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Travelling With Children - Empathy for the Parent Please

By Sophie Lee - 18th August 2010

When parents discuss the relative horrors of long haul flights on which their young children accompany them, I can only murmur sympathetically. You see, my in-laws, bless ‘em, live on the other side of the world, which entails an annual commitment to twenty-four hours (or, as I prefer to think of it, 1440 very long minutes) of claustrophobic hell at high altitude, and there’s no amount of hot nuts that can make those minutes go by any faster.

I can’t decide whether my fondest memory is of being heavily pregnant and trying to stop a two-year-old exploring the highways and byways of the aircraft, or the unforgettable flight on which three children under five started a wrestling match with some rock stars who’d been performing at Splendour In The Grass.

So although I could waste time reminiscing about the midnight flight out of Heathrow during which an infant screamed his protest for a nail biting two hours as we sat stranded by icicles that seemed to seep right into the cabin, I’ll move on. Just don’t get me started on the joys of explaining the necessity for the removal of footwear at eleven p.m. to a two-year-old with a mania for keeping shoes on 24-7, or of patiently complying with demands that Teddy go on the conveyor belt just one last time to prove he’s really Teddy and not an improvised explosive device.

You see, more challenging than any of the above is the Jet Lag. I often ponder why the malaise on arrival seems minimal compared to the one that hits you full throttle on your return home. Could it be that the jet lag over there is offset by the adrenalin-fuelled glee of being on vacation? Could it be that the cooing of the Essex wood pigeons releases benign endorphins that lull you to sleep? Or is it simply that travelling one way across the globe is easier on the system than the reverse? Well, I had plenty of time to mull over these questions and more during the seemingly endless waking hours in my first week back.

See, I think this bout of lag was the worst yet, though I probably say that every year. But this time I mean it. For nine days straight everyone’s morning dawned loud and clear at three-thirty a.m., and because the kids could never conveniently align their nap times, I found myself bumbling like one of the living dead from wake-up till ten p.m.  That’s a whopping eighteen-hour shift, infinite minutes to feel sympathy for the work schedules of hospital interns and breakfast radio show hosts.  

On top of the mood swings, the cravings for Barbeque Shapes at five a.m. and the general sleep-deprived scratchiness there’s a grinding realisation that you’re not going to be able to keep up with the demands of children who are doubtless feeling jaded too, but don’t have the ability to express this in words. Tears, anger, shrieking, fighting and flinging fragile objects against brick walls seem to be their preferred way of coping with  stress.

On the fourth day, when nightmares had given way to daymares, I had a mind blowing vision with a cast of six; me, three kids and two policemen. Even as the vision was unrolling I gave myself a pinch. Were the siren’s wails and flashing lights part of a jet-lagged/sleep-deprived hallucination? After all, I had almost certainly been a slave to the speed limit for the entire school run.

“Why are you all crying?” the First Policeman wanted to know as I wound down the driver’s side window to face him. 

“Because we’ve been up since three a.m.,” I said, blowing my nose. “Jet  lag… we’re not normally like this.”

“Don’t take my mummy away,” shouted a voice from the backseat, “she didn’t mean to do it!”

“Look. We want to discuss the issue of your registration,” said Policeman 1, clearly annoyed and not at all sympathetic about matters pertaining to long haul travel.

“Haven’t you heard of caffeine?” said Policeman 2 incredulously.

“I don’t believe it’ll iron out my melatonin issues,” I said, “but I’m willing to give it a try.

Any chance I can get the kids to school on time?”

“No way,” said Policeman 1.

“If I were you I’d be getting myself that coffee,” said Policeman 2.

Comments (8)

YvetteVignando's picture

But Some of the Best Memories

On the other hand - travelling with kids against the odds creates such great anecdotes doesn't it! We all dine off the story of our eldest being so tired on the 'plane that he simply fell asleep face-first on to the tray table in his dinner.

Jodie at Mummy Mayhem's picture

I'm So With You...

Great post, Sophie. Have always enjoyed your writing. ;)

We took our 'big boys" (two eldest) to Italy in 2005. The 8yo was 3 back then; the 6yo was 18mths. We left Sydney at 10pm, thinking 'oh, they'll sleep as soon as we get on the plane'. They were both so excited, it was after midnight when the 6yo fell asleep, and about 1.30am when the 8yo did.

And why is it, that when kids do *finally* decide to sleep on planes, they do so, like, 15 minutes before the plan is about to land?

By the time we got to London (our stop before Milan - we used points) I had been awake for over 40 hours, the kids were exhausted, and we could hardly function.

However, when we returned home to Sydney, it was better, because we flew *in* at night, and went to bed at a normal bed time, so we didn't end up with much jet lag at all!

That's my tip: schedule flights to arrive early evening, so you can get to bed and just sleeeeeep.


I've never done the longhaul

I've never done the longhaul flight with kids in tow, but have watched friends from the UK struggling with jetlag on their family visits home to Australia. Seems like they spend their first week in a state of perpetual sleep deprivation, induced by tots waking in the night wanting to PLAY PLAY PLAY!

I am an odd fish, in that I love long car trips with the kids. We travel regularly through western NSW to visit family. Since in-car DVDs cause motion sickness in my oldest, we never bought a player, instead relying on the travel games and silliness of my own childhood. Admittedly it has been a lot easier as the kids have grown.

Worst trip: Newcastle to Yamba, Boxing Day 2003. 3yo and 5yo in the back. Old car with broken airconditioning. 10 hours sitting in traffic jams from Bulahdelah to Coffs Harbour. After that anything else is a doddle.

SophieLee's picture

Happy Travels

Thanks for sharing the horrors.
I would only use Phenergan on a flight if I wanted my kids to run helter skelter up and down aisles for twenty four hours!
I confess I've been spared the jumbo road bonanaza avec enfants, where road kill is used in I-spy and a seven hour Sydney Newcastle commute is beyond the pale.

ZoeyMartin's picture

Some Kind of Hell

For me the worst is airport delays. Particularly when my daughter was 18 months. Walking, but not really able to be reasoned with. I had a bag that weighed about a tonne, so couldn't exactly chase her around the airport. And because it was such a short flight I had packed her bottle in our checked in baggage. It was a solo trip and it was hell.

7 hours later when we finally arrived at our destination (flight only about 1 hr), I was wondering why I even bothered. Or that I should have driven. At least we would have been going forward.

pipbern's picture


Hi Sophie,

Loved this, especially the kids in the backseat helping you out when the cops came. Aren't they wonderful like that?

Like Carol, haven't done any air travel with the three kids but there was a time, when we only had my daughter, then just under 2 and we were meant to be going to the States for my brothers wedding. Friends suggested Phenergan for the flight, to *ahem* help with the sleeping part. Having never used it, we got a chance to trial it beforehand due to an allergic reaction to a vaccination.

Um, thank God we did, because it had the opposite effect on her. She was bouncing off the walls until 11pm that night.

As fate would have it, we never got to go as I fell pregnant with number 2, due the week before his wedding. I think I dodged a bullet to be honest.

Your kids wrestling with rock stars does sound like the coolest thing I've ever heard of though. :)

Jayne Kearney's picture

Sophie, I have also never


I have also never done a long haul flight with kids so haven't had to factor jet lag into any of our holidays (thank goodness - I'm still coming to grips with the fact that someone still has to do the washing when we go away). But a couple of years ago we did fly to Perth with the romantic notion of hiring a campervan and driving home to NSW. Someone said to me, "You're driving across the Nullabor with kids???" To which I replied, "No, we're going to go the other way." Well I didn't know there IS NO OTHER WAY did I? We weren't long out of Margaret River when I came over all Gob from Arrested Development: "We've made a HUGE mistake". After all there's only so many times you can say, "Look kids! Roadkill!"

From that moment I bunkered down with the kids in the back of the van: me with a book, them with a DVD - while hubby got a dose of white line fever and drove us the heck outta there. When Broken Hill loomed like some kind of outback El Dorado we declared that it was gonna be first class/five star all the way for our family holidays from now on.

But I guess, if nothing else, holidays with kids always give us a good story to tell later. When the trauma subsides. :-)

CarolDuncan's picture

Police negotiations continue

Dear Auntie Sophie,

I have never travelled overseas with my kids. The longest trip I've ever done is a drive from Newcastle to Sydney when the youngest one was a baby.

It took seven and a half hours.

This is a trip that would usually take maybe two. Three if the traffic at the Sydney end was really bad.

I'm thinking about heading to Istanbul for a month next year.

I've already decided to leave The Ninja and The Bird with their Auntie Soph - don't worry, youll *love* them!

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