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A Fiji homestay with a toddler

Living by the saying “I won’t travel with my kids until they remember it” is like saying  “I won’t give them books until they can read”… Travel shapes us, gives us experiences of the world outside our everyday normal lives. Travel opens up our worldview, expands our hearts and makes the world an exploration for young open minds and old wise ones. Travel is the process of discovering a world bigger and better, richer and deeper than any of us ever imagined. A place where the curious mind can play for an eternity…and I don’t know a mind more curious than that of a toddler, do you?  – Mel Harwin 

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Raki Raki, Ra

Last month I took a trip to Fiji to visit the local project/s of A Girl and Her World a wonderful pacific based organisation I am currently a board member for here in Australia. The main purpose of the visit was to see some of the project activities, meet the girls and their families who are being supported by the project and get to really know and understand what is happening at the grass roots, in the lives and homes of the beneficiaries.

My daughter Boh is almost two and that ‘almost’ part meant the timing was perfect and cheap! She was still just able to fly for free and not having too long a flight time (approx .4hrs from Sydney to Nadi airport) meant sharing a seat with a wriggling toddler was just bearable…just…! Important to note was also having access to my own hire car, which meant independence (and enforced sleep times for her if she was super wound up) so all in all I was glad I decided to bring her along for the trip.

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Hot tip: Take your own car seat… we have one exhausted toddler here. Also black eye is from a fall out of bed the first night, in a hotel 🙁

I have to say the best part of the entire trip was the choice to try and avoid spending all our time in the Fiji resort package land –  a rite of passage for many first-time International travellers leaving Australia. Instead we were staying with the Indian-Fijian family who oversee the work of “A Girl and Her World” up in the north in Ra province.

Once Boh and I arrived in Rakiraki, our two families quickly went from being foreign strangers to laughing friends, with incredible bonds being formed between our children. Who needs language when you have things to climb, games to play and animals to wrangle and obsess over right?!?

  • Random fun fact/game: Over the years I have travelled to many faraway and removed places as part of my job in the Humanitarian sector. Language can sometimes be a slight barrier to relationship building so one funny icebreaker I like to play is “What sound does the animal make?” It always has us all in stiches. The best thing about laughter is it’s a universal language. An example of how it plays out is in Australia we might say the sheep goes “Baaaaaaaa”, but in Fiji the sound they say is “Maaaaaaa”, and it goes on as you make your way through the animals. The funniest animal I have found across countries is usually the chicken! I recommend you try it next time you’re in an exotic place

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“I want to see the baby chickens!”


Ok so back to the point of this post…

Since I got home a fortnight ago I  have been wanting to write to you all about our mother and daughter trip. The purpose was mainly to say solo parent travel with a toddler is indeed possible AND super rewarding! and b) describe to you all some of the amazing experiences my daughter and I were able to have by getting off the beaten ‘all-you-can-eat-buffet- kids club-resort’ track and going local and c) encourage (*urge) those of you with some resources to please do yourself a favour and take the time and make the investment into travelling with your kids.

I use the word ‘investment’ intentionally. The rewards will be paying off throughout their lives. Connection, understanding, friendship all come from exposure to different people and places which in turn make for compassionate, empathic and interesting humans. Big and small ones. I could reference lots of research here, but really, I don’t need to. I’m sure there are people in your everyday lives that are already examples of this. I think travelling to new places, whether it be too faraway lands or even locally, and getting outside the ‘norms’ of your 9-5 (ok, let’s be honest parents 6am- all through the night) will develop your child developmentally and emotionally, not too mention make great memories and bonds. From homestays in rural Nepal or a local indigenous walkabout or bush tucker tour, these experiences not only impact us as adults, parents, educators and humans but they are moulding and shaping our children in ways only child like curiosity can meet.

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New Besties for life….including the “baby sheepy”

As soon as Boh and I arrived to meet Sonam and her daughters- Ananya (3) and Ria (10) , the girls took Boh by the hand and off they went to explore. This meant meeting all the animals on the farm and climbing the exotic tree shadowing the yard. From that first meeting the girls were inseparable.

At the beginning of each day (which was an alarming 4:45am!!!!) we went from watching the cows being milked, feeding the baby “sheepies” and “doats”, to making the fresh roti  from scratch for breakfast, the whole time with the girls as our tour guides. Its amazing how in such a short few days how impactful the learnings for Boh were. As we were leaving Rakiraki and the farm she said to me (in her broken toddler talk that only mum could understand) “Cows eat grass, then in belly, then they make the milk for baby cows and Boh milkies”. *insert proud fluttering mum moment here.

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The Prasad’s home, recently rebuilt after they lost everything in Cyclone Winston last year. Also our home for our time in Rakiraki. Home was built with the support of A Girl and Her World and its generous Australian Supporters.

Ok so I could go on and on about the micro and macro experiences we had on this recent trip to Fiji…moments like learning about coral and how it cuts, visiting many families in their homes recently rebuilt after cyclone Winston, drinking chai made from the fresh creamy milk we just watched be milked from the cow, sleeping, eating and living in an environment so different to our own home and comforts, gathering flowers for the morning Hindu offering, making friendships with families who eat, look, speak and sometimes act very differently to us… on and on and on – there were SO MANY life altering moments in such a short amount of time, where we both revelled in a large amount of learning. But honestly even as I write this now I am feeling so frustrated in trying to explain it in mere words. And really that’s the point I guess…. I can’t explain to you, you just need to go and see. With your children, as a family, away from the places that just mirror another hotel at home. So, the moral of this story is: Travel. And when you do, get off the beaten track and find ways to experience a culture different to yours. Its sometimes uncomfortable and confronting, but it is always rewarding, exciting, fascinating and doing it with our Mini Global Citizens, watching their little eyes and minds alight, truly is the most amazing part.

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Boh, Sonam and Ananya – on our way to visit another family who lost everything in the cyclone, but have rebuilt their lives bit by bit with the support of Habitat for Humanity and A Girl and Her World (see next pic)

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Some useful travel websites for those wanting to be more culturally engaged (without exploiting) or like the idea of a homestay:

  1. https://www.homestay.com/blog/2014/01/29/10-benefits-of-staying-in-a-homestay
  2. https://inspiredadventures.com.au
  3. http://www.familiesworldwide.co.uk/information/holidays_with_kids.html
  4. https://worldtravelfamily.com
  5. https://www.familyadventureproject.org/2011/10/10-lessons-from-10-years-adventuring-with-kids/

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