We’re doing WHAT for summer vacation is a question that you might have heard recently at home. It is also the title of a quirky non-fiction book told by Ali, a typical nine year old American girl who spent the summer traveling across Borneo with her older brother and parents. Ali ‘just wanted to be a normal kid spending summer at the beach”. But her hippie parents saw it differently. In this collaborative project with her mother Cindy, a university professor who holds a PhD in social work, Ali tells us candidly about her experiences living in a tree house, experiencing bedbugs, eating strange food, and learning a little about Muslim culture. A perfect summer book for children (and parents). Below Cindy and Ali tell us all about their writing collaboration, the journey, the memories. I hope you find it as inspiring as I do.
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ALI: Tell us a bit about yourself…
I am 10 years old and live in Franklin, Tennessee with my brother, Zak, (13 years old) and my mom and dad. I have three dogs, a rabbit, a kitten and a horse. I love gymnastics and riding my horse. When I am traveling with my family, the hardest thing is that I really miss my pets, but I do get see new animals like orangutans and monkeys.
CINDY: How did the idea of the book come along?
I had the idea to write a book when Ali began searching for information on Borneo, and she could not find much at all about the area. Most travel books are written from an adult point of view, so I thought it would be interesting to write a travel book from the viewpoint of a child traveling around the world.
ALI: how was it to collaborate with your mom?
It was great to write this book with my mom. She would write the first draft of each chapter, and I then I got to take a red pen and correct and change stuff. Because it was my story, I got to decide what we put in the book.
CINDY: Tell us about the way you like to travel with Ali?
My husband and I backpacked for years around Asia and Africa, and we lived for about 10 years overseas in Hong Kong and Australia. We moved to the USA about 12 years ago, when my son was 1 year old. We try to travel with our children as much as possible. In the past, we have been to Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, England, Mexico, and Belize. Since Steve and I had spent a significant of time travelling in Southeast Asia, we wanted to take our kids to see this part of the world. Borneo was a place that we had never been and it sounded like a great adventure. We didn’t really know much about Borneo, but just decided it sounded like a good place to experience the Asian culture. We were not very organized, but I am a professor so I contacted a university in Borneo as a starting point. We also relied on the “Lonely Planet” guidebook of Borneo because it gives advice on how to travel off the beaten path and on a budget.
ALI: What was most interesting during the trip?
The things that I remember most about Borneo are the poor children, leeches, the animals, and getting trapped in the stairwell (I still have scary dreams about that!). Some of my favorite things were scuba diving with the giant turtles, staying with the locals, and the island of lost children.
CINDY: How easy was it to travel to Borneo with a 9 year old. Any tips to share with parents who would want to embark on a similar journey?
Travelling with kids is always challenging and a slower pace. They had a very hard time getting over jet lag because they just wanted to sleep when they were tired instead of fight through it to get on the new time schedule. Kids are very adaptable to new situations and cultures often more than adults. In order to really experience new cultures it is important to get away from the nice resorts and do things off the beaten path. Staying with local families or in local villages is a great way to experience the cultures. Adults can learn about cultures by visiting museums and reading about things, but children learn by actually experiencing the culture. My other advice for parents is to travel independently rather than in a “tour” group because kids travel at the own pace and need time to experience the culture on their own.
ALI: Did you bring back anything special aside from exciting stories to share?!
We only had one bag each, so we could not bring much stuff back home with us. I did get a little stuffed orangutan because my parents wouldn’t let me have a real one.
CINDY: And some travel information about Borneo specifically?
It took us 40 hours to get to Borneo from Nashville, TN!
– we went via Los Angeles, Japan, Singapore, and finally Borneo
. Our first stop was Kota Kinabalu, and I would highly recommend the Langkah Syabas Guest House
run by a wonderful couple, Lisa and Peter, who treat everyone like family. There is a goat named, Louie, that freely roams around the property. We then traveled across Borneo to Sandakan. Our favorite place to stay was in a tree house in the middle of the jungle
in a backpacker’s place called Paganakan Dii
. For scuba diving and snorkeling, I would recommend Mabul Island, but be sure to bring clothes or shoes for the poor children living on the island! On the other side of Borneo in Sarawak, I highly recommend traveling to see the Longhouses
and spending a few nights with the locals. It is a fantastic way to see their way of life and culture.