It all started during dinner in Melbourne on my 32nd birthday, when I was about four months pregnant with Blake, and I suggested to my husband Ian that I’d like to take a trip to my family home in Scotland after I had Blake, taking all three kids by myself – assuming he’d need to stay behind to work. I’d previously travelled as a solo parent back to Scotland from Melbourne when Josh was three months old and Jay was two, a couple of years before.
While tidying up in the kitchen a few days later, Ian asked me “hypothetically” about travelling around the world as a family of five for three months. I knew instantly that this was not a hypothetical question, but him trying to suss out how game I would be for the adventure. We were both working at the time as project engineers – I was a contractor so could take some time off and Ian was entitled to take paternity leave. So within the space of a 10-minute conversation we did the sums and figured if we could afford to both be off work, we should use this precious time to do something fun!
My husband Ian and I have always been the adventure-loving type – we met during a university exchange program year in Sweden and had a long distance, travel-based relationship between our respective countries, Australia and Scotland, for three years. Getting married and having kids has never stopped us from doing anything – we firmly believe that including our kids in travel is part of the fun, and we have always loved going on family camping holidays and hiking trips. But when I found out I was expecting my third child, I could not have predicted Ian and I would end up taking our four-week-old newborn Blake, plus two-year-old Josh and four-year-old Jay, on a round-the-world trip for three months, with 15 stops in five different countries!
We decided to go to China, the UK, America, Canada and New Zealand, and our priority was to fly out of a chilly Melbourne winter and into the northern hemisphere’s summer as quickly as possible.The most practical way to book round-the-world flights was to use an agent, and our only musts were find the cheapest flights possible, to go to the UK to visit family, and to get to the US to visit friends. We knew this would mean additional stopovers, so decided to make the stopover locations part of the adventure, and spend 5 days in them and sample the culture. These additional stops in Beijing, Canada and New Zealand became surprise highlights of our trips.
It was a very surreal build-up to Blake’s arrival – instead of decorating the nursery and packing my hospital bag like my last births, I was busy making calls to obtain a birth certificate, deciding on suitable holiday accommodation and trying not to overpack with our summer clothes!
Travel planning began by working out exactly how soon after Blake was born we could leave so we could book flights for the family – minus Blake as we didn’t know his sex or name at the time! As with all the kids, we decided not to find out what sex our third born would be. As we didn’t have his date of birth we couldn’t have booked his flights anyway, but rather than finding out his sex being “part of the surprise”, it became another checklist item for travel!
We calculated the latest possible date Blake would be born for submitting his birth certificate application, and applying for the passport and visa for our first stop, China, so we could book him onto our flight as soon as he was born. And then we booked the rest of the family’s flights – the cheapest we could find, using a travel agent – to depart out of Melbourne just before that date. As I booked the tickets my heart was pounding – they were non-refundable! It was a nerve wracking moment!
However, the plan B was that if I had complications during birth, Ian would fly on with Jay and Josh, and leave me in Melbourne with the newborn, in the hope I would be able to catch up in Beijing.
As it happened, everything went to plan and we left on August 18, 2015; Blake was one month and three days old.
Our first stop was Beijing for five days, which meant we could go slow and enjoy some highlights. For the first time since meeting Ian 14 years prior, we decided to splurge accommodation. Between having a four-week-old that would require nursing around the clock, all three kids still napping through the day and not knowing how my recovery would go, we decided it was a worthy reason to spend the extra money. We stayed in a family-friendly, traditional Chinese residence called a hutong with enclosed courtyards that the kids could run around in. It worked out a treat! We managed to walk part of the Great Wall of China, and the kids loved trying out the foreign cuisine. A great memory of the hutong was that Jay became buddies with the Chinese porter. He didn’t speak any English so Jay called him “my friend”.
From there we flew to London and spent some time with friends in Liverpool, and then went up to my family in Scotland for four weeks of catch-ups, relaxation and recuperation. After that, we travelled back to England to visit more friends before flying to the US.
We stayed with Ian’s best man in New Hampshire before heading across to Nova Scotia in Canada for a 10-day camping road trip with lots of hiking – yes, that was with our newborn and young boys! We love the outdoors so it was a must for us.
We then took the bus to New York and spent a few days there. One highlight was arriving at Bryant Square at midday with three children, loads of luggage and no accommodation booked – and finding a winter ice skating rink. We took one look and decided to stop, and Jay had his first go on skates while we took turns looking after the younger kids and our luggage. At about 4pm we’d had loads of fun and were all beginning to get worn out so decided we had actually better find somewhere to stay. We walked around and quickly found a cell phone shop. With two children hanging off me (to gain the sympathy vote) I asked a shop assistant if I could borrow his phone to book a hotel. Half an hour of haggling later, I’d scored us a great last-minute deal! The next stop was Boston to explore the walking trails through the city before Los Angeles, where we stayed at Ian’s uncle’s house and did Disneyland, Venice Beach, Getty Centre, as well as looking for play parks!
Our last stop before home was New Zealand. We flew into Auckland and travelled down to Rotorua, the city of hot springs, where we went out walking by day, and relaxed in hot tubs by night.
When we told people about our trip plans, the word “crazy” was used a lot! We have often been asked since if we had any “what the heck are we doing” moments, but I believe that are no negative aspects of travel, only positives to be gained.
Blake was so little, he just breast fed, slept or was strapped onto us with the baby Bjorn. Luckily I didn’t have any breastfeeding problems. I must admit; however, that my post-partum doctor was not as thrilled with my plans! It was hardest to wrangle in Jay and Josh, who, at four and two, would naturally either be running around or exhausted, so we had to figure out how best to entertain or rest them.
We planned our holiday from day to day – it came down to whether we were going to do an activity or chill out, and proper rest days were essential for both the kids and us! I was really fortunate that I bounced back physically after having Blake, although I did suffer sleep deprivation, like most mothers. Luckily Jay and Josh were great sleepers and the only issue there was when Jay got fed up sharing a bed with his little brother!
We had different modes for transporting the children – we brought a double stroller with us, which could hold all three children, as well as two child carrier hiking backpacks and a baby bjorn, which meant we always had options for the kids to rest or nap. Hiking is a great love of ours and we managed to do plenty of it in Scotland and Canada, carrying three children between the pair of us. As a rule of thumb you’re not meant to carry anything heavier than your baby till they are six weeks old. It’s something the doctors tell you and it was one of the conventional baby rules we stuck to. As a result I would carry Blake everywhere, push strollers or pull suitcases but I wouldn’t take our really heavy backpacks or children. This meant a lot of hard graft for Ian, especially in the early stages. The Great Wall of China and hiking up Goat Fell on Arran attracted a lot of remarks from fellow travelers when they realized Ian was carrying two children and they saw Blake there too, all tucked in. I looked on hiking as my opportunity to start gaining my fitness back again. As the holiday progressed, my ability to carry heavier combinations of children under increasingly difficult terrain improved. This really helped with my post baby body image – not because I felt fat but because I knew I was doing something positive for my health. After all, I have to be fit to run after three little men.
The most difficult part of the trip wasn’t airports or flying, as people might assume – we chose to travel overnight so we could sleep on the flights, which worked well. Instead, the trickiest situations we faced were when we arrived in the new countries because we used public transport everywhere. When we got to London and went to use the underground system with all of our luggage, we found the elevator wasn’t working. We had to walk up the 80-odd stairs, one piece of luggage and one child at a time – it was like the puzzle of the fox, the chicken and the sack of grain!
There were definitely a few comedy moments along our way; during our time in England, we were catching a train and it was a packed, peak-hour express train… the five of us had to shove our way on with loads of luggage and a double stroller. But we looked at each other and said: “we can’t stay here, so we better just get on!”
We also missed flights twice due to tight connection times. The first time was in Frankfurt airport, but we couldn’t be annoyed – it was Oktoberfest, after all! We were given vouchers and we thought, well, let’s go and get a stein, and soak up the culture. And the kids loved their tour of the play parks in the airport!
I think the key to traveling with young children is to go with the right attitude. We’re really relaxed as people and as parents, and we try to take the positives out of everything.
If things unravel and go wrong, there’s always a bright side. Take that perspective and life is a one heck of an adventure!
Top 5 tips for traveling with small kids
- Start small. When we lived in England we did a series of road trips to Germany that were a number of weeks long. (We took our eldest Jay camping when he was four weeks old, and Josh would have only been a month or two older when he first went). That was a big thing at the time but we enjoyed our freedom and ultimately refined the way we like to travel. The smaller trips will establish the expectations in the kids as well.
- Plan your kids’ energy levels. Explore the airport before a flight; decide when they should walk, be carried or race.
- Take your time. Have rest days – whole days. Taking time-out is essential for the parents as well as the kids, and will ensure you all have enough energy to explore the next day.
- Kids don’t always travel well but they’re great explorers. Everything can be an adventure with the right attitude so roll with it. Most of the time they won’t even realize you’re on plan B.
- Don’t stress the little things. Your kids might have a melt down on the flight, they might not. There’s no point losing sleep over something that might happen and is pretty much out of your control. Focus your energy on the elements that you are in control of, like arriving at the airport early so that you are all relaxed when you board the flight.