Firstly you might consider a bean bag. I got mine from http://www.wildlifewatchingsupplies.co.uk/
but they are easy to make, and I just buy a 2kg bag of rice or whatever for filling when I arrive. Brilliantly stable. If you are travelling with children the best behaved one can be allowed to carry it.
Otherwise I have a Velbon sherpa pro if flying. They go by different names in some countries. It's a 4 section carbon fibre weighing 1.6 kg (less than 3 lbs), 18 1/2 inches folded, extends to about 4 ft without the centre column extended, and is very stable especially if you use the stone bag. I always have found the twist type locks a complete pain, but actually the legs are extended and locked in under 15 seconds, so it's not so bad. And it will go to near ground level.
I just got a Markins Q3 ball head and RRS quick release clamp and L bracket for it. I can't tell you what they cost as I blacked out while paying. But they are beautifully
engineered and just WORK. I had one of those tripod heads with 3 knobs sticking out at various angles, and when dropping the camera over to portrait in the semi dark in a strange place, I simply couldn't remember which knob did what. The L plate keeps the camera in the same position and takes only a moment to release and reclamp.
Yes, I agree it would be nice to rely on the VR, especially considering the cost, and I often do if I can, but, but every time I've left the tripod or beanbag behind I've been sorry. Good luck with your trip, David