Family Travel Tips: Expect Sleep Disruptions, Remember the Ranch


This weekend we head out on our road trip to Yellowstone, so an original blog entry for today would put me over the edge. Instead enjoy this piece of nostalgia, a version of which recently appeared on Motherhood: May Cause Drowsiness.

“Over here you can see an example of Soviet era architecture.”

Saara was craned to face us from the front, translating for her uncle, who narrated in Finnish while pointed at long rows of abandoned-looking cement apartment buildings. The car wove back and forth and occasionally into the lane of oncoming traffic.

Saara, who had been interpreting for the better part of an hour, looking back at us, surprisingly wasn’t turning green, as I would have been.

Behind Mike and me, the boys were sleeping. It was a shame they were missing the tour, but had they been conscious, we’d surely be apologizing for destroying Saara’s uncle’s upholstery by now. I was grateful they’d succumbed to the call of a nap.

We were in Tallinn, Estonia, country number two in our holiday. Our itinerary was full, based upon a notion that if they’re going to pack so many countries into one spot, the least we could do is take in as many at once as we could. We didn’t want to be rude.

We were also visiting Saara, whose exchange had brought her our way two years earlier. She’d become part of our family. And just like family, she was ignored when she gently suggested we not try pack so much into one trip.

20110804-030349.jpgWe thought the kids old enough for a jaunt through five countries. Why not? They were, after all, pre-teens or very nearly so, capable of occasional spurts of self-sufficiency. Surely we could see a country a day, mitigating for the normal motion sickness that normally plagued us on every plane, train, automobile, ferry, subway, tram and canal boat. With the right amount of meclizine, some sturdy carry-on luggage, and a good attitude we would take on the world, or at least a significant portion of Western Europe, without a hiccup.

So we had high expectations as we headed from Helsinki to Estonia, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and back to Finland for one of the most frenetic of family journeys ever recorded.

If parent overconfidence is an invitation for a slap down from the universe, traveler chutzpa pretty much makes it a guarantee. Something about “best laid plans,” and all that.

20110803-015558.jpgSomehow, though, we skirted the ire of the travel gods and came out unscathed. Which doesn’t mean our trip was without obstacles, occasional threats to life and limb, a certain amount of mystery (mostly having to do with counting change in a foreign currency), and a fair bit of crankiness.

Overall, any significant headache we had to endure could be parsed into one of three areas:

The price of the potty – I already mentioned my kids’ tendency toward wooziness in moving vehicles. It’s something they inherited. We all suffer to some degree. We’ve developed coping mechanisms. We travel with plastic shopping bags (inspected for holes), toothbrushes and napkins. One thing we didn’t bank on: European bathroom tolls. Doors everywhere had little coin slots like gumball machines. It can be tricky, when one needs a stall pronto for one of those Pepto-Bismol failure moments, to stave off the nausea long enough to scoop a coin or two from the bottom of a backpack.

20110803-012946.jpgExpanding the palate – We’ve muscled our way through picky eating phases with both kids, and they proved more than willing on this occasion to venture outside their respective culinary comfort zones. The sticking point on this trip: ranch dressing. That creamy condiment was nowhere to be found on our journey, and it turned out to be the one comfort item for which our eight year-old would pitch a very a public meltdown most nights around dinnertime.

To sleep, perchance to dream – From the infamous jetlag – which affects each of us differently – to the unsettling feeling of waking in a strange place every night, our trip provided ample opportunity to relive the early days of parenthood, where sweet slumber comes in spurts and is often in desperately short supply.

Our first morning began with our youngest insisting on breakfast at 5 am. The rest of us would have slept until brunch. Later, he would conk out during dinner. As we traveled from location to location, our kids missed out on some of the most beautiful countryside, napping on trains, ferries and canal boats. Evenings meant overtired kiddos who refused to settle down. Of course, wonky kid sleep schedules mean wonky parent sleep schedules.

20110808-022002.jpgOn one overnight train trip through Finland, we were segregated to two separate sleeping compartments that were supposed to open up into a family unit. An error in our reservations meant that instead we had side-by-side, unconnected compartments. The boys insisted on sleeping in their own, and for one restless night I listened intently, and with every bump, imagined one or the other of them falling from their bunk or waking in confusion in a strange place with no mom.

Ultimately, just as when they were little, we survived the sleep disruptions. We made it through the endless waves of nausea and the paucity of certain comfort foods, and came away, somehow, with a craving for more family travel. We’ve since taken the boys on an adventure through Guatemala, and are planning a journey to Korea next year. We’ve dragged them with us to less exotic locals, slept on couches and floors when necessary, enduring more sleep and schedule and digestive disruptions, all in search of a new family adventure.

Always remembering to pack a bottle of salad dressing.

We pulled into the hotel parking lot at the end of our guided driving tour of the capitol of Estonia. We thanked Saara and her uncle, and I turned to see two boys, blinking slowly at the scenery. Colin stretched and yawned. When he noticed me looking at him, he smiled.

“Are we there yet?”


Check out more about Markley family travels in Europe, Guatemala and … well places like Oregon, here. And enjoy the next few days while we try not to kill each other and blog about our latest road trip.


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  1. Those photos are wonderful. Grinning over the concept of the unattainable Ranch. And your husband and sons falling asleep during the tour.
    My daughter has always gotten ill on flights. Usually the landing. Horrid Mommy didn\’t pack a plastic bag when we flew home from San Francisco a few years ago. Not one vomit bag to be found on the plane either. So she threw up into the seat pocket. And threw up. And threw up. The capability for seat pocket expansion is quite something. Flight attendants could not have been kinder. \”The airline wil think twice about cutting back on the vomit bags …\” However, I couldn\’t help but feel sorry for the next passengers in the vacinity of that row …

  2. My family oves to travel as well. If possible, we do a simple road trip every weekend to spend some time with the children after a busy week. I found this as the best way to keep communication open between hubby and I and the kids. And I am glad that we don\’t have much problems with them during the trips. I think they got used with the feeling.