Down Under Travel–The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

When I was 25, I traveled around Australia by myself for four weeks with only a big backpack, a camera bag, a sleeping bag, and a Vineyard Vines tote. Adding a husband and a toddler to the equation this time around has certainly proven to be a different experience!  We moved here for four months for my husband to study at UNSW, but decided to come early to travel and see more of the country before we settled in Sydney. I’ll be blogging more about our visits to Perth, Fremantle, Margaret River, and Broome later this month.

I knew it might be a bad idea to set off on a two-week trip just after a six-day journey from New York, but we needed a large chunk of time and this was when it worked.  We’ve made great memories, but reality also strikes when traveling internationally with a toddler…advil, wine, an iPad, and a sense of humor are definitely required. I’m very grateful for this experience; but as expected, it hasn’t been all roses. Here is my take on the good, the bad, and the ugly from our three-week trip thus far.

The Good

  • The 15-hour flight from Los Angeles to Sydney was not nearly as dreadful as I had imagined.  I think half of the anxiety of flying with a toddler stems from the possibility that they will be horrible and you will want to melt into the floor and disappear. (I once hid in the bathroom on a Jet Blue flight with my screaming infant and wanted to beam myself off of the plane.) After some frustrating seat rearranging by Qantas (after we were settled…I’m not on their fan list, and hell hath no fury like an overtired mom to a more tired child), my daughter ended up sleeping for 10 of the 15 hours. It helped that we didn’t leave LAX until 4am her time- the poor girl had no idea what was happening by the time we boarded.
  • We arrived in Sydney to a crisp, sunny, late-winter morning. We immediately chugged cappuccinos, prayed that our hotel room would be ready in six hours, and took the train into the city for a gorgeous walk on the harbor.
  • The architecture in Fremantle–just south of Perth–made my heart and camera sing…think Edwardian grace paired with peeling factory doors, colorful reclaimed warehouses, and aged brick.
  • We stayed in a rustic cabin in Margaret River where kangaroos bounced past the kitchen window while I was doing the dishes–truly amazing!
  • The trees in the Karri forest were like something out of a dream–sinewy, dark, graceful, and elegant.
  • I may have mastered the art of ordering a coffee here–the cappuccinos are to die for, a flat white is delicious, and babycino’s are the norm (and a great way to get some steamed milk into my toddler.)
  • The turquoise color of the Indian Ocean is stunning.
  • The weather in Sydney is beautiful right now­–about 70 degrees and sunny– and the first day of spring was this week.
  • We’re living in a beach community and the vibe is so relaxed compared to New York–definitely a welcome change.

The Bad

  • I boarded the plane at JFK and realized that I had left my backpack in the gate area. That is, my backpack with my laptop, iPad, headphones…the whole shebang.  It’s a little chaotic bringing 6 carry-ons (don’t ask) and folding up the stroller to gate check while still trying to board early with a young child.  So I begged to get off the plane and look for it, and had to be escorted back (now in a total panic) by a crewmember. It was not where we had been sitting, so I proceeded to have a complete heart attack. But, by the grace of God, a kind soul had turned it in at the gate desk. I have never felt so thankful/lucky. Oh, and I didn’t have a bag tag on it. It’s probably the only bag I’ve ever traveled with that didn’t have TWO tags on it.  Wow…not a great start to the journey.
  • It was 50 degrees and raining in Margaret River during our three-day visit. Though I huddled close to our potbelly stove for heat, I thought I’d never be warm again.  I know I’m dramatic, but we hadn’t packed warm enough clothes so we all wore the same thing all day and then to bed, along with dirty socks for three days. Joys!
  • In the same chilly spot, we (stupidly) decided to go whale watching. It was brisk but sunny, and there was certainly a lot of watching. We sat next to a poor woman who was sea sick the entire time, and the captain felt badly about the lack of whales (but not badly about the woman vomiting?) and kept us out 1.5 hours past the of the return time–circling and circling until we finally found two whales.  Of the reported 40,000 humpbacks in the bay at this time of year, 39,998 were hiding. We kept humming the Gilligan’s Island theme song as we sailed right past lunch/nap time and could not get off that boat fast enough. As my father pointed out, we can always go whale watching on Cape Cod!
  • I got a (self-diagnosed) ear infection and our 3-hour flight up to Broome was downright painful despite my Sudafed/Advil cocktail.
  • Everything here is insanely expensive.  It makes NYC look affordable. Breakfast can cost $40-50 dollars for two adults. And we’re just getting toast, eggs, juice, and coffee. Granted, we are in touristy areas, but a pint of raspberries in the grocery store is $9, and a 6 pack of beer is $20. Eek.
  • To add to my wallet woes, I left a $450 external flash in one of our hotel rooms, and it hasn’t been recovered.  And now I recall why I shouldn’t take anything out of my camera bag to lighten my load on day trips.
  • Traveling with a car seat on a plane in Australia takes more approvals and permissions than one would need to launch a missile. On our Qantas flight from LA to Sydney, we were told–after we had our boarding passes and were settled in our seats with a sleeping child–that there are only two approved seats in our entire section that one can place a carseat in. So we had to move to the back row, where our seats partially reclined into the bulkhead behind us, which the passenger behind me kicked for 15 hours. We’ve since been delayed in numerous airports, needed new boarding passes, and in the Brisbane airport, Qantas required TWO ENGINEERS to board the plane to install the seat, which involved physically reconfiguring the seats in our row.  In lieu of a carseat, they kindly suggested that I use an extra seatbelt to strap my 30 lb daughter onto me, though we had purchased her a seat. We gave up, as did the engineers, and the carseat ended up in the coat closet for that flight. Extremely odd and frustrating.
  • Along those same lines, gate checking anything here is unheard of.  Now I realize how spoiled we are at home to be able to push a stroller to the gate, fold it up, check it right there, and have it magically waiting for you as you exit the plane.  In AUS, you check your regular bags, then proceed to “oversize baggage” to check your stroller, then go through security (where you toddler breaks loose and runs INSIDE of the body scanner), and hope that your gate is close as your child runs all over, plays games by the escalators, and terrorizes the gift shop. Maybe all children in Australia are beautifully behaved and don’t need to be contained in airports.

The Ugly
(someday, these might be comical to me)

  • On our fifth day in Australia, I threw my back out while trying to pick up my tantruming toddler off of a lighthouse gift shop floor (she NEEDED a $15 compass). I felt something pop and could barely sit in a car or walk for eight days, let alone carry several bags through four airports.  It still hurts. I miss my NYC chiropractor.
  • The wineries and breweries here are very kid-friendly–each had a playground and many offered juice in tasting glasses for children as the parents tasted the real stuff. This is a good thing, until you gain a false sense of how long your toddler can last doing adult activities on a trip.  At one winery, my daughter started screaming and threw an entire container of blueberries all over a tasting room.  I had to individually pick them all up while my husband took her outside, still kicking.  Another day, while waiting for a lunch table, my daughter threw an i-Pad onto the floor and melted down in the front doorway of the restaurant. Our fault for giving her the iPad, but at this point in the trip, we had given up on any semblance of good parenting. We left without sitting down or eating. Live and learn…don’t push your luck. And most of all, laugh.
    Top: Gantheaume Point, Broome, AUS, 2013
    Bottom: August Itinerary, 2013