Almost Fearless

36 Hour Travel Slog (Now With Toddler!)

There’s really no way to get from Thailand to LA without traveling over 24 hours.  For an extra $1000 I could have taken a shorter flight, without the six-hour layover, but instead of splurging, I pretended I was paying myself $1000 to travel a little longer.


Hey guys, I just made $1000 in one day!  You can too!

So Drew was driving down from Seattle with our new minivan, our two fat dogs and a car seat for Cole and all I had to do was get on the plane in Chiang Mai, fly one hour to Bangkok, get our VAT refund, wait five hours for our 2 AM flight to Shanghai, fly four hours Shanghai, wait six hours for our flight to LA, fly twelve hours to LA and run the gantlet through US immigrations and customs dragging my pregnant ass and sleep deprived (so likely wild) toddler.  Oh and I have to carry my camera bag, tripod, a baby bag full of toys and whatever else we pick up (water, snacks, coloring books, et al).

I’m explaining all of this in such detail to make the case that not only was telling the China Eastern Air flight attendant to f*ck off was not only acceptable, it was pretty much expected.

But first let me back up.  I had to get preflight medical clearance to fly.  I’ve been seeing an Ob-Gyn as we travel.  In Beirut, it cost me about $70 for an appointment, including ultrasound.  In Thailand, it costs about $20.  That’s out-of-pocket costs, and if I wanted to stay in either place, I could have purchased a full pregnancy plan (or insurance in Beirut) that’s a flat rate for all pre-natal care plus delivery plus post-delivery follow ups (in Thailand it’s about $1500 for an epidural/vaginal birth, $3000 for a c-section).

I loved my doctors, and while I was too scared with the first pregnancy to travel (we had Cole in Oregon and stopped traveling for six months) now that I’ve done it this way, think it’s the way to go.  If you’re going to have morning sickness and get increasingly fat and uncomfortable, you might as well eat delicious Thai food, live somewhere cool and have a little adventure along the way.

But I don’t recommend long haul flights.  For anyone.  Ever.

In Asia, they noticed I was pregnant right away.  In all three legs of my journey I had to present medical clearance to fly (when I was pregnant in the US, I flew to Belize and Hawaii in my second and third trimesters and was never asked).

Cole was a trooper.  He saw me packing and did a little wiggly-butt dance that toddlers everywhere invent, and he was dragging me to the taxi. By the time we make it to the Bangkok-Shanghai flight Cole is completely wound up, and won’t sleep.  One of the flight attendants decides to make a personal mission out of me, whether it’s the fact that my son is 2.5 years old and not sitting perfectly still in his seat, like a good Chinese child would, or if it’s because she can see how I’m basically out on my feet, but today she is going to show me how it’s done.

It’s 30 minutes before we’re about to land, Cole is finally sleeping, albeit without his seatbelt on, a concession I’ll take seeing as he complained that it pinched his belly.  The flight attendants announce that the flight is going to land soon, take a deep synchronized bow, and then proceed to come to each seat and help us get ready.  And by help, I mean leaning across my lap to close my window, and picking up my purse and things and shoving them under the seat for me, and then demanding that I pick up my son and hold him in what she mimed as an upright football hold.

“Okay” I said pleasantly.

She just stood there.

I was so tired, it’s 5:30 AM and I haven’t slept at all, so I just looked at her.

She pointed to the baby then me.

Holy crap, she means right now.  She’s not going to leave until I do it!

“I will, in a minute.” I say.

She turns on her heel and disappears but five minutes later she’s back.

“Ma’am, you need to hold your baby.”

“I know but we’re not landing for 25 minutes.  I”ll pick him up in a bit, he’s sleeping.”

“You need to pick him up now.”

“Wait so you want to hold him now, wake him up, so I can sit here for 25 minutes?”

“The turbulence.”

And you know what?  I did not tell her to f*ck off.  Not yet.  I picked up Cole, he cried, I comforted him and I held him, because while she was being a hard ass she was just doing her job.

Cole sleeping in Bangkok.

The plane lands.  I place Cole in the seat next to me, but now he’s really, really upset.  I’m so tired, I can barely get my things out of the overhead, Cole is frantic for me to hold him, and as it’s customary to do when you get off a plane, you’re suppose to kick and elbow anyone in your way to get off the plane about 15 seconds faster.  I had Chinese grandmothers squeezing past my belly as I reached into the overhead compartment, I had couples shove me from both sides as they rushed past, even as I pulled into the seat I still got whacked with someone’s bag.

Cole is screaming.  I’m struggling to organize my stuff.  Finally I scoop Cole up, I walk off the plane, and the flight attendant, my lovely overly cautious personal assistant, gasps and says “Oooh watch your step!” in a tone that suggested that merely walking might cause me to spontaneously die.

I shifted Cole up on my hip, and my animal brain, unfiltered and fully in control now as I looked at her and said, “Oh f*ck off.”

Yes, I am totally classy.

Then I was embarrassed the rest of the morning because two American backpackers had heard me, and I knew I was that crazy pregnant women with the kid who swears at nice flight attendants for absolutely no reason.

LA, I just have to make it to LA.

In Shanghai, Cole bought a stuffed Panda, drank $8/glass orange juice and refused to wear shoes even though it’s unheated.  I figured it was another small concession to make, considering he was travel slogging with me, so we camped out at the far end of the terminal, alone, and watched movies on my laptop.  I had forgotten the China thing about staring (it’s pointed and obvious and constant) but I had really forgotten how they will see someone sitting all by themselves among 20 rows of empty seats and pick the seat right next to yours.  I also forgot how even if they don’t speak any English, it is possible for them to communicate what kind of sh*t-mother you are, for letting your child walk barefoot on the cold cement (they mimed shivering and felt his feet and made a big deal out of it) and every time your kid bangs his head because he’s climbing under your chair, they say, “ow” and let you know how completely preventable any toddler injury is, if you would just be a good mom and not let him move.  At all.

I changed seats.  (I did not curse at them, mostly if I’m honest, because I knew they wouldn’t understand.  Note to everyone: do no mess with pregnant women mid-travel slog.)

Then our flight came and Cole slept the entire time, and I even rested, so much so that when Drew picked me up, he said, “Woah, you look good, you don’t look tired at all.”


Of course the immigration agent had just thrown me into an existential crisis when he flipped through my passport and asked, “So how long have you been gone?”

“Two years.”

“What kind of work do you do that you have to travel so much?”

Have to travel?  Sweetie, I do this to myself.  Regularly.  And if you need me to explain why to you in order for me to enter my country, then we’re going to be here a very long time.


Thank you to HJ Travel Socks, who in addition to being fans of Almost Fearless, have been trying and succeeding at convincing me how badly Drew needs some great travel socks to try to repair his dried out, sandal abusing feet. With the mileage we’ve put on dozens of pairs of sandals over the course of five years of travel, our feet are starting to show the wear, and with Drew doing the heavy amount of errand-runs, his mileage makes the rest of ours look very light. It might be time to reconsider the socks/shoes paradigm.——————

Christine Gilbert

I’ve been dragging my husband around the world since 2008 always with the promise that, “Yes, Drew there will definitely be hammocks there.”



  • Very funny post Christine. Toddlers and travel do not mix which is why our next visa run is an easy 1 hour flight and 1 hour bus journey rather than a 10 hour bus ride roundtrip. It’s worth all those extra pennies or cents I should say!

  • I would have cried laughing so hard to see you say that, omg. And Cole is so adorable. Continued safe travels you guys!

  • Living in Shanghai, we almost exclusively fly China Eastern. I’m surprised you had such a hard-line attendant – usually they don’t even bother getting people to put their phones away during the flight. We’ve had people smoking in the bathroom, people standing up to get their bags during landing and lots of coughing and spitting. Flying Thai Airways recently was a dream!

  • Glad to hear you made it okay and that you both had some sleep in the end! Those customs agents just never understand 😉

  • You poor (courageous) thing. I didn’t start traveling full-time until my kids were grown!
    Thai Air used to fly nonstop from BKK to LAX! I see they don’t now.
    I was on a Korean Air flight from Seoul to LAX where they absolutely doted on the babies and even held them so mom could sleep.
    You are an amazing trooper! Best wishes for the babe and the new year. 🙂

  • It is a tribute to how horrible I am as a person that I especially love the posts in which you share how miserable travel can be.

    I remember that unfiltered pregnancy rage, that moment when it seemed perfectly reasonable to tell that b*tch of a sanctimonious flight attendant to f*ck off. I feel for you.

    So glad you both made it out safely. Now… on to fish tacos and beer!

  • That trip is a killer. We live in Laos, and did the Luang Prabang-Washington DC (via Bangkok and Korea) in April with a 9 month old. Huge respect for doing it alone with a toddler and pregnant and only saying fuck once. You’re amazing.

  • Haha! I’m super-impressed with you doing that trip pregnant and alone with a toddler. We recently took a trip (on China Southern I think) from Xi’an to Guangzhou where my 2.5 year old was melting down in the floor of the airplane and the flight attendant came by and says repeatedly, “Hello, baby. What is wrong with you? What is wrong with you, baby?” As if we were so silly for not simply asking him… I really enjoy reading about your travels. Thanks for sharing.

  • haha You managed it quite well! Congrats for succeeding to travel pregnant, with a todler, and with no other help! 🙂 Happy 2013!

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