Singapore Impressions

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Singapore has a large effecient airport.  As soon as we exited the airplane we were directed toward a screened carry on bag check and then directed to customs.  Everything from the carry on bag check to customs to retrieving our bags was quick and orderly.  Taxis are directly outside the airport and we were at our hotel within 15 minutes.  Singapore is a small country and the downtown area is very close to the airport which makes for easy transport from airport to hotel.    Taxis are surprisingly inexpensive in Singapore and there are taxis queues everywhere.

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We were disappointed at the size of our hotel room.  It is VERY small.  I booked a family room with two single beds and a queen.  Other than the beds, there is a small walking space to the bathroom.  We are ON TOP of each other to say the least.  It’s been our smallest room yet and we feel it.  Only one of us can move about the room at a time.

Our hotel is a 7-10 minutes drive from the bustling downtown.  We have used taxis to get in and out of the city and it is probably the only inexpensive thing in Singapore.  The fee is roughly $5 US dollars each way which feels like a bargain.

The city itself is very clean.  It is against the law to litter and it is obviously enforced.  I was surprised at how busy the city is at all hours of the day and night.  There are areas that are as bustling as Manhattan minus the graffiti, litter, gum stained sidewalks and smells.  It feels particularly safe as well.  Something that surprised me is the many different cultures that make up Singapore.  I knew there would be many Chinese and Expats but was surprised at the melting pot of countries from India, Thailand, Turkey, Lebanon and Japan.  Of course, when you include all the tourists visiting from all parts of the world, it’s quite a mix.

The people are polite but not overly friendly.  Although, the taxi drivers have been quite chatty and helpful!  I feel like they give us a city tour every time we hire a cab.  I am big on making human connections and the taxi drivers have made our visit extra special, because of their kindness towards our family.

Singapore is full of gastronomic delicacies and a high end shopping mecca.  I’ve never seen so many large shopping malls.  Unfortunately, we aren’t big shoppers and we’ll eat pretty much anything and feel content from a Big Mac to filet mignon.  Also, the restaurants are ridiculously expensive.  They did have a few places that served high tea that would have been fun to try but we didn’t have correct attire to get in so it was a moot point.  We felt like the foodie part of Singapore was lost on us, although we did have some delicious baked goods a couple of times.

We’re happy we spent our Christmas in Singapore.  It offered a beautiful festive backdrop to our unconventional Christmas.

Bali Recap

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We spent nearly a month in Bali and it was such an eye opener.  When we landed it felt other worldly to me.  Once exiting immigration and baggage claim, we entered another world; a sea of faces with signs held up for a taxi, the heat hit as if you opened an oven door, a small kiosk for sim cards and currency exchange is all that is there to help with the transition into this new environment.

We read that we should use the airport taxi service and avoid hiring just anyone asking to take you into town.  We did this and still got ripped off but what are you going to do.  The taxi had no air conditioning, all the windows were rolled down.  It was loud as scooters sped by, there is so much traffic in Denpasar and most of the drive to Ubud.  It must have taken an hour and a half.  We were so quiet, taking it all in.  When we found our homestay and it’s beautiful compound, we were relieved but the rooms were very simple and different than our normal hotel experiences.  We were cautiously optimistic.  We quickly put our things away and headed out for dinner.  We found a local warung (local casual restaurant) and grabbed a meal.  It was excellent and we were shocked at the price.  We paid $8.00 US for all of us.

I’ve written about our homestay and the wonderful experience it was for our family.  It will go down as one of the most special travel experiences I’ve had.  I ADORED getting a sneak peak into these families lives and their kindness will never be forgotten.

I also loved Ubud and I recommend travelers spend more time in this area.  There is so much to do and it is very inexpensive.  Everything is cheaper in this area from food to clothes to home goods and souvenirs.  It killed me not to be able to purchase anything to bring home but we don’t have any room in our luggage to buy things other than our tradition of a magnet we started when the kids were about six years old.

The locals in Ubud are lovely.  The only people calling out to you are the taxi drivers asking if you want a taxi-“cheap cheap”.  When you reply “no thanks”, they leave you alone.  I also recommend driving further away from Ubud into the many villages.  It’s a surreal experience and I came away enlightened.

Indonesian women are tough.  Households seem to have the  traditional role of women as the homemaker.  Woman get up around 4am everyday and head to the local markets which are in every village.  The markets begin opening around 3am.  The women go to the market and buy a days worth of food as well as all that is needed to make offerings.  She comes home and begins preparing food for the entire day.  Balinese don’t eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  They also only cook once a day, in the morning.  We often heard our hostess in the kitchen, which is always  a separate building or pod away from living quarters, in the early morning.  The kitchens also have an outdoor prep table with a large area for making offerings and cutting fruits.  The food is prepared for the entire day and left in the kitchen for the family to eat when they are hungry.  I would see children come out from their home and go into the kitchen and get a plate of food and take it to their lanai to eat. Also, they do not talk when they eat.  It is not a social thing, they eat for sustenance.  They don’t all eat together as a a family either.

The interesting thing is that women also perform manual labor.  I saw countless women working alongside men or simply a large group of women working.  They were  moving large mounds of rocks, gravel, and dirt using a large round plastic container to hold the material.  They then balanced it on their heads walking to wherever the material was to be used…..over and over they did this.

In addition, when working in the rice fields, there are certain laborous tasks that only the men do, and some that only the women do.  I was amazed at their work ethic.  They were quick to offer a smile when I smiled at them as well.

It seemed that women were always busy doing something.  They spent hours weaving leaves together to form square containers for offerings and then proceeded to put flower petals, leaves and food into the numerous containers.  They would shower and change into a sarong and lace blouse and take the offerings and incense to their home temple along with numerous areas of the compound.

We also spent some time in Kuta,  by the ocean.  Kuta felt like one large dirty tourist trap.  It has many bars and restaurants and is very busy and noisy.  The locals were aggressive with  their sales pitch on the street.  The beach was pretty the first couple days but then there must have been a stronge surge during high tide  overnight because the beach was littered with plastic and trash.  Our hotel staff and many restaurant servers were very friendly and outgoing.  The balinese have gorgeous large smiles that light up a room.

I would go as far as to say that Kuta can be skipped and replaced with a smaller coastal town where you get more of a local vibe.

 

The good and bad

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We have been traveling for more than a month and I knew we would have to jump over hurdles every now and again.  I was correct.  I read numerous books, blogs, articles about RTW travel with families and felt fairly prepared for what lay ahead.

I am a natural controller and worrier.  I know, yay for me.  One of the reasons why I wanted to embark on such an epic adventure was to refine this part of my personality.  I knew that it would give me ample opportunities to practice patience and trust and to “let it go”.

It’s always easy to see the good (thanks Instagram) part of peoples travels.  This world is incredibly beautiful and diverse!!  The good is so dang good; spending so much time together, experiencing new cultures, customs, food, landmarks, etc.  Seeing your family adapt and engage with others.  It’s been better than I expected to be quite honest.

Also, something VERY interesting happened within the first couple weeks of travel.  Those “things” that cause conflict MUST be dealt with and pronto!  Life is busy at home and kids take up so much time that these “things” don’t seem so intense. BUT, when together 24/7 and traveling, they become HUGE! I HATE confrontation, hate it.  Dan has taught me that confrontation, in a loving way, is love.  Well, we confronted a couple issues that have caused tension for years.  It was hard but so, so good for all of us. Thank you long term travel!

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Of course, you see the good but I want to peel back the layer a bit and hopefully encourage and enlighten those of you wanting to travel RTW one day.  There are challenges along the way (and we will surely have more to come) but I thought I’d share our “bad” with you to give you a clearer picture because life is not always rainbows and palm trees….instagram lies sometimes and/or omits when convenient.

-On the third day of travel, I received an email that our bank account was compromised.  A few phone calls later, we learned the email was bogus!  Our account wasn’t compromised and the sender was looking for passwords and such.   We are fairly savvy to this kind of thing but I tell you, when you are miles away from home and need money to travel and the email looked legit, you worry.

-My email account was blocked.  Thank goodness, I could receive emails via my iphone but all my saved folders in my email account on my ipad were gone.  These were folders containing ALL confirmation numbers for hotel, airfare and visas.   Thank goodness I made several hard copies of the information.  I highly recommend you ALWAYS bring hard copies of your itinerary and confirmation numbers.  I am an organizational nerd and I was never happier about that fact when this happened.

-When checking in at Christchurch, NZ for our flight to Sydney, AU, they had no confirmation that I applied for my visa to enter the country.  Dan and the kids were fine but I was not.  Thank goodness we always arrive early because it took about an hour to resolve this issue.  They ended up having to call Australia’s immigration to clear me.

-Again with my bank, my password was compromised and I spent a couple hours online resetting it because my calls were getting dropped while trying to do it over the cell phone. I hate this kind of thing and typically think of the worst case scenario.

-Lastly, Dan got sick in Bali (but feels better now) and Sophie is currently sick.

I hope this gives you a better picture of life on the road.  It’s life and it’s always going to throw you a curve ball and it is our CHOICE to CHOOSE the attitude in which we will handle it.

**Good news, I now have access to email on my ipad along with all my saved folders!!  Woot woot!

Balinese Homestay

We chose to forego the typical hotel while in Ubud, Bali  Instead, we rented two rooms at a local Homestay.

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What is a homestay?  It is a wonderful way to immerse yourself into Balinese culture.  Our homestay is owned by a few families and looks somewhat like a beautiful compound with many different pod style homes sprinkled throughout the property.  Our hosts home is next to ours and is not much larger than our two rooms.  The kitchens in Bali are not in the home.  They are in a separate pod or small building and are joined with an outdoor kitchen or preparation area for putting together food and flower offerings, chopping fruits and vegetables and washing dishes.

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Owners home is on left.  Family temple is through the gates.

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There are approximately 15 rooms with private lanais on the property.  Coffee and breakfast is served every morning on your private lanai.  We typically hear one of the  young boys, approximately 18 years old, set our cups and coffee on our table outside every morning around 6:30am.  We are up early every morning and head out for coffee.  They usually bring our breakfast about 30 minutes later.  Its such a treat for us and we have enjoyed a different breakfast every morning.  They also bring coffee and tea and sometimes a plate of fruit and sweet bread in the afternoons around 3pm.

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As much as we enjoy our breakfast and afternoon tea, I think we appreciate observing the daily comings and goings of traditional Balinese life happening around us every day.

I enjoy seeing the children head off to school every morning.  All children go to school six days a week.  The younger children leave around 7:30am and return around 10:30am.  The older children have longer days similar to the United States.  The children’s uniforms are beautiful.  I would love to find the pattern of the shirts and buy one for Dan.  They are blue and white and have a unique design.  Some days they dress in the customary temple and ceremony attire; girls in the kebaya lace top with a sash and the ankle length skirt called an akin, boys also wear an akin or sarong  with a shirt and a head dress called an udeng.

Many of the woman walk around with large platters of offerings and incense and place them around the property.  They bless them by dipping the tip of a plumeria flower into water and waving their hand above their heads in a circular motion then flick the water onto diffierent statues and small shrines while saying a prayer silently.  They also light incense throughout the property.  We are slowly becoming used to the smell but often times have to close our windows because it is too strong for us.  (As I look out my window right now, I can see insense smoke floating in the air on our lanai.)

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There are two young boys who serve us and clean our rooms.  They are quiet and friendly and quick to smile.  The owners daughter,  who is married with small children, does most of the cooking and interacts with the guests.  The owner is an older man and always knows what is going on.  He owns a small store just outside the homestay and sells food and drinks as well.

The property grounds are immaculate!  Every day we see people tending  it.  They use a long piece of bamboo daily to knock off dead plumeria leaves.  They are forever sweeping with a broom which is merely a number of long dried branches tied at the top with leaves from a plant.  They carry buckets of water to water plants also.  They frequently hand you a flower to put in your hair as you walk past them.  The women wear flowers behind their ear and in their hair, much like Hawaii.  The men put a small fragrant flower petal pointing vertically behind the middle of the top part of the ear.  I can’t figure out how it stays put.

Our homestay can be noisy.  Paying guests come and go and friends of the family do as well.  I, personally, love to see and hear children running around, so their voices and squeals don’t bother me.  Scooters are driven by everyone and often times you will hear a scooter drive through on the walkway in the middle of the night.  One night we woke to drumming  and chanting somewhere nearby.  One of the local families was clearly having some sort of ceremony.

We are enjoying peaking into the Balinese lifestyle and are pleased we chose to stay here.  It certainly isn’t as comfortable as a normal hotel and there isn’t air conditioning.  They have ceiling fans in every room.  I do our laundry in the sink every couple of days and each guest has drying racks on their lanais.  So far, I don’t mind at all.  (My Mom probably spit out her tea after reading that sentence, ha).  Seriously, its a great alternative and I’m so pleased that we tried something out of the box (for us).

Airbnb in Sydney, Australia

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We were pleasantly surprised once again with our Airbnb apartment.  We didn’t arrive until 9pm and the owner met us outside the secured building (after we waited for about 5 minutes).  It was a warm evening and the apartment was quite stuffy when we entered.  The owner had been drying our towels in the dryer.  They had a small air con in the living room, which was necessary.  The apartment itself was much larger than anticipated and we were pleased with a washer and dryer in the unit.

The apartment was very simple and clean.  It had everything we needed.  The best part about it was its location.  It was about a 10 minute walk to Darling Harbor and the ferries which take you all over the area.  Darling Harbor isn’t quite as busy as Sydney Harbor but has everything and then some of what you need.

Chinatown, great shopping and supermarkets were 10 minutes away.  There were plenty of parks and museums nearby as well.

The street the apartment was located on was very busy but the windows were double pane and kept the noise at bay.  Although, when we did have the windows open, it was quite noisy.

The communication from first booking the apartment until our actual visit and during our visit was superb.  We received a text half way through our stay to make sure everything was okay.

The owner is planning on driving us to the airport to catch our next flight as well.  He charges the same amount as our taxi driver charged when we arrived.

We are sold on Airbnb type lodging.  We love having a kitchen, washer/dryer along with more room to spread out when coming home from sightseeing.  We are eating most of our meals at the apartment once again.  I pack sandwiches, fruit and chips for our lunches out and about and we always grab an ice cream or coffee mid day as a treat.

 

New Zealand recap

We are so pleased that we visited this beautiful place.  It is the most beautiful country we have ever seen.  The scale of its beauty amazed us.

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I thought I would break down my thoughts on a few categories.

People-We thoroughly enjoyed the people we met on our travels.  Most keep to themselves but were quietly friendly.  Our Airbnb hosts were warm and friendly but gave us plenty of space.  They texted us a few times after the earthquake to make sure we were okay.  They also went out of their way and mailed a special ruck sack that Max left in their home.  The gentleman who stopped to check on us after our “turkey strike” exchanged business cards with Dan and they have emailed a couple of times.  We also ran into the gentleman and his wife at a museum near Welllington, small world.

Airports-The ease in navigating this country is amazing.  Customs and Immigration is organized and efficient, it took minutes to get through both.  The airports (we were in three in NZ) are extremely organized and clean.  Everything you need when arriving is right at your fingertips; rental cars, SIM cards, ferry bookings, etc.

Driving-Dan found the drivers to be very courteous.  He did a great job!  I was the navigator and found signage and highways fairly easy to navigate.  I found the north island a bit harder to navigate at times when looking for addresses.  There are so many small roads veering off this way and that at times.  Gasoline was costly but we knew that going in.  Renting a car is much cheaper than on the mainland.  They charge quite a bit for insurance but we obviously recommend purchasing it.  There are so many animals around and we had never seen so much “road kill”.  We were there at the beginning of high season and there are so many locals and tourists on the road that it is wise to purchase insurance.

Food– I am not a foodie and am pretty easy to please (so is my family), but I wasn’t crazy about their food.  They love meat pies and we tried some from a popular local restaurant.  We weren’t crazy about them.  They also love baked goods and  have many bakeries.  We tried a few but were not thrilled with them because they were too sweet for us (which never happens).  They do make a good cup of tea and we loved how all of our accommodations included a small container of milk when checking in for morning tea.  We drank a lot of tea while in New Zealand.

Cost-Our dollar is strong right now but New Zealand is an expensive country to visit.  (It helps that we live in Hawaii and are used to spending a fortune on groceries and meals at restaurants.).  We spent a lot of time hiking and checking out beaches and lakes which didn’t cost a cent.  However, if you want to enjoy a museum, tour, or gondola ride, they offer a family discount.  Instead of purchasing separate tickets for adults and kids, they have family tickets for two adults and up to three children.  It saves a family quite a bit of money.

Hotels– We LOVED how all the hotels, when booking a family room, include a small kitchenette.  They are so convenient! They include dishes, cutlery, pots and pans, toasters, coffee makers, refrigerators, etc.  Many had washer/dryer on site as well (I’ve been able to do laundry at nearly all our accommodations).  It was so convenient to make breakfast in the mornings before heading out.  We loved this feature!

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If you are a bit intimated by international travel, New Zealand would be a great place to start.  It is a beautiful country and one of the easiest and safest to navigate.  We hope to visit again!

 

Maori Cultural Center-Northland

 

We drove through beautiful countryside and farmland to get to the Maori Cultural Center.  The sun was shining and the skies were blue.  The sheep were dotted along the hills.  We love seeing animals and wide open spaces everywhere and our necks are forever turning this way and that at the beauty which surrounds and “is” New Zealand.

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We drove through charming towns along the waterfront and into Bay of Islands.  The day was warm and sunny and the town was picture perfect.  Bay of Islands is known for its undeveloped beaches, fishing, sailing and Maori Cultural artifacts.

 

We arrived at the center just in time for the hour long tour.  Our guide was very informative and rattled off names, dates, and events as if he were reading from a book.  I have to be honest,  he spoke so quickly, I felt like half of what he said was lost on me.  However, I did enjoy the beauty of the center and museum.

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I think the one thing that stood out the most was that Maori people were warriors.  They had to fight off many and fighting and killing seemed to be a part of who they were.  We spoke with a local carver and he showed us a beautiful woman’s comb that they wore in their hair but upon closer inspection, there were three sharp teeth made from ivory that could defend and kill.

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Europeans visited the area in the mid 1700’s and eventually settled.  Sealers and Whalers were the first to settle followed by missionaries and merchants.  Unfortunately, as more immigrants arrived and settled, they weren’t always fair with the Maori.  Many Maori chiefs sought protection from the King of England and worked together on The Treaty of Waitangi and had it drafted and signed by 43 Northland Chiefs and later by over 500 Chiefs as it was taken around the country over the next eight months.  The Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840.  The treaty and its three articles continue to cause conflict today.  This document is considered New Zealand’s founding document.

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We enjoyed a Maori song and dance similar to our Hawaiian hula and singing.  Although, the Maori are much more aggressive in their dance.  Even their singing is loud and intimidating.  I noticed the woman were always shaking their arms and hands during the performance.  I later asked about this and they said that the shaking of the arms and hands means life.  It is called Wiri and represents the spirit and life.

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The grounds were spectacular and we enjoyed the afternoon exploring. Later, we drove into town and walked along the waterfront a bit more.   Another beautiful day in New Zealand.

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Why travel is good for us (Part one)

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It teaches us patience.  We live in a world where nearly everything is instantaneous.  Our kids rarely have to wait for anything and we no longer have to either.  Patience and delayed gratification are virtues that need to be taught nowadays and travel is the best teacher.

Airports can be frustrating.  The long lines, the delayed and cancelled flights, dealing with so many different people, these all teach patience.  We must wait in line for the ticket agent to call us, we must wait in line to get through security, wait in line to get on our plane, wait for a beverage and meal, wait to use the bathroom, wait to land, wait to get off the plane, wait to clear immigration, wait to clear customs, wait for your bags, wait for a taxi or find the rental car counter, wait and pray that we can find or our driver can understand and find our lodging, wait to check in and finally…..we have arrived.

We will be driving for most of the day tomorrow and as exhausting as being on the road can be, it’s part of the process of traveling.  We will make the most of our drive, enjoy the scenery, argue, stop at the gas station for snacks and pray for a safe arrival to our next location.

Of course, travel teaches more than just patience but I find it both difficult to be patient, yet grateful for the exercising of this muscle.

My two cents from afar.

**I wrote this a couple days ago BEFORE the New Zealand earthquake and all the rearranging and “patience” I had to exercise.  One step forward, two steps back but I am working (and want so badly) to be more patient.   I see glimpses of improvement here and there.

***Isn’t it funny that the minute I write about patience, I’d have to exercise patience again and again.  Ha, ha.  Our drive a couple days ago took 12 hours and in the middle of it, we hit a large turkey which put a big dent into the hood.  Then after a day of cancelling ferries and booking flights and cancelling and rebooking hotels, we’ve been sitting at the Wellington Airport for six hours.  We’re nearly on our way and it really hasn’t been that bad.  This airport is big enough to provide good food and an amazing book store (to us….remember we live on a tiny island and miss a good bookstore), yet small enough to not overwhelm.  Cheers!!

Airbnb First Impressions

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Our apartment was on ground floor

Our first experience with Airbnb lodging was quite impressive.  When I began planning and booking lodging I was pleased with Airbnb’s website and the ease with which to find rooms/apartments within our budget along with swift communication with the owners.  The secure online payment was very user friendly as well.  You do pay in full when booking with Airbnb.

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View from home
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View from down our quiet street

When I first communicated with our owner for Whangarei Heads, NZ, he was nothing but pleasant and friendly.  He gave me solid advice about where to stay upon arriving in Auckland since his home is 3 hours north.  He responded to all of my texts and emails as well.

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Backyard gardens along with a small laundry off back of home.

I have to say that everyone that I communicated with when inquiring about lodging responded promptly and courteously.  I have nothing but positive things to say about our experience.

Approximately one week before leaving for our trip, I received a text from another Airbnb owner who we booked with for our visit to the South Island.  They had to cancel our entire week due to a family emergency.  I scrambled a bit and ended up changing our plans.  In the end, I was grateful for the cancellation because our new plan is much traveler friendly.  Thanks God!!  We were refunded our money within a day or two.  It was all very seamless.

Getting back to our hosts in Whangarie Heads, we were met as we pulled in the driveway, shown our small apartment and had a book with all the details of our apartment along with fun things to do in the area.  Our hosts left early for work every day and we had the apartment and surrounding front and back yard to ourselves.  They have a beautiful garden and we picked strawberries daily.  They also had two friendly chickens who supplied fresh eggs when desired. They also had a washer and dryer which was wonderful to stay on top of our laundry.  Their kitchenette was small but I was able to cook all of our meals but one.  It worked out beautifully and they had everything we needed to make simple healthy meals.

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Living area, kids trundle bed was in this area and our bedroom is visible too.

If you’re on the fence about trying an alternative to typical hotels and resorts, I highly recommend giving Airbnb and similar websites a chance.  I scoured the reviews and chose the best fit for our family within our budget.  I think we will be using this service more than hotels in the future.  I enjoy being able to make a cup of coffee or tea when I feel like it and cooking our own meals.  It’s fun to go out every now and again but as I get older, I prefer preparing our own food (and I am not an amazing cook and/or particularly like to cook).  I simply feel better when I prepare our food, ah, the joys of middle age.