In the weeks leading up to our trip to Sydney I started to panic. I was having the familiar feelings of “What the hell was I thinking when I booked this?!”
I always get pre-travel anxiety but this time it was probably more warranted. I was taking a 6 year old, a 3 year old and my 12 month of boy to the other side of the country with an 18 year old au pair that I hadn’t even met yet. Why did I book the flights? Why couldn’t I have just stayed at home, we could’ve gone to the local park, we could’ve prepared for the beginning of the school year.
Then, on 26th January (Australia Day), Valerie (the au pair) and I were sitting metres from the Harbour Bridge in a small park where the kids were running around. We had a bottle of cider each and we were waiting for the fireworks at the Opera House to start. We’d had such a wonderful, happy Australia Day, the complete stereotype actually. We’d spent the day down at the Harbour chatting with Australians who had come from all over the world. My girls were frolicking with other kids and my toddler was flirting with groups of English and Swedish backpackers.
So I was a little full of cider and the few people in the park stood for the National Anthem before the fireworks began. I was beaming with Aussie pride and my inexplicable love of Sydney (I can never tire of that bridge!) and there it was: this is why I couldn’t have stayed home to rewash the school uniforms and double check I had labelled every single pencil. Thank goodness I had had a moment of over-confidence that night I booked the flights. I knew I would always remember standing under the bridge watching the fireworks and I know that was one of the highlights of Valerie’s trip to Australia too.
I was one year into a two-year maternity leave so I didn’t exactly contribute to the costs of the household, let alone the travel budget. The flights were cheap and to keep costs down I decided we’d stay in a Backpackers instead of a hotel. I did some research and I booked a YHA hostel in Central Sydney. I booked a private family room with one double bed (me and the baby against the wall) a single bed (Valerie) and bunks for the girls. We shared a bathroom but it was right across the hall, cleaned constantly and we rarely saw anyone else there. There was a kitchen and a dining area and two supermarkets within walking distance so most of the week we cooked food and ate meals in the hostel.
While I didn’t take the kids on any, the hostel had organised trips everyday, from free walking tours to nightclub deals and Valerie did a few and met some other backpackers. I paid just under $1000 for 7 nights to stay in the centre of Sydney. We were right around the corner from a big train station (to and from the airport) and could walk to the Sydney Harbour and Darling Harbour. Logistically I took the stroller and the Ergo. Serafina had only recently turned 3 and still got quite tired by the end of a big day so sometimes we needed to carry two of them at once.
We went to the Aquarium but I probably wouldn’t do that again if I had my time over, it was expensive and the kids weren’t really that interested and Valerie and I couldn’t enjoy it because we were chasing Lewin around. We spent many hours at a lovely park at Darling Harbour which I think was my kids’ favourite part of the trip. We went to the Sydney Zoo which was wonderful except for all the rain that day! We went up the Sky Tower and we had dinner at Hard Rock Cafe on our last night. I’m just happy wandering around looking at the city lights too. We spent a day at the Botanical Gardens and the girls had an absolute ball playing in the bamboo forest there.
We also took a trip out to Bondi Beach. Lewin was of course running for the waves so I was watching him and I gave Valerie her “job” – to supervise my girls on Bondi Beach. A pretty cool job for a German teenager who had come to Perth to work! They had a great time playing although the waves were too big really to go into the water.
Once you get somewhere, it’s not so scary because you just have to get on with it. It’s the anticipation that almost gets me every time. It will be too hard with the kids, what if something goes wrong, what if I can’t cope? I find the courage to book the flights though, because then there’s no going back. I find the courage, in the knowledge, that there will be the moment. The moment is almost never at a tourist site, and it is never something you are going to be able to predict. And sometimes you don’t realise it is the moment until after it has happened, or even until you get home. My moment in Sydney was being under the bridge with all of us, singing Advance Australia Fair, feeling so proud of my country and my family and of doing this all by myself (almost). We did it, we came home, and the best bit is, my Xanthe can remember it! For someone that has been travelling with kids since my first was 6 months old, it is supremely satisfying that she now helps me plan, learns things and remembers them enough to educate her friends and school teachers. And that’s enough for me.