“Traveling with five children may seem exhausting —and it is”

Jim Gaffigan explains the highs and lows of taking his entire family on the road with him

July 2018
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Illustrations by Kiki Ljung

As a comedian and actor, I travel almost continually for work, then urgently return home to my family. I have five children, ages 5 to 13, so I don’t want to miss a moment of the chaos. And I never want that song “Cat’s in the Cradle” to have any real meaning to them. I also pledged to my wife to bring the whole family with me whenever possible. It turns out you can’t go back on a pledge.

Traveling with five children may seem expensive, exhausting and unwise—and it is. Heck, having five children may seem unwise, but that’s a different essay. Of course, I haven’t always traveled with five kids. Initially, my wife and I just traveled with one baby, which wasn’t too complicated. Sure, carrying an infant onto a plane is no way to make friends, but you get used to the annoyed stares, and the baby gets used to being lugged around.

As our family grew, so did the complexity of travel planning. My stand-up tour schedule was virtually coordinated around school breaks and public holidays. My children had the opportunity to celebrate Thanksgiving at a Las Vegas Medieval-themed dinner show and Easter in Seattle, where they have the best Easter coffee—or so I told them. 

Thankfully, by the time our family reached five kids, my career had graduated from a crowded car to a tour bus. It was one of those rock-star buses, but there was a different kind of partying occurring as we rolled across North America. Every morning, we would stumble off the bus to check into a cheap hotel with a pool and free breakfast, then we’d hit a local landmark, or I would nap as my heroic wife took our children to the zoo. Eventually, I would head off to my show. After the show, I would climb back on the bus to find my sleeping children in bunks, and I’d attempt to sleep as we drove to the next city. The next day, in the words of Jackson Browne, we would “get up and do it again. Amen.”

These days, thankfully, I can take my screaming brood to international shows by airplane. The United Kingdom, Asia, Australia and New Zealand are wonderful places to take the family, but they are far away and involve hours on the plane. The annoyed looks I used to get when I brought a baby on the plane have been replaced by ones of sheer terror as I enter the cabin with five kids. I’m grateful for the memorable travel experiences, but let me tell you, if you thought jetlag was taxing, just mix in some 5- and 6-year-olds. There’s a whole lot of crying—and sometimes the kids get upset, too.

Unfortunately, not all my traveling is with my kids. I often travel without them, and in with the guilt are moments of happiness—actually, hours and hours of happiness. And sleep. I love my children. I seem to love them more when I’m away from them. So, the next time you see someone on a flight with a gaggle of children, have pity on them. And the next time you see a dad by himself on a flight, have even more pity. But please don’t wake him up.

Jim Gaffigan’s latest comedy special, Noble Ape, is in theaters and on demand July 13; jimgaffigan.com.

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