The Agony & Ecstasy of Travelling With Children

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Looking Up – The Eiffel Tower


My family and I have recently returned from a six-week travelling bonanza. Now I say bonanza because for our family, that’s what it was. Some of you may be much more well-travelled than my children are, but this was our first overseas trip as a family.

My husband is English and we had not made the journey back to England for nine years. Our last trip was just before we had our first baby. So we were well overdue. The children had three uncles and an aunty in the UK that they had never met, so if only to reconnect with family, it was time to make the journey.

When we planned it, we knew it was ambitious – Singapore, England, Wales, Italy, France and Indonesia – in six weeks. And as expected, it was full of trials and tribulations. Arguably our youngest, who was 20 months old when we left, was too young to travel so far. While hindsight is a great thing, I’m glad it is just that, hindsight. Because if we’d stayed home we would have missed out on so much.

There are so many words I could use to describe our trip – exhausting, amazing, exhilarating, hilarious, ridiculous, incredible. So you get the idea; a veritable feast of emotion and experiences. There were times when the youngest was such hard work that, in the midst of all the discomfort and sleepless nights, we said that we should not have come. But now we are home and those tough times are receding and what we are left with are these amazing experiences that we are so incredibly lucky to have shared.

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Family Selfie on the Spanish Steps – Rome

So I thought I’d share some things I learnt about travelling with small children, and it might make someone else’s trip that little bit more comfortable.

  • Be prepared for the nuances of each individual child’s personality to emerge stronger than ever. Our oldest daughter is quite passive and highly sensitive, so she complained very little even when things were quite hard going. But she was much more teary than usual if it all got too much. Our son, who is much more assertive, with a bit of fire in his belly complained loudly and frequently and, on one occasion, at our arrival at Gare Du Nord in Paris, threw his suit case on the ground and declared he would not go any further! Our youngest is very clear about what she wants so managing her very strong personality was somewhat of a challenge.
  • Choose your accommodation wisely. Location, location, location is a cliche for a reason. When we were in Rome we stayed a little bit out of the city and it detracted from our time there. The trip in and out on the tram tired the children out, and going back for the baby’s daytime sleep was too much coming and going for them. But in Paris we stayed right in the heart of Mont Marte and it was one of the things that made our time in Paris so wonderful. It was easy to pop home for some rest time as nothing was far away. Because there was no major travelling around the city, the kids weren’t as tired, so were more open to experiencing all that is wonderful about Paris.

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The view from our window in Paris

  • For the grown ups, find some time each day to be alone. For us it was in the evening, when the kids were asleep. On the nights where we all went to bed at the same time, I missed reconnecting with my husband. That hour or so in the evening was a chance to sit together and process the day’s events and plan for the next day. That down-time was really important for us. We took our parenting hats off and became a couple again, if only for an hour.
  • If you have the time, book some proper holiday time where you can lie by a pool or on the beach. Even if it’s only a few days, it is the perfect way to recharge your batteries. You will come home refreshed, rested and ready to get back in to the daily grind.

Before we had children, my husband and I were quite transitory and travelled a lot. After so long in one place it didn’t take much to ignite our itchy feet, and one of the greatest aspects of this trip was that our travel bug has returned. But more than us, our children (perhaps not the hub, but the older two) have also caught the bug. I can thank my Mum for instilling in me, that sense of adventure and and inquisitiveness about the world. She loved to travel; I watched and learned from her. So to pass on the same to my children is a great gift from her to them, through me.

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Mindfulness:#100HAPPYDAYS

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Are you practicing mindfulness or are you just too damned distracted with the business of your life? Mindfulness is such a buzzword these days that it’s almost lost its meaning. So to remind you, it’s about being in the moment, instead of obsessing about the the past or fretting about the future.

 

The practice has its roots in Buddhist meditation, but has been appropriated by the mainstream and our western understanding of what constitutes mindfulness is probably far removed from what its Buddhist originators were thinking.

 

But alas, its modern, western incarnation is a great thing for all of us, god knows, we need it. If mindfulness is practiced regularly the benefits can be enormous. For example, it is found to reduce anxiety and depression and has become a clinical tool for psychologists treating some mental illnesses.

 

It also helps reduce general distress, can reduce the emotional pain associated with grief, anger, jealousy and fear; increase psychological and emotional resilience, improve concentration, enhance creativity (I’ve written about creativity and its benefits here), and generally increases your overall appreciation of life.

 

It works like this: mindfulness increases the intensity of everyday experiences and the result is that they are vastly more satisfying. Boredom with life is less of a danger as your are constantly engaged in the moment and the magic that it brings. Think about the moment when you flop down in the arm chair, coffee in one hand, book in the other, relief washes over you. Noting this moment of relief, the smell of the coffee, the comfort of the chair and the chance for a break. This is mindfulness.

 

Not being mindful in this moment would appear more like this: ‘hmmm, I haven’t really got time for this coffee break, it’s been such a busy morning and I haven’t got half the things done I needed to. I really should just quickly drink this as I’ve got so much on this afternoon, I must remember to pick up the dry cleaning, oh no, I forgot to take the meat out of the freezer for dinner…’ and so it goes.

 

We’ve all been there. There would not be a single person reading this blog post who has not lived that exact moment I just described. Mindfulness is about having less of those moments, those guilt-ridden, stress-inducing moments; and more of the ‘ahhh, comfortable chair, hot coffee, rest for a minute’ moments.

 

One way you can do this is by signing up for the ‘100 Happy Days’ Challenge. So the idea is that you sign up for the challenge and each day submit a photo of what made you happy that day. Pretty simple. You can do it in a public forum, like Facebook or Instagram, or privately by email. Personally, I was inspired by seeing my friends posting their 100 Happy Days shots on Facebook, so I’ve gone down that path in the hope that someone might be inspired by mine. But it’s totally up to you.

 

So far, 71 percent of people who didn’t complete their 100 Days said that time was their biggest barrier. I am busier than I’ve ever been, ever. But I will make time for this. Today is Day 1, and I was struggling to choose which moment to publish. Without the challenge I probably wouldn’t have even noticed those lovely little moments of simplicity, which actually, just made my day.

 

How are your mindfulness skills? Needing a hand with it? Check out #100HAPPYDAYS.