How Not To Travel in 8 Easy Steps

School holidays are nearly here, and you're ready to escape – if not the cold, then the routine of work and cajoling children to do anything but pester you or exercise nimble thumbs on phones.

My kids and I planned to fly the coop early, before classes ended. I'll borrow a friend's phrase and call it world-schooling, because what we're about to embark on - reconnecting with our former exchange student in Italy and mangling the French language in Switzerland – will be educational. I hope. If we ever get there.

Read more: Dawn Picken: Jacinda, Hit us with your breast shot
Opinion: Conjuring summer in the Bay


Like thousands of other travellers, we've been delayed by the eruption of Mount Agung in Indonesia. Denpasar Airport is seeing neither take-offs nor landings, and our plans to spend two days in Dubai before flying to Milan are blowing up like an angry volcano.

I wonder whether the hold-up is another case study for the handbook I could write, called The How Not to Travel Guide. It may contain no useful information, but will likely make you feel better about your own fumblings, domestic and global. Here's how not to plan your next adventure, in eight easy steps:

1) Choose a time when the rest of the world wants to visit the same place as you. A 100-day advance purchase seemed reasonably early to buy air tickets to Europe, but scads of World Cup football fans beat me to it.

2) Break up a long-haul flight to Milan by stopping in the desert, but make sure you transit a country where volcanoes frequently blow their stack. It adds to the intrigue of travel: how much airport food will we eat? How many times will Master 12 proclaim, "I'm BORED"? How much money will we spend in the part of the international terminal with no good shopping? How long will we be allowed to thumb wrestle time at the Down Under Bar and Cafe after purchasing only two juices? How long until I buy a wine, when I told myself no pre-flight alcohol, and it's only 1pm?

3) Freak out in the days before your trip. Email your travel agent to let her know all the names are wrong on your airline tickets, and doesn't she know you still have PTSD from the time a Fiji Airways employee made you spend $200 extra after the airline mashed your son's middle and last names together? Approaching an airline ticket counter requires, at minimum, nerves of aluminium. You start wishing you took anxiety meds. This leaves you staring at the bar menu, wondering if 1.10pm is too early for a drink.

4) Try to organise your affairs before you leave. Is your will in order? How about your desk? Give it a good clean, because who knows if your plane will fly into a volcanic ash cloud, leaving your survivors to wonder who gets the jewellery and who gets KiwiSaver funds that could sustain them comfortably for about six months? Put an out-of-office auto-reply on all your email accounts which you'll be checking while camping at Auckland International Airport.

5) The night before your travels, clean parts of the house that disturb you, like the hairy rat's nest in the kids' basin. Half-close your eyes and try not to gag while digging it out with the end of a comb. Then, wipe their bathtub free of toenail clippings and hair ("Oh that?" said a child who shall not be identified, "I clipped those nails AGES ago." Ew). Is 1.20pm too early for a drink?

6) Set firm spending limits with your children. You can't fund their every whim. Feel your resolve melt like molten lava with each new hour of flight delay. $20 for breakfast? Sure. Plus another $10 for juice. You need Dunkin' Donuts? Me, too. Glazed. Burn another $10.


7) Spend hours organising and fine-tuning your trip, which will compound that sinking feeling as plans explode into infinite ash particles. Weeks before departure, start inputting information into a spreadsheet before realising you already have every plane, train and automobile booking in your email, which means you're fine, if you have wi-fi. Because this is not assured, print 12-20 pages of travel documents. Borrow a friend's printer for the last three pages, because yours has just run out of ink. Is 1.30pm too early for a drink?

8) Relax. Inhale through your nose; exhale through your mouth. Close your eyes and pretend to meditate, which should prevent strangers from inquiring if they can take the extra chair at your table. It may also stop servers from asking if there's anything they can bring you, as the kids finished their juice two hours ago.

Yes, please. I'll have a wine. It's 1.40pm, and it's not too early.

*Footnote: We did depart for Bali, about 7 hours later than scheduled. We did not fly into an ash cloud.