A reflection on the reality of travelling with young kids

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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. 

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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.

pod tales- your story series

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“I was twenty nine and decided I wanted to go to England before the working visa was no longer available.  I went on my own, jumped on a plane eat, pray, love style and took off.  I went to embrace life, to be completely me and to spend time on my own.  This trip was an opportunity to evolve, I knew I had the capacity for more growth.

I went to England and did a block of teaching for ten weeks.  The teaching was tough, the students would throw chairs and things like that.  I had one student run at me with their fist in my face and that was at one of the better schools.  My experience as a teacher in Sydney helped me and I knew how to stand my ground.  The other schools were all different sorts of scenarios, police on the driveways as you entered, teachers on duty with walky-talkies, staff rooms with CCTV.  The kids didn’t have books, pens, pencils, nothing.  You had to take your own paper and pens for them everyday.  As a casual you’d have to supply it all yourself and you’d never get your pens back, because they would snap them.  Everyday you’d need to bring in thirty new pens, it was ridiculous.

When the school year ended, I met my sister in Munich for her thirtieth birthday and from there we went travelling for six weeks together.  We’d poured over our mother’s travel photos over the years and she really inspired us to travel the world.  We went all around France and then to Italy.  While we were in the Italian cliffside village of Positano I met a guy.  I’d always been told by a friend when you are in Italy, be seen, sit outside, dress nice and be seen. No joke, we got dressed up, we sat outside this perfect restaurant and a guy walked past.  It was like, me: “hi”, him: “ciao”, me: “ciao”, him: “ciao” and that was it.  We kept seeing him around over the course of the evening and later that night we met up at a night club and had a great time together.

My sister and I continued our travels throughout Europe, but it wasn’t long before I got a phone call from him (in very broken english) inviting me to a big medieval festival in Tuscany. It sounded pretty fantastic to an Australian chick so I travelled back to be with him and had an absolute ball.  I stayed with him for a few weeks and then went back to England as I had a teaching job lined up.  He kept ringing me constantly, asking me to come back and stay with him.  Something in me just said to take a big leap.  The point of the trip was to to be out of my comfort zone and London wasn’t providing that.  A little medieval village in Tuscany, however, was just the ticket.

I lived in Tuscany with him for a year.  By the end of that year I was in my prime, I’d mastered the art of living in a medieval city, felt amazing, was speaking Italian and my health and fitness had never been better.  I had a job teaching English to Italians, had money, a great partner and had been to so many European destinations that my collection of photos now rivalled my mother’s.  However, things were about to change drastically.  Summer arrived and I was invited to go and stay with a girlfriend at the Tuscan seaside and I jumped at the chance.

One morning, shortly after I’d arrived, my friend suggested I take her spare bike to ride to the beach.  I said I’d walk but they were keen for me to ride the bike, so I did.  I had a strong sense that I should not have got on the bike, I wish I’d listened to my intuitive self that day.  We were riding down to the beach and it was a perfect blue sky day, the glistening ocean views were breathtaking.  As I rode, I saw a young boy happily riding his bike in my direction.  He started to swing his bike from side to side as he rode and then began to stand up on his bike as he sped along.  He was looking out at the stunning view and was not conscious or aware of his surroundings at all.  I saw him and got a burning feeling in my gut that it wasn’t safe for me to keep riding, I pulled over to the side of the five metre board walk and waited for him to go past.  He started to ride really fervently and lost control of his bike.  He hit me hard and dragged me back a few metres.  At this point, I was still standing on my bike despite the crash, however, our bikes had become stuck together.  He was extremely panicked and proceeded to push down and pump the bikes hard.  I was pushed to the ground by the force and it was then that my whole foot joint exploded. I didn’t feel it though, I was still very concerned for him.  When he picked up his bike and I was finally free, I saw my foot facing the completely wrong way, my toes, halfway up my calf.

An ambulance arrived quickly and people came running out of their homes to help, I must have been screaming.  I was driven to the local village primary school where they put me on a science lab table.  Luckily there was morphine and other drugs handy.  My boyfriend called his contacts and got me into a hospital in Florence.  My mum flew over to Italy, alone, with no word of Italian to look after me.   The hospital experience was very different to what I was used to back at home.  There was no air conditioning despite the forty degree summer heat, no TV and limited visiting. We spent a lot of the time crying and going to the hospital’s beautiful chapel which looked more like a Cathedral. 

It was months before I was fit to fly home to Australia.  It was a massive recovery, five surgeries overall and auto immune disease to boot.  I was determined to focus on the healing, my goal was that I wasn’t going to let the accident define me.  I started doing yoga and meditation again. I’d found yoga before but got much more into it, as I couldn’t walk properly, dance or run; all things I’d done before the accident.  I completed yoga teacher training and it was really transformative.  I got a new job and focused on wellbeing. I took my life lessons on well-being, self care and healing to my school and started to run programmes with the kids and it was wonderful.

While I was on the trip I was asking the universe to put me on my path.  I wonder now, many years later, if in fact the accident was doing just that, putting me on my true path.  The accident has given me greater empathy, I can now hold space for other people and truly listen.  I feel I’m meant to do healing work with kids, parents and everyone.  I’ve learnt that healing is not a quick fix it’s hard yakka, but it can be done.  I was so determined not to let the accident define me, that in the end in some ways it did.  However, it has been for the better and for that I am grateful.  It gives me great joy to now offer a space for others to work on their own well-being and healing”.  (Carolyn, Sydney, Australia)

For more from Carolyn head to her Take A Breath Studio page on Facebook or follow @takeabreathstudio on Instagram

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