“Enjoy it while you can, you won’t be able to travel anymore once you have children.” I don’t know how many times I heard this phrase over the years. Turns out it’s not true. Here’s why I think travelling with a baby is one of the most rewarding and worthwhile things we can do, for our children and ourselves.
Having a baby doesn’t mean you have to give up your passion for travelling
When getting ready for our baby I found myself, like so many parents-to-be, in a fuzzy world of cluelessness, ‘your-life-is-over’-premonition and well-meant advice. Having always enjoyed travelling, I was told over and over again that my life as I knew it was about to be over forever and I shouldn’t even dream about travelling with a baby. As if becoming a parent wasn’t daunting enough.
Some told me long-haul travel simply wasn’t feasible, others felt it wasn’t worth the effort or wouldn’t be enjoyable. And I almost – almost! – started to believe it.
But then Rosalin arrived, and… life changed unrecognisably. They were right about that. But, like so many new parents, once we made it through the deep end and the fog started to lift, I also realised that we started to work things out. Yes, most of the time parenting feels like you’re making it up as you go along, but you somehow find your own way.
Catching a post-baby travel bug
So after a few months of adjustment, travel was back on the agenda. We started with a test run, a week in Upper Bavaria in Germany. Somewhere we hadn’t been before, but still familiar territory, food and culture, and a relatively short flight away. Surprisingly, we had a really lovely trip.
We learnt some vital basics about travelling with a baby, but also caught a fresh travel bug. A few months later we felt ready for a more adventurous holiday. We ended up touring Japan in a campervan – not something I ever thought we would do, let alone with a baby!
Since then, I’ve been gushing about the value of travelling with a baby to everyone who doesn’t run away fast enough. First of all, it’s not as difficult as one might think. But more importantly, I genuinely believe it’s worthwhile and so rewarding for everyone involved.
Experiencing the world with all senses
We all know that travelling broadens your horizon. There’s a reason this phrase is hopelessly overused, it’s true! And it applies to babies as much as it does to teenagers, adults or pensioners. “But babies won’t remember anything!” you may want to shout. Yes, and no. Yes, Rosalin probably won’t remember the cobbled stones of Colonia or the sight of Mount Fuji. But she might remember that the last time she tasted funny looking bread it was yummy and even if a fruit looks a bit odd it might still be worth a try.
For Rosie the worth of travelling is in experiencing new things, with all her senses. The people and colours she sees, the diverse languages she hears, the unusual food she gets to taste, the strange incenses she might smell, the different places she finds herself sleeping in. These experiences will fuel her curiosity, open her up to the world, help her adapt, and hopefully make her less afraid.
Travel is about the surprise and joy of the unknown
My parents took me to several countries around Europe when I was little and to this day I remember the surprising taste of Turkish sherbet lemonade and the joy of splashing in the hot springs of Pamukkale. And the lazy little lizards in Tuscany, who seemed to spend all day sunning themselves. And the phrase ‘maineimisbettina, aidontspikinglish’ my dad taught me to say when playing with the other children on the English campsite. I learnt that the unknown doesn’t have to be scary.
Our little ones also help us adults experience a foreign county in a different way. In general, most people all around the world like children. Babies make people smile and many love to stop and say hello. You get to chat to locals in a way that you perhaps wouldn’t otherwise. Rosie had a real thing for Japanese people, they were fascinated by her and she responded so well to the many smiles she got.
Slowing down to live in the moment
A baby’s gentle exploration of the world is not something that can be rushed. Children force you to ditch the schedule and slow down. Travelling with a baby means being prepared, yes. Organisation and preparation is everything. But you can’t plan.
By that I mean you have to lower your expectations of what you will be able to do and be open to compromise. Yes, you can make plans to visit Palazzo Pitti in the morning, followed by a lovely lunch near the Duomo, after which you join a tour through the Uffizi Galleries. But don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t happen. Babies sense a plan and do everything in their power (which usually involves poo, vomit, or a sudden phobia of shoes) to mess it up. Stick to the biggies, the sights and experiences you really don’t want to miss, and focus on making them happen.
When travelling as a family everything takes longer, and that is something to enjoy. Life has trained us to be in a hurry. Let’s allow our children to remind us what it’s like to walk slowly, look at the trees above, stop to pick up a pebble (and another, drop it, repeat) and just sit on the grass for a while.
Travelling with children is not about ticking off a to-do list, but about living in the moment. I expect this will change as Rosie gets older and starts to show an interest in stuff. For now, she’s happy to explore the simple things that cross her path.
Making memories as a family
It’s this appreciation of the moment that brings us closer together as a family. Travelling is wonderful bonding time. Experiencing new things together is something we don’t get the chance to do very often in our normal life. Away from daily routines, stressful work and hectic nursery runs, we get to cherish each other’s company again.
Yes the journey is rubbish. There’s no way around it, a flight with a baby or toddler will never be enjoyable. All you can hope for is that it’s not a disaster. The good thing is, you will get through it. It’s like childbirth, you just need to hang in there as there will be an end to it. And unlike labour there’s a bit more certainty around how many hours you have to endure – although whether that makes it any better is questionable.
But, like with any challenge we tackle in life, there’s also a sense of achievement and satisfaction afterwards. We did it! And it usually makes for a good story to reminisce. “Do you remember that time in Argentina, when Rosie threw up all over the taxi?!” Yeah, we will laugh about it all eventually. It becomes one of the many treasured memories that travel is all about.
Contrast to popular advice, travelling and parenthood are not mutually exclusive
In fact, let’s not pretend we’re being entirely selfless when schlepping our children across the world. Contrast to popular advice, travelling is one of the few things we don’t have to give up when becoming parents. Unlike other joys of life that have now become a distant memory (remember the time when you could just go to the pub SPONTANEOUSLY?!), travelling is a part of our old life that we can retain.
Yes we do it differently now, yes we’re less spontaneous, and yes we probably won’t swim with whale sharks again anytime soon. But we’re still able to visit the wonders of the world, experience foreign cultures, take a wrong turn in a place we’ve never been to.
Travelling is a part of our identity that still defines us beyond being parents. And don’t get me wrong, I adore my daughter and will be forever grateful for being given the role of her mother. But it is easy to lose yourself in a world of oh-so-competitive toddler groups, mind-numbing children’s TV and ‘guess who’s got chicken pox’ chitchat.
Travelling is good for us parents. And what is good for us parents is ultimately good for our children.