A different kind of travelogue. As an avid young traveller I often wondered what would it would be like when I got older, gathered commitments, created children and accrued debt. This is what it's like.
I love to travel. We, as a family, love it too but its mostly me that drives it. We, as a family, are not very good at sleeping. Bad sleeping leads to bad travel experiences. 7 years ago Dominique and I took the kids on a huge South East Asia & Europe trip. Months and months on the road. They turned 3 and 1 respectively on the trip. Cormac turned 1 in Lao. Sleep was nothing short of awful. We did 42 hours straight due to flight transfers and delays without a wink, that was enough for Dominique. The night that pushed me over the edge was a month or so later in Normandy somewhere; we were in a camper-van. We pulled into a nice wee town, set up for the night and were booked on a ferry the following morning. One or the other of them was awake, crying and screaming, the parents were crying too, it was ugly. In the end I was so happy to see dawns early light. Up I got and drove that van all day. Not a wink. It was very tough. I blame myself. I do that for most things. In the case of sleeping its more true than usual. I struggle to get to sleep due mostly to a busy mind. I’ve never been able to empty the damn thing before sleeping. My usual method is go to bed exhausted. If I get to sleep and then wake up (usually 2-3 times per night) the whole thing is reset. If I get hot I sweat and I get itchy When you’re on the road, all the little tricks and rituals, aids and comforts, they’re gone. Mostly. We are a Family of 4. Cormac is 8. He has what Dermatologists would like us to call it “Spongiotic Dermatitis”. A polymorphic inflammatory disorder of the dermis and epidermis. We don’t call it that. We call it eczema like everyone else does. It causes his skin to itch, he scratches it, it gets worse, his parents tell him to stop, he gets upset, he scratches, it gets worse, I take him to a new climate, its hot, he scratches, it gets worse, he cannot sleep, he scratches, it gets worse…….. I have it too. My insight into his pain and discomfort is not really that helpful.
We have tried everything. At home we have some control over it. 75% of people grow out of it by age 15. (Fingers crossed.) Cormac has also spent his entire life sleeping with his parents or his sister; Aoife. Aoife is 10. She was a Level 5 sleep disaster as a younger child. She stopped sleeping during the day when she was 6 months old and in her first 4 years of life she only ever slept through the night 13 times. She started improving when she started school. She then passed the “Olympic Level No-Sleep Baton” to her brother who has been bashing us with it ever since. She is turning into a young woman. (As you’d expect.) She would like to sleep on her own in her own room. She really is a fantastic sister to her brother. Given how accustomed she is to sleeping with him its not surprising that she can be a little unsettled when she wakes up at night and he is not there. And he often does disappear during the night if he cannot sleep. He comes to see his parents. Dominique and I are really only beginning to re-establish healthy sleep patterns after 10 years of this. We have our own little sleep issues. I still get itchy. Dominique has chronic sinusitis. She loves sleeping. She also has a constant sense of foreboding that sleep will be bad. It can be self fulfilling prophesy. In short we are primed for sleep problems. Travel, jet-lag, new beds, new detergents, new climates, it all fuels the fire. Now while I love to travel, if we don’t manage to sleep, well, the entire thing could be a low fun experience. And so what to do? Well; I have been thinking about this a lot. It’s one of the things that stops me sleeping at night. On this 5 month long trip we will be trying all sorts of things. I shall be musing upon them here and sharing our experiences. Effort No. 1; Context; everyone had a cold the week before leaving. Sleep has been poor. Myself the worst affected by cough etc. Over-excited the night before we left home. Stopped with family in Melbourne for a night prior to flight. Also a poor nights sleep. Early start. 9 hour day light flight from Melbourne to Ho Ch Minh City. Take off at 10:25. Land at 16:25 local time. 3 hours difference. One movie. Some books. Some games. No sleeping on the flight. (Tried, failed.) Reached hotel at 17:30. Its an hour past the kids bedtime already. They’re holding up, just. Bath, quick meal aborted; Cormac hitting the wall. Off to bed. Adult fixes?
Melatonin? No decided not to, it is only a 3 hour difference. Diazepam? (Valium) No. I don’t recommend it most of the time but while there are times that its very helpful this is not one of them. Alcohol? Well, I had a few beers and a mojito. The kids were very restrained. The thing I tried on this occasion was a very nice hotel room with a free hotel transfer to minimise hassles at the airport. We don’t normally do air-con but I reckoned it’d be a necessary evil in HCM City on our first night; 37 degrees celsius and very humid We’re at the Majestic Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City, over looking the river. Its a fantastic hotel for its history alone. I’m going to get back to that history later. The specific hotel is unimportant. What I tried was a Suite! Never did that before. The idea was two rooms; normal bed and sofa bed. It was a blow out in costs but if we got here in an overtired mess the ability to have one or more of us sleep it off seemed worth it. Also; its a treat, a nice way to start. Theres 4 of us so the other hotel options are double/double beds, two connected rooms, apartment hotels etc
that was the idea. What was the reality? Its basically two large rooms. The sofa is not a bed. They will not put two extra beds into the room. (Policy.) There is an extra charge for each child and for each extra bed. The single extra bed was the best folding bed I’ve ever come across; very heavy, full sized King Single Mattress. But being only allowed one kids bed we couldn’t have the kids in their own room; the fold up bed ended up in the main bedroom. Aoife was in there. Cormac was in the King Size with his parents. Coughing restless father. Sleep-talking Daughter. Scratching son. Vexed mother. I woke up and got up, as I usually do, at midnight, and again at 3 am, and again at 6 am. But that was in Melbourne time. Hohoho. Thats means I got up at 9pm midnight and 3am. I’m still up. That was only so successful. Ah well. I got to write this and ping a few messages off to my best friend Sean. As Beckett said; “Ever tried . Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”
I agree – a treat is a great way to start an experience somewhere especially in HCMC, this place is characterised by crazy. How did you all find the city? What’s it like travelling here with such young people?
Hi there Zoe,
HCM city has been great.
The people are so open and friendly.
I’m ashamed of myself for speaking so little Vietnamese.
The little ones have done very well.
Aoife is trying all sorts of food. (If we can be sure it’s vegetarian.)
Cormac is a little harder to please.
There are kid friendly things to do though not too many; Skydeck ($$$), the Fine Arts Gallery was a hit with my daughter. The HCM Museum was a hug with my son. There are real tanks and jets and such. For me one highlight has been trying to answer his questions about Communism, the American War. Colonialism etc
What more can you want; children hungry for knowledge! He is 8.
And a swimming pool helps too.
Sleep is a life skill. It comes relatively easy to most but for many it is elusive. Every effort, gently made, should be put into finding the best rhythm of your own body and mind. That stillness brings together some of the fragments of clarity that perpetual exhaustion shatters.
I hope you find a little of it on this journey. Love to all of you.
Not sure which part of which journey but I shall get there.
It’s been great so far. Aoife is a natural. Which is good news given her self imposed dietary requirements.
I commented ” Brave parents ” before on another piece but this trip must seem like a walk in the park compared to travelling with a one and three year old children! And sleep deprived children as well!
I’m impressed that you survived to plan another mammoth trip, and write this blog!
Very interesting and funny, by the way!
Ah yes that trip….
It did take 6 years before I could get the family around the world again but if you persist at things you’ll usually get there.
And here we are!
Don’t know if this will help but our main rules to help sleep/keep sane are: One days travel must always be followed by one days rest, generally never less than 3 nights at any given place, when people are really tired – just drop everything and all plans – do nothing for awhile. But we admit we have good sleepers and are good sleepers. Keep me up a couple of nights and I will sleep anywhere, even on a mountain top in a tent in the rain – no problem 😉
We are bad sleepers. With itchy feet. 3 days in one place is kind of rare for us but we are slowly slowing down.
Staying 3 nights (which can be 2 days) in one place doesn’t just help sleep, it helps you to learn about the locals, have great local experiences and truly will save you money. Do try it 😉
Slowing down. Doesn’t mean missing out.
Thanks also for visiting our little blog ❤
I do understand. We are getting better at staying longer. Sometimes I just love the moving.