Is Adventure Worth It Even When It’s Miserable? A Baby on Jet Lag

If there is one thing that really doesn’t mesh with jet lag it’s a baby. Whether parenting a baby or being a baby, it’s a whole lot easier to just stay in the same time zone.

Babies are naturally creatures of routine. They seek familiarity, fall into patterns, like to know what to expect. My days generally go a lot easier when I keep things predictable for Maya. But predictable isn’t always practical, especially if you want to travel. Not only is it impractical; it’s downright impossible.

Back at home, Maya adapts well to changes so long as she can sleep when she needs to. So, no matter what, I revolve my day around these naps, and make sure she’s either in the crib, baby carrier, Chariot or car when that need arises. As adaptable as she is, however, she has still become accustomed to her crib at night, and prior to leaving for our trip in the South Pacific, I was concerned about how she’d sleep in unfamiliar beds and different places. I brought along a pop-up travel tent, hoping it would second as a crib, and otherwise reserved a few cribs or planned to co-sleep along the way.

The Flat White. My new best friend. Photo Meghan J. Ward.
The Flat White. My new best friend. Photo Meghan J. Ward.

Back to the jet lag. As adults, we can at least understand jet lag and that our bodies are on a different time zone then the location we’re actually in. But babies don’t get that. If 2 a.m. is actually 6 a.m. at home, according to shorty it’s time to get up, have breakfast and play. Meanwhile, Mom and Dad are trying to sleep off a full day of travel, which for us included a drive from Banff to Calgary, flight to Vancouver, flight to Auckland, flight to Christchurch, then drive to Akaroa, in fairly busy traffic, on the “wrong” side of the road. We reached a whole new level of exhaustion when Maya gleefully announced the day was beginning when some nighthawks are just heading to bed.

What Happens in Twizel Stays in Twizel

By the time we left Akaroa, we were functional, but still quite sleep-deprived. Though our day started at an ungodly hour, the rest of our trip to Twizel, the gateway to the Southern Alps, couldn’t have gone any better. Maya slept most of the way, and otherwise played contentedly in her car seat. As we listened to her cheerful doodoodoos and bababas Paul and I discussed how perhaps we had come over a hump, and would now settle into a better rhythm travelling as a family. At Lake Tekapo, we all got out to enjoy a picnic at the Church of the Good Shepherd. With brilliant sunshine and a breeze coming off the lake, we were in absolute heaven.

Basking in the sun at Lake Tekapo. Photo Meghan J. Ward.
Basking in the sun at Lake Tekapo. Photo Meghan J. Ward.

Then that night, all hell broke loose. We were staying at a shoddy holiday park outside of Twizel. I had inquired about a crib when I reserved, hoping that having a familiar space for Maya to sleep in would mean a good sleep for us. But the crib had already been given to another family. The park manager said there were many beds in the cabin, however, including a double bed with a single bunk bed on top, and a collapsible cot.

“It’s like a jungle gym,” said the manager. “She’ll love it!”

The cot, she said, was only a two feet off the floor, in case Maya fell.

I should have let that statement alarm me.

Our cabin in Twizel proved to be less than ideal – a jungle gym from the Underworld, in fact. It was filthy, and the bunk beds sat half-a-foot away from the wall (a nightmare for co-sleeping). I shoved pillows down the cracks of the double bed in case we ended up putting Maya in there with me.

Bedtime arrived at 4 p.m., and we followed our usual routine. First we tried putting Maya down for the night in her pop-up travel tent. I may as well have placed her in solitary confinement. Next we tried the bed, but she was so hyper, trying to launch herself off the bed, you’d think I’d jacked her full of Red Bull. Hours later we were still trying to calm her, and the poor girl was getting more and more tired. By this point we had confirmed our suspicion that our little daredevil really did need four walls, or at least some containment, to sleep soundly and safely. Paul tried to create a make-shift crib using all the mattresses and tables he could find. You can guess how that turned out.

One of our many contraptions trying to give the baby a dark place to sleep.
One of our many contraptions trying to give the baby a dark place to sleep.

For the rest of the night things continued to deteriorate. At one point, Maya managed to push the pillow wedged in the crack to the floor and got herself stuck, head-first, between the bed and the wall. She went absolutely ballistic, and I felt like the most horrible mother on the planet. After that incident we decided to take Maya for a drive. With tears rolling down my cheeks I flopped down in the passenger seat and wondered how we’d ever pull off this ten-week trip abroad. There’s a reason why people don’t do these things with babies, I thought to myself.

Hope returned a few minutes later when the baby fell asleep and we managed to transfer her back to the bed, with more pillows securely in place. But that hope was short-lived. Maya awoke an hour later. It was now about 4 a.m. and the whole, tortuous process repeated like a scene from Dante’s Inferno.

By 6:30 a.m. we had re-packed the car and abandoned our second night in Twizel.

 I Hope Sir Ed Has Coffee

We decided to go to Wanaka later that day, but first wanted to see Mt. Cook/Aoraki, New Zealand’s highest peak. The sunrise drive along Pukaki’s lakeshore offered us welcome respite from our ordeal the night before. But we were still completely wrecked, and learning some tough lessons about the effects that a lack of sleep has on a traveller. Had it just been us, we could have caught some sleep when we needed to, and still enjoyed our surroundings. But with the little one having a hard time adjusting, our last remaining stores of energy went into giving her the rest she needed.

Sunrise Over Lake Pukaki. Photo Meghan J. Ward.
Sunrise Over Lake Pukaki. Photo Meghan J. Ward.

At Mt. Cook, all we could think about was coffee. Here we were staring at the 3724-metre giant and the beautiful peaks of the Southern Alps, and we could barely think about hiking, let alone standing on two legs. We went in search of breakfast, and found it at the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre, a wonderful museum dedicated to the legendary Kiwi. Through the floor-to-ceiling windows we took in the incredible views of Mt. Cook, sipped on bad coffee, and made our plan for the rest of the day. Normally enthusiastic about mountaineering history, we weren’t in any shape to peruse the shrine to Sir Ed. I glanced at a few photos as I stumbled out of the building, and that was that.

Giving ourselves a caffeine boost at the Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre. Mount Cook in the background. Photo Meghan J. Ward.
Giving ourselves a caffeine boost at the Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre. Mount Cook in the background. Photo Meghan J. Ward.
We always have a third option if we're too tired to drive. Photo Meghan J. Ward.
We always have a third option if we’re too tired to drive. Photo Meghan J. Ward.

En route to Wanaka, our thoughts wavered between “we’re idiots for thinking we could travel like this with a baby” and “things will start to get better”. We were dirty, tired, and hungry, but felt good about our decision to leave Twizel early. We had a friend hosting us in Wanaka, and this would give us a good base to rejuvenate, catch up on sleep, re-assess our itinerary, and find our own collapsible crib.

So, Are the Hardships Worth It?

In the end all that mattered to us was that Maya was happy. Despite her traumatic night, she was quickly back to her old self. No grudge held against Mom and Dad, no shortage of smiles and gleeful squawks. And after a few days recharging in beautiful Wanaka, exploring Queenstown, hiking up Mt. Iron, playing by the waterfront, and enjoying the company of our hosts, we were back on our feet, mostly adjusted to the time zone and ready to take on the next phase of travel. Maya still wakes up throughout the night and starts her day around 5 a.m., but I am learning to accept that this might be my most most sleep-deprived trip ever. And I thought my nights at altitude in Nepal were bad!

Taking a deep breath on the shores of Lake Wanaka. Photo Meghan J. Ward.
Taking a deep breath on the shores of Lake Wanaka. Photo Meghan J. Ward.

So, is adventure worth it even when it’s miserable? I think Paul summarized it well with his answer to the question when I posted it on my Facebook Page: “Barely in the moment. Always in hindsight.”

And as a few others mentioned, if you can’t imagine your life without it – even with the moments of misery – then, yes, it’s worth it. We have already created lasting memories and stronger bonds as a family, and our little girl has brought us so much joy each day.

We’re excited to take on the next adventures, wherever they may take us. And I’m still holding onto hope for a little more sleep.

Is adventure worth it even when it’s miserable? Contribute your two cents in the comments below, and check out all the great responses on the Facebook Page.

Author: Meghan J. Ward

Meghan J. Ward is an outdoor, travel and adventure writer based in Banff, Canada, and a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. Meghan has written several books, as well as produced content for films, anthologies, blogs and some of North America’s top outdoor, fitness and adventure publications. She has a forthcoming travel memoir (Fall 2022), to published by Rocky Mountain Books.

16 thoughts

  1. What’s amazing to me is that you find the time and mental energy to write about this. I’ve been in your shoes. And I would’ve probably napped if I had found a few precious minutes to myself. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I love your honesty! As we’re getting ready to go on our first trip with baby it’s nice to hear the good and the bad. I was wondering, looking back now do you think it would be worth it to have baby nap at home in the travel bed you’re considering using? We had also planned on just using what our accommodations provided but now I’m thinking twice!

    1. We ended up finding a used pack and play through the trading post in Wanaka and we’re so happy to have something consistent. I wouldn’t worry as much with a much younger baby. They are less aware of their environment and will probably adapt a lot better. If you are bringing your own travel bed I would have the baby try napping in it at home. You could also reserve something where you are staying so that you have another option! If you co-sleep at all it will probably come I’m handy!

  3. You guys hang in there when things get you down just remember your together as a family on a trip of a lifetime and you will have a lifetime to look back on it
    Make every day a memorable one and no one will have any regrets ask any parent and they will tell you children grow up so fast just chill and make time stand still and enjoy your time in NZ

    1. Thanks, Sean. We’re trying our hardest to stay positive. 🙂 This trip has given us more ups and downs as parents than we’ve ever experienced before. Sheer exhaustion will do that to you!

  4. Great post Meghan! Despite sleepless nights and chaos, you still find the time to write so beautifully and be so inspiring 🙂

  5. Your husband summed it well! We are in Queenstown after 6 weeks of bike touring with our 13mth old. We splurged on a few times just to get a couple of good nights of sleep under our belts…we are now glad we will be in one spit before continuing our travels to Australia and finally back to Canada…hang in there, the nights may suck but daylight and caffeine definitely help a bit!

    1. I was just saying to Paul today that one thing I’m learning is that we should have built a few more rest days into our New Zealand itinerary. I will definitely recommend that to other parents. 🙂

  6. This brings back memories of when we went to Hawaii with our then 2.5 year old and 6 month old! Wake up call was 4:30 or 5 am. So relaxing….not! haha, we still had a blast, we loved getting to the beaches before EVERYONE else did 🙂 Smiles! it’s totally worth it.

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