I know I usually emphasize how much I like traveling with Ruben. I try to show everyone that it is possible to keep traveling even when you have a baby, and that with some preparation and flexibility, you can travel to the most unexpected places. Of course not all trips are perfect, but one of the goals of this blog is to show that it is possible, and to normalize traveling with babies and children.
But what happens when things don’t go as expected? What happens when no matter how well you’ve planned a trip, something goes wrong, and you end up breaking and questioning yourself if what you are doing is truly worthwhile?…
We have just returned from an awesome trip in South East Asia. In ten days (+ two unexpected ones) we traveled through Vientiane in Laos, Ho Chi Minh City and Hoi An in Vietnam, and Siem Reap, Sihanouk Ville and Koh Rong Samloem in Cambodia.
I could be writing a super fun post with stunning photos of these places and the amazing things we saw (coming soon!). From breathtaking stupas in Laos, to heartbreaking war museums in Vietnam, to the story book temples of Siem Reap and the utterly relaxing white sand beaches of Koh Rong Samloem.
Instead, I have chosen to write about how a wonderful trip can become totally unexpected, and what I have learned from it.
While the unexpected was happening, all I could say over and over in my mind was “I’m done with this. After getting home I do not want to travel any more with my son. I’ve had it, I’ve pushed it too far. Young children belong in their homes, not being dragged around half the world against their will”. I thought this in my mind and felt it deep within my heart.
My husband, who is much more practical and rational than I am, especially during extreme moments like this (thank G’d), tried calming me down saying: “this has just been bad luck, your feelings will change in a day or two when all this is over”. I couldn’t help but tell him off, while the tears I had been trying so hard to control simply showered my face.
This is how it started…
Ruben had unexpectedly gotten a fever. As I breastfed him to sleep in the glamorous round shaped bed of the most romantic beach bungalow hotel we have ever seen (which we clearly couldn’t take advantage of), I felt his hands and feet much warmer than usual. He hardly ever gets sick (in fact, this was the third time in his life), but I suspected a fever. As I had seen him five minutes earlier so happily jumping on the bed while I sang the song “Five Little Monkeys…”, I doubted my instincts. If it were fever, I thought, he would not have been in such a good mood. Two hours into his sleep he woke crying. When I went to see him he felt even warmer. The thermometer read 38.5 ºC. After the struggle of giving him fever reducing medicine, he was back to sleep.
Now, everyone knows children get fever and in general it’s nothing to be alarmed by. Plus, we were heading back home the next day so I felt confident that as soon as we did I would be able to take him to the doctor, just to be super sure it was totally normal (yes, I am a first time mom).
All was even better the next day when he woke up just fine. We enjoyed a day at the beach. He got fever again during the afternoon, though not us high as the night before, and after another struggle with medicine and a nap in my arms in the hammock while facing the ocean, he was fine again.
It was soon time to pack our last bags, shower and head off on our trip back home: a one hour speed boat ride, a fifteen minute taxi ride, an hour long flight, three hours of layover, and then a four hour flight to finally arrive home (yikes!). Ruben was in a great mood, no fever at all, and although we loved our stay at Koh Rong Samloem, we were all ready to go back home and rejoin our routine.
We got to the airport in Sihanouk Ville, a small one with only two gates, one very simple coffee shop, and a bathroom in a container outside. Ruben was in a great mood but I could feel his temperature a bit higher than normal. I knew he had a little fever, but still felt confident that it was not that bad because he was talkative and smiling, and asking me to come down from the carrier to explore the airport. I planned on giving him some more medicine, and was sure he would sleep during the flight, and that all would be alright.
Three guards lounged around smoking and talking. A girl lay sleepily at the coffee counter while skimming through her phone and two women at the lost luggage counter sat with bored faces. Other than that, all we could see among the dim lights were mosquitoes and lizards.
It all felt abnormal. The airline counters were absolutely closed – dark lights, screens off, not a person in sight. We approached the lost luggage counter to ask about our flight… their response felt like a bucket of cold water being thrown on my head. My heart sunk to the soles of my feet and all I could say was “please let this be a dream”.
“You’re flight was changed to an earlier time and left five hours ago.”
Who does that?!?! Who changes a flight to leave earlier?!?! Don’t flights usually get DELAYED?!?! And above all that… WHY were we not notified of this!??!
Granted, we were in a far away island with no wifi connection…. but STILL!
I was enraged, and everyone could tell. The guards that were lounging outside had put out their cigarettes and had come inside to watch my show. I kept saying how this was unacceptable and unbelievable, “my son has a fever, I need to get home now!” I was crying and truly frightened for Ruben and his health.
While I kept panicking for a long while, my husband quickly got it together and with the help of the women at the counter spoke to the airline, and started the arrangements for a change of flight.
Meanwhile, I held Ruben in my arms and simply could not keep my tears controlled. He was blissful, unaware of what was happening, but I was loosing it, imagining he had gotten Dengue fever, Malaria or Zika from one of the mosquito bites he had on his arms. I put him down and let him walk around, while the girl at the coffee counter sympathized and volunteered to babysit him for a while as I dried my tears. My husband inquired about bus travel options – NO WAY – I said, I am NOT going to be on a bus for five or more hours with a sick baby and no car seat, besides who knows what the bus would be like!
I started searching online for an international hospital in town, thinking I needed to take Ruben to see a doctor the next day, whether home or not. I found one that according to the recommendations was “nearly decent”. This to me meant a murky, broken down building with outdated equipment swamped in flies, that at most had an english speaking doctor. Prejudice, I know. I guess my panic didn’t allow me to see clearly.
And then I couldn’t help but do what one should NEVER do – ask google for a medical diagnosis. Tropical diseases, fever as a symptom of mosquito bites, the reality of Malaria, recommendations for vaccines prior to traveling to Cambodia – which of course we did not get… These were some of the horrible things I quickly read about which caused my panic to escalate… The guards watched while commenting in their local dialect, I ran after Ruben to get him to stop picking things up from the floor, my husband continued talking on the phone with the airlines and the women at the counter… and all I could think of was “this has to be a nightmare. I am done traveling with my son! I never want to leave home again! how could we have been so careless?!”
We had to find a place to stay for the night so I quickly logged into booking.com and found a guesthouse that based on the photos and the price should have been OK. We got a taxi and headed back to town.
The guesthouse was a disaster. It was already nearly 10:00 PM and too late to continue moving around. I took a look at the room before we checked in and thought “the place sucks, but how bad can it be, it’s just one night”. How wrong was I?!
Bathroom full of bugs, Wifi working on and off, air conditioner started spitting out ice in the middle of the night and making a racket, and while I was taking a shower in the morning, a cockroach the size of my thumb bounced on my shoulder and then my foot.
On the positive, Ruben’s fever was completely gone. My husband spent the night fighting with the agency responsible for not notifying us of the flight change through an expensive international call. I continued panicking over the fear or a tropical diseases, and prayed for the fever not to come back.
The next day my husband was able to fix all new arrangements for our travel back home. He had to take two extra days off from work, we had to pay for new plane tickets (OUCH!) and turns out we had been notified by the agency about this change, through an unformatted, coded text, scrammy email, in French (which we do not speak), that no one but a french computer engineer could possibly understand.
We ended up making the most of our two extra days of vacations. We enjoyed an extra night in Siem Reap – especially Ruben – who, feverless-ly, danced to the live music at the restaurant we went to. Luckily, the flights back home were smooth, with Ruben sleeping peacefully in a great new position we discovered, and the great service of Cathay Pacific airlines crew.
We are currently still fighting with the agency to get reimbursement for what happened.
Like my husband foresaw, I do feel better now, and I no longer feel traveling with young children is a big mistake. Sure, bad things can happen and most likely minor things will…. but what I mostly reflect on now is that fever, cockroaches and crappy travel agencies can come up whether you are 2,000 kilometers or 2 meters from home.
From now on, we are purchasing airline tickets with all the insurances available. We will also start contacting the airlines prior to our trip to ensure all information is clear. We will continue to take a thermometer and medicine with us everywhere we go. We will start being more responsible in finding out about necessary medical precautions in the places we visit. And we are certainly never using that travel agency ever again.
So, happy travels everyone. Be prepared for the worst, so that you can enjoy the best!