Lessons On Travelling With Kids

12/01/2017 13:55

Over the last four years, we have crossed the globe seven times as a family. I know a lot of travellers who will scoff at that, but personally, I'm very impressed with us.

I would also say we've done a pretty good job of learning from our travel mistakes and given another four years, we may even have an approach that doesn't require medication to survive.

And since a year is a long time between trips (and I forget things) I'm making a note of my big three learnings from our 2016 trip for future reference:

1. Luggage is everything

I have decided that there are two space-time laws of travel: Everyone (and kids especially) run out of legs on a long trip, and luggage actively multiplies in transit.

If I might translate that to my experience of long haul journeys, it means that for every flight, you will have an extra shoulder strap, an extra piece of clothing and another person to carry off the plane.

So in 2016, we took a bold step; each person would have one piece of hand luggage, and they had to be able to fit everything they needed into that one case .... and look after it.

I don't mean one piece of hand luggage, but that's OK because we will have a huge suitcase checked in as well. I mean each of us had ONE BAG TOTAL.

In my case, my bag had to hold all my clothes, camera kit, shoes, makeup and paperwork to be away from home for 3 weeks. For the children, their cases had to hold all the random BS toys they couldn't live without for a few weeks, as well as enough clothes to deal with an English summer and a Canadian autumn.

Enter stage left Trunki.

Since this was a bit of an experiment, I bought three of these little guys second hand so they wouldn't cost me too much if they were a total flop. I also waited until Christmas to give them to the children (even though they were more for my benefit) because I'm evil.

I'm also very foolish for not having bought these earlier.

You ever see those families who have to borrow a crappy airline pushchair to get their children through transit? There's one exhausted child sitting smugly in the seat, a couple of siblings trying to climb over them like puppies because WHY AREN'T THEY IN THERE TOO?!?! and a tonne of coats and bags balanced on the handles?

Normally, that's us.

This time, we had three exhausted children perched atop their own plastic horned steeds. Each one gliding gracefully through the airport behind their cautiously optimistic parents while fellow passengers smiled, pointed, and then flagged us down to ask all about them.

Was I wearing a T-shirt that said: "Stop me and ask about luggage"? No, I was not, but such is my love for these little cases I did it anyway. You're welcome Trunki, you're welcome.

2. Sleep is everything-er.

Unlike every other person on the plane, none of my family can sleep more than five straight minutes in an airline seat. That means that after the first lengthy flight, we all feel like we've been turned inside out.

It is also a family rule that someone has to vomit copiously throughout the night, at just the right interval to make sure we all stay sharp.

By the time we got off that plane, I just couldn't even pretend to be a hero about how I felt. So I did the only adult thing I could think of, and sat down in the middle of the airport and refused to move until by husband agreed to give up on the idea of sightseeing for the day.

Luckily, nearly ten years of marriage has taught my husband a few things about me, so he had already scoped out the local facilities, which included pay-by-the-hour-massage-offering-rooms inside the terminal building.

It was my first experience of a No-Tell Motel, and I'm pretty sure it was the receptionist's first time checking in a family.

That's just a guess, based on the tone of her voice when she asked us if we wanted a massage. Despite my post flight demeanour, I could clearly hear her unspoken words. "Please," her voice was saying "I'm doing my job by asking you, but I'm not a bad person, so just say you hate any form of physical contact and we can all go home tonight with our lives unblemished".

Having established that we weren't into anything that would lead to a police investigation, we were led down a corridor that (I kid you not) was straight out of The Shining.

At one point, a cleaner ducked out of a room and shot the receptionist a look that read "Dude! What new level kinkiness is this?!"

The replying glare from the receptionist virtually screamed "DUUUUDE!!! Remember the memo!!! We're a respectable establishment!!!!"

Respectable or not, there were beds in our room which meant I got a solid 4 hours. It may have saved my life.

3. Routines are not a cut and paste deal

I'm not even sure how to write about this without weeping quietly into a glass of wine. Even now, five clear months later.

Until last year, we had sort of just made the assumption that when we travel as a family, the basic stuff kinda just stays the same. I'm talking about the real basics here, the sleeping, three squares a day, passing interest in doing cool stuff sort of basics.

It was a bit of a shock to find out that none of the above was necessarily true.

There are some of us who just seem to keep kicking along, regardless of time zone or hemisphere. There are others who hate everything about travel.

I'm talking specifically about my middle child.

In my daughter's world, change is literally the worst thing that could happen to her. She hates to travel so much, that when we landed in Vancouver, she began to lose her mind on a daily basis. These weren't your average jet-lag grumps, she would get so worked up, people would stop and stare.

One man even offered her money to get her to stop screaming. $5 to be exact, to be spent on sweets, toys, or a phial of unicorn blood if it would help. It did help for a short period of time, right up until the point that my daughter realised that $5 didn't buy her very much unicorn blood, at which point she stopped traffic in China Town for a straight hour.

I say this without any judgement, by the way. The fault (such as it is) lies with me and with her dad. We tried to get her to power through what we thought was a simple case of jet lag, and as a result rendered the downtown Vancouver area unable to hear themselves think for sizable chunks of the day.

This is usually the point where I start to write about our beautifully crafted solution, which I would gladly do if I had one. I could write something trite about just having to listen harder, or be more responsive, but that would be a total fabrication.

The truth is that nothing we tried made the blindest bit of difference. Nothing. And we tried everything we could think of to help our girl cope with the changes brought about by travel. The only truth I have is that my daughter does not enjoy change.

The only coping mechanism we have right now is the dim flame of hope that somehow, we'll work it out.

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