Okay! So travelling with a toddler - I completely underestimated this. I feel like I need a disclaimer as I can already hear the hashtag #firstworldproblems circulating this post.
So - DISCLAIMER: If you’re new around these traps, please know that I love my child and being a mum more than anything! I don’t want to seem ungrateful, I totally am but I love being completely open and honest about ALL of my experiences as a first time mama. I’m not writing this to scare other parents or to have a whinge. It just feels right to be transparent with you so you don’t compare your past travels or upcoming trip to a single photo on my Instagram and feel like we had the “perfect” trip.
I was inspired to write this after I saw some of my lovely followers write “you look so rejuvenated!” and “you look so refreshed!” on my Instagram post. Nearly fell off my chair reading that, Clay and I felt anything but refreshed, particularly on the photo they had commented on. We laughed to each other (kind of because if we didn’t we would of cried.) Oh, the power of make up, thank you Sephora and all of your magical products. #ConcealerIsLyf
On our recent travels to Queenstown, Rarotonga and Aitutaki, we had a ball and some magical memories to hold on to forever. But it was NOT relaxing. Travelling with our toddler has been exhausting. I would do this trip again in a heartbeat for the fun we had when Lexi was good. Nothing made us happier as her parents to see Lex discover, explore and learn so much but I think we didn’t have the right expectations for our holiday. We were thinking we would have a relaxing time, celebrating our 5th Wedding Anniversary. We were not prepared for what was to come. Technically, yes we had a holiday but I think it’s safe to declare that my definition of a holiday has hereby changed since entering parenthood.
Things you do on holidays BEFORE becoming a Mum:
- Lay by pool.
- Read book.
- Talk to spouse uninterrupted.
- Sleep well. For as long as you please.
Things you do on holidays AFTER becoming a Mum:
- Stress out that your child is going to lose it on the plane
- Refrain toddler from harassing other passengers
- Have dinner every night at 5pm
- Then stay in hotel room from 6pm onwards. Trying to be as discreet as possible.
- This may also include having to wee outdoors because toddler is in portacot, placed in bathroom
- Wonder if there are rules against putting portacot in cupboard
- Test how far Baby Monitor reception will stretch
Pack a book for yourself and laugh at your naive stupid ass
- Build forts and shade in attempt to make a part of your villa dark enough for nap time
- At all times keep count of how many nappies and wipes you have
- Stop toddler from wandering off in the ocean
- Stop toddler from eating crusty toenails on airport floor
- Stop toddler from ramming strangers with luggage trolley
- Stop toddler from throwing tantrum in nice restaurant that you knew would be a mistake
- Stop toddler from interrupting other patrons romantic dinners especially if there looks to be potential proposal
- Fail at holding conversation with team mate aka husband
- Constantly watch pools edge and put hat on toddlers head 17 thousand times
Perhaps there should just always be inverted commas when Mum’s and Dad’s say the word holiday. Like yeah, “holiday.” It’s more of a trip. Let’s call it our trip!
This was Lexi’s first time away from home for longer than 2 nights and before this trip she had never been on a plane. So, to be fair, it was a lot for an 18 month old to take in with everything else a toddler has to process. We now understand completely why so many parents arrange baby sitters, family or a nanny while on “holidays.”
Once we got to our second destination, Rarotonga (Cook Islands) 'acting out’ is putting it nicely. Lex started hitting us. Like, in the face, like, intentionally, taking a massive swing and whacking us in the head. (Has never done this before.) Sometimes adding an evil laugh after it. You know, just to add insult to injury.
She also had been completely unsatisfied with everything we'd try to do, asking us for something and then having a complete meltdown when did it for her. By her standards we were failing miserably at everything. And pretty damn unpleasant to be around in general but entirely dependant on us at the same time. I understood she needed us as her constant so I tried with every piece of my soul to be patient and understanding but I was exhausted.
At home, for the most part we can sit down and have a meal and hold a few conversations, but while away, we could not complete a single sentence to each other. We stopped even trying to talk at meals, as there was no point. By the time her bed time rolled around at 7-8pm we were that exhausted we’d mutter “g’night” to each other and try to fall asleep as fast as possible to have the energy to deal with what we’re given when she woke up. It felt as though Lex demanded every inch of energy from each of us while she was awake. We felt like we were doing everything wrong, like we were failing as parents and we could not help but question going away. I wanted to pack it up and go home. I wanted to legit throw my own damn tantrum and say “BUT WHAT ABOUT MY HOLIDAY!!!”! So close… but I managed to refrain because… I’m an adult.
After a particularly tough day with Lex, Clay was gobsmacked by her behaviour and I caught him in lying in bed retracing his steps with her. His eyes were stinging, he was defeated and he looked like a wreck. He ha
s the patience of a monk so for her to break him I knew she really was out of sorts. Even though I was in the same boat as him and at a loss myself of trying to rationalise the situations that had unravelled that day, I understand that feeling he had so well. That feeling of inadequacy as a parent. The “Maybe I’m not cut out for this?" feeling. The “If I can’t even handle one how are we going to do handle two!?” feeling. In the first 12 months with Lexi I had been there multiple times, but for him, it was a first and I really felt for the guy.
Once we got to Aitutaki, things started looking up, as Lexi adjusted to the new norm of living out of a suitcase and port-a-cort. Then, we were so glad we stuck it out. There were moments in Aitutaki where we have never seen her so thrilled. Smiling from ear to ear, building the courage to meet new friends all by herself (now you know why I was so touched by the story of her and her friend Emily) and frolicking in knee deep ocean, butt naked and completely enchanted with joy.
There are moments that Clay and I will treasure for the rest of our lives. You know the moments where you mentally hit the record button and they are filed away in your head. Moments I will dig out if something is troubling me at night and I can’t get to sleep.
I certainly missed my community of mums I see at the gym so much, who, whenever we’re going through a tough phase would simply remind me “it’s okay, this too shall pass!” and “when we were away my kid did *fill in the blanks*” and you would automatically feel so much better knowing you weren’t the only one.
At the end of the day, we LEARNT from it! Here are the few things I would do differently next time:
- Try to stay in one place or maybe just two, for the time we are away.
- Not be so stressed about the plane ride and other people. When Lexi had her few moments on the plane, no one gave a rat’s ass. They were episodes deep in the last season of Game of Thrones with headphones on.
- Reach out sooner to friends back home. It was so good chatting to other mama’s about how I was struggling and made me gain some sanity/fuel to tackle the next day with Lexi
- ALWAYS ask for a spare seat next to you on the plane ride (thanks to those who suggested this, it was a lifesaver!)
- Pre-organise a babysitter for you and your partner and book in what you will do during that allocated time. The one time we got a babysitter in Aitutaki we were so disheveled we didn’t know what to do with ourselves. (Lol!)
- Lastly, shift your perspective on a “holiday” Yep, if you’re going away with your new babe and no minder, think of it as an adventure more so than a time to sit back and relax.
As a whole, we loved our trip and most importantly we all learnt and grew from it. Lexi has gained a whole heap of confidence and also gained a greater ability to adapt to change. She learnt heaps more words and is a world more social than when we left.
It certainly was not a perfect trip, but it had perfect moments which are priceless. The purpose of this post is to do what I always hope to achieve in my posts - help others feel less alone and to be completely transparent with you all. Remember that this is just my experience and that each toddler is an individual. Your babe might be a total Travel King or Queen! Who knows!? I just know it’s worth finding out!