I am not well travelled.
Until I met my wife, my overseas exploits had been limited to a couple of family holidays to typical European holiday destinations and a last-minute trip to Kazakhstan, which, as you might expect, is not a typical European holiday destination.
When we were dating, my wife would gaze into my eyes over coffee and say things like “I’d love to go to Japan“. Upon finding out how much these trips were going to cost I would gently mansplain the difference between a holiday and an asset and suggest as a concession that Japanese cars are extremely reliable and that we could probably buy a Honda one day.
A couple of years ago we were coming to the end of a trip around Asia. We were in the Philippines, driving through the jungle as the sun set having spent the day hiking and swimming at a series of breathtaking waterfalls.
I looked over at my wife, who smiled back at me. I thought to myself how great it is when you’re so in tune with the person you love.
“Just think,” I quipped, “if we have kids soon this will probably be our last big trip for the best part of a decade.”
“That’s funny,” she responded. “I was just thinking that we should do this again next year.”
I am writing this from our lakeside cabin in New England, having decided to brave up and take our daughter to the States.
It’s been an amazing trip, but needless to say going abroad with a baby was not on my radar. I had assumed that having kids would sound the deathknell for enjoyable holidays and that in the coming years we would be consigned to a purgatorial procession of bleak caravans.
That might still be the case, but here are 11 reasons why taking a baby abroad is a whole lot easier than you might have thought – and, believe it or not, might even make travelling more enjoyable than it was before.
11 Reasons Why Taking a Baby Abroad is Easier Than You Think
1. Babies are Completely Portable. The most obvious reason for taking a baby abroad rather than waiting until they are older is that they can sleep, eat and be entertained pretty much anywhere. This is particularly true for breastfed babies.
In New York, for example, we would be away from our hotel all day and still managed to maintain something approaching my daughter’s regular daily routine. The only difference was that she was sleeping in Central Park and playing in Times Square.
2. You Skip Queues. This was quite a revelation for me. From the moment we arrived at Gatwick we have been constantly hurried through to the front of queues. Airports, tourist attractions, restaurants – we have saved countless hours of queuing on this holiday alone simply by waving the girl in the air. It’s like she’s an access-all-areas pass and we’ve become D-List celebrities overnight.
3. People are More Friendly. Yes, we’re in America, which on balance (say it quietly) is probably a little friendlier than the UK. However, everywhere we’ve been – from downtown Manhattan to the Appalachian Trail – we have been amazed by how keen people are to stop and talk to us. When you have a child who is inherently nosy and constantly smiling at strangers, you find yourself getting into all sorts of conversations.
One minute the girl is fluttering her eyelashes at the couple sat on the bench next to you and the next they’re telling you their life story and you’re learning that they’re from DC and have 4 adult children and she’s just retired but had a skiing accident so needs an operation to fix her ACL which she’s putting off until August because they’ve got so many trips planned and he’s a real estate valuation expert witness who wants to retire but won’t and they’d love grandchildren and they’re questioning their parenting philosophy but acknowledge that you reap what you sow….
Maybe that’s just America for you, and maybe not everybody wants to spend their holidays talking to people, but we’ve certainly enjoyed getting to know some fascinating people.
4. We were Given Extra Seating on the Plane, notwithstanding the fact that my daughter was by some margin the smallest passenger travelling (and that the guy next to us was a whole lot taller than me and recovering from knee surgery and seemingly had been given a seat designed for a Victorian child).
My wife had also ordered a vegetarian meal – I don’t know why – which confused the airline staff so much that they ended up serving all of our meals and drinks first.
5. You Get More Interesting Photos. I hate selfies, but it’s often true that the alternative is to take photos which are never quite as good as the ones in the brochure. Not any more. We were walking past the Trump Building on Wall Street and I suggested to my wife that we should go against our better judgements and take a photo of our daughter. Sometimes you have to work quite hard to get a baby to smile and look in the right direction, but on this occasion she just wouldn’t stop sticking out her tongue.
Babies help you take more interesting photos, and you get to make vicarious political statements without getting into trouble. Win.
6. Babies Save You Money. Alright, in life they don’t, but if we boil it down to holidays alone, the only money that we spent taking our baby on holiday was the $40 tax on her (free) plane ticket and the $12 for an hour of stay-and-plan.
What we quickly noticed, however, was that instead of eating out in the evening, we would eat out for lunch – which is usually significantly cheaper. In somewhere like France the difference is even more significant.
You also do different (and generally cheaper, particularly in cities) things when taking a baby abroad. Instead of going out to bars/clubs/theatres in the evening, we’d be up early with the commuters seeing a different side of city life. Taking a baby on holiday also forces you to think carefully about which attractions you choose to spend money on – basically, the question it always boils down to is “is it worth paying for X if the baby has a meltdown?”
It’s not all bad though. We still took the girl to a Red Sox game. She didn’t pay for that either.
7. You Carry Less Bags. Yes, taking a small person abroad requires you to take an unfathomable amount of stuff with you, but you would take a similar amount of stuff to go out for an hour as you would for a 3-week trip.
Crucially, once you’re on holiday you don’t have to carry anything – you just load up that buggy like there’s no tomorrow. We have reached a tipping point where if we’re honest the buggy is more for our benefit than our daughter’s.
8. You Do Things Differently. It’s not just spending evenings in and going out earlier in the morning; taking a baby abroad forces you to plan things very differently too. In New York, for example, we decided to book a hotel opposite Madison Square Garden so that we could take the baby back for a nap if necessary. We didn’t, but ended up staying in a great location that we probably wouldn’t have considered otherwise.
When we were in the Poconos we thought it might be nice to take my daughter to a petting farm. What we didn’t realise was that this is America, which obviously means that the petting farm contained a 26ft boa constrictor, alligators and a black bear.
9. You are Obliged to Take More Frequent Coffee Breaks. My daughter needs more milk stops when on holiday than my father-in-law needs cappuccinos. Given my wife’s affinity for the murky (she says “cosy”) corners of coffee shops as her feeding locations of choice, I’m certainly not complaining about the frequency of the pitstops.
10. We Like a Challenge. Taking a baby abroad can be challenging, but it’s incredibly rewarding. There have been one or two difficult moments, but they have been far outweighed by the good experiences. When you do get a moment of downtime it’s that much more rewarding because of the hard work that’s preceded it.
11. You Can Wind Up Your Children When They’re Older. I am looking forward to the conversations I will have with my daughter when she complains that we’re yet again going camping in Wales and I tell her that she shouldn’t be so ungrateful because we took her to New York when she was 6 months old.
Somehow I don’t think it will wash.