It’s 3:00 am and my daughter is screaming. The plane is completely dark—except for the small, dull lights on the floors and the occasional reading lamp. Everyone around us is sleeping (or attempting to sleep anyway). Most are moving uncomfortably if you look closely, masks pulled over their eyes, wrestling with the too-small polyester blankets that they were loaned, struggling to get warm.

Still, they’re getting more sleep than I am.

This was just the first leg of our 33-day trip. I hesitate to say vacation, because that would imply relaxation. No, this was a trip. 33 days spent in Australia, New Zealand and Fiji to celebrate my husband’s recent graduation from medical school. We figured we had our first month off in four years, which was also our last month off for at least four more until his residency ended. We decided to spend the rest of our loan money on this trip we could not afford otherwise, to see a corner of the world that seemed as far away as we could get from our troubles.

When we booked it a year earlier it was the best idea we ever had. Our daughter would be 20 months old. “The perfect age for travel!” We exclaimed. But around 3:00 am when she made it clear she wouldn’t be sleeping anywhere but her bed at home, we stared at each other, open jawed, because this was it. We were here, our dream vacation was just beginning, medical school was ending. “I can’t believe we paid to do this,” He sighed, as the sound of Frozen’s “Let it Go” filled the space around us. No matter that it would wake nearby passengers. Anything was better than her cries.

If only we could know what else would soon come.

18 flights. Canberra, Perth, Melbourne, Sydney, Cairns, Auckland. The eight-day drive from the North to the South Island of New Zealand, passing coastlines, misty mountain rims, fields of sheep that looked like a tile from the game Settlers of Catan. Jet-lagged nights, a baby with an earache, the bank account that looked so promising when we began now withering from the fees that began to stack up. The cab ride to the hotel from the airport at 5:00 am. The admission fees to parks and museums and zoos. The tips and the baggage fees and the three meals a day my daughter routinely demanded like clockwork. Unsympathetic stares from strangers, her stroller across unpaved roads, and comments like, “Next time you’ll leave her with grandma!” filtering through, flight after flight, as we grimaced through our smiles and nods.

Of course, it wasn’t just her. We were tired and jet-lagged too. We had stomachs wanting to be filled when the clock’s hands reached the 8 and the 12 and the 6. We too, had cramped legs and blistered feet. The only difference was that we signed up to do this. We paid to do this. We wanted to do this. We felt privileged to be able to do this.

Travel is made out to be glamorous, and I suppose, for some, it is. First class tickets and champagne toasts and a Dramamine that takes the 14-hour flight to a mere five, with time to read your book and catch up on your emails is different from the 3 am slog we experienced. But no one can escape difficult moments. Lost luggage, the hotel that is somehow missing your reservation and is booked up, the language barriers and currency exchanges and the heat and cold and rain.

I thought of this, while staring out the window as we landed in Los Angeles, finally coming home from the epic vacation that somehow would never come and then ended, almost as quickly as it began. Why did we do it? Why did we hurtle ourselves through the air, wake up in a foreign place to eat strange food and walk miles of foreign road, all while paying exorbitant sums to do so?

And then I thought of the 3 am flight from Los Angeles to Sydney, International. My daughter’s face cupping my chin with her hand in her fatigued, restless state. The second-grader in the back of the plane that told me emphatically not to miss eating at her favorite restaurant while in Australia – McDonalds. The kind strangers in Kings Park who returned our camera to the lost and found. The look on my daughter’s face as she petted a kangaroo in the wild, its sneeze startling her, making us all laugh. The view as we drove along The Great Road, salt air filling my lungs.

The Sydney Opera House, so startling as I rounded the corner of the crowded harbor and then all at once there—so like the pictures I’d seen and yet so much more beautiful up close. The glow worm caves in Wellington that lit up like stars in a mountain sky. The koalas we saw sleeping in the wild, so out of it that I thought they might just fall out of the branches that carried them.

The smile that crossed my husband’s face as our plane descended in Perth. “What is it?” I asked.

He turned to me. “It’s the first time I’ve seen the Indian Ocean.”

We’re home now. Getting ready for a move across the country. Getting ready to spend four years living in the same place, and although our stuff is all in boxes, all I want to do right now is ship them off and book another flight. A suitcase is all we needed, it turns out. A suitcase and a little bit of planning and each other.

It’s worth it. The red-eye flights and screaming child, and cab fare and the blisters and the jet-lag and the lost luggage. All of it. Given the choice between staying or going, the choice between saving up and making it happen or just dreaming about it and living in the same place we’ve always lived, with the same people and food and scenery–it’s worth it.

It’s always better to go.

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About The Author

Hey I'm Mandy. Writer, traveler, wife, mother, author, woman, over-sharer. I like to talk about the grit of travel, the beautiful, and the people that I meet. Oh yeah - and traveling with kids.