Kids meet world

Yau Yi Ken (second from right), Ms Tan Dun Lin (extreme left), and Yau Yi Xi (second from left) with the friends they met in Lithuania.
PHOTO: Mr Sean Yau

Last year, Yau Yi Xi and her brother Yi Ken went on a year-long backpacking and cycling trip with their parents across Asia and Europe.

They visited 28 countries including Switzerland, the Czech Republic and Mongolia, and sometimes slept in tents.

So what, you might ask. Others have done this too. Well, how many of them were aged two and five?

"We had always wanted to take a long vacation before Yi Ken starts primary school," said Mr Sean Yau of his son, who was then five. Yi Xi was even younger - she was only two.

"This seemed like the perfect opportunity."

The 40-year-old former research engineer wanted to expose his children to new cultures in the hope that they would develop an open mind while they were still young.

"We wanted our children to interact more with foreigners," he said.

Most parents would not take their children on such long trips, but Mr Yau said that if they had kept worrying, they would not have gone at all.

"We knew there would be problems, but we decided we could deal with them along the way," he said.

So in February last year, Mr Yau and his wife, Ms Tan Dun Lin, 36, an administrative executive, quit their jobs.

The next month, they left for their first port of call, South Korea, before moving on to 27 other destinations. They returned to Singapore on March 24 this year.

They mostly stayed at hostels, their friends' homes or at homes found on holiday home rental website Airbnb and Couchsurfing, a hospitality exchange and social networking website where travellers stay as guests at a host's home for free.

Mr Yau enjoyed this aspect of the journey, especially in Russia, as he got to learn a lot about the countries and their cultures.

FAVOURITE

For Yi Ken, the visit to Everland, South Korea's largest theme park, was his favourite.

When they embarked on the cycling phase of the trip in August, the couple bought a tandem bicycle, with a child carrier attached, and a child trailer.

They cycled from Finland to Macedonia through countries like Norway, Croatia and Montenegro.

The children were not used to the 10 to 20 deg C temperatures.

To distract them from the cold, their parents would encourage them to sing. Mr Yau said: "We often sang nursery rhymes and songs from The Sound Of Music while cycling. This helped to keep the kids entertained.

"I enjoyed it because everyone was more involved.

"We made decisions together as a family."

On the cycling trip, they also faced their toughest challenge: looking for places to sleep at night.

When they were unable to book accommodation, they would knock on villagers' doors in the hope that a family would take them in.

Most of the time, they were successful.

"I was very relieved and touched when strangers offered us their homes to stay. They gave us food and sometimes treated us better than their own family members," said Ms Tan.

However, twice in Croatia, they had no choice but to sleep in their tents on concrete pavements and grass patches.

Said Mr Yau: "It was tough because it was cold. But the children were happy to sleep in the tent so I was not so worried." They were also fortunate as the children did not fall ill during the trip.

After the cycling trip, the family resumed backpacking in Switzerland, making their way across western Europe. They then flew to Thailand before returning to Singapore.

Mr Yau said that after the trip, he has become more adventurous and adaptable.

However, it is Yi Xi who has shown the most significant development.

"She can talk more now. We even toilet-trained her in Russia," said Mr Yau.


WHERE THEY WENT

The Yau family visited 28 countries. They spent between $25,000 and $30,000 in total.

Phase 1 Backpacking
1 South Korea (March-April 2015)
2 Japan (April 2015)
3 China (April-May 2015)
4 Mongolia (May 2015)
5 Russia (May-June 2015) June 13 to July 17:
6 Estonia
7 Latvia
8 Lithuania
9 Finland (July-Aug 2015)

Phase 2 Cycling
10 Norway (Aug-Sept 2015)
11 Bosnia and Herzegovina (Sept 2015)
12 Croatia (Sept-Nov 2015)
13 Montenegro (Nov 2015)
14 Albania (Nov 2015)
15 Kosovo (Nov-Dec 2015)
16 Macedonia (Dec 2015)

Phase 3 Backpacking
17 Switzerland (Dec 2015)
18 Austria (Dec 2015)
19 Liechtenstein (Dec 2015)
20 Germany (Jan 2016)
21 France (Jan 2016)
22 Belgium (Jan 2016)
23 Netherlands (Jan-Feb 2016)
24 Poland (Feb 2016)
25 Czech Republic (Feb 2016)
26 Denmark (March 2016)
27 Sweden (March 2016)
28 Thailand (March 2016)

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