Traveling to Jamaica with Kids: Part 1

As we gear up for our second trip to Jamaica, I want to write about some of the things I learned from our first trip there last August. Traveling internationally with kids is challenging. Traveling internationally with an infant and a toddler (plus two more) is REALLY challenging.

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Passports. I wish I had taken pictures of us in the passport office. The day that we got our kids’ photos made and filled out their applications was quite entertaining. I think that Kevin and I made errors on nearly every application and had to redo them. This was while we were huddled into a too-small-room with kids crawling around our knees. Be prepared for this process to take about three times as long as you think that it should.

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Packing. I knew that my older sons (7 and 10 at the time) would be pulling their own small suitcases through the airport while carrying backpacks. We needed to push a stroller with an infant while carrying a toddler in a body-type carrier. We needed to pull our own luggage while juggling six passports and boarding passes. Sound challenging? It was–especially at 5:30 AM.  I had to think through all of these logistics–who was responsible for carrying what items. I felt like a military commander. This, I promise you, was the hardest part of the whole trip.

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Resort choice. When I was researching family vacations with kids, I came across Franklyn D. Resort in Jamaica–also known as FDR. This tiny little heavenly spot was such a blessing for my family. They have vacation nannies! I will write more about FDR in a later post. I can hardly contain my love…but I will put this on hold for now!

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Flying for families. Get your tickets way in advance. If you have a big family and everyone needs to sit together, you need to plan early. When my husband and I are flying somewhere alone, we tend to put off this step looking for the bargains. I don’t recommend this when flying with small children. You want to have the choice of the best flight times and best seating options for your family. It’s not fun to get stuck with three kids while your husband is twenty rows behind you with the remaining child. You need to be together to juggle potty breaks, diaper changes, and any meltdown that may occur. There are lots of wonderful blog posts about activities for travel with kids. Read them. I say this is a perfect time to haul out those screens (fully charged for this occasion). You don’t have to worry about them rolling around on the floor of the folks two rows behind you. Nursing (or a bottle) on take off helps with infants’ ears–it also helps to position Mama in a way that is most comfortable for this on a tight plane. I prefer to sit by the window, if I am planning on nursing, with a member of my family in the middle seat next to me. (I have breast-fed on a plane next to a stranger, but I was traveling alone with my baby and it was a very unusual circumstance. I don’t recommend this if you can help it! It was quite awkward. Thank goodness, I was next to a woman.)

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Driving (or riding) in Jamaica. YIKES! This was a terrifying experience for me. I haven’t actually figured out how to make this easier (or safer) this time around. In Jamaica, the cars drive on the left and the driver sits on the right of the car. They honk for everything. Greetings. Warnings. The shuttle to/from the airport did not have seat belts. My infant was in a carrier, but not strapped into a seat. We found a driver that we liked while we were there, but his personal vehicle that he used for a taxi was not big enough for our whole family so we were not able to hire him to drive us back to the airport.

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International checkpoint. I don’t remember any issue with this on the outbound trip. Inbound, however, it was a nightmare. After we got of the plane in Atlanta (exhausted from the 1 1/2 hour bus ride from the resort to the airport and the flight home) it took FOREVER to get to customs. I told Kevin several times that we must have done something wrong. I think we walked for 45 minutes with all the kids and our carry-on items to get to the customs area. When we got there, we were flagged. We couldn’t figure out why, but we were sent through the line for “problem people”. As it turned out, it had something to do with traveling with a lap baby. We had more people then tickets and it raised a red flag. We will be better prepared for this next time. It took us nearly three hours to get off our plane and get back to our car! This part was very stressful. I was thankful that Kevin and I both have very even personalities. It could have been a bad ending to a long day with a bunch of tired kids.

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In spite of EVERYTHING, the trip was so very worth it. I can’t wait to return next week. We made friends with the employees at the resort. I have kept up with them on Facebook this year. I am so excited to see them again! By the end of our stay, they truly felt like extended family.

Lost Sea: the Good, the Bad, and the Dirty

IMG_8659Last weekend we had the opportunity to take our oldest sons on a Wild Cave Tour of the Lost Sea Cave with our Boy Scout Troop. This cave is part of Craighead Caverns in Tennessee and contains the second-largest underground lake in the world. The “Wild Cave” option is available to groups and includes an overnight stay in the cave, access to more adventurous exploring, and entrance (and exit) through the “natural entrance.”

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Our group check-in time was 6:00 PM at the gift shop. We bought our boys Wild Cave Tour patches. (Scouts tend to collect a lot of patches for special events.) We opted out of the dinner and breakfast add-ons and had arrived already fed–and ready to get dirty! Day visitors enter through a bright yellow tunnel in the gift shop. Our group received the “wild cave” portion of the trip and had to pack all of our overnight gear down almost 150 “natural stone steps.” (This means they were uneven, wet, and lacked a hand-railing.)

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We set our stuff down at the camp site at the bottom of the stairs and headed out to explore the cave with our young guide. For the next few hours, we were given the opportunity to complete various crawls within the cave. All were optional. There were always walk-around  paths for each section. This was great for the adults (and some kids) who were not comfortable with tight spaces, didn’t want to get extra dirty, or weren’t physically up to the challenge. I had done a bit of “spelunking” in college, so I was excited to try the crawls. I ended up backing out of the first one because I watched the dad in front of me squeeze through and decided my hips were NOT going to fit. The others I was able to finish, though. My husband, Kevin, is not a huge fan of tight spaces and chose to walk around. Many of the adults (and several kids) in our group picked this option and it was perfectly fine. My favorite part of the tour was the boat ride on the underground lake. Our whole group got in a simple metal boat and floated out on the lake. We could see enormous rainbow trout swimming around us.

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When we got back to the camp area it was after 9:00 PM. I took a trip to the port-a-potty and washed my face and arms with baby wipes as best as I could. One dad remembered his trip to the cave from 30 years ago and recalled wanting a chair afterwards…so he had packed a camp chair with him down into the cave. SO SMART! The adults were so ready to sit down by this point, but the only option for most of us was the hard cave floor. We spread out a large tarp for our family and arranged our sleeping bags and gear. The boys, never out of energy, took the opportunity to run up (and slide back down) a mud hill at the sleeping area–because you can never be dirty enough, right?

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I was exhausted. I wiggled my dirty body down into my warm sleeping bag. (The cave is in the 50s year-round.) I decided to let the dads handle the clean up and bedtime wrangling. It was a very rough night. I don’t like sleeping on the ground anyway, but this floor was really rough. By 5:00 AM, I was nearly desperate to be off of the ground and into daylight. I awakened two hours before our official wakeup time nearly choking to see daylight. It was a very oppressive feeling for me. Kevin told me later that it was what he imagined Hell would be like–void of God’s light. We did NOT enjoy waking up in that darkness and then feeling trapped until someone else decided it was time for us to leave. It was very unsettling for us.

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The guide’s alarm went off at 6:50 AM. By that time, I had been reading a book on my cell phone for nearly two hours cuddled down in my bag on the hard ground in total darkness. I nearly shouted with joy! It took awhile, though, to get all of the gear packed up. The scouts then systematically swept the camping area for trash and we headed back up the the precarious, wet steps. By this time, I knew that there was an easier way out of the cave–up that bright yellow tunnel. I was rather grumbly about the steps. The men told me that the other exit was for Girl Scouts. I decided that the Girl Scouts must have a smarter system, then. Why in the world would anyone choose to walk up 150 wet stone steps in the dark carrying a bunch of stuff if you could just walk up a well lit ramp instead? The answer that I was given is that it was part of the “full experience.”

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My conclusion of the “full-experience”: I really enjoyed my tour of the cave–both of the more adventurous and more touristy parts. I could have totally passed on spending the night in the cave, however. I think I would have preferred to walk down the natural entrance at the beginning and prance my little Girl-Scout-self right out that bright yellow tunnel into the daylight when I was finished with the tour–muddy and tired, but with a hot shower, a flushing toilet, and a soft mattress waiting for me at home. Oh, I can’t forget the daylight. I am so thankful for THE SUN!!!!

Let’s start with Home

FullSizeRender.jpgI’ve always wanted to travel. There are so many places that I want to see. There are so many things I want to experience. I love learning! I also love being right where I am. I live in an incredibly beautiful spot surrounded by the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. We have farmland…and cows…and kids. Four of them actually. They range in age from 11 to 1. Even with all of this loveliness around me, I still want to see more. My mama always says I want to do it all…and I DO.

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We homeschool. This gives us the opportunity to have a lot of flexibility with our schedule. Our family takes vacations when other kids are in school and we study indoors when it’s too hot outside to breathe. I’ve opened up room in our schedule for some special travel opportunities. I can’t wait to share them with you through this blog!

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I’ll introduce you to my crew as we go along. For now, I will tell you that my husband, Kevin, is my heart. He shares my love of travel and for our kids. We have three sons and one daughter. My mom, aka Nana, just moved in with us as well…like five days ago. I’m sure that she will be in on some of our adventures–unless she decides that the quiet house without all of us is more appealing some days! I want to invite YOU to journey along with us, too. I can’t wait to see where the path leads!

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