Adventures in traveling south of the border with my family!

I’m fresh back from almost 2 weeks in Mexico! Some of you travel a lot, so this is no big deal. My Hubby & I traveled quite a bit before having children, and I’ve really, really missed it. I flew with my Son a few times while he was under 2 still, to visit family here in the US, but have not flown since. My daughter who is 3.5 has never been on a plane. So I was more than ready, but quite nervous. There are so many things that could go wrong. All the what if’s kept rattling around in my brain. Traveling from WI in January is always a risk. But, I decided to trust the Universe that everything would work out, and it DID. It went better than I ever could’ve imagined, and I’m so, so glad we went!

My main goal was to get somewhere warm to make ½ of January disappear quickly. It’s a long, cold, boring month here in WI. I was tempted to go to FL as there are plenty of nice beaches & warmth to be had. But I really wanted to get us out of our comfort zone a bit more. I wanted to expand my kiddos world view beyond the horizons of rural WI. We have very little diversity here in terms of different skin colors, languages, etc. and therefore I need to make efforts to expose them to the larger world around us. Some of you know, but many aren’t aware of my background: my degree is in Spanish Education. As I said I enjoy traveling & I really loved learning Spanish in college and knew I would have a chance to study abroad if I majored in it. I was fortunate to be able to spend 10 weeks in Costa Rica living in an apartment & studying advanced Spanish 4 hrs/day as part of my degree. I finished 6m of student teaching in 2 local schools, received my degree to teach K-12 Spanish in public schools, and then immediately learned I was pregnant with my Son. I still planned to get into the workforce, and applied for many jobs, but didn’t land any that coming school year. My Son was born in March & I still thought I’d get into teaching that next Fall. But, once I had my Son I realized I did not want to leave him. I had always felt that if I had kids, I wanted to be the one to stay home & raise them, not have someone else do it while I worked. So I stayed home, turned down several jobs that they were calling & begging me to fill. My Son is about to turn 6 years now & I have not used my degree in a public school setting at least (have done some tutoring), and I do not intend to.

Living in rural WI, I have very little opportunity to use my Spanish, and as they say if you don’t use it you lose it. So I really wanted to throw myself into situations where I could use it. I knew traveling to FL would not give me those opportunities. I’m happy to report it came back quickly & I received compliments over & over on my ability to speak which made me very happy. My kids loved hearing me speak & my daughter soon started speaking gibberish & saying: Mom, that was Spanish. Now that they’ve had the tiny bit of exposure I plan to keep with it. I had been regretting not teaching them from day 1, something I had intended to do but completely failed at. My Mom was born in Germany & although she has lived in the US for 40 years now, is still a fluent speaker. She never taught us a word in German & I told myself I would be different, but I had failed. Those of you who speak other languages, please pass it on, it’s a great gift!

I know a lot of people dis Cancun as being way too touristy, but there is a reason people from all over the world flock there. The beaches are AMAZING. The water is gorgeous. It is not far from anywhere in the US: it only took a little over 4 hrs in the air from Milwaukee, WI (on 2 different flights). And there are many very culturally significant Mayan ruins in the area. Chichen Itza is one of the 7 wonders of the world, and for very good reason.  There are palm trees, coral, shells, iguanas, it’s another world compared to WI, and that’s what I wanted. I was there ~10 years ago with my Mom & Sis. I was in my 3rd semester of college at the time & it helped cement my love for the Latin world & propelled me to decide on my Spanish major. On this trip, I waited too long to book our day trip to Tulum, and it was all full so we didn’t visit any ruins this time. I know we’ll be back, and that the kids will appreciate them more in a couple years, although I know they would’ve left quite the impression on them, they are remarkable!

We were definitely the minority being from the US. We met a LOT of Canadians, they really like to travel! And they’re very friendly. We were having lunch at a small luncheria one day & the place was pretty full but we had 2 empty chairs at our table. A middle-aged Canadian couple approached & asked if we minded if they sat down for a cup of tea with us. Of course we couldn’t say no & we chatted over lunch. One thing I found out about traveling with kids is we had a lot of empathy from others. I heard over & over: ahhhh, I remember when our kids were that age, now they’re grown, cherish this time, etc….. We had many helping hands along the way, many kind & understanding gestures, it was refreshing. And one of the things that warmed my heart the most was my kids made friends with non-English speakers. At the 1st place we stayed at for 4 nights, my Son befriended a Czech boy. His Dad worked for a major bank so traveled all over the world, but they chose Cancun for vacation. The Dad spoke some English, but the boy & his younger brother spoke very, very little. Yet the kids played for hours each day.  They swam together, built sand castles together, laughed, and I thought they were both going to cry when they gave their goodbye hug the day we left. Yet very few words were spoken. And to me there is something so powerful in that. Same with a Japanese girl they met on the beach. She was there with her parents, I saw her eyeing up my kids who were digging in the sand & building castles. I held out an extra shovel they weren’t using & she shyly accepted it & came & started digging with us. An hour went by and we built a super great creation together & again, very few words exchanged.

As we all know: there is no place like home. And traveling out of country or to less developed areas of our country even, definitely gives a greater appreciation for what we have. My family lives quite simply & modestly. We have a 1400 sq. ft home, only buy things we can pay for, etc. Going to a place in which many people live in extreme poverty, in which you cannot drink the water or even brush your teeth with it gives me such extreme gratitude for my safe well water. Except for the super fancy resorts, you generally never flush your toilet paper in Mexico. There are garbage cans next to the toilets & you’re supposed to put your paper there, their septic systems cannot handle it. My kids easily adapted to this, but again, it gave me a great appreciation for flushing paper again. There are vast, significant differences between the lives of us here and there, but at the same time, when it comes down to it, we have more in common than not!

On packing: I felt I did a really good job. We have 1 huge suitcase that is at the max specs for not being charged for oversize, and it weighed in right at 50# so we didn’t have to pay more than $25 to check it. I felt I was packing really lightly for each of us, and I was, but X4 it adds up quickly. But still, we had plenty of clothes & not any that we didn’t need. My daughter brought 1 doll, my Son 2 of his transformers & his stuffed rooster that he takes everywhere, but other than that we had 1 small backpack with art supplies, maze & other activity books. One small backpack with snacks & water, my purse, my Hubby’s manpurse with his tablet, and that was it! The 1st aid essentials I chose to bring were: Josiah’s Oils Germ Fight Blend which I applied to all of us several times/day, Bach’s Rescue Remedy, Nux Vomica (not sure the brand, I get it at my co-op, but I SWEAR by this for upset bellies), Poofy’s Everything Salve & After Sun Spray, Traditional Medicinals Elderberry/Echinacea tea, and that’s it really. I used everything I brought.  We all stayed remarkably healthy the entire time. In the beginning my Hubby had a bit of a belly ache, nothing major just was feeling bloated & not so great. Me: here, take some of these nux vomica tabs, they’re amazing. Him: no, no, I’m fine (as he rolls around in bed trying to sleep). Finally I hear him take a couple of them & drift into sleep shortly afterwards. The next morning: wow, shortly after I took those I felt much better…. Classic! So the entire time we were in Mexico that was really the worst of any belly aches any of us had, we truly stayed healthy. On the way home we flew from Cancun to Denver, and although we had a 2 hr layover which I thought would give us plenty of time to get through customs, etc, we barely made our connecting flight. We had all of 10 min before our next flight was leaving by the time we got to the gate, and the kids were starving. The only food in sight was McDonald’s right next to the gate. My kids have never, ever eaten McDonald’s in their life, they don’t know what it is. But we went for it, the next flight was 2 hrs long & didn’t get to our destination until 9pm, and we were out of snacks. We got a chicken nuggets meal & a cheeseburger meal for them, cheeseburgers for Hubby & I & ran on the plane, sat down exhausted & chowed down. I’m not joking that within ½ hr of eating that crap food, we all had our 1st upset stomachs of the entire 12 days we’d been traveling. My Son suddenly said: Mom, I have to go to the bathroom reallllly bad, and there was someone in both of them on the plane, and I truly thought he was going to soil his pants. All of us were running to the bathrooms. I’m sharing this because I think it provides great insight as to why so many Americans are so sick, it’s the food, I will never eat there again, nor will my kids as long as I have a say.

My thoughts on all-inclusive vs not:

All inclusive (El Cid for 4 nights)- The things I liked about it: it was at the end of a dead end road about ½ hr south of Cancun. It was very quiet, there was no street noise, no barking dogs. A bit of hooting & hollering here & there but mainly all I heard every night was the sound of the wind through the palms & the waves crashing! I liked that there was a huge, very nice pool with a small water slide & a bigger one for older kids including a cliff jumping area, my kids were still too young for those activities.  At their age the ocean is a bit much for them, and being winter in Cancun means a lot of wind, so the ocean was not calm at all. I liked that I didn’t have to cook a single thing for 4 days! There were 4 restaurants as well as a huge buffet that was constantly changing. What I disliked: We over ate. I saw sooooo much wasted food & I’m very sensitive to that, I absolutely hate it. But we’d go to breakfast, then a few hours later it was like: let’s go see what’s for lunch. Even though we weren’t really hungry we’d try a dab of this & that & have a plate full before long. And I just saw so much wasted food. My hope is that they do something with some of the waste…  And it was quite expensive, but considering we didn’t have to spend any money the entire time we were there other than a tip here & there, it didn’t seem so bad in the end.

View from the balcony of our all-inclusive:

balcony

Non-all-inclusive: We spent 7 nights at a quaint, very traditionally decorated, lovely villa on Isla Mujeres, just north of Cancun. It was 1/3 of the price/night of the all-inclusive, but suddenly I was responsible for all meals again which I hadn’t really missed. My Dad & Step Mom joined us for an overlapping 5 nights, and had their own room near us which was nice. Grocery shopping in a foreign country is always an interesting experience. Our 1st day there we went out for lunch then I asked where the supermercado  was & got pointed in the right direction. We found a corner convenience store & I was a bit worried that was the place. Nope, there was still somewhere bigger a few blocks down, phew. I got the basics there: coffee, fruit & some veggies, 1st night’s dinner & next morning’s breakfast. Then the next day someone pointed me to the SUPERmercado. I took a taxi without the family & spent a good hour+ cruising the aisles for our week worth of groceries. There were familiar names like Johnsonville, Sargento, many organic offerings, and even canned cranberries from WI! The island is only 5 miles long by ½ mile wide, so very small. The natives all use mopeds or bikes to get around, the tourists rent golf carts or take taxis which there are tonnnns of. There is a constant whir of golf carts, long into the night, and this actually was a downfall in my opinion. Back home we live on a very quiet back road that gets hardly any traffic, so the street noise really bothered me while in our room, especially at night, that and barking dogs.  The place we stayed at was a marina as well, and it was fascinating to hear the stories of those docked there. We met people from all over the world. My kids befriended a 7 year old Australian boy who had the most amazing accent, I wanted to listen to him talk all day long! He lived in Australia until he was 5, and they’ve been docked there on Isla Mujeres living on the boat for 2 years now! The kids played so well together and again, I thought they were going to cry when saying goodbye, he asked if we could please stay longer. Other than being too noisy for me,  it was a nice home base for the week, and our days were mainly spent at the gorgeous beaches on the north side of the island, building castles, collecting shells, relaxing.

The beach we spent a lot of time on in Isla Mujeres:

playa

Shopping in Mexico: I’m not a shopper. I prefer online shopping vs malls, get most of our clothing handed down or via garage sales/thrift stores. Shopping in Mexico is overwhelming. At 1st, haggling for deals can be fun, seem rewarding & be a bit of a thrill. But for me, it quickly got very old. Example: I pick up a gorgeous dress for my daughter at the 1st stop, ask how much it is & am told $35. Ok, see ya I say. Wait, Wait, how much you want to pay? I never pay more than $20 for any kids clothes I say, which is true, they outgrow them so fast, and I am used to hand-me-downs as I said. Him: how about $21, a small tip for me on top of your $20. Me: pulling out $14 worth of pesos, this is all I have. Him: Ok, deal. Seriously, you wanted $35 but will take $14 (the dress is SUPER cute by the way, so I was happy). But this gets repeated over & over, for every item, and I got super burnt out on it quickly. Speaking Spanish gets you even better deals for sure, and I loved the practice & compliments I received on my speaking skills. I watched people paying full price for t-shirts, $35 or so, when they likely could’ve gotten it for $10. I didn’t do much shopping, but did get 2 adorable dresses for my daughter, a couple of shirts for my Son, 2 dresses & a couple pairs of cute & comfy pants for me, some vanilla, a sea shell wind chime, a couple magnets & that’s it! My Hubby & Dad went fishing & their catches were made into fresh ceviche as well as grilled up for us for that nights dinner which we ate under the stars, it was a real treat!

Many of you have asked about my experience “unplugging”. It was easy for me! I do not own a smart phone as 99% of you likely do. I do most of my work from my lap top or our home PC. So when I’m out of the house, I’m truly away from technology. We did not activate international functions for our phones, so turned them off in Atlanta & didn’t turn them back on until we got to Denver 12 days later. I didn’t bring my laptop on vacation but my Hubby did bring his tablet as it’s our camera/video camera as well, and he installed a couple super basic kids games on it as well which kept them entertained on the planes when needed. So it came in handy, and we did have internet at the 2nd place we stayed so I did update my personal Fb page a couple times to let friends & family know we were safe & having a great time. But other than that, with all my groups shut down, I spent no time browsing Facebook, and didn’t miss reading daily news updates, etc. It truly felt good to just focus on my family, how we were going to spend our day, and not think about the rest of the world for a bit. I lost an entire week of productivity between Christmas & New Year due to a terrible toothache. I had a lot of projects planned & got very little done… I urge everyone to try to unplug a little more. Give it a shot! I know many people who have a tough time balancing their online time with the rest of their life. I know people who suddenly feel the need to pull the plug completely, deleting their Fb account entirely. Then a month or 2 or 6 later they’ll pop back up. I really do like & value Facebook & with all things in life: balance is key. Ying & Yang. Speaking of Facebook, here’s a fabulous page that has many great posts & inspiring messages, it’s one of my favorites: https://www.facebook.com/TheHandsFreeRevolution/

We squeaked home between some wicked ice storms that hit the Midwest. My Dad, who had joined us for a week down there, got stuck in Chicago for an extra day & a half, but luckily his Sis who lives there was able to come & get him & he had a great, extended vacation. Had we gotten stuck in Denver with the kids, it would’ve put a sour note on the end of the trip. But everything, seriously everything, went as it needed to go to make it a happy, successful trip & I know my kiddos will be thinking & talking about it for a long time to come. It gives me the motivation to work hard and continue to live modestly so I can save the money needed to fund an annual adventure. I don’t know that we’ll go back to the spots we visited this time, as I like exploring new spots, but I do know we’ll be heading south of the border again for sure!

So, that’s my vacation in a nut-shell, I enjoyed writing about it, I hope you enjoyed reading about it! It was not cheap, but it was priceless family time that I would not trade for anything in the world ♥

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