Here are a few notes for travelling half-way across the globe for sabbatical with a five-year-old.
No matter how far in advance we wanted to start packing, we finished the night before our flight. Actually, my wife and I didn’t get much sleep at all that night, because we also had to prepare our house, which was being rented during our leave. Fortunately, our daughter is a good sleeper, so she had a good rest before the trip. She also likes travel – all aspects of it from packing to going to the airport to the flight itself to getting settled in the new place. This is her sixth major overseas trip, so she is a seasoned traveller by now.
Also, we learned from experience that no matter how efficient the airport workers look from a distance, luggage gets delayed far more often than we would like. This time, unfortunately, was not an exception, and one of our bags did not arrive to Milan with us. We know from experience not to pack all my stuff into one bag, all my wife’s stuff into another, etc. Instead, we pack a little bit of each family member’s clothes into each peace of the checked luggage, so if one suitcase gets lost (or hopefully just delayed), none of us is stranded without clothes. When the missing bag did show up three days later, our daughter was delighted to finally have her coloured markers, which she had already started to miss.
In terms of keeping the the child entertained, we were quite lucky and didn’t have to do much, because as I mentioned, our daughter is excited about the trip itself. She is also not a picky eater, but during the trip especially we make a point of letting her choose whatever she wanted, even if it meant pizza three times in a row.
Nothing helps the child’s mood as well as a new stuffy toy! We picked up a toy kitten at the Frankfurt airport, and our daughter didn’t let it go until the following day. We also brought another toy with us, one that was new to our daughter. It was a construction set, where you can build various shapes out of small plastic balls with hooks that attach to each other. I remember playing in a similar way with dried burs. Probably, the designers of the toy used burdock as the inspiration. Anyway, it’s a great toy for travel – lightweight and can be used in many configurations. Our daughter received it as a present for the New Year, but we asked her to keep it specifically for the trip.
I also find that I need to entertain myself during the long trip. Usually, when I travel alone, I find that I can work quite productively on the plane and while waiting for connecting flights at airports. This time, I did not want to work because we were travelling all together, and because I was too tired from the lack of sleep to be productive anyway. Taking pictures and shooting video was a perfect way to stay somewhat focussed and entertained at the same time. I am delighted that our daughter is taking interest in photography too. She always wants to check the photos on the camera screen, asks me to take a picture of something she finds interesting and even sometimes does so herself.
We checked into the rental apartment nearly 24 hours after we left home. The first thing we did is to go out for some pizza (naturally!), and found it to be decidedly better in Milan than in Vancouver. On the way back to the apartment, we picked up some groceries, and I was once again surprised and how upbeat and positive our daughter had been despite literally falling asleep in the taxi just a couple of hours earlier. At that point in the day, it was I who needed to maintain my mood, and she was being an excellent example. So I can say that at least based on our experience, long-distance travelling with kids is not only feasible, but in many ways more enjoyable than travelling alone or as a couple.