This Is Not A 'Travelling With Kids' Blog Post...

Discovering a new part of the world is one of my favourite things, so over the holidays I took my 10 year old on a Portuguese road trip. He hasn’t caught the travel bug yet, but he loves transport of all kinds, which helps a lot.

What really didn’t help matters was the realisation that, while we made the journey to Porto, my luggage had not, and was still firmly on UK soil.
I spent two days juggling multiple attempts to locate my bag before we moved onto Lisbon while dragging a child around an unfamiliar city in the pursuit of a shop that sold underwear, all the while maintaining that this situation was ‘not going to spoil our fun’.

Finally reunited with my belongings, we went on to travel 700km, seeing five different places and staying in three of them.
Despite its rocky start, I’m conscious that what was a largely fun seven days for my child would have been intolerable for others, but it was still inevitably peppered by some challenging moments.

However, I’d anticipated far more than actually materialised, or we overcame them far quicker than I expected and, while this blog post isn’t strictly about ‘travelling with children’ or even ‘being resilient’, I did learn a few things from both pursuits that are worth sharing.
Here are five things of them.

1) Five hours on an overnight coach was not the hell I expected
We couldn’t fly locally, so National Express got the job of transporting us on a tedious overnight bus to Gatwick airport. I wouldn’t have got away with this on the return journey, but my son slept most of the way and then navigated the airport experience at 4.30am like a pro.
I was proud of him. Even if he did then order a sandwich which cost £9 in an airport restaurant, which he then couldn’t eat. A sleep-deprived brain easily confuses his tiredness for hunger, I discovered; a bag of crisps would have been fine. Lesson learned.

2) “Fake it until you make it” can avert a panic attack
Despite having flown several times, my 10 year old’s brain is increasingly capable of catastrophising about what could go wrong at 38,000 feet, and a flood of panic surprised him on take-off. I’m sure sleep-deprivation helped.
Telling a person (of any age) not to worry, or ‘it will be ok‘ seldom reassures, but it’s also very easy as the parent of a panicking child to catch their anxiety, rather than exuding calm. Not being the most relaxed air passenger myself, I had to work pretty hard at this.

I’d heard about a technique where you repeat ‘you are safe, you are loved’ to a child when they’re in panic mode, which I was only half-convinced by; feeling loved isn’t much use to a brain that’s imagining the wing falling of the plane at altitude.
But feeling safe is. A few minutes of deep, slow breathing, while repeating ‘I am safe’, and my son’s nervous system started to believe what he was telling it. The panic passed.
And now he has a tried-and-tested technique for controlling anxiety at his disposal which he can use all by himself. Double win.

3) When encouraging your kid to work against you actually works in your favour…
The beautiful river Douro runs through Porto, but getting from its banks to the top of the city means climbing 226 steps. It makes for a beautiful view but, but the willingness of the legs needs to be matched by the willingness of the mind, and I was expecting (perhaps justified!) complaints and resistance.
We conquered those steps six times during our two day visit, and instead of objections I got an opponent who was determined to beat me every time. If ‘losing’ is the price for avoiding drama, distain and despair, I’ll willingly pay, thank you.

4) Rest and recuperation can replace boredom
We made two three hour train journeys during the week, and I fully anticipated having to manage and alleviate a multitude of boredom related complaints.
But the truth was, my son needed the down time as much as I did; it was a relief for both of us to do nothing and say nothing to each other for a while. An ongoing supply of snacks turned out to be more valuable than playing Roblox than I expected, even if that meant buying wildly overpriced crisps that we didn’t even need from the refreshments trolley. It was a reasonable exchange for a peaceful journey which I gratefully accepted.

5) Keep a reward for the end
The capacity to wait for reward isn’t easily mastered in the 21st century childhood and so I’d argue that all of our kids need help mastering the art of ‘delayed gratification’. While seldom fun (for child or parent), the opportunities to practice patience, tolerate boredom and accept ‘not yet’ help kids to master very important skills.

Having something to look forward to is a useful antidote to discomfort, and so our final leg of the journey took us to the beach and pool. Throughout, I was continually (and rightfully, to be fair) reminded by my son that, having participated in ‘my’ part of the trip, I was now duty-bound to participate in ‘his’; the pool was much too cold to enjoy, but I got in, the sea was too choppy – and chilly – to swim in, but I tried.

Because – modelling resilience and leading by example aside – however an experience has played out, the way it ends tends to be how we remember it, so I wanted to get this bit right.
It was not perfect by any means, but the imprint left by the sun, the sea, and the cold-resistant parent who at least tried to be brave, are deeper than those left by the bracing Atlantic waves or the freezing pool.
And the luggage made it home.  

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