- When my husband went to Spain for work, my five-month-old and I joined to get out of our comfort zone.
- Traveling with a baby reminded me of traveling solo because every little victory felt like a huge victory.
- This is an adapted excerpt from “A Trip of One’s Own” by Kate Wills.
For the first few weeks after my daughter, Blake, was born, I didn’t leave the bed, let alone the house. Our four walls have become our entire world. To take a shower seemed as ambitious and wonderful as the trek to a waterfall. Meeting a friend for coffee at a cafe at the end of the road seemed like a physical impossibility — those stairs with that stroller?!
But gradually Blake and I started walking and walking and walking. Since the country was still on lockdown due to the pandemic, there was nowhere else to go anyway. As a travel writer, I wondered if I would ever pull out my suitcase again, or one day show Blake my dusty passport as if it were an antique relic from a bygone era.
The opportunity to travel again seemed exciting and fascinating
And then in April 2021 we had some news. Guy, my partner, had an upcoming work project filming in Spain, so we decided to go away there for a few months. Blake was five months old and the thought of taking her out of our very small comfort zone was terrifying. I lay awake at night making list after list, thinking of all the things that could go wrong. I had to remind myself that in a previous life I was used to regularly flying around the world with only a few hours notice and no worries.
Stepping into the airport for the first time in over a year, I felt as wide-eyed and incredulous as Blake at all the shiny surfaces, bright lights, and so many screens. How did we do it again?
But new protocols aside, boarding a 747 turned out to be just like riding a bike. And traveling with a baby is very similar to traveling alone in that people are much nicer to you. In fact, it’s even better than that and a bit like how I imagine celebrities are treated. Every queue was skipped, the cabin crew can’t do enough for you and everyone wants to chat.
Traveling with my daughter felt like a dream
When we landed in Cadiz, a small sunny city right at the tip of southern Spain, it felt like a dream and surreal after month after month in London. Guy was driven straight to the set so it was just Blake and I, two girls on the road! Like Thelma and Louise, but if one of them kept soiling herself and had just started eating solids.
When we saw the sea for the first time we both started laughing out loud. I felt a rush of adrenaline and a tingle of excitement as I reconnected with some core part of me. Any worries I had melted away, I stayed home with our wool sweaters. I felt like myself, not just a mother. It was my equivalent of getting back into your pre-maternity jeans.
Having a baby actually made getting to know a new country easier
Since Guy was at work most days, Blake and I went exploring. I’ve found that if you’re new to town and don’t speak the language, you don’t need a phrasebook or Google Translate to get by. You just need a baby. We have more smiles, waves and free food than I have ever had in my life.
Days were spent driving Blake’s pram along windy cobbled streets, gazing at grand Moorish buildings and sipping coffee in pretty squares. Every day we went to the market to buy lemons as big as Blake’s head. We had lunch cervezas (me) and siestas (both of us).
It was an unforgettable time. And not just because Blake learned to crawl on our awesome Spanish tiles. Living in Cádiz was such a positive experience that it made me wonder why people don’t use their maternity and paternity leave to travel more. If you’re going to spend all day in a constant cycle of eating, wiping, and not lying down, you might as well do it somewhere with a better view.
We needed another vacation soon but weren’t sure if it was possible
When we got back to London, we vowed that once we’d earned our baby-on-board badge, we’d be doing regular trips as a family. And then Blake started nursery and we got Covid, chicken pox, croup and what felt like every other disease known to man and — in the case of FMD — a beast.
When January rolled around, I felt like I was doomed to wipe dried mess off the high chair every day for the rest of my life. We needed a break. Proper rest. Staying is great and all, but it requires sun, cocktails and lounging by a swimming pool, stat. But is any of this even possible with a toddler?
We decided to fly to Mauritius. I had visited this island off the coast of East Africa many years ago on business, but in true press trip style, I had only spent a few days there. As I recall, it marked our beaches and palm trees. But there was also a really interesting mix of cultures and delicious food.
Plus, with only a four-hour time difference, it seemed like a good place for a baby. I was also intrigued to see more of where Jeanne Barre, the first woman to circumnavigate the globe, settled after traveling the world disguised as a man.
My suitcases contained raisins and rice cakes when they held bikinis and beach books
Summoning the courage for our first long-haul flight took every ounce of my professional travel experience. But packing with a one-year-old felt very different from my solo travels. Whereas once my small carry-on would have been crammed with bikinis and beach reads, I now had three suitcases, one containing an entire compartment just for raisins and rice cakes. And while it wasn’t a holiday as I’d known it before (I’ve never had less tan or read fewer books), it was a whole new kind of adventure.
Traveling with a baby is strangely similar to traveling solo in that every little victory feels huge. It has the same intensity, making the memories emotional and vivid. I hope I never forget dancing on the beach with Blake at sunset or pointing fruit bats at her like ducks in the park. Toddlers love water and the fact that it was now the shallow end of a swimming pool and not a freezing cold puddle at the park improved my quality of life immensely. Blake greedily drank in the new scenery and said “flower” for the first time while pointing at a lotus (Jeanne Barre would be proud).
Of course, there were moments that were, for lack of a better word, a total shitshow. Washing sleeping bag poo in the bathroom sink of our hotel room in Mauritius was probably not my idea of holiday paradise. On our first night in a hotel in Spain, we were so scared of waking her up in the bedroom that we sat on the bathroom floor and ate cold takeaway pizza. There were moments during the 12-hour flight when it seemed like it would never end. But overall, I’m pleased to report that traveling with a toddler is not only possible, but endlessly enjoyable.
Sample from “Solo Travel: Hope, Heartbreak, and Why Solo Travel Can Change Your Life” (Sourcebooks, 3 May 2022). Reprinted with permission from Sourcebooks.
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