How to Survive Two Weeks in Oz with a Periodically Inebriated Teenage Girl

Surrender Mom!

On Memorial Day weekend, my only child, Boo, graduated from high school. And no, “Boo” is not my daughter’s legal name and did not appear on her high school diploma. I was not willing to color that far outside the lines when I named her. But to family and old friends, she’s been known as “Boo” from almost the moment she was placed in my arms in an orphanage in China more than 18 years ago.

Before she heads off to college on the opposite coast in August, we decided to have a fab mother-daughter bonding experience. So the day after her graduation, Boo and I hopped on a plane bound for Oz aka The Land Down Under aka Australia. There was much humming of this tune and warnings issued that they better run, they better take cover.

The unofficial Aussie national anthem and, according to my research, the only Billboard #1 song with lyrics about vomiting. Yes, I Googled “hit songs about vomiting.”

The first 20 hours or so of our trip were spent in transit to Sydney. Upon arrival, we took the train into town and checked into the hotel — which miraculously let us into our room at 10:00 in the morning. But we didn’t want to go to sleep at 10:00 a.m because it would completely ruin our attempt to adjust to the time change, so we had some brunch and walked around Sydney for several hours.

Here are some things I learned during the first day of our trip:

  1. Time will literally stand still when you desperately want to sleep but know you shouldn’t. By my estimation, the first seven hours in Sydney lasted 7 days.
  2. Boo can scare the crap out of flight attendants. Her preferred sleeping position on airplanes is bent in half with her head resting on her knees or, possibly, on the tray table. It seems that most flight attendants have only seen average sized adults in that position when they are seriously ill or dead.
  3. Your butt can and will fall asleep after 12+ hours in a plane seat.
  4. Having your butt fall asleep is not an enjoyable sensation.
  5. Boo seemed to like the idea of having her first legal adult beverage. She isn’t legal in the U.S., but the drinking age in Australia is 18, so a whole new world of legal drinking was open to her.

But the last thing we needed on our first day was a drink to relax us. We were practically comatose already. So late in the afternoon, we returned to our hotel, too tired to eat dinner, threw ourselves into the shower and did everything short of poking ourselves with pins to keep ourselves awake until 8:00 — at which point we gratefully went to sleep.

Boo views the Opera House. Please note her extremely expensive hair color — another graduation present.

The next morning, we were up bright and early to return to the airport for a flight to Cairns in the tropical north. Boo managed to scare the crap out of several more flight attendants with her looks-like-she’s-dead sleeping position until I assured them that she was probably not dead.

As an aside, on this trip, more than any other trip we’ve ever taken, people looked at us and assumed we were not traveling together. Not an unreasonable assumption given that she’s Chinese and I’m a blonde (at least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it). I think the change has come because she now looks like an adult who could be traveling on her own, whereas in the past, I was clearly the mommy even though we looked nothing alike. The only legendary exception to this rule was when we were on vacation with family when she was barely walking. While we were waiting to be seated in a restaurant, we went into an adjoining bar area and I plopped her down on the floor. (Don’t judge, it was a nice, clean space.) After about 5 minutes, a French couple walked into the bar, saw an Asian toddler playing on the floor, looked around with alarm at the very Caucasian adults in the vicinity, and loudly announced, “Zomeone has left zis baby in zee bar!” On almost every vacation since then, I have told her that we needed to schedule time for me to leave her in a bar. Only now she looks forward to being left alone in a bar.

Anyway, after flying north, Boo and I spent 3 days in windy and overcast Cairns. On our first day there, we took a boat to Fitzroy Island. The trip to the Island was enhanced by a wild ride and much vomiting. Fortunately, Boo and I were not among the vomiters. Fitzroy is a nice island, but the weather thwarted our attempt to snorkel, so we retreated to the bar where Boo put the saying, “It’s 5:00 somewhere” into practice for the first time — or at least the first time she was willing to tell me about. We ordered some ridiculous blue drinks, got slightly drunk, and prayed for the weather to improve.

It’s 5:00 somewhere. Let’s have a ridiculous blue drink.

It did not. By mid afternoon, the wind was blowing wildly, and we were huddled together like penguins for warmth. I told Boo that since I am the mom, if we were going to imitate penguins, then technically she should be standing between my feet for warmth. But she declined — reminding me that she is no longer a juvenile. After a few hours of trying to avoid the cold and rain, the boat returned to pick us up for a vomit-free ride back to Cairns.

The next day, we took a tour up north to Cape Tribulation. We started at an animal sanctuary where we saw all sorts of Aussie critters and were able to pat a wallaby/kangaroo.

Boo pets a kangaroo. Or a wallaby. Or a quokka. Don’t know which. Don’t care that much.

Then we headed into Daintree National Park and took a hike at Mossman Gorge. On our way to lunch, we were told stories about stupid tourists who have been eaten by crocs.

After lunch at a lodge near the beach, we took a croc spotting cruise on the Daintree River. We spotted crocs, but because we had been paying attention earlier, neither of us were eaten.

We were not eaten by this creature.

On the third day, Boo was feeling rotten thanks to a nasty cold, and the weather was still not cooperating, so we decided to stay in town. We had a nice brunch, took a walk and did some souvenir shopping and had a yummy tapas dinner where I taunted Boo by drinking wine which she could not consume thanks to her cold meds.

We left early the next morning for the airport where I received some useful instruction in how to use a toilet:

Who knew?

Our destination that morning was the Uluru fka Ayers Rock fka Uluru. Let me allay the obvious concerns about this part of the world by saying right up front that a dingo did not eat my baby. Or me. Because at this point, that would be equally likely. Actually, since I’m now older and slower, I’m more likely to be the one eaten by a dingo.

We flew Quantas from Cairns to Yulara. Quantas apparently thinks that its nearly flawless in-flight safety record allows it to kill its passengers by serving the worst coffee ever. Not kidding, there were chunks in the bottom of the cup.

Quantas tries to kill me.

Upon arrival, we discovered that the time zone at Yulara is a half hour behind the east coast — which would make me insane if I had to live in central Australia. Please! A full hour or nothing, Aussie people!

We headed to the rental car desk, and I embarked on a 48 hour experiment in driving on the wrong side of the road. Because it is indisputably wrong. I mean the only places where they drive on the left are the U.K., a bunch of former British colonies in Africa and the South Pacific. Plus India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Japan and . . . Ok never mind. I guess it’s not THAT stupid.

Anyway, I didn’t have that hard a time driving on the left except:

a) you have to think really hard about which lane to go into when you’re making turns; and

b) due to the fact that the turn signal and windshield wiper levers are also switched, I must have accidentally turned on the wipers no less than 100 times in 2 days.

After arrival we checked into the hotel and headed out to Kata Tjuta fka The Olgas fka Kata Tjuta. Unlike its sound-alike, “covfefe,” “Kata Tjuta” is a real term. But I’m thinking that the indigenous Anangu should adopt the word “covfefe” as a term for “shit for brains” or similar if they don’t already have a term for that. (You’re welcome, Anangu!)

These rocks are big. Really big.

Kata Tjuta is Uluru’s lesser known (but equally spectacular) cousin. Unlike Uluru, which is a single monolith, Kata Tjuta is a series of massive rocks. Boo and I did some short walks at various viewpoints and then a longer hike when we got to Kata Tjuta. Even though I hear it’s worse in summer, the flies there are no joke. We were having a contest for who could have the most flies go up her nose. Boo earned an easy victory, and we’ll be monitoring her for maggots emerging from her nose for the next few weeks.

After a truly terrible pizza dinner at the hotel, we went to “The Field of Lights,” a temporary art installation just outside the national park. It’s 50,000 solar powered, color-shifting lighted orbs covering 49000 square meters. Absolutely beautiful. While we were there, a massive green meteorite shot across the sky. Very cool.

The next day, we did a guided hike at Uluru where the park ranger explained the cultural and religious significance of Uluru to the Anangu. Then we went to the Anangu cultural center where we learned more about the Anangu and saw some of the amazing aboriginal artists at work.

We then returned to Uluru to watch it change colors as the sun set.

Same rock. Not four stacked rocks. But that would be really amazing.

The evening concluded with an astronomy demonstration and a much better dinner at which Boo enjoyed her first legal Sangria. Not her first Sangria — just her first legal Sangria.

After 2 days, we returned the rental car with its very clean windshield to the airport for one last internal flight back to Sydney — where it was supposed to pour until the day we leave. (WTF, Australia? This is supposed to be the dry season!) So we figured that in the worst case scenario, we could spend the four days introducing Boo to new adult beverages. Could be worse.

After more frightening of flight attendants (yes, she sleeps a lot), we arrived to an overcast day in Sydney. Sydney was in the middle of “Vivid” — which is an extremely cool festival of light and music. Many of the landmarks have light installations, including projections on the Opera House. So Boo and I wandered around Circular Quay and The Rocks (the original settlement) and stopped for some Malaysian food for dinner.

No, you are not on an acid trip.

The next morning we awoke to threatening skies. We headed out the door, laundry in hand, to find a nearby wash and fold service, then headed for Circular Quay. By the time we finished brunch, it was starting to sprinkle, so we bought some umbrellas and headed for the Australian Museum of Contemporary Art.

Along with the ubiquitous mural of fornicating human-pig hybrids, we were treated to a sculpture that resembled Michael Myers from the “Halloween” franchise and to an hour-long film of these people laughing:

Ha! (Repeat for an hour.)

We did not stay for the full hour.

After the museum, we headed to the other side of Circular Quay for a tour of the Opera House. It turns out that the Opera House has been the venue of some fairly unusual events including Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first Mr. Olympia title. From the exterior balcony of the Opera House, we were also able to stalk Prince Harry, who was in Sydney to promote the Invictus Games. Or maybe Prince Harry was stalking us. I mean Boo, with her high school diploma and expensive hair color, would be quite the catch.

Prince Harry is on that boat.

By the time we left the Opera House, the rain was coming down in buckets. Of course, Boo’s umbrella lasted roughly 30 seconds before it snapped in half, so we got to share my umbrella for the walk back to the hotel. I then had the pleasure of walking 20 minutes round trip in the pouring rain to pick up our fucking laundry, proving that I am, indeed, an excellent mother.

The next morning, we took the “Manly Fast Ferry” to the lovely beach suburb of Manly. Manly is charming, but the best part of Manly is that every shop is the “Manly” something. Manly Fish & Chips. Manly Yoga. Manly Ice Cream. I could feel my testosterone levels rising with each step. I was ready to return to the Opera House and win my first Mr. Olympia title.

Manly surfing at Manly beach with Boo’s Manly profile

We watched the surfers and had brunch at a beachside cafe before taking the Manly Fast Ferry back to Circular Quay. When Trump deports me and I win the lottery, I’m moving to Manly.

That evening, it was not raining, so we did a long walk around the Botanical Garden, Circular Quay and The Rocks to see all the light installations.

Look! It’s not raining!

The next day, we hopped on the ferry to the Taronga Zoo. Our plan was to see the Zoo during daylight and then stick around to see the Zoo’s Vivid light installations after the sun went down. We had been told that the lights at the Zoo were the best part of Vivid. All went well during the daylight hours, but within 10 minutes of our tour of the Zoo after dark, the rain came. And it was no joke. It poured. And poured. And poured. We managed to make it around the zoo’s pathway, but there was no stopping or enjoying it. By the time we made it back to the starting point, we were soaked to the bone, freezing and crabby. We worked our way back to the ferry and had a miserable return trip to the hotel where we arrived looking like drowned rats.

Photos I took before the rains came.

On our final day in Sydney, we decided to take a tour to the Blue Mountains. Unfortunately, the weather was once again uncooperative. It wasn’t raining (much), but it was foggy, so we couldn’t see the views. But we had a nice lunch in the lovely mountain town of Leura and then went to a wildlife park where Boo stalked a wombat. We also saw some really cute dingo puppies — which we did not eat in retaliation for that whole “Cry in the Dark” thing.

Not edible

We concluded our trip by taking the ferry back to Darling Harbour for dinner (including legal alcohol) and a view of the Vivid installations there.

The next morning we headed home. But we had one last stop to change planes in Auckland — where Boo had one last glass of wine, likely her last legal alcohol for the next 2 years. Now she’ll just have to consume alcohol illegally like everyone else she knows. Cheers!

Page Barnes is the mom of Boo (not her legal name) and founder of the new Medium humor publication, The Haven. Find it and follow it at And write for The Haven if you dare. If you enjoyed this article, please click the 💚 and share it.

See more from Page — The Mother of All High School Graduation Advice Letters

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