I received a great question from a reader the other day, and requested her permission to answer through the blog. This is the first time I have formatted an article this way, but I thought her question (and my answers) would help other parents. Thanks, “J”, for launching this great dialogue! I hope you’ll all chime in using the comments below and offer your insight, too.
“Before I had my son (now 19 months old) I used to travel all the time. Spent time in Africa, grew up in South America and traveled in the US. I felt fearless and so free. Since having my son however, I’ve been nervous to travel. My husband traveled some in Europe and, similar to me, feels the itch to pack our bags and go, but with our little one it feels different. I see you travel with your sweetie and have been to so many places! My question is, what were your initial fears/hesitations about traveling with your little one and how did you move past them? Thank you so much for your time and inspiring us wanderlust mamas to keep traveling!”
I felt fearless and so free. Since having my son, however, I’ve been nervous to travel.
Your question is timely, as I’m currently in Belize on my second trip abroad with my young daughter, who turns two in just one month. And you know what age two means in the world of travel? No more free (or dirt cheap) plane tickets. We’ll have moved beyond that “0-2” price bracket, which usually equals $0. Since what terrifies me more than travelling with my little one is not travelling with my little one, I’m thankful that our journeys have already taken us throughout Canada, to New Zealand, Niue, French Polynesia, Hawaii, and now Belize – all before she turns two.
Still, the travel has not come without some fears and hesitations. To answer your question, I’ll lay those out here, and take my best stab at an explanation of how we’ve moved past them.
What if Maya gets sick or injured while we are travelling? Will we be able to get her adequate care and attention?
This is the first fear that comes to mind. In some destinations, such as Hawaii and New Zealand, I wasn’t as concerned about receiving proper medical treatment. On others, such as the more remote islands we stayed on in French Polynesia, it was a real concern. There was no doctor on Fakarava, and any serious health crisis required a flight back to Tahiti. I just had to trust that nothing imminently serious or life-threatening would happen, and that the odds were low. Otherwise, I knew that a health crisis was more of a financial matter. Having travel medical emergency insurance for all three of us was essential (I always book this here in Canada through RBC Travel Cuts or Travel Guard). I ensured that the insurance included flights and evacuations, and kept the insurance company numbers handy at all times.
Thankfully, nothing serious happened on that trip (we had one near-miss when Maya tomahawked her way down a set of stairs, which left her with a goose-egg).
What if travel becomes more stressful than enjoyable?
I understand that travel, particularly adventure travel, has its fair share of challenges and stressful moments. Those often make the best stories of the trip. My pre-parenthood travels were mostly adventurous backpacking trips, and I didn’t mind absorbing some stress – a gnarly bus ride along crumbling cliffs in Nepal – as long as it got me somewhere or opened the gateway to an amazing experience.
But travel with a baby or young child is different, at least for me. My tolerance level has changed, and I have now learned that travel will be more enjoyable if efforts are made to alleviate unnecessary stress (enough challenges will come up on their own). I say “I have now learned” because our trip through the South Pacific last winter was poorly planned. We did the best we could, with the knowledge that we had, but we struggled our way along, each and every day, growing more sleep-deprived by the minute.
We learned our lessons, and for this trip to Belize we have booked accommodations with a separate bedroom, an area to hang out in as a couple and a full kitchen, and we are staying put for three weeks. Some children might cope better with moving around the way we did on our last trip, but not our little girl.
Parenthood is overwhelming enough as it is. Why make it more complicated with travel?
In a previous article I made the comment that no one floats through motherhood. I found my first year to be very challenging, especially (and unexpectedly) on the health-front. Instead of acknowledging the challenges, I tried for a long time to brush them off. After all, I thought: [insert mother’s name A here] is already running 10K races, [insert mother’s name B here] is back in her skinny jeans, [insert mother’s name C here] lives her life as if she didn’t have a baby draining her energy and patience 24/7. Am I the only mother whose baby refuses to sleep unless I’m walking, and cluster feeds around the clock?
Looking back, I was really struggling to keep my head above water. Now add a 70-day trip to the South Pacific into the mix. Insane? Yes. We could have toned it down a notch.
But, even on the most challenging of trips, I gained incredible insight into the resilience of my little girl, into the tenacity of her spirit, and the uniqueness of her personality. I found confidence in my role as her mother, in sheltering and comforting Maya through the unknowns, and in instilling in her a desire for adventure. Finally, it was through travel that we both bonded and separated somewhat as mother and child. It was through travel that I was able to allow her to start growing her wings.
Parenthood is complicated. Taking it on the road only changes the complications. Plan a trip based on the unique characteristics of your little one and it shouldn’t be much more complicated than life at home.