Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Sometimes Travelling with a Toddler Sucks

Sorry for the silence! Dinners out with friends, bookclub meetings and then a long weekend trip to Surabaya, Indonesia, have meant a lack of free evenings (when I usually blog). We are back in Singapore until mid-December (when we fly to the US for Christmas), so I should have plenty of time for blogging over the next few weeks.
Explaining the Borobudur reliefs to R
Sometimes I wonder if this blog gives a false impression of traveling with a toddler, with all the posts about how much fun I have visiting various third world countries with a two-year-old. It's not that the posts are lies: everything I wrote is completely true. It's just that often the recaps leave stuff out.
R telling me what her favorite relief is (the elephants)
For example: Borobudur. It was beautiful, amazing, I loved it, etc etc. I also went twice, because on our first visit R was having a bad day (I think all the late nights were not agreeing with her). She had one of the biggest temper tantrums she has ever had on the path up to the main structure: awkward not only because a whole selection of international visitors got to see me struggling with my flailing, screaming child, but also because typically I deal with her bad moods by removing her to a quiet, dark place and doing something soothing together like reading a story, which was obviously impossible under the circumstances.
This is a more accurate view of most of the visit
Eventually I calmed her down enough to actually tour the temple (the drive to Borobudur was at least ninety minutes one way from our hotel, so there was no way I was going home without seeing it!). But she remained grumpy, miserable and pettish.
Awww, so cute! It wasn't that she didn't enjoy it at all...
but it was exhausting...(Me talking to R about behaving nicely)
and only somewhat effective (Nice sneer, R! Glad to see you are in touch with your feelings)
I wouldn't say that Borobudur was completely ruined, but the experience was most definitely sub-par. I enjoyed what I could and took advantage of having a supportive husband to go by myself on a different day (when I could actually study the reliefs' artistry in detail). There's no denying, though, that overall R's behavior was the kind of thing that makes you wish you'd just stayed at home.
Face of rage: I WILL NOT HAVE A GOOD TIME!!!
As a fairly experienced traveller I know this is not a phenomenon unique to toddlers. Everyone has bad days sometimes, which when travelling can involve ruining the entire experience both for yourself and others. There was the time our trip to the Greek island of Samothrace was ruined because I stepped on a sea urchin and became immobilized for the entire time we were there; the way that we missed seeing most of central Vietnam (including Hue, which I really wanted to visit) because we thought B had Japanese encephalitis; or the way we spent our whole time in Leshan arguing over nothing, which meant we had an awful time despite the beautiful surroundings. It is true that toddlers are more volatile and troublesome than adults, though, which means these trip-damaging incidents are more common with them in tow.
Finally back at our hotel: I look so tired!
But I won't let that fact affect my behavior. Life is risky in general, and travelling is more so, because you are attempting to do something new and different (which is intrinsically risky). I don't want to limit myself out of fear (that R will have a meltdown, or refuse to eat anything, or otherwise be troublesome), and when I see other parents doing so it makes me sad. I try to remember that nothing worthwhile is attainable without risk and the potential for failure, and to force myself instead to be brave and just go for it. (A great book on the subject is Daring Greatly by Brene Brown: I highly recommend it!)

And honestly, while there are big fails like the first trip to Borobudur (or our visit to see wild orangutans, which I haven't written about yet), most of the time it works out. A good reminder to not let the "parent" label box me in or define me (at least not exclusively).


  1. Ooh, Borobudur! I hope to get there before too long.
    I've been in that situation too. When my boys were about 1 1/2, one of them had a meltdown for almost an entire 3-hour plane ride. That was definitely the lowest point in all our travels. But they're 4 now and so much easier! I'm more worried about myself on a 9-hour plane ride than I am about them. Plus, even if cranky days happen, the experience of showing them the world is worth the inconvenience.

    1. I agree with you about tiny toddlers: so far the worst age to travel with her was around 18 months too (I actually wrote about our horrid flight then here:

      So happy to hear that four-year-olds are good travellers (or at least yours are!). R has definitely improved a lot even at 2.5.