Before: Chinese hostels, Asian backpacker retreats
After: Luxury hotels, heritage villages, self-drive holidays in Australia
Before we got married, Andrew and I enjoyed some enlightening Asian backpacking stints in the early ’90s. A two-month trip around the Chinese mainland – at a time when foreigners had to use Monopoly-type Foreign Exchange Certificates rather than renminbi to buy stuff – was a really superb, if rather wearing, cultural experience.
Holidays to China with our son Joshua over the past 15 years have aimed at a considerably higher level of comfort. When he was eight we stayed at The Peninsula hotel in Shanghai, where he was absorbed by the in-room telescope and the views across the Huangpu River to Pudong. In the city itself, five minutes was as much as he could endure of two adults soaking up the early 20th century Bund architecture. We also spent a few hours in the city’s zoo, which he loved.
Recently, we’ve managed to balance the interests of both teenager and adults with stays in Seoul and the nearby heritage site Jeonju Hanok Village; and in Melbourne, where we added a self-drive tour through the Victorian countryside. Beach holidays (Koh Samui, Bali, Hainan) always worked when he was younger; now we need more dynamic contrasts to keep us all happy.
Before: Overland Asia, trekking, boat expeditions
After: Villas, buffets, beach resorts, sleeper trains
Before we had Rosie, my husband Malcolm and I were pretty adventurous. We’ve trekked in Yunnan, attempted a disastrous overland journey from Singapore to Bangkok, and when I was 10-weeks pregnant, went on a week-long boat trip through Palawan with no Wi-Fi, no medical facilities.
With Rosie in tow, we’ve slowed down a bit. We’ve leaned into the buffet-breakfast-and-kids’-club life – and I have to say it’s great. We’ve been to Da Nang several times and it ticks all our boxes. We rented a villa there with friends when Rosie was a baby, which was perfect: we had our own space and the adults could hang out once the kids went to bed. The beaches are beautiful but the sea is rough, so don’t expect to do more than paddle.
We made an attempt at spontaneity with a train trip to Yangshuo, China, last Easter. Rosie loved hopping on the back of our bike to explore. However, the journey there from Hong Kong was hard work as we were trying to juggle Immigration, three bullet trains and a toddler. If you’re thinking about Yangshuo, get the overnight sleeper train from Lo Wu to Guilin. It’s a fun, authentic experience, especially if you have a train-obsessed older kid.
Before: Low-impact, low-profile and – crucially – low-cost
After: More of the same, but we each carry our own bags now
Travel writer Dervla Murphy took her six-year-old daughter to the Hindu Kush in midwinter. If my Singapore-to-Thailand tropical train trip with Natasha (then nine-and-three-quarters) was a tad more, er, cushy, at least it had the merit of spontaneity. And by travelling on the local train system, it was cheap as banana chips.
As a newly single and long-time disorganised parent, in the rush to the station I managed to forget the camera, allowing my first-born endless opportunities for mickey-taking: "Look at that cloud, Dad, don’t you think it looks a bit like a… camera?"
The scenery along the railway line to Kuala Lumpur, and then up to Penang and across the Thai border, was not exactly spectacular – but there was a lot of entertainment onboard. A gang of fellow-travelling pre-teens, drawn by Tash’s blonde hair, green eyes and substantial crayon collection, gravitated to her bunk in the evening. The trek to the dining car – through swaying carriages and over clanking couplings – was a theme-park ride in itself. And at each stop we’d set out to explore, goggling at the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, relishing cups of "flying tea" on Gurney Drive in Penang and befriending elephants in Hat Yai in Thailand.
The final leg of the journey took us by road to Phuket, where Tash was at boarding school. At the end of 1,300 dad-and-daughter kilometres, I clasped her in a farewell hug. She looked me in the eye: "Let’s have a souvenir photo, Dad – oh, wait…"
I remarried a couple of years later. As a trio we’ve cycled across Flanders, hiked The Ridgeway in England and surfed Hong Kong’s best beaches – sometimes even with a camera in tow.
Credit: Jason Knott / Alamy Stock Photo / Argusphoto
After: Everywhere (but we especially love Western Australia)
I am the daughter of long-time travellers, and fortunately my husband Simon shares my inherited wanderlust. We believe travel is a way to teach our two young sons, Sunny and Ziggy, about acceptance and diversity; and to strengthen our bond – and have a lot of fun – as a family.
We’ve travelled throughout Australia, as well as Hawaii, Fiji, New Zealand and all over Asia with our boys.
One of our most memorable holidays took us to Dunsborough, a charming coastal town 40 minutes from Margaret River in Western Australia. The area is home to spectacular beaches, ancient caves, hiking trails, a thriving arts scene, world-class snorkelling and fishing, and many child-friendly restaurants, cafes and wineries, so it’s an idyllic family destination.
We swam at the Injidup Natural Spa rock pools, explored Canal Rocks and took in the dramatic sunset over the Indian Ocean from Yallingup Beach. We bought fruit
and vegetables at Dunsborough Central Markets and got our biodynamic sourdough and fruit bread each day from Yallingup Woodfired Bread.
We ate out at places like Goanna Cafe & Gallery, which does a great Indonesian breakfast and showcases handcrafted homewares, art, beauty products and ceramics.
One thing we like to do with our family trips is to research how the local community can benefit from your dollars. In Fiji, we sought out locals to take us fishing and exploring, and we ate dinner with a family in their tiny village hut. Our sons still talk about it now.