Quick Tips for Planning a Trip Like Ours

I almost spent about four times as much on this trip because I was going to use the same service that planned our trip to Egypt. There is great value in having a full-scale travel agency plan your trip, but for us, price is an object. We travel quite a lot and for long periods of time. We can’t afford to use a comprehensive guide for everything we do. Besides, I don’t feel like every destination requires their assistance, and I could get a little annoyed with having to hang out with some dude I don’t know for days on end.

I know many people might think that a trip to Singapore, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Taiwan would require a travel agency to coordinate it, just because those countries are so different from the US. However, cultural and historical elements aren’t super-intriguing to me, or as storied as some others, like Egypt. Additionally, they’re not as confusing or vast to navigate. We would definitely need a travel agent to plan a vacation to India, for example. But I didn’t feel like this was a trip with great depth. It was a see-the-highlights adventure. We’d need guides periodically but not every single day, and we wouldn’t need a car to follow us everywhere. I could handle it.

           Here’s what I recommend doing:

1.       Use your hotel concierge to find guides.

Good hotels are tied in with the tourism industry, and they can connect you with a good local tour company to show you the sights. Sometimes, you can find the concierge’s email address on the hotel website. Other times, you’ll need to email the reservation department to get that contact info. I admit that sometimes, I use TripAdvisor or Google to find our guides, but if I want to make things easy on myself, I let the concierge handle it. That’s what I did for our tours on this trip, and it worked out very well, even with something as complicated as our Angkor Wat tour, where we had to be picked up and dropped off, plus go on the tour, all in the span of about four hours.

2.       Use Blacklane for cars to and from the airport.

Blacklane is an amazing app that connects travelers with companies that provide transportation in big, nice cars. You could use a ridesharing app, but the Blacklane drivers come in and hold a sign for you as you exit baggage claim. They help with the luggage, and they just provide better service. The price isn’t much different from Uber, either. In fact, I think it’s a little cheaper sometimes.

3.       Find out what the ridesharing apps are for the countries you’re visiting.

We learned that Uber has no presence in Singapore, Vietnam, or Cambodia. They’re all on the Grab app. And Grab is really good. We could use it to get cars in Singapore, tuk-tuks in Cambodia, and even motorcycles in Vietnam.

4.       Don’t trust TripAdvisor for restaurant recommendations.

I don’t know what’s happened to TripAdvisor. It once was a community of dedicated, serious travelers who wanted to share their experiences Now, it’s more of a haphazard, pop-in review site. The only time I take the reviews seriously are for private tour guides. Those have consistently worked out well for us.

5.       Use Google Maps to get an idea of the good restaurants/shops in the area.

I find that locals and real travelers write reviews on Google. I’m sure some are planted, but if a restaurant has 1,000 reviews that are mostly positive, that’s promising. We generally just pull up Google Maps for wherever we’re standing, and we see what’s around us. We did that for massages, coffee shops, pho stands, etc. It’s been very reliable.

6.       Factor in some kid activities!

Josephine counts on having more to do than just scamp around a city or sit in a hotel room. She wants to play. In Cambodia, that was tough. We wound up going to the gym and doing a HIIT workout together. She thought that was fun. But you usually can find exhibits or activities for kids in each place you visit. For example, in Singapore, they had an immersive Disney movie experience. That wound up being a bust for us because the show got canceled at the last minute due to technical difficulties, but it sounded fun to Josephine. In Spain, there are giant playgrounds where she can run around like a loon. In Italy, she can play carnival games in the Piazza Navona. Those little fun-for-fun’s-sake activities make a huge difference in her demeanor.

7.       Bring a stroller for as long as you can!

We know we’re aging out of the stroller. We think we can make it another 2 years… maybe? The stroller is so clutch for holding water and coats and purchases – and Josephine when she gets tired. We just check it through to our final destination and get it with the luggage. We store it most of the trip in the hotel luggage area, but we pull it out when we’re going to be spending a lot of time on our feet, which Jamil and I love to do because we get to see more of the city. It’s really not a hassle. It’s so helpful!

8.       Packing suggestions for your family:

  • Stock your medicine bag; see your pediatrician, if you need to.

We always pack basic meds, like Dimetapp, Children’s Benadryl, Motrin, Tylenol, etc. I also like to pack Prevacid, in case I get heartburn, Advil Cold & Sinus, NyQuil, and the adult versions of Motrin and Tylenol. On this trip, we happened to see the pediatrician because Josephine was feeling a little under the weather. She suggested that we include cortisone cream, antibiotic band-aids, and two prescription meds, Azithromycin and Zofran, to the bag. Azithromycin is a strong antibiotic that takes care of everything from sinus infections to E. Coli. Zofran quells nausea. We only got those meds for Josephine, and she didn’t wind up needing those two, but she did need the cortisone cream because she got a pretty nasty mosquito bite on her eyebrow. On the contrary, Jamil would have benefited from some adult versions of those meds because he got E. Coli in Cambodia and wound up having to see a doctor in Vietnam to get antibiotics.

  • Bring mosquito repellant

Like it or not, dengue fever and chikungunya are active ailments in many Asian countries. When you go to the zoo in Singapore, Angkor Wat in Cambodia, or the Mekong Delta in Vietnam, wear some DEET. I was terrified when Josephine got that bug bite on her eyebrow. Dengue fever is usually survivable, but it’s miserable. Definitely would have put a stiff end to our trip.

Whether your kids are enthusiastic about chopsticks or not, there are some places where you just don’t feel comfortable asking for a fork, so you need a solution. I ordered the helper chopsticks in advance for Josephine and let her practice on them. There are a variety of versions, some with finger placement grips, but Josephine preferred this simplified set. We had her use them at home for a few days, picking things up and eating easy things, like pieces of steak (not slippery). At first, she used the full set because the chopsticks are short and easier to manipulate, but then she started to put the silicon connector on the chopsticks at restaurants. In the end, she got to be such a pro that she removed the silicon altogether and just used the adult chopsticks!

  • Bring water-resistant (or waterproof) shoes

It just so happened that I gave Josephine Doc Marten’s for Christmas, and we threw them in the bag because they were cute and fun. She needed them multiple times in Singapore because we were at the end of the monsoon season, and she wore them after rain showers in Taipei. Doc Marten’s are also so cute that they can wear them when they dress up or down, so I think I’ll always include a pair on our travels from here on out. There’s no drawback to having them. Wet feet are so lame.

Author: Jessica Givens