Posted: 3/24/2023 | March 24th, 2023
Everyone says that you have to stop traveling the world once you have kids. In this guest post, Kristin from Be My Travel Muse shares how she has managed to keep traveling the world — even with a baby — and the lessons and challenges traveling with a child has presented.
For nearly ten years, I traveled to over sixty countries on six continents by myself.
If you had told 26-year-old me, who was just beginning her solo travel adventures, that she would eventually have a baby, she might have searched out a DeLorean to rewrite the script.
Traveling solo meant ultimate, intoxicating freedom. It didn’t matter if I woke up and made a last-minute decision to leave a place, or to stay for two more weeks. It didn’t matter if I completely upended my plans on a whim because of a new person I met or a new destination I became aware of. It didn’t matter what I wanted to eat for dinner or when. I could be totally, deliciously selfish, which I loved at the time.
But a baby changes all of that.
My son has now turned six months old. He has been on 17 flights and has his own passport and Global Entry card. Though traveling with him is beautiful, it is certainly very different in a way I did not expect.
These are the eight ways that traveling has changed for me as a parent.
One of the great things about traveling on a shoestring on an open-ended trip on which you’re time rich (and in my case ten years ago, cash poor) is the ability to coast. Although I did some research for my year in Southeast Asia, I also knew that I would learn a lot from the people I met along the way. For this reason, I didn’t want an itinerary in advance or do much research.
But now there’s so much more I need to learn. What do I need to know about flying with a baby? What kind of streets and sidewalks am I in for? (That will dictate whether I just bring a baby carrier or a stroller.) Is the water safe to drink? Are diapers, baby food, and formula easy to find?
When it comes to accommodation, I have to consider whether it’s going to be safe for him or not, if my son will be mobile by the time we visit, whether or not they have a crib, and even whether or not there’s a microwave or kettle for sanitizing baby bottles.
For our Mexico trip, I had to make sure the home had a water filter for safe bottle washing. I wouldn’t have worried about this for just me.
So, as a traveling parent, I spend more time on Reddit and parent groups than I ever have before. Two resources worth checking out are:
I remember how freaked out my mom was when I took off to Bangkok with a one-way ticket and nothing else booked. I didn’t even have accommodation picked for the first night. I figured I would show up and just find something — and I did!
Although some people might be comfortable doing this with a baby, I need to have a plan to feel confident these days. For our most recent trip to Japan, I knew what we would be doing each day of the trip because I had researched the baby friendliness of all of my desired activities ahead of time. I already had all of our accommodation booked, train routes planned, and even many restaurants and food experiences picked out.
This ended up being a good choice, as most of our trip was drama-free, thanks to my meticulous planning.
This goes back to research: I’d read the reviews and looked into places where people had brought their children. I read blog posts about traveling with a baby in Japan, so that I wouldn’t repeat their mistakes (like overpacking). I figured that the fewer variables and in-the-moment decisions, the less stress we’d have to deal with.
There were times during my solo travels when I’d arrive in place, decide I didn’t like it, and catch the next bus out. I had nothing planned or booked, so it didn’t matter. But now, each new stop means taking turns watching the baby while the other parent packs, planning around nap time, and carting all of your extra kiddie stuff around for hours. With a baby, nobody needs to be a hero with a 12-stop, all-you-can-see-in-a-fortnight itinerary. (Actually, that’s not much fun even without a baby in tow.)
For our first domestic trip to Vermont and our first trip abroad to Mexico, we stayed in one town each time. In Japan, we visited four towns in two weeks, and even that felt ambitious.
More stops don’t always make a trip better. In fact, it often has the opposite effect, since you spend much of your time in transit. Slow travel is more relaxing and cheaper, and provides an opportunity to know a place on a deeper level. Over the years, I’ve come to prefer it.
In Thailand a few years ago, I did not miss a single sunrise all month. I felt that I needed to photograph each one, as well as journal, set intentions, and meditate each morning. Then I’d spend all day adventuring. Rinse, repeat. Such is the life of a blogger and photographer.
On our first trip to Vermont as a family, I realized that we were not going to be getting up for sunrise, hiking out past sunset, and going to the extremes I often do on my solo trips, because it often takes us an extremely long time just to get out the door each day. We need to make sure he’s fed, that we have his diaper bag adequately packed, and that his diaper is dry before we head out, and take turns getting ready while the other person watches the baby.
So I had to make peace with the fact that we weren’t going to do all of the things I normally do — and sometimes that’s still a struggle for me.
But I’m also happy with the slower pace.
I used to put a lot of pressure on myself to “see it all” on a trip, and that sometimes made me miss the point of being in the moment and just feeling gratitude for being on the road at all — which I’m now more aware of.
For my entire first year of traveling alone in Southeast Asia, I had a 35-liter backpack and a crossbody bag that I could easily carry on my own — that was it. I never had to check luggage, which gave me so much more freedom than people who were lugging huge suitcases. It was cheaper never paying checked-bag fees, too.
But the strange thing about humans is, the younger they are, the more things they need. He might need a stroller, travel bassinet, car seat, and definitely lots of diapers, wipes, clothes, and food. Gone are the days of only traveling with a carry-on backpack.
I still try to go as minimalist as possible, but I’m definitely checking luggage now that I travel with a baby. But being older and wiser about travel hacking, I have cards that refund the checked-baggage fees, and status on some airlines that gives me free checked baggage, so it’s not a big deal.
I met some amazing people when I traveled alone. I hitchhiked through China, solo-trekked in the Peruvian Andes, and navigated my own way through Mozambique. At the eleventh hour of any given situation, someone would always show up to help if I needed it. It reinforced my view that humanity is mostly good.
I thought this was as good as it could get, but I didn’t imagine how much people would light up seeing a baby abroad, on the trails in national parks, even if only on social media.
Many have gone out of their way to be extra helpful. In Japan, Felix was almost a celebrity, and he got so many smiles and much positive attention. We were offered toys at dinner, a private dining area simply because we were a family, and always the right of way when hiking with him. These are kindnesses that have been above and beyond what I’d experienced before.
When you’re traveling alone, nobody is there to influence your impression of a place. Nobody knows you or has preconceived ideas of your personality, so you also get to be whatever version of yourself that you are right then and there. I used to love this, but I think I was also discovering who I was back then, and I needed that time.
Although I’m always on a voyage of self-discovery, now I’m seeing the world through the eyes of someone else. It’s amazing how much my son loves windchimes, the way that he smiles at falling snow, and his love of colorful lights. I know that as he gets older, there will be even more seemingly random things that he’s going to pick up on when we travel that I never would’ve otherwise noticed. I’m excited to see how he continues to explore the world. It’s giving me a new way of viewing it, too.
They say you never really know someone until you travel with them. The same can be said for yourself.
Solo travel helped me get to know myself on a level that I hadn’t had the opportunity to discover prior. I learned what I was capable of when there wasn’t anyone else around to make decisions for me. I became a more confident person.
But it wasn’t until I became a mother that I realized I was going to get to know myself on an even deeper level. Although I do not think parenthood is for everyone — and completely support those who don’t want children — I’ve been amazed to see how much I have grown, not just as a traveler but as a person, by becoming a mother.
I didn’t realize I could be so selfless. I didn’t realize I could plan a trip, mostly with someone else’s needs top of mind, and find it in some ways even more enjoyable than when I’d traveled alone.
I didn’t know that I could enjoy traveling so much with a baby. I had worried that it would just make things so much harder, as I heard so many people say. But now I think it’s all about how one approaches it. Letting go of expectations, planning more, packing strategically, and letting it be a completely new kind of travel experience all help. It’s so much different than traveling alone.
But different doesn’t mean worse.
I’m glad I got to experience so much of the world solo. I’ll cherish those memories forever.
Now, I get to make new ones with a family.
Kristin Addis is a solo female travel expert who inspires women to travel the world in an authentic and adventurous way. A former investment banker who sold all of her belongings and left California in 2012, Kristin has been traveling the world ever since. You can find more of her musings at Be My Travel Muse or on Instagram and Facebook.
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