OK, so the first post is brutal. Only in hindsight is a teeny tiny bit of our experience in getting to Europe actually amusing. Most of it was so harrowing that we still shudder when we think back on it. Although, I have found that the 5 months since we left, has allowed us to remember the funny bits that were there, they are scattered throughout our horrible experience of actually getting to our destination.
I wasn't quite prepared for how emotionally and practically difficult leaving everything would be. Before we started to pack everything up, Ross and I would blithely say to one another, "why don't more people do this? Why don't more people sell up and have adventures and travel the world?" Well, little did we know what was coming....
First, logistically, packing up a lifetime was hard. We had a property and animals and all of the paraphernalia that comes with it. We had a house full of possessions that we had to sell, pack or store. We had a million things to organize - visas, transport, finances, pulling the kids out of school, what to do with our animals, organizing renting our house and PACKING!!!! We were doing this with a 6 month old, plus 4 other kids!
So all of that could probably me managed fine, my husband is amazing at organizing, but adding in the emotional difficulties of leaving everything and making such a massive life change....it all became very difficult.
I wanted to be like the people I had read about online who sell up everything they own and never look back; they move on to greener, more meaningful pastures. But I actually love my home. I have loved being a home-maker. I have poured my heart and talents into decorating and making my home beautiful. Before we decided to leave, I spent most of my energy designing an amazing nursery for my soon-to-be baby boy. I happily spent hours deciding every aspect of the room. I worked hard to create what I had imagined. So when Ross and I were packing up our house, it felt like I was stripping away a part of myself.
Then we had to give away our pets, say goodby to all of our friends and family, and pack for 9 months of all weather conditions - in tiny backpacks! I was still up multiple times a night with my baby, and I was utterly exhausted. Actually, I was a frazzled, emotional, tired, unproductive mess! Not to mention the kids, who were also having everything uprooted and changed. Luckily, I have amazing and beautiful friends and family who came to our rescue, oh and did I mention my husband is awesome?
We had a great plan of having everything packed up and ready to go, and then we would enjoy visiting with family for a week or 2 before we left. Nope. In the end, we were still packing up until 1:00am the morning of our flight! This is no doubt my fault, but I find packing haaaaard. Even for short overnight trips, it takes me forever to pack. I'm always looking for an odd item that I can't live without, or the kids clothes that I need are in the wash, or I just can't decide. Because seriously, how do I know what mood I'll be in on the trip? It might be a sunny 'yellow' day, or it might end up a 'no one look at me because I might kill you with my eyes' kind of day. Each of which require different attire.
So you can imagine how traumatic I found the prospect of packing for a family of 7 for 9 months!
Would we need raincoats?
Exactly what footwear would be best?
What is the exact optimal number of tops each?
What about baby-gear????
How can I get away with packing too many changes of clothes for myself and still feel like I'm a genuine intrepid-traveler?
Turning to Pinterest proved to only increase my packing anxiety ( yes folks, I'm sure it's a real thing ). It made me feel like I needed to own those exact perfect travel items, or have a perfectly coordinated wardrobe with the exactly correct number of items for each person. Seriously, I would rather clean a toilet! I over-thought everything, it totally did my head in!
Well, we finally made it to the airport, tired but hopeful of better things to come.
The first 11 hour flight.....was absolutely horrible. I will hopefully NEVER fly China Eastern again. The food tasted roughly like dog food, there were no snacks and it was generally gross. But of course I can't blame it all on the airline, trying to keep my tired, cranky baby still and quiet for hours at a time was awful. He was just too big for the plane bassinet, and he wanted to move about. Luckily I hadn't weaned yet. I had been tempted to wean before our trip because I find that I'm extra exhausted from breastfeeding, but I'd decided to keep it up because of convenience. Well, it was a life saver. Bo only slept for short bursts in between almost hourly feeding. It was very hard work trying to keep everyone moderately happy and quiet.
When he wasn't guzzling milk or dozing on my numb and immobile arm; my baby went for a wander down the isle.
And then random Chinese people would pick him up and have a cuddle! Like he was an amusing toy option from the mini bar. They didn't ask or anything, nope, just plucked him up off the floor and had a little play! Hahahaha!!!
We had decided to take two guitars with us, a full size and a child's. This seemed perfectly sensible for a few reasons;
1. Ross is learning guitar and it makes him happy.
2. Since we are taking the kids out of school and on the road, this would be a perfect opportunity for the kids to learn.
I had visions in my head of us all huddled by an open fire, the snow falling outside, and the Gilberts happily singing and playing guitar together. Certainly we would all come back home as proficient players! Wouldn't that be great! .....er.....I promise to write more in the future of the realities of the guitars. Anyway, since Bo didn't get his own plane seat, and the airlines count each guitar as your one and only piece of checked luggage, this left us with only 4 bags for everyone, and one of them we had filled with snow gear. We had to use packs, not suitcases so that when we were in Europe we could fit our luggage into a car. So this left us with only 3 packs for everything! To compensate for the lack of luggage space, we packed the hand luggage backpacks as much as possible........wrong move!!!!
When we got to Shanghai, the airline did NOT bring us our stroller or car sear at the gate as we had expected. We had to get on a shuttle, get to the other side of the airport and go through all of customs first. It was about a million degrees, seriously, it was amazingly hot and humid. We were herded through a massive tin shed ( international customs ) and I think that every single person pushed past us! Just imagine! We had 5 kids, we were carrying our crying baby, nappy bag, backpacks, laptops, the kids were all cracking it because their backpacks were too heavy and we were all hot and having emotional meltdowns as we shuffled in line for over an hour and a half. Aaarghh! We somehow ended up the very last people to go through customs. The customs officials started packing up and a few even left because, I'm not sure, they didn't want to process the last few people???
So we made it through customs, we got a trolley, only to discover that the hotel we had booked wasn't actually next to the airport as we had thought, but was in fact a good 15 minute drive into Shanghai. Oh dear. Not good. Especially considering that we could barely move with our luggage. We had people hassling us on all sides about hotels, and taxis, and it was an absolute nightmare. I, unequivocally, could not remember why we were doing it. I had to go to deep down inside myself to my cold hard survival place just to make it out alive. I was not a nice Mum. Or human being. I was lucky to be breathing and semi-functional in such a hell.
Well, things got worse, but in a funny way at least. We made it to the hotel via some sort of mini bus, then unloaded the lot - kids, bags, stroller, packs, car seat, guitars, a frazzled sleep-deprived barely coherent Mum......and then no one at the hotel spoke English! They did the day before on the phone, but no, not at 1:00am on the day that we arrived. Not only that, but they didn't accept credit cards!!!
Oh my Goodness!!!! This possibly could be funny....? maybe.
We somehow lugged all of our crap up two flights of stairs and put the kids to sleep.
Ok, now comes the funny bit I promised. Ross and I were so horrified and disgusted at what we had just gone through, that we just started throwing stuff!
Homeschool and colouring books - gone.
Extra sets of clothes - gone.
Card games - gone.
Water bottles - gone.
Ross literally peeled off what he was wearing and chucked it in the bin because it was so hot and sweaty and he never wanted to see them again! Hahaha
I spent about an hour in a sleep deprived muddle beating myself up about my horrible vanity in taking too many clothes and the toll that had taken on my family, and trying to whittle it down even more. I was determined to be like a true back-packer.....but I couldn't be naked, which clothes could be justified after such a traumatic experience?
"Did bringing two watches instead of one make a difference? Should I chuck the one, but which one?"
" Maybe I should ditch my extra pair of flats, the cute red ones that look like foxes....but they are my favourite, and one of the only sources of unique self-expression left to me through my meager wardrobe!"
These were some of my disordered thoughts. LOL.
In the end we managed to condense everything left into the 3 bags and left the kids backpacks with just their own few things. The owners of the hotel got lots of free, random presents the next day!
We went to sleep at 2:00am.......and Bohan woke at 4:00. I kid you not, it was like we had the luck of the damned. I didn't want to wake everyone else, so I got up and crawled around on the floor with him for a few hours trying to keep him quiet, agonized over more packing decisions, and then we all finally went back to the airport for round 2.
Flight no. 2 turned out to be much nicer. Swiss Air gave the kids colouring books and crayons, they had snacks, they smiled, and it was all nice and clean. Yay! However, despite all this, by the time we arrived, I was a mess. I think I can honestly say, I may never have felt quite that awful. I shudder still. Bo was hard, I didn't sleep, the kids were all needy, and I don't know how we did it. I was ready to migrate permanently to Europe so that I never had to see a plane again!
We took two taxis to our hotel in Europe, then Ross locked me in the hotel room and commanded me to sleep. And I did. The End.