Australian dad Stephen Corby painstakingly prepares you for all the worst-case scenarios when travelling with kids.
Picture lying on a beach, or beside a pool, somewhere sultry and warm, reading a book or the sports pages, while occasionally reaching for one of those cocktails with a frilly umbrella in them that you wouldn’t think of touching at home.
Now picture trying that while a small child is almost falling in the pool, or crying to be changed, or a slightly larger child is demanding you go swimming with them, or bouncing up and down on your stomach, or kicking their sister.
Going on holiday with your kids can be fun, it’s just a different kind of fun to what you recall.
But going overseas with them, particularly while they’re small, is another story.
I’m not here to tell you not to travel – I’m simply conveying my experiences to you, so that if and when you consider it, you can make a fully informed decision.
To that effect, here are six reasons I’ll never take my kids overseas again.
Here comes the vomit plane!
Before we get into the torture that is the experience of flying in economy class with kids, let’s just deal with the vomiting.
I don’t know why it is, I don’t think even science could tell us, but there’s something about flying that makes children more likely to vomit, copiously. Even kids who aren’t regular hurlers.
My best mate warned me about this, after his youngest covered his shirt, hair and eyeballs with putrid-smelling sick within the first hour of a 24-hour epic to Europe, but I didn’t listen.
On my ill-fated trip to Spain with my five-year-old son and one-year-old daughter, the latter waited until her grandmother got on the plane in Singapore and then fire-hosed a good bucket-full of vomit straight into her brand-new handbag (fear not, there was still plenty of overflow to go on Mum’s jeans).
More recently my son, who’s now 11 and hasn’t vomited for a decade, filled a plastic folder designed to hold the duty-free shopping guide with bright pink stomach contents as we descended into Dubai.
And then he smiled and said he felt fine.
More on vomiting: Whatever you do, don’t ignore the vomit
So, there’s the vomiting thing, but that’s really just the foul-smelling cherry on the whole fudge sundae of flying.
Sleeping on a plane? That’s rich
Even going Sydney to Perth can be painful, but it’s only once you kick past about hour six on a long, overseas flight that you realise what you’ve gotten yourself in for.
Yes, your children might sleep, but if they do, they’ll do it on you, and their cute little feet will thrash around for hours, kicking either your chin or, worse still, the seat in front of you, so you have to be on constant watch to stop the passenger in front from wanting to murder them. Or you.
If you are flying with babies, everything will be so much worse, because they will cry their loudest when everyone is asleep, and nothing will quiet them.
The air pressure will wreak merry violence on their ears, and they will scream about that, too. Changing nappies in a toilet designed by a sadist is also awful.
And then, you’ll get off in Dubai, or wherever, and your children will look and feel relieved, until you tell them they’re getting on another plane in a few hours. At which point they will explode into what looks like a tear-making fountain.
And you will solemnly swear never to try this again.
Sleeping at a normal hour? That’s even richer
Sure, you think you’re tired now but trust me, it is nothing compared to the violence that your children’s jet lag can vest upon your body and mind.
The problem with kids and shifting across time zones and datelines is that they just don’t get it.
You understand that you’re going to be tired, that you need to push through that first day when you land, and that you’ll feel a bit rubbish for a few days.
Children just feel crap, and then angry, and then, seemingly, homicidal.
When they finally fall asleep, usually at the most inconvenient time, all will seem well only briefly, until they wake up bouncing and full of energy at 3am.
Nothing, but nothing, will convince them that this is a bad idea and that they’ll never get over jet lag if they don’t obey the passage of sun and moon across the sky.
Oh no, they will just expect you to play with them, and be full of fun and gambolling energy until about 9am, when you want to finally head outside and see something, at which point they will get angry again, and then fall asleep for the rest of the day.
God himself couldn’t design an organism less capable of dealing with international travel than a small child.
But you will be more tired, and regret filled, than at any other point during your early parenting years.
And you will swear, loudly, never to do anything so stupid again.
The (very small) fun police
Remember all those things you used to love about overseas travel?
The pubs in London, the night clubs in New York, the beach dancing in Ibiza, the quiet moments of reverence in Rome’s ruins?
Children ruin all that. All of it.
Not because they want to, and not even because they’re evil, but because, as you quickly realise, a lot of the fun stuff you used to do on overseas travel is simply not kid friendly.
No, you’ll be discovering a different London, one filled with playgrounds and parks and Tube stations that force you to carry prams up staircases because they don’t have lifts.
And you’ll be back in your hotel early, every night.
And hopefully you won’t have been stupid enough to even try visiting Ibiza.
The ungrateful… munchkins
When it comes to things kids under-appreciate, it’s hard to go past overseas travel.
I particularly remember standing in Rome, looking at the Pantheon with my children and trying to explain how amazing it was, and finding that both were far more excited that there was a McDonald’s in the same piazza, and could they please have a Happy Meal.
The experiences and sights that blow you away are likely to leave them as cold as an episode of The West Wing.
Worse still, if they’re under the age of four or five, they won’t remember a thing about it when they grow up.
Return on investment is a lie
Please, please don’t fall into the trap of thinking that it’s a good idea to go overseas before you children turn two, because at that point they can still fly for free.
That only means they have to sit on you, and it’s also the worst time ever to travel with them.
You might be saving money but you’ll be losing your mind.
Once they get older, of course, you’re up for three or four, or more, airline tickets, and if you think they’re going to appreciate you spending all that money and behave unusually well while you’re away, and allow you to have fun, and appreciate all that you’ve done for them, then you’re as deluded as you were when you thought that having children wouldn’t change your life that much, really.
The simple fact is that it is not worth taking your children on a big overseas holiday (unless it’s to Disneyland which is more for them than for you) until they’re at least six.
Waiting until they’re 16, of course, will mean they don’t want to come with you at all. Perhaps there’s a sweet spot somewhere in between, but it must be pretty well hidden.