A reflection on the reality of travelling with young kids

milly beach

A casual google of ‘travelling with kids’ brings up a gazillion articles detailing the tips and tricks on how to do holidays with young kids ‘well’.  I’ll be honest from the get go, this is not one of those articles. 

I’ve tried many a tip from expert family jet setters and the results are always a very mixed bag.  Pack lightly, pack everything you’ll need, pack wisely, take it slow, but not too slow, involve the kids in packing (surely they aren’t talking about toddlers?!) pack new toys that the kids haven’t seen before  (there goes your holiday budget), pack a slim line car seat, a carrier, a light portacot, presents for your fellow passengers in case your baby has a vom or a pee in their direction or decides to scream the whole way to the destination.  The prep alone could be enough to have you rethinking the whole getaway.

Sure, planning is very important, especially when you do anything outside your own four walls with kids, especially the little kind.  It is prudent to do everything you can to provide damage control when on a family holiday and you really don’t want to be carting an eleven kilo portacot up the cobble stone pathways of Europe when your accomodation can provide you with one (if only we had rung ahead).   However, take heart if you didn’t spend days packing tiny new toys into tiny bags and making mini tubs of play dough for the journey because, the thing is, the holiday gods really don’t care about your planning anyway.  They care about keeping you on your toes and sometimes as far away from that comfy pool chair and aperol spritz as possible.  Maybe you get stuck with a case of day care gastro that descends as soon as you arrive at your destination or perhaps there are constant tropical downpours and you are left to entertain all your tribe in a small cabin with nothing but the hotel notepads and pens because the TV reception and internet are on the blink and the kids are over their two toys and two books (you insisted on light packing).  Or maybe you simply flip open your toddler’s water bottle and the pressurised plane cabin turns the water into a jet stream so powerful it showers the couple in the seat in front of you.  You assure them quickly it is just water and realise packing presents for fellow passengers might not have been such a crazy idea. 

For those of us lucky enough to travel with our family it does have its universal challenges. The safety net of your normal home routine has gone, there are no more school rules, the flood gates open and suddenly your eight year old boy is making fart sounds with his hands all the way to your destination.  The siblings, five and one not to be outdone, are joining in with their own percussive ostinatos.  Also, let’s face it, as parents we want a break from making and enforcing rules.  Surely we can all just relax, right?  Not quite, often a child’s idea of relaxing on a destination holiday is trying to eat their weight in gelato, going to the pool, then beach, then pool, climbing beach rocks, throwing rocks, basically moving at full speed, all day, until they crash at bedtime. 

holiday pic 1

In research professor Brené Brown’s new Netflix special The Call to Courage, ( a great tag line for a holiday with young children, I feel).  Brené and her husband speak about making rules for her kids to follow on the family getaway or they would be ‘feral’ by the end of the two weeks.  I’m not sure how the holiday rules go as she ends up having a fight with her husband on a swimming expedition and we are left hanging.  There is nothing like the chaos of a family holiday and the close quarters to bring out the full range of human emotion.  On the other hand, sometimes emotions are not running high, instead they are dulled from the sheer exhaustion of keeping up with the joyous energy of the children.  Some trips, it’s not until you get home and have a quiet moment to look through all the snap shots that you can fully appreciate how very special the time together was.  It seems to me that one of the most important things about travelling with your tribe is mindset and the willingness to dive into the chaos.  To prepare but prepare for the unexpected.

Travelling after all is about new experiences, some will be some of your best and some a little more uncomfortable, like the late onset air sickness that is exploding from your three year old and all over the customs counter ( I hadn’t planned for that one).  You are together making memories and that is what really matters.  Often it’s the smallest things that the children remember and love most, like the paddle pop to break up the long car journey or just the very fact that you are all together as a family.  Even if all your carefully planned tips and tricks fail to provide holiday zen, hold onto the joyful moments.  Finally, at the end of the day, it’s the mishaps that make for some of the best family stories in years to come.

Easy Carrot, Pineapple and Sultana Muffins (dairy free)

IMG_4586A few years ago we had a pod with a number of food allergies and intolerances.  We had members with FPIES and Anaphylaxis and a few other pesky intolerances as well.  As anyone who has dealt with allergies would know, finding alternate foods can be difficult and sometimes stressful.  Whipping up things yourself means you can be certain that nothing on the black list has been thrown in.   When searching for baked goods that were egg or dairy free ( the same goes for gluten free) the texture of them would often be quite tough, slightly reminiscent of cardboard, with a hint of foam cup.  I set about searching for tasty recipes and stumbled upon an old muffin cookbook my mum had copied from a neighbour in the 80’s.  This recipe was in it and after some adapting to suit the allergies we were dealing with, it became an absolute winner.  The greatest thing about the recipe is that it can be tweaked a number of different ways, to suit your particular allergy or tastes and will still remain moist and delicious, due to the addition of the carrot and the pineapple.  No styrofoam mouth feel here.  They are super easy to prepare, just some quick mixing and folding and have been a hit with our little and big people for years

Head to the list of tweaks at the end, to adapt the recipe to your own needs.  Sultanas are not everyone’s bag but were added as our little people are obsessed with them.  


1/2 cup white sugar

2/3 cup light olive oil

2 large eggs

1 and 1/2 cup plain flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

pinch of salt

1 teaspoon vanilla ( I use the vanilla bean paste but you could easily use vanilla extract)

1 tablespoon plain coconut yoghurt 

1 cup finely crated carrot

1 cup crushed unsweetened pineapple well drained

1/2 cup sultanas


1.  Preheat your oven to 190 Celsius or 375 Fahrenheit

2.  Line a 12 hole muffin tray with muffin cases

3. In a mixing bowl combine sugar, yoghurt, oil, vanilla and eggs.  Beat this together lightly with a fork.

4. Grab another mixing bowl and a medium size sieve.  Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt into the mixing bowl.

5. Add the dry ingredients to the mixing bowl with the sugar and oil mixture.  Stir a few times to moisten, then fold in the grated carrot, drained pineapple and sultanas.

6. Mix until just combined.  Don’t go overboard with the old mixing here or you’ll end up with muffins that taste like hockey pucks. 

7. Spoon the mixture into your 12 muffin cases.  This mixture rises quite a bit so it’s safest not to fill your cases right to the top.

8. Pop your muffin tray into your preheated oven for 20 mins. 

9. Once done leave the muffins to cool for about 15 min, this makes uncasing them easier. 


  • You can omit the sultanas and add 1/2 cup of chopped dry roasted, unsalted almonds or unsalted macadamia nuts instead.  Unsweetened coconut flakes are also a delicious substitute but you might like to omit the cinnamon if you go this route.
  • This recipe works well as an egg free muffin, simply substitute the eggs for egg replacer
  • If you are fine with dairy you can use full fat plain yoghurt


How does a child navigate the sickness and death of another child close to them


This story was published with permission by Mamamia here: https://www.mamamia.com.au/helping-kids-cope-with-grief

The wonderful people I interview for the your stories series on pod tales are generous enough to share personal and pivotal stories of challenge and hardship.  With this in mind, I thought it only fair, that I share one too.

I was nine when the phone rang, one week day evening, to deliver the news that my seven year old cousin had incurable brain cancer.  As my parents broke the shocking news that my cousin was going to die, an ordinary day suddenly became extraordinary.  I, however, was completely perplexed.  How could this news be delivered with such certainty?  Surely they were wrong?  Just moments before, I had been joking around with my brothers and eating dinner, this kind of news doesn’t come after dinner.  There was no way my beautifully spirited and very much alive cousin could possibly die.  I was rather upset and annoyed by the whole scenario that had suddenly been thrust upon me.  I decided that adults were often overly dramatic about sickness, I comforted myself with this thought and packed the idea of death neatly away. 

As my cousin, an only child, started treatment for her brain cancer my parents made every effort for us to be with her as much as possible.   I would travel to the children’s hospital after school with my Dad and spend the afternoons chatting and playing with her.  It is these memories, of my last year with her, that I hold close.  I unpack them year after year as I grow older and as I go through life’s milestones, my lens changing to accomodate my ever changing life and circumstance.  Deeper understanding of what went on coming as the years drift by. 

At the time of her illness I navigated most of that year with a sense of optimism and innocence.  I had never known anyone who had been sick enough to be in hospital, so the visits there were a complete eye opener.  There was the beautiful doctor who gave us icy poles when we came to visit, her friendly nature and great kindness making a lasting impression on me and her own death from cancer, years later, reinforcing the lottery of the disease.  My cousin’s everlasting array of brand new toys that she received as generous gifts were very exciting as was the all you can eat Mc Donalds we were given whilst my cousin stayed at Ronald Mc Donald house.  Although, the fact that we were suddenly permitted to gorge ourselves on Mc Donald’s, when it was usually banned, did set alarm bells ringing.  As I watched my brothers run to order another round of hamburgers, it dawned on me that things might be more serious than I’d initially thought.   

All in all though, my memories until the last few weeks of her life were pretty positive.  Even when the adults around us broke down and could no longer fight back their tears I wasn’t too phased, I put it down to adults being serious.  I remember the day of a big party for my cousin, she was wearing the most beautiful dress I had ever seen.  I thought it was such a wonderful celebration and I couldn’t understand why one of my aunts was quietly weeping as my cousin sat on her lap, resplendent in her gorgeous party dress.  As tears streamed down her face, I wondered what had happened to her.   Why is she crying in the middle of a party? I thought.  The day was supposed to be fun.  Now years later, I identify so much with the poignant scene.  There was my young aunt, holding her beautiful niece on this special milestone day, grieving the fact that it would be her last. 

It was in the final two weeks of her life that my cousin looked sicker than I ever thought possible.  It  suddenly dawned on me that if she did die, it could be really painful. I really didn’t want that for her, after all she’d been through.  It was then that I began to wish for her to no longer be in pain, rather than for anything else.  It was not long after, that she died peacefully in her sleep.  We visited her in her bed at the palliative care hospital and as the adults buzzed around, some taking photos of us, I had no idea what to do.  I was desperately sad but didn’t want to break down in front of everyone.  As someone asked us to pose for a picture I smiled and was quickly told I didn’t need to.  I thought how stupid I’d been to smile but in all honesty had no idea what the appropriate etiquette for this type of thing was. 

When the end came, it was pretty devastating.  Everyone navigates grief differently and children journey through it in their own way.  I remember her often and even in small ways, like when my daughter picks up my cousin’s old toy that we have kept and asks where we got it from or when my son had his seventh birthday, I pondered that her seventh was her last.  Recently our family was touched by another beautiful little girl, a friend, who lost her life to brain cancer.  One night as I tucked my eldest child into bed, he asked me about a shadow he thought he could see in his room.  As he sometimes thinks about ghosts,  I comforted him, saying it was nothing to worry about.  Quick as a flash he replied, “I know mummy, I’m not worried, it’s just our friend passing through on the way to visit her mummy and daddy”.  His words reminded me of the innocence and optimism I had, now over twenty five years ago, when my cousin was ill.  It struck me how powerful the ability of a child is, to preserve the memory of these very special companions.

Baby brain, what’s the weirdest thing you’ve done?


I’ve always been prone to a Bridget Jones style moment.  I’m partial to day dreaming and my brain is constantly workshopping too many things, all at once, meaning that a task at hand may not always be getting sufficient attention.  Luckily, important things get my direct focus, however, less significant things can often turn into a clumsy moment. 

When I fell pregnant for the first time, my tendency for the ridiculous grew. I would grab my garage door remote and confidently point it towards the boom gate at the entrance to a shopping centre and look on perplexed as the boom gate sat unresponsive.  I would completely forget pin numbers to bank accounts I used daily (for years, mind) and be stuck on the bank hotline for an age trying to remember security questions I had chosen, to recover the pin that I had forgotten.  The lovely lady on the bank hotline would assure me that I had once chosen these security questions myself (in a former life, with a former brain, I hasten to add).   “What was your middle brother’s first girlfriend?”, “What was your favourite song in school?” she recites.  I explain to lovely hotline lady, there must be some kind of misunderstanding, these must be someone else’s questions.  We end up having to go through my credit card transactions to prove I am, in fact, me.  Luckily, after five transactions, I recognise one of them and I can retrieve my pin.  I am still, however, locked out of my hotmail account, they deemed my knowledge of myself to be too poor to reinstate my access. 

I had vaguely heard about ‘baby brain’ but I had also heard people, mainly men in my workplace staffroom, poo-pooing the phenomenon.   To my great relief, I read this year that researchers at Deakin university have since declared that baby brain is in fact a real condition, their studies showed that “General cognitive functioning, memory, and executive functioning were significantly reduced during the third trimester of pregnancy” (Pregnancy really does make women more forgetful: Study, SMH, January 15, 2018).

As I reached my due date for my first baby, I thought it was crucial to get my hair done, as from what I’d heard, leaving the house after having a baby was going to be impossible.  I booked in with my local Toni and Guy, as my regular hairdresser was booked out and I had convinced myself the baby was going to come early (I wish!) and the hair situation was dire.  The lovely English hairdresser was chatty and helpful and as he finished my foils and went to prep for my blow dry, I took the free moment to grab my phone and check on my messages.  As I reached into my bag my fingers suddenly felt icy cold, and my hand brushed a wet plastic bag as I fumbled around to locate my phone.  How on earth did ice get in my bag I thought?! I hoisted the sack of a handbag onto my lap, I may have grunted, such was the size of my girth at this point and opened the bag wide open to get a good look at what on earth was going on.  There, tangled between my headphones, sunglasses and tissues was a plastic bag housing a very large, frozen, fillet of salmon.  Bemused by the fish in my bag, I tried hard to think about how it could have gotten there. My brain felt like marshmallow,  it seemed impossible to spark the neural pathways into gear to get to the bottom of this caper.  As I stared at my sodden hair in the mirror I willed my brain to get into gear but I was getting bupkis.  I decided to utilise the ‘retrace your steps’ method that had become common place in the last nine months and went through every action since leaving the house that morning.  Shower, check, breakfast, check, getting dinner out of the freezer and putting it on the bench. Bingo! I remember putting the salmon out to defrost. Thank Christ. I had absolutely no recollection of putting the frozen fillet in my hand bag but after taking stock of my recent brain fog it was entirely believable.  The relief of finally solving the fish in bag scenario was quickly replaced with sheer terror as I realised I had been sitting in the hairdressers with a piece of defrosting fish at my feet.  What if the hairdresser had smelt something fishy and thought it was me!?  He’d have to assume it was, as what kind of lunatic walks around with fish in their handbag!?  Maybe he would be compassionate because I was with child. One could only hope.  I was grateful that I only had to sit through a blow dry and then I could flee, post haste.  What good luck it was that it wasn’t my regular hairdresser.  I could potentially be safe in the knowledge I would never see this dude again.  I placated myself with these thoughts as I sat through the final moments of my blow-dry.  Nevertheless, I slowly and discreetly used my foot to push my handbag as far from my seat as I could manage, just in case any pungent fish fumes happened to catch his nostrils. 

The fish incident was my first foray into motherhood brain meltdown.  As the years passed in a blur and I had subsequent children, things like buying a sandwich and leaving it on my car bonnet and bolting off to rhyme time were common place.  Strange men would gesticulate from their car windows when we were stopped at an intersection, I’d in turn lock my doors in fear of some kind of car jacking, only to realise after, that they were trying to alert me to the coffee I had left on my roof.  Then there was the time a man sidled up to my table in a coffee shop, I had braced myself for the usual pleasantries of “oh your son looks so much like mine” or “you’ve got your hands full” but instead he started describing the exact make of my car and said I’d left the door to the passenger side wide open on the street. I certainly hadn’t remembered doing it but it definitely sounded like a bad case of baby brain. 

Do I feel better knowing that the smart folks at Deakin have proven it to be a real thing?

I guess, but I already knew it was real.  

image by Martine Payne 

Four places you’ll ‘find yourself’ during the toddler years


It is the eve of our third baby’s first birthday and I am surprised how quickly we are being catapulted out of the baby stage and into toddler town.  He is mere days away from officially being a toddler and is exhibiting the tell tale signs. He is suddenly very taken with a book about a little train. The train does things like go through a tunnel and puff puffs on tracks, there’s even a bit were it goes ‘toot, toot’, are you excited yet?  He routinely lurches out of my arms to grab it, flapping the beautiful and more imaginative story books out of my hands.  It feels like it was only yesterday that I was reading ‘diggers and dumpers’ and ‘emergency vehicles’ board books every. single. day. Both cracking reads as you can imagine. They were often teamed with real life excursions too, if there was a jack hammer pounding through cement nearby, or a garbage truck or a fire engine in sight, we’d be there front row and centre, toddler in nirvana and me wondering how my life had come to this. 

It’s been years since we’ve had a toddler in the house, my eldest two children are now in primary school and as we prepare to celebrate this milestone, the memories of the toddler years from baby number one (boy) and baby number two (girl) are flooding back.  If you are about to embark on the toddler stage too, allow me to shed a little light, on four places you will be spending some of your time:

The Park

Ah, the park, where shall I start?

The park is the place that evokes unadulterated joy in a toddler but slightly different feelings in you.  On some days it can be mind numbing, you might find yourself wishing for some tumble weeds to appear so as to at least have something to entertain yourself with.  You won’t want to look at that tumbleweed for too long though, as the park can sometimes come with a side serving of anxiety and sheer terror if you have a particularly adventurous toddler.  In saying that, I’ve seen the most tranquil of kids get completely taken out by a rogue swing.  Toddlers and swings, like bees to honey. 

At times,  you may be lucky enough to meet up with friends which definitely quells the isolation but as soon as you are getting into really scintillating conversation you could well be interrupted by the sight of your little person dangling off the climbing frame inches from a broken arm or heading for the hole in the park fence that leads onto train tracks.  You then have to drop the coffee and sprint for dear life.  In my experience, this scenario could happen up to five times in one park visit. 

The home play date

Next you try playdates with your friends and their beautiful toddlers.  You’ve been friends since your kids were babies, they are like family.  Surely this will be a bit relaxing, you can sit and drink tea while your cherubs play.  Now that they are no longer babies, their play style has suddenly morphed into something you don’t quite recognise.  They aren’t sharing and have started throwing trains at each other, one might have even bitten the other, but one of them has definitely bitten the button off the TV remote.  They didn’t get the memo that you are best friends and you want them to be too.  You haven’t had an uninterrupted conversation for most of the visit and the biscuit you ate is somehow stuck in your throat and won’t loosen, just like the planking toddler you are now trying to fold in half, so you can get them into their carseat and home in time for their nap.  You drive home praying they won’t fall asleep as even 10mins means there will be no day nap and you sing Old MacDonald at full pelt, all the way home, to stall any drooping eyes. 

The non-baby-proof visit:

A visit to a friend or relative’s house can often be a NIGHTMARE.  Fancy hotels can also be in this category, so many seem to love abstract art and there is nothing quiet like a statue made out of cast iron spikes to get your toddler excited and RUNNING at breakneck speed in its direction.   Then there is the visit to your great Aunty Flo’s.  She has a great passion for knick knacks, especially the expensive porcelain kind, nestled all over the house on small toddler height tables, perfection.  As soon as you enter the door your toddler lurches forward to swipe an entire table to the ground.  You laugh nervously and proceed to spend the rest of the visit shadowing your toddler, walking inches behind them the entire time telling everyone there that you’d rather drink your tea and biscuit standing, thanks very much.

The toddler bedroom floor:

Toddlers often see no point in wearing anything more than an Emma wiggles tutu or a Batman outfit. To get your toddler out the door on time and properly attired for any event means you will have to get creative.  I was often reduced to a barn animal. With one of our toddlers it was much speedier to get on all fours, twirk and cock my head to the side, ‘bow wow’, I’d pant. “Puppy wants to you to put your shoes on wuff wuff”. They in turn giggle and jump, “again, again!” they squeal.  Round and round it then goes until you can hardly breathe and are sweating like a pig BUT the shoes are on, win!

Before having children I could never imagine how zipping up a simple hoodie on a two year old could leave you perspiring and as red as a beetroot.  The comedian Michael Mcintyre’s side splitting bit ‘People with no kids don’t know’ showcases this scenario brilliantly.  While you are there, watch the whole thing, it’s the perfect therapy after a long day with a toddler, you might want to snuffle up a box of chocolates too.

There is no doubt the toddler years are challenging.  Even Robin Barker the bestselling author of Baby Love and The Mighty Toddler admits that she didn’t find the toddler years easy and preferred the teenage ones. Or maybe they will be a breeze for you and there will be other stages that pose more challenges.  The thing is, the toddler years bring with them a rich tapestry of emotions but one thing is for sure, there will be moments, knock the wind out of you ones, that will be so beautiful and heart throbbingly exquisite that you will hold them in your heart forever more.  I’ll gladly do all four things on this list again, just to get to see that chubby little toddler finger pointing out every single new thing with an emphatic ‘dair’ (there!), eyes shining with more wonder and excitement than you ever thought humanly possible.  I’ll remember this very sentiment the next time a tumbleweed passes me by.   

pod tales- your story series


“We escaped communist occupied Czechoslovakia in 1948.  We had found a man that knew what part of the barbed wire fence on the military guarded border was loose and could be crawled though.  We fled in the dead of night, through heavy rain, to increase our chances of not being seen.   I told my parents I was going to flee with my fiancé, but he didn’t tell his parents.  My Mum and Dad were sad and cried but they understood that we would have better chances if we left.  My Grandma said it would be the last time I would ever see her.  That was very hard for me, she was my everything and I loved her so very much.  She had lived with my parents and myself, in our one bedroom apartment, for my whole life.  She died two years after we fled and I never saw her again.   

We originally wanted to go to America but the quota was full, we ended up on a flight to Australia in 1949 after some time in a German refugee camp.  We were placed in the migrant reception camp at Bonegilla and from there we went to Sydney.  We liked it so decided to stay.  My husband and I could have retrained and worked in the same fields that we had back at home but we were 29 and wanted a family and needed money, it made sense to have our own business and open our own cake shop.   My husband had done his bakers training alongside his university degree.  His father was a baker and insisted all his sons get their baking qualifications. 

I was pregnant not long after arriving in Australia and had my first daughter in 1953.  I didn’t know all the things I needed for a new baby but our next door neighbour, an Anglo Australian woman, who had two teenage daughters, said she would organise everything for me.  She knitted me lots of outfits and brought lots of baby things into the cake shop for me.  They were very lovely people.  I had my daughter at the Royal Hospital for Women in Paddington.   They took very good care of me, except at one stage, they were so full they put my bed out on the verandah.  It was a completely open verandah with no fly screens or protections from the elements and it was cold at night.  I had to tell them I needed a bed indoors, I had bad bronchitis, I couldn’t be out there all night in the middle of winter.

I didn’t drive so didn’t meet the mothers at my daughter’s school much.  I stayed and   worked in the shop.  I had one day out a week to the city, that was nice, I would do my shopping and go to David Jones. I enjoyed it.  We had Sundays off and we would see our other Czech friends we had met once we had settled in Sydney.  We had one dear friend from home that we met by complete chance in Sydney.  We knew he had escaped Czechoslovakia but heard he had gone to South Africa.  We were walking down George St in the city and suddenly saw him in a camera shop window. It was unbelievable. We were so happy to have found each other”. (Sydney, Australia) 

IMG_4139                                    Woodstock migrant reception centre, Sydney 1949