The last time I took my kids on an international holiday a stranger approached me at the airport, gently squeezed my arm and said, “I hope you get a chance to have a break. You deserve it.”
She’d been on our plane and witnessed my struggles with the more anxious of my twins. I must have looked exactly how I felt; overwhelmed and desperate to keep it together with three screaming kids in an unfamiliar environment.
The kids are five years older now and, as I pack them into an Uber and head for the airport, I tell myself that it will be different this time. In the very first airport line the same anxious twin starts to whine and I chant the mantra, things will be better, to soothe myself.
So, this is what I learned when I took my kids to Bali for the first time:
SOME THINGS REALLY DO NEED EXPLAINING
At Denpasar airport, we were met by a driver from our hotel, but before the journey my daughter needed the toilet. “What is that?” she squawked, recoiling from the squat toilet in a cubicle. The idea of crouching and possibly falling into the mess was so scary for her that she waited for the one western toilet.
I hadn’t thought to mention that people around Asia don’t have the same toilets as us. It was the first of many moments when I had to explain the differences.
The lobby of the Mövenpick Resort and Spa is grand. My children stood with open mouths as we were welcomed with pink guava juice and cool towels smelling of sweet jasmine. The ceilings soared high above, and marble floors sparkled, but the most impressive thing for these uncivilised ones was the fact that it was someone’s job to deliver our luggage to the room. Accustomed to staying in caravan parks and serviced apartments, they wanted to grab their bags and head for the room.
Later, while I absorbed the view of the pools from the balcony, the kids were exploring the bathroom and learned the hard way about what that hose attached to the toilet does. I heard a squeal. “It’s the butt cleaner!” they discovered, after it squirted water up in an arch and onto the floor.
INTERCONNECTING HOTEL ROOM DOORS SHOULD ALWAYS REMAIN OPEN AND UNLOCKED
Thinking that the boys might need privacy, I gave in to the teenager’s constant request to “Shut the door, Mum” but the long term consequences of this were dire. At 1am, while I was fast asleep, a fight broke out and one kid came to my room to escape. He was immediately banished from his own room and the door locked. Not wanting to disturb me, he slept on a sarong on the floor.
Ditto for balcony doors. After a shower, I came out to find only two of the three kids present. Said two admitted, without a drop of shame, that they’d locked the other on the balcony because he was being annoying! Unfortunately, sibling relationships don’t change just because you’re in another country.
TRYING TO SNEAK IN A PRECIOUS MOMENT FOR YOURSELF ON A FAMILY HOLIDAY WILL END IN TEARS
Movenpick is famous worldwide for its ice cream and chocolate and the Movenpick Resort and Spa has a dedicated Chocolate Hour every day at 4pm. Huge bowls of warm chocolate are rolled out on a cart, along with cake pops, fruit, marshmallows and lollipops. For sixty minutes the children can indulge their fantasies and gorge themselves on chocolate.
I’d heard that the Manarai Beach House was a cool afternoon hangout and that they welcomed children. We ordered a taxi and headed to Nusa Dua beach. Stretching out on a daybed, munching on chicken quesadillas and insanely perfect tataki (seared tuna with ponzu dressing) and downing one of their delicious signature cocktails, a “C-Cup” in a fresh coconut, life seemed perfect for a few minutes. But, while staring across the pools to the ocean, and listening to tunes was good for me, once the kids had scoffed their milkshakes, their pressing need to return to the Movenpick took hold.
Despite my good intentions, the cab was slow to arrive and when we hit the regular afternoon traffic jam the scowls on two faces and the fury on another was enough to make me want to jump out and walk home alone.
Let’s just say that if you miss Chocolate Hour because you are having cocktails at a beach club, the kids will think you are a demon and treat you accordingly, punishing you until the next day with their eye rolls and frowns!
KIDS WILL ALWAYS SURPRISE YOU
I also learned that my kids can be appreciative, respectful and interested in other people. My daughter thanked our Movenpick driver for the wonderful conversation he offered during the journey. In Australia, our cab drivers do not engage with their passengers and rarely share tales about their culture or interesting tourist hot spots.
THIS GENERATION OF CHILDREN ARE ENVIRONMENTALLY AWARE
At the Movenpick Resort and Spa, all the straws had #plasticfree printed on them. My daughter was thrilled to learn that, although they look like plastic, the straws are made with the bi-products of corn husks and are 100 per cent biodegradable. The week before our trip, the Indonesian government had passed a law banning the use of single-use plastics, stimulating a lot of conversation over our dinner table about why our own country won’t simply do the same.
THESE KIDS KNOW HOW TO BARGAIN
There’s nothing worse than a cranky kid who’s just spent most of her spending money on something that her sibling buys at half the price. After one false start, my kids turned out to be hard nosed negotiators with soft hearts and a deep respect for traders. They would make their offers, shake their heads sorrowfully and prepare to walk away from a sale if they didn’t get the price they wanted. Then, when it was time to pay, they’d tip the merchant because he was “nice”.
EVERYONE WAS MORE ADVENTUROUS THAN I REALISED
From downing the healthy shots of apple, cucumber, spinach and tangerine at the breakfast buffet, to trying the Japanese Peruvian fusion Nikkei food at Above Eleven, the Movenpick’s rooftop bar, they were bold. They joined in an Aqua Yoga class, they sat with their feet in a tank of tiny fish whose job is to nibble at dead skin and they embraced every opportunity to speak Bahasa.
I learned that travelling with older kids is far less challenging than travelling with young ones. To watch them experience the different smells, colours and sounds of Bali was like watching a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis. I think they have definitely caught the travel bug.
The writer was a guest of the Movenpick Resort and Spa and Above Eleven Rooftop Bar and Restaurant.