika , make dinner and do some clean-up.
  • 6pm to 8pm: Family time.  May involve some chores, playing with the kids, helping Lisa with the twins and putting Annika to bed.
  • 8pm to 10pm – If I was really behind at work I would do some catch up at this time but I usually just relaxed for a while before falling asleep.
  • Overnight – During the first 6 months, before the twins slept through the night, I would get up and help Lisa where needed.

I did vary this schedule a bit on weekends, depending on how much work there was still to do, but essentially this was my routine 7 days a week. Closer to the end of the 14 months I was able to get most of my work done during the week and I started taking full days off.

Tips for Creating Your Work at Home Schedule for when the Baby, or Babies, Arrive

Grandpa helping out

Grandpa helping out

  • Plan early: You want to be as organized before hand as possible. Create your schedule and analyze it as a family to make sure it will work for everyone.
  • Be flexible: While you can plan well ahead of time, there is always going to a surprise unknown that will make you have to change the schedule.
  • Be realistic: As you can see my schedule was busy and I had very little time for entertainment or exercise. If you cannot come up with a schedule you feel you can live with than you have to make alternate arrangements.  If I felt that the schedule was too demanding, and it was pretty close to my limit, I would have either taken leave from work or asked for more help from family then we did.
  • Enjoy it: Even though this was the busiest time of my life, being involved with our children’s upbringing was great, and this experience was a catalyst for recent actions we have taken to change our lifestyle completely.
  • Take time off:  Take off as much time as you can when the baby is born. This is a very special time and you will want to make sure you get to enjoy it. You can then try to ease into your new sleeping pattern and what your work schedule will be. You will get burnt out so make sure that you take your holidays if  just to get away from work for at least a week.
  • Get help: We had arranged for Lisa’s parents to stay for a couple of weeks after the twins were born. We soon discovered that we still needed help after the two weeks were up, especially to entertain our 3-year old while we tended to the twins, and we soon arranged for my parents and Lisa’s parents to trade off staying with us for the first 3 months. After 3 months we were finally able to look after all 3 kids ourselves as I worked.
  • Don’t worry about the little things – Your house will not be as clean as you like it and you may have to get comfortable with the local take-out cuisine more than you would like, but don’t worry you will get some of your life back in time.  Make sure you get your work done, you are getting at least the bare minimum of sleep so you are not getting sick, and most importantly, you enjoy your time with your kids.

Part 3 in this series will look at the advantages and disadvantages of working from home to help out with the kids.

I Miss the Daily Homecoming

BP1272208cropack in the days when I worked in an office, before I worked from home, returning after a busy day would be quite an uplifting event. As I drove up the driveway I would see a small face peering through the window. As I got closer the smile on the face would start to grow until it appeared to be too big to fit. As I walked through the door I would hear a thrilled “DADDY DADDY DADDY!!!!” and with open arms Annika would run towards me at speeds too fast for legs that short. Lisa would stagger over to me, as if she had just run a marathon, give me a big hug and say “thank god you are home”. Being anticipated, maybe even longed for, is a great feeling and one I miss.

I don’t get to experience that anymore, and with 3 kids now the daily homecoming should be even more special, as I am at home far too much to ever be missed. When I do leave the house it is not long enough for the kids to even notice and too short for Lisa to be thoroughly flustered. I was out of the house for a whole four hours yesterday and when I got back and proclaimed, ‘DADDY’S HOME” all I got was a few uninterested glances through a mess of toys, and a short “Hi Dear”. I just slumped over to the chair and pondered if I should return to my old office routine. Well maybe I don’t miss the homecomings that much.

16 Year Old Sails for Solo Sailing Record

ABC (link) reports on 16 year old Jessica Watson’s departure on her attempt to become the youngest person to sail solo, non-stop, around the world.  You can decide if you want to bring this one up with your kids.  On one hand it would be a major accomplishment for someone so young but I would not want my kids attempting it.  There has been a lot of pressure on the parents to stop their daughter from attempting such a dangerous trip but they are confident that she is competent enough of a sailor to complete the journey.  In the Netherlands a 13-year old was put under state care to temporarily stall her attempt for a similar trip (BBC link).  Jessica Watson’s website

Underwater Cabinet Meeting in the Maldives

BBC (link) reports on a publicity stunt by the government of the Maldives where they held a cabinet meeting underwater.  This was done to show the world how concerned they are in the Maldives of rising water levels due to global warning.  The highest point in the country, population 309,000, is only 2.3M (7.7 feet) above sea level.  This story can be a jumping off point to discuss with kids some of the concerns people from around the world have with our rising temperatures.  Maldives is also a fascinating place to learn about with your kids. 

Work from Home with a Newborn: Tips for Talking to your Boss

This is Part 1 of a 3 Part series, work from home with newborns, which will discuss working from home when your kidsIMGP1267 are young.  I will be sharing my experience when I worked from home to help out with the family when our twins were born.  In this Blog I will look at our story and provide tips for talking to your boss.

Our Story

So………huh……………wow…………hmmm.  That was pretty much our conversation as we were driving home from the ultrasound after we had found out that we were now expecting twins.  We didn’t know where to start the conversation.  We were happy of course, but the news that our family was going to be 5 instead of 4 disorientated us for a while.  Once the initial shock wore off our thoughts turned to how we are going to manage looking after two babies as well as a 3-year old with our current schedule. Having our immediate family living out of town and having very little help close by was challenging with our first child and we knew it would much more difficult with our second, but now with twins……huh…………wow……….hmmm.  Over time we started to worry about it less and were convincing ourselves we would be OK with my current work schedule.  That was until we went to a ‘preparing for twins’ class.

While we thought that this class was going to tell us that everything will be OK and that we were on the right track, what it did instead was to reinforce our panic.  How are we going to do this?  How will we give the twins the care they need without ignoring our 3 year old?  How are we going keep some form of sanity?  Our search for ideas generated two options that we were comfortable with, I could take leave from work for the first 9 months (an option for fathers in Canada), or I could somehow convince my boss to allow me to work from home.  Not thinking there was much chance of the latter we went through the budget to find out if we could survive for 9 months on a partial salary.  We figured we could make it work but to be safe we called my parents to see if we could get an emergency loan if needed.  Once we had all the details of this backup plan in place I then turned to the ideal situation.

I was a bundle of nerves the day I went to discuss these options with my supervisors.  If I was to ask them to allow me to work from home, something that they had never allowed anyone else to do before, I had to be bluntly honest and to the point.  We were having twins, we were freaking out, and I had to change my current work schedule for my family’s sake.  I explained that I would have to take leave unless we could work something out. Essentially, in a very nice way, I gave them an ultimatum where they either had to cave to my request to work from home or have to replace me for 9 months.  I had built up a high level of trust with my boss and now I was going to find out if they were willing to set a precedent and have someone work from home – something large companies can be wary of.  To my surprise, after a couple of weeks of deliberating by the VP’s, it was agreed that I would be able to work at home for 14 months after our twins were born.

Tips for Talking to your Boss

  • Build up Trust – This should be something you have done since being employed regardless what your goals are.  It is important to be viewed by your employer as someone who is hard working, loyal, and dependable as you want the conversation to be about the details to how it will work, not about if you can be trusted with this responsibility.  If they do not trust you with giving your best effort within the office, you have no chance being able to work out of the office.
  • Be honest as to why you want to work from home.  In our case I explained that I needed to be close to home to help my wife during the chaotic times throughout the day.  You do not want to give the impression that there may be some other motive you are not disclosing.
  • Try to anticipate what their concerns will be and have the answers ready.
    • Technical requirements: what equipment do they have to provide so you can do your job as well as you would in the office?
    • Schedule:  When are you planning on getting your work done?  In our case I presented a 7 day work week with the weekend used if necessary to get caught up.  I will be talking more about schedules in the next blog in this series.
    • How acceptable will you be if you get called into work or to emergency meetings? How long will it take you to get there?
    • Are you willing to spend part of the week in the office?  I spent 2 afternoons a week where I could have face to face time with vendors and coworkers on the request of my boss.
  • Provide reasons why this scenario could benefit them.  In my case my schedule was going to include working during non business hours where I could work more efficiently without distractions.  As well, it locks you into a position that you are good at during the time you are working from home since you are less likely to look for other opportunities.
  • Prepare for rejection – In my case I knew exactly what I would do if they said no.
  • Be flexible – They may want to do a trial period or allow you to work only part time away from the office.  If they are open to the idea than negotiate with them but you may have to deviate from your original hope.  I was hoping to keep my schedule completely open and only come in when meetings came up.  I agreed to work in the office every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon.
  • If accepted make it your mission to prove that this was a good decision and show them that your productivity is as good if not better than it was when you worked at the office.

Part 2 in this series will focus on the importance of making a realistic schedule when working from home, especially when you are to help out with the family

Part 3 in this series will look at the advantages and disadvantages of working from home.

Options for Independent Travel on your Resort Holiday

This is part four of four blogs discussing extending a package holiday to include independent family travel. Part one, Getting the Most of Your Package Holiday – With Kids, discussed the concept and gave reasons why to consider it. Part two, P3163124Puerto Vallarta with Kids – Exploring the Town and Surrounding Area, looked at the itinerary for our 2-week trip.  Part three, Cost Breakdown For Our Trip to Puerto Vallarta, looks in detail the budget of our trip.

One of the activities that always cheers me up is to plan a trip, even if we have no intention leaving on these trips.  I like making up itinaries for potential trips as it allows me to learn about places I would love to see some day, which is everywhere.  Now that I have outlined reasons to consider taking a package holiday at a resort and including independent travel, I thought I would include a few ideas that could be considered.   This list is written with a North American bias and I chose destinations that were likely to have the most ‘hot deals’ available.  These places have hoards of tourists but have fabulous, less visited, opportunites outside the resort.  These are all holidays that I could see our family doing at some point.

Cancun & the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico – There are countless number of package holidays available and plenty of good deals to be found to Cancun and the Mayan Riviera.  From your resort you could explore Playa de Carman, Tulum, the islands of Cozumel or Isla Mujeres, and multiple tourist attractions, great for kids.  We have rented a car in this area before without issue and you can easily drive and discover some real treasures.  Many excursions from resorts will take you for a quick stop at Chichen Itza during the heat of midday, but you can choose your pace and time of day if you go on your own, and it is one of those places that is worth taking your time.   If you enjoyed Chichen Itza than you may be inspired to go further afield and explore Uxmal and the multitude of other facinating ancient P3163145mayan ruins.  Merida is a facinating city and the towns of Izamal and Valladolid are worth a visit.  For nature lovers you can explore the various cenotes or visit the flamingos in Rio Lagartos.

Mazatlan & Copper Canyon, Mexico -  We were tempted to try this one instead of our Puerto Vallarta trip but it seemed a little too adventurous at the time, and is probably more suitable for older children.   If you are comfortable with your kids on some longer journeys this could be an amazing experience.  After enjoying your resort stay in Mazatlan you could take a 6-hour bus ride from Mazatlan to Los Mochis.  From there you board the Chihuahua-Pacific Railway into Copper Canyon.  You could spend a few days exploring the canyon before reversing the trip.  You could extend the trip to the city of Chihuahua or complete the loop by going inland, though this would mean longer traveling times.  You could increase your budget and add a flight or two if you want to reduce or eliminate bus travel.

Varadero and Havana, Cuba – If you live outside the US and are allowed to visit Cuba, there is no end to the number of beach holidays offered.  Varadero is perhaps the most popular beach resort area and would be a nice place to relax for a week.  I chose Varadero as it is fairly close to Havana which would be a great place to stay a couple days in.  From Havana you could go out and explore the smaller towns via bus, car rental  or tour.  I have this thing about exploring islands and I may be tempted to endure the ferry trip to Isla de la Juventud.

Costa Rica – This would be a country that I would be tempted to forgo the package holiday and spend the whole time exploring but there are a large number of package holidays that would be tempting as well.  Highlights include the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve,  Arenal Volcano, plus many other national parks and beautiful beach towns. There seems to be less ‘hot deals’ to Costa Rica than other locations but there are still some great prices if you look hard enough at the right times.

Hawaii -  This one is a bit different since the “All inclusive” holiday is not the norm in Hawaii (higher cost of labour and food/drink provide a different business model than Central America & the Caribbean) but you can still split a holiday between a relaxing beach stay and some independent travel.  The Big Island of Hawaii may be the best place to for independent travel but there are options on all the islands.

Other Options

There are many other destinations I could write about as every resort area has facinating places to visit (The Dominican Republic intrigues me)  if you take the time to explore the area outside the resort.  We would love to hear comments of similar trips you have taken or areas that you think would make a great resort/independent travel holiday.

Cost Breakdown For Our Trip to Puerto Vallarta

This is part three of four blogs discussing extending a package holiday to include independent family travel.  Part one, Getting the Most of Your Package Holiday – With Kids, discussed the concept and gave reasons wP3193316hy to consider it.  Part two, Puerto Vallarta with Kids – Exploring the Town and Surrounding Area, looked at the itinerary for our 2-week trip.

The table below outlines our budget during our 2-week trip to Puerto Vallarta and the surrounding area.  This was one of our most expensive trips, when you look at the daily cost as $3500 for 14 days equates to $250 a day, but it is easy to spend a lot more than we did and see a lot less.  Now that we are more comfortable with travelling with kids we will look for less expensive methods of travel but given the timing of this trip we were happy spending the money for the experiences we had.

Cost of our Mexican Holiday table_1

NotesP3173185

Package Holiday -  We bought a 1-week All Inclusive package at Villas Vallarta by Canto Del Sol.  This is a 3-star resort that allows guests to use the restaurants and pools in the neighbouring Canto Del Sol, a 4-star resort.  We paid $449 per person for the flights, from Calgary, and 1 week all inclusive at the resort.    We were allowed to extend the return flight to leave two weeks after we arrived and since our daughter was under two her trip was free.  Taxes are extra and will differ depending on where you are flying from.  This was one of the ‘hot deals’ of the week so you will not be able to get this exact deal all the time, though I did find a similar cost at the time of writing.  We flew in March which is a good time to look for deals.  If you want to fly during the holidays you will pay considerably more.

Car Rental –   Before you decide to rent a car I would suggest doing research, including stories online about driving in the area you have chosen, and decide if you are comfortable with renting a car.  We have rented a car twice in Mexico without issue as the area traveled had fairly good roads, responsible drivers (outside of the cities anyway), and few stories of being targeted by criminals or the local authorities.  There are some areas in Mexico, and other countries, where we would not be comfortable driving a rental car and we would choose local transportation or alter our trip entirely.    I would recommend booking a rental car prior to leaving if possible to make sure you have a car waiting for you and secure a good price.  While you may be able find a hot deal once you arrive we found that the best costs were found scouring the internet before you leave and besides do you really want to waste precious holiday time searching local car rental places?

P3243605Accommodation outside resort-  Other than the 1 week at the resort, we did not have any accommodation booked for this trip.  We were confident that we wouldn’t have an issue finding places to stay and we did not want to be tied down to a firm schedule, especially since we were traveling with a child.  We do not crave luxury when it comes to accommodation but we did spend a bit more than we usually would.  Our main criteria were the rooms had to be clean, the location had to be quiet, and they needed a clean looking swimming pool (This was Annika’s addition).  We paid on average $65 a night.  Hotels will fill up during peak times so make sure you are aware of local holidays and other times the area is at its busiest.  The day we were in San Blas we had to stay at our third choice as the first two hotels were full.

Food-  We have to try the local cuisine when on holiday, it is one of our favourite parts of travelling, and we did not shy away from trying new foods evP3223518en though we had Annika with us.  Most places provede safe food if you use some caution and common sense.  For breakfast it was easy to find pancakes, cereal, toast, or eggs, for Annika on the same menu as some more adventurous fare.  Mexican food is usually flavourful but not too spicy until you add the salsas and other sauces.  Annika was usually happy with a couple tortillas (served at every meal) and a few things off our plates for lunch and dinner.  We enjoyed some excellent food on this trip.

Attractions  & Excursions– You can spend a lot more money than we did at attractions and excursions, especially in tourist centres like Puerto Vallarta.  We like to outline our budget ahead of time and choose what type of attractions we want to see.  We usually prefer to do the activity independently if possible as we enjoy going at our own pace and it can cost a lot less.  We will spend the money if it is not feasible to do it on our own, it really interests us, and the activity is unique to the area.

Souveniers & Gifts-  There is usually no shortage of shopping opportunities so we feel it is important to make a list before you go of what you will want to buy and what you are willing to spend.  Before this trip we decided that we wanted a nice piece of Huichol (the local indigenous group) artwork, some Mexican glasses, vanilla, and gifts for selected people.  We always discover some hidden surprises but our preperation provides the framework needed to make sure we get everything we want and not spend too much.

Part 4 in this series will look at other similar destinations for this type of travel.

Puerto Vallarta with Kids – Exploring the Town and Surrounding Area

This is part two of four blogs discussing extending a package holiday to include independent family travel.  Part one, Getting the Most of Your Package Holiday – With Kids, discussed the concept and gave reasons why to consider it.

Puerto Vallarta

P3163093crop‘Please return to your seats we will be landing in Puerto Vallarta soon’.  We were happy to hear this message, not that we had a bad flight, far from it, but this was by far the longest flight we had taken with our daughter, nearly 2 and sitting on our laps the whole way, and we did not want to push the success we had.  The timing of the early morning flight meant we had to wake her up before she wanted to and it also disrupted her nap; we were playing with fire yet the flight went very well.  Could we make it through customs and immigration and on to our hotel without hysterics?  No, of course we couldn’t.  I don’t know how long it took after we left the plane but our hotel room was a welcome sight to be sure.  Luckily, being and all inclusive resort, food and a swimming pool were close at hand so spent the rest of the day eating and chilling in the pool before having an early night.  We had to do some power relaxing the next day.

This was our first package holiday and since we were going to rent a car and explore the surrounding area during the second week, this first week was to be all about relaxing.  We did choose a resort that was only a 20 minute walk, or a 5 minute taxi ride, into town as we wanted to explore the town of Puerto Vallarta from the resort, but for the most part we wanted to play and unwind.  For the first couple days our itinerary was not much more than eat, swim, eat, nap, swim, eat, swim, bed.  This was fine with us and fantastic in Annika’s opinion.  By the time the third day came around however we were craving a little more variety.  We are travellers and no matter how much we enjoyed the tourist resort life we just had to break free to explore, even if it was just for a morning.

Puerto Vallarta is a wonderful town to walk around and get lost for a while.  Some of the streets are a bit on the busy side but you can easily leave them behind when you have had enough and walk comfortably around some interesting back streets.  Before we left for this trip we had heard that Puerto Vallarta was not a stroller friendly town, which turned out to be very true if you want to go beyond the seaside walkway (The Malecón), so we had brought our carrier backpack instead and Annika spent a lot of the time on my back while we were in town.  We wove through the tourist markets and walked along the Malecón until lunch (we had left early in the morning).  We were already starting to wear out (I would have been hot even without the backpack).  Even though there was a buffet waiting for us at the resort we decided to continue our exploration and try some local cuisine.  Whether or not the food we had was authentically Mexican or had been modified for tourist tastes will be debated but it was enjoyable nonetheless and a sign that our trip had really began.

The first week of our holiday flew by.  We did one more outing in Puerto Vallarta as a family; an evening spent walking the Malecón before and after dinner.  Bringing Annika on excursions into town was a lot of fun but we found it restricted some of the activities we could do, so for the final two days at the resort we each had a solo trip to town while the other babysat at the pool and beach.  For my trip into town I wanted to explore the steep and winding streets up from the Malecón.  I left before the sun came up and walked all over place before it got too hot.  Lisa’s trip into town was similar to mine but included some exploring of the local commercial enterprises downtown had to offer.

Once the first week was over, even though we added a fair bit of exploration, we had accomplished what we wanted to at the resort.  We had a lot of fun and we were feeling a lot more relaxed.  After picking up our tiny rental car and navigating past the panicked drivers of town a sense of exhilaration came over us; we were now in our element.  We had a rough idea as to where we wanted to go but no strict itinerary and certainly no accommodation booked.  We would not travel far, we did not want any lengthy drives, but we did want to see some of surrounding towns outside of Puerto Vallarta.

San Sebastian del Oeste

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San Sebastian Town Hall

Located in the hills directly behind Puerto Vallarta, San Sebastian provided a nice break from the heat and humidity found on the coast.  San Sebastian is an old mining town that had a population of over 20,000 in 1900 and now has a population of less than 1000.  It would have been nice to hike up to the mines but with Annika in tow we decided to limit our exploring to walking the cobblestone streets in town and playing in the Zócalo.  San Sebastian had a very nice feel to it and allowed us to slow our day down and enjoy each other’s company.  We stayed in a quaint little ‘bed & breakfast’ and enjoyed our second best, and perhaps most Mexican, meal of the entire trip.  The drive back down the hill to the coast the next day was a bit eventful as the windy road got the best of Annika; time to go back to the coast and do some laundry.

Los Ayala & Rincon de Guayabitos

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The beach at Los Ayala

Ok, so we couldn’t leave the coast for too long.  We wanted to see the hills but this holiday was to be mainly a beach holiday.  After driving through the busier Rincon de Guayabitos we drove an extra couple of minutes to the smaller Los Ayala.  Both are very popular with the Mexican tourists and Guayabitos does have a couple international resorts as well.  Los Ayala had a beautiful beach and was full of activity during the day.  We made the mistake however thinking that this activity would last past sunset as when dinner came around the town vacated and there was hardly anyone around, and no hot food to be found.  At the crack of dawn the next day everyone magically appeared again and the parking lot behind us became a busy bus station and the beach transformed into a bustling fish market. We spent some time in Guayabitos shopping but spent most of our time on the beach in Los Ayala.  It was a beautiful spot.

San Blas

River trip

River trip

I was curious about this place as I heard that San Blas could have developed into a major port town and a popular resort if it were not for the bugs, in particular the jejenes (no-see-ums).  These bugs are notorious and it took me a while to convince Lisa that this was a good place to bring Annika.  The benefit of the bugs is that it attracts a lot of birdlife to San Blas, which is why we really came.  We enjoyed the town even though there was nothing spectacular about it; Annika loved playing with the kids in the Zócalo, and we ended up not having much problem with bugs.  The highlight, especially for Annika, was a boat trip up the Río Tavara.  Lisa and I have been on similar trips before but it was a new experience for us seeing Annika’s reaction to the bird life plus the turtles and crocodiles found on the side of the river.  This trip plus a visit to the old fort overlooking the town made San Blas a worthy addition to this holiday.  P3274095

Sayulita

Sayulita was a very nice town and was a wonderfully relaxed place to end our trip. I could not shake the feeling that it was a bit on the phoney side as it was infused with an American hippy lifestyle that was far too upscale to be really authentically hippy.  That being said we had our best meal of the trip and we enjoyed the beautiful beaches and the hundreds of pelicans patrolling the seashore.

This holiday may not have been the most adventure packed holiday we have ever had but that was not what this trip was about.  We enjoyed quality family time spending hours in pools and on the beach.   While Annika became a better swimmer, we realized that we could create a well balanced holiday that combines fun filled activities and the right amount of exploration (and some wonderful food).   It was a slow paced, enjoyable holiday and has provided the confidence needed to try more adventurous family holidays in the future.

Part 3 in this series, Cost Breakdown For Our Trip to Puerto Vallarta, looks in detail the budget of our trip.

Part 4 in this series will look at other similar destinations for this type of travel.

Getting the Most of Your Package Holiday – With Kids

This is part one of four blogs discussing extending a package vacation to include independent family travel.

P3153040cropWe have always been independent travellers and the thought of going on a package holiday never really crossed our minds.  The idea of being in an exotic location and being stuck with a bunch of tourists in a cookie cutter resort was never that appealing.  We would rather be out learning the local culture, exploring the local cuisine, and experiencing the activities of the area.   But there we were, mulling over what our first trip with a child should be like, and we were seriously considering a package holiday.

In San Sabastian

In San Sabastian

The two weeks we had booked off work were only a few weeks away and the window of opportunity for Annika to fly for free (her 2nd birthday would be a couple weeks after our holiday) was fast approaching and we were trying to plan a holiday within a limited budget.  We really wanted to get away to a tropical destination but we were not sure if we had the energy to follow our normal ‘just wing it’ approach with a child under 2.  We both agreed that we needed to have some relaxation time, we were leading a busy working family life and some time to unwind sounded great.  We had to include some exploration as well as we couldn’t dream of going all the way to another country and not getting an appreciation of the area and its people.  Then I came up with an idea, why don’t we do a split holiday?  Let’s see if we could get one of these hot 1 week deals but fly home a week later after we have done some independent travel?

Package holidays usually run in a one week cycle with the same flight time occurring every week during the holiday season.  While most people do a one week package vacation, there is usually an option for a two week package as well. I made some calls and found out that while it is not common, we could do a one week holiday but catch the same flight one week later. Our trip was coming together, we would spend out first week in a resort unwinding and getting comfortable with traveling with a toddler, and the second week we would rent a car and discover the surrounding areas.  We spent the next few days looking at all the travel deals we could find before finally choosing a great deal in the resort city of Puerto Vallarta Mexico.

Benefits of extending a package holiday to include independent travel

Annika at the pool

Annika at the pool

  • No need to try and explore an area while using the resort as a base.  When you are at the resort you can focus on what the resort has to offer and force yourself to relax and save the exploration to the second week.
  • Kids can get immediate satisfaction to their build-up of excitement.  Even though the resort may not end up being the highlight of the trip, staying at a resort the first week usually means the kids can hit the pool faster after leaving the plane.
  • Introduces kids to the possibilities of slow paced independent travel.
  • You can spend the first week deciding what to do on second week.  I for one love reading guide books.
  • These types of trips can be planned very quickly

Negatives of extending a package holiday to include independent travel

  • This only works if you have more than 1 week for your holiday
  • Some travel operators, in some areas, are not open to giving you this flexibility so you may have to call around.
  • Many packages are only offered at certain times of the year so you may not be able to go to your desired location at the time you want.

Tips

  • Look at hotel reviews closely to find the diamond in the rough.  All hotels will have some bad reviews as people love to complain but if they get a fair share of recent positiveP3153019 reviews it should be fine. tripadvisor.com
  • Look at all the details of the hotel to asses some hidden value.  We chose a 3-star but it was affiliated with a 4-star hotel next door.  We could swim in the same pool and eat in the same restaurants as the 4 star guests and our room, while older than at the other hotel, was spacious and very comfortable.  We saved a lot of money compared to the people who chose the more expensive hotel.
  • Do you want some escape from the resort?  Find out what there is to see within a short taxi or bus ride or walking distance from your hotel.  We chose a place not too far from the town of Puerto Vallarta as the town itself, and its sights interested us.  We traded off babysitting duties and took solo trips into town plus a couple excursions as a whole family.  Trips booked through the resort were too pricy for what you got and were not convenient for a toddler and their sleeping schedule.

Conclusion

This was the right choice of holiday for us at the time.  We needed the time to unwind and to get comfortable with the idea of independent travel with kids.  We will probably just do independent travel from the start next time, but that is because that is what we enjoy the most and we are now more comfortable with travelling with kids.  I do recommend this type of trip to anyone who likes the idea of relaxing in a resort but also wants to have a more varied holiday and discover the area you are visiting.  If you are able to have flexibility on dates and location there can be some excellent last minute specials to be had and often you do not pay much more for a package deal than you would for just the flights.

Part 2 in this series follows our itinerary of our holiday in Puerto Vallarta with Annika as a 2 year old.  Puerto Vallarta with Kids – Exploring the town and Surrounding Area

Part 3 in this series, Cost Breakdown For Our Trip to Puerto Vallarta, looks in detail the budget of our trip.

Part 4 in this series will look at other similar destinations for this type of travel.

Tsunami hits South Pacific Islands

ABC Australia (link) has several articles on the Tsunami that hits Samoa and countries in the South Pacific.   I feel that discussing natural disasters, and the devestation that they can bring to an area, is important for children.  In this case learn what a tsunami is and how they happen.  I would tend to discuss the devestation aspect in moderation but use it for a tool to make sure that your family is prepared in case a natural disaster were to happen in your area.  Today there are two disasters to learn about as a 7.6 magnitude earthquake has hit Sumatra in Indonesia as reported by the CBC (link)