Most people consider January 1st the New Year, but teachers think in academic years. The first day of school is our first day of the year. The two month summer is a sort of reprieve from time itself. As we head into another year, we get ready for it in expat fashion. Two fifty pound bags per family member, car seats, baby backpack carriers, and lists of all kinds all over the place. Lists of American items not to forget, lists of teaching beginning-of-year ideas, lists of logistics.
In preparation and throughout the year, I think about what the family needs for the following year, ordering enough on Amazon to warrant buying some of their stock shares. As a result, as soon as I get “home” I start packing. First order of business, books. It is hard to get good English books abroad, so I order them as I learn of books that I need. I end up with a surplus no doubt, but the book lover in me anticipates coming home to a giant stack of beautiful books. Next and with slightly less excitement, I pack over-the-counter medicines and vitamins, seasonal clothes, makeups, lotions, health foods, three pairs of running shoes, birthday and Christmas gifts. All of this adds up pretty quickly in weight. I have been nearly packed for our departure since we arrived.
This will be our 11th year teaching overseas, 12th year teaching. No matter the year, I still sit on a mixture of nervous and excited. It is a similar feeling I have before a race. It is because I care so much about the outcome.
Living overseas has taught me to be more flexible and open-minded. One must roll with the punches, choose your stresses, and be open to learning from another culture. I have intentionally and unintentionally adopted parts of every country I have lived in and even some from places I have visited. There is this sort of internal filter that keeps the things I respect about my culture and replace other parts with philosophy’s from another. I changed a lot after Thailand. There was plenty to learn in the land of smiles–mi pen lai, ka (no problem, a favorite and deeply ingrained saying in Thailand). I see this happening rather seamlessly with my children, too. Personally, it has made me a better teacher, parent, person. I don’t have plans of stopping working in foreign lands any time soon. I am looking forward to another year stretching myself outside of my comfort zone.
Before children, my husband and I lived in New Zealand and Kazakhstan. We moved to Thailand and there started our family. Last year, when we moved to Bosnian and Herzegovina, it was the first time we had moved as a family. New job, new country, new caregiver for my daughter, new teachers for my son, new house. As you would imagine, it was stressful. I am looking forward to having some familiarity going back to Sarajevo this year. However, we do this for newness and there is still plenty that will feel novel and exciting to the human experience. I have my list of places to explore in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Those lists. They are everywhere.
So, we are on our final goodbyes. We used to do them as one big hurrah, but now we like to make it more personal, saying goodbye one by one. We have said goodbye to some good friends that have a son the same age as ours. We have said good by to my in-laws. We have said goodbye to my aunt, uncle, cousins. We have seen fellow international teachers that do the same thing we do, most likely seeing them abroad this coming year, so it is a quasi-goodbye. We are getting ready to go camping this weekend with my dad, his wife, and my sister and her family. That will be goodbye until next year. I can feel it, the wheels will be picking up soon for another year abroad.
Camping is probably my favorite summertime activity.I am grateful to have been camping since I was baby. Getting outside into nature is deeply and innately ingrained in all of us.
Providing this for my children is always at the top of the parental and summer list. Watching my children connect with nature not only brings me happiness, but also recognizing their inherent fascinations with nature allows their world to be validated. There are many lessons to be learned in the wilderness–the school of the wild.
Camping is also an excellent opportunity to find new trails. Some of my fondest runs and hikes have started near a campsite. There really isn’t too much to running while camping, but I put together the logistical planning and process I go through.
–Pack plastic bags to put your sweaty running clothes in. One for the clothes. One for the shoes.
–Pack your running clothes in a bundle for each day you plan to run.
-If you are short on space or just want to bring less stuff, instead of packing separate shoes for your day hikes, use your running shoes. They can have duel purpose.
-I never plan out routes before I leave, but I do pay attention to my surroundings as I get closer to camp. Idaho offers a lot of trails though, so I don’t have to work too hard to find a place to run.
–Start early. The days get hot.
-When I start running, I nearly always stumble upon a trail that would be cool to show the family for our day hike. I call it trail scouting.
–Clean up after your run…you could two things here. One, find a cold lake or river to clean up in, going full into the water. Two, and my preferred choice, find a body of water and bring a handkerchief or hand towel. Clean up without freezing. But, I am a wimp when it comes to cold water. Up to you, but bring a bar of soap.
One might liken taking long-haul flights with children to endurance running. If you can endure pain for long periods of time, you can handle flying across the globe with your littles.
Okay, okay, it isn’t that bad. We have done it countless times and we have survived each flight, so far. We just made a 23-hour flight across the planet with a 6-year-old and a 2-year-old. As I write this, our home is jet-lagged, awake at 1 am, and slightly delirious.
Tip 1: Bring one or two small, age appropriate toys that are new to your child. Don’t go hogwild and buy expensive toys, just something that will distract them enough to get past moments of chaos. Do not allow them to procure said toy until your parent sense starts tingling and is telling you that you don’t have much time left before exhaustion meltdown is imminent. Unveiling the toy will bring enough excitement that you and all involved will most likely sidestep any emotional disasters.
Also, as far as stuff goes, bring any additional stuffed animals or blankets they are attached to, as it might coax them into sleep at some point.
And stickers. Their fine motor skills aren’t advanced enough to make stickers a quick process. If you are feeling especially fancy, invest in those puffy stickers. They can be reused and moved around longer, buying you more time and getting you closer to your final destination.
Tip 2: Ask for bulk head seating if you have a child under two. You will need that leg space for the diaper bag.
Tip 3: All your awesome parenting skills should be put on hold. You don’t let your child use the iPad except for special occasions? Well this is the moment, my friends. Let them reprogram it if it means you get to the other side. You don’t let them have lollipops? Be the magical unicorn parent they have never seen before by bringing at least three lollipops. Actually, don’t bother with any other kind of sweets. Lollipops provide the correct amount of time to sugar ratio you are seeking. You usually read books and play with hand made play dough on the weekends? This is the time for movies–as many as your child will watch on one long-haul flight. My son just watched three in a row. My daughter became mildly addicted to the iPad. They both possibly had sugar crashes and melting brains from the screen time by the time we reached our destination, but you know what? They were happy little humans on the flight and we all managed to survive with our sanity in check.
Tip 4: Your child may be sensitive to the air pressure changes on take offs and landings, which can consequently make them scream bloody murder. Give them a lollipop. Or nurse them. Or binkie them. Basically, give them something to suck on so their ears don’t feel like they are going to pop their brains.
Tip 5: For long layovers, find a play area for your kids to run wild in. They have been cooped up on plane where they were told to put their seat belts on and sit for hours on end. They need to run around and get some energy out. You can curl up and sleep in the corner (don’t really, unless you have a partner that has had enough coffee to stay awake to watch the kids).
Tip 6: Bring hand sanitizer and multivitamins. Planes are nasty vessels of human microbes. No one has time to get sick.
Tip 7: Wet wipes. All the wet wipes.
Tip 8: When they serve you food and you have a baby on your lap, put a napkin on your child’s head to prevent food from spilling on them.
That may just be something my husband does. I’m not sure. Either the napkin or just wet wipe them down when you are done.
Tip 9: Remind yourself that it won’t last forever. I repeat this to myself and it makes me feel better. Granted, I have also most likely had a plastic cup of red wine, so really it could be either one of those things that makes me feel better.
Tip 10: Ignore all the judgy judgers. Just do your best to be a decent parent and take care of your child regardless of the little beedy eyes that will undoubtedly squint at you like they got a little of your child’s strong will in their eyes.
Do you remember that feeling you had when you were a child and summer break just started? As a teacher, I still get that!
I absolutely love teaching, but I also absolutely love and need my summer vacation.
Today? Today, we pack.
Tomorrow? Tomorrow, we fly.
We will be making a 23 hour journey, not including taxi time but from airport to airport, across the planet again. I swear these little people we made have gone around the globe more times in their short lives than most will in a lifetime. When I was their age, the only thing that I had done that many times was watch the Care Bears movie.
But, back to today.
I woke up this morning, not to an alarm, but to my body’s natural fulfillment of sleep. It took me a minute to process what I was feeling. That feeling was rested.
I drank coffee. I read my book. Both for as long as I felt like. Then I played with my kids, packed a little, and got my running clothes on. I went for a little bit longer run this morning, because I could. I am not going to lie, one of the things I am really looking forward to this summer is putting in the miles. With no time constraints, I can improve my endurance and simply enjoy longer runs. I am going to run so much.
I am at peak summer vacation right now. The next few months will be spent recouping my mind and strengthening my body. I am really looking forward to finding and restoring that balance.
To all the other teachers out there, may you enjoy your much earned summer.
To all the other runners out there, may you find your balance on the trails.
Nestled on Trebević mountain, winds an abandoned bobsleigh track built for the 1984 Winter Olympics. It has since been left to let nature and war reclaim it. It now shows its age and disrepair through graffiti, moss growth on the siding, bullet holes, and the crumbling concrete.
Our hike down from the cable cars. They are happy camperswhen they get to run free.
It is not far from the city center of Sarajevo and to get to it you can either hike up the steep hills that surround the city, take a taxi, or enjoy going up the newly rebuilt cable cars and hiking back down. People often stop to check out the track when they are out exploring the paved paths through the mountain.
It was cool to walk the track. This is B’s version of kick the can–kick the pine cone.
After the Olympics, they continued to use the track during World Cup competitions. Unfortunately, its use came to an end during the Siege of Sarajevo. It is hard to imagine that during the 90’s the curving lanes were used for strategic artillery positions by Serb forces.
The loneliness of an abandoned bobsled track that has seen its glory days and has seen the ugly days of war, is a strange juxtaposition. The dark days that it has seen may be lifting. I have heard tales of reconstruction, but I did not see any evidence of that today. Time will tell.
If you are interested in getting your family involved in your running life, here are some ideas of where to start.
Family hikes and after dinner walks. I think this may be the key. It helps kids if they have a base-level of ability. It isn’t running, but it is activity on their feet. Hiking and walking allow them to build stamina, be familiar with what it feels like to be on their feet for some time, and what a certain distance feels like. We always try to have fun on our walks too, spotting a certain number of interesting things to discuss, or talking about their day. We try to make it a special time to talk and enjoy each other, while also taking in nature or observing the city.
Support each other. If only one of the parents is a runner, it is important that the non-runner is supportive and understands why they should foster a love of activity. My husband is not a runner, but he will lace up his shoes and do a 5k with the family because he wants to model a healthy lifestyle for them.
Encourage. It is important that children feel like they have a voice and say in the matter, so ask them if they are interested in a fun run. If they aren’t sure, explain how fun it is, how it is good for their bodies, and that they don’t have to run the whole thing if they get tired. Keep it upbeat and positive. I would suggest not making jokes about how hard it is, or they may miss the joking part.
Run with them. Sometimes I am doing a longer run and cannot run with them, but my husband always does. He will push our younger one in the stroller and our older one runs alongside. If the starting times are different or on a different day, I always love the opportunity to run with my kids. I also seek out fun runs that are meant just as family events, like the Zoo run in Boise, where we can focus on them completely as little runners. There are usually lots of fun activities before and after for kids too.
Celebrate and reward. Letting your child pick out new running shoes and clothes can be a little extra boost of excitement for them. Consider saving them for race day to make it feel special. When they complete their race, make them feel special. It is a big accomplishment when anyone finishes a race and even more impressive when your little one can do it. We celebrate by getting ice cream or cake, their choice.
Read children’s books about running.
Start young with short distances. I signed our son up for a 2.5 km trail run when he was 2.5 years old. He loved it! He was familiar with the area from our family hikes on the weekends. He ran, walked, and explored the 2.5 km.
Our daughter did her first race when she was 1.5 years old. She did a .25 mile last summer that the local zoo put on. She is the biggest animal lover, so she stopped to appreciate the bunnies, then continued on her way.
I loved that I got to run through the mangroves with B on this 3.5 km race. We even climbed to the top of a wooden lookout tower to get a better view of the ocean and mangroves. His decision.
Run Wild at the Boise Zoo. Lady H’s first race (.25 mile). I got to run with B on his 1 mile run.
Rayong, Thailand trail run.
Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina 4km run with Mr. G. Pretty epic picture–Lady H in her chariot.
A little pre-workout warm up.
Split, Croatia 5 km race for Mr. G and B. Lady H got to snuggle in blankets and go along for the ride.
Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina Spring 5 km run with B. I got to run with him and was super impressed with him finishing in 36 minutes!
It is good for your children to see you leading by example.
Krabi is truly a unique experience. You will get limestone formations, caves that are on the coastline and inland, beautiful sandy beaches, fresh seafood at an after sunset barbecue, mangroves, rock climbing, monkeys, island hopping, and a chill party scene.
2. Kuching, Borneo, Malaysia
If you dig jungle and sea, this is your place. We spent most of our days in lush jungle, but spent our evenings on the beach. There are loads of national parks in the region, as well as ample opportunity to explore beautiful coastline.
3. Luang Prabang, Laos
This is up there as one of my favorite places I have traveled. It is the definition of chill. Everything moves slow and easy. It is an ideal place to practice Buddhism, which is why you see monks nearly wherever you go. It is along the Mekong River, where you will mostly likely see elephants taking baths, along with local children and even orange-robed monks. It is part traditional Laos, part colonial, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is definitely worth a visit.
4. Siem Reap, Cambodia
Angkor Wat is one of the Wonders of the World and with good reason. This is an absolute must. We loved it so much we went twice. I wouldn’t mind going again, actually. It is the largest religious monument in the world, packed full of ancient temples. Interesting fact, it was built during the Khmer Empire, starting as a Hindu monument and over time evolved into Buddhist monuments in the 12th century. It shows up on their flag and has been studied for centuries. It is sort of the ultimate SE Asian experience. If you go, pay attention to all the detailed carvings. You must also stick around for a sunset or two within Angkor Wat. You won’t regret it.
Pretty cool entrance.
5. Koh Lipe, Thailand
If you like white sand beaches, scuba diving or snorkeling, and turquoise waters, this is your place. This was hands down my favorite place in Thailand. It was a bit of a trek to get to, but worth it. If you are coming from Bangkok, you fly to Hat Yai, bus a few hours to the ferry, and then catch a fairly short ferry ride to the island. Island life will await you. The food is spicy and flavorful, the sun is pretty much guaranteed, and there isn’t much to do beyond lay around on perfect sandy beaches–all things I look for in an island.
Nice side note, they are making an honest effort to be more environmentally friendly by having tourists buy a reusable water bottle and filling them up around different restaurants and shops instead of buying disposable plastic water bottles.
6. Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
There is a lot to explore on Bali. It is a place you could visit over and over and still have more to see. Ubud is a great place to stay, but expect to explore other nearby towns. We rented a scooter and went around the island in a day. We took day trips to neighboring towns and islands to spend more time in each place. Ubud is great place to station yourself because of its focus on the arts, green location next to the mountains, and cultural history. On the main street, you find art galleries, art museums, craft shops, and art studios. Don’t miss the Ubud Monkey Forest, a natural forest sanctuary, the Tegallalang rice terraces, and the Pura Taman Saraswati temple.
7. Chiang Rai, Thailand
It is like Chiang Mai’s little sister, but arguably cooler and vastly overlooked. It is yet another chill place in Thailand with good food. Thailand tends to offer those attributes in most towns you will visit, but this one has fewer tourists, making you feel like you discovered one of the last few secret places in the country. One can plan some pretty cool trips from Chiang Rai to more remote areas. We did not get the chance travel outside of Chiang Rai (I was uber pregnant and just didn’t have it in me), but will go back someday and go into the mountainous jungles that are nearby. The White Temple is the main attraction, which is super cool, but don’t miss out seeing the Golden Triangle where Myanmar, Thailand, and Laos meet on the Mekong River. Save time for visiting tea plantations–they are a lesser known tour option, but ask your driver or hotel if they can arrange a visit for you. We learned about the process white, green, and black tea leaves go through and were able go pick some leaves ourselves. I was also really impressed with the Baan Dam Museum, or Black House. The teak wood structures were darkly weird and interesting.
8. HoiAn, Vietnam
Not to be confused with Hanoi, this is a riverfront town that offers some serious beauty. Rent a bicycle and tour around the temples and get yourself to a beach. Eat the local pho, fresh springrolls, or pretty much any of the street food. It is famous for its food–you would be hard-pressed to go wrong with anything you order. We took a boat ride along the river for a different perspective and to watch people fishing. You can even have a custom made pair of shoes made while you are there. They can make whatever you want.
9. Ayutthaya, Thailand
Ayutthaya is the second ancient capital of Thailand, north of Bangkok. Fighting for more power, Ayutthaya Kingdom seemed to be in constant war with the Burmese and the Khmer Kingdom in Cambodia. At one point in the 1700s, it was the largest city in the world. In 1767 the Burmese burned it to the ground. There are the remains of temples, palaces, and monasteries left that offer some insight into what it was like. Ayutthaya is UNESCO World Heritage Site with an interesting orientation–it is an island surrounded by the Chao Phraya River, the Lopburi River and the Pa Sak River. It is easy to get to by ferry.
10. Bagan, Myanmar
Bagan is all about temples, hot-air balloon rides, and sunsets. It offers the densest concentration of pagodas, temples, and stupas built around the 11th and 12th century. When you are in any elevated area, you see these ruins for as far as you can see. Take the most impressive hot-air balloon ride in the world to see over 1,000 temples. We hired a driver and ended up seeing some really cool places. He had a key to some of the locked temples, showing us around and explaining the significance of each. Take some time to visit the Irrawaddy River while you are there.
There are so many places to see in Southeast Asia, but I tried to keep it down to my personal favorites. There are other places in Thailand that I love, like Khao Sok National Park, the whole Pattaya area, Hua Hin, Koh Samui, Khao Yai, Kanchanaburi, Koh Samet, and Rayong. In Vietnam, Hanoi and Saigon are both cool places to see. I only wrote about places I have personally been, but I wish I had visited Halong Bay and Sapa, both in Northern Vietnam. I never got to the Philippines, but heard really amazing things about Cebu and Palawan. Hopefully, some day in the future I can check out more. It is such a culturally diverse and interesting place. I think that one could live a lifetime there and still have more places to see.
I would love to hear what your top 10 places in Southeast Asia would be! Post in the comments what you think.