We are travelers, my partner and me. Even before we knew each other, we had been traveling on our own. We had read books by travelers that induced us to travel. Though, each of us have different interests, over the years, we have learned to appreciate each other and defuse our differences.
For us, traveling is a personal adventure in the spirit of inquiry. It is life ingredient and cultural enrichment. We get to witness first-hand what we hear from people or see on TV or the internet – spectacular landscapes or nature’s finest in each season. What we love the most is discovering things: the paths of historical figures, shrubby urban interventions in the city, the peaceful and quiet life of small villages, the tastes of locally produced ingredients, hidden collections in museums, visually stimulating works of art in galleries. In each voyage, we were excited over what we would encounter along the way.
And then one day we had a baby. People thought, we would stop, at least for a while.
We agreed that having a baby is a huge responsibility and we were determined to do our best, but quitting travels was not an option. Once I read in the book, travel means anticipation, experience and memory. So we decided, we would teach our baby to be part of the team.
Under the concerned and worried eyes of our close families, we hit the road with our 5-week-old baby. I will not pretend that taking an infant on a long trip from Brussel, where we live, to Scandinavian country is simple. Before we went, we asked our pediatrician. She didn’t see it as a potential problem. Baby is just a small human being.
“She is little. She just needs to adapt, just like everybody else,” our pediatrician said. Besides, if the baby got sick on the road, there would always be a clinic or hospital.
We brought every think we could think of: car seat, removable shade screens for the car window, a lot of diapers and baby clothes, portable travel-friendly changing pad, blankets, trash bags, rash lotion, baby toys, baby slings, copy of prescription medications, digital thermometer, baby acetaminophen or ibuprofen in case she has a fever or pain, liquid soap, wet tissue, antibiotic ointment, sterile bandages, insect repellent, calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream, first-aid kit, and so on. The list was exhaustive.
Denmark and Sweden were our main destinations, partly because her name was Scandinavian origin, and because we were convinced that Scandinavia is a child-friendly region. We planned our road trip carefully. We would not drive like crazy and we would be off the road by sunset, driving six hours a day maximum to give all three of us plenty of rest. She was a summer baby, and, fortunately, it was the beginning of September, when autumn was ripe but summer was not ready to leave yet.
So, on one sun-drenched September day off we went with our little one. Northbound and accompanied by Bob Dylan’s songs – thus began her first adventure.
Mentally, we had prepared for the worst. She might cry her lungs out without any reason. We heard a lot of stories about restless babies. Some people said the baby could feel the stress of the parents. I get stress easily. Thankfully, whenever I panic, her father would calm me down.
“Calm the mother first, before the baby,” he often said. He was convinced, the baby’s stress is unconscious prolongation of the mother’s nervousness.
The first day we passed through Koln and stayed overnight in Olpe, a village by the Biggesee lake in Germany. From Olpe we made a short visit to Atta-Höhle, one of the largest dripstone caves in Germany before continuing north. I was nervous, I imagined the cave would crumble and bury us alive. But she slept without making any sound in my arms. I was so worried that sometimes I checked to see if she was breathing.
Just like what every grandmother says, she was awakened mostly by hunger and wet diapers. Breastfeeding soothed her and we never waited too long to change her diapers. She loved taking long walks with us, wrapped in her baby sling. The sound of the wind and chirping birds was like a lullaby keeping her sound asleep. Instead of a stroller, we took a baby seat. Wherever we stopped, she would sit next to us on her baby seat.
Contrary to our fears, she slept a lot. Once or twice, we stopped at gas stations along the highway where we changed her diapers and breastfed her. She was mostly awake whenever we stopped, quiet but alert. After breastfeeding, she enjoyed cuddling some more with me, before going back to sleep.
We learned her schedule and tried to keep up with it. We did not want to make her wait too long while hungry nor wet. She would be quiet and happy if we adhered to her schedule. During our month-long trip, there really was no trouble worth mentioning with the baby. Yes, she did get cranky when we drove too long. She also liked to be freshened up once in a while. I remember once we had to wash her in a lavabo in a gas station along the highway. But other than that, she was an easy baby.
That year we realized, nothing had to change just because we had a kid. The trip was also her introduction as a new member to our family.
To this day, whenever we talk about that trip, we always remember the bath in gas station’s lavabo. That baby is now an 8-year-old girl. She loves hearing our travel anecdotes. An inquisitive girl, she has already shown her own interests when we travel.
We have continued to travel with our daughter ever since, and each age poses its own challenge. But traveling with a newborn to one-year old turned out to be the easiest.