Our first day of travel took over 21 hours to go from door to door. Door-in-Melbourne to door-in-Beijing. Who knew China was so far away?

I spent much of the night repacking our downsized belongings into our hand-luggage plus one suitcase combination. This was a treasure hunt because in the last couple of days, we’ve been living with friends in Melbourne and, inevitably, all the girls’ belongings were strewn across the house: the snorkelling mask was in the bath, the boots in the hallway, the charging cords in the kitchen, my computer equipment in the office, toys were hiding in the playroom and our winter clothes were unpacked in the bedroom!

We’d gone from summery days on the Gold Coast back to winter in Victoria, and I knew that the Beijing temperatures would be 30ºC+ during our visit! So we needed to wear extra-warm clothes to the airport and change at some point into cooler clothes for our stop-over in Malaysia and then our arrival in Beijing. Planning and considering the individual needs and preferences of five people and packing to suit… “challenging” is what I call it! I spend time talking with each girl about what they like, helping them to visualise what they’ll need and want in another location, and we together we prioritise the allocated space.

From the age of six, I was travelling internationally to boarding school, and while I had my mother to help me pack en route to school, I’m certain I was packing independently for the return journey! Nine-year-old Aisha appears to have inherited my mother’s superb-packing gene — she loves to roll and fold all her items until new spaces magically appear into which more items can be stuffed!

Calista looking out a plane window, August 2014
It's Calista's turn to sit next to the window and she reports on what she sees.

Calista was watching out the plane’s window when we passed over the the Hibiscus Resort in Malaysia. She spotted the unusual flower-shaped, floating hotel and called me over to have a look.

Despite the duration of today’s travel, it wasn’t so exhausting. We had snacks to keep us going in the airports, and the girls played when it was appropriate. In Kuala Lumpur, we lingered alongside our departure gate so the girls could continue their boisterous game with their toys right up to the last minute. I like to let the girls play freely and noisily — if they’re not affecting any other travellers. It helps that we’re travelling within Asia where children are treasured; I don’t know if it would be the same in Western countries.

During the day, we met another British-Australian family with a girl named Aisha. They had lived and worked for many years in Afganistan, which is where they got their Aisha’s name from! One other family travelled all the way from Melbourne to Beijing on the same two flights; we sat alongside each other in the different departure lounges and watched each other at play, with our children occasionally interacting.

Girls on a plane to China, August 2014
On our second flight of the day, the girls have rotated positions, and I'm seated across the aisle from them.

In Beijing, we were the last to come off the plane. It takes us longer because we have to re-pack all the items we’ve used during the flight! Lana was fast asleep, so I was glad I had my Ergo carrier handy. I strapped her onto my back and with three girls in tow, we caught up with the rest of the plane’s passengers in the lines at immigration. Because of the cost of Chinese visas, I opted to stay in China for fewer than 72 hours, which meant that our passports were stamped with a transit visa by the immigration officer. I just needed to provide proof of our onward flight. It was all straight-forward but very slow.

By the time we emerged from the airport, I was congratulating myself on having pre-booked a driver to pick us up and deliver us to our hotel. It was wonderful to be greeted by name by Konglin and escorted to a waiting car. At 2am, the city’s legendary traffic was a myth, and I enjoyed the long drive into the CBD while the girls alternated between dozing and watching the sights flash by.

Our hotel is comfortable, and all four girls headed straight to bed. We don’t have anything planned for tomorrow, so after waking them so early this morning, it’ll be a relief to let them all sleep as long as they need to. There’s plenty of room for them to play until we decide to go out an explore the city, and our view of Beijing skyscrapers reminds us that we’ve reached this iconic Asian city at last!