Why Overnight Travel Overseas with Kids
is not THAT bad
We never planned to take the girls on overnight or on overly lengthy single journeys while overseas but we have done it so many times and found it is not THAT bad.
The actual conversing part of travel is totally boring for kids. Unless they have a monitor in front of them with the latest movies or their favourite book to read, they are not entertained by landscapes as much as us adults. They don’t think a massive mountain covered in olive trees is all that spectacular but we adults do, or at least those that love olives and can appreciate the gorgeous green roll of hills for as far as the eye can see kind of landscape that is found in Greece.
So why if before we left home, when we set up some ground rules based on our childrens welfare (click here to get a laugh), have we now done a complete 360?
The cost of course.
Our new thought process: Why not save some money, save a nights accommodation and arrive in a new destination early in the morning and begin touring right away?
Great in theory, right? Well while we had some hits and misses, we have we continued and will continue to it again and again.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to Beijing, China
Our first overnighter started early in our World Trip.
We took a flight in early February from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. It was 35 degrees celsius when we boarded our plane at 1910 and minus 9 degrees celsius when we landed at 0130. It was a shock but one we were prepared for.
The girls were really good on the flight, they slept on and off, mind you it was one of the noisiest flights we have taken since our toddler bus in the sky flight to Fiji two years ago (more on that another time).
We knew there would be a huge language barrier waiting for us in Beijing and so we chose to sleep in the airport and wait for the first train to the city at 0630 rather than take a taxi. Once we landed in the semi-warm airport and changed into our many layers of clothes, we all took turns to sleep. We were comforted in the knowledge that all around us both locals and tourists were doing the exact same thing.
We caught our train and then spent the next two hours walking the streets looking for our hostel. We eventually got some assistance from two giggly young girls who allowed us to use their wifi. Fortunately, we were able to check in straight away at 0915. We had planned to stay awake but couldn’t keep our eyes open and flopped onto the beds for a welcomed two hours sleep.
After we woke we headed out to explore our neighbourhood, Qianmen, and taste the wonderful food in the local restaurants. We didn’t need any more recovery sleep and had a great visit in Beijing.
Total travel time (from airport drop off to hostel): 16 Hours
Would we do it again:
Absolutely, it was safe and easy. The rail network is simple to follow and we found helpful people on the streets. The girls were tired but that subsided once we began our touring and the excitement set in. Mind you the chill factor helped to keep you alert as well.
Bangkok, Thailand to Colombo, Sri Lanka
We stopped into busy Bangkok for only three nights as it was merely our exit port out of South East Asia. Again searching for the cheapest flight we could find, we ended up on another overnighter with a short stop in Mumbai.
Our flight wasn’t until 2130 but we were whisked away from Rambuttri Street, at a ridiculous speed in a cheap shuttle to the airport and arrived 1700. The flight was under 5 hours but with the time difference we arrived in Mumbai just after midnight.
With Bollywood movies to watch and some great inflight Indian food we thought all was great, until our youngest daughter, already a known bad flyer, was sick as soon as she stepped into the Mumbai transit terminal. After cleaning up the time passed quickly.
We then boarded our 0230 flight to Colombo in Sri Lanka, landing at 0500. We had arranged a driver to pick us up because it is almost impossible to get to Unawatuna without one. Unless you are a backpacker and take the public buses, which we did (read about that adventure here), we just had too much luggage to navigate such a journey at that time of the morning. We finally got to our homestay, 130 kilometres South of Colombo at 0730. Our host knew we were arriving at that time and prepared breakfast for us at 0830.
Again we didn’t want to sleep and ruin our first day and so we headed to the beach. We had a normal nights sleep and enjoyed the next three weeks just 200 metres from Unawatuna beach.
Total travel time: 14 and a half Hours
Would we do it again:
Yes it was fine to travel overnight via Mumbai. India has tight security and it is a very nice airport, so not a bad stop over. While it is only three hours direct from Bangkok, we saved $300 AUD on flights and one night accommodation.
Overnight buses in Vietnam
Vietnamese sleeper buses were never in our plans but with the Chinese New Year or Chuc Mung Nam Moi local mass migration taking place, all the trains (our preferred option) were fully booked. We had no other options to move South, apart from fly and after catching the cheapest flight of our life from Hanoi to Dha Nang, to get to Hoi An, all remaining cheap airline seats soon disappeared.
Hoi An to Nha Trang, Vietnam
Our first, dare I say there was more than one, sleeper bus was from Hoi An to Nha Trang.
We purchased three tickets in a sleeper bus and had the entire back row but shared this tail position with a toilet. The bus provided blankets, there was a pillow semi attached to the head rest and we were given a bottle of water each.
We left at 2000 and arrived into Nha Trang at 0700. After two hours of shuffling around to find the most comfortable positions we all fell into a short 2 hour sleep.
The next thing we knew we were pulling into the filthiest truck stop we had ever seen, for a half way meal and toilet break. We ordered two dirty looking pho bo’s (beef not ‘beep’ soup, see image below) and ate them while the girls snacked on dry crackers and swatted insects away.
When we got back on the bus we all found a comfortable position and had a decent sleep. Us adults woke during the windy mountain ascent and descent just North of Nha Trang and the girls woke as we neared the bus stop listening to Elvis blaring over the radio.
The ride was torturous, while the girls had plenty of sleep us adults did it tough, but we knew that if we slept that day we would ruin our sleep that night. Fortunately, when we arrived at the hotel the room was ready for us to check in. Great, we dumped the bags in the room at 0800 and went to have breakfast around the corner. We then headed back to the room and got ourselves organised for the beach, which was just across the busy main street.
After spending hours there and having lunch on our way back to the hotel we watched a movie to stay awake but Winter couldn’t cope and fell asleep.
It took us a day to recover and only two nights to know we wanted and needed to move South again.
Total travel time: 12 Hours
Would we do it again?
No. Not voluntarily. The road quality and maniac driver ensured that it was the worst trip of our lives. Waking to see a container truck on one side and another sleeper bus on another side was just plain terrifying. We really did think we had placed ours and our childrens lives at risk.
Nha Trang to Ho Chi Min City, Vietnam
We didn’t think we would do it again but we read that this stretch of road was much better than the one we had already taken and we still had no other way of travelling South. We had accommodation booked in Ho Chi Min City and needed to get there as we were already two days behind due to being held up in Hoi An. This time we purchased four tickets so that we could get more sleep. The bus was on time and departed 2230 from Nha Trang.
Again another crazy driver but at least we had a bed each. We slept more this time and the road was a lot better than the previous one. We arrived in Ho Chi Min City 0715 but could not check in and just walked to the nearest café and ordered pho bo again. It was delicious.
We returned to check in at 1000 and quickly organised a cyclo tour of the city. We didn’t have the energy to walk and so this was a perfect way to see the sites and helped us decide on what else we would like to do while in this city.
The girls coped with this bus ride again and we both fared a lot better. The driver did send panic through us but overall we made it and were able to spend the entire day exploring.
Total travel time: 10 and a half Hours
Would we do it again?
No. While we did it twice, we will never do it again if we have other options.
Overnight and Long Haul
So we had completed some overnighters but once we needed to cover more ground we had to come up with the cheapest ways to traverse them. How we did it really tested us but once again the girls took it in their stride and enjoyed the adventure.
Delhi, India to Istanbul, Turkey
We researched long and hard to find the best and cheapest flights out of Asia. What we came up with was a very early morning flight to Dubai with a 14 hour stop over and then a night flight to Istanbul. The grand plan was to save on accommodation and spend the stop over in the luxurious Dubai International Airport.
It did not pan out the way we wanted.
Firstly, because we had a 0100 hotel to airport transfer, we thought it best to merely stay awake and let the girls sleep a little bit. Spring slept but Autumn couldn’t. That meant three of us was tired before we even boarded the plane at 0400.
Total flight time was only 3 hours and 40 minutes but with the time difference we were in Dubai at 0610.
Our 14 hour stopover was sooo different to what we expected.
We were not in the shiny and exciting International terminal but a refurbished domestic terminal on the other side of the runway. We were so disappointed.
Funny as I write this, I remember how the girls didn’t seem to care as they thought it was hilarious. They were cold and tired but they had KFC for lunch and Subway for dinner (everything else was too expensive) and lots of people from all around the world coming and going, many wearing traditional dress, so they were fascinated by that.
Our next flight was at 2045 for 4 hours and 50 minutes and within another time zone. That meant we arrived in Istanbul at 0035.
After landing in Istanbul we took the Havas bus to Taxim Square and then a taxi to our hotel, arriving about 0300. Again we lucked out and there was a room for us. We walked in and fell onto the beds. Winter set the alarm for 0930 so we could get down stairs and have the room included breakfast.
We had enough sleep and was able to enjoy a full day touring Istanbul.
Total travel time: 32 Hours
Would be do it again:
NO WAY. We saved $700 AUD on flights only to spend over half that amount on duty free and three meals AND we did nothing for a full day. Sure it was fun in one way because the movement of travellers entertained us but we had one hour of free wifi on each device and then nothing. We were not even motivated to take more pictures when of course we should have given the many cultures we saw in one place.
Izmir, Turkey to Athens, Greece
We had just finished a 7 day camping tour of the West coast of Turkey and dropped the camper van at Izmir airport. We then caught a Havas bus to Cesme arriving about 1600. We purchased tickets for the next ferry to the Greek island of Chios at 1800.
We were in Greece 50 minutes later and walked to a travel agent to purchase tickets on the next ferry to Pireas, the port in Athens.
The next ferry was 2330 and was scheduled to arrive in Pireas at 0730. Great! We bought tickets and waited in a restaurant for the ferry. We had our first Greek wine and beer so we were happy enough.
Once on board, as advised by the travel agent, we upgraded to a sleeper cabin. We couldn’t wait to get into bed and we were also looking forward to having a shower before we got off the boat.
This was a great way to get from one side of the Agean Sea to the other.
Now from 0730 until 1640 we travelled in a shuttle bus, walked, caught a train, then a taxi and eventually a bus across Greece to Volos. Our goal was to make the 1630 ferry to Skopelos for Spring’s 9th birthday. If you can’t already tell, we missed the ferry. We ultimately stayed in Volos overnight before taking an early morning ferry over to Skopelos the next day.
Total travel time: 24 and a half Hours
This actually wasn’t the the end of the longest of our long haul’s because we were still not at our final destination. Read our daily blog for the full journey. We decided mission complete after over 48 hours when we dropped our bags in our apartment.
Would we do it again:
Yes. We had a ball taking the many modes of transport. Plus we had heaps of sleep, food and time to relax on the way. The best thing was we were able to relax overnight in Volos and then was treated to a wonderful few weeks in Skopelos.
We, and the girls, don’t think it was all THAT bad.
Night transfers alone or combined with long hours are really hard-core travel on anyone let alone children.
We prepared for each of our journeys by ensuring that we were fully showered, you cannot underestimate the power of feeling clean especially when you are about to endure hours of semi-awakeness and potential sweating. We took plenty of water and dry crackers to tie all of us over, just in case what was on offer didn’t sit well with us.
Lastly, we allowed the opportunity for each of us to take time and so we made time for sleep, no matter where we were.
Before leaving Australia we thought we that we would never place our children in a foreign country in the middle of the night but have since realised that it is not as dangerous as we initially thought it might be.
They have coped with all that we have thrown at them and as such we now know how resilient they truly are.
Have you ever done anything similar? Please share in our comments box.