Diary of a Globetrotting Family
Roller coasters at LEGOLAND Malaysia, sheer terror, new games, food is learning, and 150 days on the road
From our south-facing, high-rise apartment rental across from LEGOLAND Malaysia, we could see Singapore. In the morning, I’ve especially loved going onto our balcony with a cup of coffee and my trusty, fixed-up laptop, to get in a little writing before Jodie and the kids wake up.
I’ll look out toward the end of the Malay Peninsula and the island-nation on the other side of the Johore Strait. Sometimes, clouds and rain would completely obscure the bright, white, and gray high rises of Singapore. Sometimes they would gleam, as if I were staring into some alternate realm.
It’s been quite a week of different worlds. We begin in a world of imagination, with daily visits to LEGOLAND Malaysia. But we’ll end in Singapore, a city-nation unlike any place I’ve been so far.
We would also cross a border of our own: 5 months, or 150 days, since we left home.
Home was 150 days ago
On Aug. 18, 2022, we left. Five months ago.
Our home? Ready to be rented out. Our stuff? We’d sold, donated, rehoused, or otherwise chucked about 90% of what we owned. We’d sold the camper and one car—and soon would be selling our trusty Subaru Outback. From Oregon, we’d spend the next few weeks in Washington State, mostly for some of our travel content projects (like Vancouver, Union Gap, the FRS Clipper, Zillah, Seattle Southside, and Mesquite TX).
In late September, about 5 weeks after we left Eugene, we went to Mexico for 6 weeks. Since then, we’ve been to Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Malaysia—with Singapore now on the literal and travel itinerary horizon.
About that count
As I write this, I realize I need to address a wee issue. Some might even say an inaccuracy.
Figuring out that we would cross this milestone while at LEGOLAND Malaysia, we counted back to Day 150 based on when we left Eugene. But when I’ve been putting together these wee travel diaries, the week count is based on when we left the USA. I’m just going to leave that as-is, but that’s why the Day 150 doesn’t sync up with Week 17.
It’s a bit weird, I know. But I think we’ll all manage. Or, as Connor would likely point out, of course it’s weird. So is our family.
The road ahead
I’m not very good at look-backs. Generally I’ve tried to focus on the here-and-now, with a touch of the what’s-ahead. But when I do take a moment, the moments are what come back to me.
Aster, coming in with me and Jodie at bedtime for the occasional “snuggle night.” Before going to sleep, one of her favorite things to do is curl up with me and watch while I catch up on my journaling for the day, usually followed by a few Spanish, French, Italian, or Japanese lessons in Duolingo.
Or there’s Connor, and his quickly growing mind, intelligence, empathy, and awareness. Though I could also wonder, thanks to our regular family watching of The Muppet Show, if he’s on a pre-pubescent mission to become a sort of long-haired version of Fozzie Bear. Connor is working on his one-liners, and has developed a sort of wide-mouthed “hah, hah,” not unlike Fozzie’s signature “wocka wocka.”
I also think of me and Jodie, on our cabin’s private balcony during our cruise in Vietnam’s Halong Bay. Or stepping out onto the streets of Bangkok, Thailand, together for the first time. Or, among my favorites, the four of us standing together in Cambodia, with the five towers of Angkor Wat behind us.
When we started these travels, we knew we wanted to be on the road for at least a year. Now, we’re nearly halfway to that first milestone.
We’re starting to look ahead, toward more of 2023 and beyond. From LEGOLAND Malaysia, we’ll cross the 6-month mark in Thailand. By the time we reach a year on the road, we’ll likely be RVing in Canada (and are on the lookout for a Class C RV, by the way).
You know what? Jodie and I are both confident that after a year, our traveling family will still be on the road—with no sign of stopping anytime soon. After all, LEGOLAND Malaysia is only one of about 10 LEGOLAND locations around the world…
This is the moment where perhaps we might have some sort of sagely parental or digital nomad wisdom to offer. Not really. Except for the basics.
We are living a dream come true, but it took a long time to line up our lives and circumstances so we could get underway.
If you’re wondering about how to get started on big travels like this, or little travels, or some other family or personal dream or goal entirely, then all we can say is this:
Get started. Make an initial move, no matter how small. Keep going, and see where each decision takes you.
Like us, you just might be surprised where you wind up.
Roller Coaster Girls
As the roller coaster zoomed down, I just happened to hear Aster exclaim, “Woo-hooooooo!”
While I stood firmly, safely, and right-side-up on the blacktop just outside LEGOLAND Malaysia’s Great LEGO® Race roller coaster in the Technic realm, my thoughts immediately went back in time. A little more than a year ago, we were at Disney California Adventure, in Anaheim, California. Jodie and Connor had opted to ride the Incredicoaster. Aster and I held hands and left them to it. Daughter and dad got on the giant Ferris wheel instead.
Yet now here she was, zipping around on a roller coaster, while I remained, quite content, on the ground.
The joy of movement
Granted, as roller coasters go, LEGO® Race at LEGOLAND Malaysia is… a bit intense. Apparently there’s just one big dip, and it’s right at the beginning. The rest of the ride is fairly mellow. In my opinion, it’s as if the ride knew it had done you wrong and wanted to make up for it.
Otherwise, in all fairness, after the dip LEGO® Race is pretty chill. Or so Jodie tells me. Standing by the fence long enough to set up the GoPro on slo-mo was as close as I was getting to the thing. Connor had tried it, but preferred the spinning water ride across from it. For Jodie and Aster, the coaster was just the right amount of thrilling. On the Anthony 1-to-10 roller coaster scale of “yay” to “high probability of barfing in terror,” the one big, fast dip near the beginning puts LEGO® Race at a 9.8. And that’s just when I watch it.
However, I would be remiss not to give my appreciation of LEGO® Race. While Aster gleefully rode rides at Disneyland such as Goofy’s Sky School and Thunder Mountain, something about LEGOLAND Malaysia tipped her into much more of a roller coaster fan. Some of it is her ever-growing confidence and willingness to try new things—a not-indirect result of all our travels, I daresay.
Yet I think it’s something deeper than that. Aster has always found joy in movement of all kinds. For her, a coaster such as LEGO® Race is simply a way she can move that she wouldn’t be able to otherwise.
She knows it. And she loves it.
All to herself
Aster rode LEGO® Race every time she could persuade Jodie to go with her. She was just a nick too short to ride by herself. However, in nearby Kingdoms, she could ride the Dragon’s Apprentice coaster all by herself. Often she and Connor would ride together, and occasionally Jodie would go with them. One day, though, while Jodie and Connor were elsewhere, I took Aster over to Kingdoms. When she rumbled past, I saw that she was sitting in the very front of the coaster, arms raised, grinning and giggling.
And on a day when attendance was light at LEGOLAND Malaysia, Aster was the only person in the entire coaster.
Aster loves doing things with us, and especially with her big brother. But as a younger sibling, she doesn’t always get the option of doing something herself. Today, though, for this one ride, she got an entire roller coaster all to herself. And the joy of that moment shone from her the rest of the day.
One last ride
One day, Jodie stayed at our apartment to get some work done, and take a break. As the kids and I approached the LEGOLAND Malaysia entrance gate, I took our three annual passes out of my pocket. Channeling my inner Ladybug superhero about to lend a miraculous to a soon-to-be superhero, I held the passes in front of the kids.
“This is the miraculous of the brick,” I told them. “You will use its power for the greater good, then return it to me once we have crossed the barrier.” Aster giggled. Connor laughed and said it was funny—high praise from the 11-year-old.
Now, after 5 days of LEGOLAND Malaysia, we had come to the last rides of our last day. The LEGO® Race was just a little past the entrance area. Aster and Jodie rode the VR Coaster twice.
Afterwards, Jodie said to me, “As we started up, Aster held out her fist for a fist bump.” Aster knew it was their last ride on this trip. “Let’s go, Mama!” she said. “We’re the roller coaster girls!”
Then down they came. Arms up, Aster whooped and grinned under the Malaysia sun.
My gift to the kids for Day 150
The moment I passed the drooping chains and crossed the threshold, I began to tremble. The kids were already a few steps in front of me. I hadn’t expected to be confident, but I’d hoped to at least be only mildly nervous. Yet my legs shook. Even my kneecaps wobbled.
“Kids.” My voice shook as much as my knees. I hadn’t expected this. Sure, I figured I’d be nervous. But as each step took us closer, fear was squeezing me. Sounds were muffled and garbled, as if I were underwater.
Connor turned and looked back at me. “What is it, Daddy?”
What is it indeed? It was our 150th day since we’d left home. From Oregon, to Mexico, to Southeast Asia, here we were, enjoying an amazing day at LEGOLAND Malaysia. We’d enjoyed so many rides together. Now we were outside of the Dragon’s Apprentice. It’s the “apprentice” to train you up for the bigger, faster, zanier Dragon roller coaster nearby. The Dragon’s Apprentice has one decent dip, a couple of sideways loops, and absolutely nothing too fast or even approaching upside-down. It was also one of Aster and Connor’s favorite attractions at the park.
This time, as the children started down the entry, I had surprised Jodie, the kids, and myself by following them. A day 150 treat, I said with way more confidence than I felt.
I hate roller coasters. Throughout my life, from childhood to college, I tried some here and there. We’ve never gotten on. I have a childhood memory of being high up in a coaster, and a similar memory from a college attempt to tackle an upside-down loop. In both memories, my hands are over my face, and I’m trying to keep myself together.
Moment of topsy-turvy truth
Now, the kids were staring at me. Both looked excited and worried. A small part of me thought about reversing course. But only a small part of me. This was only the Dragon’s Apprentice, after all. Even I could handle it. And now that I’d stepped forward with them, I didn’t want to disappoint my children.
“I’m scared,” I told the kids. “I’m willing to ride this once. You won’t make me walk to it alone, will you?”
Connor came back toward me. Aster took my hand. Together, we continued.
As for the coaster itself?
We sat in the back. The scariest spot, Connor told me. I figured I should just go for it. If I was going to scare myself, I might as well scare myself as much as I could on this thing. The ride was indeed fit for an apprentice. For a novice, even. I felt terrified the entire time. But my kids were elated that I was riding a coaster with them, of my own free will, and I let that excitement in as much as I could. The dip was scary, but slightly fun. The sideways loops bent my brain. And during the calm parts, my heart came down from my ears and got back where it was supposed to be.
Coming off the Dragon’s Apprentice, Connor and Aster were so happy I was willing to try. To dare. Aster held my hand as we walked. Connor had realized I was scared, and he talked me through with encouragement and caring.
The roller coaster was scary. It was even a little fun. LEGOLAND Malaysia had been a good place to try a roller coaster again.
And you know what? Now that I think about it…
I still don’t want to ride roller coasters. But I’m glad I did this one with my kids.
Game night reset
Aster pointed through the narrow space between the mall’s escalators.
“There it is!” she shouted.
Thank goodness for her eye for detail. We thought we were in the wrong building and were going to have to cross the street. Turns out, all we had done was go one floor too high. Moments later, we were at the threshold of a lovely Singapore gaming shop, Game Pi. On the other side of the glass walls, shelf after shelf of board games awaited.
Our mission? Replenish our selection of travel games. It’s important to pack light. But it’s also important to get what you need—and what you want.
The one time we left too much behind
When we packed up our belongings and put them into the locked storage room in our house, our selection of board games was one of the hardest things to let go of. We have many fond family memories that take place over chess, Settlers of Catan, Yahtzee, Dixit, Battleship, Clue—well, you get the point.
As we started our family globetrotting adventures, we brought three packs of cards, and Connor kept a travel chess set in his backpack. Five months on though, we realized that had been a mistake.
We needed more options. They had to be small enough to travel well, and they needed to be versatile and expansive enough to be fun to play over and over, no matter how good we got at it. Our first night in Singapore, after finishing at LEGOLAND Malaysia and crossing the Johore Strait, we figured out the bus system and headed north from our hotel. Before ever hitting the road from Oregon, we had made a mistake. Now, it was time to rectify it.
As we stepped inside Game Pi, it was with the understanding that each of us could pick out one game to add to our family travel game collection. Wandering the store, we considered replacing packed-up family favorites, such as Dragonwood, an adventure card game from Gamewright. After a few minutes though, we knew that we wanted a few new things, a variation on a favorite, and a travel version of another favorite.
Here’s what we decided on:
We picked up five six-sided dice. They’re easy to work into different games. And we could play Yahtzee again! Each kid also picked out a 20-sided die. At home they’ve often used 20d to help them with their make-believe—or to resolve a conflict if they’re having trouble negotiating something in their play.
The teeny metal case alone had us giggling for this game. Each player gets cards, and each card is dot-numbered one through nine. Players lay down cards in a six-by-six grid, trying to make four in a row by adding to the grid or covering an opponent’s card.
Catan Dice Game
We’ve been a Catan family for a long, long time. In fact, we often spend New Year’s Eve with dear friends, and the lead-up to New Year includes conversation, beverages, and a round or two of Catan, while upstairs the children act like they’re going to sleep as part of a sleepover. The compact dice version has been a fun, quicker play than the regular version, and it’s easy to transport.
One Night Ultimate Daybreak
One Night Ultimate Werewolf was Aster’s favorite game at home. She considered simply replacing what we had packed up at the house, but ultimately chose this variant. We always wind up with a lot of laughs playing these games—especially when Jodie tricks us all into thinking she’s not a werewolf when really she is.
D&D Dungeon Mayhem
Quite possibly the fave of the four, though, is this little role-playing card combat game. Two, three, or all four of us can play. The competing characters have good variance and good balance to them, so every hand you never know what’s going to happen.
Our new games have not only become new favorites, they’ve rekindled our love of other games too. The decks of cards come out more often. A little before I started working on this piece, Aster and I played a riveting game of chess. I managed to win—but only just. She had me on the run for a while there, and probably only because it had been a while since she played.
Restocking our games was an investment in our family. We pack light. More importantly, we pack right. It’s smart and constructive to pack things that bring us joy and that help us pass the time. Above all, our games further help us enjoy being together.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I brought the games over for reference while I wrote. I keep looking at the Mayhem box. It’s time to let Connor know that Lia the Paladin is about to absolutely smoke whoever he has the courage to get out of the box.
Burger burger dumpling
In front of Connor and Aster, the two bamboo steamer racks of steamed pork and veggie mini-buns were empty, and the platter of pan-fried dumplings had been picked clean. A red, tingly sauce was all that remained of the spicy Szechuan dumplings Jodie and I had shared. Around me, the second-floor food stall hawker market in Singapore’s Chinatown bustled with people either waiting for or enjoying incredible meals from dozens of local food stalls.
I held our table while Jodie and the kids went to pick out something for dessert. To my left, two elderly gentlemen, local as far as I could tell, and I believe of Chinese heritage, sat across from each other and chatted. The gentleman on the opposite side of me glanced at the children’s empty dishes. With a grin, he nodded.
“So many kids, it’s just burger burger,” he said. “They did very well.”
I thanked him, and added, “You know how it is. We love burgers too, but we want the kids to know there’s so much more beyond burgers and fries.”
He leaned forward. “Do they like Indian food?”
“Not yet,” I replied. “That’s been one of the trickier cuisines for them to take a liking to, but we’re working on it. Thai, Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, they love. But Indian food and spicy food are still works in progress.”
“That’s good,” said the gentleman. “They will know what’s good.”
Travel is about learning
We love to travel in part because the immersion in different places encourages us to be open to new experiences, to push our capacity zones and increase our awareness of the broader world. Bangkok turned Aster into a dragon fruit fiend, for example. Her dumpling lunch today included a dragon fruit smoothie, or as a certain quippy dad said, “She needed her vitamin dragon.”
Sure, there are some things we’ve not been enamored with, such as me and Jodie trying durian, or the kids, a couple of days after our dumpling lunch, attempting samosas, pakora, and an excellent, creamy, mild chicken korma at a restaurant near the Indian Heritage Center in Singapore’s Little India neighborhood. We don’t have to like everything. But we aim to give things an honest try.
Jodie and I find that the table is a natural place for the kids to try something new. That willingness to experiment, coupled with the confidence gained simply by trying, carries over into other parts of our travels.
Aster used to be shy about telling a server her food order. Now, both kids order their food with confidence, even trying to use the local language, such as Thai or Vietnamese. Navigating Singapore’s public bus and subway system, the kids each needed their own transit card. They quickly mastered checking for their cards before we left our hotel, tapping in and out at the station, and making sure their cards were safely put away every time.
Each of these little learnings add up to bigger knowledge for both kids. They can still appreciate the heck out of a good burger. But they’ll also order their dumplings with pride. They know the world is big, that they have a place in it, that there is always more to learn—and they are up for the challenge.