THE 10 BEST THINGS ABOUT TRAVELLING WITH KIDS

This time last year, Hoff and I were lucky enough to take a trip to the US….child-free.

We had the best time. And critically, we did all the things we knew we couldn’t get away with if our kids were in tow. We ate well, we drank a lot, we listened to music, went to museums, finished conversations. You name it, we did it.

So here we are again and it’s hard not to compare our child-free adventure last year with our child-full adventure this year.

With that in mind, here are the very best things about travelling with kids.

1. There is no grey.

Have you ever travelled with a group of friends and had that thing were you’re all falling over each other to make sure you’re not too bossy or controlling?

As in, “I don’t mind, what do you want to do?”, “no really, I don’t mind, what do you want to do?”, “no I insist, it’s up to you…”

This does not happen when you travel with your children. All decision-making is expedited because if they don’t want it, they are not having it.

And if you don’t heed their warning and go back to the hotel for a rest instead of getting milkshakes, for example, they will make you pay by falling asleep in the middle of a restaurant in Chelsea Market.

2. They have no shame.

We went to the Museum of Natural History and like any good parent I had dutifully showed the kids Night at the Museum in preparation for their visit. The idea was to instill a sense of excitement in the little tackers, so they could experience the thrill of seeing it in real life, which kind of happened.

But also, their biggest takeaway of the film seemed to be that the Easter Island statue referred to itself as ‘Dum Dum’, when it became bewitched after dark (sorry, spoiler alert) and consequently when we made our way to the Hall of Pacific Peoples, the relative museum serenity was interrupted by my two chanting “Dum Dum, Dum Dum, Dum Dum” at the top of their lungs on approach. Even when I tried to tell them that it’s actually called a Moai and has fascinating origins and tried to convert the whole thing into a Holiday Learning Opportunity™, they weren’t having it and carried on with their chanting.

And this is the story of this holiday. Although at times it’s embarrassing, it’s also pretty bloody funny too.

Like when we saw a life-size model of the Statue of Liberty’s face, and the Boy Child stood with his head half in her nostril as though he was…well…you know…a booger…I had to have a little chuckle. I’m only human. Classic.

3. They say hilarious things.

Trips to tiny plane toilets are a bit of a nightmare usually, particularly when both your children are terrified of the flush and insist you come in with them. Worst kind of mile high club ever.

But on one such trip, the Girl Child was chatting away as she was dutifully going about her business, when she said, “I like our toilet at home better, mum. It’s much less wiggly.”

She was referring to the mild turbulence being experienced at the time. (The actual turbulence. Not a euphemism for things that happen in the toilet.)

Again – classic.

4. Quiet nights spent in the hotel room

On our child-free trip last year, I have to admit, there was an element of ‘mums and dads on the loose’ for Hoff and me. We went out most nights, got home too late most nights, and just generally made very little use of the hard-earned money spent on hotel rooms.

Fast-forward to this year and a quiet night after the kids’ 7pm bedtime is mostly the order of the day.

I’ve really been enjoying having more time to write and share our adventures, and Hoff’s really enjoyed having more time to fall asleep in front of the telly and claim to just be resting his eyes.

5. Reduced going out/booze budget.

See above.

6. Blurring fantasy and reality.

To be perfectly honest, when we travel, a big chunk of our itinerary activities are driven by reliving our favourite pop cultural exploits in the location they took place or were set. I’d love to say that we’re driven by educating ourselves, or experiencing culture, or pleasing aesthetics, but full disclosure, we’re quite basic that way.

Case in point, the second stop on next week’s road trip itinerary is Scranton, Pennsylvania. Because of The Office. And if you need any further information than that then I implore you to stop reading right now and go and watch all nine seasons and also what have you been doing with your life?

The best thing about doing this sort of thing with the kids, though, is that their tiny minds haven’t quite grasped the concepts of fact and fiction as yet, so when you take them to see the Ghostbusters Firehouse, for example, their delight is palpable, (as is their terror as they strain their necks checking for an appearance of Slimer).

7. The value of incidental wildlife sightings

Obviously, kids lose their minds over animals.

We’ve seen turtles in the lake Central Park, squirrels at the playground in Washington Square Park, and we’ve even had a few close brushes with that quintessential native inhabitant of the Upper West Side – the toy poodle.

All incidental, all free, and most importantly – all smiles from the rugrats every. darn. time.

8. Guilty pleasures.

Kids provide a great excuse/incessant nagging to indulge in what would normally be holiday guilty pleasures.

Need an afternoon nap? We’d better do that, you know. For the kids.

Want to buy that Statue of Liberty bobblehead? What a great idea.

Can we have donuts for breakfast? Yes. Yes we can.

What’s that kids? You’ve got a craving for hotel room Pringles? Sure, we can get some.

(Mum, we didn’t ask for those chips.)

(No, it’s fine kids. We’re on holidays, you can have them.)

(We’d really prefer a banana at this point mum, can we just get that?)

(There you go kids, Pringles for everyone.)

(….Mum, are these really for you?)

(You’re so welcome, kiddos.)

9. They’re easy pleased.

In case you haven’t got the sense already, Hoff and I tend to take somewhat of a holiday from parenting when we travel too. Nothing too drastic, just a general relaxing of what are usually some pretty hard and fast rules.

So the kids have been enjoying a little more sugar, a little more screentime, and a little less sleep than usual.

Which means that the phrases:

“Hey kids, who wants to go and have Froot Loops for breakfast then go to the Lego store and buy personalised mosaics in the design of your face then have a slice of pizza that’s bigger than your head today?”

and

“Hey kids, who wants to strip down to our undies and watch telly for more than an hour in the hotel room?”

are met with the same level of enthusiasm. Despite the epic chasms in planning, cost and general effort that goes into each.

10. They’re here.

I missed them when we went away last year. As much as we tried to plan a trip that they would’ve hated, there were things that crept in that we knew they would’ve loved. And every time we saw something, the pangs of separation felt a tiny little bit more acute.

Which is, hands down, the best things about our trip this year. We’re all here together.

BUCKET LIST CRASHING

In winter 2015, I was living in Auckland, pregnant with the Girl Child, and spending my days between playgroup, swimming, Little Kickers and generally wrangling the Boy Child who was two at the time.

So when my sister, Tara, came to visit, we decided to get out of Auckland and see a bit of New Zealand.

We headed south for Rotorua, and spent a few days down there riding the Skyline, visiting Te Puia and trying to explain the link between increased Geothermal activity, sulphur and the unique odor of Rotorua to a two-year-old with a keen sense of smell.

I also accidentally drove right through the middle of a traditional Māori village (due to an overzealous GPS) which is hands down the worst thing I’ve ever done while travelling and left me feeling more mortified than the time my entire primary school saw my undies at assembly (long story).

So it was maybe the work of karma for this incident that saw the speedy decline in the Boy Child’s behaviour that trip.

He was not napping. He was not going to bed on time. He suddenly, loudly and violently began to exercise his right to conscientiously object to bathing.

Karma.

Or maybe it was the fact that he was two. I guess we’ll never know.

On the way home from Rotorua, almost as an afterthought, we stopped by Matamata which is the home of the Hobbiton movie set, and a critical stop for NZ Lord of the Rings kitsch.

And it was during this movie set tour that the Boy Child’s behaviour hit peak ratty-ness. He screamed. He tantrumed. He didn’t want to walk and as it turns out, Hobbiton is not pram-friendly. It was cold. It was muddy. He sat in the cold mud. He wanted to go inside the fake Hobbit house facades.

And about half way through the tour, when we were too far in to turn back, I suddenly though to myself, what am I doing here?

I didn’t even particularly enjoy the Lord of the Rings movies.

At about the same time I took closer notice of our co-travellers in our tour group. So many accents. So many highly specific questions for our tour guide. So many Lord of the Rings t-shirts.

And then it dawned on me, these were not people who had stopped here in passing. These were people who had come a long way to visit here. These were actual fans. These were people who were maybe even ticking off critical items on their life’s bucket lists.

And holy crap, my kid was ruining it all. The horror. For all I knew these people may never get a chance to get this far south of the Equator again, let alone try Hobbiton again on a day without a tiny two-year-old Aussie screeching because I wouldn’t let him pick the fake set flowers.

And this is hands-down the hardest thing about travelling with kids.

It’s not the jetlag. It’s not the constant demands for snacks as though our pantry has somehow grown sentient and accompanied us to the US. It’s the spectre of ruining someone else’s once in a lifetime experience with your kids’ unpredictable behaviour.

On that note, yesterday the kids and I went to see Aladdin on Broadway.

I suggested Hoff have the afternoon off (which was a decision driven by fiscal responsibility as much as it was marital compromise) and I was so excited to book the kids their first musical theatre tickets. And on Broadway, of all places.

I was nervous that they’d be too young, but I took precautions.

I planned a late morning snack during our stop at the beautiful Grand Central Terminal that morning to head off hangry-ness. I booked a matinee as opposed to an evening performance to mitigate tiredness. I booked the front row of a balcony to eliminate incidental seat kicking. I booked seats on the aisle in case I had to drag them out of the theatre by their ears and read them the riot act. I planned to bribe them with interval M&Ms.

But as the day drew closer and particularly when the kids woke up at 5am, the Boy Child with a blocked nose and headache, and it was raining, I started to have post-traumatic flashbacks to Hobbiton.

What if they’re noisy? What if they can’t sit still? What if they put their feet on the railings and drop their shoes over the balcony and brain some poor pensioner in the stalls? What if they don’t appreciate the shining, shimmering, splendidness of it all and completely lose it?!

Simply put – what if they ruin someone’s once in a lifetime Broadway experience?

Even worse – what if that someone whose once in a lifetime is ruined is me?!

As it turns out, they did none of those things. They sat (relatively) still and watched the show. They laughed at the appropriate times. The gasped in awe at the appropriate times. They peed their pants when there were unexpected pyrotechnics (not literally, thankfully, as that was one of the few doomsday scenarios I had not anticipated).

In the end, the Boy Child leaned over about ten minutes into the show and said, “mum, this is the best thing ever.”

And the Girl Child was so sold on the narrative that she queried why we were all clapping the bad guys in the curtain calls.

As for me, I shed a quiet tear during “Friend Like Me”, because I was so darn happy to share this experience with my kids, and to tick something off my own bucket list in the process.

And maybe a teensy bit in relief because this time we didn’t seem to be crashing anyone else’s bucket list ticking in the process.  

TRY HARD

Wasn’t that just the insult of the mid-1990s?

Look at her in her ripped jeans and her Doc Martens. I bet she doesn’t even listen to Nirvana. What a try hard.

(They were right. I didn’t listen to Nirvana. But I still wear Doc Martens to this day. Because screw you 90s grunge kids; warm, comfortable footwear is for everyone.)

But who knew that as a mum, being a Try Hard would actually be a badge of honour?

What, me? A try hard? Your damn right I am. Or I do.

(Like right now I’m trying hard to understand the grammar.)

I write this from a silent Upper West Side hotel room as I wait for my kids to wake up after our arrival here last night.

New York City might be the city that never sleeps, but my kids sure do. Especially after we subjected them to a 28-hour door-to-door, long haul, cross hemisphere, international travel experience.

(Which is how I sold it to them in the first place, incidentally. The trick is in the marketing.)

And boy did I try hard in my preparations for this flight.

I did a trial suitcase pack three weeks prior to the flight to ensure I could cover all manner of social/meteorological situations in which we might find ourselves.

I bought those packing cells which I was worried might be a bit of a scam to convince highly strung family travel coordinators to part with their cash, but actually they’ve turned out to be my favourite things in life after my wedding ring and children.

I pre-selected our seating positions and meal choices.

I packed snacks, medications, fresh clothes and sleeping aids (comforters and eye-masks obviously, not medicinal – settle down Internet.)

Critically, I worked long and hard on packing things to entertain the kids during the flight.

In the days before we left, I was chatting to the Girl Child’s kindy teacher about our trip. She regaled me with stories of the effort she went to for carry on entertainment during a trip she took when her kids were similar ages to ours.

I inwardly beamed with pride when she starting listing an almost carbon copy of the contents of my kids’ backpacks – colouring books, educational worksheets, the makings of a comprehensive travel journal, meticulously crafted but critically lightweight travel games.

I mean, this woman is an actual qualified early childhood educator so maybe I’m was doing something right?

Then she dissolved into laughter and further recalled how once her kids were on the plane and had their seatback screen/personal entertainment devices in hand, they were totally happy and content to get on with the process of flying long-haul, and the only thing her hours of hard work really achieved was to create extra weight in their bags, which ended up being left – largely untouched – at their holiday destination as a result.

And now, having come through the other side of child-friendly, long-haul travel ourselves, I can concur that yep, I probably didn’t need to try so hard with all that stuff either.

The only thing I really should have done was learn how to play Minecraft, which we diligently installed on the Boy Child’s iPad before we left.

(Seriously though, send help. Like are you meant to eat the sheep or domesticate them? I’m so confused.)

That said, the lengths that I went to in preparing for our flight was nothing compared to the planning that has gone into our itinerary from here on in. There may or may not have been multiple spreadsheet tabs and graphic-based brainstorming maps. There were definitely multiple travel guides involved. Both online and hard copy.

My point is, I’ll never stop trying hard in my dogged pursuit of the creation of magical childhood travel memories for my children through our travel. It is my favourite incarnation of myself as a try hard so far.

(Take that, Stussy hat and overall wearing 1992 me).