One year ago today we were landing in Christchurch, New Zealand, and embarking on our 70-day journey through the South Pacific with a ten-month-old. Of course hindsight is 20/20, and like many things in life, if we knew what we’d be going through we’d never volunteer to do it in the first place. But that’s one amazing coping mechanism we’re offered in life – the power of the unknown, the unpredictable, the uncontrolled.
I’m not saying the trip wasn’t worth it. We just would have done things differently.
Prior to our last trip I read as much as I could about other parents who travelled abroad with a baby. I’m now convinced that the ones who inspired me the most probably had a different kind of baby with them. These parents managed to make things look easy, spending six months or even a year away from home on adventurous expeditions or bouncing around like they were backpackers fresh out of high school. Either they left their real challenges out of the picture or they had miracle babies who slept anywhere, anytime.
I wish I’d had a more accurate picture of what adventurous travel as a young family really looks like before embarking on the last trip. Frankly, I wish I could have read posts like the ones on this website, which is what has motivated me to keep writing.
Here we are in Belize a year later. This time I’m travelling with a little girl, not a baby. She talks, makes requests, rejects, and rejoices. When she’s upset she can tell us what is wrong. We’re not left scratching our heads trying to figure out whether she’s cold, hot, hungry, tired or just plain overwhelmed. This time she is agile, coordinated and a little more cautious. A year ago she decided to start walking the first week of the trip, and her newfound freedom made her reckless. This time she asks for her favourite foods instead of shovelling mounds of sand and coral into her tiny mouth. Though she wakes up early, she sleeps through the night. By the end of the last trip, after 9 weeks of travel, we were up with her every 45 minutes.
Many of the differences have to do with her growing up, being more able, and us learning to be firm as parents. But, it has an equal amount to do with the choices and changes we have made on this trip.
Our criteria was somewhat the same in terms of a destination. It needed to be off the beaten track, somewhere neither of us had been, and tropical. But this time we chose to stay closer to home, which meant shorter flights and only one hour time difference. We also wanted a place that offered good amenities (remember that time we went searching for the only papaya on the island of Fakarava?) and where we wouldn’t be stressed just trying to feed our family. So we set our sights on Belize and, more specifically, Caye Caulker, and we’re here for three weeks. After unpacking and repacking 24 times on our last trip, we’re enjoying the feeling of making a home here and getting to know the place.
So, for any parents out there planning a trip abroad with their child, consider the following: babies are incredibly adaptable, but most have a breaking point and need time to settle into new places; parents need the opportunity to rest, sleep, relax and have time away from parental duties while travelling; destinations that were adventurous for you in your twenties may not be suitable for a tiny human being who can’t deal with discomforts, hunger, and extreme heat without making things miserable for you.
Choose your travel style wisely and according to the needs of your particular child, and the trip, like ours in Belize right now, can be totally enjoyable, dare I say relaxing. It’s not without its frustrating moments and meltdowns. But, instead of spending half our days figuring out logistics or moving from A to B, we are able to spend more quality, stress-free time together – exploring, playing in the sand, cooling off in the water and enjoying a fresh-squeezed juice in a beach-side restaurant.
I have accepted that it may be a few years before we can travel more adventurously as a family. But in the evenings, when Maya is asleep in the bedroom, we sit out on the porch, stare up at the stars and talk about plans for what’s to come. Like every phase of parenting, this will pass at some point, and we’ll be thankful for the adventures – albeit tamer ones – we’ve had so far.
But as soon as were able to handle a bit more, we’ll amp the adventure level – one notch at a time.