When Mike and I found out I was pregnant, we were so excited. We couldn’t wait to show our new little person this big wide world that we love so much.
But privately I was also kind of terrified. I knew that having a baby changes your life radically, I just didn’t really know or understand exactly how. Would we still be able to travel? Would we still even enjoy it?
These fears intensified in the months after Marcella was born, when even taking a family trip to the supermarket seemed like a huge challenge. During that first year it felt like my whole world was in a weird limbo. My passport sat in a drawer, unused for months and months.
But things did improve.
Next week we are headed to Morocco. It will be my first time in Africa (my sixth continent) and Marcella’s too (her fourth continent). It will be her eighth country- number nine will be Spain in March. She’s flown across the continental US and across the Atlantic so many times I’m starting to lose count. She is an expert tiny traveler. She is 2.5 years old.
So yes, you can travel with a baby, you can travel with a toddler. It’s certainly possible. I must say travel is pretty different now than it was pre-baby. It’s not just that we’re scheduling nap times instead of cocktails though. We’ve had to change our paradigm in quite a few ways to make travel as a family work for all three of us:
We Can’t Get Attached to Plans
This is probably the biggest lesson, that I simply must keep learning over and over again on each trip.
Mike and I have never been obsessive planners, but even we have had to loosen up a bit to adapt to the whims of travel with a toddler. Kids are unpredictable: they might sit quietly when you go out to eat, or they might make a huge scene and need to be removed from the restaurant. They might develop an inexplicable fever the morning you are finally going to see the ruins in Tulum you’ve been waiting your whole life to see. They might love the ocean, but be terrified of the cenotes you thought they’d be into.
There’s just no telling what you’re in for on any particular day, so you simply can’t get too attached to any expectations. We try to cultivate a zen kind of mindset: we will see what we see.
Instead of a list of must-dos, we try to enjoy the ambience of a new place. In Mexico, we spent 6 nights in Playa del Carmen mostly just wandering around, going to the beach and eating tacos. We did see a few sites, but it wasn’t a priority, we just wanted to BE in Mexico. It was our most enjoyable trip to date.
Slower is Better
This is an axiom we operated on before having kids, but now it’s more rule than theory. Small kids like routine, which is part of why many parents don’t like to travel. I’ve found that you can do a lot to create routine even on the road, but that routine gets blown completely to hell on travel days. So you want as few “travel days” as possible.
Moving from place to place every other day with a small child is really super not fun. We now aim for a minimum of three nights in any location. Four or five is even better and a week is a luxurious amount of time where you can really feel at home somewhere new.
This is a large part of why we’ve grown to rely on apartment rentals like AirBNBs so heavily. Hotel rooms simply will not cut it for more than a night. It’s much easier to feel “at home” when you have a kitchen to store your milk and snacks, a living room with space to play in, and a bedroom where your kid can nap while you watch TV in the other room.
We’ve also discovered that 1 or 2 weeks is pretty much the golden trip length time for us right now. Long enough to get immersed somewhere and make some memories, short enough to avoid travel fatigue and just long enough that you are happy to come home again at the end.
Flying… Sucks but it’s OK
Last year I went to LA by myself for a meetup with my Mom’s group. I could not believe how luxurious a 9 hour flight in Economy felt without a small child to worry about. I had wine! I watched an inflight movie! It was basically a spa day compared to child wrangling on a trans-Atlantic flight.
Look: nobody LIKES flying with a baby, or even worse, a toddler. It’s stressful and its hard work to keep them comfy, quiet and entertained. Something about the air pressure makes babies poop more, and it hurts their ears and they scream and cry. Toddlers hate sitting still for 6 minutes much less six hours.
Marcella has been on so many flights that I’ve lost count, and we’ve got our routine down pat and you know what? It’s still nerve-wracking and unpleasant. But, to me at least, it’s just not enough of a deterrent not to go places. Because flights are finite capsules of time that inevitably end, and then you are somewhere new and amazing! I always forget about the discomfort minutes after exiting the aircraft, only to be brutally reminded a new each time we board.
There is a lot you can do to make flights go more smoothly. I promise to write up my tips one of these days…
We Do Things We Never Thought We Would
Part of loving someone is wanting to make them happy, so I am constantly finding new things to interest Marcella. After all if she (somewhat begrudgingly) sat wrapped in her stroller while her parents drank gluhwein in the freezing cold, then surely she deserves the chance to run around the Vienna Children’s Museum.
Marcella loves animals more than anything (especially reptiles…oddly), so in Playa del Carmen I arranged for us to visit the CrocoCunZoo where you can feed and hold baby crocodiles. It’s not something Mike and I would have cared to do on our own, but Marcella loved it! She still talks about it, and as such it was a highlight of the entire trip.
Maybe this means ordering in takeout instead of going out to eat in the evenings, because 1. We are exhausted and 2. It’s almost baby bedtime (and that shit is sacred). Maybe it means riding a merry go round in the city park 6 times in a row. Whatever it takes, we’re going to do it because it’s not just our vacation- it’s hers too.
It’s Always Changing
The confounding thing about kids is they are always growing and changing. What worked on the last trip might not work on the next one.
The older she gets, the more she can interact with the world around us too. When we traveled with a 1 year old she was mostly just along for the ride, but now, she is an active participant in our travels.
Marcella is very much an individual person with her own likes and dislikes. She hates sitting in the stroller for long periods of time. She LOVES train rides. She used to fear strangers but now she is mostly amused by them. This might all change tomorrow.
So we just keep trying to adapt too, to stay one step ahead of her, or at least not fall too far behind.
It’s Actually So Much Fun
When you travel a lot, like Mike and I have, you can start to feel kind of jaded. Another pretty city, another pretty sunset. But traveling with a kid awakens you again to the wonders of the world, because you get to see them through the eyes of this little person.
Traveling with Marcella has enriched our travel experiences in so many ways. Stumbling across Carnivale in Valletta was cool, but it was even cooler watching Marcella dance alongside the parade floats. Eating tacos in Mexico is always great, but introducing them to Marcella for the first time? That was excellent.
Not everything has changed. We still eat as much local food as we can get a hold of (Marcella luckily has inherited this passion too). We still try to immerse ourselves in local neighborhoods and environments as opposed to big hotels and resorts. We still love to travel and thankfully Marcella seems to too.
Having kids is obviously not for everyone, but if you want them, it’s not a reason you have to stop traveling. Seeing the world is pretty great. Sharing the world with people you love is just beyond amazing.