Garbage truck travel and keeping a travelling child happy in Penang

When you are travelling with a three-year-old boy, you do need to adapt your sightseeing expectations somewhat. After our trip to Vienna turned into an expedition to chase Viennese garbage trucks past Stephansdom, I thought I was fully prepared for this when we travelled to Penang a couple of months back.

Who knew Penang had so many different kinds of garbage bins?

But can you ever really be full prepared for the amount of passion a three-year-old can apply to the hunt for new and unusual rubbish bins and garbage trucks? I think not, and surely the images above, just the tip of the iceberg, demonstrate that. But I have certainly got over any qualms I might have had about people giving us funny looks, because whenever my son asked for me to take his picture with a new garbage bin, I obliged.

So, we had a fantastic two weeks taking photos of the local rubbish bins (of all shapes, sizes and colours), but the biggest thrill of all came when, on our walk back to our hotel one afternoon, we came across the rubbish truck emptying the bins at an apartment complex next door.

My son is, I have to say, remarkably knowledgeable when it comes to the way refuse collection systems work, and he was very keen to observe exactly how the Penang version worked. And do you know what? His passion has rubbed off on me, too, because I wasn’t just standing there staring for his benefit – I wanted to know too! It was especially interesting to see that the sorting of recyclables was done by the garbage collectors themselves, and that there was a separate part near the front of the truck where they stored the recyclables. But the best part was that the men were all really friendly and gave my son some hearty waves both when they first realised he was watching and later on as they drove off down the road.

These are clearly not tour suggestions you will find in your travel guide book to Penang. And it is certainly not how I imagined my travelling life to be before my son was born. But I love that he is curious about the way different countries handle their waste! I love, mostly, that he understands at his young age that there are so many different countries and just as many ways to deal with the garbage, and I really love that he wants to visit more new places to find out what they do. It’s his gateway into exploring multiculturalism and how things are sometimes different and sometimes the same; and how garbage workers can be friendly and give you a wave whether they’re in Ireland, Malaysia or Australia. I feel a little sad that at some stage in the future his passion for garbage will (presumably) wear off and seeing a new kind of rubbish bin when we visit, say, China, will barely rate a mention, but for now, I’m embracing it. All travel suggestions for destinations with particularly unusual garbage systems are welcome!

What do your children especially notice when you travel? 
What did you love to see when you were a child?


  1. Love this! My oldest likes look for different kinds of neon signs, and my middle son always likes to look for different types of license plates.

    • Ah – yes I can imagine mine loving neon signs, and when he’s a bit older and better with his letters and numbers the license plates will definitely fascinate him (actually, they fascinate me!).

  2. We hunt down diggers and cranes. Luckily for us, these are never far away in the rapidly growing home city of Perth. Equally as fortunate, our next home in Bangkok offers some VERY exciting construction watching opportunities.

    • Yes – your Bangkok move will be very exciting! And yes, there are plenty of construction-related opportunities around Perth – even just the rapid rate of pulling down of old places around our streets keeps my Mr3 interested!

  3. Its great travelling with someone who sees the world through different eyes –
    I recently read ‘On Looking’ about a girl who essentially walks around the block with different people – including her toddler, and her dog and so is made aware of what they notice – and which she’d been blind to!

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