That Time I Took My Five Year Old Daughter to Ireland…On My Own

I’m not sure what made me think going on a mother-daughter trip across the Atlantic was a good idea. My daughter was only five at the time, after all. We had been on other trips together, to such places as Hawaii and Disney World, and had returned unscathed. We even dealt with a severe ear infection on one beach trip, which was handled easily with my fantastic nationwide health insurance. But this was another country we would be visiting, one where my insurance policy would not be worth the paper on which it was printed and where, despite being an English-speaking country, everyday customs were unfamiliar. Would my kindergartener eat Irish food? Would I be able to navigate Customs and Passport Control with a severely jet-lagged enfant terrible? Would we be able to find restrooms when we needed them? They say “toilets,” not “restrooms,” right? I guess that, in the end, I just really needed these questions answered. That, and I love a good challenge.

We set off during my daughter’s October school break, ready for adventure. I booked a flight with a layover at Heathrow, an airport I was familiar with. My daughter had a slight cough, but it was mild. Still, I brought her emergency inhaler just in case, even though she had never had an asthma attack. We packed an iPad so she could watch her movies on the plane, and we brought plenty of snacks. Everything was fine, until we were about three hours from Heathrow, in the middle of the night. Just as I was dozing off, my daughter woke up, croaked out “I want Daddy,” and proceeded to choke and wheeze. She was having her first asthma attack, over the Atlantic Ocean, with no hope of a hospital for several hours.

With my heart in my throat, I grabbed her inhaler out of my purse and pushed the call light for the flight attendant. The rest of the flight was a tear-stained blur to me, but I know they found both a pediatric pulmonologist and a nurse on board, who managed to get her breathing back to normal by using her inhaler and an oxygen mask. Apparently, her attack wasn’t that bad, but I’ve never felt so lucky in all my life. Unfortunately, the stress of the event caused me to faint dead away about ten minutes after I got off the plane. We both proceeded to spend about half a day in the emergency department of a London hospital. I really can’t say enough nice things about the NHS and its staff. We received kind and compassionate treatment during our brief visit, all for free (UK visitors receive free emergency care). Miraculously, after about eight hours, we were both well enough to leave, so we got to go back to Heathrow and board a flight to Dublin.

The flight to Dublin was without incident, but my daughter’s suitcase did not make the flight. I was promised we would have it by the next day, delivered to our hotel. Starting to feel as though the universe was telling me not to ever travel again, we made our way to the taxi queue with our remaining luggage and caught a cab to our hotel. I seriously considered trying to book a flight back home in the morning, because I was afraid of what else this ill-conceived holiday had planned for us.

Thankfully, things improved exponentially at this point. Our hotel, the Shelbourne, was lovely. The bed in our room was perhaps the most comfortable I have ever slept in, and we were both comatose within an hour after arriving. Our luggage arrived as promised the next day. The staff even delivered it to our room while we were out sightseeing. We took day tours to Blarney Castle and Bunratty Castle. We got to see the Cliffs of Moher and the Burren. We went to museums and old pubs, a zoo, and several churches. I booked a Viking Duck Tour to amuse my daughter, and she had a blast. In fact, I think we packed more memories per hour into that one week than we do in a typical year. Even though she is still young, we have an amazing experience that only we share, and we talk about our adventures there often. And I got some amazing pictures.


So, what started off as the trip from hell became one of the best times I’ve ever had. My daughter ended up liking some Irish food, but didn’t care for their cheddar cheese (she has no taste, really). We made it through Customs on both ends of the trip without incident. And public toilets were easy to find and pretty clean, too. Not to mention, despite passing out, I managed to handle a pretty big challenge with just the help of a few doctors, nurses and a team of flight attendants.

In addition to the great memories, this vacation was also a tremendous learning experience. First of all, be prepared. All of the time. But especially when you are traveling. Bring that emergency medicine and keep it in your carry-on baggage. I don’t want to think about what would have happened if I hadn’t thought to grab that inhaler that she had never needed before. Secondly, travel insurance is worth every penny. If we had had to cancel the rest of our trip and go home, travel insurance would have covered our flights back and the money I paid for my hotel. Had we been admitted to the hospital, we would have had to start paying for healthcare in the UK. Travel health insurance would have covered that cost. I purchase it for every trip now. And finally, don’t let a few bad moments ruin a travel experience. Almost every trip is going to have its moments, although yours hopefully don’t involve hospitals. Unless going home is the only option, stick it out and enjoy what you can. The memories you make while traveling are priceless, and certainly worth a little inconvenience. We’re already planning our next mother-daughter trip to Paris. I’m hoping we can make more memories like this one:



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