6 years old, Taiwan Trip

Planning a Fun and Educational Trip to Taiwan

Many folks online have shared their experience with taking their kids to Taiwan for full Mandarin immersion. It is a bit trickier for me since I don’t have friends or family there. I’ve been to Taiwan twice before but my last trip there was over ten years ago 😬.

The main reasons for 2019 being the year is because:

  1. Age – Last summer as a 5 year old I only enrolled him in activities and classes and no camps. This year as a 6 year old is the first year I signed him up for camps both within the USA and Taipei. Most summer camps are geared for kids entering 1st grade, for good reason. I have noticed him being much more independent this year. (Of course this is varies with personality, some kids being more plucky than others)
  2. Chinese Proficiency – His Chinese is really much better now than last year. Seeing him play so well with some kids from China a few months ago made me feel assured that he will get along with Chinese-speaking peers. I definitely don’t want him to have no clue what is going on or be unable to express himself.

As I was planning out our trip, it was immensely helpful to me to read other blog reviews so I’m typing out our experience to share as well.

Note that some details will be kept private because I am selfish and don’t want others to ‘steal’ my bookings from me.

When to start planning?

I started loosely planning more than a year prior! Here’s a suggested timeline:

A year before:

Summer Camp

Tip: Make lots of real-life and online Taiwanese friends because they can give you invaluable advice! The kind of advice you can’t get from Google.

Many people post online (e.g. Motherly Notes Facebook group, Summer Taipei Kids) about their experiences so read all the posts the summer prior, e.g. posts from Summer 2019 to help you plan Summer 2020. Think about what are your goals as a parent (“academic” or “play based” camp?) and your child’s interests (sports, cooking, science, crafts, outdoors, etc). Then go to their websites and jot down camp dates/costs for 2019 because it will likely be similar for 2020.

Your summer camp decision is THE MOST IMPORTANT ONE. That’s why I listed it first, because every other decision revolves around it. Obviously you need to make sure your flight dates correspond to camp dates, and ideally book accommodation close by.

Once you have narrowed down your camp(s), follow their Facebook page so you get notified when they begin enrollment, usually around April. REGISTER IMMEDIATELY. This is just like in the US where the popular camps fill quickly. You snooze, you lose.

Taiwan has their summer vacation for the months of July and August. There are some camps in June but not many. If you go during off-peak season it will be cheaper (and not boiling lava hot 🥵) but there will not be camps. Of course you can still do activities, classes, travel, or even enroll your kids in school.

6-8 months before:

Flights

I used Google to monitor the flight prices and found that the cost of flights from our city to Taipei ranged from $800 (non-peak season) to $1300 (peak season).

I started being more serious about the dates and booking flights in January. I booked my flights for around $1000 in end January which is a really decent price for peak-season. Many of my friends who booked in February and beyond ended up paying hundreds more per person. Again, you snooze you lose.

Lodging

If you’re staying for a few weeks or months in Taipei, probably your best option is to book an Airbnb or similar. It is more affordable and spacious than a hotel room.

My main criteria was 1) Walking distance to metro station 🚇 and 2) Walking distance to summer camp. Since we have to drop off and pick up every day, I figured walking would be the most convenient.

I found a place that was 1-min walk from MRT and 5-min walk from camp, and you can bet I jumped on it!

FYI, Airbnb does not disclose their exact address so it takes some detective work to find the precise location you want. I did a search for the MRT station I wanted to be close to, short-listed a few apartments, then PM the hosts to ask how far of walking distance to the camp address. I asked three hosts and I got the answers 9 minutes, 15-20 minutes and 5 minutes. Obviously I chose the one that was 5 minutes away. I liked it the best anyway. 😉

Our apartment is small but has a full-size refrigerator and a washer. I did not care about having a full kitchen since I didn’t think we’d be cooking. I also decided to book with a Superhost (high reviews) since this was our first time with Airbnb and I figured we should play it safe.

Having an apartment right next to the MRT station was the best idea ever. Find a place right next to an MRT, not a 10-min walk from MRT, because really a 10-min walk with small whiny children feels about an hour long.

If you’re like me and have never used Airbnb before, you can get 15% off your first trip by clicking my referral link: Airbnb discount!

I suggest booking accommodation in a central location in the city. We stayed in Xinyi District and it was great. If you stay in the outskirts it may be cheaper per night but you’ll pay for it in higher transportation costs and inconvenience.

2-4 months before:

Bank Accounts

  • Do you have a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees? If not, apply for one.
  • Do you have a bank account that you can withdraw money at foreign ATMs? If not, apply for one.

A trusted friend recommended Charles Schwab checking account which enables me to withdraw cash at any ATM anywhere in the world for free. This is stupendously useful because I don’t have to carry large wads of cash while traveling and no money changers needed.

I’ve never tried other banks so I can’t compare but Schwab worked great. I easily withdrew cash from any ATM in Taiwan and Singapore. Note: You will need A HECK LOT OF CASH in Taiwan. Many food places and bookstores do not take electronic payment!

Book List

If you’re the over-planning sort (like me), then you probably want to put together your book list in advance so you know what to buy. That way you’re not in the bookstore overwhelmed by choices. Browse around online and get familiar with the prices to get the best deals.

You can order books online from 博客來 etc. in advance and have them ready for pickup at 7-11 when you arrive. This is a good option if you’re only visiting Taiwan for a few days and don’t have time to shop.

Itinerary Planning

Again, being the over-planner that I am, I put together a draft itinerary of all the fun kid-friendly spots that I thought my child would enjoy. After all, the main reason for this trip is to have lots of Chinese exposure and have a blast so that he wants to keep coming back and keep loving Chinese!

Refer to these posts for some ideas of kid-friendly Taipei activities: Motherly Notes: Visiting Taiwan. I’ll blog our favorite places as well over the next few weeks.

I used Google Maps app to save all the places I wanted to eat and play. This made life much easier as I could visualize and go to places close together on the same day.

As you can see, most activities are located in central Taipei. This is why I recommend finding lodging there because towing kids long distances on public transportation and boiling heat is NO FUN.

1-2 weeks before:

Unlock Cell Phone

Check with your mobile phone provider that your phone is unlocked and can accept a travel SIM card. You need to get a travel SIM card so you can have a Taiwanese phone number for your camp to call you in case of emergencies, make reservations, etc.

I initially thought I could get a pocket WiFi and stick with my US phone number but later realized I really do need a TW number. I got called a lot by everyone from the hotel to taxi driver to confirm bookings. And the SIM card is cheap (this is the one we used) and gives you unlimited data!!!

Download Apps

It’s almost crunch time so it’s time to get serious!! Book your airport ride (Taoyuan International Airport is ~45 mins to the city), tickets to museums, workshops, etc etc.

Kid workshops sell out fast so reserve your spots as soon as you possibly can. Taxis can be booked just 1-2 days before.

I don’t like having too many apps on my phone and always try to streamline things but these were absolutely necessary:

  1. Google Maps – must!!!!
  2. LINE – Taiwanese prefer to communicate by texting using this app. This is how I made appointments with hairdresser, taxi driver, etc. while I was still in the US.
  3. Klook, KKDay, FunNow – to purchase tickets for various activities
  4. Uber, Find Taxi – to book rides

Note:

I think a majority of my readers are in the USA. Keep in mind that traveling halfway around the world to Taiwan to a completely different time zone is very harsh on the body. My husband was extremely sick right after we arrived and spent the first two days incapacitated and throwing up.

We arrived three full days before Little Man’s camp started which I had thought was sufficient to get acclimatized. Nope. He was okay at first but then fell horribly ill on the fourth day. Also, due to the time change he kept waking up in the wee hours of the morning and hence was extremely tired by afternoon. All in all, the first week of camp did not go that smoothly due to illness and fatigue.

For me, I did not fall sick but I did not have an appetite for about a week!

On a similar note, one of my teacher friends who brought a group of 7th and 8th graders to China this summer said it was awful as half the students got so sick they almost had to be hospitalized. So yes, the jet lag does some horrible things to your body even if you’re normally a very healthy person.

(Maybe we will try Melatonin on our next trip to ease the symptoms 🤷‍♀️ )

Ideally, give yourself a full week to get adjusted to Taiwan weather and time zone. I also wished I had left a few days at the end of the trip for some free time. There were several things that Little Man really wanted to do again (e.g. Baby Boss, surfing) that we were sadly not able to as there was not enough time.

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