When my partner announced to the world that we were expecting a child, one of the first responses was for people to remark- “Gee, that’d make a great blog; travelling with children.” While the idea had crossed my mind, I was also acutely aware of the saturation of parenting blogs spread across the internet. That I don’t usually enjoy those types of blogs didn’t exactly help grease the cogs in my brain to spring into action.
The fact was we hadn’t really taken our daughter anywhere that I would consider interesting enough to write about. Sure, a trip home to visit my parents could technically be described as a nice family road trip, but driving three hours down a mind numbingly boring highway isn’t really noteworthy. Informing people that we stopped at a roadside McDonalds to feed is also not something that I think people are particularly interested in.
But when we jetted off to America earlier this year, the opportunity had finally presented itself to dissect what an international holiday with a small child actually looks like.
When travelling at home, small children have more pieces of equipment than most items at IKEA. You load the car up with as much stuff as humanly possible and somehow still manage to leave something behind, all the while only using one fifth of the crap you packed to begin with. Babies are akin to royalty and we are their hand maidens. That’s the reality.
So when we up and travelled overseas, all of a sudden there is a cap on the amount of gear we can bring. No longer is every small toy able to come. No port-a-cot. No large, fandangle pram. You have to ask yourself the hard questions- how do we fit the formula tin in without making our own luggage over weight? How much equipment is too much? How many drinks are we allowed to have before we get adjudged poor parents? You know, the important stuff.
Instead of just your own clothes you need space for extra nappies, clothes, bottles and snacks (only for the child). We were already walking through the airport pushing a pram, two carry-on bags hanging off the back, plus suitcases packed to the brim trailing behind. We could only pack limited items for ourselves because sacrifices needed to be made to fit more baby equipment in. Elevators, I should point out, all of a sudden become important innovations, as stairs turn into impassable hazards, like the Himalayas in winter or a shopping centre car park at Christmas. All the while your little dictator sits in their chair being pushed around by their minions. It should be noted that my partner reliably informed me that we could have taken the portable cot if we wanted but looking at our already large pile of child wrangling equipment, without two extra limbs or a Sherpa it would have taken me three trips just to get it all to the baggage drop.
It wasn’t always smooth sailing. We were regularly pulled aside to have our nappy bag looked through. This was after what looked like a never ending procession of equipment, bags and clothing was scanned at security check points. Generally they were always checking the baby formula (presumably making sure it wasn’t a shitload of cocaine or anthrax or something else nasty and illegal) and any of the mandatory baby creams we carried. This was never a bad thing though; I don’t think they ever actually suspected us of being terrorists or smugglers and it gave us some time to sort all our gear out while we waited to be given the all clear. The beauty was that every time they checked us, the TSA officers would offer to repack it for us. The nappy bag was more organised after we were searched than anytime we packed it ourselves.
My first reaction when thinking about the actual flight was to be petrified. Not because the situation was daunting but because karma was well over due to bite me on the arse. I’ll be the first to admit that whenever I have travelled internationally, I dread sitting anywhere near children on a plane. It’s not even clear why; I haven’t had an overly negative experience with them. I’ve managed to avoid being vomited on and I am a keen practiser of turning the volume up on my headphones to drown out noise. I’m not sure if it’s having my seat kicked from behind or hearing a baby scream, I was just always that guy. I never said or did anything about it; I merely internalised and quietly cursed to myself for no reason.
So when it came to be my turn, I was probably owed one for a lifetime of unnecessary dread. All the things you hate when on a plane I was now going to have to deal with over eight different flights and thirty plus hours in the air with an eleven month old baby. The idea of being trapped in a confined space and trying to control and entertain a small human is a scary prospect. Children this age do whatever they feel like. The word “No” is not a command, it’s a funny sound that the big people make.
Aircraft hostesses deserve commendation and a pay rise. They made a beeline to us when they saw us settling in and explained how to use the bassinet located in front of our seats. Any request was quickly responded too, no questions asked. At one point, after finishing a cheeky glass plastic cup of red wine while the child had a kip, the head hostess walked passed and offered me another. I politely refused but she stashed two small bottles in my seat pocket, adding, “You’re going to want that those later.” Respect. Nothing says “I’m a travelling parent” like people assuming you are a closet alcoholic whenever your children sleep.
There is a field of thought that suggests that having your child sleep in the same bed as you when they are young is an inherently bad thing to do. Many people have written about it, voicing their concerns and presenting “research” into how this is something that should be avoid.
These people have very clearly never gone on an overseas holiday with a small child.
Every hotel we booked into prior to leaving, we enquired about the possibility of obtaining a cot for our baby girl to sleep in. Not because we had a problem with her being in our bed but because I wasn’t too thrilled with the idea of her rolling onto the floor every time I went to the toilet in the middle of the night. The problem was that every place charged an extra forty dollars a night for the privilege. I’m not cheap by any stretch of the imagination, but forty dollars a night over three weeks away equates to $840 for a child who can sleep lying on the floor with a chip hanging out her mouth and be comfortable.
It must be said- having a baby is a fantastic queue skipping tool. At both airports and sightseeing attractions we were ushered passed long lines as velvet ropes were unclipped for us to slide on by. It was like being a celebrity bypassing the line at a night club. And you don’t even get dirty looks from the people stuck in line. They look at you, smile at the baby and peacefully think to themselves, “How lovely. Thank God I’m not travelling with a baby. I’d rather stand in line.”
The kindness of strangers shouldn’t be underestimated. People grow extra generosity in their hearts when you roll around with an infant, especially when they realise you’re an international guest. People, New Yorkers in particular, went out of their way to help us out. A gentleman on a plane bought me a drink for no reason as I sat with the child sleeping on my lap. I had never met the fellow and hadn’t even spoken to him but he wanted to do me a good deed and give me a drink. When I asked the hostess how much it cost so I could pay the man back, she replied, “I have no idea what you are talking about.”
I also had little old ladies on the New York subway stop to talk to us, just to compliment “how beautiful my son was”. Sure, I have a daughter and she was wearing a pink jacket, pink beanie with a pink blanket in a pink pram, but it’s the thought that counts. Men and women, old and young, of every different background did this. It was a magical thing. Playing peek-a-boo wherever we went with any person who made eye contact was a favourite game but it did highlight that ‘stranger danger’ is something we will have to work on.
We were lucky. Our little girl behaved herself at all times but I am more than aware that while some children can be little angels, others have the ability to be the spawn of Satan. The only time she was even remotely a problem was when she was hungry. Admittedly that is quite often, but you prepare for that. One time I watched in awe as my eleven month old girl ate an entire kid’s bowl of pasta- it just kept disappearing- I didn’t know whether to be scared or impressed. It was like watching a food eating competition. We had to cut her off. Proud Dad moment.
There is no other way to describe it- it’s a challenging proposition to travel overseas with an infant. Nothing is simple and everything needs to be thoroughly thought out. All the little details need to be considered before you even leave your hotel room or board a plane. Shit, the way you pack your suitcase matters. But don’t dismiss the idea straight away. It has the ability to make your holiday more rewarding than you thought it could be, even though your kids might not remember it, you sure as hell will.
Wayward Tip: It might sound obvious but do your research. The more prepared you are, the more enjoyable your holiday will be rather than a stress filled debacle. Always think ahead.