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One of the perks of being a mother to relatively young children is the fact that, in their eyes, you are still an all powerful god who can always tell right from wrong.

In that sense, taking my two boys on a holiday abroad must’ve felt like walking into heaven for them, especially since I chose the Malaysian island of Sipadan for our first journey together.

I’ve always been a sucker for exotic islands, but Sipadan is more than just a sight for sore eyes. I’d been coming here since my early 30’s, when I first learned how to dive, but familial responsibilities in the past few years had kept me away from this little slice of paradise for far too long. But now, with the kids reasonably grown-up, I figured it was time to let them see the beauty of nature with their own two eyes.

The thing about Sipadan is that it’s a heavily protected area, so much so that there aren’t any accommodation options on the island itself. Instead, all visitors have to find housing in nearby islands like Kapalai, Mabul and Mataking. We chose the latter due to their impressive beach amenities and booked a one-week stay at a cute beach chalet. From there on out, Sipadan was only a quick boat ride away.

After spending our first day just lounging on the beach and sipping pina coladas (banana daiquiris for the boys), we decided to head out to Sipadan the very next morning so we could finally get our feet wet. Everyone who comes here is pretty much in it for the diving opportunities, so I figured it was time to introduce my kids to the joys of underwater exploration. For both Jared and Jason, the past school year had been quite challenging, so I figured they could use the distraction.

Since my boys were barely older than the cut-off age for scuba diving, I took great care in renting the best possible equipment and making sure that everything fit just perfectly. We found an excellent local diving instructor who was extremely patient with the boys and taught them all about buoyancy control and how to breathe underwater. Jared, the eldest son, was actually more nervous than Jason, but they both pulled through in the end.

Now, diving in Sipadan is truly an unforgettable experience, the kind of thing that has justifiably garnered raves from the likes of Jacques Costeau in the past. The waters are clear and shallow, while visibility clocks out at 10 to 30 metres, depending on weather conditions. As far as underwater life is concerned, there’s a little bit of everything here, from lazy hawksbill turtles, and colourful feather stars, to various species of fish such as angelfish and humpback unicornfish. If you’re lucky, you can even see hammerhead sharks, although those guys usually stay at depths of over 40 metres. Since my boys had accidentally caught a glimpse of “Jaws” on TV last year, the last thing they wanted to meet was a shark, so I didn’t insist. Instead, we had an encounter with a swarm of barracudas down at the aptly-named Barracuda Point, which nearly left us speechless. Out of nowhere, a veritable vortex of them passed by us, seemingly oblivious to our presence in their home waters.

In between bouts of diving, we also found the time to engage in other fun activities. Snorkelling was a big hit, as Jason could practice his somewhat-lacklustre swimming skills with the help of ancillary fins, while Jared could take the time to really get comfortable in the water. Sea kayaking was also great fun, if a bit tough on my exercise-deprived hands. And just lying on the beach with a good book in hand was a blessing after a long day of swimming around.

As we reached our final day of vacation, I felt that the bond between myself and my sons had only grown throughout our time on Sipadan Island. Watching them experience the joys of diving made a strong impression on me, and I truly hope we can continue to have such wonderful trips together in the future. What I do know by now is that Sipadan Island will forever remain a shared piece of history between us, one that we’ll remember wistfully in the years to come.

Where have you been on holiday with your children? Share with us below. 

  • How lovely and how lucky your family is to be able to afford an overseas family holiday

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  • Great story. We did a 8 week holiday with our four kids who are seven and under and although it was challenging at time, it was also the best experience of our lives and the memories are priceless.

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  • What a great and cherished memory.

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  • I remember the many holidays my parents took me to Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg and more when I was a kid. They’re engraved in my memory.

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  • I hope you keep his blog for the treasured memory.

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  • Hopefully your children are old enough to remember this holiday for many years to come.
    Photos are a great way to keep the memories alive, and a journal which includes a list of your photos. We were taken on numerous budget holidays during our school years. My Dad was on low wages and my Mum wasn’t able to work, but we went without luxuries so they could save for us to all have holidays instead.

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  • The children will keep the memories for a life-time.

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  • It’s certainly beautiful when we can give our kids an exciting travel experience. We’ve done the UK, Scotland, Ireland and the Netherlands with our kids and hope to travel to Africa maybe this or next year.

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  • We have done Tassie and a road trip from Canberra to Noosa then did the themeparks – would love to do a tropical island holiday though

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  • She is right, your children when they are young are priceless. You are their be all and end all. We really need to make the most of this time

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  • We have been on holiday in many places and we have loved all of them and had some wonderful adventures and created some beautiful memories. Overseas trips have been educational and we have seen so many wonders. Our favourite travels have been travelling within Australia and marvelling at the wonders on our doorstep. Australia is so beautiful and it is a good idea to take time out with the family to see it.


    • We have all kept journals of our travels – wonderful keepsakes and reflection books.

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