SURVIVOR STORIES: How To Travel With A Sleep Thief

The fourth Survivor Story is by adventurer and mum-of-two Bronwyn Joy who not only survived a ‘sleep thief’ but managed to travel the world at the same time!



I completed a Master’s Degree by coursework in Bioethics when my eldest was fifteen-months-old. The reason I’m starting an article about travel with kids like this (bear with me) is that I feel it was a great achievement in the face of extreme sleep-deprivation, only nobody ever seems to care.

For example, when I put it forward as a potential topic to Emily-Jane, she said, yes, yes, certainly, or… travel. You could talk about travel also. And I thought well just one paragraph then. But then my husband said, “Gah!” so I said fine! and then I hid the paragraph at the bottom instead.

So here I am, now, staying completely on the topic of travelling with young kids

We’ve travelled with both our children, one of whom sleeps, and the other of whom sort of doesn’t. We’ve learned a lot of things from both types of experience, not least of which is that it’s very, very possible to keep adventuring with young children. When your child’s a sleep thief, however, you’ll want to do things a bit differently.


Planning A Trip With Vs Without A Sleep Thief


Packing A Trip With Vs Without A Sleep Thief

Getting There

Getting There With Vs Without A Sleep Thief

On Vacation

On Vacation With Vs Without A Sleep Thief

Coming Home

Coming Home With Vs Without A Sleep Thief

Key Takeaways

I’ve heard people say that taking a baby on holiday is a bit like taking a baby on any kind of outing, except the outing is really long and really far away. This is true. It must be said, however, that holidaying with a typical child requires a bit of extra work. In contrast, Sleep Thieves are just as restless wherever they are, so you might as well be on a beach in Thailand.

One reallyreallyquick (if entirely irrelevant) paragraph about studying bioethics with a wakeful baby

If people were to ask me to rate how hard it is to study alongside a sleep thief on a scale of one to ten, I’d probably say well, on the one hand there was the screaming and the all-night waking and the screaming and waking and so forth, but on the other hand at least I had Kant and Mencius to help me decide whether it would be okay to strangle the wee one or not. (Tip! Mill isn’t as helpful on that front*.)

So don’t be afraid. Anyway, it’s not like you slept properly as a teenaged undergrad.

*Because Mencius and Kant champion things like principles and the inherent goodness of human beings, whereas Mill will ask you to think about what will produce the most happiness for the most people.

For more brilliant tips on travelling with children or to read about Bronwyn’s adventures visit Journeys Of The Fabulist. More Survivor stories can be found here…or for some ‘hot’ tips on how to survive a sleep thief check out my Survival Guide.  Feel free to share your travel stories below or join me for a chat on Facebook or Twitter.

63 thoughts on “SURVIVOR STORIES: How To Travel With A Sleep Thief

  1. Haha I liked your tips. My sleep thief is really more of a bed thief because he will sleep so long as he can be splayed across my body with his feet in my husband’s face. One might think by eight kids in we could control the sleep thievery, but alas that is not the case.

  2. Set out for us in true academic format. lol. Been there, done that under the most appalling travel conditions. To feel the disapproving stares of people without children on a plane while the sleep thief entertains with loud piercing wails, or those train, bus and taxi trips in exotic places in furnace like conditions and an angry child during the wee hours of the night. Nice description. I’ve filed that one in my mind.

  3. Loved this post and can empathise. I am nearly finished medical school – I had both my little girls during school. They are now nearly 3 years old and 7 months old. Crazy times! Safe to say we have not attempted travel with them – the 2 hour car trip was horrific enough – will be saving your tips for when we go overseas next!

    • That sounds crazy til you consider the alternative of having them shortly after graduation. Then it still sounds sort of crazy but maybe the lesser of two crazies?? I can understand you focussing on school rather than overseas jaunts! That’s probably enough for anyone (and too much for some).

  4. I can certainly empathise! I am medic student soon to be a doctor and both my girls – nearly 3 and a 7 month old during school. Safe to say we haven’t attempted traveling more than 2 hours with them yet hehe thanks for the tips x

  5. haha! This was too funny! My son was most certainly a sleep thief!! I liked the one positive note: they won’t sleep any worse on holidays (because they already sleep so terribly). We just got back from a trip and despite everyone telling me “he will sleep on the plane; all babies sleep on the plane,” he did not!

  6. Ha ha, hilarious as always! I was that baby – there are photos of my dad pushing me around various places at all hours of the day and night. I was cute though 😉
    And I LOVE that P went to school in his sister’s uniform! How is that even possible?!

  7. You are so right. A restless child is restless anywhere you are, so you might as well be on vacation. At least you’ll get to stare at the walls of a new room. Exciting! First time took our first born (the one who didn’t sleep until he was THREE) he was 9 months old, and for severely sleep deprived parents I think we did pretty great! There were some embarrassing moments on the ridiculously long train ride from Frankfurt to Augsburg (in retrospect it may not have been that long but it felt like it took years for us to get there with a screaming child), but overall, we handled things pretty well. Our sleep thief was starting his day at 5 am SHARP every morning, except for the morning we were actually supposed to wake up that early to catch our train back. That morning he slept till 7. It’s like they know…

    Great post, as usual!

    (I don’t know how you managed to study AND pass on no sleep. Then again I always had my most brilliant ideas when I was up at 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5am. Either they really were brilliant or my miserable drunken state led me to believe they were. Who knows.)

  8. And you are quite right Bronwyn! I would have been too tired to notice. Forgot to put the little ones trousers on the other day as I was in such a sleep deprived rush!!

  9. So funny and thanks for the intro to a really great site. Oh those “typical” children, I wish I had some of those! Whilst I can say the worst is behind me, I did have to attend “sleep school” with kid number 2 because it go SO bad. I travel with thieves, but wouldn’t be silly enough to study with some too, I’m not sure if that is brave or crazy, either way, nicely done. xo

    PS: The sisters school uniform to school highlight! Poor lil guy. Hope he has recovered.

  10. Bronwyn as always I am left laughing hysterically by your writing and thanking my lucky stars I am old with old kids. I can barely remember these days which may be one of the greatest benefits of aging.

  11. HILARIOUS and very accurate. I studied for one exam with a sleep thief (Six Sigma Green Belt) and scraped a pass – to this day I don’t know how, although I assume the examiners were kind (i know one had had a sleep thief of her own so was empathetic). We “travelled” from NZ to Fiji with our sleep thief and it was great – we were thrilled if he managed any 30 min naps ever (including flights) and expected the frequent night wakings – so had a blast – no cooking, no cleaning – and blackout curtains. I enjoyed my 30 min power naps twice a day!

    • Honing the art of the power nap in key. I heard from a very reputable source (local FM radio) that if you drink a cup of coffee immediately before a power nap you get the caffeine and the nap benefits kicking in at once to keep you going through the next few hours. (No responsibility is taken for this advice.)

  12. Studying with a child that didn’t give you that much sleep was WELL DONE, Bronwyn!!!! I was doing some further studies during the first six months of my first born’s life. Then there was the BAM + I was pregnant and morning, day and night sick for the next 7 months (well, the pregnancy lasted 5 days past what normally is expected), and I can tell you, there was no more studying happening at this end. So I am in awe!

    But also, I agree, even with two small ones with a history of pretty long poor sleeping “stages” our holidays away have always been great (the thing you call PAY. BACK. is great as well as the thing were you don’t need to cook nor clean. Easy). The biggest problem for us was for somebody to remember to book the holiday…;)

    Love your attitude!

    • Definitely the booking part gets tricky. So hard to find time to do research. But as long as you’re not going to fret about having a perfectly-optimised holiday I think that’s ok – I imagine you guys roll with the punches pretty well and just enjoy wherever you are.

  13. Here! Here. Before I comment about travel a little sleep thief anecdote. I sat my specialty exams when my own sleep thief was 16 months old. I had to travel to Sydney for them, and as usual was accompanied by said sleep thief. Pulling out all stops in an attempt to pass the night before the exam I left my sleep thief in a hotel with my mother and checked into the hotel across the road. The Bahrain soccer club had taken over my entire floor however and were up all night partying. Consequently no sleep for me. When people ask me how I managed to pass my exams (and even get a special prize) after no sleep at all I just tell them I had been trained very well by my son. As for travel with a sleep thief the mantra when profoundly sleep deprived “Just keep moving” works best. I would always rather be out exploring, particularly if it is somewhere like Thailand in a sleep deprived haze than home trying to bring order to our home.

  14. Brilliant, just brilliant. The ‘tips sheets’ made me laugh out loud!
    The first couple of times we went away, our baby slept amazingly (but wasn’t a bad sleeper at home at these points.) We were all ‘Oohh, he’s so flexible, oh isn’t this great?’ Oh we were so STUPID to think this might last. The last two times (when he’s coincidentally been a total sleep thief) have been awful – really awful and have put me off going away anytime soon.

    However, this post has really struck a chord with me… It doesn’t matter, does it? If we’re getting no sleep, we might as well be doing it somewhere nice! And when I look back on our last holiday, where husband and I were literally up half the night along with our unfortunate neighbours who were banging on the ceiling, I don’t remember much of that part – more that it was actually one of the nicest weeks of my life.

    The neighbour part was pretty crap though!

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